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John Richardson

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John Richardson

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Martin Heidegger is one of the twentieth century's most influential, but also most cryptic and controversial philosophers. His early fusion of phenomenology with existentialism inspired Sartre and many others, and his later critique of modern rationality inspired Derrida and still others. This introduction covers the whole of Heidegger's thought and is ideal for anyone coming to his work for the first time.

John Richardson centres his account on Heidegger's persistent effort to change the very kind of understanding or truth we seek. Beginning with an overview of Heidegger's life and work, he sketches the development of Heidegger's thought up to the publication of Being and Time. He shows how that book takes up Husserl's method of phenomenology and adapts it. He then introduces and assesses the key arguments of Being and Time under three headings—pragmatism, existentialism, and temporality—its three levels of analysis of human experience.

Subsequent chapters introduce Heidegger's later philosophy, including his turn towards a historical account of being, and new ideas about how we need to 'think' to get the truth about it; his influential writings on language, art, and poetry, and their role in the Western history of being; and his claim that this history has culminated in a technological relation to things that is deeply problematic, above all in the way it excludes the divine. The final chapter looks at Heidegger's profound influence on several intellectual movements ranging from phenomenology to existentialism to postmodernism.

A much-needed and refreshing introduction to this major figure, Heidegger is ideal reading for anyone coming to his work for the first time and will interest and stimulate students and scholars alike.

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Heidegger’s turning
Famously, Heidegger undergoes a turning [Kehre] in the decade after Being and Time, a change in the basic direction or orientation of his thinking. The term is Heideggers own; he applies it to a sig-nificant shift he retrospectively sees in himself. And indeed many changes are obvious from even superficial comparisons of that book with the later essays. We enter a distinctly different world in the latter, and must adjust ourselves to meet it.
I should say at the outset that the crux of the turningwhat it was from and tois open to debate; there have been rather different accounts of it. Heidegger himself offers, during this turning itself, no direct statement of what it amounts to, and only a few later accounts.1 So Ill be giving a reading of it, not stating an obvious fact.
It is also debatable just when the turning occurs. I will take it to be during the latter half of the 1930s. Contributions to Philosophy [193638] is the most thorough statement of the emerging new view. But there are anticipations of it in the early 1930s, and I will also use these texts in treating his later view. Moreover, we will see that the turn doesnt arrive at a stable position. Heidegger pivots, and continues to pivot: all the rest of his career can be seen as a progressive turning. He steadily radicalizes his critique of the position he turns away from, so that his initial accounts of the turn come to be seen as incomplete and misleading.
The main philosophical influences on this turn are Nietzsche and Hölderlin; they clarified the direction he already wanted to go. Very broadlyand of course there are many exceptions to thisthe turn is towards Hölderlin and against Nietzsche.
Heidegger turns from Nietzsche, seen as giving key statement to the modern stance, and looming behind the aspects of Being and Time he now wants to renounce. That books pragmatic and existential themes are still Nietzschean: they express the spirit Nietzsche framed in his ontology of will to power, and in his lesson that man should take the place of the dead God as master of all. And this Nietzschean spirit is also linked with Heideggersand Germanyspolitical and moral error in embracing Hitler.
So the turn also has this biographical side: it is Heideggers philosophical response to his unhappy experience with National Socialism. He never explicitly says this. Indeed I think he actively suppresses it, in his stubborn defense of his behavior in the Nazi years. (This also leads him, at times, to understate the turning by reading later views back into Being and Time.) But to an extentthat we will need to determinethis turning amounts to an acknowledgment of error, in the place that counts most to him, his core thinking about being.
The turn towards Hölderlin expresses, by contrast, a religious revival in Heidegger. He takes over Hölderlins idea that the secular philosophy of human will expresses an age in which gods are absentan absence we must properly regret. We need to look and prepare towards their return, in some new religiousness whose vocabulary he begins to construct. That this return to religion need not be to Christianity, however, we can gather from his adoption of Hölderlins polytheism. It is this new positive aim that explains his changed discursive method and style. His later writing is often more poetic or literary, and tends to renounce the quasi-Cartesian method of Being and Time, as well as its Kantian system.
Ill discuss Heideggers late views in this and the following two chapters. In this one Ill try to clarify the turning itself: to identify the fundamental changes that occur after Being and Time. This will involve presenting an outline of his late positionwhich of course chiefly concerns being, and how it is concealed and unconcealed. His views about language and art (Chapter 8) and technology and gods (Chapter 9) will then be grounded in these central claims.
Since Heideggers later writings extend over several decades, and since (as said) he continues to turn or pivot all through them, a really thorough account would need to be chronological. I will have to compress much of this development in order to present his position in its large-scale argumentative structurethough I will point out some of the stages as we go.
As Ill try to show, the main lesson of this overall shift is, once again, in the kind of understanding Heidegger thinks philosophersand all of usneed. He radicalizes the critique he had already made against the usual epistemic aim of a theoretical-conceptual grasp of the at-hand. He broadens his target so that it now includes the pragmatic-existential understanding that Being and Time itself had pursued. His later writings push this lesson ever further, so that the kind of understanding we need is more and more different from all that is usual to us.
For Heideggers later view there is no single dominant workno book in which he gives detailed statement to the full range of his new ideas, as he had done in Being and Time. His interpreters regret at this absence showed in the long anticipation and then reception of a secret work written 193639, just after his turning: Contributions to Philosophy: From Ereignis (often referred to as the Beiträge). This was long rumored his second magnum opus, and was so greeted by many when it was finally published in 1989. It is of great interest, and I will use it often in this chapter. But it (1) is mostly in very rough order, and (2) lacks the density, the thoughtthrough detail, that characterizes Being and Time. There is no second great work, and no comprehensive statement of Heideggers view after the turn. We will for the most part be looking at essays with narrower ambitionsthough insofar as all of them try to speak of being (and Ereignis), they have (Heidegger thinks) the very highest ambition.
1. Character of the turn
I start with an overview of the new position, to show how the detailed accounts to follow will hang together. Here my aim is to show the position only schematically; many of these ideas will need to be both motivated, and understood rather differently than it might in this first telling seem (since some of the terms will need special senses). These ideas will also need to be brought to life out of this preliminary and flattening sketch, which little tries to give the very kind of understanding Heidegger will insist on. Still I think it will be helpful to start with a large-scale map.
Lets start with what doesnt change. Heidegger still holds that being [Sein] is the important topic: it is what we should all be paying most attention to, but that were sadly, predictably neglecting. His main ambition as a philosopher is to bring himself and his readers into a proper relation to it, into the truth of being. This gist is already in Being and Time, and Heidegger stresses it all the more emphatically as he goes. He adopts more and more the prophets role: calling us back to this proper attention to being, from our misguided preoccupation with things and one another.
But as Heidegger goes on he treats this problem of being as harder and harder; this is the gist of the turning. Over and over he will suggest a way to state the difference of being from entities, which then a few years later turns out still to fall short of it, requiring yet another new formulation. This progressive radicalizing eventually impinges on the very word being, and Heidegger adopts a series of other locutions for what he means, such as the antique Seyn, and writing Sein with a cross-out superimposed.
What is it in Being and Time that gets left behind? As weve seen, one key way that boo...