I recently took an undergraduate philosophy course for pay. (Highly recommended if you get the chance.) Martin Heidegger was the thinker we studied the most. That man knew how to philosophize. The professor had us read Heidegger’s, “Phenomenological Interpretations with Respect to Aristotle: Indication of the Hermeneutical Situation.” Quite the title, no? Apparently, this paper put him on the map.
It is extremely difficult to read. Supposedly this was purposeful. It seems Heidegger’s intent in everything he did was to get people to live in the moment. He wrote with such depth and complexity that his readers can’t be thinking about something else and understand what he was trying to communicate.
So what made this paper so important? In it, Heidegger argues that the time has come for someone (himself in this case) to remind humanity that no matter how smart we think we are, we don’t actually want to find answers to our questions. We don’t actually want the ‘seeking for truth’ to conclude. As in, we think we do, but that’s only because we have a fundamental misunderstanding of what it means to be human.
That might not sound radical upon first reading. Think about it this way. There are several problem-solving techniques. One in particular has six steps. 1. Recognize the problem. 2. Gather the data. 3. List the possible solutions. 4. Test the possible solutions. 5. Select a solution. 6. Implement the solution. Heidegger was given a place at the table because he convincingly argued that life is always and only about step one, or recognizing the problem. He wrote this while other great thinkers of his day (and today) made arguments regarding how to perform step six, the final step. “Implement the solution.”
There are some thinkers today who concern themselves with prescriptive philosophy. They recommend things like censoring children from religion because research shows that once people internalize the scientific method they don’t return to their childhood faith. In his paper, Heidegger questions this whole concept. He basically argues that the idea of doing everything according to a logical system which centers around adding longevity to our lives is an escape. We shouldn’t be trying to build Utopia. I take his writing to argue that this Utopia some seem to be striving to create would rob life of meaning. What is more important, more difficult, and more worthy is continually defining our existence. Why do we want to live forever? What is appealing about world peace? What does a world of well-fed people actually look like? This is because no matter what answers the past has given us, the very nature of the questions demand continual asking. For all I know, the Greek philosophers didn’t even exist. What do I care what their answers were?
Thousands of years into our existence one man was still able to gain notoriety by simply reminding us that the fun part of living, or what might be more easily understood as the ‘being’ part of human being, is step one. That is, recognizing the problem. And that’s how to philosophize.