The Problem of Nihilism in Heidegger: Toward a Retheologizing of All Gods Hitherto

Dissertation, Yale University (1996)

The relatively recent publication of Heidegger's "real major work" or perhaps second major work, the Contributions to Philosophy, calls for a fundamental reevaluation of the extended development of his thinking, above all with regard to the problem of nihilism. The high point which this "fugue of thinking" reaches in "the last God" presents an unmistakable, though radically transformed echo of the young Heidegger's original commitment to the Christian, in the first place Catholic God. This return of God in a "totally other," "thoughtful-poetic" key places Heidegger's original loss of God in an essential way at the center of his thinking. Throughout his philosophical, religious, and also political evolution, we find a persistent searching for the sort of grounding, home, and measure that had once been provided by the Christian God, such that Heidegger's thinking can be said to never truly emerge from the shadow of this original loss. ;In this sense, I argue that the whole of Heidegger's personal and philosophical development can be interpreted in terms of an enduring confrontation with nihilism understood as such a loss of fundamental grounding and measure. I first examine in detail the gradual demise of Heidegger's original Christian grounding as the background against which the problem of nihilism initially emerges, and his subsequent turn to phenomenological ontology and the existential analysis of authenticity in the wake of this demise. The ultimate poverty of authenticity as a response to nihilism leads to Heidegger's search for a more substantive historical grounding through the choice of a "hero" and, in particular, through his turn to National Socialism. His eventual Auseinandersetzunn with National Socialism also leads to a fundamental Auseinandersetzung with Nietzsche's thinking, especially with his understanding of nihilism and how to overcome it. Finally, his criticism of Nietzsche and of modern "metaphysical" thinking in general points to the radical poetic transformation of his later thinking under the inspiration of Holderlin and, above all, to his turn to 'the last God" in the Contributions, which I interpret in terms of an ultimate response to the problem of nihilism
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