26 June 2013

A very short introduction to Heidegger, by Michael Inwood

A clearly written introduction to the thought of Martin Heidegger

In writing this book Michael Inwood has provided us with a much needed straightforward introduction to the thought of Martin Heidegger.

Inwood’s book begins with a journey through Heidegger’s 1927 masterpiece Being and Time, and ends with a brief examination of some of Heidegger's later work. The balance is probably right.

Though the book is written in a clear and accessible style, in my opinion Inwood presumes too much background knowledge on the part of the beginner. In the first instance, Inwood assumes that the reader is already reasonably versed in the tradition of philosophy that Heidegger reacted against. It is wrong to assume that readers are aware of Aristotle or the modern tradition to which Descartes gave rise. Also lacking is a fully explained up-front appreciation of what Heidegger was trying to do with philosophy, and just how different this approach was from the Cartesian tradition.

Stripped down to simplicities, the Cartesian tradition had dealt with the questions: what do we know? And, how can we be sure about what we know? Heidegger’s analysis in contrast basically answers the question: what is like to be in the world?

Like anyone writing an analysis of a thinker, the author has to create a balance between outlining what the thinker actually said and wrote on the one hand, and, on the other, the author’s own understanding of the key enduring themes of the thinker. In this Inwood probably gets the balance right by often presenting Heidegger’s ideas and then evaluating them.

When I first met the work of Heidegger, my initial reaction was: OK what he is saying describes everyday experience, but so what? What is the generative capacity of the theory in the sense that, say, Marxism was able to initiate a whole intellectual tradition of study and analysis. I would have liked Inwood to have addressed the question of what you can do with Heidegger’s work.

Whatever minor criticisms I may have of the book, it is nonetheless a valuable and well-written introduction to the thought of Martin Heidegger.

INWOOD Michael, Heidegger: A very short introduction, OUP 1997


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