- Paperback: 224 pages
- Publisher: Cambridge University Press (July 11, 2005)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 052161659X
- ISBN-13: 978-0521616591
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.5 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 14.1 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 6 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,281,850 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Heidegger on Ontotheology: Technology and the Politics of Education
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"The impressive achievement of this book is the way Thomson, by focusing on Heidegger's historicist understanding of metaphysics, manages to make the thought of 'the later Heidegger,' so often charged with obscurity and mysticism, accessible and philosophically interesting." -Ingvild Torsen, Review of Metaphysics.
Heidegger is now widely recognized as one of the most influential and controversial philosophers of the twentieth century, yet much of his later philosophy remains shrouded in confusion and controversy. Restoring Heidegger's understanding of metaphysics as "ontotheology" to its rightful place at the center of his later thought, this book demonstrates the depth and significance of his controversial critique of technology, his appalling misadventure with Nazism, his prescient critique of the university, and his important philosophical suggestions for the future of higher education. It will be required reading for those seking to understand the relationship between Heidegger's philosophy and National Socialism, as well as the continuing relevance of his work.
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The first chapter is an excellent reconstruction of Heidegger's understanding of ontotheology. Heidegger believed that metaphysical interpretations of Being lay at the base of all positive sciences. Positive sciences are sciences that deal with a specific realm or region of beings. Positive sciences attempt to understand the nature of the beings lying within a particular region (material beings, living beings, historical beings, etc.). Operating within all these positive sciences is a tacit understanding of what it means for a being to be at all, and this general interpretation of what it means for a being to be at all is provided by metaphysics. Metaphysics is, therefore, extremely important despite the fact that very few people devote themselves specifically to metaphysical questions. Metaphysical presuppositions still underlie all forms of intelligibility and the investigation of beings.
When Heidegger wrote Being and Time (Suny Series in Contemporary Continental Philosophy) he was still searching for a basic understanding of Being, a fundamental ontology, which he believed had been silently operative throughout the entire history of metaphysics and within all of our relations to beings. Heidegger eventually came to believe that our basic understanding of Being has undergone shifts throughout the long history of metaphysics. Thomson does an excellent job explaining the way in which Being, as the source of intelligibility for beings as a whole, is what Heidegger called an Ungrund. The Ungrund is different from an Urgrund which would ground our understanding of Being completely by providing an unshakable foundation. Philosophers and metaphysicians have attempted to provide Urgrunds for philosophy in the past but so far no one has discovered an unshakable ground. The Ungrund is also different, however, from an Abgrund which would be a total lack of ground. We have a ground for our understanding of Being which is relatively stable. It is not an Urgrund because, contrary to philosopher's wishes, it does change. But it is not an Abgrund because it is relatively stable.
Heidegger's project then becomes an analysis of our historical understanding of Being which he traces back to the Greeks. I am glossing over the details of Heidegger's theory because I do not have space to go into any detail but Heidegger believes that the Greeks first understanding of Being was as phusis, a dynamic process of emerging into presence, but eventually that understanding was replaced with an understanding of Being in terms of what is constantly present in that dynamic process. Iain Thomson presents what I think was a great analogy to explain the phenomenological origins of this transformation of the Greek understanding of Being. Iain Thomson asks us to imagine a time-lapse video of a flower growing, opening, and then withering. If the video was played fast enough we would not perceive anything constant about the flower and it would appear to us as if Being were purely a dynamic process. If, however, we encounter a flower in our everyday lives it is often impossible to detect the ways in which it is changing so the dynamic process of Being tends to be phenomenologically obscured in favor of the flower as what is constantly present in this dynamic process.
In the second chapter Iain Thomson attempts to defend Heidegger's understanding of technology against critics. I do not have the space to summarize Thomson's argument in detail but Thomson rightly points out that "Heidegger's critique of our 'technological' understanding of being is not focused primarily on particular technological devices but, rather, on a progressive technologization of intelligibility" (75). There is an essay in Pathmarks (Texts in German Philosophy) by Heidegger that I think does an exceptionally good job at making this point. It is called, "On the Essence and Concept of Phusis in Aristotle's Physics B".
What Heidegger explains very well in that essay, better, I thought, than in his essay "The Question Concerning Technology", is the way in which technology (or techne in Greek) is a mode of disclosure. Aristotle, Heidegger argues, defines phusis in terms of having a principle of motion within oneself. Natural (phusical) beings are beings which have their principle of motion within themselves. This is different from objects like beds which do not have their principle of motion within themselves but in the mind of the craftsman. What Heidegger makes clear in his essay, however, is that this is really two different ways of comporting ourselves towards beings. A bed, for example, is still made of wood which still has its own way of moving (rotting, deteriorating, etc.). But from the standpoint of techne we approach beings purely in terms of their use for us. This is the basis of the strife between earth and world (and phusis always wins in the end).
Heidegger believes that this way of disclosing beings is behind modern science and technology. The Greeks also encountered beings in terms of techne but it was not the dominant mode of encountering beings as it is for us. Water, for example, does not present itself to us as H2O. This is a result of a challenging forth on our part. H2O is not a description of the Being of water for Heidegger, but we treat it as if it were the Being of water because we understand the Being of beings from a technological standpoint. The way that water "is" is actually quite different. Heidegger believes that the modern understanding of Being is determined by techne. So when Heidegger critiques technology he is not critiquing technological devices (it is not Luddism) but our understanding of Being which Heidegger believes is determined by a specific comportment or mode of disclosure of Dasein. Thomson recognizes all of this in his study.
The final two chapters are about Heidegger's philosophy of education and its connection to his understanding of ontotheology on the one hand, and his questionable political allegiances on the other. This section is quite interesting from an historical point of view. Iain Thomson provides some persuasive rationale for Heidegger's decision to throw in with the Nazis based upon his program of educational reform. Like much of Heidegger's criticisms I feel like he makes some valid criticisms of the current state of higher education but then does not offer any viable solutions (I feel this way about his critique of technology as well).
Rather than make this review longer than it is I have decided to post my criticisms of some of Heidegger's positions as a comment under my review. I have also decided to post my critiques of Thomson there as well rather than trying to incorporate them into the main body of my review. So anyone who is interested in reading them can find them there (no doubt a very small percentage even of those who have had the patience to read this review).
In sum, I highly recommend this book to any who are grappling with Heidegger's thought.