Joseph Margolis. Philosophy Today, Volume 41, Issue 1. Spring 1997.
Martin Heidegger committed two magisterial blunders in the full span of his philosophical work. They join the ends of his career and illuminate the connection between his philosophy and his politics but are of unequal weight and promise. They are closely linked, conceptually, with one another. Neither is easily corrected. But the first is corrigible and worth correcting; the second is philosophically hopeless-desperate in fact, even self-destructive. Such was Heidegger’s literary sorcery, however, that self-defeat and self-deceit were made to appear a consummate victory of the boldest sort. It would now be very difficult to deny that, linked as they are, both blunders share the honor of housing Heidegger’s idealized Nazism: the first, perhaps only incipiently but still adventurously-in a way that encouraged a great conceptual fault; the second, brilliantly but benightedly contrived-in a way that was to lead those willing to follow, by the light of a false revelation that could promise only the death of philosophical thought, possibly the death of all serious discourse.
I realize that this is a fashionably purple thing to say. But I mean to recover the positive importance of Heidegger’s philosophical work: the importance that remains after what is genuinely despicable in Heidegger is discounted (even though it cannot be excised). I say, well in advance of actually attempting to correct the first error-which, now, after a generation of new philosophers has sprung up to hear (and heed) Heidegger’s siren song-confirms the honest impression that it still deserves to be analyzed and pondered. For, to put the matter bluntly, there has hardly been another figure in twentieth-century philosophy who has inspired so many serious thinkers, who continues to exert a philosopher’s fascination even on those who would now be willing to acknowledge Heidegger’s spectacular self-deception double deception, remember: that of the confusion of philosophical viability with political correctness, and that of the misperception of a conceptually impossible feat masquerading as the saving revelation of philosophy itself. Well, there’s the grand theme I mean to lay before you.
Both mistakes are obsessed with the question of Being. That huge question opens Being and Tme’ and expands intriguingly in the Kehre marked by the “Letter on Humanism.” The latter is a wickedly clever but utterly preposterous rereading of the first. I don’t think the full philosophical significance of that turning (there may well have been many turnings in Heidegger’s career) has been satisfactorily dissected. For the point of doing so is to grasp the signal importance of Heidegger’s salvageable contribution for the future of Western philosophy. I am aware that many auditors will think: why does he bother? and others will say: why does he think he has the right to insult Heidegger’s genius? and perhaps still others will confess: it doesn’t really matter any more. I honestly believe all these forms of philosophical fatigue are simply misguided and premature. Heidegger did make important discoveries, which (I dare say) others made before him and others, after him, independently. I don’t think it is worth quarreling about the distribution of exclusive honors here. Generally, contributions of the large sort I have in mind are marked by the evidence that they were plainly dawning among diverse perceptive minds, and that their full realization required a certain collective correction of each.
For my part, I am willing to concede that the best of Heidegger’s discoveries are grounded in the post-Kantian Idealist challenge to the paradoxes of Kant’s apriorism, which Husserl had originally grasped but then deformed, which (in turn) Heidegger clearly grasped (as the spat about Husserl’s Britannica article betrays). I hardly think Heidegger has persuaded us that the Presocratics were Heideggereans about Being: certainly not Anaximander or Parmenides or Heraclitus. He has hardly persuaded us that he corrected Nietzsche’s slippage back to canonical metaphysics. Nor has he persuaded us (despite his less than polite contempt for Jasper’s philosophical acumen) that his own philosophy is any less a Weltanschauungsphilosophie than is Jasper’s.
I think it must have dawned on Heidegger that his own Being and Time could not fail to be drawn back by the gravitational pull of discourse itself to the invisible center of metaphysics. He should have respected the fact, pondered its meaning, and reinterpreted the force of his entire philosophical intuition. Instead, he fled from it into a hopeless obfuscation that serviced an earlier political decision and a metaphysical temptation he had previously controlled. That, I believe, points to what remains to be salvaged, what is only partially sensed, what is still immensely promising, liberating, still charismatically associated with Heidegger’s earlier voice. If the theme may be recovered, then, I should say, even the police dossier might be stamped “Closed” (but not forgotten), while we explore a new beginning. I see in that the possibility of a grander rapprochement in Western (even planetary) philosophy than now seems likely. It would be a welcome irony, if, out of Heidegger’s own pathology, a contribution of a genuinely redemptive sort could be collected. I should like to sketch that possibility.
Let me begin at a distance. I said that I took Heidegger’s work to have grown out of the postKantian German Idealist critique of Kant, out of Husserl’s oddly truncated grasp of what that might involve, out of Heidegger’s dawning perception of the ultimate failure of Husserl’s grasp of its own radical possibilities. Indeed, the import of Heidegger’s perception is already seminally present, in Being and Time, at the very moment he dedicates the book to Husserl; although Heidegger gradually discovered that the critique Being and Time affords could not possibly escape metaphysical fixities like those he intended to subvert. In Being and Time, of course, Heidegger is more than suspicious of Hegel’s solution of the problem of history. He sees Hegel as a cryptometaphysician, who perhaps shammed in his loyalty to the theme of Zeitlichkeit, which, Heidegger believes, is the very nerve of history. I admit all that. In fact I insist on it. But, in the same spirit, Heidegger does not call into question, in his own work, the same sort of slippage he sees (or claims to see) in Kant, in Hegel, in Nietzsche, in Husserl, in Jaspers. He could not grasp the plain threat for what it was. He could not, for, if he had, he would not have been able to produce the book he wrote, or to have “enlarged” its vision in the way be claims to do, in the “Letter.” He took the wrong path, philosophically -certainly in part for political and self-serving reasons, certainly in part deluded by intimations of immortality.
I can identify the defect in a word, but it requires an argument to see its full force. The truth is, Dasein cannot play the double role Heidegger assigns it: it cannot be “onto-ontological,” just as the subjectivity Husserl speaks of cannot function both “psychologically” and “phenomenologically” as two separate forms of subjectivity; and just as whatever occupies the site of Kantian “understanding” cannot function both empirically and transcendentally. I take Kant’s remarks in the preface to the second edition of the first Critique and in the famous letter to Markus Herz (February 21, 1772) to force us to concede that Kant never satisfactorily resolved the puzzle of the disjunctive competence of “understanding.” And I take Husserl’s many characterizations of subjectivist—in the early critique of “naturalism,”‘ in the Fifth Meditation,’ and in the final Crisis volume 8—to confirm Husserl’s failure to overcome its duality. I claim the same difficulty appears in Heidegger’s “doublet,” Dasein.
Heidegger’s account is more instructive in this regard than either Kant’s or Husserl’s, simply because it comes to the very edge of discerning what must be said in all three. What I suggest is that by the time of the “Letter on Humanism”—possibly much earlier—Heidegger yielded to a line of speculation (some profess to see it in the Beitrage) that “overcame” the insoluble paradox of Being and Time, but overcame it by way of an evolving conceptual disaster. The line of argument seems to be mediated by the idea that the destiny of Germany matches a revelatory power at the heart of Being itself, a power that no longer has a need for the intrinsically mediating role of Dasein but dictates instead (can dictate or reveal) an unconditional instruction to a subordinate, a merely human Dasein-alert. so to say, in the historical neighborhood. That is surely the slyly domesticated thesis of the “Letter,” when it became important to attempt to give it the appearance of having already been the thesis of Being and Time. There you have the trajectory of the corrective argument, but not the argument itself.
Heidegger’s own argument. I should say, moves from the privileging of the “subjective,” in Being and Time, to the privileging of the “objective,” in the “Letter on Humanism”; although the “objective” in the “Letter” is hardly like what is said to be “objective” in conventional metaphysics (especially after Kant and the post-Kantians). Also, the theme of the “subjective” deployed in Being and Time never frees itself entirely from (though ultimately and in its best voice it opposes) the disabling confidence of Husserl’s questioning of Kant and Descartes. What I more than suspect is this: the lesson about objectivity is very close to the lesson of the Rektoratsrede shorn of the illusions and delusions of factical Nazism;” and the lesson about subjectivity fails to acknowledge the import of the fact that, in Being and Time, the speculation about the relation between Sein and Dasein is horizonally constrained by the historical reflections of the human subject (the subject’s “being-in-theworld”—just as our own account of the ontology of the human subject is constrained by our vision of the (prior) enabling conditions under which it is the entity it is. There you have a better sense of the corrigibility of the theme of Being and Time and the conceptual disaster of the “Letter” The corrective insight is stunningly simple. It is this: it is, it must be, the same human subject who speculates about the relation between Sein and Dasein (in Being and Time)—which he or she instantiates (so to say), actualizes or embodies who theorizes (in the “Letter” and in other later papers) that Sein has been misperceived, when read as subject to the symbiosis earlier affirmed. The effect of the “Letter” is to assure us that the second thesis is the true theme of Being and Time. “Thinking [Heidegger says, drawing remotely on Aquinas]” is of Being inasmuch as thinking, coming to pass from Being, belongs to Being. At the same time thinking is of Being insofar as thinking, belonging to Being, listens to Being.
Of course, what Heidegger must mean-but clearly does not mean-is that we have no way of discerning true and false forms of “listening” to Being. That labor is the work of the human subject—or, of the human subject construed as Dasein. But saying that would have had the effect of subordinating the “Letter” to the strong symbiosis of Being and Time. It would have subordinated the account of Sein to the account of Seiende. It would have subordinated the “Letter” through the effect of such remarks as these: “subject and object do not coincide with Dasein and the world, and “Dasein provides the onticoontological condition for the possibility of any ontologies.”
I don’t think the difference between Being and Time and the “Letter” is easy to draw out. But it is absolutely decisive. Heidegger, of course, is at his devilishly best in reinterpreting Being and Time from the vantage of the “Letter”—always with his own politics in mind.’ His theme is the correction of “the dominance of subjectivity.” Pursuing that notion constitutes the notorious Kehre. He objects, in opposing “the dominance of subjectivity,” to “the dictatorship of the public realm which decides in advance what is intelligible and what must be rejected as unintelligible.” He continues, reinterpreting parts of Being and Time, along the following lines: what is meant, he says, for instance at sections 27 and 35, is “a reference, thought in terms of the question of the truth of Being, to the word’s primordial belongingness to Being. The relation remains concealed beneath the dominance of subjectivity that presents itself as the public realm.” (Here, surely, he is bent on explaining his own politicometaphysical conviction.) He adds almost immediately: “Language still denies us its essence, that it is the house of the truth of Being. Instead, language surrenders itself to our mere willing and trafficking as an instrument of domination over beings.” Here you have Heidegger’s principal worry down to the last years.
Clearly, a division is made here between language as belonging to Being sans phrase (and to its Dasein—whatever that means) and language as the instrument of human “domination” (or, of the human as Dasein). There is, for Heidegger, a true and false “revealing” of Being, of Dasein, of language. It was in a way also the point of Being and Time. But it is hard to suppose that the distinction between true and false revealing—what Heidegger had originally in mind in speaking of “destroying the history of ontology” can be convincingly construed as the very point of the corrective lesson of the “Letter.” For one thing, Heidegger says, in Being and Time, that “Dasein, man’s Being, is ‘defined’ as [he means to read Aristotle’s definition in a scare-quote sense] that living thing whose Being is essentially determined by the potentiality for discourse.”‘ In the “Letter,” that same “potentiality” is downgraded to a potentiality for “listening” to a prior and independent “language.”
I concede that, if, indeed, the point of Being and Time is to “destroy” the history of metaphysics—in Greek, medieval, and modern philosophy (notably, in Kant and Descartes)—then Heidegger means to draw our attention to a matter that has been left out by the canon. Now, what is left out cannot be specified: phenomena may not be grasped as the phenomena they are; Dasein may not understand itself. (After all, the history of metaphysics has neglected it: particularly, the distinctive function of its own temporality.) Also, Sein (with a capital “S” beyond German orthography) is never utterly disclosed in whatever Dasein supposes is “disclosed” as the plural beings of the world. All that is straight Heidegger, I don’t deny. But it is not the lesson of the “Letter.” It couldn’t be.
Heidegger says very plainly, in Being and Time: “Appearing is a not-showing-itself But the ‘not’ we find here is by no means to be confused with the primitive ‘not’ which we used in defining the structure of semblance. What appears does not show itself; and anything which thus fails to show itself is also something which can never seem.” Whatever the full meaning of this complex passage, it is impossible to deny that it entails: (1) that Being, the source of appearing, does not itself appear in what appears; (2) that appearance (Schein) is attributable only to what “shows itself”: phenomena (Erscheinungen); and (3) that what “shows itself”a fortiori, what appears (among phenomena)—is what “shows itself” or “appears” originally and symbiotically to Dasein.
Now, the upshot of this very tricky maneuver is that there is nothing to say—discursively—about Being, beyond what can be said about plural beings (Seiende) that “show”themselves-to-Dasein. I don’t deny that we speak (in some sense) of Being. (Certainly, Heidegger does, all the time!) But we cannot state anything true about Being! Whatever can be said discursively implicates Dasein at its original point of utterance. Two considerations seem to me to be important here: first, Heidegger does mean to state something about Being in the “Letter,” which was disallowed in Being and Time; second, Heidegger does not have an entirely satisfactory grasp of the relationship, in Being and Time, between the discursive use of language (the “ontic” and the “ontological”) and the altogether “extra-discursive” utterances of the “Letter” (“Sein” with a capital “S”) by means of which Heidegger “defines” Dasein. There you have a dawning sense of the coupling of the two mistakes I claim Heidegger commits.
I cannot claim that there are no contrary currents in Being and Time or that the master theme of the “Letter” does not begin to stir in Being and Time itself. But the best reading of the book—on every count—conforms with the following three constraints: a) that whatever we say about Sein and Dasein and Seiende depends ineluctably on the historical contingencies of natural language; b) that Being has no discernible structure as such; and c) that whatever may be said of Being is said only in virtue of the constructive function of Dasein, so that what (except negatively) is said of Being is said only of plural beings. The distinction of the “Letter” is that, effectively, it denies all three constraints. But a careful reader might never notice the fact. The corrigible paradox of Being and Time concerns the import of (a)-(c); the incorrigible paradox of the “Letter” concerns the attempt to repudiate the import of (aHc) and go beyond it in a cognitively pertinent way.
Consider carefully what Heidegger says about Dasein in closing Being and Time. Speaking of “datability” (Datierbarkeit), he remarks: “When we say ‘now’, we always understand a `now that so and so …’ though we do not say all this. Why? Because the ‘now’ interprets a making-present of entities. In the `now that …’ lies the ecstatical character of the Present … In the ecstatical unity of temporality—which gets understood along with datability, but unthematically and without being recognizable as such—Dasein has already been disclosed to itself as Being-in-the-world, and entities within-the-world have been discovered along with it.” This means that, in Being and Time, Heidegger is prepared to state that Dasein’s temporality (the “ontological,” the transcendental function of Dasein) is already originarily implicated in our “dating” events involving the human subject and the things of the world (which properly belong to the sciences and to “ontic” discourse in general). That poses a difficulty for Heidegger that I shall return to. But, in Being and Time at least, Heidegger links the speculation to what may be discursively affirmed about the “factical” world. In the “Letter,” by contrast, he affirms: “if man is to find his way once again into the nearness of Being he must first learn to exist in the nameless. In the same way he must recognize the seductions of the public realm as well as the impotence of the private.
Before he speaks man must first let himself be claimed again by Being, taking the risk that under this claim he will seldom have much to say.” (It is impossible, here, to disjoin the political anaogia from the mad ontology.)
What is the point of this strange teaching? I find a dilemma here. If the lesson is the lesson of Being and Time, then it looks as if the “relation” between human Dasein and the phenomenal “world” obtains originarily, and then subjectivity cannot be assigned a subaltern role anywhere with regard to Being: first, because the idiom of “subject” and “object” presupposes the symbiotized relationship between Dasein and world; second, because the subjective is essential to there being any ontological structure at all to Being; and, third, because discourse about Being sans phrase is always and only implicated in the relationship between Dasein and world. But if the lesson is the lesson of the Kehre, then it looks as if human Dasein is entirely on the receiving end of a divine “disclosure” that originates entirely from Being, however adroit human Dasein may be for receiving same. This is what I mean when I say that the emphasis, in the “Letter,” is on some “objective” disclosure-one that no one has ever been able to identify discursively before. This is surely what Heidegger means when he says:
“Nor is [man] ever simply a mere subject which always simultaneously is related to objects, so that his essence lies in the subject-object relation. Rather, before all this, man in his essence is eksistent into the openness of Being, into the open region that lights the ‘between’ within which a `relation’ of subject to object can `be.”‘
Have patience with me, please. We are almost at the end of these citations. The essential paradox of the “Letter”—of the whole of Heidegger’s philosophy—may now be put in a pair of phrases: First, Heidegger says, opening the essay: “in thinking, Being comes to language. Language is the house of Being. In its home man dwells.” This is put so cleverly that one may be excused if one thinks Heidegger is merely rehearsing the theme of Being and Time. (I believe it is meant to deceive and is partly self-deceptive.) Nevertheless, close to the end of the “Letter,” Heidegger returns to say: “Thinking builds upon the house of Being, the house in which the jointure of Being fatefully enjoins the essence of man to dwell in the truth of Being … And yet thinking never creates the house of Being.” The contrast could not be plainer. Here, you have the Kehre: an original disclosure about the “truth of Being” issues from Being itself; and man (or Dasein), being apt for picking up such “messages” (in the prior “language” of Being, remember), is “near” enough to pick them up. In the Rektoratsrede, something like this obviously inspired Heidegger to link his idealized Nazism, his role as Fuhrer of the universities, and his obsession with the link between Being and politics. Here, in the “Letter”—at a rather late date—Heidegger takes the lesson of Being to involve living in the “nameless.” But he supposes he can state the actual necessity of that truth!
There’s the oddity, there’s the “truth” only a seer can bestow. Without this precise “foundation,” says Heidegger, ontology founders. For, apparently, the “truth of Being” signifies “a thinking more rigorous than the conceptual.” There you have the fatal flaw. “Nihilation unfolds essentially in Being itself,” says Heidegger, “and not at all in the existence of man-so far as that is thought as the subjectivity of the ego cogito. Dasein in no way nihilates as a human subject who carries out nihilation in the sense of denial; rather, Dasein nihilates inasmuch as it belongs to the essence of Being as that essence in which man eksists. Being nihilates—as Being.” Clearly, there are two senses of “thinking” at work here, two senses of Dasein, two senses of language, two senses of thinking Being; and, in the “Letter,” they are conceptually disjoint, whereas, in Being and Time, they cannot be. That is the point of Heidegger’s final remark: that “the thinking that is to come is no longer philosophy, because it thinks more originally than metaphysics name identical to philosophy.” “In eksistence.” Heidegger says, “the region of homo animalis, of metaphysics, is abandoned.” That is not far at all from Kant’s and Husserl’s excesses, except that, here, Heidegger brings Dasein to Sein itself, not Seiende. “Nihilates” is a technical adjustment that links the (ultimately) impermanent, disclosed order of Seiende to its (ultimately) structureless source in Sein. In Being and Time, the “relation” is constitutively mediated by the function of Dasein; in the “Letter,” it is not.
I have taken the trouble to lay out the double paradox because I believe Heidegger’s theme in the second paradox is utterly mad, discursively, though not altogether without point; and because, more positively, the first paradox is a genuinely important paradox, one that can be fruitfully resolved—to the advantage of philosophy. I mean to suggest that Heidegger’s final vision represents a conceptual contortion that is probably in good part due to the horrid distraction of the political problems that surface in the Rektoratsrede—which Heidegger then attempts to work out consistently through his remaining career. That last labor is an utter failure. The first paradox also remains self-defeating, but it remains promising. It raises a fundamental question that belongs to the critique of Descartes and Kant—and Husserl—but it fails to work through its own dialectical puzzle; it falls back to ordinary metaphysics, though Heidegger would have us believe that it escapes. That is my charge.”
As I see matters, the corrections required are entirely straightforward but hardly self-evident. The second of the paradoxes is the easier to dispose of. The essential clue is this: Heidegger could not possibly fail to admit that the instruction of the “Letter” is an instruction that man (or Dasein) should grasp as the consequence of interpreting the discursive relationship between “`subjects” and “objects” along the lines of what he claims is the right ontological relationship between Dasein and world. But if that is so, then the Kehre makes no sense. I don’t deny that Heidegger fancies himself at times a modest companion to seers like Holderlin and Hitler, beings who are “near” to Being in the privileged sense he often indulges. There’s a good deal of that in the Rektoratsrede; conceptually, it seems to be the element remaining in Heidegger’s “idealized” Nazism that he felt he needed to preserve to the bitter end-as in “The Question Concerning Technology,” “The End of Philosophy and the Task of Thinking,” and several of his curious letters to Jaspers. The only politically relevant sense that can be made of this perseveration is that of Heidegger’s recognizing in himself a gifted human (a natural Fuhrer of Fuhrer) who might catch the meaning of German destiny from the very mouth of Being. The only other possible sense is favorable to the post-structuralist rejection of”totalizing,” of acknowledging the impossibility of eliminating the “Other” (l’Autre). But if that were its sense, then: (1) there would be no point to giving up the discursive tradition of philosophy; and (2) the theme would be instantly deprived of its “destinal” force. In any case, the solution would require a poet’s or a seer’s being able to state (or convey for subsequent statement) some destinal disclosure that cannot be discursively affirmed in the way of ordinary truths. Or is it trivially the case that any world-view that survives a significant interval must have been “alethically” disclosed in Heidegger’s sense? Heidegger would deny it.
The first paradox is more interesting. It is close to being the single most important conceptual agon at the end of the century. I think Heidegger’s preoccupation with that issue—often too eccentric, obscurely deflected, bombastically fixed on what is not philosophically decisive at all (the theme of the second paradox—as always been deeply pondered by his better readers. If you will allow a cartoon history of philosophy from Kant to Heidegger for a moment, I should say that the relevant phases are marked in the following way: Kant the invention of a constructivist view of the intelligible world, one open to transcendental discoveries about (subjective) “understanding”; Hegel—the symbiotizing and historicizing of constructivism, with lingering pretensions about teleologism, the dialectical necessities of reason, and the actuality of an allinclusive Geist; Husserl—the failed experiment to recover the cognizing powers of a transcendental Ego more profound than the natural powers of a Kantian understanding, capable of discerning, or of approximating to, the invariant conceptual limits of contingent creatures like ourselves; and, finally, Heidegger—the admission of the tacit pre-formation of the conceptual powers and interests of historical man, the admission of the inexplicable contingency of that history as an artifact of an even deeper symbiosis of Dasein and Sein that actual existence manifests and conceals, the denial of teleologism, metaphysical fixities, and all totalized conceptual schemes.
I think the summary themes assigned to Kant, Hegel, and Husserl are not far from being accurate. But Heidegger is not consistent on the themes I’ve assigned him. That’s my point. He should, I think, have favored those themes in a way he does not. But his intuition was right. He glimpsed the advantage of a Nietzschean flux; he grasped the sufficiency of a sittlich world for discursive order. But he blundered in a double way. For one thing, he makes Being (Sein) preeminently more important than the changing succession of the arrays of Seiende. There is a role for the Sein that lacks number and internal structure inherently. But it is a modest one. It is (is meant to be) the surd from which all intelligible order “issues.” But Sein cannot possibly have such a function apart from Seiende; and to insist on its role apart and prior is deliberately to install an unmanageable and irrational form of privilege going beyond any of the presumptions of Descartes, Kant, Hegel, or Husserl. For the life of me, I cannot see any point to it, except to anticipate, to contribute to, to improve on, to go beyond, the destinal craziness of the Nazis. I am certain that, for all the trendiness in reading Heidegger as an intuitive Buddhist or Taoist, sunyatta and the Tao cannot rightly be thus construed. They are not philosophies of the illusive or delusional nature of the phenomenal world. Heidegger’s insistence on a mode of “rigorous” thought going beyond discourse I judge to be no more than claptrap.
On the first paradox, consider this. In Being and Time, Heidegger does not separate the human being from Dasein. “This entity which each of us is himself,” he says, “and which includes inquiring as one of the possibilities of its Being, we shall denote by the term ‘Dasein.”‘ About Being, Heidegger has useful things to say by way of disclaimers—negatively: “The Being of entities ‘is’ not itself an entity”; “Of course ‘Being’ has been presupposed in all ontology up till now, but not as a concept at one’s disposal-not as the sort of thing we are seeking.” “Every disclosure of Being as the transcendent [that is, in respect of being `no class or genus of entities, yet … pertain(ing) to every entity’] is transcendental knowledge”: actually, “universal phenomenological ontology [which] takes its departure from the hermeneutics of Dasein, which, as an analytic of existence, has made fast the guiding-line for all philosophical inquiry at the point where it arises and to which it returns.”
Now, whatever else is true, it seems plain from all this that: 1) the discursive admission of existent, individuated entities necessarily depends on Dasein (which human beings are); and 2) the “transcendent” standing of Being itself makes sense only in terms of the “transcendental” reflections of human Dasein on the plural Seiende it discerns. Two consequences follow: one I have already implicitly drawn; the other needs to be fleshed out still. The first is simply that the line of discussion in Being and Time is incompatible with the line of the “Letter on Humanism.” It’s not enough to say the argument of Being and Time is relocated in an ampler conceptual space. Since there is a destinal message in the “Letter,” the existent world is implicated; and, on the argument of Being and Time, that is impossible apart from the primary role of Dasein, indissolubly present in human cognition and human life. The Kehre denies this. I cannot see how Introduction II (of Being and Time) can be otherwise interpreted. And I cannot see any other way to construe remarks like the following, from the “Letter”: on the one hand, “the `question of Being’ always remains a question about beings”; on the other, “metaphysics recognizes the lighting of Being,” that is, that “the truth of Being as the lighting itself remains concealed for metaphysics … the lighting itself is Being.”
It is true that Heidegger concedes—in answering the question, “how does Being relate to eksistence?”—that “Being itself is the relation to the extent that It, as the location of the truth of Being amid beings, gathers to itself and embraces eksistence in its existential, that is, ecstatic, essence.” Dasein is indeed implicated in the Being of plural beings. But that is now the destinal instruction Being (relative to an internally related Dasein which, in some objective sense, precedes the Dasein of humans), informs the Dasein that is human. This is what I take Heidegger to mean when he says very plainly: “this relation [`the relationship of man to Being’] is not by reason of eksistence; on the contrary, the essence of eksistence derives existentially-ecstatically from the essence of the truth of Being.” If that is not what the passage means, I should like to have it explained. (You must see Heidegger’s extraordinary cleverness here.)
But if you return to the theme of Being and Time—which, of course, I recommend—then the first paradox grips you. I believe the essential clue to its resolution may be characterized in the following way. If you grant that discourse is intrinsically “contexted,” that is, functions referentially and predicatively only within a “world” of ordinary life—in which, as I shouldsay, our discursive powers first take form and flourish (in accord with social practice) then you should also acknowledge that the full context of discourse is never explicitly identified in that bit of discourse and can never be exhaustively identified in a discursive way. I regard that as the supreme lesson of Wittgenstein’s Investigations and allied texts.
Also as the pons of analytic philosophy—what this means is that the meaning of what we say, as by uttering statements, can never be fathomed apart from understanding something like Wittgensteinian Lebensformen, Gadamerian traditions, Hegelian Sitten, Foucauldian epistemes, or, indeed, what Heidegger has in mind (in part at least) in saying that the Being of Dasein belongs to Dasein’s “being-in-theworld.” This is the sense, for instance, of a characteristic remark like the following “The world is already presupposed in one’s Being alongside the ready-to-hand concernfully and factically, in one’s thematizing of the present-at-hand, and in one’s discovering of this latter entity by Objectification; that is to say, all these are possible only as ways of Being-in-the-world” [in-der-Weltsein].
Heidegger says that “the world is transcendent” for this reason. But the remark is on the heavyhanded side. All it could possibly mean is that, in speaking of ourselves and other individuated entities, we do so in the context of an inclusive world the boundaries of which we cannot fathom and need not have fathomed. If, furthermore, we think of “worlds” in the plural, as subtended, say, by the local Lebensformen of our society as opposed to another, then one can easily see that there will be an informal nesting and overlapping of “worlds”—which signifies no more than the co-referentiality of whatever we are speaking of within “one” world or another-afortiori, within the inclusive “context of all contexts,” which we may denominate the “universe” or the “universe of discourse.” There’s nothing transcendent there-at least nothing of any importance.
The point was already made by Husserl, noting that “universe” or “world” in this latter sense lacks number. It is hardly more than a facon de parler, heuristically introduced. The world or universe is a nominalization of the context of our discursive utterances. Reference and predication make no sense apart from (trivially) presupposing their functioning within the same “space” of discourse. At the discursive level, I cannot see that the mention of “being” is any different, except that it trades on co-predicability as well as co-referentiality. What is important is not the classical doctrine of Being but the logic of reference and context.
The conclusion I draw from the foregoing is that the discursive use of language—caning, by “discursive,” no more than the making of statements—is never merely discursive. It always involves some further implicated ingredient that enables us to find our way in the context in which discourse successfully functions. Any such discourse can be supplemented by additional discourse that draws part of the prior context into our further utterances but always, of course, at the price of some even more abstract or more inclusive context. At the limit, we cannot make the “context of all contexts” discursively explicit-unless, in knowing the world we know it already in a contextless way. Heidegger plainly opposes any such view; and the entire philosophical tradition (with certain glaring exceptions) obviously also rejects the epistemic privilege such a claim would entail. I collect the idea by christening the non-discursive (however languaged) function of our utterances in this ulterior sense, the mythic use of language. Thus, to talk about Being, as Heidegger does, is, sometimes, in Being and Time, and always, in the “Letter on Humanism,” to speak in the mythic way.
I am able now to put my diagnosis of the first paradox and its relation to the second very simply In the “Letter,” Heidegger admits something like the “mythic” function of speaking of Being but raises Being to a level superior to the discursive. I see that as a conceptual disaster. In Being and Time, Heidegger fails to see that his idiom of “Sein” and “Dasein” functions both discursively and in the mythic way at once. What Heidegger calls the “ontological” (what existentially belongs to Dasein and the “worldhood” of the world) is jointly discursive and mythic. Here, the quickest way to understand Heidegger’s complexities may be grasped by scanning his fourfold account of the meaning of “world.”
The point is, Heidegger treats the distinction of Dasein and Sein, when it is supposed to take priority over the individuated (“factical”) things “in-the-world” it is manifested in, as if it were not itself constrained by the discursive practices of actual speakers. Arguing thus, Heidegger cannot escape entrenching a new metaphysics: what he calls the “ontological” cannot really be distinguished disjunctively from the “ontical.” In this regard, it is hard to see that he escapes reinstating a kind of Kantian apriorism, a transcendental “purity” that he cannot justify discursively. I think this is the sense of the end of Introduction I and the threefold “priority” Heidegger assigns to Dasein,
In particular, he says: “fundamental ontologv, from which alone all other ontologies can take their rise, must be sought in the existential analysis of Dasein.” The intended priority and independence of the ontological, its not being embedded in, contingently constrained by, horizonally projected from, ordinary discourse, marks the sense in which Being and Time ultimately fails to escape its own Kantian origins. It betrays the better themes of symbiosis and historicity And yet, through the mythic theme of Zeitlichkeit, it does draw our attention to the deeper discursive limitations of our theories of what “there is” and of our relationship to what “there is.” In that sense, though I cannot pursue the theme further here, Heidegger was surely on the very edge of isolating the unidentified Kehre that the new century may well commit itself to. In that regard, he finally eludes his own agenda.