“Heidegger in the Kitchen”: Alain de Botton’s Video Essay Explains the Philosopher’s Concept of Being

Are you feel­ing doomed and insignif­i­cant, like a shrimp des­tined for the fry­ing pan? Well, then, we have just the thing for you. Last week we fea­tured three intro­duc­to­ry phi­los­o­phy videos from Alain de Botton’s School of Life, on Mar­tin Hei­deg­ger, the Sto­ics, and Epi­cu­rus. Each of these shorts is designed to show how phi­los­o­phy, ancient and mod­ern, can enhance our dai­ly life by address­ing ques­tions of free­dom, suf­fer­ing, and hap­pi­ness. Above—in what Maria Popo­va at Brain Pick­ings calls an “imag­i­na­tive video essay”—de Bot­ton again engages with Heidegger’s thought, this time dis­till­ing the dif­fi­cult Ger­man philosopher’s con­cept of “Being” (das sein) to its essence.

Heidegger’s desire, de Bot­ton tells us, was to “wake us up to the idea that we are sur­round­ed by death.” (Hei­deg­ger used the “grander term,” das nichts,” the noth­ing, or “inex­is­tence, the oppo­site of life.”) Instead of sim­ply awak­en­ing exis­ten­tial ter­ror by remind­ing us of how frag­ile and pre­car­i­ous our lives are, Hei­deg­ger sought to encour­age moments of insight into the mys­te­ri­ous uni­ty and beau­ty of life. In these moments, he thought, we might learn “to rec­og­nize our kin­ship with all liv­ing things and with the Earth itself.”

What keeps us from hav­ing these insights all of the time? For Hei­deg­ger, our social denial of Being takes the form of “end­less chat­ter,” what he called das gerede. We are all famil­iar with its many man­i­fes­ta­tions; from the per­pet­u­al triv­ia of celebri­ty gos­sip to the numb­ing scare­mon­ger­ing of the 24-hour news cycle, thou­sands of voic­es sur­round us hourly, clam­or­ing for our atten­tion and seek­ing to drown out our indi­vid­ual aware­ness of death and of Being. In the visu­al kitchen metaphor above, das gerede is rep­re­sent­ed by a “pan­cake-like dough lay­er” that “smoth­ers our con­nec­tion with Being.” “The task of phi­los­o­phy,” Hei­deg­ger believed, “is to remove us from the doughy com­fort of chat­ter and intro­duce us, sys­tem­at­i­cal­ly, to the brac­ing con­cept of Noth­ing­ness.”

It’s cer­tain­ly not for noth­ing that Hei­deg­ger has been iden­ti­fied as an exis­ten­tial­ist, though he repu­di­at­ed the term. For Hei­deg­ger, the ques­tion of human exis­tence was pri­ma­ry and above all oth­er kinds of inquiry. Hei­deg­ger did not believe that the meth­ods and tech­nolo­gies of the nat­ur­al sci­ences could ever offer sat­is­fac­to­ry answers to our fun­da­men­tal ques­tions about our exis­tence. So what was Heidegger’s cheer­ful advice to those of us seek­ing a more authen­tic con­nec­tion to Being? Like Mor­ris­sey and var­i­ous Roman­tic poets, Hei­deg­ger rec­om­mend­ed that we “spend more time in grave­yards.” To get in touch with life, he sug­gests, we must first learn to get in touch with death.

via Brain Pick­ings

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Alain de Botton’s School of Life Presents Ani­mat­ed Intro­duc­tions to Hei­deg­ger, The Sto­ics & Epi­cu­rus

Mar­tin Hei­deg­ger Talks About Lan­guage, Being, Marx & Reli­gion in Vin­tage 1960s Inter­views

Mar­tin Hei­deg­ger Talks Phi­los­o­phy with a Bud­dhist Monk on Ger­man Tele­vi­sion (1963)

Find sev­er­al cours­es on Hei­deg­ger, includ­ing his mag­num opus Being and Time, in our col­lec­tion of Free Online Phi­los­o­phy Cours­es

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness.

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