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Heidegger: an Assessment

Heidegger: an Assessment

Roger Waterhouse

This is the last of three articles on Heidegger.

The first traced Heidegger’s early development.

The second analysed the argument of ‘Being and Time’.

This third considers his later career and assesses
his philosophy as a whole.

After Being and Time was published in 1927
IIeidegger found himself acclaimed throughout
Germany as ‘the philosopher of our time’.

The 69-year-old Husserl was already recommending him as his own successor to the
chair at Freiberg. This time there was no
doubt in the selectors’ minds, and in 1928,
at the age of 39, the local boy returned in
triumph as the new professor.

Husserl had hoped that when Heidegger
came back he would become reconciled to his
mentor’s position.

It soon became apparent
even to Husserl that this was not to be.

Relations became strained and shortly the
two men ceased even to be on friendly terms.

It seems that only now did Husserl read
Being and Time with any care. As he read it:

and as he read what the other reviewers had
to say about it, it became more and more
clear to him that Heidegger had rejected not
only every fundamental doctrine of phenomenology, but had attacked its very foundations
Instead of the patient and rational search
for knowledge about ideas, based upon the
appearance of phenomena to consciousness,
Heidegger was starting naively with man in
his empirical being and making sweeping
generalisations about the meaning of life.

It was, thought Husserl, a reversion to the
worst excesses of Lebensphilosophie which
he had attacked back in 1910, or even to
that very ‘psychologism’ whose failure had
first led him to develop phenomenology.l
Heidegger, for his part, seems to have
had no wish to aggravate the old man. 2 He
had tried to convince him in their exchanges
over the Encyclopedia Britannica articles
(IP) that the central question was one of
Being – that you couldn’t do Husserl’s style
of epistemology before you had clarified the
ontology within which you were operating.

But there was no way that the old man was
going to change his ideas at his age. What
could one do then except respectfully differ,

refrain from attacking the man when attacking his doctrines, and stop using the title
‘phenomenology’ which he had prior claim to?

Husserl, however, could not let it rest
there. His life’s work was being destroyed.

All his hopes for a pure phenomenological
movement led by his disciple Heidegger were
being dashed.

In 1930 he attacked Heidegger
in print,3 and in the following year
rejected him quite unequivocally in a public
lecture which was reported in the Berlin
press. 4 He failed. Heidegger rode a tide
of ever-rising popularity: Husserl became
more isolated, ‘out-of-date’, and, after the
Nazi accession to power, oppressed. The
last decade of his life was spent trying to
combat these trends. His unfinished final
work, The Crisis (er), tries for the first
time to understand the historical process
and to justify his own phenomenology against
Heidegger’s ‘irrationalism’. Fortunately
for him he died in 1938.

The Nazi Rector

Heidegger’s attitude towards the Nazis was
quite different from that of Husserl – the
old Jewish liberal. Heidegger never at any
time obscured the fact that his politics
were conservative and anti-democratic,S but
it was only with the rise of Nazism in the
early 1930s that he got excited enough to
take overt political action. He saw the
Nazis as a new hope for decadent Germany; a
spiritual force which would halt the decline
of Western civilization by opposing equally
the ‘materialism’ of America and the marxism
of Russia. He began to say so in his
lectures, to intersperse reflections upon
contemporary politics with his thoughts
about Being. So, in a lecture ‘On the
Fundamental Question of Metaphysics’ he
could say: ‘From a metaphysical point of
view, Russia and America are the same; the
same dreary technological frenzy, the same
unrestricted organisation of the average
man … ‘ OM, p.3l). It was Germany, ‘the
most metaphysical of nations’, which had to
bring the destiny of the West into ‘the
primordial realm of the powers of Being’.

It was spirit which had to be revived, as
opposed to mere intelligence – the scientific rationality which was responsible for
the mediocrity and averageness of materialism, East and West (IM, p.39).

In March 1933 the Nazi party gained the
highest number of seats in the Reichstag

Events began to move rapidly,
and down in Baden, the newly elected rector
of Freiberg university found himself removed
from office for refusing to post a proclamation against Jews.

Heidegger stepped in,
and for a brief ten months he was the Rector
of the University on a pro-Nazi ticket. 6 He
joined the party and campaigned for it
during 1933. 7 He gave a rousing rectoria1
address in which he attacked academic freedom as negative, exhorted his listeners to
dedicate themselves to service – be it of
knowledge, at work, or in the army – and
concluded with the words: ‘Do not let doctrines and ideas be the rules of your Being
… The Fuhrer himself and he alone is the
present and future German reality and its
rule’ (DSI, p.271).8
A few months later he resigned his post.

By his own account he took on the rectorship
because he hoped to effect reforms in the
university: when it became clear that he
would not have the support of either the
faculty or the party for such changes, he

Thereafter he claims to have
fallen out of favour with the party, though
the evidence is by no means conclusive.

Whether or not he retained the party’s
protection, it is clear that for the rest of
his life he maintained his extreme rightwing political attitudes. After the war he
was banned from teaching because of his Nazi
associations, a ban which was lifted shortly
before he retired.

He continued to write,
and indeed to lecture before private and
(later) public audiences.

His influence on
post-war German philosophy was enormous,
spilling over more recently to France and
even the States.

He died in 1976.

Heidegger’s Central themes
I want now to review briefly what seems to
me the core of Heidegger’s philosophy as
revealed in Being and Time and elaborated in
the “later works.

In the first place ‘Being’

is utterly central. Although the Heidegger
of Being and Time was read by others as
providing an anthropology, he himself always
(that is, at least from 19lr-on) saw ‘Being’

as the central problem.

There is thus no
djscontinuity between his earlier and his
later works.

His concern with Being is, I have argued,
only intelligible on the basis of a quasireligious experience.

The form in which he
casts the argument, though, needs no such
experience to give it validity.

Being has
been neglected, he claims, because we want
to forget about it.

This motivated amnesia
is part of our normal and inevitable inauthentic existence.

The philosophical
result is first a false ontology, which
attempts to reduce all Being to objects; and
second a concentration upon epistemology as
the central area of philosophy in place of

So we have an account of the
world which effaces all mystery and all
sense of the presence of Being in things;
and an account of people as if they were

objects without any essential spiritual

Western ontology must therefore
be re-worked, epistemology ousted from its
central position and man restored to his
proper dignity as that being to which Being

Locally, the neo-Kantianism of the
hermeneuticists must be rejected, and
Husserl’s notion of phenomenology completely
re-cast as purely a method, not an edifice
of philosophical knowledge.

A second major theme concerns the falsity
of everyday life – its inauthenticity.

frenzy, the chatter, the superficiality,
the avoidance of real encounter with other
people and with things are, for Heidegger,
not some local effect of ‘modern life’ or
‘industrial society’: they are a necessary
and inescapable part of being human.

is because human beings everywhere and
almost always are in a desperate flight from
Being and from themselves.

This manifests
itself as an existential guilt – a guilt at
being human.

It produces anxiety about
one’s whole existence, which becomes particularly acute in the face of death.

This is
because death as the negation of life highlights its possibility for being a whole.

Inauthenticity, however, can only be
conceived on the basis of a possibility of
being authentic.

But authenticity is not a

It is a momentary achievement which
consists in a ‘seeing’ of the Being of

In the later works Heidegger
emphasises more and more the preparation
for this quasi-mystical seeing which is
essentially a passive experience.

is authenticity related back to our existence in a social world.

Interwoven with his notion ~f”authentic­
ity, however, Heidegger has certain beliefs
about language, meaning and truth.

is an event, an appearance of Being which
can be ‘seen’ by those humans who are able
to see – that is, few people.

Without—people, Being cannot be seen and truth cannot happen.

Being only becomes meaningful
as its meaning is articulated in language
(by people).

It is, therefore, a secondary
sense of truth, which is the articulation
of the meaning of Being in language.

‘means’ itself in great works of literature,
but also in other cultural artefacts.

Artistic creation therefore should not be
thought of as the ‘self-expression’ of the
artist: it is the self-expression of Being
‘through’ the artist (OWA).

And finally there is the central theme of

Philosophy, Heidegger claims, has
been unable to deal with time, because it
had only the static model of ‘objects’ with
which to think about it: in no way is time
a thing.

Behind this philosophical failure
is the flight from death as the revelation
of our own finitude.

Not thinking about
time enables us to avoid thinking about

But in fact the realisation that we
are going to die makes us aware that our
existence is utterly permeated in every
aspect by time.

Methodologically, the way
out is to return to the lived world, our
home as we experience it, and rethink its
temporality – which is also our own.

will then~come to realise that history is a
tradition which, if we read it aright,
enables us to witness the self-expression
of Being.

History, then, is not a record of
human achievement or failure, neither a pro23

gressive development of man nor an aggregation of cultural artefacts: it is the
recurrent revelation of Being through great
works of art and thought.

Ontology versus Epistemology
I turn now to an evaluation of Heidegger’s

‘Any epistemology arises within
a given discourse.

The form of the discourse itself inevitably makes ontological

Therefore an epistemology
which is ontologically neutral is not

Therefore epistemolop,y cannot be
used to found an ontology.’

By this powerful argument of Heidegger’s a central tenet
of Husserl’s philosophical position is

‘I know that I am a consciousness, therefore I have privileged access to a realm of
ideas; therefore I can have philosophical
knowledge about ideas irrespective of the
relationship between those ideas and reality;
the question of reality can be left till
later’: so argues Husserl.

Heidegger replies ‘The very terms, “consci.ousness”, “ideas”, “physical reali ty”,
occur within a discourse which is shot
through with a dualist ontology.

I cannot
know what it is to be a consciousness unless
I distinguish this realm of being from some
other which is not conscious.

Thus the
whole range of positions from pure idealism
to extreme realism stands condemned.

are all trapped within a false problematic
which thus produces problems which are truly
insoluble. The “true” relationshj.p of mind
to body (or of spirit to matter) can never
be established, because the very terms misdescribe what actually is. A return to-practlcal experience will reveal that we are
beings already in a world of things together
with other people.

We are not primarily
consciousnesses, which in some mysterious
way get embodied, but remain forever uncertain about the existence of physical
things or other consciousnesses.

So Heidegger scores against epistemology
by diverting the discussion into ontology.

The implication is that ontology without
epistemology is possible; that a theory of
knowledge can only be grounded upon a prior
theory of being (B&T, p.86ff.); and that
Heidegger himself is justified in concentrating upon ontology, leaving theories about
knowledge to other people.

This, I shall
argue, is false.

Ontology and epistemology
stand in a dialectical relationship which is
historically changing.

To argue that either
has logical priority over the other is to
construct a false origin which denies the
historical process.

The result is a mystification of the status of the argument
itself: instead of being seen as a contribution to a dialogue in a tradition which is
forever unfinished, it gets interpreted as
the only and eternally true statement which
springs mysteriously from a sea of falsehood
and blindness.

In Heidegger’s case, whilst
he is prepared to concede that Parmenides
and a few of his contemporaries had some
obscure inklings, everyone since was disastrously benighted until the great Heidegger
saw with the clear light of vision.

Because he argues that a theory of knowledge can only be founded upon a triOr ontology, Heidegger has to maintain t at what he

reveals about Being does not amount to
‘knowledge’. Yet he claims to be revealing
to us truths (indeed ‘necessary’ truths)
about what is. And if this body of truths
does not constitute ‘knowledge’, then what
is the ‘science of being’ supposed to
amount to?

Heidegger answers in terms of that hoary
oldie ‘understanding’.

His ontology is ‘the
articulation of our primordial understanding
of Being’.

We already ‘know’ the truth of
what he articulates: it is just that we have
never said it. Hermeneutics is not about
discovering what we didn’t know before: it
is merely the disclosure of what was already
meant but less than fully conscious. This,
Heidegger argues, is the real sense of
Husserl ‘s appeal to ‘intui tion’ (Anschauung):’

it is not the exercise of some ratlonal
faculty to establish the logically necessary;
but the illumination through words of what
was already understood.

Heidegger’s language of ‘understanding’

versus ‘knowing’ invokes quite deliberately
the discourse of the 19th-century opposition
between the ‘humane’ Geisteswissenschaften
and positivist Naturwlssenschaften.

Geisteswissenschaften are about understandinp
already given ‘meanlngs’, both of man and of

God: the Naturwissenschaften are about superficial causal determinations – they lead to
a manipulation of objects and men which is
fundamentally inhumane (see QT).

Heidegger’s version the opposition is resolved as anti-scientism: the human studies
are true and good; the natural sciences are
false and evil.

The latter are an expression of the essential inauthenticity of the
social world.

The truly human relationship
to things is an individual one which lets
the being of each thing present itself
individually to me, without any fear of
social contradiction. A proper understanding of nature can come only through the poet
(WPF) , not through the scientist, who does
not even recognise that science is essentially a human activity.

Heidegger, then, has no epistemology.

is not just that he leaves it to others or
happens not to develop one: he is actually
opposed to it. What’s more, I shall argue,
he could not develop one even if he wanted
to:~system has no basis on which to
develop an account of how we know anything
about the world, because the public realm
is, for him, essentially the realm of falsehood and superficlallty.

Which leaves the problem of the status of
Heidegger’s ‘ontological truths’.

He has,
because he can have, no procedure for establishing their truth or-falsehood.

There is
no argument with Heidegger, because he
enters into no dialogue, accepts no stand-


ards, and employs no criteria for truth or
falsehood. He makes pronouncements which
must be either accepted or rejected; and if
you reject them that is because you have
‘fallen’, you are inauthentic, and your
rejection is subconsciously motivated by
your flight from death. Opposition, for
Heidegger, merely confirms him in his beliefs: the truth is provded by your fear of
accepting it.

What I am objecting to, then, is
Heidegger’s whole method, which implicitly
claims that truth can be established between
individuals (why else write?) while explicitly arguing that there are no public
standards by which truth can be judged.

We cannot, for example, accept Heidegger’s
account of our encounter with things, but
reject his notion of existential guilt,
without articulating our grounds for acceptance and rejection. Remember, Heidegger
does not put forward his doctrines as convenient myths, but as necessary and universal
truths: truths which, in the absence of any
epistemology, have no basis whatever in a
methodological procedure. Heidegger cannot
~xplain why his truths are true; still less
can he explain (except in terms of grace or
virtue) why no one realized they were true

The Lived World

The weakness of Heidegger’s failure to
develop either an epistemology or a repeatable method reveals itself in his account
of the lived world. The notion that there
is a gap between the world as we experience
it in practice, and the world as we account
for it in theory, is potentially a very
fruitful one. It was at the heart of
Husserl’s early phenomenology, as what he
then described as ‘suspending the natural
attitude’ and returning to phenomena. Its
appeal is felt whenever a consistent and
rational account of things seems not to do
them justice or somehow to miss the point.

Accounts of the natural world as being composed ‘really’ only of atoms, or accounts of
human beings as if they were just accidentally embodied thought processes, are cases
in point: daffodils are more than assemblages of atoms, and people are more than
computers. At its most basic this gap
between our experience and our thinking is
revealed as a feeling of uneasiness, which
in extreme circumstances may be exnerienced
as anxiety.9
So far so good. There is then scope for
an investigation of the world as we experience it in practice, which attempts to
avoid making assumptions about the ontological status of the types of beings we
encounter (‘The post office tower is more
real than the law on picketing’). But

He~degger advances with no such open-mindedness into the world of experience. He tells
us dogmatically that there are two ways of
encountering things, as tools or as objects;
that tools are more primordial; and that
objects only appear ‘in themselves’ when
they negate our purposes. He does not tell
us how he has reached these conclusions; he
does not tell us how he knows them to be
universally true; he does not tell us on
what grounds his conclusions could be questioned or revised. He rejects the appeal to
reason (‘Instrumentality is logically prior
to objectivity’); he rejects the reference
to cultural history (‘The notion of “object”
arose on the basis of a prior notion of
things as tools’); he even rejects the
appeal to individual development (‘Babies
learn to manikulate things before they
learn to thin about them as things’).

He claims to be appealing to experience,
but any such appeal raises two questions:

first, ‘What grounds do we have for supposing this experience to be typical?’; and
seco~’Is the experience being correctly
interpreted?’. Now is the time to note his
tacit claims: one, ‘Craftwork is typical of
all experience of things’; and two ‘The
notion of “object” arises only when this is
interfered with’. In short, there is a
romantic appeal to the supposed ‘organic’

relationship between a craftworke~ and his
materials and tools, and a swipe at ‘scientific rationality’ for fouling things up with
‘technology’. Yet the historical process
here referred to is taken out of history and
internalized as a ‘necessary structure’ of
human being.

Ultimately the ‘analysis’ does not work.

Theory and oraxis interpenetrate as
Heidegger is eventually forced to admit
(B&T, p.4D9): the craftsman thinks about his
work; the scientist actively does experiments. The dichotomy between ‘tool’ and
‘object’ breaks down and is never subsequently revived. The only possible way of making
it plausible would have been to relate the
theoretical distinction to the historical
process at work – which Heidegger persistently fails to do.

The de-realization of the social

Rapidly, then, Heidegger passes on to
characterize our being in the world as
fundamentally social. Tools and functional
objects refer to a meaningful totality
which we share with other people. But
pretty soon it transpires that our normal
encounter with people is bad – inauthentic.

(Heidegger does not explain why our primordial encounter with things as tools is good,
but our primordial encounter with people is
bad.) Before long we learn that this inauthentic social world is not just some
recent historical phenomenon: it is a
necessary structure of human being. The
public, the social, is necessarily inauthentic. And, whilst Heidegger does allow for
the possibility of ‘authentic’ dyadic
relationships, what makes them authentic is
only that one partner is leading the other
towards true self-understanding, i.e. no
reciprocity is involved. ID
Now the phenomena which Heidegger educes
as evidence for his theory are for the most

part historically specific – they are newspapers, the radio, mechanization, ‘the pace
of life today’ etc.

But these are interpreted by Heidegger as merely forms of the
inherent human tendency to conceive of
others and oneself as objects.

Why this
should be so he does not explain; and it is
clear that ‘objects’ now is not not being
used in the same sense as when it applied
to things.

He does not say that people are
first tools, which become objects when they
negate my purposes: they are first people,
whom I conceive of ‘as if’ they were objects.

What we have here is a very loose analogy
which a phenomenologist should attend very
carefully to.

(Heidegger’s failure to do
so is abetted by the non-specific use of
terms like ‘re-ification (Lukacs) and
‘objectification’ (Sartre).)
Heidegger’s characterization of the
public world as essentially the realm of
falsehood and inauthenticity makes it
impossible to develop any epistemology on a
Heideggerian base.

The potential for revising theory which has become too abstract by
means of an appeal to our practical experience of the world (the ‘lived-world’) is
thus squandered.

There is a fruitful
dialectic between the private and the public
which Heidegger refuses to allow. My
experience is ‘private’, but in articulating
it I make it public (or at least potentially

Once public, others can compare it
with their own experience; and after a process of revision and correction, we may
agree some generalisation about experiences
of that sort.

In practice, this is what
Heidegger does in Being and Time; i.e.

articulate his own (sometimes quite idiosyncratic) experience and present it to a

But this is not how he thinks of it.

He does not offer his interpretation of his
experience for public debate: he claims ~
give the interpretation of how all experi7
ence necessarily must be – with no room left
for revislon of his theory.

he denies the dialectic of public and
private, which in practice he participates
in – by the very act of publication.

This ‘de-realization’ of the social leads
on quite naturally to Heidegger’s remarkable
account of language and tradition.

dialectic between private and public, by
means of which experience is adequately
formulated and knbwledge accumulates, is
fundamentally a historical process.

fundamentally, it is mediated through
language at every stage. An essential
function of language in relation to the
establishment of truth (and indeed of
reality) is communication between people who
would otherwise be incommunicado and inarticulate.

Language is fundamentally
social in its nature: it is born out of
social intercourse and it returns to social
intercourse at every stage.

Not so for

Heidegger’s account of language is
remarkable in that it denies all its
essential features, i.e. everything which
is to do with social intercourse.

He has
to argue this since he believes the social
world to be essentially false.

So what is
left? For Heidegger language is the ‘House
of Being’ (LH), the ‘speaking of Being’,
the ‘logos’ of which St John spoke (L).

In other words, it is the voice of God

which can only be heard with the inner ear:

it is the mystical speaking which arises
only out of silence, with which all forms of
social intercourse interfere. ll The appropriate response to the social is therefore
withdrawal; the appropriate attitude towards
language is therefore si1ence. 12

Tradition and History
Heidegger, then, denied the possibility of
knowledge, denied the function of language
as public communication, and yet continued
to speak in public, to write, and to read.

More and more, he thought that artists and
poets gave the best preparation for the
‘seeing of truth’, or the ‘hearing of the

And truth and the word were, of
course, a-temporal, or supra-temporal.

although one could loosely speak of a
‘tradition’ of culture, of thought, of
spiritual enlightenment, this should not be
conceived of as in any way progressive, or
indeed) subject in its essence to historical

The essence of the tradition is
eternal: that which changes through time is
thus inessential.

Poets and artists have virtually cornered
the market on truth, he believes, because
they have addressed themselves directly to
Being, as it reveals itself in things, and
have not let the social world interfere with
this insight.

They write for themselves,
for the sake of Being, and for other great

They do not write for the common
herd who are so immersed in inauthentic
socializing that they cannot understand anyway.

History, true history (that is, history as the revelation of truth) .thus has
little to do with the fact-grubbing of
professional historians.

What it is really
about, says Heidegger, is listening to the
word of Being speaking through the artefacts
which the tradition has bequeathed to us.

History is therefore true lnsofar as it
lives in the present as revelation of the

The rest is antiquarianism, and
flight from death.

This grotesque account, which wilfully
blinds itself to historical change, and
therefore denies that there is anything to
be explained, follows smoothly from
Heidegger’s de-realization of the social

Since the social world is illusory
and stands in the way of truth, history as
social process cannot exist: its artefacts
are manifestations of the eternal and unchanging; there is nothing to explain except
the illusion, which we have seen arises out
of the flight from death.

So Heidegger ties up another loose end,
writes off another area of human experience,
and waits for another irruption of Spirit
into the world: in 1933 it was ‘Only Hitler
can save us’; in 1968 it was ‘only a god
can save us’ (DSI).

But the drift of Heidegger’s argument is
obscured in Being and Time by its mediation
through individual ‘temporality’.

on the analysis of what Husserl quite clearly called our ‘inner consciousness of time’,
Heidegger again suppresses all dialectic
between private and public, claiming the
private as the only original source.

fact, my experience of time arises and
develops in a public, social context – which
can easily be observed in the way a child



acquires language: first an ‘eternal’ present
tense, then the use of words like ‘soon’,
‘before’; then discriminated future and past
tenses. Only by suppressing such real
experience can Heidegger hypostasize some
essential structure of ‘historicity’ which
supposedly ‘explains’ how we come to have
(public) history.

It is true that I experience the future
as ‘not yet’, which is qualitatively different from the ‘has been’ of the past.

It is
true that my experience of time is not of a
series of neutral ‘nows’ which pass by in
inexorable succession.

But it is equally
true that neither history not ‘objective
time’ are illusions.

There is a problem
about the dialectical interrelationship
between my private experience of time, and
the (public) occurrence of change. And the
problem has to do with my assessment of the
real possibilities of a given situation for
my future actions.

How do I distinguish
between a real future possibility, and a daydream or fantasy which I am tempted to act
out?13 Answer: only by reference to the
publicly real, which can only be established
in dialogue with others.

Heidegger’s ‘notyet”cannot be distinguished on purely
internal experiential criteria from the
‘never-to-be’ of wishful thinking.

And the
fact that both are distinct from the ‘has
been’ does not help.

Even there, the
‘really was’ has no essential qualitative
difference from the ‘might have been’: and
yet this reality question is crucial in
determining the meaning of things and events
here and now. As Marcuse put it, when in
1934 he revised his earlier assessment of
Heidegger: ‘Genuine historicity presupposes
a cognitive relation of existence to the
forces of history and, derived from it, the
theoretical and practical critique of these
forces. ’14

In conclusion
It will soon be half a century since the
Nazis came to power in Germany, and
Heidegger became rector of Freiburg

The passage of time does not
diminish the horror of the events which
followed, but it does put in perspective
Heidegger’s contribution to them.

He can
hardly be said to have changed the course
of history, or personally perpetrated any

On the other hand he provided
the Nazis with a support they needed from
the bourgeois intelligentsia, and generally
contributed to the acceptability of their
‘blood and earth’ ideology.

Probably he
inspired at least some young men to march to
their own – and other people’s – deaths:

soon after it was delivered, one of his
students said of his inaugural lecture:

‘In comparison with the numerous …

speeches which professors of equal rank
have given since the (Nazi) take-over
of power, this philosophical and forceful speech is a little masterpiece.

Service in the labour forces and in
the armed forces merges with service
in the realm of learning in such a
way that, at the end of this speech,
one no longer knows whether to study
Diel’s “Presocratics” or to march in
the ranks of the Storm Troopers. ’15

What is important today, however, is the
contemporary effects of Heidegger’s thought.

He is standard reading in philosophy in
Germany and France, his reputation grows
apace in North America, and even in Britain
his name is now conjured with as a mysterious but profound authority.

What I have
tried to show is that a little Heidegger is
a dangerous thing.

As a whole, he is a
deeply reactionary thinker, but one whose
writings incorporate some truly progressive
elements: the appeal to phenomena as a
critical method, the use of the ‘life-world’

as a weapon against false abstraction, the
analysis of time-experience, the stress upon
human interest and emotion as forces shaping
the world and our conception of it, the
critique of the mind/body dualism, the
attack on epistemology as distorting man
into a bodiless intellect – all these are
positive elements in Heidegger’s thought.

On the other hand there is the anti-scientism, the anti-intellectualism, the elitism
and the religiosity.

These lead him to a
superficial social analysis masquerading as
eternal truths about the human kind: There
is no historical process, no well-founded
knowledge, no real communication, and no
genuine dialectic between public and private
in Heidegger’s philosophy.

Instead there
are the mystifications of ‘language’, ‘unconcealment’, ‘authentic moments of vision’;
and lurking behind them all the forever
mysterious, unsayable, unseeable, and utterly ineffable ‘Being’.

Heidegger made quite clear where he stood,
way back in 1935:

‘The world is darkening.

The essential
episodes of this darkening are: the
flight of the gods, the destruction of
the earth, the standardization of man,
the pre-eminence of the mediocre …

‘World is always world of the spirit …

Darkening of the world means emasculation
of the spirit…

This enf~eblement
originated in Europe in the first half
of the nineteenth century … it is
popularly called the “collapse of German

This formula is a shield
behind which the already dawning spiritlessness … the rejection of all
original enquiry into grounds … are

It was not German Idealism
which collapsed; rather the age was no
longer strong enough to stand up to the
greatness, breadth and originality of
that spiritual world, i.e. truly to
realize it, for to realize a philosophy
means something very different from
applying theorems…

The lives of men
began to slide into a world which lacked
that depth from out of which the
~ssential always comes to man … so
compelling him to become superior and
making him act in conformity to a
rank.’ (IM, pp. 37- 38)
The rhetoric of romantic idealism still finds


See bibliography: Husserl, PRS & LI.

An interesting account of their personal relations

at this period is to be found in Boyce Gibson.

3 Nachwort to the Ideen, quoted by Spiegelberg,
Vol.I, p.282.

4 Husserl, P & A. See Heidegger’s comments in DSI.

5 He was still attacking democracy, though mildly,
in 1966 (DSI).

6 To give him his due there is no evidence that he
was anti-semitic in his attitude or his actions.

See DSI.

7 In Heidelberg in the summer, and again prior to
the November elections.

8 Almost alone amongst Heidegger’s published works
the rectorial address, Die Selbstbehauptung des
deutschen Universitat, remains untranslated into
English. The only copy I have been able to
‘locate in England is in the Cambridge University

9 There is here, I believe, the basis for an
adequate philosophical account of what is termed
‘the unconscious’ – one which removes from it the
mysterious status of the ‘unthought thought’.

10 See my article in Radical Philosophy 21.

11 Before Husserl deflected him in 1916, Heidegger
was embarked on a study of the mediaeval German
mystic, Meister Eckhart. He remained interested
in Eckhart throughout his life.

12 For this reason I once wrote (RP16) that the
logical consequence of Heidegger’s position
should have been to keep his mouth shut. It
offended Heidegger enthusiasts at the time: I
hope my reasons are now explained.

13 The notion of ‘authentic choice’ collapses
unless I am able to make this distinction:

Heidegger’s derealization of the social thus
renders authentic choice impossible.

14 Marcuse, p.34.

15 Quoted by Kockelmans, p.5.

Heidegger M
Works mentioned.

Listed by date of composition















Being and Time, Blackwell, 1962
‘What are poets for?’ PLT – see
Die Selbst behauptung der deutschen
Universitat, Breslau, Korn, 1933
Introduction to Metaphysics,
Doubleday Anchor, 1961
‘The Origin of a Work of Art’, BW,
PLT – see below
‘Letter on Humanism’, BW – see
‘The Question concerning
Technology’ , .QT – see below
‘Language’, PLT – see below
‘Only a god can save us’: interview with Der Spiegel, Philosophy
Today, Vol.20, 4/4, Winter 1976,



Basic Writings, Harper Row, 1977
Poetry, Language, Thought, Harper
Row, 1971
The Question Concerning Technology,
Harper Row, 1971

Other references
Boyce Gibson W R


‘From Husserl to Heidegger:

Excerpts from a 1929 Freiburg
Diary’, Journal of the British
Society for Phenomenology, 2,
1 Jan 1971

Husserl E



Kockelmans, J.J.

Lukacs, G.

Marcuse, H.

Sartre, J.P.

Spiegelberg, H.

Waterhouse, R.

The Crisis of European Sciences and
Transcendental Phenomenology,
Northwestern UP, 1970
Logical Investigations, Routledge
and Kegan Paul, 1970
‘Philosophy and Anthropology’ in
R. Chisholm (ed.), Realism and the
Background of Phenomenology,
Glencoe, 1960
‘Philosophy as a Rigorous Science’

in Q. La u e r (ed . ), Phenomeno logy
and the Crisis of Philosophy,
Harper Row, 1965
Martin Heidegger: a First Introduction to his Philosophy, Duquesnes
UP, 1965
History and Class Consciousness,
Merlin, 1971
Negations, Penguin, 1972
Being and Nothingness, Methuen 1969
The Phenomenological Movement,
2 vols, Nijhoff, 1965
‘A Critique of Authenticity’,
RP2l, 1978

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