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Heidegger as a Post-Darwinian Philosopher

  • Lesley Chamberlain

Heidegger responded to Darwin's displacement of the Created Universe by seeking value in a new materiality. His 1936 lecture The Origin of the Work of Art spelt out the need to get away from an Aristotelian concept of matter perpetuated by Aquinas and frame an approach more appropriate to a post-Darwinian age. The argument is not that Heidegger was a Darwinist or an evolutionist. It is that he responded to what Dewey called ‘the greatest dissolvent in contemporary thought of old questions’.

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1 Prinz Albert und die Entwicklung der Bildung in England und Deutschland im 19. Jahrhundert [Prince Albert and the development of education in England and Germany in the 19th century] herausgegeben von Franz Bosbach, William Filmer-Sankey und Hermann Hiery; unter Mitarbeit von Thomas Brockmann (2000), 182. For a more general picture see Kelly, AlfredThe Descent of Darwin: The Popularization of Darwin in Germany 1860–1914 (1981).

2 Haeckel argued for nature as a self-generating artist. See Breidbach, OlafVisions of nature : the art and science of Ernst Haeckel (2006), 43.

3 See Richards, Robert J.The tragic sense of life : Ernst Haeckel and the struggle over evolutionary thought (2008) for the Goethean background.

4 Bronn, H.G.Über die Entstehung der Arten (1860) was the first translator of The Origin of Species. J.V. Carus who took over as Darwin's official translator told him while working on a revised translation of the 5th English edition that Ursprung would have been preferable to Enstehung to render ‘Origin’. He agreed with Darwin not to make the change in order not to confuse the German public. See Carus to Darwin 3/6/1869 and Darwin's reply 21/6/1869. In fact the Carus translation immediately reverts to Ursprung for ‘origin’ in the body of the text, starting with the second sentence of Darwin's Introduction. Der Ursprung des Menschen as a translation of The Descent of Man was published by another hand in 1874.

5 Richards, Robert J.The Tragic Sense of Ernst Haeckel: His Scientific and Artistic Struggle’ in Darwin : Kunst und die Suche nach den Ursprüngen herausgegeben von Pamela Kort, Max Hollein (2009), 92.

6 Safranski, RüdigerMartin Heidegger Between Good and Evil (1998), 1415.

7 Sein und Zeit (1927) [H10]. This translation in John Macquarrie and Edward Robinson, trans, Being and Time (1962).

8 Safranski Heidegger, 11.

9 Kelly The Descent of Darwin, 65.

10 Safranski Heidegger, 42.

11 Safranski Heidegger, 55.

12 Mein liebes Seelchen Briefe Martin Heideggers an seine Frau Elfride 1915–1970 (2005).

13 Letter to Karl Lowith 1921 cited in Steiner, GeorgeMartin Heidegger With a New Introduction (1991), xvi.

14 Caputo, John DHeidegger and Theology’ in Guignon, Charles (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Heidegger, Second Edition (2006), 340.

15 Der Ursprung des Kunstwerkes' in Holzwege, Heidegger, MartinGesamtausgabe (1976–)V:14; The Origin of the Work of Art’ in Hofstadter, Albert (trans.), Martin Heidegger Poetry, Language, Thought (1971) [Hereafter Hofstadter], 2930. The Hofstadter translation is quoted with slight changes. Heidegger seems to want to keep his references to the Catholic Church oblique.

16 Heidegger V: 15; Hofstadter, 30.

17 Quoted in Dorothea Frede The question of being: Heidegger's project’ in Guigon (ed.) Cambridge Companion to Heidegger (2006), 51.

18 Heidegger V:8; Hofstadter, 24.

19 Gerard Manley Hopkins to Robert Bridges, 20 February, 1875. See Ward, Bernadette WatermanWorld as Word Philosphical Theology in Gerard Manely Hopkins (2002), 2122.

20 Dennett, Daniel C.Darwin's Dangerous Idea (1995), 2628. Dennett notes (202) ‘Heidegger blamed Socrates for much of what is wrong with philosophy, because he taught us all to demand necessary and sufficient conditions. It cannot be often that Darwin and Heidegger support each other, so the occasion is worth noting.’

21 The sense in which Idea-lism was rejected by Heidegger and Hopkins alike entailed a perception of the world which distinguished between noumenon and phenomenon, the pure idea of something and its material appearance. On this point and the way it is grasped within the German Idealist tradition see On the Aesthetic Education of Man In a Series of Letters [by] Friedrich Schiller; edited and translated with an introduction, commentary and glossary of terms by Elizabeth M. Wilkinson and L. A. Willoughby, (1967), 316–17 and 309, where ‘Idee’ is linked to ‘Form’ and contrasted passim with ‘Stoff’.

22 Guignon (ed.), Cambridge Companion to Heidegger (2006), title page, unnumbered.

23 Desmond, Adrian and Moore, JamesDarwin (1991), 237; 260; 420; 566; Dennett Darwin's Dangerous Idea, 39.

24 Dennett Darwin's Dangerous Idea, 60.

25 Warrell, JohnPhilosophy and the Natural Sciences’ in Grayling, A.C. (ed.), Philosophy 2: Further Thought Through the Subject (1998), 262.

26 This made him seem also politically radical to religious conservatives. Cf. Desmond and Moore, Darwin (224) ‘For conservative Anglicans terrified of man's brutalization to destroy mankind's unique status by stretching the life-force was like throwing muskets to the rabble. But Darwin, with his reforming Unitarian circle, treated nature's self-development quite casually. Apes failed to frighten him; the brutalization threat passed harmlessly overhead.’

27 Russell didn't mention Heidegger. George Steiner considered this omission characterstic of a ‘vulgar but representative book’. See Martin Heidegger (1991), 4.

28 A History of Western Philosophy (2004), 657–659.

29 Dewey, John, ‘The Influence of Darwinism on Philosophy’ (1909) in The Influence of Darwin on Philosophy and Other Essays (1910), 14.

30 Dennett Darwin's Dangerous Idea, 201–2.

31 See Being and Time [H50] ‘We are not passing judgement on the positive work of these disciplines [psychology, anthropology, biology]. We must always bear in mind, however, that … ontological foundations can never be disclosed by subsequent hypotheses derived from empirical material, but that they are always “there” already even when that empirical material simply gets collected.’

32 Dennett 204. ‘The Darwinian campaign to overthrow John Locke's Mind-first vision of the cosmos’ is a leitmotiv running through Darwin's Dangerous Idea. The authority of the human mind over nature is heir to hylomorphism and both are subject to radical postmodern critique. See Protevi, JohnPolitical Physics: Deleuze, Derrida and the Body Politic (2003). Dennett (400) finds that most recently a defence of Locke's mind-first vision occurs in the work of John Searle.

33 Quoted in Desmond and Moore Darwin, 162.

34 Dennett Darwin's Dangerous Idea, passim.

35 See Darwin Kunst und die Suche nach den Ursprüngen (2009), note 4 above, and Donald, Diana and Munro, Jane (eds), Endless forms : Charles Darwin, natural science and the visual arts (2009). These two richly illustrated catalogues to the German and the English version of a joint bicentennial exhibition show the vastly different approach of curators in the two countries, and cultures.

36 [ H219]ff.

37 [H219–226].

38 Heidegger V: 54,41. My translation.

39 See above note 19.

40 To ask whether Heidegger knew Faust would be like asking whether Russell knew Hamlet.

41 Petzet, Heinrich WiegandEncounters and Dialogues with Martin Heidegger 1929–76 (1993), 21.

42 Cf. Martin Heidegger to Elisabeth Blochmann, 19 September, 1931. ‘Those three days’ walking belong for me to the rare kind that tend to become a benediction for us human beings. And I need so much a benediction – more than other people do…That a man may struggle to secure the certain maturity and beauty of his being, that here a victory awaits him, that gives him the power to transform others into the truth of his being. Where such a transformation occurs, there awakens that loneliness of the heart, out of which a man can truly encounter others, so that from that moment on his heart proceeds in the clear presence of others.’ Briefwechsel 1918–1969, (ed.) Storck, Joachim W (1990), 28.

43 SOED.

44 Heidegger V;41; Hofstadter, 54. In Thomas Sheehan's alternative English translation of Heidegger's 1929 lecture ‘What is Metaphysics’ he renders the conclusion to Heidegger Part III, section 2, ‘What the Nothing Does’ as ‘The nothing is not just the opposite of beings; it is essential to their very emergence.’ He translates Heidegger's fn 25 as ‘Taking Wesen’ in a verbal sense as in ‘das Wesen des Seins’, ‘the emergence of being’. See Sheehan, ThomasReading Heidegger's “What Is Metaphysics?”’, The New Yearbook for Phenomenology and Phenomenological Philosophy, I (2001). ‘Emergence’ brings out the post-Darwinian flavour of Heidegger's vision, I would argue. Sheehan's text is also available as

45 In linguistics, which had previously taken the form of comparative philology, The Origin of Species prompted a unique attempt to reconstruct a notional language, Proto-Indo-European, from which it was surmised the family of Indo-European languages descended. The analogy didn't work, language has remained a difficulty for evolutionists ever since. But geology also influenced the approach to language and that was more fruitful.

46 To the model that paleontology supplied phenomenology also added its insight into the degree to which the subject was both the key to the structure of experience and a constraint on the independent being of the world. Long before Heidegger, this theme had also been worked up by Duns Scotus.

47 Heidegger V:7; Hofstadter, 23.

48 Draft for the 8th Sonnet to Orpehus (Feb 1922) – although it seems more like the 9th sonnet of Part 2.

49 Wegmarken. Heidegger IX:73.

50 Haeckel's use of Greek overwhelmed Darwin ‘The number of new words, to a man like myself, weak in his Greek, is something dreadful.’ But they were good words. Haeckel for instance made early use of the term ‘ecology’. See Desmond and Moore, Darwin, 541. Darwin's ‘English gentleman’ response to Haeckel recalls the response of most anglo-saxon readers also to Heidegger's Germanness.

51 Because origins often aren't visible. Darwin would emphasize that a tree existing today does not carry all the twigs that have died since its beginning. If they were visible in their time, their traces vanished ages ago. By the same token we can dwell in the presence of art, but we can't in fact say what the origins of art were.

52 Heidegger V:20; Hofstadter, 34.

53 Weber, SamuelMass Mediauras: Form, Technics, Media (1996), 63.

54 Heidegger V: 28; Hofstadter, 42.

55 Heidegger V: 20; Hofstadter, 35. This is my translation.

56 Dennett Darwin's Dangerous Idea, 68; 64.

57 That the theme of death in Heidegger has been so well-worked without reference to Darwin's ‘reduction’ of human beings to mere matter without the promise of immortality is a strange omission, all the more as Heidegger is not so much taking over the nineteenth-century materialist heritage of a Feuerbach and a Büchner as advising the Christian faithful on their loss. Ludwig Büchner, author of Force and Matter (1855), described by Safranski in Heidegger, 29 as representing a ‘robust kind of materialism characteristic of the middle of the nineteenth century.’ In fact German nineteenth-century ideas on ‘the forces regulating life and growth’ had stimulated Darwin's own thoughts. See Desmond and Moore Darwin, 203.

58 Dennett Darwin's Dangerous Idea, 181.

59 Ibid, 62

60 Zimmerman, Michael E.Heidegger's Confrontation with Modernity: Technology, Politics, and Art (1990), 191.

61 Derrida, JacquesOf Spirit Heidegger and the Question (1989), 5557.

62 Darwin is commonly used in German philosophy as a stick with which to beat Hegel. See Richter, SandraA History of Poetics: German Scholarly Aesthetics in International Context 1770–1960 (2010), 133.

63 Darwin and Philosophy and Other Essays, iv.

64 See Woessner, MartinHeidegger in America (2011), 2829.

65 Derrida, Both and Protevi, John in Philosophical Physics (2001) see in Heidegegger's refusal to give up human superiority over the animal a remnant of the old mind-centredness. Protevi suggests a tension between hylozoism and the openness that marks Derrida's reworking of Dasein and the hylomorphism signifying leadership and authorship which Heidegger couldn't quite leave behind.

66 A study of this connection with Heidegger seems overdue. It is now of far greater relevance than his impact on psychotherapy.

67 Darwin and Philosophy, 19

68 Heidegger V:40; Hofstadter, 53.

69 Heinrich Wiegand Petzet Encounters and Dialogues with Martin Heidegger, 97.

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