Niall Keane – Metaphysics and Nihilism

Here is the second of our recordings from The British Society for Phenomenology’s 2018 Annual Conference ‘The Theory and Practice of Phenomenology’. Dr Niall Keane was a keynote speaker at the conference, and his paper is titled ‘Metaphysics and Nihilism’.

Niall Keane is Senior Lecturer and Head of the Department of Philosophy at Mary Immaculate College, University of Limerick, Ireland. He has published widely in the areas of phenomenology and hermeneutics and is the co-author of The Gadamer Dictionary (Continuum 2012) and co-editor of The Blackwell Companion to Hermeneutics (Wiley-Blackwell 2016). In addition to his publications on Husserl, Heidegger, Gadamer, Michel Henry, and in the field of ancient philosophy, he is Treasurer of the Irish Phenomenological Circle, and cofounder and coordinator of the Irish Centre for Transnational Studies. His current research project focuses on the transformed nature of the self in Heidegger’s thought.

Abstract: “This talk will examine the interconnected issues of metaphysics and nihilism in the works of Martin Heidegger and Ernst Jünger. Exploring the issues of metaphysics and nihilism through the lens of their respective analyses of being and nothing, it will assess Heidegger’s interpretation of Jünger’s position as modern and metaphysical in that it remains trapped within the Gestalt of the human being as the subject that sets in place and produces the world and by doing so secures further production possibilities for itself. However, in Heidegger’s dialogue with Jünger one can detect deep structural affinities, especially in Jünger’s description of nihilism and his attempt to reconceive the ontological question. It is the aim of this talk to explore the points of convergence and divergence and to argue for the necessity of reading Heidegger with Jünger and with metaphysics as opposed to understanding Heidegger’s thought as anti-metaphysical through and through. This talk will address whether Heidegger’s re-conception of being and nothing as one and the same, albeit not identical, is not itself a real expression of metaphysical orientation, that is, whether the cunning of metaphysics is not already operative in Heidegger’s attempts to sketch the contours of another way of thinking about the human being’s relation to the question of being. Taking Heidegger at his word, when he claims that there is no such thing as a last word, especially when it comes to the question of being, it is my contention that his thought is metaphysical to the core and that this becomes clear in his response to Jünger and in what he took from Jünger. If it is true, as Heidegger claimed, that metaphysics is nihilism proper, then surely his goal must be to confront metaphysics from within metaphysics and not to overcome it. In the end, the paper will argue that there is a problematic tension in Heidegger’s interpretation of the history of metaphysics and nihilism, such that Heidegger vacillates between not wanting to belong to the metaphysical tradition and recognizing that all thought must necessarily belong to this tradition.”

The British Society for Phenomenology’s Annual Conference took place at the University of Kent, in Canterbury, UK during July, 2018. It gathered together philosophers, literary scholars, phenomenologists, and practitioners exploring phenomenological theory and its practical application. It covered a broad range of areas and issues including the arts, ethics, medical humanities, mental health, education, technology, feminism, politics and political governance, with contributions throwing a new light on both traditional phenomenological thinkers and the themes associated with classical phenomenology. More information about the conference can be found at:

The British Society for Phenomenology is a not-for-profit organisation set up with the intention of promoting research and awareness in the field of Phenomenology and other cognate arms of philosophical thought. Currently, the society accomplishes these aims through its journal, conferences and other events, and its podcast. You can support the society by becoming a member, for which you will receive a subscription to our journal:

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