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5.0 out of 5 stars First acquaintance with Heidegger's writings, 1 Sep 2013
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This review is from: Being and Time (Paperback)
Martin Heidegger's Being and Time has been one of the most challenging books to read that I have ever come across. Not only was it because this was a translation from the original German into English (albeit excellently done by John Macquarrie and Edward Robinson), but because Heidegger's own use of German words and his coining of new terms and phrases were difficult for both German- and English-speaking readers. The subtleties of his thought and the nuances in his original German were not just a challenge for our translators, but also a challenge to readers of any excellent translation of his work.

Having said that, it is important to emphasise that Heidegger's book is original and quite brilliant, and it is not at all surprising to discover that his book has had a deep influence on twentieth-century philosophy, and even theology.

The book is divided into two Divisions, one on `Being' and the other on `Time'. Both Divisions form what Heidegger calls Part 1 of a two-part work. Sadly, the second Part was never published (was it even written?). My first reaction to this book (this is the first work by Heidegger that I have read) is that the first Division on `Being' was the more difficult of the two, in large part because so many new items of specialist Heideggerian terms were introduced here, and hence produced a more demanding read as one tried to accommodate oneself to his way of thinking and expressing himself. The second Division on `Time' was a (slightly) easier read because one already had most of the `vocabulary' in hand, even though new terminology and concepts (such as the `temporalising of temporality') were also introduced. And, of course, the key term - Dasein - figured prominently in both Divisions because Heidegger wanted to use this term for his existential-ontological entity (in ordinary language `human being') as a means of approaching the fundamental philosophical question `What is Being?'

In a sense, Heidegger wants to invert Descartes's cogito ergo sum (`I think, therefore I am') into sum ergo cogito (`I am, therefore I think'). For him, human existence in its `thrownness' into `the world' and its `fallenness' and `inauthentic existence' are primordial constituents of Dasein, `prior' (or `anterior') to human conceptualising about its condition. Two concepts which I found particularly striking and important to assess were his views on Dasein as being primordially a `Being-towards-Death' and of having a sense of Time which includes a past, present and future but which are not based on an everyday use of `clocks'. Heidegger's view of `authentic' existence and of `temporality' challenges the ordinary intuitive understandings of what `real' living and experience of `time' mean for the majority of us most of the time. This is because (according to Heidegger) the average everyday existence of Dasein is not controlled by the true Self (the genuine `I') but by the `They', i.e. the public norms of what is acceptable thinking and behaving. Heidegger believes that we are `fleeing' from our true Selves and `authentic' existence by `falling' into the `world' of everyday activity which takes up our time and our lives. A genuine existential coming to terms with the `temporality' of our `Being-towards-Death' is possible in `moments of vision' when the true Self calls to the true Self and releases us from the `They'.

Heidegger confronts the ideas of Plato, Aristotle, Descartes, Kant and Hegel when it comes to fundamental ontology and the deepest ontological question about `Being', although recognising that his `analytic' of Dasein, despite providing the way and right phenomenological method, has not yet allowed us to answer the fundamental question `What is Being?' Perhaps this would have received an (i.e. his) answer if the second Part had been written/published, where he would have dealt more extensively with Descartes and Kant. None the less, however ambitious Heidegger's ontological project was (Being and Time was originally published in German in 1927, with our English translation appearing only in 1962!), there can be no doubt that this major book on ontology provides a penetrating and, at times, intriguing contribution to the big questions about life.

Having now read Being and Time in its entirety for the first time and having formed an initial view of the work, I am conscious of the need to read the critical reviews of this book by experts in the field and to discover how Heidegger's views have influenced other key philosophers in their own thinking and contributions.

Is 488-page Being and Time a book for relative beginners in the field of philosophy, much like myself? Hardly, I would say. However, it does repay the hard work done in reading this book carefully, and even `beginners' who `have a go' may benefit much.
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