What are the main philosophical problems

3 of the most important philosophical thoughts

What Socrates, Kant and Heidegger brooded about

This article aims to address three of the most important philosophical thoughts.

In philosophy there were always ideas that broke with much of what was before, and put thought on a new foundation, or at least wanted to put it on a new footing.

We'll take a closer look at three of them here.

Why three?

Because three are enough for now.

And why these three?

Because I don't want to tell you any nonsense and therefore I am bringing you closer to three pieces that I have already dealt with more intensively.

So let's start ...

3 of the most important philosophical thoughts


1. "I know that I don't know anything."

Almost everyone has heard this sentence before. But be careful: It is wrong to claim that Socrates uttered precisely this wording.

First of all, Socrates left nothing in writing.

Second, neither his pupil Plato - thanks to whose dialogues we know most about Socrates - nor any other ancient thinker writes that Socrates ever used these words in such a way.

Nevertheless, the phrase as we know it points to a revolutionary thought in the history of thought.

Socrates, an annoying hero ...

Socrates was up to mischief in Athens in the fifth century BC. At a time when the democracy of ancient Athenians was having its golden days. So there was - thanks to the peace - enough time to think. Socrates used this and also used it to piss off his roommates properly.

He involved his contemporaries in profound conversations and wanted to know from them what, for example, the values ​​of “bravery” or “justice”, which were so highly valued at the time, meant. However, he was never satisfied with a definition. Each time he was able to find gaps in the validity of the arguments of his interlocutors, each time his interviews ended in a so-called "aporia". A hopeless, contradicting result.

Socrates in court ...

The maladjusted, glamorous Socrates was finally convicted one day.

He was accused of acting illegally. First, he does not believe in the gods, and second, he corrupts the youth, who partially copied his method of doubting.

He had to defend himself in court, as the "Apology of Socrates", written by Plato in retrospect, testifies.

Socrates describes, among other things, how his method of inquiring inquiries brought him anger. He explains that he doesn't know much himself, but at least more than anyone else, because he at least knows that he lacks a knowledge that is beyond doubt. Nobody admitted this to himself except him, which made him wiser than everyone else.

Because of these claims in the apology, the sentence “I know that I know nothing” was later put into his mouth.

Why is Socrates' knowledge so important in the history of philosophy?

Socrates accomplished something entirely new by reflecting on his own thinking and admitting that we know much less than we believe. He put people and their intellectual abilities at the center of philosophy. He brought philosophy from heaven to earth, as Cicero later put it.

The thinkers before him had occupied themselves with the cosmos and the things in it, while man himself was of little interest.

Because Socrates, through his concentration on man himself and the demonstration of the fragility of supposed knowledge, represents such a major turning point in the history of philosophy, all thinkers before him are called “pre-Socratic” today.

2. The "Copernican turn" through Kant

We leave Socrates and his beautiful Athens (oh yes, by the way, he was sentenced to death, decided against the exile offered him and chose poisonous death - but that's a different story), skip several centuries and visit Immanuel Kant.

It was easy to find him, as he actually spent the entirety of his 80 years in and around the German city of Königsberg.

This is where our next episode takes place, which is supposed to be about Kant's “Copernican turn”.

Kant cleans up ...

We are familiar with the Copernican turn in astronomy. Since Copernicus' publications, the sun no longer revolves around the earth but the earth around the sun. Of course that was the case before that, too, but Copernicus paved the way for this truth. It then had to fight for centuries for full recognition, but today it is finally taken for granted.

Since Kant, things have turned differently in philosophy than before.

In one of the - if not DEM - most important works of modern philosophy, the "Critique of Pure Reason", he claims that all previous philosophers were on the wrong track. Over the centuries, in search of knowledge, they had put forward a wide variety of theories about objects in the world and their interrelationships. However, Kant takes a step back to start all over again.

First of all, he asks to what extent knowledge is even possible for us humans. He asks - and every philosophy student must always have this formulation at hand - the Conditions of the possibility of knowledge.

The focus is no longer on the objects that are to be receptively and passively recognized by the subject, but rather on the cognitive ability of the subject itself.

Thus the Copernican turn in philosophy has already taken place;

While it was previously assumed that knowledge must be based on the objects, Kant now says: "No, no, the objects (or objects) must be based on the knowledge of the subject!".

The strange consequence of this ...

In his “Critique of Pure Reason”, Kant comes to the conclusion that we humans deform the input from outside (= the objects) through our cognitive faculties.

From this follows the consequence, peculiar to the everyday mind, that we can never know how objects in the world really are, only how they appear to us.

Kant therefore introduces the pair of terms “thing in itself” and “appearance”. The screen of your computer (or your smartphone) that you have in front of you is, as you perceive it, an "appearance". How this screen actually looks like and in itself (= as "thing in itself") we do not know and we will never know.

One speaks here of Kant's “dualism”, which divides the world into a world of appearances and a world of things in themselves. This in turn creates interesting opportunities to rethink knowledge and ethics. But also just as many new problems.

Hopefully we will be able to devote ourselves more intensively to all of these consequences at some point once the basics are in place.

Kant and again and again Kant ...

The fact is that Kant revolutionized modern philosophy with his assertions like no other, and you can find a footnote on him in almost every philosophical work, however brief it may be. Which of course doesn't mean that he was right about everything. Philosophy always remains controversial and an overwhelming number of footnotes have not yet made any claim come true.

Incidentally, Kant never literally referred to his actions as the “Copernican turn”, but only tried to compare it with it. Similar to how Socrates never demonstrably said the sentence “I know that I know nothing”. You can see here that science - like every other area of ​​life - tends to create myths.

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3. Heidegger and the "oblivion of being"

First of all: Yes, Heidegger is doubly problematic. First, because his philosophical thoughts often slide into the poetic and remain obscure. Second, because he was briefly directly involved in National Socialism during his life and there are indications in his so-called “black books” that this was not just a temporary “confusion”.

Both topics are exciting, controversial and complex. I will not deal with it any further here, however, but will devote myself to the part of his work that made history.

The difference between being and being

Socrates broke with tradition in his thinking.

Kant also.

And Heidegger also wanted to rethink and accused the 2,500-year-old philosophy of having forgotten something essential.

What did you forget?

Let us think back to Kant and the objects in the world that he, but also the many philosophers before him, wanted to recognize. Heidegger shows that philosophy would always have only been interested in these objects, in what he calls "beings". At the same time, however, she would have forgotten about "being" itself.

Being and being are therefore not the same, even if they are dependent on one another.

So if the objects in the world are beings, what is being?

We have forgotten the meaning of being ...

As if the distinction between being and being were not enough for a person who hardly deals with philosophical problems, Heidegger introduces a third - “Dasein”.

This Dasein (a special form of being) is the human being. And it is on this existence that he concentrates in his early major work “Being and Time” (1927), which hit academic philosophy like a bombshell.

Heidegger assumes lazy conformity to existence - that is, to human beings. The entirety of the people would have become a "man". He writes:

“We enjoy and enjoy ourselves as we enjoy; we read, see and judge art as one sees and judges; but we also withdraw from the 'big heap' as one withdraws; we find 'outrageous'' what is outrageous. The one, which is not a specific one and the all are, although not as a sum, prescribes the mode of being of everyday life. "
(Heidegger 1978: 169)

As you can see here, Heidegger pretty much devalues ​​existence and thus people. Why? Because he only goes and lives with the crowd and has forgotten about being itself. Because he forgot to ask what it actually means that he is. Because we don't (anymore?) Know what the meaning of being is.

Fear as savior ...

Only fear can help us here. The fear of death.

Heidegger believes that only in moments of fear and with the possible finiteness of our life can we understand or at least guess what it means to be be.

And what does it mean now, to be?

In a way, these general statements on Heidegger's revolutionary theses in the early 20th century may seem banal.

Isn't he just saying that people give up their individuality, make themselves comfortable in the crowd and that most of them only come to their senses when they become aware of their own finitude?

In a certain way yes, but the exciting thing is how Heidegger struggled all his life with the concept of being and thus the question of the meaning of being.

While Dasein (man) is still the focus in his early work in order to understand being itself from him, he later changes the central starting point. After the so-called “turn” in his thinking, being itself stands in the center and existence is explained on the basis of it.

What I find fascinating about Heidegger is following the development of his thinking:

I immerse myself in this through a statement that at first seems disturbing (Be unequal Being unequal To be there), slowly understand what he means and where he wants to go. I follow his analysis of man and find a lot of truth in it. I am curious how he will then come to the explanation of being itself and can suddenly understand the problems that arise with it. I am partly enthusiastic about his attempts to get closer to being, partly irritated and partly I don't understand anything anymore. He changes his point of view, struggles with terms or at times becomes more of a poet than a clearly arguing and formulating philosopher. BUT: I remain loyal to him, because the spiral in which he lets me rise into the vicinity of being is screwing me up further and further.

When I come back to everyday life after two or three hours in Heidegger, I no longer know exactly where my thoughts were. Just that it felt good and that while I may not be able to say exactly why, the time was definitely not wasted.


Which of these three lines of thought amazes you the most? Which of these three thinkers would you like to learn more about? What do you think of their ideas and methods?
- In the comments column below this article you have enough space to share all of your thoughts on this blog post. I would be happy if you do this!

Do you want more of the most important philosophical thoughts? Then I propose the following to you:

1) Get my free five-part thought nomad email guide right here on this page to delve deeper into the realms of reading, thinking, and writing.

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3) Take a look at more philosophy articles on my blog. As an introduction, perhaps something more practical from Russell about happiness would be fine. Or would you prefer Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics as harder fare? Perhaps even a philosophy of life from Suzuki or another from Zippel, both of which have the potential to fundamentally change your perspective on the world?
Many Thanks,
see you soon,

Photo: Luca Baggio

Blog article published on January 16, 2017

Source: Heidegger, Martin (1978): Being and time. GA 2. Frankfurt am Main: Vittorio Klostermann.
The philosophical backstairs: 34 great philosophers in everyday life and thinking (*)

    dear Philipp, first of all thanks for the thought-provoking and extremely good explanations. But three philosophers are initially too much for a beginner like me. therefore your questionnaire, which could contain more and more detailed questions, is very helpful.
    So what impresses me most is Socrates. In a time of myths, when most people could not read and write, to bring his way of thinking to the people without fear and to use it strengthened his own mind shows how convinced he is of the intellectual abilities every single person was. Since I like to read novels from the early Middle Ages (I am grateful for suggestions for new reading material) I experience time and again how firmly traditional is held and how happy “the mighty” in general the clerus is that people don't use their minds.
    yes, and I would like to find out more about Heidegger, if it is prepared as well as this time. who likes to be just "you" - but then it occurs to me that I like to disappear into "you" at one point or another.
    see you soon


    Dear Johanna,

    Thanks for your praise. I can make the questions even more detailed if it helps to check what has been read before and thus perhaps better remember it. Thanks for the tip.

    Socrates was definitely a decisive figure in intellectual history. And he was brave. Exactly for the reason you cite, but also the traditions of his last hours show that he feared nothing, not even death.

    I'm not really up to date with novels from the early Middle Ages (or rather ABOUT the early Middle Ages). But maybe YOU can give ME a few tips as to which books would be worth reading here?

    Almost everyone of us falls into the “man” too often. And it's really cozy there. However, if you are aware of this trait of us humans, it is already a first step to get away from there again and again, which, for me personally, at least seems desirable.

    Nice day,
    see you soon,


    Hello Phillip,
    I like Socrates and that for him philosophy was a “method of doubting”. That speaks to me immediately.
    Doubting what someone else says or thinks is always good, because I can only gain my own knowledge through my own experiences.
    I don't like Heidegger immediately although I can somehow understand your feeling ... 😉
    I would also be interested in all other philosophers.It is a pleasure to read about it in the way it was prepared by you ... my knowledge of the language is usually not enough to understand the original texts. I only have quotes that touch me and say everything that I cannot put into words.
    A side like yours is a real gold piece there.
    Thanks for that!
    See you soon,


    Hi Irene,

    Thanks for your long comment.

    Yes, doubting is certainly important. Whereby such extreme doubters can sometimes be quite annoying, so those people who contradict simply because of contradiction, don't you think?

    Why do you immediately dislike Heidegger, can you describe that?

    Okay, ALL OTHER philosophers would interest you. Well then I have something to do for the next few months 😉

    Your knowledge of the language is not enough? How do you mean?

    Thank you for your praise, it encourages us to keep going!

    See you soon,


    Hello Phillip,
    Of course everything that gets extreme is annoying ... and especially those who contradict out of fear and not because of their own doubts. For me, doubt means because I have had a different experience myself or think something else is possible.

    Whereby I'll come straight to Heidegger and why I don't like him. Because I find that fear does not lead to knowledge, but only promotes and blocks more uncertainty. The fear of death is certainly not a redemption either. Death is a teacher who makes us aware that every day counts and that we can start anew every day. That we should be careful but still have to make new experiences in order to grow.
    My knowledge of language is often not enough to describe something in a way that others can understand 😉
    Thank you and see you soon,

    P.S. It's a shame that I don't get an email when you answer ... but I'll stop by 🙂


    Hello Irene,

    first about your PS: I'm trying to build in the email function. But I'm not a WordPress pro yet. You are right, that would be very important!

    Yes, but that's exactly how you could interpret Heidegger's view of fear of death. That this fear is a teacher and frees one of those teachers from the man. So actually you two are saying about the same thing. He shouldn't be SO unsympathetic to you then. 🙂

    Is your knowledge of the language insufficient to understand philosophical works or to describe something in a way that others can understand? These are two different things! And I wouldn't position myself that way right away. There are many philosophical primary texts that are quite easy to understand, even for "laypeople"!

    See you soon,


    Hello Phillip,
    maybe I'll read something by Heidegger 😉 But the interpretation is exactly what makes him unappealing to me, I don't agree with how he says it and that's a good thing ... because that's what I mean by philosophy ... one says something and everyone interprets it as individually as a fingerprint - and now I feel like Reich-Ranicki :-))))
    In any case, I would be happy if you introduce other philosophers and tell what they pondered about 🙂
    You distribute new articles safely with your "newsletter" right?
    See you soon,


    Hi Irene,

    What you like and what you don't, of course, only you decide and no one else.

    And yes, as soon as there is something new, you will get a notification in the newsletter.

    See you soon,