30 Mar

Martin Heidegger, “The Thing” (1950)

Martin Heidegger was a twentieth-century German philosopher. He joined the National Socialist German Workers’ (Nazi) Party in 1933 and served as Rector of Freiburg University until 1934. Heidegger remained a member of the Nazi Party until 1945. Heidegger was banned from teaching after WWII because of his involvement with the Nazi Party, but resumed teaching at Freiburg University in 1950. Heidegger gave the lecture “The Thing” in 1950 as part of the Breman lecture series in Munich to the Brevarian Academy of Fine Arts. Heidegger’s work has become central to Western philosophy, but it is also controversial because of his membership in the Nazi party.

Summary

Heidegger examines nearness by observing things, particularly a jug. Things are self-supporting. Objects are representations and stand “before, over against, opposite us” (168). Thingness is not constituted in processes of making or physical appearance. Thingness cannot be observed from voids or extracted from scientific thought that assumes annihilation. Thingness resides in a void’s holding and the outpouring of a gift. The sky and earth dwell in gifts poured out to mortals and immortals. Gathering constitutes things’ thingness by bringing humans nearer and uniting them to the sky, earth, other mortals and divinities.

Historiography

Heidegger’s work is known for its emphasis on phenomenology, or the study of experience and consciousness. Heidegger departed from Husserl’s notion of phenomenology, which recognized that a person could experience pure phenomena without any presuppositions.  “The Thing” examines how a person can experience and know a thing. Humans do not recognize thingness in the making or producing of a thing. They experience a jug when they experience its pouring a gift. They experience a thing when it pours a gift because they experience the surrounding phenomena too–the sky, earth, other mortals, and divinities. Humans can’t experience unmediated things. They experience things in relation to other phenomena. This decentralizes the physical thing itself. The experiences doesn’t come from experiencing the physical thing, but from what is between the observer and the thing, what is presenced. The physical object matters less than what the first-person experiences through mediation.