Wednesday, September 26, 2007

A Century of Heidegger

Almost the entire second half of the twentieth century continental philosophy is Heideggerian. Perhaps the other half is Wittgensteinian. I'd love for my generalizations to be correct, but they are probably good as far as generalizations go.

In general it's because Heidegger is so original and calls into question nearly all of traditional philosophy before him. Heidegger straddles Nietzsche and Kierkegaard, who were already calling into question, radically, traditional philosophy before them, and whether it made any sense. Heidegger is mostly starting from scratch, however. He understands Nietzsche and Kierkegaard very well and makes them systematic. Unlike them, he writes like a systematic philosopher.

There is something wrong with the entire tradition and something wrong with the traditional understandings of what it is to be a human being. If you understand what human being are and what theory is, traditional philosophy and science treats human beings as special, complicated objects. Which is entirely wrong. After all, scientism is simply one sort of human practice. One can have a theoretical understanding of human nature. But it makes no sense to do the human sciences this way: by this I mean anthropology, psychology, sociology, etc.

Cognitive sciences (cognitive psychology, cognitive politics, cognitive anthropology, etc.) have to be done completely differently. Their theoretical foundations are all wrong. If it looks anything like a statistical or computer model, it would be wrong-footed from Heidegger's point of view. Heidegger was opposing the whole idea of computer models before there were computer models.

This is why he is so important in Anglo-American philosophy, which takes the scientific/computer model completely for granted. But for Continental philosophy, Heideggerian theory is itself taken completely for granted. This is really the most amazing thought I have about Heidegger's place in contemporary philosophy.

Jean-Paul Sartre, of course, brilliantly misunderstood Being and Time. You have to be a kind of genius, like Sartre, to take a book that is wholly anti-Cartesian through-and-through and rewrite it as if it were a Cartesian book. Sartre would be the first to say that he is simply fixing up Heidegger. I really learned nothing at all about Heidegger from reading Sartre.

Another French philosopher, Merleau-Ponty, understood Heidegger as an anti-Cartesian. Heidegger really has nothing to say about perception or the body in Being and Time, and that's what Merleau-Ponty talks about, but hardly ever mentions Heidegger. He uses Heidegger ontology and Heidegger's terminology to open up a space to talk about what it is to be a human body which perceives things.

Boudieu made a reputation for himself by condemning Heidegger. Foucault said his main influence was Heidegger, but he made a reputation for himself by acting like he had never heard of Heidegger. Only on his deathbed did he say that he felt he was a Heideggerian.

And, in fact, I think I am a Heideggerian, in some sense. But I'm not going to talk about this here, or now, at least. Perhaps this is the start of a series on Heidegger, since I've been reading Being and Time (slowly), and I will therefore slowly reveal my thoughts on what it means to be human.


Raymond said...

If Wittgenstein and Heidegger make up the 20th century, then Kierkegaard was the most influential of them all, as he influenced both of those guys (but of course in different ways).

Heidegger picked up on Kierkegaard's new use of the word "existence" and attempted to further than Kierkegaard by examining the ontology of "existence".

Wittgenstein picked up on Kierkegaard's separation of what can be said and what cannot, such as the problem of Silence in Fear and Trembling, Problemata III. Because the logical positivists didn't understand the Kierkegaardian-like passages of Prop. 6.3-7 in the Tractatus, Wittgenstein felt compelled to clarify those propositions in his Investigations.

Acumensch said...

What? And no mention of Nietzsche?

There is, of course, evidence of Kierkegaard's influence. But crediting Wittgenstein's and Heidegger's work to Kierkegaard is like saying, along with A. Whitehead that, "All philosophy is a footnote to Plato." The influence of Plato on all of Western philosophy doesn't entail that we credit him with every idea that follows.

Anonymous said...

I'm not at all saying LW or MH didn't add anything unique. They have another inspirations, Wittgenstein had Frege and Russell, and Heidegger had Nietzsche and Husserl for example. But to understand the development of 20th-century philosophy as a whole, one must read Kierkegaard, just as one reads Plato to grasp the development of philosophy after him.

The century of Heidegger (and Wittgenstein) needs to understand Kierkegaard in order to understand itself.