April 09, 2004

Heidegger: Letter on Humanism

There is continuity and discontinuty in Heidegger's Letter on Humanism. I will try and spell it briefly.

In the Letter Heidegger distinguishes his thought from humanism when he claims that being, not the human being, is what is essential, and states that his intention is not to elevate “the human being to the center of beings” At the same time, Heidegger acknowledges that, despite his own hesitations, it would be possible to characterize his thought as a type of humanism due to its concern with the essence and dignity of the human being.

The Letter on Humanism' has two changes in relation to Being and Time. Instead of practical acting in a world of interpretations it is thought and poetry that are primary'; and instead of attempting to answer the question 'what is Being', Heidegger is more concerned about us becoming a 'custodian' of Being.

Hence the remark about language is the house of Being. that human beings dwell in this house and that those who think and those who create poetry are the custodians of the dwelling.

The letter is an attack on French existentialism, it is anti-humanist in the sense that man is not primary: it is not man who determines Being, but Being which, via language, discloses itself to and in man. 'Hence we have phrases such as, Thrown into the truth of Being by Being', man is now watchman over this truth. He is the sentinel in the 'clearing', 'the shepherd of Being'.

So the emphasis on this pathway away from Being and Time is on conservation and caring instead of domination and mastery. This discontinuity is ignored in the Lowith/Wolin interpretation of Heidegger's philosophy.

Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at April 9, 2004 12:56 AM | TrackBack
Post a comment