Heidegger and the Problem of Evil

Translated into English by Patrick Trompiz and Agata Bielik-Robson

by Cezary Wodziński (Author)
©2016 Monographs 330 Pages


This book provides an encompassing and thorough study of Martin Heidegger’s thought. It is not only a presentation but also a profound critique of the thinker’s beliefs. In the context of Heidegger’s cooperation with Nazism, the author reflects on the reasons behind his inability to confront the problem of evil and vulnerability to the threats of totalitarianism.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Introduction: The Debate
  • Chapter 1: Meanings
  • 1. The Ex-propriation
  • 2. Language and Meanings
  • 3. The Project of the Fundamental Reform of German University
  • 4. The New Claims of Knowledge
  • 5. Philosophers Interpreted the World in Many Ways
  • 6. Philosopher and Leader
  • 7. The Holy Heart of Nations
  • 8. The Nation and Its Tongue
  • 9. Heidegger’s Delusion
  • 10.The Delusion of Overcoming Metaphysics
  • 11.A Strategy for Saving Europe from “Stalinist Bolshevism”
  • Chapter 2: Second Meanings
  • 1. On the trails of its own
  • 2. The Modalities of the Being of Dasein
  • 3. Resoluteness and Revolution
  • 4. The Question about Dasein
  • 5. The Essence of Man
  • 6. In the Sphere of the Polis
  • 7. Political Philosophy or the Philosophy of Politics
  • 8. The Problem of Historicity
  • 9. The Speech of Silence
  • Chapter 3: Sense
  • 1. Thinking Being
  • 2. Thinking the difference
  • 3. Difference and Dasein
  • 4. Difference and speech
  • 5. The Difference as Austrag
  • 6. The Event of Being
  • 7. Metaphysics: The oblivion of Being and of Difference
  • 8. Metaphysics as onto-theo-logy
  • 9. The question of sense
  • Chapter 4: Nonsense
  • 1. Keiner stirbt für bloße Werte
  • 2. Sollen or Sein?
  • 3. Philosophy and worldview
  • 4. Gott ist tot
  • 5. The overturning of “Platonism”
  • 6. Wertdenken as the essence of metaphysics
  • 7. A retrospective: metaphysics of the will to power and National Socialism
  • 8. Nullmeridian
  • 9. Thinking against values
  • 10. Towards evil
  • 11. To be “beyond good and evil”
  • The Opening
  • Bibliography

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Introduction: The Debate

It is the power to challenge which decides about the greatness of a philosophical work; the power – and sometimes it takes the form of unconditional imperative – to make us think with it. If we answer this challenge, the work becomes part of our thinking.

A philosophical work opens a new way for thinking – and it is precisely in this opening that the power of the challenge constitutes itself. There is no opposition between work and way. Quite to the contrary, a work exhorts us to go down the road it has opened. Thinking together with a philosophical work means to go with it. Its power of challenge depends on how far this new way diverts us from the usual paths of our thinking. The bigger the diversion, the greater the power.

But this refers only to the very moment of initiation and our decision to participate in the work. The act of going together down the same path depends on two further factors: on how deep, significant and communicative are the traces the work left on its way, and on how responsive we are to their meanings and importance. In the case of a philosophical work, the traces it imprints on its way are philosophical questions. The power of the challenge increases with the importance of the questions the work left on its way as road-signs. The right answer to the challenge of a philosophical work is to think together with it. The responsibility of the response lies in this questioning together.

However, it is in the nature of such thinking-together to set up oppositions: to think-together and to ask-together means always to think-against and in-spite-of. By coming to us as a challenge, philosophical work wants us not only to sympathize with the importance of its questions – in the sense that they become our own questions – but also to stand apart from and distance ourselves from them. The appropriation of questions, which constitutes the real thinking-together, is possible only thanks to this dissent. Unless we disagree, our going-together is nothing more than a passive following, never an active thinking-together on the way. To be on the way means something more than just to follow, to step into traces. Thinking-together will not tolerate imitation. The right answer to the philosophical question is always another question. Asking-together is an act of appropriation of the questions which are signs on the work’s road of thinking. An appropriated question is never the same question; its virtuality depends on our participation in the work. The same question would be only a consenting “question”, a question without the power to challenge. The appropriation of a philosophical question is possible only on the basis of an understanding of ← 7 | 8 → its importance. The measure of importance of a philosophical question which defines the way of a work is its potential of being co-important: a potential it would be impossible to keep up in the smooth atmosphere of consent. The dissent which originates in the co-importance of philosophical questions is the real act of thinking-together. The attempt to answer the challenge thrown at us by a philosophical work fulfils itself in dissent.

Heidegger’s philosophical work has without doubt the power of a challenge in all these senses. Taking up the challenge – an attempt to think-together, ask-together and go-together down the way the work opens – requires dissent. In a letter to one of his pupils Heidegger wrote:

“It is, I think, a high time that people stop writing ”about“ Heidegger. A substantial dissent (eine sachliche Auseinandersetzung) would be far more important.” (in Pöggeler 1983, 355).

Philosophical dissent is of a peculiar nature. Its semantic structure is, in fact, far more complicated than the common term “dissent”, which I used here only tentatively, suggests. We need to reach for other definitions. It is worth looking closer at Heidegger’s own concept of Auseinandersetzung. In Heidegger’s vocabulary it fulfils a significant function whose many-layered meanings can be captured only by a close inspection of the way it is presented by Heidegger himself. Dissent, when understood as Auseinandersetzung, is not just a quarrel, disagreement or even a confrontation which aims at conquering and disempowering the adversary. It is an opposition in which two opposed sides reveal their true essence. Such opposition is a form of unveiling, of disclosure. The adversary is here less important that the nature of the opposites themselves. Moreover, philosophical dissent does not consist in just setting one opinion against another; it does not strive to replace one standpoint with another.

Auseinanderstetzung – writes Heidegger in Beiträge – is not an opposition in a sense of simple refusal or total overcoming of one standpoint by another.” (LXV, 187)

Dissent cannot, in addition, be reduced to “besserwisser” polemic or “conceited” critique. These both tend to reject the opposite standpoint as a collection of “blunders” and “inadequacies” which they measure according to purely external criteria known only to themselves.

“If Auseinandersetzung were nothing but a ‘critique’ in a sense of enumeration of defficiencies and mistakes (Bemängelung)… But it is, in fact, something totally different: it is all about choosing an adversary, bringing him to an opposite stand and forcing on him a struggle for what is most essential (ein Kampf um das Wesentlichste).” (XLIII, 276) ← 8 | 9 →

But this requires the development of questions which reveal themselves in such opposition: a development from their most intrinsic characteristics – that is, the sources they originate in – to their most external, most remote consequence. Auseinandersetzung does not wish to overcome or to triumph over its opposite but, quite to the contrary, wants to disclose that which is its essence and to “elevate it to its own heights”.

Auseinandersetzung – says Heidegger in Beiträge – must be prepared to see every significant philosophy as a mountain peak among other mountain peaks and to take from it what is most essential.” (LXV, 187)

Therefore, neither devaluation nor annihilation but exposition lies at the core of philosophical dissent. Without a thorough delineation of the limits of the opposite it is impossible to unveil its essence. Affirmation of its importance is not uncritical; it cannot transcend the limits of the opposite or become unlimited, for then it loses touch with its very essence. Only de-limitation allows us to unveil what is really essential:

Auseinandersetzung, to repeat this again, has nothing to do with underlining drawbacks and highlighting blunders. It is all about establishing the limits – but not in order to know better and to show off! Rather, in order to undertake the task again and understand the unavoidability of its necessary limitations.” (XLIII, 277)

Opposition as delimitation constitutes also a condition of becoming what one really is, of unveiling one’s own essence.

“Only a power of a determined and creative dissent (Auseinandersetzung) – writes Heidegger about Greeks – with what appeared to be the most alien and difficult, the Asiatic mind, gave this nation a short period of a historically unique distinctness and greatness.” (NACH, 262)1

Heidegger avoids opposition of the terms “mine – not-mine” (“me – other”) which could misleadingly suggest an intention to appropriate, to transform what is “not-mine” into “mine”. The appropriation which is characteristic for the right kind of opposition consists in essentialization: that is, in revealing what is most proper for the essences of both opposites. This movement of appropriation not only does not annul the difference of the opposite “sides”, but, on the contrary, makes them stronger. It is only in Auseinandersetzung, says Heidegger, that “creative interpretation” can grow. ← 9 | 10 →

Dissent takes the form of an interpretation – but it has nothing to do with any highly specialized hermeneutics or with answering any practical need. Interpretation merely strives to unveil what is most essential and important and to prepare for a confrontation with it. Jaspers talks about a similar aspect of philosophical dissent:

“In principle, Auseinandersetzung always differs from scientific discussion which proceeds on the basis of arguments and counter-arguments; here, they are only means of expression in the service of opposite spiritual powers.” (Jaspers 1977, 81)

Moreover, as Heidegger emphasizes, the confrontation with the most essential often leads to the open confrontation with the adversary’s most efficient weapon. To become aware of this danger and not to surrender – to successfully oppose it – is the last task of the dissent as Auseinandersetzung.

The German verb auseinandersetzen has many meanings. It means among other things: 1) to separate, isolate and oppose; 2) to explain, explicate, clarify; 3) to disagree and discuss; 4) to come to understanding and agreement. In the following expressions – sich mit einer Sache… or sich mit einem Problem auseinandersetzen – it means, accordingly, to deal with something, to think a problem over. The noun Auseinandersetzung has two significant semantic layers: on the one hand dissent, discussion, dealing with something; on the other, explanation, explication and clarification. The the closest English equivalent would probably be “debate”, a noun of equally ambiguous denotation. It contains two mutually interfering semantic fields which are, each one in itself, additionally polarized. “Debate” is on the one hand “dissent”, “dispute”, “discussion” – and, on the other, “clarification”, “explication” and “explanation”. “Debate” means battling with someone over something. In its first meaning, it is opposition and dissent which strike the most dominant note. But in its second meaning, “debate” suggests a way of presenting a subject of mutual opposition. From this time on, I will understand the expression “philosophical dissent” as “debate” in its four meanings and also as “debate” in the Heideggerian interpretation of the word Auseinandersetzung.

Philosophical dissent as debate is a conglomerate of all these senses. The dissent I undertake in this essay will consist in the gradual unveiling of the subsequent layers constructing the term “debate”. It will be an attempt to understand what the word “debate” really means and what it refers to. The “how” of philosophical dissent, which is closely linked to the “against” and “about” of the “debate”, determines the gradual revelation of its proper “what”. It is being “revealed” – which means that it is not immediately given, in a singular and direct act of presentation. It is not given – or rather, it is given as a task. It cannot be ← 10 | 11 → presupposed – it must be interpreted. The way in which the proper “what” of dissent reveals itself is governed by “debate” as interpretation.

The first stage is preliminary and to a large extent historical. I present here a history of the notorious “case of Heidegger” which focuses on his political involvement in the years 1933–1934: “Heidegger and national socialism”. This part serves most of all – apart from a sheer historical presentation – as an attempt to elaborate an efficient hermeneutical strategy which would allow us to capture the strictly philosophical dimension of the “dissent about Heidegger” and separate it from all of its quasi-philosophical mystifications. My way is mainly negative: I try to undermine all these interpretations which obfuscate the “problem” so deeply that it is impossible not only to investigate it in its full philosophical complexity but even to formulate the right questions. The first stage of my reflection is an enquiry into the philosophical meaning of “Heidegger’s case”. Here, I delineate a hermeneutical strategy which will remain valid in the further stages of my argument and also a more general hermeneutical perspective in which the subsequent senses of our “debate” will develop. The task of the next two stages is to fill this freshly opened hermeneutical space. In harmony with the semantic dynamics of “debate”, my reflections will be ordered according to the principle of interpretation whose main intention is to explore and understand the conditions under which it would be possible, this time, to “dissent with Heidegger”. In the last two stages I venture a final explication of the proper “what” of the whole “debate” – that is, the matter “about” which it debates – while getting into a “dissent with Heidegger”. This scheme, which is organized around the subsequent meanings of the word “debate”, is only one of the architectonic pillars of the book. The other is the internal “logic” of the hermeneutic strategy itself. It bifurcates into two complementary but nonetheless methodologically separate perspectives. They cut through the hermeneutical space and, by shaping it in two opposite directions, divide it into two asymmetrical planes. The rhisomatic perspective of the first three parts (from the Greek rhisomata: roots) investigates the entanglements and ambivalences of our “problem”, which lurks behind the headline “political involvement of Heidegger’s project of thinking” (or, less philosophically “Heidegger and national socialism”). By analyzing few relatively isolated fragments of Heidegger’s philosophical project, it aims is to dissect the strata which build this complex rhisom of meanings.

The word “project” means here an act of opening a new way of thinking and a challenge to think-together, a fundamental quality of every philosophical work. In the preliminary part, the rhisomatic analysis tackles the “meanings of first degree”, that is, the meanings linked to the “dissent about Heidegger”. Whereas in ← 11 | 12 → the next two parts, it deals with the “meanings of the second degree” which are grounded in the philosophical project itself and as such are the conditions of our “dissent with Heidegger”. The initial question about the philosophical motivations of Heidegger’s “political commitment” is translated into a number of more concrete questions which together create a somewhat blurred and ambiguous picture. Parts II and III are chiefly devoted to the task of putting this polisemically dispersed archipelago of meanings back in order. While the rhisomatic operation is ruled by the principle of dispersion, deconstruction and dislocation, the archeic perspective I deploy in parts IV and V consists in the partial reversal of the former. It is a regression and, at the same time, transgression within the circular movement of hermeneutics. It aims at the consolidation and concentration of the dispersed meanings in their original arche from which they draw their philosophical validity. This archeic dimension is the fundament of the unity and totality of Heidegger’s philosophical project. The sphere which is penetrated by the archeic perspective I call the sphere of sense (and, correspondingly: non-sense). Speaking Heidegger’s language, one could say that it is this dimension of a philosophical project in which “a phenomenon in a distinctive sense” comes most prominently to the fore:

“What is it that phenomenology is to ‘let us see’? What is it that must be called a ‘phenomenon’ in a distinctive sense? (…) Manifestly, it is something that proximally and for the most part does not show itself at all: it is something that lies hidden, in contrast to that which proximally and for the most part does show itself; but at the same time it is something that belongs to what thus shows itself; and it belongs to it so essentially as to constitute its meaning and ground.” (BT, 59)

Thanks to the bifurcation of the hermeneutic strategy, it is possible to reflect on our problem in two different aspects: an aspect of meanings and an aspect of sense. In both aspects the subject is “the same” but reflected in two different ways. When asking about meanings, the “debate” takes the form of interpretation and “dissent with…” (this refers mainly to the “meanings of the second order” which are analyzed in parts II and III; the “dissent about Heidegger” is meant only as a prelude to its full development in the later parts). Whereas asking about sense (and non-sense) leads to the essential “debate about…”. The proper “about” of dissent – intangible dispersed and vague – reveals itself only in the sphere of sense. The “about” of the dissent and the sense are identical.

“Political involvement of Heidegger’s philosophical project”: can this many-faceted formulation have any philosophical sense? Is it a sufficient ground for a dissent Heidegger himself wanted to instigate? Or maybe, the challenge of Heidegger’s philosophical work is being reduced here to a mere intellectual provocation? ← 12 | 13 → Can the dissent “about” Heidegger be transformed into a dissent “with” Heidegger’s philosophical project and, in the last instance, in the debate “about” its fundamental, primordial, archeic sense? By setting off from this point, can we think-together, go-together and ask-together on the way opened by Heidegger’s work? In such a hermeneutic perspective, is it at all possible to understand and share a sense of the importance of Heidegger’s questions? Or, rather, isn’t it so that by following this marginal issue, we miss the occasion for the real philosophical debate? And finally (we should not multiply the doubts beyond necessity), is this non-philosophical and vague formulation a correct reading of the challenge we face while we are confronted with Being and Time and Heidegger’s other works?


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2015 (December)
Totalitarianism Metaphysics German philosophy Nazism Heidegger's reception
Frankfurt am Main, Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2016. 330 pp.

Biographical notes

Cezary Wodziński (Author)

Cezary Wodziński is Full Professor at the Faculty of Artes Liberales at the University of Warsaw and Head of the Research Group of Metaphysical Transformations in Contemporary Philosophy at the Polish Academy of Sciences. His main interests and objects of study are Greek philosophy (pre-Socratic and classic), modern and contemporary German philosophy, apophatic theology, and anthropology.


Title: Heidegger and the Problem of Evil