Heidegger: Thinking the Unthinkable

Heidegger: Thinking the Unthinkable

1999, Philosophy  -   51 Comments
Ratings: 7.88/10 from 34 users.

Heidegger: Thinking the UnthinkableGerman philosopher Martin Heidegger addressed the central question of human existence full on, by examining how human self-awareness depends on concepts of time and death. His preoccupation with ontology - the form of metaphysical inquiry concerned with the study of existence itself - dominated his work. The central idea of his complex Sein und Zeit (Being and Time) (1927) could be summed up in the phrase 'being is'.

Man had to ask himself 'what is it to be?' and only by doing this, and standing back from absorption into objects and other distractions, could he actually exist. For Heidegger, the constant fear of death and the anxieties of life helped man to ask this central question – the mystery of life was intimately linked to the individual's confrontation and consideration of the temporary nature of their own existence.

Heidegger also felt that art, like language, was important evidence of existence, something which was a real existence rather than a mere recreation of reality. He opposed technology, which he believed caused alienation, and advocated a return to an agrarian economy in which the individual had a greater role. For many Heidegger’s reputation is tainted by his association with Nazism in 1930’s Germany; he actively supported Adolf Hitler during the dictator's first years in power and after World War II he was banned by the Allies from teaching and publishing for five years.

Despite this, his work has been widely influential, especially on the thought of twentieth century philosophical giants such as Sartre, Lacan and Derrida. (Excerpt from bbc.co.uk)

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51 Comments / User Reviews

  1. PermReader, atheist

    The intellectual vacuum created by atheism , is often used by idelogies of rude paganism,including some forms of nazism.It`s not strange so many atheist are the leftists,though the leftism is not so scientific,after the marxist utopia.

  2. Victoria Blackstone

    Fantastic site. There are several videos that are no longer available. Taking them off would be more honest, and save us all time. Thank you, Victoria

  3. rocketmahn

    Shame on this man. And frankly, I'm surprised that his tombstone has not been defaced as have so many other stones of men like him.

  4. 64framus

    If you will look at Pg. 3 of the introduction of "Being-in-the-World" paragraph 2
    that starts: "Since Descartes...", you should find the answer to your
    subject/object problem. Heidegger is doing ontology, not epistemology- which he thought was a "scandal" that it was even considered a problem. Treating Dasein as a "subject" does not refer to the subject/object problem, Dasein is the subject of Heidegger's work and Dreyfus's commentary, at least that is my understanding. Please let me know if I understood your comment correctly. Thank you.

  5. Agostinho Paulo Manhiça

    is this doc about Heidegger or Nazis? can't they be dissociated?

  6. Derek Stone

    Thanks for the history lesson about the Nazis and the restructuring of Europe. I thought I was watching a doc about Heidegger's philosophy, but hey, I won't complain.

    1. TanongSak

      What if Heidegger had died shortly after he wrote "Being and Time." Then all we'd know about him is what he wrote, and did, before that time. Would he still be the bad guy that so many try to make him out to be? The fact is that we just wouldn't know what might have happened. When he lectured at Freiburg, his students were kept in awe of him, so lucid were his lectures. There are some "scholars" who bend over backwards to find Nazism in "Being and Time." Whether it's there or not is debatable, since many, like Gadamer, don't see it that way.

  7. Howard Lee

    While an informative documentary it is flawed in one big respect.
    It pays too much attention to his Nazi connections where on the other hand
    it should have done more to explain his philosophy.
    This movie is more about Heidegger the Nazi quisling or collaborator rather
    Heidegger the philosopher.

  8. vvindred

    i thought i was at the philosophy section not the anti nazi one

  9. TanongSak

    You're quite right. Heidegger himself is supposed to have said that, if you've studied Aristotle for 10 years, then you're ready to study him (Heidegger). I always advise people to start with a commentary on Heidegger, such as Hubert Dreyfus' "Being-in-the-World," before going to Heidegger. Heidegger's German is no easier to understand than the English translations of his work. However, one really can't do serious philosophy nowadays and ignore Heidegger. Even the stalwarts of the one-dimensional "analytic philosophy" tradition are beginning to understand this.

    1. Jonathon Enos

      Except Dreyfus misunderstands Heidegger when he insists on treating Dasien like a subject....

    2. TanongSak

      Thank you for your reply. I'd almost forgotten about writing this comment. I'm always happy to hear from someone who reads Heidegger.

      Do you think Dreyfus does that? I agree, that it's sometimes hard to understand just what Dreyfus is saying. (I don't have my copy of his book before me now. It fell apart from overuse, and I haven't had time to reorder a new one. If you have some page cites, please give them.) But I agree, that if Dreyfus does construe Heidegger in this way, then he's off the mark. The subject-object dichotomy is precisely what Heidegger was trying to overcome. Unlike the earlier (and may even the later) Husserl, and of course the whole Cartesian tradition, Heidegger doesn't give consciousness a central role.

  10. Ambricourt

    This smooth documentary is an affront to standards of intelligent appraisal and good judgement. Its quiet voice-over, smooth editing and selected biographical details are dedicated to destroying Heidegger's reputation and demonizing the man. The film says little about Heidegger's philosophical perspective and repeats platitudes about German society's alleged injustices and persecutions during the 1930s.

    Heidegger, a peasant at heart, successfully maneuvered a path through class-rigid German society. And for this, as much as for his philosophical insights, he will be remembered.

    In its time, the Nazi Party offered similar opportunities to millions of other young people without work and dispossessed by the terms of the 1919 Versailles Treaty. Among other punishments for losing World War I, Germany was forced to pay 269 billion gold marks to international bankers - one of the most monstrous fines in all history. In 1933, Hitler refused further payments - the real reason for Britain starting World War 2 six years later. Germany's sovereign debt was finally paid on Sunday 3 October 2010 - a completion date unnoticed by most of the world's media.

    If a just appraisal is to be made of Heidegger and his society, the biased perspective of ethnicity so painfully over-emphasized in this documentary must be abandoned. Economics and social psychology offer a broader and more salubrious platform.

    1. Attilashrugs

      The damages assessed Germany at Versailles were no more harsh than those the Germans dictated to Russia at Brest-Litovsk.
      Weird that Great Britain waited 6 years to "declare war" on Germany for reneging its debt. And the Nazi aggression in Czechoslovakia, and finally Poland had nothing to do,with it?

  11. 64framus

    When I first read Being and Time (1956 Macquarrie-Robinson ed.), I had a difficult time understanding their translations of key phrases. I finally came across a book by Hubert Dreyfus (Being-In-The-World, a Commentary on Being and Time, M.I.T Press,1991) and the light bulbs went off! Afterwards I came across a new translation of Being and Time by Joan Stambaugh (1996, State Univ. Of New York Press) and found it far superior to the 1956 ed. As far as I'm concerned, his philosophy has nothing to do with Nazi-ism. He took his dedication to Husserl out of Being and Time during the Nazi era, but put it back after WWII. Like Nietzsche he had a higher ideal of authentic human-being, but with our culture and fascination/reliance on technology and the "newest fad", we'll never be visited by extraterrestrials, because they haven't seen evidence of intelligent life here.

  12. Nathan Knight

    Could Heidegger not have been forced or coerced to campaign and support the Nazi party?
    I guess, though, if he remained in the party so constantly, it is unlikely.

    1. Sašo Sla?ek

      No, Heidegger was an "alter Kämpfer", which is a term the NSDAP used for its earliest members, those that did not join out of opportunism when the party came to power, but were there even when the party was weak and its prospects bleak or at best uncertain - those people that supported the party simply because of their firm belief in the principles of national socialism.

  13. octavio

    Does not outline some of Heidegger's most important contributions to philosophy. Just another historical assessment.

  14. astromann

    This documentary is based on the typical political correctness paradigm (anti-Semitism) which is currently so pervasive in our society today. Then it blames Heidegger for being a politically correct Nazi merely for being on the opposite side of the political spectrum. Pure hypocrisy. The subject matter is completely drowned in a sea of political clap trap. How disappointing. This program purports to be about philosophy.Alas it is not but pure rhetoric.Hopefully I can find some alternative and more informative source elsewhere.

  15. Gegenhall

    Honestly, having read Heidegger, I do not understand why anyone would find him interesting. This documentary is alright, but he doesn't deserve any attention for his ideas. Most of them are just nonsense. Read Einstein instead.

    1. DerFuhere

      You're such a fool. Einstein failed almost all of his classes, his teacher's thought he was retarded yet he was brought to the fore through the Royal Society in England; the same scum to promote Newton over Leibniz. None of the jewish scientists or philosophers could hold a candle to anything coming out of Germany during WW2.
      Muller and Bohm supersede Einstein. Read Global Scaling Theory before relativity.

    2. Zach Fraser

      wow im pretty sure einstein had alot more knowlege than you an he may have been considerd as you put it retarded but most of the greatest minds are vastly differnt than the norm which enables them to think DIFFERNTLY he may have failed but failiure is still progress.

    3. TanongSak

      You sound like the garden-variety sour grapes dilettante. Since you can't understand what he's saying, he must not be saying anything worthwhile. Unfortunately (for you), a great many thinkers and historians of philosophy disagree with you. As far as comparing Heidegger with Einstein, the notion is puerile. Einstein was a scientist, and as such, he couldn't address the same sorts of questions that Heidegger did, let alone give answers to them.

  16. John Adams

    I watched only about 3 minutes and then gave up. First Rorty, like a yapping lap dog, couldn't resist having a go at Heidegger, and then the PC commentator declared National Socialism as "the most sinister political movement of modern times". Really? Communism killed (the lowest estimate btw.) 40,000,000 people, while the Nazis (and note, you get thrown into prison if you so much as dare doubt this figure) killed '6,000,000' (why the legal enforcement of this historical ‘truth’? Name me one, just one, other historical fact that is legally enforced).

    Of course, T. S. Elliot, Yates, Ezra Pound, Céline and others were also all great thinkers - pity they all got it wrong in thier politics! Or did they?

    1. Jack McJuicypants

      its BBC mate, how unbiased do/can you expect the doc to be?
      isn't the sinister music on the background when the Hitler talks begin enough of an indication?

  17. Lori George Alexander

    I don't see how a documentary can focus on a philosopher and ignore what he is known for. Nazis have been the rage for some time. I don't see that interest dying out. That is a part of this philosopher and nothing is going to deter from that unless the serious student reads him for him or herself. Film can only do so much anyhow and they do have to pay the bills.

    1. Rob Ford

      Heidegger is known as a Nazi, but also a great thinker and if one fixates on one aspect of Heidegger then everything false apart. Take Beys the child soldier that tortured and killed people in Africa. If you fixate on him being a killer, you miss his later life; if you also fixate on him being a human rights lawyer , helping hundreds of people you also miss the darkness. Reality is always shifting and moving and as long as we make objects out of energy, we are lost.

  18. Y

    Interesting but if you want to really delve into what his philosophy is about, it is only touched on a little bit and it focuses entirely on his support of the Nazi regime.

  19. Lori George Alexander

    Dude, his books are still in print and he is on the Internet. Maybe it is not hearing it but reading is how he intended his work to be communicated.

  20. dude

    I want to hear more about his philosophy and not more about the evil Nazis.

    1. TanongSak

      Watch Hubert Dreyfus' lectures on "Being and Time" on U-Tube. There are about 30 of them, each an hour long. Dreyfus is among the best Heidegger scholars around. Listening to him in the classroom clarified a lot of things for me.

  21. Lori George Alexander

    I sorry but I would have to add, JPT, that I find it very perplexing why the philosopher wasn't jailed and/or arrested either. OLU's question is a valid one. He did more than express an opinion. The people he went after ended up in labor and concentration camps. Many of them ended up dead. He was a lot more than just a member of the Nazi Party. He was an active participant.

  22. J P T

    @Olu (why wasn't he jailed?) Maybe because in a democracy, ideally one shouldn't be jailed for their political beliefs. If you were alive as a citizen in Nazi Germany, you (assuming you were German) would probably have been a member of the party too. Human beings are like that, you have to consider the historical context.

  23. Lori George Alexander

    I don't think this forum is the correct place to debate Heidegger since most of us only saw the BBC film. It certainly is not enough to make an informed judgment.
    I have to say that the BBC does a fairly decent job on most subjects, but I want to read the man himself.

    1. TanongSak

      That's a wise choice. But unless you're well-versed in philosophy, read a good commentary first. I found that approach very helpful. Among the best I've found are those by Hubert Dreyfus, Magda King, and Michael Watts.

  24. Olu

    Call me simple minded. However, I believe that there are degrees to human's frailties, and Heidegger wins the great lot! Though revered for his work, I find it hard to see how one could disassociate a man's evilness from the work of his hands no matter how glorious that work might have seem otherwise.
    To me what actually happens was that this man had a moment of consciousness and ran with it. However, that consciousness does not define him. He sought power and fame and position with highly ranked wingnuts, but came up empty. If he were indeed a very thoughtful man, he would not have wandered in the path he chose to travel. As such to me Heidegger is nothing but a fake!

    1. TanongSak

      It's amazing that a "fake" could have such profound influence on other first-rate thinkers, such as Derrida, Gadamer, Sartre, Arendt, et al., and upon so many disciplines, such as theology, sociology, literature, etc. And keep in mind that these people came from an intellectual tradition and educational system which, from the point of view of the humanities, is far superior to our own. What disturbs me even more is how many people mindlessly follow intellectual non-entities like Obama, Oprah, and Dr. Phil, all of whom Heidegger would have scorned, as we should now.

  25. Olu

    My concern is, why wasn't he jailed after the war?

  26. Olu

    @the real Nazi. Suppose there is a shred of truth to your claims about Jews. Can two wrongs ever make a right? I don't think so!

  27. Lori George Alexander

    It is a troubling documentary in that it presents a man who had some great ideas but deep and troubling shadows. I am still curious about his work and hope to read him more. I think the BBC does present a good introduction to him and that is all it can do in a documentary of this type.

  28. The real Nazi

    The truth is that the Jews are the real Nazi of our time, maybe even worse, killing men, women and children for more than half a century and nobody says anything. The atrocities of Hitler Nazi are nothing compared to what the Jews do today.

  29. J P T

    I agree with Vec. 47 minutes of "Nazi this, Nazi that." Being Nazi back in those days was like being Republican nowadays. Understand the context (!!!!) of those times and judge him OBJECTIVELY! Isn't that the cornerstone of our academic tradition?! Objectivity?!

    So what?! WTF does that have to do with philosophy? I want to know about BEING and TIME, about phenomenology, ontology, epistemology, heuristics and all that, not about some sensationalistic yellow-journalist's petty judgments.

  30. Collette

    Can we admire the works of somebody and in the same time despise the same person? It is what at the end should be found. My grandfather was abusing his wife and childrer beating them while alcoholic, but when I read his poems I am being transported to a beautiful place in a beautiful way. How can Husserl really appreciate any of Heideggers works if he was hurt by th same persona? Difficult to know... But, beyond all doubts was the words Heideger wrote in one of the letters shown in this docs putting next to heil hitler his signiture. That really hurts to see.

  31. Antonio barreiros

    I also agree with Tamara and Paul's point of view. the documentary does not aim at reconstructing an in-depth analysis of Heidegger's ideas. However it gives us a nice summary of the circumstances and facts. It's an enjoyable documentary to watch, done with a lot of objectivity in my view.

  32. Paul

    I completely agree with Vec's point, I think that the documentary spent most of the time talking about his relation with Fascism. But I also think that Tamara Novak reasonably argues that the documentary did what it promised: to answer why he was both admired and reviled.

    However I think the documentary could have been improved if it changed its thesis slightly so that it leaves enough room to distribute its focus on his notorious political life and his profound philosophical life.

  33. Tamara Novak

    I think the movie does what it purports to do. Why is he both admired and reviled? What sort of man was he? How did he become aligned with the Nazi movement and to what extent should his Nazi involvement detract from his status of a thinker? You have to know who the man was if you want to understand what he wrote and its purpose. Yes, it may not be the best illustration of the man, but it is said within the time allotted; better to read about him, of course. Good to hear other sides, but why let others do the work for you?

  34. Bary Haugh

    As Rorty well puts it there are plenty of cases of bad men writing great books. The only real question for me is: Is Heidegger's philosophy in any way Fascist? The documentary mentions some things in relation to this question but it's rather vague. I studied Heidegger quite a while ago and was hoping for more insight into his philosophy. However this docu was a little light in that respect.

  35. MattGone

    I think the thing about all these movies is that it is tough to make a film documentary about a particular philosopher's philosophy and make it interesting. What you don't often get with books by these philosophers are their backgrounds, which can often be almost as important as what they write. Watch the movie, but if you want to learn about the philosophy itself, read some books.

  36. Vec

    It's a shame that there isn't really anything about his ideas, in fact there is basically only one paragraph about it about 15 minutes in, the rest is just "nazi this, nazi that, never forgive, total nazi, bad man don't even bother looking into what he wrote, nazi nazi nazi"

    Sure it's a fairly important part of who he was, and should be mentioned, but not for 47 of the 49 minutes.

  37. Jonathan R

    Always enjoy pondering the mysteries of the universe...

  38. ggwbach

    thanks for digging out these great docos. A shame google is shutting down their upload service in a few months. Will have to find another reliable service.