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Heidegger, circa 2015

At the LA Review of Books, Santiago Zabala assess the present-day relevance of Martin Heideggar on the eve of the fortieth anniversary of the philosopher’s death. Zabala suggests that the rightful concern about Heideggar’s Nazi affiliations nonetheless threatens to overshadow the philosopher’s crucial writing on the perils of technology, at a time when we need such wisdom more than ever:

These technological conditions are the result of overlooking Being in favor of beings, that is, the disclosure of worlds for what gets revealed within those worlds. This is why science “does not think” but rather “calculates.” Ever since modernity, when the human subject became the point of reference for everything and nature was reduced to what can be subjected to human domination, the essence of the species has been framed (Ge-Stell) by a power we do not control. This, after all, is the sensation we all have today where “the only emergency,” as Heidegger once said, “is the absence of a sense of emergency.” The fact that in 2015 we are all monitored, spied on, and soon also biogenetically engineered confirms the German philosopher’s prediction of a world “where self-certainty has become unsurpassable, where everything is held to be calculable, and especially where it has been decided, with no previous questioning, who we are and what we are supposed to do.” This is why, as we can see in this video from 1969, Heidegger does not believe we need to better describe the world in order to change it; rather, we must learn to interpret it differently.

Heidegger, like many other philosophers after him, was alarmed not only by human beings living inauthentic lives in technological societies but also by the way we are becoming technological ourselves. In this condition philosophy, as an analysis of our concepts, traditions, and world, would lose its educational and critical role within society. Unfortunately, his anti-Semitism has destroyed his legacy, even more so than other anti-Semites of his time (T.S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, D.H. Lawrence). While many are now wont to defend or discredit the German thinker’s moral and political corruption, we should remember, as Heidegger once said, that “he who thinks great thoughts often makes great errors.”

Image of Heidegger via Prospect Magazine