Early notes on Heidegger, Basic Writings

HarperPerennial Edition.

I read this in 2011.  I didn’t have quite the understanding of Heidegger that I do now.

The book begins with Heidegger’s introduction to Being and Time. The main thoughts are fairly simple. Heidegger’s argument runs along the following lines:

Being (Sein): when capitalized, Heidegger is talking about the Western tradition’s tendency to ground all of reality in an abstract entity known as “Being.” This is a presupposition from Plato onwards that is rarely challenged.

Being-there (Dasein): a better way to speak of Being. It is when beings (human entities) exist in a certain location. Heidegger suggests that the pre-Socratics operated on this principle.

Conclusion: The nature of being is time. Heidegger places being and existence in a radically temporal frame.

Thus armed, the reader is allowed to approach Heidegger’s other essays. We can take the above thoughts and condense them into one sentence: Being is the coming to presence.

Heidegger on Truth

In one of his essays Heidegger dwells on a Renaissance painting about a peasant. Heidegger takes the Greek word for Truth–aletheia–and shows its real meaning–unconcealment, the presencing of something (160-161). The truth of art, therefore, is the setting to work of a thing for what it was designed to do. However, Heidegger means something much richer than a crass utilitarianism. He notes that “to set to work” actually means “to bring to stand.” Well, what does “to bring to stand” mean? He really doesn’t say here, but I think we can guess.

The main point of this essay (“On the Origins of the Work of Art”) is to present an epistemology contrary to the typical ones offered by the step-children of “Being” (in the bad sense of the word). Heidegger is attacking Descartes’ subject-object distinction as it relates to language. The correspondence theory of truth. For example, Heidegger takes a coin and the statement “this is a coin.” He asks, “How can what is completely dissimilar, the statement, correspond to the coin? It would have to become the coin and in this way relinquish itself entirely. The statement never succeeds in doing that” (120-121).

Let’s apply this discussion to iconography and Christian art for a moment. Heidegger notes that “beauty is a mode of knowing” (181). He is not attacking the legitimate aspects of the correspondence theory of truth; he is simply showing its limitations and allowing other modes of knowing to arise.