From Phenomenon to Thing
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Many philosophers believe that Heidegger was the greatest philosopher of the twentieth century. His influence has long been felt not just in philosophy, but also in such fields as art, architecture, and literary studies. Yet the great difficulty of Heidegger’s terminology has often scared away interested readers lacking an academic background in philosophy.
Author Graham Harman shows that Heidegger is actually one of the simplest and clearest of thinkers. All the diverse topics of his writings, and all the lengthy analyses he gives of past philosophers, boil down to a single powerful idea: being is not presence. In any human relation with the world, our thinking and even our acting do not fully exhaust the world. Something more always withdraws from our grasp. Neither being itself nor individual beings are ever fully present-at-hand,” in Heidegger’s terminology.
This single insight allows Heidegger to revolutionize the phenomenology of his teacher Edmund Husserl. The method of Husserl was to focus entirely on how things present themselves to us as phenomena in consciousness. Heidegger understood that the things are always partly hidden from consciousness, living a secret life of their own. Human beings are not lucid scientific observers staring at the world and describing it, but instead are thrown into a world where light is always mixed with shadow.
For Heidegger, the entire history of philosophy has reduced being to some sort of presence, whether by defining it as atoms, consciousness, perfect forms, the will to power, or even God. In this way, past philosophers have all chosen one specific kind of privileged being to represent being itself. Yet this is impossible, since being always partly withdraws from any attempt to define it. For this reason, philosophy needs to make a new beginning, one that would be just as great as the first beginning in ancient Greece.
The book ends by shedding new light on Heidegger’s concept of the fourfold, which is so notoriously difficult that most commentators avoid it altogether.
- Open Court, April 2011
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