Re: "Letter on Humanism"--Reading 4

On Thu, 30 Mar 1995, Anthony F. Beavers wrote:

> > I understand the difference of ontic and ontological to be types of
> > inquiry and not levels of being itself.
> I see them as levels of being, though certainly the designations refer
> also to types of inquiry.
> That which pursues the being of
> > something is ontological; that which pursues what a thing is as an object
> > is an ontic inquiry (science).
> Yes, but as Plato shows with the divided line, isn't it the case that
> each activity should be related to a different "object". I thought that
> the doctrine of intentionality required this as well.

This puts a finger on the point I was trying to make, but did not
articulate well. They are not different kinds of objects, because this
would be the sort of inquiry Heidegger (and here he took the impulse from
Husserl) wants to avoid: an investigation into objects as the object of a
domain of study. It is not so much the distinction between mathematics
and say, theology, both which have objects correlate with their domain
(mathematical objects and God, respectively), but inquiries within these
domains and inquiry into the distinctions between the domains themselves;
why do they divide themselves into these, and just these domains?
Another way of putting it would be the distinction between sciences that
presume an object of study and philosophy/thinking, which pursues what
the sciences take as self-evident as questionable.

Inquiry seems to me to be superior to domain as a distinction because to a
certain extent a different inquiry allows a different being of the same
thing. A famous example in Heidegger's corpus occurs in "The Thing,"
where a jar is the object of analysis. It can be (correctly, with the
full spite that Heidegger lends to this word) understood as an object
existing in mathematical space with certain mathematical dimensions - or -
it can be understood as the gathering of the mirror-play of the fourfold.
Only thinking allows us to understand the jar as the latter. In either
case, the jar is still a jar, the difference seems to be what allows the
jar to be a jar. On a slightly different twist, the object of analysis
(or what is being questioned) is different; only thinking expressly
pursues what makes a jar as such; physics presumes it. The "object" of
thinking is being (and thereby not really the jar). This could be a
"level of inquiry", but level might not be a good word.

A little off the subject: Once a semester when I'm teaching, I
play a little game with my students: I hold up a pencil and ask them what
this is. (Because I usually teach american politics, they usually think
I'm really weird). After slow hesitations ("This must be a trick
question, right?"), they respond, "A pencil," thereby proving themselves
to be Aristotelians. The cognitive psychology answer is "Blob of
yellow." Hegelians would answer, "A moment of the speculative unity of
identity and difference." Heidegger would answer (at least in one
version): "The gathering of the mirror-play of the fourfold." Trust me,
your students will think you a tourist from Mars.

> Even though he does not explicitly mention it in this text, I do think it
> is still present. (All of us in these commentaries have used other texts
> to ellucidate the "Letter".) I see his bias in the view that "ethics" can
> be derived from an abstract as opposed to concrete existence. We will see
> more of this later. I know from earlier texts that Heidegger thought that
> this propensity towards abstraction before the concrete was a Greek and
> German phenomenon. I no reason to suspect that he changed his mind on
> this. Do you?
> Not that he doesn't do it in general (he hints at in when he
> > mentions Holderlin in the Letter), but it is often maintained that in
> > this text Heidegger rigorously deconstructed any privileging of germanness.
> I just don't see this. In fact, how can he be deconstructing any
> privileging of germanness without, as you have noted, pointing it out? In
> order to make this claim, you must refer to the same texts (those outside
> the "Letter" as I did to maintain his bias.) I see a change in words, but
> no change in ideology.

He does point it out, at least in a matter of speaking, when he says that
all nationalisms are humanisms. Since in the context in which he says it
(sorry, no page numbers, but its coming up) it is clear that the humanism
here is metaphysics, this has been taken to mean that Nazism was a result
of metaphysical thinking, and because this text taken as a whole is a
renunciation of this sort of thinking, it is consequently a rejection of
the German or Aryan uniqueness. I carefully say, "has been taken" to
indicate that I find this (largely french) line of thinking questionable.
Rainer Marten has said that Heidegger sublimated the privilege of
germanness into a privilege of the german language for the matter of
thinking. This finds support in both the Rektoratsrede and the Spiegel


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