This is a short preview of the full episode.
On Martin Heidegger’s “Letter on Humanism” (1949).
What’s our place in the world? What is it, really, to be human? Heidegger thought that being human hinges on having a proper relationship to Being. What is Being? Well, it’s something more basic than particular beings like people and tables and such, yet it being so close, Heidegger thinks it’s hardest to see, and that we too often get sucked exclusively into engagement with particular beings: into worldly goals and temptations.
He wrote this essay as a response to a question about whether his philosophy was a type of humanism, meaning an ethics based on relieving suffering and other evidently human interests. He responds that humanism is based on bad metaphysics that ignores Being in favor of beings, and it’s in fact that humanistic viewpoint that enables so much inhumanity in the first place. If you’d just get right with Being, you’d have wisdom and ethics and the rest of it would come naturally to you. But of course, most of us won’t do that, because we’re too corrupted by modern society and philosophical history starting with Plato to even understand what in blazes he’s talking about. Bah!