Heidegger on the Problem of Objective Philosophizing

According to Heidegger, our ability to experience anything at all is made possible by the fact that things are capable of standing out for us as mattering in some way. In other words, we are the types of beings capable of having experience on account of the fact that we distinguish and differentiate the entities we encounter in the world – which, in turn, is only possible on account of the fact that we are the beings for whom our Being matters to us.

This is why Heidegger eschews the objective or scientific approach to philosophizing. For Heidegger, the moment we adopt a detached theoretical viewpoint, we replace the dynamic characteristics of being-in-the-world with a deformed reality consisting of perceivable present objects. Thus, the theoretical “de-vitalizes” the complexities of lived-experience, and thus only further conceals from view the “primordial truth” of Being. Furthermore, the theoretical conceals its own concealing, or rather, that it is wholly ignorant to the fact that it forces all of experience into categorical classifications through the creation of an impression that rigorous and detached observation of entities as present-to-hand is the only way to access truth. In effect, the objective approach not only gives us a distorted picture of reality, but also a distorted understanding of ourselves.

In contrast to objective methodology of the Western tradition, Heidegger set to work utilizing a radicalized version of phenomenology. Accordingly, Heidegger sees his own interpretation of the phenomenological method as the taking on the standpoint of the most basic way of being-in-the-world – which he takes as requiring that all philosophical starting points begin in that which is immediate and given to us. For Heidegger, this means that “primordial” insight into Being is available only by beginning with a committed involvement in the concrete situation by which the full complexities of lived-experiences can become understood as they are. Thus, unlike the scientific or naturalistic approach, Heidegger’s existential phenomenology avoids the pitfalls of a predetermined course of inquiry independent of its own findings; but rather, Heidegger tells us that the phenomenologist must be open to the findings, and thus continuously reflect on its position throughout its inquiry, rather than attempting to bring that which it finds into the fold of its predetermined foundation.

In many respects, Heidegger’s criticism of “objective truth” resembles Kierkegaard’s argument for “subjective truth” in Concluding Unscientific Postcript.” Kierkegaard noted that when we make objective observations, we take for granted that both the subject (observer) and his subjectivity (his consciousness of himself as an observer) are rendered functionally indifferent – and, as a corollary, truth itself becomes indifferent. None of this is meant to imply that neither Heidegger nor Kierkegaard saw any value to objective inquiry; rather, they were concerned with how such an approach is detrimental to philosophizing generally and specifically as it relates to Being/ontology (Heidegger) and existences (Kierkegaard).



  1. luchte

    Heidegger’s position, I think, is more rich than a merely anti-modernist perspective, and could readily be open to Foucault’s notion of enlightenment and modernity as an attitude which is based upon a ‘critical ontology of ourselves’.

  2. antimodernist

    I wholeheartedly agree that it would be a mistake to reduce Heidegger’s thinking to a “merely anti-modernist perspective;” Heidegger’s engagement with “modernity” (notwithstanding the limitless problems with that term) are extremely complex (least of all how one goes about defining modernity, or how one goes about defining how one opposes it). That being said, I think much of the generalizations regarding Heidegger’s “anti-modernist” attitudes stem from more biographical-personal details, and less from rigorous engagement with his work. But, on the other hand, if we’re to take “modernity” to encapsulate the assumptions and biases of subjectivism, humanism, or any other modes of thinking founded in the metaphysical tradition, then yes, Heidegger’s thought invites itself to be read in an “anti-modernist” light (among others).

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