NPJ Book Review: Martin Heidegger, Between Good and Evil by Rudiger Safranski

Martin Heidegger, Between Good and Evil by Rudiger Safranski (1998) Martin Heidegger’s mind was primordial. He was a thinker in the more provocative sense of the word.

I purchased this book when it first came out and have on occasion returned to it for a fresh understanding of this extraordinary intellect. As a reader that has collected and read more than a dozen works about Dr. Johann Faust and written one about some fragments of his writings in novel form, I was reminded of this 16th century character in Heidegger and his relationship with evil and how his philosophy evolved and affected other major philosophers, e.g., (Hannah Arendt) and theologians (Paul Tillich) among others of the 20th century.

And through Safranski we learn how complex the man was who sought to be a “master of beginnings.” This work delves into the inner working of his mind while exploring his life in all of it’s ambiguities, contrasts, flaws, contradictions and searching. The reader journeys from Heidegger’s seminary days to his relationship with Nazism and Hitler and his evolution in reason to arrive on a deeper level of thought that was in marked contrast to the society in which he lived.

“Human value is interrelated to the value creating process.” And, “A state of affairs becomes a state of values.” This biography may provoke the reader in re-examining the state of affairs in the world today and especially the nature of nationalism and the move toward unrestrained authoritarianism.

In Heidegger’s mind we possess the existential understanding of viewing and being within the world at the same time. For me it means being in the audience and knowing you are in the audience yet you are observing yourself on stage as an actor participating in the action. Reality is something that one constantly and philosophically is a participant and observer of, albeit through the filters of individual and cultural experience. Truth appears malleable but ultimately must be based on evidence.

“When Heidegger spoke about the “releasement of things” in our life, he was referring to technology. He saw no reasonable solution to the effects of technology. His concern was contemplative thinking. Technology can not do that for us. His mind ultimately would return to the “primordial” state of human consciousness.

The author gives examples of Heidegger’s thinking, his “backslidings” and  “brilliant insights” along the way in this journey of this unusual man and solitary mind that has influenced so many thinkers from the 1930’s to the present moment. This is an intellectual biography written with sensitivity without sparing the man and his flaws.