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Heidegger, The Fundamental Concepts of Metaphysics

Lecturer: Mark Hewson

Originally Taught: Winter School 2017

This course is intended as an alternative introduction to Heidegger, using the lecture course The Fundamental Concepts of Metaphysics, rather than the usual starting point, Being and Time. The course was delivered only a couple of years after the publication of Being and Time (1927), and it presents many of the same concepts in a way that is a little more accessible, due to its composition as a series of lectures.

Heidegger envisaged the course as a new beginning, rather than as a further development of the systematic presentation of Being and Time. It takes the same basic questions - existence, world, time, being - and unfolds them anew through a new series of phenomenological analyses. Thus, one of the innovations of Being and Time was to place affect and mood at the centre of philosophical questioning, by recognising their disclosive value. Heidegger claimed that it was possible to reveal the limitations of philosophical conceptions of subjectivity by bringing the reflection closer to the givens of concrete experience. The lecture course continues this initiative through the analysis of boredom, which becomes the revelation of “the nothing” that existence opens on to, and the starting point for an encounter with existence, as a demand, rather than a mere fact. Likewise, the central question of “world” is explored in a new way in the lecture course through the contrast between the human and the animal experience of world. Throughout the course, too, one can follow the re-statement of the ethical and activist dimension of Heidegger's thought, first presented (in Being and Time) through the notion of an “authentic” existence.

The Fundamental Concepts of Metaphysics was only published in 1981, but it has since taken on a life of its own in the scholarly literature, and is discussed as a work in its own right, on the same level as the published books. In particular, the treatment of the human and the animal in this course is now widely referred to, after it figured in the late writings of Jacques Derrida on the animality of the human, and in Giorgio Agamben's book, The Open. This course is primarily intended to guide students through a reading of the course as a whole, but it will also give some orientations on its place in contemporary debates.

Week 1: Philosophy as the question of being. Heidegger's use of the term “metaphysics”.

Fundamental Concepts of Metaphysics, introduction.

Fundamental Concepts of Phenomenology, introduction.

Week 2: The concept of mood. The phenomenological analysis of boredom.

Fundamental Concepts of Metaphysics, part 1, chapters 1-4.

“What is Metaphysics” in Pathmarks (on the mood of anguish).

Week 3: Introduction to the concept of “world”.

Fundamental Concepts of Metaphysics, part 1, chapter 5, part 2, chapters 1-2.

Week 4: Human and animal experience of world

Fundamental Concepts of Metaphysics, part 2, chapters 3-5.

Agamben, The Open

Week 5: The human as world-forming. The concept of transcendence.

Fundamental Concepts of Metaphysics, part 2, chapter 6.



Fundamental concepts of Metaphysics. Translated by William McNeill.

The course will be primarily devoted to working through and discussing this course, with occasional reference to Being and Time and other texts written around the same time.

There will be some reference to the following texts, and possibly other commentators on Heidegger.

Giorgio Agamben, The Open.

Jacques Derrida, The Beast and the Sovereign.

William McNeill, The Time of Life.