Friday, May 05, 2006

So, You Want to Understand Heidegger?

Here’s a brief reading list, from the more introductory to the more difficult, for those who want to understand Heidegger better. First, though, you might ask yourself, “Why should I study Heidegger?” Here is a list of reasons that stand out in my mind (and I’m sure more could be given):
  1. Heidegger stands among the most prominent and important 20th century philosophers (often coupled with Wittgenstein).
  2. Heidegger has influenced many prominent thinkers in various fields:
    1. Psychology—Karl Jaspers, Jean-Paul Sartre, R.D. Laing, Rollo May, Medard Boss.
    2. Philosophy—Richard Rorty, Michel Foucault, Emmanuel Levinas.
    3. Hermeneutics—Rudolf Bultmann, Hans-Georg Gadamer, Jacques Derrida, Paul Ricoeur, Jürgen Habermas.
    4. Political Theory—Leo Strauss, Hannah Arendt.
    5. Anthropology—Clifford Geertz, Tim Ingold.
    6. Theology—Paul Tillich, Jean-Luc Marion, John D. Caputo.
  3. Heidegger is a major figure in the phenomenological/humanistic tradition, which has had a profound effect on modern culture.
  4. Heidegger’s thought, though difficult, is rewarding.
Given Heidegger’s widespread influence, anyone wishing to educate themselves in 20th century thought can benefit from mining his philosophy. Furthermore, understanding what he was attempting to accomplish, including how his goals and conclusions differed from those whom he influenced, is important for gaining a richer understanding of how many contemporary schools of thought (hermeneutics, deconstruction, postmodernism, etc.) developed.

With that in mind, here is my list of secondary works for those who are interested in learning about Martin Heidegger’s thought, placing them in preferred reading order:

As you read through the above, I would suggest the following order for Heidegger’s own works: After you’ve gotten your feet wet with Inwood, Polt, and Mulhall and Basic Problems and Being and Time, what you study next will depend on what facets of Heidegger’s thought interest you. You will find more difficult expositions of Heidegger’s thought in Dreyfus, Wrathall, and Richardson, Wrathall's being a good transition into Heidegger’s later thought and Pattison and Young’s works. Within Krell and Lovitt you will find works that range from the essence of art to the essence of science/technology. In Fundamental Concepts and you will be able to better see Heidegger’s “turn” (Kehre) to language and poetics in the early 1930s, as seen in Introduction to Metaphysics, The Question Concerning Technology, and Poetry, Language, Thought. With this foundation, you can become informed about Heidegger's thought and, if desired, you can continue through his later works and more difficult commentaries. Whatever reading you will do, you will see (and thus must keep in mind) Heidegger’s central concern: the “question of being.”

P.S. If anyone has any suggestions, corrections, or comments on this list either in terms of content or order, please let me know.



Blogger Clark Goble said...

I really liked Heidegger's Analytic and I think Through Phenomenology to Thought is a must read.

4:00 PM  
Blogger Kevin Winters said...

Clark, where do you think they should be in relation to what I've given? Which would you give priority? Got limited space, so trying to be somewhat selective.

4:06 PM  
Blogger Clark Goble said...

Oh, two others. I don't think one can understand Heidegger without seeing his connection to Husserl and other phenomenologists. So I think for beginners Dermot Moran's Introduction to Phenomenology is a must. I think a bit of knowledge of Kierkegaard, Hegel and Kant is helpful as well. As is Aristotle. Although I don't think one has to know a lot.

4:10 PM  
Blogger Clark Goble said...

I think Richardson just has to be in there. One could probably do without Heidegger's Analytic. I should add that I think one could do without the Routledge guide to the latter Heidegger as well. It's good, but I think Richardson is much better.

BTW I think in Heidegger's own works that for his middle period one probably should read his work on Kant and then his work on Leibniz. (The Metaphysical Foundations of Logic is, in my mind, one of the more important works from his middle period even though it covers roughly the same ground as Being and Time) For the latter period I think Introduction to Metaphysics is pretty important.

4:13 PM  
Blogger Kevin Winters said...

Ok, I'll see what I can do to include it and update the entry.

4:26 PM  
Blogger Kevin Winters said...

Clark, I've updated the list. I decided not to include The Metaphysical Foundations of Logic and Kant and the Problem of Metaphysics for brevity's sake, but heartily endorse them for any reader. What I've provided should be good for a thorough introduction to Heidegger's thought; more would seem to be overkill for that purpose, though certainly suggested for further study.

12:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Don't forget to read up Heidegger's two influences: Kierkegaard and Nietzsche. I especially recommend "The Present Age" and "The Sickness Unto Death" by Kierkegaard.

2:15 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm supposed to do a defense on Heidegger and his thoughts on existentialism but from all these philosophers I've studied on, he has this deep explanation on Being which I find so hard to comprehend. What's a good site to check on this? Thanks!!

1:36 AM  
Blogger Kevin Winters said...


Beyond what I've posted here (see particularly here, here, and here), you will want to read Heidegger's Letter on "Humanism" (also found in Basic Writings). There he criticizes "existential" philosophy for still buying into the "metaphysical" distinction between essence and existence (with existentialism giving the latter primacy, as most dualities do privilege one above the other). He also emphasizes that man's being is intimately and essentially tied up with being/beings, rather than merely his possibilities that he is then supposed to "authentically" realize.

You might also want to check out On the Essence of Truth, particularly Heidegger's discussion of "freedom" not as caprice (as the "existentialists") often talk about it), but as freedom for beings/being which is the foundation for capricious freedom itself.

Let me know if you have any particular questions on either of those.

7:15 AM  
Blogger Herr Richter said...

This is great. I'm going to check out some of these books and read more of your entries when I have time.
I'm a grad student in french lit and am planning on concentrating on the 20th century when I start my phd. They're offering a Heidegger class over in the philosophy dept in the university where I'm at next semester so I'm planning on taking it to help me with Derrida, Foucault, Blanchot, etc.. Although I've read a bit of philosophy on my own, I havent actually taken a philosophy class since my sophmore year of college, so I'm a little worried about getting over my head. So I've got whatever time I have on the side of my studies for the rest of this semester and then Christmas break to prepare myself. I got through Jonathan Rée's short 50 pager yesterday, and will next read the chapter on Heidegger in Andrew Bowie's Intro to German Philosophy, then I'll check out some of the books on your list.

A question that pops into my head is: Is it possible to approach his philosophy through English translations? Do you read him in German?

7:11 PM  
Blogger Kevin Winters said...

Herr Richter,

It is very possible to approach Heidegger in English translations. It is a common saying that Heidegger is just as hard for native speaking Germans as he is for native English speakers reading translations (though some who are capable of both prefer one over the other). See, for example, Thomas Sheehan's Let a Hundred Translations Bloom!: A Modest Proposal About Being and Time."

My German is currently so dismal that I can't simply read him in German. I do own a few of his German texts, however, and am trying to improve my German through them (a dangerous task, given his creative use of German terms). I am trying to start a few interlinear Heidegger texts that, sometime in the next few years, I hope to submit to a publisher (though I really need to get something of a name for myself before they'd even consider it; then there are also copyright issues). The short of it: I'm still a novice in German, but it is fun trying to read Heidegger in German. ;o)

I've started a series of summaries on Being and Time that you will probably find useful (see here and here). I've found them very useful as doing a summary requires a very close reading. I hope some of the other entries on my blog will prove useful as well. If you ever have any questions, feel free to email me or post them here.

7:02 AM  

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