The Prophecies of Heidegger

At the time that he was writing Heidegger’s comments on the evolution of human society and the state of awareness of its members may have seemed unnecessarily alarmist. With the benefit of hindsight they seem remarkably prescient. This is taken from a speech commemorating German composer Conradin Kreutzer given in 1955.

Man finds himself in a perilous position…A far greater danger threatens [than the outbreak of a third world war]: the approaching tide of technological revolution in the atomic age could so captivate, bewitch, dazzle and beguile man that calculative thinking may someday come to be accepted and practiced as the only way of thinking. What great danger then might move upon us? Then there might go hand in hand with the greatest ingenuity in calculative planning and inventing, indifference towards ‘meditative’ thinking, total thoughtlessness. And then? Then man would have denied and thrown away his own special nature – that he is a meditative being. Therefore the issue is keeping meditative thinking alive.

In his book Existence and Being, published a few years earlier, Heidegger lays the blame for this evolutionary trend towards thoughtlessness disguised as mental preoccupation squarely on metaphysics. I believe that he is right to do this. The source of the problem seems to be a failure to properly address the issue that Heidegger pinpoints, with far-reaching consequences for the way we think about the world.

From its beginning to its completion, the propositions of metaphysics have been strangely involved in a persistent confusion of beings and Being. This confusion, to be sure, must be considered an event and not a mere mistake. It cannot by any means be charged to a mere negligence of thought or a carelessness of expression. Owing to this persistent confusion, the claim that metaphysics poses the question of Being lands us in utter error. Due to the manner in which it thinks of beings, metaphysics almost seems to be, without knowing it, the barrier which keeps man from the original involvement of Being in human nature.

What if the absence of this involvement and the oblivion of this absence determined the entire modern age? What if the absence of Being abandoned man more and more exclusively to beings, leaving him forsaken and far from any involvement of Being in his nature, while this forsakenness itself remained veiled? What if this were the case and had been the case for a long time now? What if there were signs that this oblivion will become still more decisive in the future? …

… Thus everything depends on this: that our thinking should become more thoughtful in its season. This is achieved when our thinking, instead of implementing a higher degree of exertion, is directed toward a different point of origin. The thinking which is posited by beings as such, and therefore representational and illuminating in that way, must be supplanted by a different kind of thinking which is brought to pass by Being itself and, therefore, responsive to Being.

It would not be necessary to do metaphysics in the way that Heidegger criticises, but in his tradition it would be the most common approach. His comments may be interpreted in various ways, but the most general may be to read him as pointing to our tendency to reify the distinction between beings, thus denying their identity in Being. In this way we render intractable the problems of One and Many, Mind and Matter, existence and non-existence, along with many others, and may well end up concluding that metaphysics is useless, not noticing that it is only our method that is making it so.

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6 Responses to The Prophecies of Heidegger

  1. whitefrozen says:

    David Bentley Hart wrote a profound article on Heidegger’s musings like this. Have you by any chance seen it?

  2. guymax says:

    I’ve not seen it. Just googled it but there’s too many choices. Do you have a title?

  3. guymax says:

    Thanks! What an excellent article. He manages to convey Heidegger’s grand vision of humanity gradually losing contact with reality over the centuries. Two passages seemed particularly relevant.

    “And he certainly never considered the possibility that the only way to preserve being’s self-disclosure against the human longing for conceptual mastery of reality might be a fully developed metaphysics of transcendent being.”

    This is a criticism that I would make. It is what I meant when I said that we do not have to do metaphysics in the way that Heidegger so disliked. He criticises metaphysics, but I would just criticise a certain way of doing it.

    “In his later years he liked to speak of the true thinker as a wanderer in the forest, seeking out hidden or forgotten paths, uncertain of his course but looking for that clearing among the trees where truth might show itself.”

    I did not previously know that he made this analogy, but I’m pleased that he does because it is the one I make in ‘What is Metaphysics’, where I explain how to escape from the forest. It is cheekily named (as a working title) after the title of Heidegger’s inaugural speech at the University of Frieberg, one of my favourites.

    Thanks for putting me on to Hart. His analysis seems generous and insightful, and he has a wonderful way with words.

  4. guymax says:

    Many thanks. I may even buy it.

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