Sunday, March 08, 2009

The Hubris of Humankind 5

Section 4: Heidegger’s Humanism:

Heidegger, like Nietzsche before him, was an unbeliever or atheist who could not give up Christian hopes.  According to Gray, and one is wont to believe him, carried along with the author’s enthusiasm and logic, that Heidegger’s terminology is merely new terms for old beliefs.  Once again, Heidegger believes in humankind’s special place in the scheme of things and describes us humans as the makers of the worlds we inhabit.  However, animals, he says, are “world-poor.” (quoted op.cit., 48)

Heidegger loved the term “Being” and Gray argues that this is a term that replaces “God” in the old scheme of things.  He uses this term to re-affirm humankind’s special position in the universe.  Heidegger used the terms “throwness” (Dasein), “uncanniness” (Unheimlichkeit) and “guilt” (Schuld) to describe the human being’s existence in the world.  Gray says that these are merely a reworking of old Christian terms and I should imagine they correspond to the following Christian terms/tenets such as “created”, “humankind has to struggle and toil to survive” as a consequence of “sin” respectively.

For Heidegger humans are the site in which Being is disclosed, and Gray argues that Heidegger took much of this from the mystics Eckardt and Silesius who argued that God needs man just as much as man needs God. Whatever about the finer points of Heideggerian thought, the effect is the same, namely old wine in new wineskins, the old belief of humanity’s special place in creation in different philosophical or existential terms.  Humans are the only animals with the power to disclose Being.  Once again I love Gray’s power of language:

This is only the old anthropocentric conceit, rendered anew in the idiom of a secular Gnostic. (Ibid., 50)

I cannot claim to understand all that Gray writes about Heidegger, but the above encapsulates the tenor of his thought and is enough for our purposes here.  Also that Heidegger was an out and out Nazi is undeniable and that it influenced his later thought unquestionable.

Section 5:  Conversing with Lions:

This section treats of Wittgenstein from the angle of one of his saying’s.  That dictum was: “If a lion could talk we could not understand him.” (Quoted ibid., 52)  Gray criticises this as being extreme human prejudice and he quotes a conservationist who also questions Wittgenstein’s belief on this matter.  Gray argues that the likes of Heidegger and Wittgenstein maintained that the world itself was simply a construction of human thought.  As Gray so succinctly puts it: “In all these philosophies, the world acquires a significance from the fact that humans have appeared in it.  In fact, until humans arrive, there is hardly a world at all.” (Ibid., 53)  Then Gray says that these philosophers were really Idealists like Plato, because they believed that there is nothing that is independent of the mindIdealism, in short, is the belief that only humans exist.

Section 6: Postmodernism:

In sum, Gray argues as he neatly puts it, that “Postmodernism is just the latest fad in anthropocentrism.” (Ibid., 55)  Postmodernists maintain that truth is relative.  They actually deny that the natural world exists independently of our beliefs:

In fact the postmodern denial of the truth is the worst kind of arrogance.  In denying that the natural world exists independently of our beliefs about it, postmodernists are implicitly rejecting any limit on human ambitions.  by making human beliefs the final arbiter of reality, they are effectively claiming that nothing exists unless it appears in human consciousness.  (ibid., 55)

Above a picture of Martin Heidegger, famous German philosopher and Nazi sympathiser.

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