Continuing with this blog's recent focus on Heidegger, here is a "plain English" account of why Heidegger matters and what his magnum opus, Being and Time, is all about. This is a series of articles in the Guardian by Simon Critchley: one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight.
Martin Heidegger (1889-1976) was the most important and influential philosopher in the continental tradition in the 20th century. Being and Time, first published in 1927, was his magnum opus. There is no way of understanding what took place in continental philosophy after Heidegger without coming to terms with Being and Time. Furthermore, unlike many Anglo-American philosophers, Heidegger has exerted a huge influence outside philosophy, in areas as diverse as architecture, contemporary art, social and political theory, psychotherapy, psychiatry and theology....
Being and Time is a work of considerable length (437 pages in the German original) and legendary difficulty. The difficulty is caused by the fact that Heidegger sets himself the task of what he calls a "destruction" of the philosophical tradition. We shall see some of the implications of this in future entries, but the initial consequence is that Heidegger refuses to avail himself of the standard terminology of modern philosophy, with its talk of epistemology, subjectivity, representation, objective knowledge and the rest.
Heidegger has the audacity to go back to the drawing board and invent a new philosophical vocabulary. For example, he thinks that all conceptions of the human being as a subject, self, person, consciousness or indeed a mind-brain unity are hostages to a tradition of thinking whose presuppositions have not been thought through radically enough. Heidegger is nothing if not a radical thinker: a thinker who tries to dig down to the roots of our lived experience of the world rather than accepting the authority of tradition.