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Heidegger’s Letter on Humanism

Lecturer: Andrew Benjamin

Originally Taught: Evening School Semester 2 2020

‘Humanism’ continues to mark a point of departure. Terms such as ‘post’, especially when applied to the ‘human’ and to ‘humanism’, have become common place. And yet, they all too easy addition or evocation of the ‘post’ leaves unexamined the positions to which it is attached.

The contention of this course is that the tradition of humanism, precisely because it lacks an essential unity already contains within it the possibilities for both delimitation and critique.

The central text is Heidegger’s Letter on Humanism (1947). The text itself started as a response to a set of questions posed to Heidegger by Jean Beaufret on the occasion of the publication of Jean-Paul Sartre’s Existential is a Humanism (1945). The course itself will begin with an opening lecture on Sartre after which there will be a line by line engagement with Heidegger’s text. Reference will also be made to key passages of Heidegger’s Being and Time.

The course will incorporate two additional elements.  Firstly, because Heidegger refers to Heraclitus, one lecture will be devoted Heidegger engagement with Heraclitus generally and fragment DK119 in particular. Secondly, the Italian philosopher Ernesto Grassi published an important rejoinder to Heidegger in which he argued that Heidegger had misunderstood the tradition of Renaissance Humanism. Consequently one lecture will consider Grassi’s Heidegger and the Question of Renaissance Humanism (1983).

The final two lectures will review all the texts studied and those to which reference had been made in order to work through the limit of humanism with and after Heidegger.

Course Plan:

The page number below refer to page numbers in Martin Heidegger, Letter on Humanism. In Martin Heidegger, Basic Writings (Edited by David Farrell Krell).

Week 1. Jean-Paul Sartre. Existentialism is a Humanism

Week 2. Letter on Humanism  Pages 217-222

Week 3. Letter on Humanism  Pages 223-229

Week 4. Letter on Humanism  Pages 230-236

Week 5. Letter on Humanism  Pages 237-242

Week 6. Letter on Humanism  Pages 243-249

Week 7. Letter on Humanism  Pages 250-256

Week 8. Heidegger and Heraclitus

Week 9. Letter on Humanism  Pages 259- 265

Week 10. Ernesto Grassi. Heidegger and the Question of Renaissance Humanism

Week 11. Thinking the limits of Humanism with Heidegger

Week 12. Thinking the limits of Humanism after Heidegger

Reading:

  • Ernesto Grassi. Heidegger and the Question of Renaissance Humanism. SUNY Press
  • Martin Heidegger, Letter on Humanism. In Martin Heidegger, Basic Writings (Edited by David Farrell Krell). Harper
  • Jean-Paul Sartre. Existentialism is a Humanism. Yale University Press.