Re: "Letter on Humanism"--Reading 8

On Mon, 10 Apr 1995, Anthony F. Beavers wrote:

> I have decided to work this brief post on Reading 8 into a request for
> confirmation on something Chris said in a different context.
> On Mon, 10 Apr 1995, Christopher Rickey wrote:
> > I had to check what I wrote to see what I meant. What I meant was, the
> > particular constellation that being sends as it happens (eignen) is not
> > necessary, but once it happens that which follows as part of this
> > constellation is necessary. It is this latter necessity that I have
> > difficulties with.
> In Reading 8, Heidegger writes:
> "Man is rather "thrown" from Being itself into the truth of Being, so
> that ek-sisting in this fashion he might guard the truth of Being, in
> order that beings might appear in the light of Being as they beings they
> are. Man does not decide whether and how beings appear, whether and how
> God and the gods or history and nature come forward into the lighting of
> Being, come to presence and depart. The advent of beings lies in the
> destiny of Being. But for man it is ever a question of finding what is
> fitting in his essence which corresponds to such destiny; for in accord
> with this destiny man as ek-sisting has to guard the truth of Being"
> (1977, 210).
> I can't help hear the voice of historical determinism here, though I am
> uncertain of how to read the phrase "Man does not decide whether and how
> beings appear..." The "whether" is easy enough for me to grasp, it is the
> "how" that concerns me. I was under the distinct impression earlier in
> the letter that alternative metaphyiscs were possible, that the
> metaphyiscs of the Roman worldview was distinctly different from the
> metaphysics of the Italian Renaissance, and the one of Christianity
> another one still. Now Heidegger seems to be saying that though
> alternative metaphyiscs have occured and do occur, human beings have no
> ability to manipulate and control them; all they can do is find "what is
> fitting in [their] essence which corresponds to such destiny." Am I
> reading this correctly, and if so, is this pertinent to what you [Chris]
> were getting at in the above quote.
> By now, I don't think my concern with this quote will surprise anyone.
> The quote suggests that human beings are not responsible to direct the
> course of history toward adopting a metaphyiscs of the Good. Instead,
> human beings are at the throes of whatever destiny hands them. In
> contemporary America, I think that a case could be made for a metaphyiscs
> of the product. What is a thing? Something to be manufactured, bought and
> sold, consumed. What is the role of man in this metaphysics? To
> perpetuate the system by participating as a "consumer". Every evening the
> news media reinforces the metaphysics, and every evening millions of
> consumers fulfill their responsibility to be "informed" of the status of
> things as products in the world. If Heidegger is correct, human beings
> are not responsible for the rise of this dominant ideology over and above
> all others. It is the force of historical determinism having its play in
> Being.
> But I wonder whether or not we cannot hear in the background an excuse
> for Nazi Germany? For is it not the case that culture fundamentally *is*
> a metaphysics. Is Heidegger saying here that his role in the Nazi party
> was justified because, first of all, "Man does not decide whether and how
> beings appear," but, more importantly, "...for man it is ever a question
> of finding what is fitting in his essence which corresponds to such
> destiny..."
> If I am understanding things correctly, then I am with Chris about having
> difficulties with the necessity of what follows "from the particular
> constellation that being sends..." I do not think that we can simply wash
> our hands of a fundamental obligation we have as philosophers to interact
> in the history of Being and to help engender a constellation that
> promotes moral autonomy, freedom, peace and justice. Certainly not all
> metaphysics do this; but should not these criteria serve to help us
> choose between competing metaphyiscs to find one that stands well with
> Being and with our fellow human beings? We cannot forget that Socrates
> met his fate by going against the metaphysics of his day to call his
> culture to a deeper awareness of justice. To be sure, even in going
> against his culture, Socrates was within it. But this cannot be taken to
> mean that the philosopher can willy-nilly go with the metaphyiscal
> configuration of his day without any sense of responsibility. (Or is
> perhaps Heidegger confessing here in this very section of the "Letter on
> Humanism" that he feels (or felt) no sense of responsibility to contest
> the metaphysics of Nazi Germany? Or is perhaps Heidegger giving way to
> Arendt's "banality of evil." "As a philosopher, I was just doing my job,
> to say how it is with Being in my historical epoch."
> The lack of moral accountability for the direction of history concerns me
> a little here, particularly coming from one who was so aware of the
> limits of metaphysics. Perhaps this is what Levinas is getting at when he
> writes, "One can forgive many Germans, but there are some Germans it is
> difficult to forgive. It is difficult to forgive Heidegger" (To the
> Other, in _9 Talmudic Readings_, 25).
> I would be curious to know which (if any) of these themes are
> recognizable to others reading this "Letter." I would like to see what is
> in the "Letter," but I am certain that my own study, disposition, and
> pre-disposition are contributing to my seeing what I see. I don't know.
> Thanks,
> Tony

Well, my point was something more specific. Heidegger insists that there
was a necessity that the greek understanding of truth as aletheai turned
into truth as correctness, that this transformation was contained within
the original revealing itself. This was the connection I was having
problems discovering, although I think the problem solves itself when we
consider that the greeks never had that original experience Heidegger
attributed to them, but always thought of truth as correctness, something
Heidegger admitted in 1972.

That said, Tony reiterates the frequent objections raised ever since
Heidegger broached his Seinsgeschichte: reifying being as an actor, no
room for responsibility, underhanded excusing of Nazism, no idea of the
good. The frequency with which these are raised points to the
fundamental issue between Heidegger and his detractors, one which is not
likely to go away, or to be dispelled by technical felicity in argumentation.

To some specific points:

"Whether and how" belong together because the whether is also the how.
In Metaphysical Foundations of Logic (GA 26), Heidegger says that the
greek (we can say authentic) understanding of world is a response to how
the world appears; as it appears it appears as the how, or as I read it,
it appears in a particular constellation of beings.

The bigger question you raise is what exactly our role is in this. One
the one hand, thinking and being belong together such that without
thinking being does not occur. This should be taken not to mean that
things in the world would not exist unless humans existed, but rather
that there would be no being, because being obtains only in language
which is exclusively (?) human. (It makes you wonder how Heidegger
accounts for those languages that do not have the verb being; I
understand that Russian, for one, is one of those.) On the other hand,
Heidegger wants to distance himself from subjective thinking, in which
being is posited by consciousness. The line is very fine, possibly even
non-existent. In his later writings on language, the role of thinking is
to listen to being in its traces, a sort of active passivity.

In his attempt to avoid technological thinking, Heidegger is driven to
the position that the advent of being cannot stem from humans (or from
the subject; this would include God). It comes when it comes if it
comes. This cannot be explained, only experienced, because an
explanation would defeat the experience Heidegger wants us to
experience. This experience is responding to being. Responding is the
authentic human responsibility. Only in responding are we responsible.
Here, you might be interested Tony, is the point of contact between
Heidegger, Levinas, and Derrida. I find Derrida an interesting attempt
to mediate Levinas and Heidegger on this point in that he wants to say
that responding to being thought as differance is to respond to others in
their otherness.

As for the accusation that Heidegger responds to the metaphysical
configuration of the day, which was raised by first by Lowith, this can
easily be met by pointing out that Heidegger did not accept the
metaphysics of the present, which is technology. So what was he
responding to? I suppose an attempt to reconcile his thoughts would be
to say he was responding to what was unthought in the present
metaphysics, but as the unthought was nonetheless present, or more
concretely, truth as aletheia which sent being down to us as
correctness. We respond to what was present at the origin, since it is
still present with us, even if unthought.

Enough for now.


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