Monday, January 03, 2005

On Being in Heidegger

Excerpts from an e-mail from Peter Freienstein:

I think in his own field Heidegger is practically unbeatable . . . because what he calls ´being` hasn´t got anything to do with what was called ´being` in our philosophical tradition. The being Heidegger points to has not been forgotten, it just didn´t exist in our tradition, and there is no point in broadening or revising classical concepts of being to evade or meet Heidegger´s charges.

BV: First of all, I prefer to write 'Being' with a capital 'B' in order to mark the crucial difference -- the ontological difference -- between das Sein and das Seiende. The latter expression could be translated literally as that-which-is, but it could also be rendered as beings despite the fact that das Seiende is singular while beings is plural.

Your point has merit but I think you are going too far. In his attempt to think Being in its difference from beings, Heidegger ends up with something far removed from Being as classically conceived. But in the early Heidegger, the Heidegger of Sein und Zeit (1927), I think it is clear that Being is still being understood in a classical way. An indication of this is that he repeatedly states that Being is always the Being of beings, where this genitive construction is to be taken as a genitivus subjectivus. That is, Being belongs to, or is possessed by, beings so that Being can only be investigated by investigating them. This is connected with the fact that Heidegger seeks an "exemplary being" from which the meaning of Being can be "read off." (SZ sec. 2, p. 7. See also p. 37)

Thus Heidegger is attempting to answer the Being question by investigating a particular type of being, namely, Dasein. He is not investigating Being in its difference from beings as he tries to do in his later works, but in its 'embodiment' in a particular type of being. To this extent, he is operating with a classical -- he would say: 'metaphysical,' 'onto-theological' -- notion of Being.

As Heidegger´s is just a different kind of philosophy there is also no way to transcend his kind of ´being` to some divine or absolute being, for instance in charging him with ´subjectivizing` being or keeping it in too close proximity with ´Dasein`.

BV: Here too we differ. I charge Heidegger with subjectivizing Being in that he comes close to equating it with transcendental subjectivity as Eugen Fink remarks somewhere. I also charge him with interpreting Being as such as just Existenz (the Being of Dasein) writ large. This happens in the early Heidegger. It is different after the famous Kehre. But to understand why he makes this Turn, it is important to understand the aporiai of the works of the early Heidegger. Here is an on-line article of mine on Heidegger, the first article I published. So I'd say things differently now. But I think it is basically correct.

Thus Heidegger doesn´t in any way remain within traditional ontology, and Edith Stein also breaks out of it. But, of course, the directions the two thinkers take differ vastly.

BV: You will have to explain to me how Stein breaks out of traditional ontology. I have read most of Endliches und Ewiges Sein and she seems pretty solidly Aristotelian-Thomistic, albeit with an Husserlian flavor, the flavor of her 'master.'