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November 5, 2003

Hello and a warm welcome to ‘Philosophy Today’, a series, which deals with concepts, terms and issues in the realm of philosophy.

This week, in the last part of a series on German philosopher Martin Heidegger, we take a look at some of his interesting works.

Although Martin Heidegger was initially considered a Phenomenologist, he is now seen as the central figure in existentialism.

During Hitler’s ascendancy, Heidegger actually praised Hitler in his inaugural address, but Heidegger’s motives have been variously interpreted.

However, though a controversial figure, his works have enjoyed, a tremendous following.

Some of his principal writings are ‘On the Essence of Reason’; ‘What is Metaphysics?’ ‘Phenomenology and Theology’ and the main work ‘Being and Time’.

Speaking to Mr David Campbell (DC), of the philosophy department at the University of Glasgow in Scotland, I asked him to tell me more about ‘Being and Time’:

DC: “That takes me back to the first thing that I said – the Doctrine of Intentionality. The view that the Being of things or object is to an accepted intention to use a certain means to an end. And this views involve the Doctrine of Phenomenlogy – that what we are dealing with is what are our years of experience, not something we speculate about outside experience. Phenomena are, however, not sensory or material as the first instance. They are primarily possibilities for use. And I gave the example of a door being open-able – that is a possibility. And the door is constituted by its being open-able. But as open-able, it is transparent in use. We do not think of it as sensory or materially, only if the door is locked or the handle breaks, do we stand back and think of the door as an object over and against needing repair or needing unlocking. The phenomena, Heidegger’s primary doctrine is that the phenomena is not simply occurrence objects, but as he said, it is ready or available for serviceable, or in some ways relative to us. so, that is the basic doctrine of ‘Being and Time’.”

Another book of Heidegger is called ‘On the Essence of Reason’, I think some people or some writers have called it ‘The Principal of Reason’. Now, can you tell us a little bit more about this work of his?

DC: “As I tried to say, the point being made in that book is that, to my understanding, is that we can think of reasons as a kind of calculation so that we do not consider things as they are, but merely as means to an end. We calculate means to end and do not think of things as things, but as mere means. And it were… and we connect to that point with the point made in ‘Being and Time’ – namely that we need to consider not only the use of things, but what things are in themselves.”

How applicable is Heidegger’s philosophical arguments in the 21st century?

DC: “Yes, I think there are two ways of looking at this. One is to consider the cultural implications of his critique of technology. Now Heidegger began writing in the early part of the 20th century when Germany was becoming industrialise, people throughout the world were being worried about the effect of technology on workers and the like. It seem to treat human beings as mere means. And so, one message, if you like, that people take from Heidegger, is that we need to be critical of technology and its effect on the environment – on the world. And this element in his thoughts being developed to a great extent and if we move away from Heidegger’s whole areas of study about ecology and environmentalism, which I think takes a starting point in the early 20th century and Heidegger played a strong part in it. The other thing is philosophical and I am not sure if it really quite what you are after… but when you asked about the message of Heidegger’s philosophy in the 21st century, the philosophical message is not really temporal and that, in a sense, is not concerned with popular culture. That the broad contrast that is drawn is between the intentionalist ontology and a subject predicate ontology and also that between the intentionalist ontology and an absolutist view or transcendental view, which is… such as Decartes and Plato held. There are two parts to that question. One has to do with political, popular and other matters… and Heidegger is very much engaged with these, but also, I think, there is, in his writing, a strong philosophical argument.”

Finally, for first time readers, what are some of the books that you would recommend to read on Heidegger and why?

DC: “Well, there is of course, Heidegger’s main work ‘Being and Time’. And I find many people cannot stop turning the pages and find it very readable in spite of his hyphenations and the difficulties in translation. There are also the later essays – these are collected in a book by David Krell called ‘Martin Heidegger Basic Writings’. As for secondary readings, there is a book I like by David E. Cooper called ‘Heidegger’ and a slightly larger book by Stephen Mulhall called ‘Heidegger and Being and Time’. So, I would recommend these books.”

And that was Mr David Campbell, of the University of Glasgow in Scotland.

Till next week, I’m Felix Tan and you’ve been listening to Philosophy Today on Radio Singapore International.


  Jean Paul Sartre. A french philosopher of the 20th century.
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