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After reading a few books on introduction to philosophy, I was recommended to read "Being and Time" by Martin Heidegger as I found temporality very interesting. Knowing that this book is one that many students of philosphy have a hard time understanding I decided to watch a few videos and read a few books about being and time before I even attempted to tackle Heidegger's book itself.

The problem is that I cannot understand any of the videos I watch or any of the books or summaries I read. Clearly, the introductory books did not prepare me enough. Is there any book that breaks down this philosophy and explains it in such a way that I can understand?

  • I am sorry that this is not an answer. To me his idea is not so difficult if you already learned I thing and objects outside and how we know ( sense ) the objects outside ( to him the basic components to feel the I ( and at that same "opening" of the I to the world. Time is same. We know we will die sooner or later. Then we or I stop recognizing the time ( in transition towards death. ). It is unfortunate the more modernized the philosopher-thinker is to us in time, the more he/she tries to use difficult terms. – Kentaro Apr 10 '15 at 16:16
  • @David, I posted a generic answer, but someone could post a better answer if you edited your question with more specifics about what you are having a problem understanding. – James Kingsbery Apr 10 '15 at 21:34
  • A more specific question, such as on a particular line of the text, would be a lot easier to answer than (a) guessing where you are having trouble, (b) guessing why you are having trouble, and (c) knowing what would help you ... because we don't know your background in the first place. – virmaior Apr 11 '15 at 6:44
  • I think that in general it's the wrong approach to understanding any philosopher or philosophy to focus on secondary sources. Especially because most of what you can find offers very superficial readings. If you find the summaries difficult to understand, than you should really be trying to read Heidegger himself anyways. It's better to struggle with the text itself than to struggle to understand secondary sources that may or may not have merit. And you have no way to sort good readings from bad ones if you haven't read the thinker himself. – Jonathan Basile Apr 11 '15 at 13:28
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    @JonathanBasile I disagree. Some philosophers do a poor job of expressing their philosophy and may even mislead people through their poor writing. There is no merit to suffering through such a tome, and one gains no extra insight by doing so -- only wasted time and frustration. This isn't to say Heidegger is or isn't a lousy writer, but just to challenge the common belief that reading a primary source is somehow always better than a secondary one. – R. Barzell Apr 11 '15 at 19:09
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For a relatively short introduction, I'd recommend Heidegger: A Very Short Introduction. And for a longer, but relatively easy commentary on Being and Time, I'd recommend Hubert Dreyfus's Being-in-the-World: A Commentary on Heidegger's Being and Time, Division I.

I wouldn't recommend reading Being and Time itself to beginners. Beside using a difficult language, it is actually a book that defies much of previous philosophy. So it has little point if you are inexperienced in philosophy.

  • I definitely wouldn't discourage someone from reading other philosophical works as well - but I don't think there's ever an easy time or place to begin reading philosophy. Any person interested din the field should begin with what is most interesting to them, and if they don't feel like they've grasped on their first reading, what they come to read later on will develop their understanding, and the text is always there to be re-read. – Jonathan Basile Apr 11 '15 at 19:53
  • +1 I found Heidegger's Basic Problems of Phenomenology a lot more approachable than Being & Time – Chris Degnen Apr 12 '15 at 21:51
  • @ChrisDegnen Thanks. Sometimes I get the impression that everything else that Heidegger wrote was more approachable than BnT.. – Ram Tobolski Apr 12 '15 at 22:31
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I'll weigh in just to offer a counterpoint. I mentioned in a comment above why I find starting from secondary sources unsatisfying. They are almost uniformly skewed if not simply wrong, and you have no way of sorting the good ones from the bad ones or understanding what type of intellectual position-taking is motivating a reading if you haven't read the thinker himself. If you'd like to read Being and Time, you should read Being and Time, and then if you're unsatisfied read more about it, and then possibly go back and re-read it.

It might be helpful to start with an essay by Heidegger if you'd like something which is a little easier to tackle. The "Letter on Humanism" in Pathmarks or "Anaximander's Fragment" or "Nietzsche's Word: God is Dead" in Off the Beaten Track are relatively approachable and deal with fundamental aspects of his thought.

As a companion to reading Being and Time, you might listen to Hubert Dreyfus' lectures. https://archive.org/details/Philosophy_185_Fall_2007_UC_Berkeley - I find them, as with other secondary sources, to often be quite skewed, but if you're reading along with Heidegger, they can make the terminology clear, so they're helpful for the first time through the book. My favorite piece of writing about Being and Time is Derrida's Aporias - this is also a difficult work - but quite short, and worth taking a look at after you've read Being and Time.

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As with most things in philosophy, I would suggest starting with the Wikipedia article and the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on the topic - not as a replacement for reading the text, but more to get a sense for an overview of a text and the context in which it was written. In many texts today, you will often see front-matter or appendixes that give similar sorts of overviews.

I would also suggest finding a commentary that you like. I can't say I'm too familiar with Heidegger or commentaries on his work, but a quick google search shows several commentaries and outlines that seem useful.

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    Trying to understand a philosopher by reading about them on wikipedia is the worst possible approach. You should start by reading their work. It's more difficult to understand a philosopher from a summary, they are inevitably skewed, and there's no point in struggling with secondary sources instead of with the work itself. – Jonathan Basile Apr 11 '15 at 13:35
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    I am afraid I don't think so. If you already understand the basic components which had been argued for over centuries then you can understand by your words they are virtually becoming to repeat the same thing with different words. Such like I-Sein-Object, Subject-objects outside-phenomenon ( in terms of being "sensed" after, ultimately, aren't we repeating the same thing after all unless it is more specific like Physics and Economic? – Kentaro Apr 11 '15 at 13:45
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    If I understand your comment, I would just say that the only way to learn what a philosopher means by their vocabulary is to read their work. And it may be the case that philosophy is repetitious, but I wouldn't say that physics or economics are less so. In order to philosophize one must philosophize; in order not to philosophize, one still must philosophize. Aristotle said that. – Jonathan Basile Apr 11 '15 at 13:50
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    I am not denying your proposal for anyone to read the original by the author. I am just suggesting reading wikipeadia is not the worst approach. – Kentaro Apr 11 '15 at 14:51
  • Actually, for example, let's take Economics. Then according some proposal, we have to cover the entire area from main stream to the Marxian. That would take probably years, I do not want to gauge anyone to read books of my favorable thinkers, which in total will be probably over 10,000 pages, and Wiki nicely is summarizing their thoughts! If you can not understand at all by Wiki, then you may have to go back to the original, but still on the market there are more books that are explaining their thoughts neatly. So that so wiki is at least not the worst. – Kentaro Apr 12 '15 at 10:07
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It's worth looking at a dictionary of Heideggerian terms. There was one that I came across that I found usefully clear, unfortunately I can't now recall who this was by.

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