The Heidegger Question

In response to:

Being True to Heidegger from the April 2, 1981 issue

To the Editors:

In a letter criticizing Thomas Sheehan’s discussion of Heidegger’s Gesamtausgabe [NYR, April 2], Willis Domingo speaks of “the ignorance of Heidegger’s opponents (e.g., Ayer and Edwards)” and clearly implies that Professor Sheehan shares this view. I cannot allow this gratuitous and wholly unsubstantiated slur to go unanswered. Professor Sheehan cited Ayer and me as critics of Heidegger. He did not in any way maintain that either of us is “ignorant.” Readers who are sufficiently interested can easily determine whether Domingo’s accusation has any justice. Ayer’s fullest appraisal of Heidegger is found in “Reflections on Existentialism,” which is reprinted in his Metaphysics and Common Sense. My own most detailed treatment is the recently published Heidegger and Death (Monist Monograph Number 1). This study contains the most extensive quotations from Heidegger’s works, in several cases given in German and in English, as well as from the secondary literature. I fully expected the more pious and fanatical devotees of Heidegger to charge me with ignorance and misrepresentation. I therefore went to great length to document every last comment. Professor Sheehan and I differ in our interpretations and evaluation of Heidegger’s work, but so far from regarding me as an ignorant critic, he has been unstinting in his praise of my monograph. In a recent letter, from which I am quoting with his permission, he writes: “Scholarship needs a work like yours, and needs badly your critical, deflationary intelligenceā€¦. Your work is intelligent, readable, intellectually honest and delightfully irreverent.”

To set the record straight I must add that it is incorrect to describe me simply as an opponent of Heidegger. It has been one of my goals to rescue his valuable ideas from the logical confusions in which they are embedded and from the willfully obscure and perverse language in which they are frequently expressed. The last and longest section of my monograph is devoted to the task of restating in simple, everyday words one of Heidegger’s genuine insights about the peculiar anxiety which human beings experience in the face of death. The job of restating Heidegger’s contributions in language that is intelligible to ordinary mortals is by no means easy and it is something which his followers never even attempt to do.

Paul Edwards

Brooklyn College

New York, New York