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Graduate School with Heidegger

3,506 words

HeideggerWriting [1]Spanish translation here [2]

The best decision I ever made was to pursue a Ph.D. in philosophy. I learned about the most important questions, I studied the most profound attempts to answer them, I acquired both the tools and the commitment to pursue the truth, and I became a better—that is, wiser—man in the process.

No, it did not lead to an academic career. Indeed, all my hopes, schemes, and efforts in that direction just left me discouraged, drained, and embittered. I had the knowledge, skills, and commitment. But I was the wrong race and the wrong sex; I definitely had the wrong politics; and, frankly, I think I took it too seriously and wanted it too much, which does not go over well with people who treat philosophy as merely a technical game or an adjunct to Leftist politics.

Hans-Georg Gadamer told a joke that perfectly sums up my view of academia. On the eighth day, God rose from his rest and decided that Creation needed one more thing to perfect it, so he created the German professor. But then the devil ruined it by creating the colleague.

It is just as well. Knowing what I know now, writing academic journal articles (which get read by maybe five or ten people) seems like fiddling while Rome burns.

Today, I am a teacher without colleagues, I can write whatever I please, my words are read by thousands, and instead of being confined to expensive books and obscure journals, my writings are available free to everyone.

[3]

You can buy Greg Johnson’s Graduate School with Heidegger here [4]

Academia, moreover, has only gotten worse since I got my doctorate. Thus, unless you belong to a politically correct protected group that will guarantee you employment for what you are rather than what you know, I cannot recommend graduate school in philosophy, no matter how much you hunger for wisdom. And that goes for the rest of the humanities as well. The current reign of political correctness will make you miserable throughout your studies and unemployable once they are complete. And you won’t learn that much anyway, because your professors will do more to close off the tradition than open it up to you. Moreover, there is very little chance you will find kindred spirits or even good company among your fellow graduate students.

Beyond that, graduate school is costly. Even with a full scholarship and stipend, it will be hard not to go into debt. And even if you don’t leave graduate school with enormous debts, you will still have spent six to ten years getting a Ph.D. while other people your age are starting families and accruing assets. And any undergraduate loans you have will still be there.

Fortunately, it is no longer necessary to go to graduate school to get an excellent Ph.D.-level education in philosophy. For the price of a couple of shelves of books, you can attend the lectures of one of the greatest philosophers and most talented teachers of the twentieth century, namely Martin Heidegger. And instead of a troop of tattooed, perforated, sexually confused, and politically correct graduate students, your classmates will be such eminent twentieth-century thinkers as Hans-Georg Gadamer, Leo Strauss, Hannah Arendt, Karl Löwith, Hans Jonas, Herbert Marcuse, and Jean Beaufret.

The Complete Edition (Gesamtausgabe) of Heidegger’s works contains fifty-two projected volumes of manuscripts, transcripts, and notes of Heidegger’s lecture courses and seminars, spanning fifty-four years, from 1919 to 1973. By my count, these volumes contain materials from fifty-three lecture courses and more than forty seminars. A significant percentage of these volumes have already been translated into English, and it is probable that virtually all of them will be translated, given enough time.

Although the texts Heidegger prepared for publication are notoriously crabbed and obscure, his lecture courses are lucid and engaging. Heidegger was a legendary teacher, renowned both for the insightfulness and originality of what he said and the spell-bindingly charismatic way he said it. His most eminent students have recorded their impressions. Hans-Georg Gadamer writes:

It is impossible to exaggerate the drama of Heidegger’s appearance in Marburg. Not that he was out for sensation. His appearance in the lecture hall certainly had something of a guaranteed effectiveness to it, but the unique thing about his person and his teaching lay in the fact that he identified himself fully with his work and radiated from that work. Because of him the lecture format became something totally new. It was no longer the “lesson presentation” of a professor who put his essential energy into research and publication.

The “great book” monologues lost their priority of place because of Heidegger. What he provided was the full investment of his energy, and what brilliant energy it was. It was the energy of a revolutionary thinker who himself visibly shrank from the boldness of his increasingly radical questions and who was so filled with the passion of his thinking that he conveyed to his listeners a fascination that was not to be broken. . . . Who among those who then followed him can forget the breathtaking swirl of questions that he developed in the introductory hours of the semester for the sake of entangling himself in the second or third of these questions and then, in the final hours of the semester, rolling up the deep-dark clouds of sentences from which the lightning flashed to leave us half stunned?[1] [5]

Hannah Arendt had a similar experience:

. . . Heidegger’s “fame” predates by about eight years the publication of Sein und Zeit (Being and Time) in 1927; indeed it is open to question whether the unusual success of this book—not just the immediate impact it had inside and outside the academic world but also its extraordinarily lasting influence, with which few of the century’s publications can compare—would have been possible if it had not been preceded by the teacher’s reputation among the students, in whose opinion, at any rate, the book’s success merely confirmed what they had known for many years.

There was something strange about this early fame, stranger perhaps than the fame of Kafka in the early Twenties or of Braque and Picasso in the preceding decade, who were also unknown to what is commonly understood as the public and nevertheless exerted an extraordinary influence. For in Heidegger’s case there was nothing tangible on which his fame could have been based, nothing written, save for notes taken at his lectures which circulated among students everywhere. These lectures dealt with texts that were generally familiar; they contained no doctrine that could have been learned, reproduced, and handed on. There was hardly more than a name, but the name traveled all over Germany like the rumor of the hidden king.[2] [6]

Leo Strauss also found Heidegger immensely impressive:

One of the unknown young men in Husserl’s entourage was Heidegger. I attended his lecture course from time to time without understanding a word, but sensed that he dealt with something of the utmost importance to man as man. I understood something on one occasion: when he interpreted the beginning of the Metaphysics. I had never heard nor seen such a thing—such a thorough and intensive interpretation of a philosophic text. On my way home I visited [Franz] Rosenzweig and said to him that compared to Heidegger, Max Weber, till then regarded by me as the incarnation of the spirit of science and scholarship, was an orphan child.[3] [7]

What are the chances you will find such a teacher in any graduate program today? Fortunately, because of the publication of Heidegger’s lectures and seminars, now you don’t need to.

[8]

You can buy Greg Johnson’s From Plato to Postmodernism here [9]

There are two ways to use Heidegger’s lectures and seminars: some courses stand on their own, while others are commentaries on texts that should be read in conjunction. As you will discover, Heidegger’s coverage of certain texts was sometimes highly selective. Sometimes he digressed from his outline or ran out of time. But these are no objections, because lesser teachers do the same things too. And if it didn’t hurt Gadamer, Arendt, and Strauss, it probably won’t hurt you.

As you will also discover, people strongly disagree with Heidegger’s philosophy and his readings of other thinkers. But this is no objection either, because the same can be said of every lesser teacher as well.

One drawback of reading lecture courses is that you can’t ask Heidegger questions. But trust me, if you were actually there, you probably would have been too intimidated to say anything anyway. Gadamer tells the story of one of Edmund Husserl’s lectures, in which he spoke for an hour, took one question, spent another hour answering it, then dismissed the class. As Husserl left the lecture hall, he turned to Heidegger, who was his assistant at the time, and remarked on what an exciting discussion they’d had that day.[4] [10] In truth, Heidegger was probably no better. And we should all be grateful, because you wouldn’t want to be reading transcripts of graduate student questions anyway. (The most frustrating feature of the seminar notes is that the students’ views—and confusions—often intrude.)

Another disadvantage of merely reading lecture courses is that one cannot discuss them with one’s fellow students—although one can, of course, read what Gadamer, Arendt, Strauss, Löwith, and others had to say about Heidegger.

Both of these problems can be somewhat ameliorated by the internet. You can discuss Heidegger’s lectures and seminars with people around the globe, including credentialed Heidegger scholars, perhaps the very editors and translators of the volumes you are reading.

To that end, I have secured the domain name Heidegger.us. Although I do not have the time to run another website, I would be glad to work with responsible parties who are willing to create a web forum with sub-forums devoted to all of Heidegger’s lecture courses and seminars. Although one cannot ask Heidegger questions, one might be able to get recognized Heidegger scholars to pinch-hit for him if the community becomes large and vibrant enough.

[11]

You can buy Jef Costello’s Heidegger in Chicago here [12]

The rise of podcasting also provides a promising medium. It would be an interesting experiment for a talented speaker to perform and record audio versions of Heidegger’s lectures.

Heidegger cannot provide a complete graduate education alone, although his expertise is far wider than most professors. But no graduate program consists merely of coursework. The core of a graduate curriculum is a comprehensive reading list, on which students are examined. I recommend that you adopt a reading list from a Ph.D. program that puts a strong emphasis on the history of philosophy.

One’s coursework can never cover everything on such a reading list, so a significant portion of graduate study is self-education anyway. But, then again, one of the principal goals of graduate school is to produce educators—or, people who are at least capable of educating others, since you don’t really know it unless you can pass it on—and your first student should always be yourself.

Most Ph.D. programs require eighteen to twenty lecture courses or seminars. Heidegger, however, left us more than ninety to choose from. Heidegger did not teach every subject, but most graduate students never take coursework from a whole philosophy faculty that is broader than what Heidegger offers alone. And if you really work through even half of Heidegger’s lecture courses and seminars, you will be vastly better-educated than many newly-minted Ph.D.s.

But what if you are not ready for graduate-level study in philosophy? The answer is simple. Before you go to graduate school with Heidegger, I suggest you go to undergraduate school with Kant, Hegel, and Nietzsche. One could get an excellent undergraduate-level education in philosophy by working through Kant’s lectures on metaphysics, ethics, logic, and philosophical theology; Hegel’s lectures on The History of Philosophy, The Philosophy of World History, The Philosophy of Religion, and Aesthetics; and Friedrich Nietzsche’s lectures on early Greek philosophy (The Pre-Platonic Philosophers and Philosophy in the Tragic Age of the Greeks).[5] [13] Like Heidegger, Kant and Hegel were terrible writers but engaging and accessible lecturers.

I also recommend supplementing one’s graduate coursework with Alexandre Kojève’s Introduction to the Reading of Hegel: Lectures on the Phenomenology of Spirit and Leo Strauss’s lectures covering Aristophanes, Plato, Xenophon, Aristotle, Cicero, Machiavelli, Hobbes, Spinoza, Vico, Rousseau, Kant, Hegel, Marx, and the central questions of political philosophy.[6] [14]

[15]

You can buy Collin Cleary’sWhat is a Rune?, featuring extensive discussions of Heidegger, here [16]

The Western intellectual tradition is too precious to be left in the hands of an ideologically corrupt and hostile educational system. This is particularly true of philosophy. Much of academia is simply a museum full of dead and taxidermied cultural curios. They are worthy products of human creativity, precious parts of our heritage that should be preserved rather than distorted and destroyed by ideologues and obscurantists. But they are of interest to few and of vital importance to none.

Philosophy, however, is of vital importance to everyone who wishes to lead a good life, for philosophy is the pursuit of wisdom, and wisdom is the ability to make right use of all things. Fortune deals some of us good hands, others bad ones. Wisdom is what allows us to play our cards well, so we lead the best lives possible. Thus everyone needs philosophy, which means that everyone needs philosophy teachers, which means that we need to find non-academic paths to mastering philosophy and passing it on.

Graduate school with Heidegger—combining a good comprehensive reading list, Heidegger’s lectures and seminars, and internet-based discussion—is merely one possible alternative to academia as usual. I urge you to try it, or to propose something better.

There are few if any teachers alive today who can offer you a better graduate education than Heidegger. And thanks to the publication of his lecture courses and seminars, the “hidden king” of thought can now reign openly, as long as there are students who wish to hear him.

Appendix:
Heidegger’s Lecture Courses & Seminars
 

The following list comprises Heidegger’s lecture courses and seminars. It does not include Heidegger’s published and unpublished books and essays, stand-alone lectures, notebooks, and correspondence, although these of course can supplement his lectures and seminars. Some entries are repeated, since they fall under multiple headings. The initial numbers refer to the volumes of Heidegger’s Complete Edition. The years in parentheses refer to the original year(s) of the lecture course or seminar. 

Introductions to Philosophy

27: Einleitung in die Philosophie (1928).
Translation in preparation as Introduction to Philosophy. 

Ancient Philosophy Surveys

22: Grundbegriffe der antiken Philosophie (1926).
Translated as Basic Concepts of Ancient Philosophy

83: Seminare: Platon—Aristoteles—Augustinus

Early Greek Philosophy

35: Der Anfang der abendländischen Philosophie (Anaximander und Parmenides) (1932).
Translated as The Beginning of Western Philosophy: Interpretation of Anaximander and Parmenides 

54: Parmenides (1942).
Translated as Parmenides.

55: Heraklit.

  1. Der Anfang des abendländischen Denkens (Heraklit) (1943).
  2. Logik. Heraklits Lehre vom Logos (1944).
    Translated as Heraclitus: The Inception of Occidental Thinking and Logic: Heraclitus’s Doctrine of the Logos.

8: Was heisst Denken? (1951–52), Part II.
Translated as What Is Called Thinking?

15: Heraklit with Eugen Fink (1966-67).
Translated as Heraclitus Seminar.

Plato

19: Platon: Sophistes (1924).
Translated as Plato’s Sophist.

34: Vom Wesen der Wahrheit. Zu Platons Höhlengleichnis und Theätet (1931).
Translated as The Essence of Truth. This title is not the “On the Essence of Truth” in Pathmarks and Basic Writings.

36/37: Sein und Wahrheit.
1. Die Grundfrage der Philosophie (1933).
2. Vom Wesen der Wahrheit (1933–34).
Translated as Being and Truth. 

Aristotle

61: Phänomenologische Interpretationen zu Aristoteles: Einführung in die phänomenologische Forschung (1921).
Translated as Phenomenological Interpretations of Aristotle.

62: Phänomenologische Interpretationen ausgewählter Abhandlungen des Aristoteles zur Ontologie und Logik (1922).

18: Grundbegriffe der aristotelischen Philosophie (1924).
Translated as Basic Concepts of Aristotelian Philosophy.

33: Aristoteles: Metaphysik IX (1931).
Translated as Aristotle’s Metaphysics Theta 1–3: On the Essence and Actuality of Force. 

Survey: Medieval to Kant

23: Geschichte der Philosophie von Thomas v. Aquin bis Kant (1926). 

Leibniz

26: Metaphysische Anfangsgründe der Logik im Ausgang von Leibniz (1928).
Translated as The Metaphysical Foundations of Logic.

10: Der Satz vom Grund (1955–56).
Translated as The Principle of Reason. 

Leibniz & Kant

84: Seminare: Leibniz—Kant 

Kant

25: Phänomenologische Interpretation von Kants Kritik der reinen Vernunft (1927).
Translated as Phenomenological Interpretation of Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason.

31: Vom Wesen der menschlichen Freiheit. Einleitung in die Philosophie (1930).
Translated as The Essence of Human Freedom.

41: Die Frage nach dem Ding. Zu Kants Lehre von den transzendentalen Grundsätzen (1935).
Translated as What Is a Thing? 

German Idealism Surveys

28: Der Deutsche Idealismus (Fichte, Hegel, Schelling) und die philosophische Problemlage der Gegenwart (1929).
Translation in preparation as German Idealism.

86: Seminare: Hegel—Schelling

Herder

85: Vom Wesen der Sprache: Die Metaphysik der Sprache und die Wesung des Wortes; zu Herders Abhandlung »Über den Ursprung der Sprache« (1939).
Translated as On the Essence of Language. 

Hegel

32: Hegels Phänomenologie des Geistes (1930).
Translated as Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit. 

Hölderlin

39: Hölderlins Hymnen »Germanien« und »Der Rhein« (1934).
Translated as Hölderlin’s Hymns “Germania” and “The Rhein.

52: Hölderlins Hymne »Andenken« (1941).
Translated as Hölderlin’s Hymn “Remembrance.”

53: Hölderlins Hymne »Der Ister« (1942).
Translated as Hölderlin’s Hymn “The Ister.” 

Schelling

42: Schelling: Über das Wesen der menschlichen; a.k.a. Schelling: Vom Wesen der menschlichen Freiheit (1809) (1936).
Translated as Schelling’s Treatise on the Essence of Human Freedom.

49: Die Metaphysik des deutschen Idealismus. Zur erneuten auslegung von Schelling: Philosophische untersuchungen über das Wesen der menschlichen Freiheit und die damit zusammenhängenden Gegenstände (1809) (1941).

Nietzsche

43: Nietzsche: Der Wille zur Macht als Kunst (1936).
Translated as The Will to Power as Art.

44: Nietzsches Metaphysische Grundstellung im abendländischen Denken: Die ewige Wiederkehr des Gleichen (1937).
Translated as The Eternal Recurrence of the Same.

46: Nietzsches II. Unzeitgemässe Betrachtung (1938).
Translated as Interpretation of Nietzsche’s Second Untimely Meditation

47: Nietzsches Lehre vom Willen zur Macht als Erkenntnis (1939).
Translated as The Will to Power as Knowledge.

48: Nietzsche: Der europäische Nihilismus (1940).
Translated as European Nihilism.

50: Nietzsches Metaphysik (1941–42).

Einleitung in die Philosopie—Denken und Dichten (1944–45).
Nietzsches Metaphysik was translated as “Nietzsche’s Metaphysics”

Einleitung in die Philosopie was translated as Introduction to Philosophy—Thinking and Poetizing.

87: Seminare: Nietzsche. Übungen SS 1937. Nietzsches metaphysische Grundstellung. Sein und Schein (1937)

8: Was heisst Denken? (1951–52), Part I.
Translated as What Is Called Thinking? 

Jünger

90: Zu Ernst Jünger 

Phenomenology

56/57: Zur Bestimmung der Philosophie.
1: Die Idee der Philosophie und das Weltanschauungsproblem (1919).

2: Phänomenologie und transzendentale Wertphilosophie (1919).

3: Appendix: Über das Wesen der Universität und des akademischen Studiums (1919).

Translated as Towards the Definition of Philosophy.

58: Grundprobleme der Phänomenologie (1919).
Translated as The Basic Problems of Phenomenology.

59: Phänomenologie der Anschauung und des Ausdrucks. Theorie der philosophischen Begriffsbildung (1920).
Translated as Phenomenology of Intuition and Expression.

63: Ontologie: Hermeneutik der Faktizität (1923).
Translated as Ontology: The Hermeneutics of Facticity.

17: Einführung in die phänomenologische Forschung; a.k.a. Der Beginn der neuzeitlichen Philosophie (1923).
Translated as Introduction to Phenomenological Research.

20: Prolegomena zur Geschichte des Zeitbegriffs (1925).
Translated as History of the Concept of Time. 

Phenomenology of Religion

60: Phänomenologie des religiösen Lebens.
1. Einleitung in die Phänomenologie der Religion (1920–21).
2. Augustinus und der Neuplatonismus (1922).
3. Die philosophischen Grundlagen der mittelalterlichen Mystik (Outlines and sketches of an undelivered lecture course, 1918–19).
Translated as The Phenomenology of Religious Life.

Metaphysics

24: Die Grundprobleme der Phänomenologie (1927).
Translated as The Basic Problems of Phenomenology.

29/30: Die Grundbegriffe der Metaphysik: Welt, Endlichkeit, Einsamkeit (1929).
Translated as The Fundamental Concepts of Metaphysics.

36/37: Sein und Wahrheit.
1. Die Grundfrage der Philosophie (1933).
2. Vom Wesen der Wahrheit (1933–34).
Translated as Being and Truth.

40: Einführung in die Metaphysik (1935).
Translated as Introduction to Metaphysics.

51: Grundbegriffe (1941).
Translated as Basic Concepts.

88: Einübung in das Denken.
1. Die metaphysischen Grundstellungen des abendländischen Denkens.
2. Die Bedrohung der Wissenschaft.

Logic

21: Logik: Die frage nach der Wahrheit (1925).
Translated as Logic: The Question of Truth.

38: Logik als die Frage nach dem Wesen der Sprache (1934).
Translated as Logic as the Question Concerning the Essence of Language.

45: Grundfragen der Philosophie. Ausgewählte »Probleme« der »Logik« (1937).
Translated as Basic Questions of Philosophy.

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Notes

[1] [19] Hans-Georg Gadamer, Philosophical Apprenticeships, trans. Robert R. Sullivan (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1985), p. 48.

[2] [20] Hannah Arendt, “Martin Heidegger at Eighty,” New York Review of Books, October 21, 1971.

[3] [21] Leo Strauss, “A Giving of Accounts,” Jewish Philosophy and the Crisis of Modernity: Essays and Lectures in Modern Jewish Thought, ed. Kenneth Hart Green (Albany: SUNY Press, 1997), p. 461.

[4] [22] Philosophical Apprenticeships, p. 36.

[5] [23] All of these lecture courses are available in English translations.

[6] [24] Only about half of Kojève’s Introduction à la Lecture de Hegel, ed. Raymond Queneau (Paris: Gallimard, 1947) appears in Introduction to the Reading of Hegel, trans. James H. Nichols, Jr. (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1969). Audio recordings and transcripts of some of Strauss’ lecture courses are available online at The Leo Strauss Center website, https://leostrausscenter.uchicago.edu/. Three of these lecture courses have now been published: Leo Strauss, Leo Strauss on Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra, ed. Richard L. Velkley (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2017); Leo Strauss on Political Philosophy: Responding to the Challenge of Positivism and Historicism, ed. Catherine H. Zuckert (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2018); and Leo Strauss on Hegel, ed. Paul Franco (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2019).