This essay examines Heidegger’s involvement with the Nazis in light of the account of Western history that he introduces inBeing and Time, develops in his work from the 1930s, and finalizes in his lectures on technology in the 1940s. Specifically, I start with a summary of Heidegger’s aim in Being and Time, i.e., to ‘raise anew the question of the meaning of being’ via a ‘deconstruction of the history of ontology.’ I then demonstrate that Heidegger’s early enthusiasm for National Socialism was partially based on his belief that the Nazis represented a break from the Western tradition that begins with Greek metaphysics and culminates in the human dislocation found in our modern, technologically driven societies. From here, I show that Heidegger realized that National Socialism actually represented the apotheosis of modern technology. I also explain how Heidegger’s critique of technology develops out of his disillusionment with the Nazis, and so amounts to an implicit critique of National Socialism. Finally, I object to Heidegger’s account of the Western tradition by showing that his focus on the general trends of history overlooks the concrete suffering of individual human beings. But then I illustrate how this criticism is addressed by one of Heidegger’s students: Emmanuel Levinas.
In Plato’s Laches an apparently insignificant remark appears: “the law places the soothsayer under the general, and not the general under the soothsayer” (199a). However, Socrates pronounces this phrase in conversation with the military commander Nicias, and it was known in Athens that Nicias had followed, in a critical situation, the suggestion of the soothsayers, which resulted in a military disaster and the death of Nicias himself (he was sentenced to death by the victors). Nicias made an incorrect decision in nontrivial circumstances on account of not having a correct understanding of the situation, and Plato hints at this event in order to show that philosophy, which nourishes the ability of a correct understanding of any question, is not an idle exercise. In essence, he constructs an apology for philosophy–and first of all an apology for the philosophy of Socrates. At the same time, Plato enters into an unannounced polemic with Thucydides, who held Nicias’ virtue in an exceptionally high estimation (VII, 86, 5): from Plato’s point of view, it is Socrates rather than Nicias who deserves such an evaluation.
This article offers a reading of the trail and death of Socrates and explore the importance of death, dialogue, and doubt for human understanding.