branching out

Not to overwork a good metaphor, but I took the liberty of commenting on
a larger section than the usual chunk. We have been focusing on the
leaves in our slow reading and have been ignoring the tree in favor of
jumping straight to the woods. I wanted to step back (just a little) to
look at the branch to which the leaves are attached.

I begin where Heidegger responds to Beaufret's question, "Comment
redonner un sens au mot 'humanisme'?" both because I wanted to avoid the
incredibly pregnant first paragraph (anyone else get the feeling that
Heidegger wanted to write the most concise, yet pregnant formulation of
his thought at that time?) and because with this question we begin a
section that ends roughly 15 pages (german text) later.

To this question, Heidegger initially questions the necessity of posing
this question which wants to hold on to the word "humanism." Two
problems crop up: the creation of isms are a response to market forces
and it shows that thought has moved out of its element and has gone to
its end. These problems are naturally interrelated, but he doesn't get
around to showing the connection for a couple of pages.

Heidegger deals with the second problem first: roughly, what occurs when
thinking moves out of its element and becomes technical thinking. He was
not to abandone this line of thought for the rest of his life; this very
formulation comes up again in The End of Philosophy and the Task of
Thinking from 1962 and again in a speech in 1964. Thinking has become
philosophy/metaphysics which is technological thinking. Terminologically,
this shift in Heidegger's writing occurs sometime around 1938-39 because
in the Origin of the Work of Art (1935) and again in GA 45 (1937/38)
philosophy carries a positive designation as a non-technological
thinking. I mention this only because one sees so much made of a
"postmetaphysical" thinking, and personally, I see only a terminological
shift and not a substantial change in Heidegger's work (at least from
1935 onwards; I would argue even earlier, but this is more difficult to

The element of thinking is what enables a thinking to be. The element is
being, to which humans belong and listen. Speaking for myself, I sort of
understand "belonging," but I'm not certain what we are supposed to be
listening to. (Heidegger says, "The claim of being," which doesn't help
me). The element is that in virtue of which something can be, or attain
its essence. For those of you not reading the german, you are missing out
on a classic example of Heideggerian wordplay, as he plays on Vermogen
(enable, means), Mogen (means both to like and may), kraft (in virtue
of), and moglich (possible). Vermogen also happens to be a philosophical
technical term in Kantian philosophy which means "power of" as in
Urteilsvermogen, or power of judgment. The wordplay reaches a crescendo
in the sentence "Dieses Vermogen ist das eigentliche 'Mogliche', jenes,
dessen Wesen im Mogen beruht," or roughly, "This enabling is the
authentic possible, that, whose essence rests in maying." Mogen, which
also means to like, which Heidegger connects to favoring, is to send
something its essence, which means to let it be. Remember that being
itself is the enabling element, so only by listening to being can we let
something be. What this entails is the great mystery of Heideggerian

Heidegger also touches here briefly upon the distinction of this
"possible" from the usual metaphysical understanding of the distinction
between potentia and actus. He will return to this later in the text in
more detail, although I will confess I don't really understand the
distinction that he makes. It is worth noting that Heidegger is
(unconsciously?) relying heavily upon Scholastic philosophy in his
characterization of the metaphysical meanings of possible and actual,
which also touch upon his interest in Leibniz.

So when thinking ceases to listen to being (Seinsvergessenheit), it falls
out of its element and becomes technical thinking, and a tool for
schooling and cultivating. This becomes the bridge for discussing the
first problem of the market forces, and for his next discussion of the
origin of humanism.

All metaphysical thinking attempts to explain things as effects of the
highest cause. Because the highest causes differ, a contest results as
to who can explain things better (does Heidegger avoid this himself? His
claim to distinction from others who busy themselves with
Weltanschauungen is that there is a necessity to his philosophy to lifts
it above choice - which is more or less the claim of every thinking that
calls itself true and dismisses the rest as ideology.) This contest
takes place in the public forum of die Offentlichkeit. Heidegger nows
draws upon sections 26 and 27 from Being and Time (sometimes almost word
for word) in discussing the tyranny of das Man. Since we had a
discussion of this already, I would direct people to these sections for
close examination. (And reading this makes me wonder how anyone could
think to appropriate Heidegger for egalitarian politics.)

The big change from Being and Time here is the addition of subjectivity
as the cause of the tyranny of das Man. This thought had been developing
since about 1936 and comes to its conclusion in the 1940 lectures on
European Nihilism. Subjectivity has transformed the world so that all
things are objectified and made accessible to all. In making things
accessible to all, it relies upon information technology and a
standardization of language. In this standardization of language,
language falls out of its element, and closes itself off to the essential
dimension of listening to being, which gives words their preciousness and
humans their dwelling place in the truth of being. I haven't figured out
what a precious word is, or how we distinguish it from a cheap version.

Heidegger notes that this talk about preparing humans for their proper
essence sounds like humanism, so he begins a section which I call the
humanism vs. anti-humanism section, which breaks roughly into two parts:
all other humanisms and Heidegger's ek-sistential humanism. I should
like to note that this characterization is controversial, and a whole
line of debate has been opened over Heidegger's anti-humanism (recently,
Ferry and Renault accuse Heidegger of anti-humanism, while
Lacoue-Labarthe, Nancy, Schurmann, and Vattimo gladly affirm Heidegger as
an anti-humanist; I think they are all wrong - well, only partially

Heidegger starts it off with the question: "But from where and how does
the essence of man determine itself?" (Interesting formulation: from
where and determine itself. From where (woher) is answered by descent
(Her-kunft). For instance, my Herkunft is American.) Our humanity
consists in our essence. So he goes into a discussion of various
determinations of our essence: Marx, Christ, the Romans, the Renaissance,
and german classicists (the latter three are roughly the same thing;
incidentally, he expressly denies that Holderlin belongs with Schiller
and Goether, despite his considerable enthusiasm for things Greek.) From
the Roman times onward, humanism has been defined as that which makes a
man a man (his virtu; funny story from Leo Strauss: the mystery of
western thought is how a term that originally meant the manliness of a
man later meant the chastity of a woman.), which is acquired through
education. Heidegger connects this back to the later greek paideia (NOT
those before Aristotle, especially not the pre-Socratics). Incidentally,
for those of you familiar with Straussians, Heidegger is implicitly
refuting Werner Jaeger's well-known book on greek education; Jaeger was,
I believe, one of Strauss' teachers, and Strauss' own appropriation of
greek thought owes much to Jaeger's formulations (incidentally, Strauss
also attended some of Heidegger's Aristotle lectures and his comment was:
Heidegger kicks Jaeger's ass (not actual words)).

Despite obvious differences in the various types of humanisms, they are
all united in being metaphysical, which is to say, they fail to question
the relation between the truth of Being and the essence of man. Even
more, humanism obstructs access to this question because it presupposes
the most universal essence of man as self-evident. This essence is animal
rationale, which is a metaphysical interpretation of the greek zoon logon
(and not the original greek experience). The problem for Heidegger
culminates in the understanding of human as a living being with reason
attached. Even when a distinction is assigned to man vis a vis other
living beings, humans remain thrust into the domain of life, a domain
which does not allow an authentic thinking of the essentially human, which
is that humans exist (ek-sist). "However, thereby is the essence of man
too meanly held in esteem and not thought in his Herkunft, whose
Wesensherkunft (origin of essence) remains for the historical mankind ever
the Wesenszukunft (future of essence). Metaphysics thinks of man out of
animalitas and not to his humanitas."(GA 9, 323) In this sentence, not
only do we have an indication that Heidegger wants to defend a humanism
that avoids the pitfalls of the metaphysical understanding of human being;
he says they are not incorrect, but rather insufficient. It is a matter
of showing that humans are separated from other living beings by an abyss,
whose name is Sein. Only humans (so far as Heidegger is willing to
acknowledge) understand their being as being and thus can have a world.
Animals and plants are worldless. (In GA 29/30, Heidegger makes a
three-way distinction between beings with world - Dasein, beings who are
world-poor - animals, and beings that are worldless - stones for example.
He abandoned this schema soon afterwards). For an interesting discussion
of these issues, I would refer you to David Krell's Daimon Life, which
charges Heidegger with repeating the essential metaphysical gesture of
privileging humans at the expense of other living beings.

This brings us to the end of the fifth reading. I didn't take notes on
the next section, which runs about 7 pages and takes on Sartre directly
via a discussion of essence and existence, which Heidegger claims Sartre
got wrong, despite repeating Heidegger's own formulation word for word.
This section also gave me problems because, as I indicated earlier, his
own distinctions went over my head. Need to read up on scholastic
theories of modality, I guess.


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