Thursday, January 22, 2009

Human, All Too Human

This three part documentary series looks at the lives and thoughts of three of the most important philosophical thinkers of the contemporary period - Friedrich Nietzsche, Martin Heidegger and Jean-Paul Sartre.

Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche
Nietzsche was a nineteenth-century German philosopher and classical philologist. He wrote critical texts on religion, morality, contemporary culture, philosophy, and science, using a distinctive German language style and displaying a fondness for metaphor and aphorism. Nietzsche's influence remains substantial within and beyond philosophy, notably in existentialism and postmodernism.

His style and radical questioning of the value and objectivity of truth raise considerable problems of interpretation, generating an extensive secondary literature in both continental and analytic philosophy. Nevertheless, some of his key ideas include interpreting tragedy as an affirmation of life, an eternal recurrence (which numerous commentators have re-interpreted), a rejection of Platonism, and a repudiation of both Christianity and Egalitarianism (especially in the form of Democracy and Socialism).

Nietzsche began his career as a classical philologist before turning to philosophy. At the age of 24 he was appointed to the Chair of Classical Philology at the University of Basel (the youngest individual ever to have held this position), but resigned in 1879 because of health problems, which would plague him for most of his life. In 1889 he exhibited symptoms of insanity, living out his remaining years in the care of his mother and sister until his death in 1900.

Martin Heidegger
Heidegger claimed that Western philosophy has, since Plato, misunderstood what it means for something "to be," tending to approach this question in terms of a being, rather than asking about being itself. In other words, Heidegger believed all investigations of being have historically focused on particular entities and their properties, or have treated being itself as an entity, or substance, with properties.

A more authentic analysis of being would, for Heidegger, investigate "that on the basis of which beings are already understood," or that which underlies all particular entities and allows them to show up as entities in the first place. But since philosophers and scientists have overlooked the more basic, pre-theoretical ways of being from which their theories derive, and since they have incorrectly applied those theories universally, they have confused our understanding of being and human existence. To avoid these deep-rooted misconceptions, Heidegger believed philosophical inquiry must be conducted in a new way, through a process of retracing the steps of the history of philosophy.

Heidegger argued that this misunderstanding, commencing from Plato, has left its traces in every stage of Western thought. All that we understand, from the way we speak to our notions of "common sense," is susceptible to error, to fundamental mistakes about the nature of being. These mistakes filter into the terms through which being is articulated in the history of philosophy—reality, logic, God, consciousness, presence, et cetera. In his later philosophy, Heidegger argues that this profoundly affects the way in which human beings relate to modern technology.

Jean-Paul Charles Aymard Sartre
Jean-Paul Sartre was born in Paris to Jean-Baptiste Sartre, an officer of the French Navy, and Anne-Marie Schweitzer. His mother was of Alsatian origin, and was a cousin of German Nobel prize laureate Albert Schweitzer.

When Sartre was 15 months old, his father died of a fever. Anne-Marie raised him with help from her father, Charles Schweitzer, a high school professor of German, who taught Sartre mathematics and introduced him to classical literature at a very early age. As a teenager in the 1920s, Sartre became attracted to philosophy upon reading Henri Bergson's Essay on the Immediate Data of Consciousness.

He studied and earned a doctorate in philosophy in Paris at the elite École Normale Supérieure, an institution of higher education which was the alma mater for several prominent French thinkers and intellectuals. Sartre was influenced by many aspects of Western philosophy, absorbing ideas from Immanuel Kant, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Edmund Husserl and Martin Heidegger among others. In 1929 at the École Normale, he met Simone de Beauvoir, who studied at the Sorbonne and later went on to become a noted philosopher, writer, and feminist. The two, it is documented, became inseparable and lifelong companions, initiating a romantic relationship, though they were not monogamous. Sartre served as a conscript in the French Army from 1929 to 1931 though he later argued in 1959 that each French person was responsible for the collective crimes during the Algerian War of Independence.

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Anonymous said...

Excellent, thanks. Keep it up!

Anonymous said...

Parts on Nietzche and Sartre are very good. The part on Heidegger was poor, it covered little of his philosphy and spent too much time on his links to Hitler and National Socialism. Thanks

Anonymous said...

Agree with previous poster, Heidegger section spends a great deal of time talking about how ground breaking his philosophy was but you reach the end not really knowing what that philosophy was. The Nietzsche one was great.