Timely Meditations

Timely Meditations: Martin Heidegger and Postmodern Politics

Leslie Paul Thiele
Copyright Date: 1995
Pages: 276
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  • Book Info
    Timely Meditations
    Book Description:

    Focusing on the concept of freedom, Leslie Paul Thiele makes Heidegger's philosophical works speak directly to politics in a postmodern world. Neither excusing Heidegger for his political sins nor ignoring their lesson, Thiele nonetheless refrains from polemic in order creatively to engage one of the greatest philosophers of our time. The product of this engagement is a vindication of a democratic and ecological politics firmly grounded in philosophic inquiry.

    Using Heidegger's understanding of freedom as a point of departure,Timely Meditationslays out the philosophic and political nature and potential of freedom in thought, speech, and deed. This disclosive freedom is contrasted to both modern (positive and negative) and postmodern (Nietzschean and Foucaultian) variations. The result is an original and provocative study that challenges our present understanding of liberty while underlining dangerous collusion with the contemporary forces of technology.

    Timely Meditationsmarks an increasingly rare achievement today. For unlike many theorists who attempt to steer a course into the world of postmodern politics, Thiele does so without forsaking philosophic foundations and without abandoning practical hopes and tasks for rhetorical diversions.

    Originally published in 1995.

    ThePrinceton Legacy Libraryuses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-6400-3
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Abbreviations: Index to Heidegger’s Works
    (pp. xi-2)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 3-10)

    Strange indeed is the upright walker. With grasping hands and forward-looking eyes, this most wondrous of creatures has developed the sentiment, thought, speech, and craft needed to extend its reign across the expanse of the earth and beyond. What are the limits to its power? The ancients presumably had their answer. “Do not seek to be master in every way,” Creon had warned Oedipus. But Creon, we know, would not follow his own advice. He met a fate no less dire than that of the former king of Thebes. Any human pursuit that ignores limitations, Sophocles suggests, inevitably brings doom....

    • One Nietzsche’s Legacy
      (pp. 13-41)

      Nietzsche once said that he fought so fiercely with Socrates because the Greek philosopher always stood so close to him. I have come to form a similar relationship with Nietzsche. Consequently, this book was conceived with Nietzsche antagonistically in mind. During its gestation, Nietzsche prodded and poked and pried, like the mischief maker who tripped up the tightrope walker and cautioned Zarathustra. Heidegger also established this sort of relationship with Nietzsche. He was both excited and worried by Nietzsche’s mischief. For this reason, Heidegger’s characterizations and criticisms of Nietzsche are at times unfair. His accolades, at other times, seem exaggerated....

    • Two Heidegger’s Vision: BEING-IN-THE-WORLD
      (pp. 42-58)

      While fiercely battling with the Western metaphysical tradition, Nietzsche became infected with its subjectivism. He subsequently distilled what he had absorbed into a radical individualism, extending its reach from the realm of epistemology to ethics. Higher man determines his own truths, Nietzsche insists, and these truths are uniquely his. But higher man also distinguishes himself ethically from “the herd” by his rejection of social standards and moral precepts. The sovereign individual, Nietzsche writes, is “like only to himself, liberated again from morality of custom, autonomous and supramoral (for ‘autonomous’ and ‘moral’ are mutually exclusive).”¹ Epistemologically, the heroic individual becomes its...

    • Three Heidegger on Freedom: POLITICAL, NOT METAPHYSICAL
      (pp. 61-93)

      In 1958, Isaiah Berlin delivered his now famous essay “Two Concepts of Liberty.” From the hundreds of senses of the wordslibertyandfreedomthat historians of ideas have recorded, Berlin selected two for analysis and evaluation: “positive” and “negative” liberty.¹ Such timely conceptual distinctions, Berlin insisted, have significant political ramifications. Attending to ideas in order critically to assess their meaning may prevent their acquiring an “unchecked momentum and an irresistible power over multitudes of men that may grow too violent to be affected by rational criticism.”² Berlin was reflecting on Heine’s observation of the relationship between Rousseau’s thought and...

    • Four Freedom in Thought
      (pp. 94-113)

      Disclosive freedom is facilitated by releasement toward things and openness to the mystery of Being. But this is not to say that freedom is achieved without effort and enjoyed in passivity. Heidegger insists that “releasement toward things and openness to the mystery never happen of themselves. They do not befall us accidentally. Both flourish only through persistent, courageous thinking” (DT 56). Persistent, courageous thinking provides the foundation on which disclosive freedom gains its foothold in the world. Indeed, there is a unique and original freedom to be practiced in thought itself.

      The practice of thinking, for Heidegger, is something quite...

    • Five Freedom in Speech
      (pp. 114-131)

      The coming to presence of Being is, from a philosophical point of view, all there is to think about. But this is no restriction, for the worldly manifestations of Being’s presencing are as diverse as life itself—indeed, more so. Examining how we may participate in this presencing goes to the core of Heidegger’s project. Despite the unmanageable plenitude of difference and the numerous modes of its disclosure, a unifying feature may be discerned. Most essentially, we disclose the Being of being through language. As Heidegger writes, “Thinking attends to the lighting of Being in that it puts its saying...

    • Six Freedom in Deed
      (pp. 132-168)

      The relationship of philosophy to politics poses a perennial problem. Max Weber, who approached the issue with much insight, aptly described politics as the “slow boring of hard boards.” Throughout history, efforts to transform philosophic theory into practice would be turned awry by the resistant and exacting nature of political reality. Aristophanes portrays philosophy (suspended in the clouds with Socrates) as having little to do with politics, except perhaps to endanger it. Plato’s ill-fated trips to Syracuse in the early fourth century appear as one of the first direct rebuffs of a philosopher who would attempt to foist ideals on...

    • Seven Saving the Earth: THE PLIGHT OF HOMELESSNESS
      (pp. 171-191)

      Homelessness is politically provocative. “Bag people” walk the streets of our cities, redefining the nation’s self-image. Refugees trenchantly place the question of homelessness in an international context. Conflicting claims by different nations, peoples, and ethnic groups to the same “homelands” transform the question into a global issue of war and peace. And the increasingly cosmopolitan and mobile nature of contemporary society challenges us to rethink the very meaning of having and maintaining a home. The significance of homelessness as a political category is increasingly apparent.

      The sociopolitical context in which Heidegger thought and wrote was also saturated with the issue....

    • Eight Receiving the Sky and Awaiting Divinities: THE CHALLENGE OF TECHNOLOGY
      (pp. 192-217)

      We live in a world of furious technological growth. Human beings modify as never before the world in which they live. Increasingly, they attempt to create this world anew. Yet the question remains whether this world, frantically produced under the law of exponential growth, provides a home. Despite our power to fashion our habitat—indeed, largely because of this increasing power—we are left without an abiding sense of place. This alienation is evident whenever the earth is treated less as a place of dwelling than as a quarry from which resources are to be extracted and refuse deposited. Having...

    • Nine Escorting Mortals: BEING WITH OTHERS IN TIME
      (pp. 218-251)

      The timeliness of human being is manifest in the historical nature of our disclosure of Being. The timeliness of human being is also manifest in another, equally foundational, sense: we are mortal. Hence human beings are defined by what Heidegger calls finitude, which speaks both to their historical contingencies and their inevitable mortality. A political sensibility arises from the philosophic comprehension of the twofold nature of our timely being. To live without resentment of time, or rather to celebrate one’s time as the opportunity for disclosive freedom, is, politically speaking, to understand oneself as an escort of one’s fellow mortals....

  9. Conclusion
    (pp. 252-258)

    The beginning of the tradition of Western philosophy was heralded by Socrates’ effort to shock Athenians out of particular social and political habits. The tradition of Western philosophy ended with Nietzsche’s effort to shock his readers into admitting that humanity amounts to nothing but the invidious decay of such habits. This final shock gives birth to the postmodern world of the Last Man and the Overman—he who abandons himself to whatever social and political habits are most comfortable and consoling and he who forgoes all such conventional anesthesia to engage in the heroic feat of self-creation. An apt description...

  10. Index
    (pp. 259-263)