L11_HeideggerLetter

L11_HeideggerLetter - PHI 310 Lecture 11: Heidegger: Letter...

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PHI 310 Lecture 11: Heidegger: Letter on Humanism (1947) Lecture Summary Context As we discuss Heidegger’s Letter on Humanism , there are four aspects that should be taken in consideration as a context for such discussion: 1. Heidegger’s quest to rejuvenate the question of Being or “ What it means to be ” that he believes has been ignored since the time of Aristotle. In particular he opposes the Cartesian ontology. Ontology of “thingness” that answers the question of Being in terms of beings (human beings), and in doing so conceals the truth of Being. 2. Letter on Humanism was published in 1946, after the war and almost 20 years after Being and Time was published. To this extent, while his project remains the same, some of his thinking has developed and become clearer. It is worth recalling that Being and Time was meant to be the first part of this much larger project of exploring the meaning of Being, and also that various interpretations or misinterpretations of Being and Time themselves likely prompted clarification. 3. One such misinterpretation might be that of Jean-Paul Sartre. Letter on Humanism is largely a response to Sartre’s Existentialism as a Humanism originally given as a lecture in 1945 and later published as an essay. Sartre and his philosophy were getting a lot of attention in philosophical circles, and in Existentialism as a Humanism Sartre classifies Heidegger (among himself, and other French existentialists) as an atheistic existentialist. According to Sartre, What they have in common is that they think existence precedes essence, or, if you prefer, that subjectivity must be the starting point. Heidegger objects to this classification of his project, and Letter on Humanism seeks to clarify the differences between himself and Sartre as well as more broadly furthering the debate around humanism and the question of Being. 4. The last aspect to consider as context is the extent to which some of the issues raised by Heidegger in Letter on Humanism form the basis for later philosophical debate particularly for such philosophers as Derrida and Levinas. Appendix: Helpful hints about Heidegger’s methodology When you are reading Letter on Humanism and trying to grapple with some of Heidegger’s concepts such as the truth of Being, primordial thinking and saying, and so on, you will notice an interesting pattern that reflects the path that Heidegger’s own thinking has taken. He often begins with the common philosophical understanding of a concept underpinned by an ontology that equates Being with beings. He will then trace it back to its origins and argue (through traditional philosophical discourse) how this understanding misses the primordial concept under consideration. But when it comes to the positive characterization of his replacement concept, the
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language and thinking becomes more lyrical and poetic. This is also noticeable in the development of his thinking. In his earlier years, such as Being and Time , where he presents a
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L11_HeideggerLetter - PHI 310 Lecture 11: Heidegger: Letter...

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