Heidegger and the grid of meaning

Olivia asked:

Hello. I see that the natural and constructed world around us offers us meaning. I find myself constructing a grid of meaning that uses abstract nouns e.g. peace, hope, love, excitement, beauty, belonging, freedom, creativity. All things offer up the possibility of ‘meaning’ which will vary according to the situation, the person and the particularities (social, religious, etc) of that person. Is there a philosopher, or philosophical understanding that can articulate this ‘grid of meaning’ that I’m speaking of?

Answer by Jürgen Lawrenz

There have always been writers of what used to be called “edifying literature”; and there are many still around today. But as you asked for the name of a philosopher, the obvious candidate would be Martin Heidegger.

But now I’m going to say something that I would not normally offer as a suggestion — because a philosopher should be read, not just talked about. Nevertheless, reading Heidegger is not the same as picking up any book, not even a philosophy book.

So here goes: You would probably be much better off reading an account by a sympathetic Heidegger scholar first.

The reason I make this recommendation is, that Heidegger is inordinately difficult to read. He wraps up all his “easy” ideas in a tortuous diction full of endlessly long sentences, recondite terminology and neologisms. He is also up to his eyeballs involved in existentialism and phenomenology, as well as all the metaphysical, ontological and epistemological problems of the German thinkers from Kant to Husserl. None of this is ‘edifying’ in the least, nor easy bedtime reading.

There happens to be a good and readily comprehensible book by Stephen Mulhull, “Heidegger’s Being and Time”, published by Routledge in their series “Routledge Guides to Philosophy”. If you find this appealing, then you can go a little further under your own steam, as Heidegger also wrote several shorter texts on other subjects of interest to your context. You might also find George Steiner’s book on Heidegger useful, which is part biography and part assessment, and perfectly readable.

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