Is God the ground of the universe, the ground of our being? Has this question any meaning? Like so many religious questions it is tantalizingly obscure. Under analysis each of its terms dissolves into the thinnest of mists, which we no longer much like to hail as the thickest of mysteries. What is God? What is ‘the universe’? What is ground? What is ‘our being’? The tone of these questions is now more likely to be one of irritated puzzlement than one of reverent wonder. One is tempted to jettison all these determinations as survivals of an older metaphysical culture, or to regard them as only murky expressions of religious sentiment: Faust’s Gefühl ist alles;/ Name ist Schall und Rauch. Some theologians attempt to rethink theism by dissolving God into Buddhist emptiness or into the Lacanian Real. God then becomes a quality of things rather than their creative foundation and cause.
In this crumbling of theistic language, it is natural that we should turn to the philosopher who has most devoted himself to topics considered beyond the pale of reason and speech. If metaphysics cannot give precision and grip to our God-language, perhaps a really profound phenomenology can? The remedy is a risky one, but the power of the phenomena at the heart of religion assures us that the turn to a thinking led by the phenomena cannot be fruitless.
The word that came most easily to Heidegger’s lips was: Wesen (essence). The method and content of his work can be summed up under the rubric: a thinking of essence. Whenever he brings the essence of something into view, in a phenomenological Wesensschau, in the course of one of those stubborn, patient analyses where he has us think – ‘into the wind of the matter’ (GA 13:78), the result is so illuminating that we are likely to overlook the rarefied character of his constructions. History, to the X-ray vision that cuts through mere contingencies and distracting loose ends, knows no other movement than a parade of shining essences, e. g.:
The metaphysical beginning of the modern period is a transformation in the essence of truth, of which the ground remains hidden… In the beginning of the modern period the beingness of beings undergoes a transformation. The essence of this historical beginning resides in this transformation. (Nietzsche, Pfullingen, 1961, II, pp. 295-6)
Beginning, essence, transformation, ground… if these constructions have any validity at all they can only benefit from being reinserted in the pluralistic texture of empirical history.
Heideggerian essences replace metaphysical foundations. We can see them only when – by a step back, or a leap of thinking – we relinquish our clinging to foundations. The dominant figure in the science of Heidegger’s time is that of the field. His own thought moves in the field of essences (the open, the region) mapping its topology. He suggests an affinity with Einstein’s space-time field in naming the open in which being is given to thought, the four-dimensional Zeit-Raum (Zur Sache des Denkens, Tübingen, 1969, pp. 14-17). For the theological equivalent of this, one can point to Karl Barth, a phenomenologist of the Word of God, whose field of thought was the truth of revelation, grasped in its essential topology. Barth knew well the plurality of forms that Christian discourse had taken, the plurality of ways in which the divine Word made itself heard across the oblique testimonies of Scripture and church tradition. But all these forms are under judgment, and the Word which judges them is a unitary, essential instance. The judgment falls particularly heavily on non-Christian religions, seen as deluded human constructs, whereas Christianity in its essence is not a religion, but the hearing of the Word in faith. At the heart of the other religions lies no such essential revelatory and salvific event.
Today, a pluralist theology is in the making, which bears the same relation to Barth as the post-modern novel does to Proust or as the pluralistic music of Zimmermann or Stockhausen bears to Wagner. The great works of this pluralism are not cathedrals which contain and unite everything, but crossroads open to an irreducible variety of divergent cultural realms. Theology is learning to celebrate a pluralism of religious systems based in different cultural forms of life, and to see Christianity itself as a vast congeries of local theologies. Religion becomes as polymorphous as art and all its experiments are granted legitimacy, subject only to the criterion of quality, which, as in the case of art, eludes universal formulation and presents itself in a different guise in each new cultural or historical context. The tension between essentialism and pluralism in Heidegger’s thought - which is a cathedral of being, but also, to a lesser extent, a potential crossroads of dialogue – resonates with the most basic tension in religious thinking today.
The problem of theologians is: how retain the depth of Barth’s meditation, the firmness of his sense of Christian identity, while embracing a pluralism that sees divine truth at work in all authentic religions? The problem of philosophers may be: how retain the depth of Heidegger’s meditation, his sense of having a foothold in being, while recognizing the pluralism of philosophical languages and allowing a1l unitary categories to be dissolved into the multiplicity of disparate usages which they feebly attempt to mask?
For it is increasingly apparent that the luminous meanings Barth and Heidegger established cannot be immunized against the floods of information about cultural and anthropological diversity which provide the element in which reflection of a humanistic order is today obliged to move, Heidegger’s and Barth’s essences are swallowed up and relativized in that pluralistic element. Their passion for the essential is alien to the more open-ended world of post-structuralism and chaos theory, where reason pursues cross-disciplinary connections, fascinated by its own margins and the dissolution of established identities. Intelligibility in this economy of thought is not the constitution of an essence but the grasp of connections. The passion for the essence of the Word of God has been abandoned by theologians who are more impressed by the historical diversity of religions and see their own tradition as an amalgam just as impure as any other. Heidegger’s passion for the truth of being is seen as the last dam built by the West against its dissolution in the pot-pourri of emergent cultural holism.
There is a tension between his sense of the finite historicity of Western tradition and the implicit claim to universality in the way he talks about being. In a philosophy centered on reason such a claim is indispensable, since it is of the essence of reason that it aims at universality. But no such imperative is inscribed in Heideggerian wonder at the coming to presence of beings. This discourse on being has the radiance of an aesthetic tradition - it is universal more as Mozart is than as Euclid is. J. Beaufret stresses the finitude of being and takes it to mean that ‘being’ is conceived historically as the theme of Greek reason: ‘Heidegger has too much respect for the “other” to pretend to resolve the still enigmatic unity of Western thought, or the infinitely more enigmatic problem of the possible unity of the human species’ (Encyclopaedia Universalis 11:261). Indeed he is the thinker who has most vividly revealed the pluralism within Western culture and between the West and other cultures, for the differences he indicates are differences that count, irreducible epochal and cultural essences, not a mere encyclopedic assortment. He is a pluralist in that he is aware of the existence of other fields and is content to let them be; but he focuses his own thought on the field of Western metaphysics conceived as a unity.
Beaufret’s association of the finitude of being with history applies in the case of the limited mittences of being that happen in the course of the history of being, but as far as I can see the field of being that is brought into view in the thought of the Ereignis is not finite in any historical sense, but only in so far as its dimensions are those of a world, a dwelling for mortals, on whose mindfulness it depends for its radiant deployment. As a prophet of the Ereignis Heidegger shows no modest sense of the limits of Western tradition. The word is put forward as a name for the very essence of reality itself, and Heidegger boldly suggests that its status and scope are comparable to the Chinese Tao. In alluding to the world-formula sought by Heisenberg (Zur Sache des Denkens, p. 1) he betrays the immoderate ambition to think time, space and being from their unifying origin. I feel that he overreached himself at this point. In erecting the Ereignis as the caput mortuum of his thought he consigned his critical reprise of Western metaphysics to a closed system of essence instead of opening it out into a pluralistic dialogue. Still the variety of trails that lead to this dogmatic summit exhibit the pluralistic texture of Heidegger’s own thinking, and his efforts to force them to converge remain blessedly inconclusive. A pluralistic reprise of Barth might show the same thing.
Heidegger’s brooding on the essence of metaphysics and of what metaphysics conceals is strongly defended against empirical falsification or even modification. Whenever he is so imprudent as to step outside the phenomenological theater of the essentializing operations, his vacuous and reactionary pronouncements on politics, culture and (in the seminars with Medard Boss) psychotherapy reveal the ‘blindness’ on which his’insight’ depends. At those embarrassing junctures the thoughtful differentiation of essences gives way to crude identifications - of Russia and America, or - most scandalously - of Nazism and technology. The clairvoyance with which he summons forth the essence from philosophical or poetic texts or certain phenomena of existence turns into pathetic delusion in those realms of cultural or political judgment in which one cannot make declarations about the essence without immersing oneself in a study of the facts. But even within the limits of a pure phenomenology of being, does not his refusal of pluralist solicitation entail a narrowing or a premature arrest of thought?
In what follows I shall try to discover possibilities of a pluralistic loosening up of Heidegger’s style of thinking in connection with four topics: (1) his account of the essence of metaphysics, onto-theology, the history of being; (2) his proposal of a leap of thinking or a step back a from metaphysics to its forgotten origin; (3) his account of that origin itself, the truth of being, the Ereignis; and (4) the implications for theology. In spoiling the purity of Heidegger’s essences, we must take the risk of losing the colour and relief of his vision and falling into a mere encyclopedic indifferentism. That danger has menaced the efforts of post-modernist theoreticians to think pluralism and difference more thoroughly than Heidegger’s essentialism allowed. (Deleuze and Foucault, through diligent empirical study, have escaped this danger better than Derrida, Lyotard or De Man.) The pullulation of differences cannot have the power and strength that comes from insight into essence. Yet it seems that a relinquishing of essence is an imperative of contemporary thought in every field - in literary and religious studies and even in science. In forfeiting the unity of the Ereignis and rejoicing in a plurality of finite human worlds - many ‘clearings’ rather than a single one – do we devalue the world in which we live, making it just one among many possibles, and thus a mere fiction? Or is this multiplicity of the essence of human worldhood, so that the pathos or splendor of its finitude cannot be tasted without it? In any case there is not a choice; we are obliged to be tolerant under pain of being fanatical - the fate of not a few dogmatic Heideggerians.
The plurality of reason
Heidegger’s project of ‘overcoming metaphysics’has been the most popular of his philosophical proposals, especially among theologians, literary critics and theorists of the post-modern. A critical reconsideration of this project can never be superfluous; for even the most zealous overcomers can hardly deny that justice must be done to the metaphysical tradition and its rational claims. It may be claimed that Heidegger’s most mature and serene enactment of an overcoming of metaphysics is found in Der Satz vom Grund (Pfullingen, 1957), and that it is also in this work that the questionable aspects and the limitations of his thought are most apparent.
(Linguistic problems, which I cannot discuss here, begin with the translation of the title. The vision of essence that comes to speech in Heidegger depends heavily on the contingencies of the German language and the lucky accidents of his own manipulations of it. In translation it invariably loses much of its imposing force, Thus cultural relativity gnaws away at the pretensions of essence. Religious thinking is also at the mercy of the contingencies of language; even the basic dogmas of the Church are unthinkable except in Greek. Translation plays the same treacherous role for Christianity as for Heidegger.)
The notion of ground was one of Heidegger’s central preoccupations, rehearsed with references to Aristotle, Leibniz, Crusius, Kant, Schelling and Schopenhauer in 1928-9 (GA 26; GA 9:123-75). Many of the historical queries one might pose while reading Der Satz vom Grund turn out to have been touched on, if not fully resolved, in these earlier discussions. In Der Satz vom Grund academic issues are left behind, leaving us free to follow a clear line of thought according to the rhythm of thought itself. But does the tangled history of the philosophy of causes and reasons admit of being grasped in such a serene play of thinking? Can thought gain access to a single perspective in which everything falls into place? Perhaps Heidegger’s meditation needs to be refocussed as merely one possible way of viewing the question, a modest clearing in a jungle it cannot pretend to master.
An Introduction to Metaphysics (1935) opens with a striking phenomenological evocation of the inevitability with which the question ‘why does anything exist rather than nothing?’ emerges in human experience (GA 40: 3-32). The ‘rather than’ (potius quam) carries the existential thrust of the principle of sufficient reason, a principle on which the being of beings depends. It imposes itself not only with a logical necessity and universality, but also at the existential level, emerging in the deepest human experiences. It is not surprising that this renewal of the why-question was taken up as the point of departure for the transcendental Thomist arguments of Karl Rahner. But Heidegger never sought to answer the question along such metaphysical lines; the answer is rather a leap away from the question, toward a different way of thinking the being of beings, not as indebted to a cause or reason, but as freely granted, as a ‘there is’ which is ‘without why’. Aristotle’s aition, ‘that to which a thing is indebted for its being that which it is’ (GA 9:245), is apprehended as a letting-be of beings (Vorträge und Aufsätze, Pfullingen, 1954, pp. 15-19).
In Der Satz vom Grund this shift is ingeniously anchored in Leibniz’s formula, when we hear it in a new way: instead of ‘nothing is without ground’ it becomes ‘nothing is without ground’. We listen, successively, to the harmonics of the two accentuations of the proposition. The basic chord of the atomic age undergoes an enharmonic shift into the basic chord of a post-metaphysical thinking. This eschatological reversal is of the same order as the shifts effected by the characteristic Heideggerian chiasmus of the type: ‘The essence of speech is the speech of essence’.
The first question we must put is this: does Heidegger so absolutize the principle of reason – in both the first and the second accentuations – as to project a simplistic and rigid picture of the history of metaphysical thinking? We can pursue several aspects of this query: (1) the self-evidence and universality attributed to the principle; (2) the way in which the principle is claimed to point beyond itself by its own enigmatic character: (3) the role of the principle in metaphysics grasped as onto-theology and history o! being.
I Is there a unitary principle of reason?
1 Simplistic treatment of Leibniz
Heidegger’s notion of ground is a unitary one not only at the metaphysical level but in his own essential thinking. The metaphysical unity of ground is secured by Leibniz’s historic enunciation of the principle of sufficient reason. Henceforth, ground is no longer in danger of falling apart into a variety of causes and principles. Yet the perfection of Leibniz’s principle serves to highlight the lack of the essential thinking of ground, which Heidegger intends to provide. ln 1928 the principle simply occluded the essence of ground: it was ‘questionable whether the problem of the ground coincides with that of the “principle of ground” and whether it is posed at all by this principle’ and discussion of the principle served only to ‘provide the occasion and mediate a first orientation’ for thinking of the essence of ground (GA 9:125-6). The later Heidegger’s more radical method of ‘looking metaphysics in the face’ (GA 29/30:5) forbids such facile leaps and obliges him to come to more intimate grips with the power of the principle of reason. (J. Greisch, in his contribution to these volumes, seems to confine Heidegger’s attempt to revision metaphysics to the period from 1928 to 1936, but the programmatic text he quotes – GA 65:176 – looks forward as well as backward. Even if the thought of the Ereignis became a higher priority, pursued independently of metaphysics, Heidegger never ceased to return to the question of the essence of metaphysics.)
Yet there is a limit to his engagement in both periods, in that he glosses over the immense variety of forms this principle has taken in the contexts of different philosophers’ systems. Heidegger already begins to reduce the variety of historical discourse on causes and grounds to a single monolithic ‘essence of ground’ when he attempts to discover what unites the four aitiai of Aristotle (GA 9:124-5, 273-94). He describes a variant Aristotelian set as ‘four manners of possible grounding, laying and giving of ground: essence, cause, argument (in the sense of “a truth”, motive’ (GA 26:127). U. Guzzoni has criticized this unitary and dynamic account which apprehends the aitiai under the rubric of production (Herstellen), which was not Aristotle’s concern (Grund und Allgemeinheit, Meisenheim, 1975). Heidegger admits that the origin and order of the Aristotelian aitiai are obscure, but maintains nonetheless that they indicate that ‘to being belongs ground’ (GA 26:138). Isn’t this rather massive utterance an imposition on the pluralism of Aristotle’s analyses?
As one historian remarks: ‘“sufficient reason” acquires its meaning more from the context in which it is used than from any established definition attached to the words themselves’ (J. E. Carr, The Principle of Sufficient Reason in Some Scholastic Systems, Marquette UP, 1959, p. 161). Schopenhauer notes ‘its extremely varied applications, in each of which it acquires a different meaning’ (SW, Munich, 1912, III, p. 4). Before Leibniz, one might cite many discussions of causality which implicitly recognize the validity of some such principle, perhaps allowing a variety of retrospective formulations of it for each of them. There are a plurality of formulations in Leibniz himself: it is a logical principle: all predicates are precontained in the notion of the subject; it is a principle underlying events: everything that happens is a consequence of the notion of the monadic substance to which it happens; as a principle grounding existence, it is the (determinative, rather than merely sufficient) principle of the most perfect; in the physical world it is a principle of efficient causality, which has merely phenomenal status. (See C. D. Broad, Leibniz: An Introduction, Cambridge, 1975, pp. 6-12; B. Mates, The Philosophy of Leibniz, Oxford UP, 1986, pp. 154-5.) ‘The cause in things corresponds to the reason in truths. That is why the cause itself is often called reason’ (Leibniz, New Essays IV, 17, 3). Spinoza subjected cause to reason; Malebranche ‘established an irreducible duality of inefficacious rationality and unintelligible efficacity. That efficiency alone assures and assumes intelligibility was the Cartesian thesis that these great post-Cartesians reject, and Leibniz sees as clearly as they the difficulty of the Cartesian axiom... Far from subjecting purely and simply the efficient cause to the reason (causa, id est ratio) or radically dissociating them (causa aut ratio), he attempts to make them coincide’ (V. Carraud, Causa sive ratio, Paris, 2002, pp. 391-2).
Heidegger gives a nod to this diversity but tries to put it aside as a merely historical problem:
Admittedly the principle is subject to… manifold interpretations and evaluations. For the present purpose, however, it is convenient to take the principle in the version and role which Leibniz first explicitly gave it. But just here it is controverted whether the principium rationis was for Leibniz a ‘logical’ or a ‘metaphysical’ one or both. (GA 9:128; see GA 26:135-6)
Here we seem to catch Heidegger eluding the plurivocity of the notion of ground; it is presumed that some unitary instance underlies the diverse interpretations; the suspicion that the diversity of interpretations sheds doubt on this unity is repressed. The principle of reason is declared to be much too rich to fit into the current distinctions made concerning it (GA 26:145). It can be lit up only in that region in which the nature of the logical and the metaphysical, truth and ground, are first to be determined. Just as the essence of truth (unconcealment) cannot be adequately grasped in Leibniz’s formulations in terms of subject and predicate, so the essence of ground eludes the terms of the principle of sufficient reason. ‘The problem of the ground finds its home only there whence the essence of truth derives its inner possibility, in the essence of transcendence’ (GA 9:135). Though this Dasein-centred topology is later abandoned, the realm of the truth of being remains the locus of the authentic sense of ground. Both early and late the task of thinking the essence of ground from its origin presupposes some unitary sense for the expression ‘ground’ which is never put in question. Since the same can be said for the expressions ‘truth’ and ‘being’, one may well have qualms about the project of grasping phenomenologically how being, truth, and ground belong together. And when it came to the crunch, Heidegger himself, we suspect, let this project drop in favour of loose variations on Heraclitean notions of Logos and cosmic play.
No effort is made to clarify the principle by descending to its applications, with the result that the principle retains an almost oracular obscurity – in both accentuations, it is a word from being, which casts hypnotic spell. As Vincent Descombes points out, Leibniz’s principle applies primarily to matters of contingent existence – justifying them as the best states of affairs possible (Philosophie par gros temps, Paris, 1989); whereas Heidegger, in accord with his usual practice of listening to metaphysical texts with an ear for the repressed wonder at ‘the marvel of all marvels: that beings are’ (GA 9:307), wants the principle to be an utterance about being. Even in raising the question ‘why are there beings rather than nothing?’ Leibniz wants to justify the contingent existence of things whereas Heidegger wants to deepen a sense of the mysterious fact that ‘beings are’. Has Heidegger understood Leibniz better than he understood himself, or is he interested in understanding Leibniz at all? Either his thinking of being grounds and masters reason or it is a skilful avoidance and oblivion of reason. Perhaps Heidegger’s thought will remain fruitful and challenging only as long as we are unable to decide this issue, only as long as the mutual solicitation, the tug-o’-war, between reason and thinking maintains its tension.
In hailing Leibniz as paradigmatic, Heidegger tones down the idiosyncratic speculative charge the principle carries for the great rationalist. He sees that ‘the Leibnizian derivation of the principium rationis from the essence of propositional truth thus reveals that a quite determinate idea of being in general lies at its basis’, namely, ‘the monadologically understood “subjectivity” of the subjectum (substantiality of substance)’ (GA 9:135; cf. GA 26:86-123; Nietzsche II, pp. 436-57). However, in Der Satz vom Grund he gives prominence to versions of the principle that sound quite innocuous and seem self-evident (helped by Wolff and his successors who had released the principle from Leibniz’s speculative web). Shorn of its dazzling speculative applications the principium grande risks becoming a banality. Its rational force is simplified to an existential claim that hangs over ground-seeking humanity at all times. It becomes the heart-beat of the modern world. Aspects of modernity that do not fit it are glossed over.
2 Simplistic account of science
Leibniz’s reduction of cause to reason is quite anti-modern in its opposition to Hobbes’ and Newton’s reduction of causality to merely efficient causality. ‘The principle demands that everything that happens to a thing, including the causations, have a reason’ (G. Deleuze, Le pli: Leibniz et le baroque, Paris, 1988, p. 55). This is a retrieval of Plato’s glorification of the forms as the supreme aitiai. Leibniz invokes the key passage, Phaedo 97C, in his polemic against a causality not reducible to reasons (Discourse on Metaphysics par. 20, pp. 35-6; see G. Vlastos, ‘Reasons and causes in the Phaedo’’, in Vlastos, ed. Plato I, New York, 1971, pp. 132-66). Heidegger takes Leibniz to equate causes and reasons, but there are texts in which Leibniz distinguishes cause as the ‘reason outside the thing’ from reason as inherent. (see R. Allers, ‘Heidegger on the principle of sufficient reason’, Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 20, 1958-9, pp. 365-73).
Seen from the point of view of its cosmological application the principle of reason is less modern than is claimed. We see that it is a compromise, an effort at conciliation [between modern rationality and] the possibility of a musical experience of the world. (Descombes, p. 113)
In presuming that the modern universe is tightly bound in a network of Leibnizian deductive intelligibility, Heidegger gives an impoverished account of the texture of contemporary science. The law of universal causality is for positivists no more than a piece of methodological advice on what regularities to expect (thus J. Powers, Philosophy and the New Physics, London, 1982, p. 43). Heisenberg’s indeterminacy principle (1927) seemed to make a breach in the stability of causality within science, though his view is criticized as a positivistic inference from the impossibility of knowing the cause of a given event to the meaninglessness of talking of its cause (see Heisenberg, GW, vol. C 1, Munich, 1984, pp. 29-39). Heisenberg wrote: ‘If we wanted to know why the alpha-particle was emitted at that particular time we would have to know the microscopic structure of the whole world including ourselves, and that is impossible. Therefore, Kant’s arguments for the a priori character of the law of causality no longer apply’ (Physics and Philosophy, New York, 1962, p. 90). H.-J. Engfer states:
Modern theory of science seems to exclude any conclusive sufficient or adequate grounding of what is known: the principle of sufficient reason has now as a causal principle only the status of a hypothesis which can neither be verified nor falsified, a ‘pragmatic presupposition’ of research. (Historisches Wörterbuch der Philosophie 7:1132-3)
One wonders if Heidegger has not chosen the wrong target in making so much of a principle which has so questionable a hold on the contemporary mind. Yet his critique stems from the cultural milieu in which ‘acausality was being espoused years before the enunciation of Heisenberg’s Principle, which was seized upon as a triumph rather than a disaster’ (Powers, p. 150). He might accept all the scientific criticisms of causality and still maintain that they only verify the powerful hold of the principle of reason.
The recently much-treated controversy about the nature and scope of the validity of the principle of causality has a basis and ground only through the fact that the participants in the controversy all stand under the same claim for the delivery of the sufficient reason of our representations. (Der Satz vom Grund, p.99)
The principle of sufficient reason, because not interrogated in its essential claim, functions all the more smoothly and powerfully in scientific and technological discourse. The ‘only fruitful way’ out of this rationalism’ leads through modern axiomatic representation and its hidden grounds’ (p. 42).
But how is this maxim compatible with the leap that Heidegger actually makes? He leaps from the principle of reason to the source from which it springs; but he does so from relatively abstract versions of the principle, never descending into the details of modern axiomatic thinking. He apprehends this thinking very globally as taking place at the behest of the principle of reason, which is ‘something other than science itself’. ‘The drive and the urge to remove contradictions within the multiplicity of conflicting theories and irreconcilable states of affairs stem from the claim of the principium reddendae rationis’ (p. 59). This is a wooden and monochrome account of scientific activity. Heidegger is merely vehiculating a common belief about the nature of science, which can do no justice to the vast complexity of the textures of causes, reasons and explanations in scientific discourse or in philosophical discourse including Leibniz. In attempting to make this belief operative as an analytic principle he falls headlong into a journalistic rhetoric about the ‘atomic age’.
3 The pluralism of religious conceptions of ground
If this essentialist conception of ground cannot do justice to the complexities of Western philosophy and science, still less could it handle the no less complex notions of cause and reason in Indian and Chinese thought, notably the many varying accounts of ‘dependent co-arising’ in the Buddhist tradition. Nor can it deal with the variety of languages in which the biblical God is spoken of as maker and cause of the universe. Heidegger’s understanding of this tradition is a threadbare one: religious thinking has often been hampered by simplistic notions of cause and reason, but Heidegger himself is simplistic in what he says of the creator God of the Bible and the Scholastics (which he tends to conflate).
‘Behold the heavens and the earth: they cry out that they have been made’ (Augustine); that is superb, but it needs to be thought through in a way that does justice to the plurality and the obliqueness of the ways in which the world intimates its divine ground. In so far as the history of metaphysics and theology does conform to the rigid structure of onto-theology that Heidegger imposes on its variety, the notion of God as first cause enjoys a stability to which it is not entitled and which occludes the enigmatic polyvalence with which the world speaks to us of that great mystery which lies at its ground.
4 The existentializing of the principle of reason
Heidegger’s unconcern with the pluralism in the history of the principle of sufficient reason is due to his primarily existential interest in the human quest for grounds and the modern rationalization of the universe in terms of grounds. It is a Kantian rather than a Leibnizian or even Wolffian version of the principle of reason that is uppermost in his mind, for it is in Kant that the principle as shaping existence and the human world comes most clearly into perspective.
What Kant says of the Leibnizian principle of sufficient reason, that it is ‘a remarkable pointer to investigations which are still to be carried out in metaphysics’, holds true equally of his own highest principle of all synthetic knowledge, insofar as therein the problem of the essential interconnection of being, truth and ground lies hidden. (GA 9:136)
Being, truth and ground here have little in common with scientific notions of existence, fact, cause or explanation. Kant is stretched into existential-phenomenological shape in accord with the existential resonances of his mapping of the relation between reason and world.
Kant followed Crusius in restricting the principle to the phenomenal realm, eventually reducing it to an epistemological matter, which Heidegger translates as the grounding activity of Dasein. Things in themselves elude the principle of reason. Kant’s noumenal space is thus a predecessor of the Heideggerian realm of being as groundless ground. Heidegger’s existential translation of Kant permits him to eschew discussion of the epistemological or logical detail of the quest for grounds and to focus on its most simple features. However, it would not be correct to say that Heidegger accepts Kant’s reduction of the principle to an epistemological, subject-centred one; for to Heidegger Kant’s subject-centredness is a distortion of the phenomenality of being; the search for grounds is an aspect of that phenomenality and as such cannot be seen as merely subjective. There is no objective ground beyond Dasein’s apprehension of being as ground, not because of an epistemological phenomenalism, but for quite the opposite.reason: being is truly manifest in its phenomenality; it cannot be meaningfully distinguished from its phenomenality; there is no being-in-itself beyond the phenomenality of being. Kant has served to break the power of the principle of reason, its power to point to unknown, hidden causes and grounds. Heidegger venerates the principle as an existential phenomenon and wrestles with it to regain access to the authentic phenomenality of being. But it seems that his method of thinking is inherently unable to do justice to the metaphysical reach of why-questions. It can demystify such questions in their historical forms (including especially the theological ones) by showing how they overleap the phenomena at their base; but it cannot repress the stirrings of reason that prompt their recurrence in an unpredictable variety of forms and contexts.
The phenomenology of the ‘Why?’ is less dramatic, more mundane, in Der Satz vom Grund than in An Introduction to Metaphysics. The focus is on everyday thinking, not on privileged moods in which the question ‘why?’ sounds in the depths of the soul:
Human understanding itself everywhere and always, where and when it is active, is forthwith on the lookout for the ground on the basis of which that which encounters it is as it is… The understanding demands a basis for its statements and its assertions. Only statements with a basis are comprehensible and sensible. (Der Satz vom Grund, p. 13)
There is nothing ambitious or questionable about this description, which provides a solid point of departure for Heidegger’s meditation.
Without being rightly aware of it, we are always in some manner or other claimed by and called to the task of attending to grounds and the ground… Our behaviour in every case takes into account what the principle of sufficient reason says. (pp. 13-14)
Many classics of metaphysics begin with such declarations on the essence of the human The opening of Aristotle’s Metaphysics, on the universal desire to know, is echoed in that of the Critique of Pure Reason, on the way human reason is forced by its own nature to pose questions to which the answers lie beyond its capacities. The opening of Der Satz vom Grund in turn echoes both texts. All three are stylized sketches of the mind and its activities, shaped by the scientific and theoretical practices of the cultures to which they refer. A pluralist account of human dealings with principles and reasons could undermine at the base the universality and necessity here claimed for the Leibnizian principle. But it might also make these dealings less amenable to any pretence to have mastered their upshot from the vantage of a more originary kind of thinking.
5 The incubation period
Implicit in all our behaviour and ever echoing in our ear is the statement: ‘nothing is without a ground’. Why then did it take over two thousand years of philosophy before Leibniz was able to enunciate that proposition explicitly ‘How strange, that a principle that lies so near to hand, and that – unarticulated – guides all human representation and comportment everywhere, should have taken so many centuries to be articulated’ (Der Satz vom Grund, p. 15). The principle of identity as signifying a dialectical self-relation also had a long incubation period: ‘For it is the philosophy of speculative idealism, prepared by Leibniz and Kant, that first establishes through Fichte, Schelling and Hegel a lodging for the intrinsically synthetic essence of identity’ (Identität und Differenz, Pfullingen, 1957, pp. 11-12). In both instances, Heidegger may be making a mountain out of a molehill. After all, isn’t identity already recognized as dialectical self-relation (auto d’heautô tauton) in Sophist 254D and doesn’t Timaeus 28C (‘what has come to be must necessarily have come to be by some cause’) come close to formulating the principleof reason? (Leibniz’s best of all possible worlds echoes Timaeus 30A: ‘all things should be good and nothing evil as far as possible’, cf. 41B, 46D.) If the principle of reason is sleeping here, its sleep seems of the lightest.
Moreover, when Leibniz rethinks ground or Hegel rethinks identity, are they bringing to light something concealed over millennia, or are they not rather inventing a new style of thinking, a style that in our day may seem rather old-fashioned? Heidegger preserves as much as he can of the timeless and monolithic character of these principles by treating their historical formulation as a revelation of what has always lain hidden. What makes this view doubly implausible is that the emergence of the principles sends being into a still deeper sleep, while one awaits the true enunciation of the essence of identity and ground in the recovered light of being, which Heidegger brings. But looking at these proceedings naturalistically, should we not say that Heidegger, too, is inventing a new style of thinking, within a certain cultural and historical context, a style that is also already taking on an old-fashioned air?
Before Leibniz, Heidegger claims, the sheer generality and self-evidence of the search for grounds prevented us from stepping back and viewing it in its unity as a principle. But this coming to prominence of the principle of reason is not an unambiguous advance into the light. It throws into deeper darkness the unquestioned fringes of the principle of reason. We do not seek to understand the principle of reason since it shapes all understanding; thus the step to its explicit formulation is a dizzying self-apprehension of the light in which all our thinking takes place. Yet when the light becomes self-reflexive it becomes less light; the self-apprehension fixes it and dims it.
A pluralistic reading of these claims could sight here a variety of processes whereby reflection dims the light of immediacy, but would at the same time refuse a stylized dialectical ordering of these processes in the manner of Hegel or a reduction of these processes to a single one, the forgetting of being, in the manner of Heidegger. Similarly, the move beyond reflective insight to a more originary apprehension is a simplification; there is a bundle of such possible moves in different contexts; and each of them is the creation of a new language, not a stepping back to some primitive immediacy. Both the reflective grounding of metaphysics and the essential thinking of Heidegger are epochs within the complex texture of human awareness, bracketings of its complexity in order to explore its possibilities in a stylized form. When thinking opens itself to an awareness of its own complexity, pluralism and irrepressible creativity, then it puts aside the props of these metaphysical and neo-metaphysical orderings.
II Is the principle of reason inherently enigmatic?
1 A self-contradictory principle?
The principle is so obvious that any intellectual puzzling about it seems superfluous and unnatural. ‘And yet – perhaps the principle of reason is the most enigmatic of all possible propositions’ (Der Satz vom Grund, p. 16). Heidegger has been teasing at such apparent self-evidence at least since his querying of banal notions of being at the beginning of Sein und Zeit, and his suspicions already focused on the self-evidence of the basic laws of thought: ‘Suppose that it belongs to the essential character of philosophy to make just that which is self-evident into something incomprehensible, and that which goes without question into something questionable!’ (GA 26:6). It is not just petrified philosophoumena that are open to question, but the everyday understanding of being, and the everyday routine of seeking reasons for things; unquestioned, this routine tightens into a tyranny, as the principle of reason extends its sway into every department of life.
In questioning the principle, Heidegger never invokes the plurality of its possible forms or interpretations, which might cause its unity to unravel. Rather, he seeks to subvert it by finding an enigma in its essential structure; an enigma which can be resolved only by a more originary clarification of this essential structure. The enigma is one that bothered post-Leibnizian philosophers: namely, that the principle of sufficient reason lacks a sufficient reason, and is thus intrinsically placed in contradiction with itself (Der Satz vom Grund, p. 37).
To accentuate the enigma, Heidegger dwells on the necessity and universal scope of the principle. ‘What it posits, it posits as something necessary. This it utters as something un-circumventable through the double negation “Nothing… without…”‘ (p. 18). He never considers the view that
the principle of sufficient reason may be applied to everything save to itself and to such elements of discourse as function as explainers in a given context. Such a limitation of the range of the principle of sufficient reason, far from curtailing the programme of attaining a rational understanding of the world, is rather a condition for its consistent fulfilment, for it avoids both vicious circles and the assignmentof a fictitious ‘final reason of things’. (M. Bunge, Causality, Harvard UP, 1959, p. 246)
Does he resolve the puzzle? He claims to do so by a step back into the light: ‘On what is the principle of ground grounded?... What light does the principle need in order to be luminous? Do we see this light?’ (p. 18). Compare 1928:
It is easily seen that this thesis, namely, the principle of reason taken in its broadest sense, itself requires to be grounded. And that this grounding is clearly only to be attained with the clarification of the essence of being in general. (GA 26:138)
To this one may object that if the essence of being grounds the principle of reason it does so with a quite other kind of grounding than that which the principle in its first accentuation so imperatively demands. The inner contradiction of the principle is thus not resolved; unless by a complete collapse of the principle in its first accentuation in favour of the looser connections of the second.
2 Much ado about nothing?
‘The principle of ground is the ground-principle of all ground-principles. This indication ushers us with a scarcely perceptible push into the abyss of riddles that yawns about the principle and about what it says’ (p. 21). The principle of identity, for example, can be interpreted as ‘the belonging together of different things on the ground of the same. On the ground? The same comes into play here as the ground of the belonging-together’ (p. 22), so the principle of identity appears to depend on the principle of reason. But the principle of reason ‘presupposes that it is determined what a reason is, that it is clear in what the essence of reasons consists’ (p. 23). How can a ground-principle take something so essential for granted?
The abysses Heidegger finds here are scarcely hinted at in most discussions of sufficient reason. Indeed, Heidegger’s awe presupposes that the question of ground is one that governs human existence through and through and that involves the whole of being. Is he transposing onto a logical puzzle the pathos that properly appertains only to the sense of the ungroundedness of existence that one has in the experience of anxiety? Or is he exploiting an apparent antinomy, somewhat as Kant did, in order to dissolve the metaphysical question of ground into an existential vertigo? Infiltrating the riddles of reason with the obscurities of existence, he risks losing a precise grip on both.
The self-evidence of the principle could have been undermined by a more prosaic logical analysis, which would have whittled down its claimed necessity and universality rather than forcing it to a paroxysm in which it begins to undermine itself. The detected antinomy could be dissipated if one showed that the unitary principle, rather than rendering transparent their essential law, occluded a great variety of grounding activities, which are irreducible to a single rubric. A similar plurality might also be uncovered in everyday searches for reasons and grounds.
‘The principle of ground is the ground of the principle… Here something coils in on itself, yet does not close itself off, but at the same time unbolts itself. Here is a ring, a living ring, something like a snake’ (p. 31).The vertigo induced by these reflections indicates something like a black hole of thought into which reason cannot proceed without becoming twisted. Metaphysics is thus overcome by its own devices. Yet is this the trail back to the origin that Heidegger actually follows? The change of accentuation engineers a shift from representational thinking of beings to contemplative listening to being. The logical riddles of the basic pinciples play at most the role of disabling metaphysical thinking as it tries to reach back to its ultimate grounds.
Having used logical antinomies to launch the leap of thinking, Heidegger leaves them unsolved. Did he really take them seriously or were they a mere pretext?
Heidegger took reason seriously all his life. [To echo Carlyle: ‘Egad, he’d better!’] True, but now we can see that he did that in order to make a leap out of its domain into the play. He took reason seriously just long enough to show that there is a sphere of play outside the reach of the principle of reason. (J. D. Caputo, Radical Hermeneutics, Indiana UP, 1987, p. 225)
This seems an accurate description of Heidegger’s strategy – but can one choose to patronize reason in this way?
3 The strict formulation
Heidegger turns to the strict formulation of the principle of reason as the principium reddendae rationis, the principle that ‘for every truth (that is, according to Leibniz, for every true proposition) the ground can be given back’ (p. 44). Allers objects that this is not the stricter version for Leibniz, but a methodological version; whereas the looser version is ontological. Moreover reddere means simply to give, rather than to give back, and principium grande means simply ‘big’ rather than ‘mighty’ principle. Here, as in the ontological reading of ‘the rose is without why’, Heidegger’s attention to the archaic or etymological undertones of words can be defended for its fertility in launching thought. Descombes points out that reddendum does not have the imperative thrust Heidegger gives it, and does not justify the transition marked in a comment of Derrida’s rendering of Heidegger’s account: ‘From the moment that reason can be delivered [reddi potest], it must be’ (Cahiers du Collège International de Philosophie 2, 1986, p. 16).
How explain this leap in the modalities? Since when has the possibility of something sufficed to determine its necessity? This transition is still more astonishing than that of the so-called ontological argument… For we see here, in addition to the illegitimate transition from a weak to a strong modality, a personal (‘destinal’) surcharge of the necessity in question.
One might justify such exegesis on the basis that ‘The immoderateness of metaphysics demands that the translator always choose the meaning which is most serious, most difficult and which bears most consequences’ (Descombes, pp. 102-3). Heidegger is always on the alert for the great world-shaping forces indicated by a mere rustle in the language of the texts he studies. What is only a gentle hint in Leibniz is pregnant with the immoderate demands of Reason that will sound ever more mightily in Kant, Hegel, Marx, contemporary science and technology. It is because we find ourselves under the sway of this unconditional demand of the principle of reason that we are sensitive to the faintest intimations of its force in the Leibnizian text. However, Descombes rejects this way of reading Leibniz as a surrender to the very immoderateness it aims to overcome. Heidegger allows the awesome claim of the principle of reason to swallow up all philosophical reasoning in a single massive call from being. Had he instead relativized the principle of reason by putting it back in its historical context in Leibniz and others, he might have found a more serene path beyond the darkening of the world in technology, one more practicable and more convincing than the apocalyptic leap to which he finally invites us.
Our representations do not become genuine knowledge unless their ground can be delivered (Der Satz vom Grund , p. 45). Is this second version of the principle confined to cognition only? No, it insists that the object of cognition must be something grounded (p. 46). It means: ‘Something “is” only, that is, is identified as a being, when it is stated in a proposition that satisfies the ground-principle of ground as the ground-principle of the giving of grounds’ (p. 47). It is a requisite for existence. The might of the demand for the delivery of the ground, which dictates whether anything deserves to be recognized as a being, lays claim on everything that is. ‘Only that which is brought to a stand in a grounded representation can qualify as being’ (p. 54). Again, the metaphysical force of this is brunted by Heidegger’s focus on its implications for the phenomenaliry of being and world.
‘Whence speaks this claim of the ground to its own delivery?’ (p. 57). To hear the language of this claim we must attend to it phenomenologically rather than continue to obey it somnambulistically, as the ultimate force behind the ‘atomic age’: ‘The claim to the delivery [Zustellung] of the ground is for science the element in which its cogitation [Vorstellen] moves as the fish in water or the bird in air’ (p. 59). But to realize this is more difficult than to be aware of the radioactivity of the atmosphere, which we have instruments to measure (p. 57). An element of nuclear panic or paranoia seems to be associated with this magnification of the power of the principle of reason. This power is uncanny, unhomely; it takes away from contemporary humanity the ground under their feet; the more we blindly comply with its claim, the less we can build and dwell in the realm of the essential (p. 60). This play between delivery of the ground and withdrawal of the ground under our feet (Entzug des Bodens) is our sinister epochal variant of the ‘play of being’, to which reference is made later (pp. 109, 188).
All of this now has a fifties air to it, and seems inapplicable to the contemporary condition, which we cannot see as explicable from a single principle. If our consumerist world-culture were so firmly in the grip of a principle, then the promised leap and reversal would be attractive. But its uniformity has nothing to do with metaphysical reason; it floats detached from any claim of the ground; we can leap from the ground all too lightly, but with little hope of landing in a play any more substantial than that which is going on. The pluralistic texture of our experience dissolves the claim of unitary grounds, and also of unitary leaps. What path of thinking can negotiate the promise and threat of this state of affairs?
III Metaphysics as onto-theology and history of being
1 A phenomenological perspective
Heidegger’s gaze on metaphysics is a phenomenological one; that is why he pays so much attention to the obstacles to this gaze, the natural tendency to turn one’s eyes away from any deeper apprehension of the metaphysical enterprise. The plot is thickened from the fact that metaphysics itself is an effort to look in the face a truth that everyday reason looks away from. By bringing into one’s gaze the shape of one’s thinking – not of any ordinary thinking, but that thinking that has attained metaphysical status – one finds that metaphysics itself is constitutionally inadequate to the phenomenon of being; that being is manifest in metaphysics as that which remains withdrawn. What comes into view is the finitude and brokenness of thinking, not in the sense that the grasp of reason fails to seize its object or that its systems crumble, but in the sense that the more it succeeds the more the truth of being eludes it.
Heidegger projects an essence of metaphysics, most tightly formulated as onto-theology, which need not be perfectly congruent with the empirical development of the history of philosophy. Great historical hypotheses are not falsified by a few facts that fail to fit; indeed their greatness is shown by the number of such discordant facts that they can take in their stride. Heidegger’s hypothesis is sufficiently well-grounded and illuminating to be immune to random empirical objections; it will lose its force only when replaced by a better one. The objection that he ignored the Hebraic component in the history of philosophy should be expanded to embrace his systematic ironing-out of all pluralistic interferences in his focusing of the Greek essence, an essence that has sufficient autonomy to support Heidegger’s constructions, which can be replaced only by a better account of what metaphysics meant.
Starting from a sense of the pluralistic texture of intellectual history, how might we revise, or eventually replace, Heidegger’s constructions so as to make them more fruitful for our own intercultural regime of thinking?
2 What is onto-theology?
Onto-theology is the supreme self-grasp of the intelligibility of being. It is a product of the question of ground.
Since being appears as ground beings are the grounded, but the highest being is that which grounds in the sense of the first cause… . The onto-theological constitution of metaphysics stems from the sway of the difference, which holds apart and together being as ground and beings as grounded-grounding. (Identität und Differenz, p.63)
The authentic phenomenology of being and beings in their difference resides in
a realm which the leading words of metaphysics, being and beings, ground-grounded, no longer suffice to say. For what these words name, what the way of thinking led by them represents, stems as the different from the difference. Their source no longer allows itself to be thought in the field of vision of metaphysics. (ib., pp. 63-4)
The onto-theological constitution of metaphysics originates from the effort to think about ‘being’ and ‘beings’ in terms of identity and causal or explanatory grounds (cf. GA 42:87-8, 130-47). For metaphysics, being is that which all beings have in common, being-as-such. Thought of in its generality, being-as-such is an identity in difference which provides the horizontal ontological dimension; thought of as a whole, being-as-such is referred to a supreme being, the apex of the vertical theo-logical dimension, who unifies beings-as-a-whole. Both lines of thought proceed in mutual dependence.
Metaphysics thinks the being of beings both in the foundational [er-gründend] unity of the most general, i.e., that which everywhere amounts to the same, and in the founding [begründend] unity of totality, i.e., that which is highest over all. Thus the being of beings is thought of beforehand as grounding ground. (Identität und Differenz, p. 49; cf. GA 9:378-9; Zur Sache des Denkens, p. 62)
Metaphysics seeks the being of beings by grounding it in a highest being (the cause of existence) or an exemplary mode of being (the ground of essence, e.g. the Kantian subject as the condition of possibility of all objectivity); the transcendent, theo-logical and transcendental, onto-logical modes of grounding coincide in the Hegelian ‘determination of the highest being as the absolute in the sense of unconditioned subjectivity’ (Nietzsche II, p. 347). What is afoot here is no wooden construction but the self-constitution of reason, faithful to its own most intimate principle.
Heidegger makes much of the notion of causa sui, which Pierre Hadot defines as the production of God’s existence through his essence (Historisches Wörterbuch der Philosophie 1:976-7). Heidegger sees causa sui as the logical culmination of onto-theo-logy, a kind of death’s head before which it is impossible to pray (Identität und Differenz, pp. 51, 64). He presented an attractive version of the idea in Schelling’s account of the interplay between ground and existence in God, with its echoes of Eckhart and Boehme (GA 42:204) and its basis in the paradox that while God, the ultimate reason for the existence of anything at all rather than nothing, himself depends on the principle of reason, the mighty working of the principle must itself have a cause: ‘The principle of reason is valid only in so far as God exists. But God exists, only in so far as the principle of reason is valid’ (Der Satz vom Grund, p. 55). The controverted status of the causa sui within metaphysics – a metaphorical expression in Plotinus (S. Breton, in Heidegger et la Question de Dieu, Paris, 1980, pp. 235-6), replaced by divine aseitas in the Scholastics, rejected by Kant, treated as a simple expression of the purity of being in the later Schelling – is ignored by Heidegger, who probably sees it as a failure of metaphysics to recognize its own logic.
‘When Christians have asked such questions as ‘What is the ground of God’s being the ground of creation?’ they have tended to answer by radicalizing the grounding nature of God, but not by saying that God is causa sui. The question of ultimate grounds in Christian thinking leads to the abyss of divine freedom; his actions are grounded in free decrees whose motives are ‘unsearchable’ (Romans 11.33). All theology can do is defend God’s actions against the charge of absurdity or contradiction and meditate on their appropriateness (convenientia) to divine goodness and justice. Such an ‘overcoming of metaphysics’ based on the ‘difference’ of divine transcendence and freedom is of no interest to Heidegger. His aim is to overcome metaphysics from within, tracing the inner transformations of its essence. Measured against the pattern of onto-theology isolated by Heidegger, all traditional metaphysicians (Leibniz and Hegel included) provide impure amalgams of metaphysical reason and mythical or biblical factors.
If for one moment the possibility is admitted that this distillation of the essence of metaphysics is only a possible interpretation among others, then the project of overcoming metaphysics by tackling its essential structure falls to the ground, and a more flexible and mobile strategy must be devised, one that recognizes the irremediable impurity of the tradition and the impossibility of moving to a less pluralistic level of thinking’ The refusal of the onto-theological possibilities of thinking then becomes one of the possible tactics whereby one moves from a vaguely defined ‘metaphysical’ regime of thought to a dimly apprehended post-metaphysical economy. In each case one identifies possible schemata of ‘metaphysical’ thinking, whose limits can be discerned, and one tests the styles of thinking that may emerge when one leaps beyond these schemata. In the context of such a project of conquering new spaces for thought it is a matter of secondary importance whether the schema to be overcome ever had any identifiable embodiment in history or whether it subsisted only in an irreducible plurality of guises. The fragility of Heidegger’s reconstructions of the essence and history of metaphysics argues for such a pluralistic reinterpretation of his experiments in overcoming.
3 The history of being
‘The leap [away from metaphysics] is a backward-looking leap. It looks back intb the realm from which it has leaped away, in order to keep it in view’ (Der Satz vom Grund, p.129). After the leap of thinking we may revisit the various detours which have prepared it and bring into view their inner connection (p. 96). ‘In leaping, the leap becomes a thoughtful appropriation of the destiny of being’ (p. 158). The first major theme to be reviewed is that of.the incubation period, now seen in a new light in view of the fact that ‘what the principle truly says, being, is really still sleeping’ (p. 97). The incubation period is now revealed as an epoch in which being as being withdrew itself. The emergence of the principle in the strong form of the principium reddendae rationis is seen as a change in the destiny of being, the release of the full might of the principle; but this release brings with it the complete eclipse of the possibility that the principle can be grasped as a ‘Satz ins Sein’ (leap into being) (p. 98), and entails a still more decisive withdrawal of being as being.
The question ‘whence speaks the demand of the ground for its delivery?' (p. 100) also appears in a new light. What holds sway in this all-prevailing demand is ‘the destiny of being in a previously unheard manner… Thought first brings into view the essence of being in the extremest withdrawal of being' (p. 101). The leap which places us on the way to an exploration of the ‘place' of the principle of reason is a leap away from a region which can now be surveyed from the distance this leap has accorded (p.107). Then the destiny and withdrawal of being come into view: ‘being destines itself to us in withdrawing itself’ (p. 108), that is ‘being turns to us comfortingly and becomes clear and in this becoming clear grants the temporal space of play in which beings can appear' (p. 109).
Heidegger sees the historical necessity of Kant's leap or of his own as dependent on the ways in which being grants itself from epoch to epoch.Similarly, ‘it would be foolish to say that the medieval theologians misunderstood Aristotle; rather, they understood him differently, in accord with the different way in which being granted itself to them'(p. 136). Such language is defensible only if the successive grantings of being are in each case rigorously demonstrated by phenomenological studies of characteristic thinkers of the epoch. That would demand a tentative and open-ended quality to the characterization of the epochs. Heidegger's language seems to posit at the heart of each epoch a single founding event, a granting-cum-withdrawing of being, which shapes and gives unity to the whole epoch. A more open-ended and tentative account of the shifting ontological sensibilities of the West could have increased the phenomenological power of Heidegger's analyses while dismantling the eschatological myth in which he wraps them. His benchmark identifications and discriminations of the characteristic phenomenological upshot of various styles of thinking are caricatures when they shift from the register of description to that of prescription, when instead of noting that Plato tends to think being as eidos he goes on to pronounce that Plato cannot think being except as eidos, or when instead of noting that the modern age tends to grasp being as objecthood for the subjectivityof reason (p. 138) he makes this the sole central truth of the modern age, its very being.
The history of being depends on a definitive grasp of the essential nature of the mittence of being characteristic of successive epochs. This is an impossibly rigid expectation, which omits all the diversity of the interpretations to which every great thinker is exposed. However the strictly phenomenological focus of Heidegger’s account reduces the scandal of his historical essentialism. Heidegger’s governing phenomenological inquiry to the great metaphysical systems is not the merely preliminary one: ‘what is the texture and structure of the thinking afoot here?’ but rather: ‘How stands it with being?’ (GA 40:36). The sequence of the answers to this inquiry forms the ‘history of being’, and provides a solid enough phenomenological core to this theorem, to which the critique developed by Habermas and others fails to do justice.
The historical picture of a progressive withdrawal of being and forgottenness of being is a stylization rendered implausible by its suggestions of the mythic. Yet no other language seems to Heidegger to capture the phenomenological essence of the process of forgetting of being. The notion that metaphysics has reached its culmination and its end in German idealism (p. 114) and in technology also seems to need demythification, which would entail reducing the grandiose project of ‘overcoming metaphysics’ to the modest one of a critical questioning of metaphysical tradition in view of its occlusions; the massive opposition of metaphysics and the thinking of being as being could similarly be broken down into a series of local critical engagements. Finally, instead of awaiting an eschatological turn-about in which ‘being as such awakens in such guise that it gazes at us from its awakened essence’ (p. 97), thinking should attend to the great variety of modes in which one is addressed by being, none of which can be established as pure or definitive or as a historical moment of arrival. We can practise Heidegger’s art of listening all the better if we abandon his hope of picking up pure signals of being.
‘The history of Western thought rests in the destiny of being. That, however, in which something else rests must itself be rest’ (p. 143), that is, the gathering of movement. Not only is each epoch unified by its central principle as identified by the historian of being, but the entire history is unified by reference to being itself whose destining presides over it. One’s doubts redouble at this further leap to a position of such extreme generality which totally eludes verification or falsification. That the history of thought rests in the destinings of being, Heidegger insists, is not a mere opinion, but is received from being. A partial verification can be found in our subservience to the claim of the principle of reason (including its transcendental and dialectical forms) and the withdrawal of being that coresponds to this. We stand in the clearing of being as those taken into the claim of the being of beings; we find ourselves caught up in a project of being (p. 146).
‘Through the fact that the being of beings grants itself as the objecthood of objects the destiny of being brings itself to a previously unheard of decisiveness and exclusiveness' (p. 149) to which corresponds ‘the most extreme withdrawal of being' (p. 150). This continues to beg the question. Heidegger makes much of the indefinability of being,though insisting that we understand somehow the sense of the words ‘being' and ‘is' (pp. 153-5). But his theory of the history of being has given concrete determinations to the notion of being that seem to have little to do with the everyday phenomenon of being. Withdrawal(Entzug) may indeed characterize the phenomenon of being, but a historical sequence of grantings and withdrawals introduces elements into the notion of being that quite clutter and distort its phenomenality. That being somehow is, one quite recognizes, but that it somehow acts, in an ordered sequence, seems a drift into inappropriate categories.
Philosophical thinking moves from ‘what is more manifest to us’ to ‘what is more manifest in itself' (Aristotle, quoted, p. 112). But its stylization as one from beings to being as such is only one of the possible languages that can serve as vehicle and stimulus of this movement. Sankara's movement from atman to Brahman or Nagarjuna's from conventional truth to ultimate truth or Lao-tse's from things to void cannot be reduced to the ontological schema nor is the converse reduction possible. This plurality of paths must limit the bearing of Heidegger's sketch of the history of being. Moreover, it leaves open alternative perspectives on the history of Western thought, notably those which can be constructed in the light of the biblical heritage and its influence. Jewish and Christian constructions of history have been even more myth-bound than Hegel’s and Heidegger's (which are in part a sublation of those constructions): the conflict of myths reveals history as a battiefield or warring interpretations; acceptance of this pluralism opens a new conversation about history, as an open field of possibilities rather than the cumulative revelation of a pattern. This conversation is oriented by concern for the future rather than desire to conquer the past.
The questionable nexus
1 The leap of thinking
In the discussion of Leibniz in the first lectures (broken off at p. 81), Heidegger engages quite firmly the conceptual and argumentative texture of metaphysical thinking. The core of Heidegger's thinking is phenomenological, going behind or beyond the level of thinking to which concepts and arguments belong. Yet unless it engages with concepts and arguments the strength of such phenomenological thinking cannot be demonstrated. At a certain point, however – with the introduction of Angelus Silesius’ rose (68), the emergence of the second accentuation, ‘nothing is without ground’ (p. 75), and the ‘leap of thinking’ concealed in this abrupt change of accent (p. 95) – Heidegger forsakes such critical argumentation as he listens for what lies unthought in the principle of reason, the way in which being announces itself as ground. It is here that the central rift in Heidegger’s thinking comes into view.
Does he at this point fall away from this concentrated interrogation of Leibniz into a pot-pourri of his favourite myths and dogmas? This danger certainly looms and Heidegger himself shows an awareness of it in the care with which he maps out the implications of the leap, going back over earlier questions from the new vantage it yields. As Greisch remarks:
The operation of detachment which permits the transition to the other way of thinking paradoxically appears as both simple and complex. It is simple, for all that is asked is the performance of a ‘leap of thinking’. It is complex, for this leap itself has to be thought. (La parole heureuse, Paris, 1987, p. 227)
It is on this leap that his thinking stands or falls. Heidegger has certainly put his best foot forward on this occasion, dramatizing the event of the leap with great art, shoring it up with sober and persuasive reflections, and finding felicitous words to speak of its strangeness, its necessity, the freedom it yields, the landscape it opens up. If the leap were simply a leap away from reason it might not be easy to argue with Heidegger, though it would be easy to dismiss him. But the leap is a leap to the ground of reason. Not however to a metaphysical ground, but to an apprehension of the phenomenological essence of truth to which reason belongs, in which reason finds its dwelling, its home. However, though Der Satz vom Grund approaches it via the notion of being as ground, the goal of Heidegger’s thinking back is not adequately named by this expression: the Ereignis which grants being is rather to be thought of as a phenomenological focusing of the truth of being. To see Heidegger as tracing ‘a return back into the ground, the origin’ (Zur Sache des Denkens, p. 33) is a misreading of his thought according to the metaphysical pattern.
The leap of thinking is not a leap away but a leap home to the Ereignis in which being and thinking fundamentally belong. Just this claim conceals, I suspect, the central weakness of Heidegger’s thought. The questionable stylization of the metaphysical tradition we have queried in the previous section is motivated by a vision of reason, metaphysics, as a derivation from and a decline from originary contemplative thinking. Whenever Heidegger tries to explain how metaphysical notions arose on the basis of the forgetting of this originary domain there is an unconvincing gap in the account. Its two ends don’t meet. Conversely, whenever he vaults beyond reason to the region of thinking his feat of transcendence fails to exemplify the status he claims for it. It is not a leap back to the ground, the origin, but rather a leap elsewhere, related to the rational tradition only in an oblique, marginal or tangential way. Heidegger has attained a realm from which the tradition of metaphysics can be questioned and helped to open itself to its phenomenological context – which is far richer than Heidegger is prepared to envisage, so rich that it eludes the control of the thinker of being just as much as that of the metaphysician. Heidegger has not attained a vantage point from which the history of metaphysics can be controlled and mastered in its ‘essence’. Rather, reason and its processes maintain their autonomy alongside and in tension with contemplative thinking. Nor can the thinking of being pretend to have such privileged insight into the essence of these processes that it knows what scientists and logicians are doing in advance of any study of their work. Rather than seeing reason as a ‘stiff-necked adversary’ (The Question Concerning Technology, New York, 1977, p. 112) to be overcome, thinking had best acquire a sense of its own limits, recognizing that if its privilege is to attend to things that elude the mastery of reason, reason’s privilege is to penetrate where poetic thinking can never follow.
Heidegger has allowed its full force to the Leibnizian principle, never contesting its claim, yet slowly negotiating a space of freedom beyond the grasp of the principle, a space in which Christian theologians will surely find an occasion to rediscover divine freedom as well. Having led us into the darkest secrets of the atomic age by his musings on the might of the principle of reason, he suddenly produces a poem about a rose: ‘The rose is without why; it blossoms, since it blossoms, attends not to itself, asks not if it is seen’ (p. 68), This introduces the turn (Kehre) in the argument, the step back or the leap away from the dominance of ‘why’ to the granting of ground indicated by the word ‘since’. ‘Why’ seeks the ground; ‘since’ provides a ground, in a new sense (p. 70). ‘Between the blossoming of the rose and the ground of its blossoming there intervenes no attending to grounds, whereby the grounds could first come to be as grounds’ (p. 71).
Is Heidegger eluding the principle whose power he has so eloquently evoked? Or does he rather allow the principle its unrestricted sway, while indicating its inherent limits (which correspond with the limits of metaphysical reasoning): no being can be without a ground, yet this does not begin to exhaust the phenomenality of a being. ‘The principle is valid of but not for the rose; of the rose in so far as it is an object [Gegenstand] of our representation; not for the rose in so far as the latter stands in itself, is simply rose’ (p.73).
Being is given; it is the ground of beings in a sense that is missed if we busily go in search of their grounds. The question ‘why’ puts the ground at a distance; the answer ‘since’ reveals its nearness. The rose’s avoidance of the principle of reason and its provision of ground in a different sense reveals that ‘The principle of ground [in its first accentuation] says nothing about the ground’ (p. 75) and prompts us to listen to it in the second accentuation, which indicates being and ground as imponderables lurking in the apparently so transparent principle.
‘The principle of ground, understood in the usual way, is not a statement about the ground but about a being in so far as it is in each case a being’ (p. 82). This discovery brings us into ‘a critical zone of thought’ (p. 84) where every step exposes us to errance. The principle now says; ‘To being belongs something such as ground. Being is groundlike, ground-ish… Being deploys its essence in itself as grounding’ (p. 90). ‘Being “is” in its essence: ground. Therefore being can never now first have a ground, which would ground it’ (p. 93). This independence of ground makes being the Ab-Grund (‘abyss’). What is the accord between these two propositions: ‘Being and ground: the same. Being: the Ab-grund’ (p. 93)?
2 Can thinking ground reason?
In naming being as a ground that does not need to be further grounded has Heidegger resolved the riddle of the principle of reason? The faulty nexus between thinking and reason in Heidegger can be discerned in the unbridged gap between ground in the normal logical and metaphysical sense and being-as-ground. Similarly, what is called ‘truth’, ‘error’, ‘being’, ‘nothingness’, ‘identity’, ‘difference’, ‘logos’, at the level of the thinking of being has but an equivocal relationship to what these terms denote in metaphysical discourse. To begin with they have a plurality of senses in their use in metaphysical argument, as in everyday usage, whereas Heidegger adheres to a univocal sense for each of these terms and so can discourse freely on their ‘essence’.
It may be that, starting from a particular example of ‘truth’ or ‘ground’ in a particular context, one can think back to the more essential depths of the phenomenon which thus comes into view. But the paths of such thinking back do not converge in a single bourne – the region of the Ereignis. They are trails of exploration as diverse as the styles of artistic creation or of religious imagination. A single unifying idea fails to impose itself. The big words, the transcendentals – being, good, beauty, ground – are only gasps before the immensity of things. Nor is ‘God’ a unified concept. The meaning of the word is inherently, thoroughly, contextual, as is the meaning of the word ‘being’. There are contexts in which neither word has any meaning and in which the universal features of ‘everyday understanding of being’ or sense of the absolute have deployed and dispersed themselves in quite different verbal universes. When people ring the changes on ‘God’ and ‘being’ they are doubly blinding themselves against the pluralism of the stories through which humans create and explore their worlds. The ‘God’ that is dead is the univocal God; language about God retains its sense as a constantly self-correcting, self-renewing language, variant from culture to culture, from context to context, changing at its margins into other varieties of religious language, such as language about the absolute, emptiness or the Tao.
It may be that the basic tenet of the phenomenality of being is based on a misappropriation of Husserl’s categorial intuition; gradually it becomes apparent that the major phenomenological Sache for Heidegger is not being but world, the open realm of manifestation. The forgetfulness of world in the natural attitude (everydayness) or in metaphysical world-constructions cannot be translated directly into an oblivion of being as being. The two lines of criticism fall apart and the latter is never given a firm phenomenological content. (See K. Held, ‘Heidegger und das Prinzip der Phänomenologie’ in Heidegger und die praktische Philosophie, Frankfurt, 1989, pp. 111-39). But Heidegger might accept that the phenomenon which conceals itself in the presence of being can be called ‘world’ just as well as ‘being’. Descombes notes the ‘defect of construction’ (p. 127) of the question of being which he sees as condemning Heidegger’s search for the ‘unthought’ of Western metaphysics to remain a pipe dream.
But do these criticisms rest on a careful consideration of Heidegger’s development of a ‘phenomenology of the unapparent’? (See J.-L. Marion, Réduction et donation, Paris, 1989, pp. 90-7. Unconvincing is Marion’s claim, on pp. 217-40, that Husserl was engaged with the Seinsfrage; ontology was in the air at that time, but Husserl’s discussion of it centres on matters having nothing to do wiht what for Heidegger was the unicum necessarium, and which he found hinted at in the categorial intuition of Logical Investigations VI.) What Descombes proposes instead is merely the ‘ontological clarification of the presuppositions of an epoch’ (p. 124). But this remains on the level of conceptual thinking, affords little scope for the liberating leap to a contemplation of the Sache selbst. How does one explicate the ontological implications of a poem? Whatever the inadequacies of Heidegger’s commentaries, they have opened up a meditation on the essence of literature – in Maurice Blanchot for example – which can never be recalled to the platitude Descombes recommends, which risks being absorbed by the ‘cybernetic’ (Zur Sache des Denkens, p. 64). ‘The dialogue of thinking with poetry is long. It has scarcely begun’ (GA 12:34). Heidegger’s meditative thinking has an autonomy and a strength which is independent of his constructions of being and its history. Beneath all great philosophical utterances lies a fathomless unthought and Heidegger is the one thinker who has provided us with a compass for exploring that dimension. The aporias of his thought are a challenge to pursue its project along new lines.
Heidegger’s search for originary phenomenological senses of ‘being’ and ‘true’ is in tension with the emergence of non-phenomenological senses in ancient Greece contemporaneously with scientific and philosophical thinking. Being, within metaphysics, figures as ground, in a sense that is not primarily phenomenological (see Zur Sache des Denkens, pp. 2, 36-7), and that cannot be reduced to the phenomenological (as Der Satz vom Grund seems to attempt). Even at the humble everyday level from which both types of discourse begin, there is a gulf between the phenomenological sense of being as presence and the logical functioning of the word ‘to be’. If one says: ‘it is true that three and three are six’ one has to draw on senses of ‘to be’ and ‘true’ that are autonomous in regard to such phenomenological matters as presence and concealment. These senses of being and truth neither transcend nor fall short of the phenomenological senses. They are simply other.
The fusion of the copulative, existential and veritative senses of ‘is’ constitutes a grammatical mistake. The effort to hold them together in a unitative way under the rubric of the pollachôs legetai does not work phenomenologically – it forces Heidegger to gloss over the ‘wonder’ of the veritative sense (‘it is’ = ‘it is true’) and dismiss it as mere correctness (Richtigkeit) or as simply ‘ontic’. The veritative sense can be brought into view phenomenologically only as something that gives the slip to phenomenology. Faced with the fact that some simple utterance – ‘Caesar crossed the Rubicon’ – is true and not false, phenomenology finds it has nothing to say, whereas reason may find here a starting point for deep metaphysical probings. Conversely, the sense of being as presence, of truth as unconcealment, eludes the kind of reasoning that deals in logical and factual truths. This mutual eluding of the phenomenological and the rational, neither of which can ground the other, is a situation no more enigmatic than the mutual eluding of, say, chemistry and music. We do not have a world-formula that can reveal these various perspectives unfolding from a single unitary instance.
Thinking of being does not succeed as ‘an endeavour which brings the essence of metaphysics to the fore and thereby brings it within its limits for the first time’ in view of an ‘originary appropriation’ of the metaphysical tradition (GA 12:103-4). Thinking can open up new realms but it is not qualified to declare a closure on the range of reason.
3 The supremacy of play
What grounds a being is nothing that can be cast in the form of a rational account, but is the donation of its presence from the event of being. This grounding phenomenon loves to conceal itself: ‘Being conceals itself as being, namely in its initial destinal belonging-together with the ground as logos... As it conceals its essence, being allows something else to come to the fore, namely the ground in the form of archai , aitiai, rationes, causae, principles, causes and rational grounds’ (Der Satz vom Grund, p. 183) to all of which aitaches a character of self-evidence that masks their forgotten origin. Being can now no longer be explained by reference to a ground; as grounding it is itself groundless; so to thought remains the duty of corresponding to the measure of being, not by any unsuitable procedures of reckoning or measuring, but by thinking being as being (p. 185). To think thus is to be drawn into the play of the world, a play ‘without why’. ‘Being as ground has no ground, plays as the non-ground, abyss, of that play which as a destiny plays to us being and ground’ (p. 188). The cryptic conclusions demand to be supplemented by Heidegger’s discussions of Heracritus in GA 55 (cf. Vorträge und Aufsätze, pp. 207-29; GA 15:9-226).
A question remains, as with all Heidegger’s reductions of metaphysical principles to pre-metaphysical openings of being: does the principle of sufficient reason rearly derive from the play of the world? Does reason not have an autonomous force independent of the aesthetics of play? Has Heidegger in his step back really restored metaphysics to its forgotten essence, or has he lost it from view? Is the emergence of the principle of reason governed by a destining of being, that is by a phenomenological instance of manifestation and withdrawal or does it emerge like the laws of mathematics and logic through a process of thinking which cannot be brought under the aegis of the phenomenological? Does the principle of reason cast the truth of being in the shade by its very nature or only because it is applied ruthlessly in matters where it cannot be normative or adequate?
Some later texts (Zur Sache des Denkens) may show a willingness to let metaphysics go its own way, as the effort to ground scientific reason in the most strenuous reflection possible, and to abandon the effort to found such rationality in the contemplative attention to the phenomenality of being. Scientific philosophy may be one of those ‘sieves which let through only quite particular aspects of the matter’ (GA 55:229) – but the same may be equally true of contemplative thinking. When Heidegger claims that only Seinsdenken grasps the truth of what is and that it has an essentiality and radicality from which merely rational thinking is barred by its very constitution, is he not in fact appealing to a form of that absolutism which he so often undermines in the work of his predecessors? To be sure, mystics and Zen masters depreciate the devices of reason in a similar style, but do they go so far as to claim that all rationality derives ultimately from Zen or mystic insight? It is this extra claim that allows Heidegger to take his place among the great metaphysicians. But the step back to ‘thinking’ may exact the relinquishment of any claim to such a place. To have retrieved the contemplative dimension of philosophy is enough; it is exorbitant to claim to have retrieved the foundation of its rational dimension as well. If reason marches on, oblivious of Heidegger’s intervention, that is not necessarily a great tragedy. The thinker of being like the mystic can perhaps flourish only in marginality. Sufficient to have planted seeds of reflection which may have here and there a greening effect on the landscape if science and philosophy (cf. Identität und Differenz, p. 67). His thought, attuned to the one thlng necessary, may afford a place of retreat when one tires of the struggle to grasp the world by reason. But it does not seem that its role is to criticize and direct the operations of reason. Its relation to them can only be an oblique one.
There is a version of reason which reduces the being of beings to what can be mastered by concepts and definitions. ‘Now this easy intelligibility becomes the standard for what obtains or can obtain, and that now means for what may be or be called a being’ (GA 65:336). Reason which makes itself small makes reality small as well. If there are occasions on which metaphysical, logical and scientific reason must reassert its dignity over against Heidegger’s depreciation, it is also a mark of true rationality to recognize the value of Heidegger’s mapping of the margins of the rational. If in his attempt to restore reason to its fuller context, Heidegger tended to bring philosophy down the blind alley of a pure thinking of the phenomenon of being, none the less he struck out on paths that free reason from a self-ideal of dispassionate objectivity, giving it a more contextual and participatory notion of its own operations. Conscious of the presence of Seinsdenken as its other, reason moves more humbly and more soberly, instead of chattering loudly in self-obsessed arrogance; the effect is similar to that produced on Christianity by an awareness of its coexistence with Judaism and Buddhism.
Pluralism at the origin
1 The deconstructive opening-up of Heidegger
Derrida undoes Heidegger’s essentialism by focusing on the fact that Heidegger uncovers the originary as ‘different’, as inherently other, thus unsettling the grounding and founding movement of his return to the essence. For the essence as Heidegger locates it is always marked by heterogeneity in regard to that of which it is the essence – the essence of technology is not anything technological, the essence of truth is non-truth, being comes into view as non-being. Derrida characterizes Heidegger’s ‘powerful thinking repetition’ as ‘a retreat or an advance towards the most originary, the pre-archi-originary which thinks… no other content than that which is there, be it as the promise of the future, in the heritage of metaphysics’ (De l’esprit, Paris, 1987, p. 183). In thus bringing being into view – as given and possibilized from out the e-vent of being (Zur Sache des Denkens, p. 8) – Heidegger invents a new sense of the originary, one which is hétérogène à l’origine, heterogeneous to anything metaphysics thinks of as origin, not a fundamentum inconcussum but one which is concussum (ib., p, 34), one which always reveals itself as other, as a rift. It looks then as if Heidegger himself is aware of the questionability of his claim to ground metaphysics in the thinking of being, and that the grounding progressively turns into its opposite, an ungrounding, an uncovering of irreducible enigma at the heart of the basic notions of metaphysics throughout its history.
Yet for Heidegger enigma retains a quiet authority that teases us out of thought. It is the essential heart of things, and remains immune to pluralistic dissemination. Ludic and an-archic readings of Heidegger, such as those of Caputo and Reiner Schürmann (Heidegger on Being and Acting, Indiana UP, 1987) may find much to nourish them in the final pages of Der Satz vom Grund, which create a sense that we have moved from a prison to a playground; but such readings miss the degree to which the Logos – however enigmatic it has become – remains a principle, an essence, a unifying factor; only as such does it retain the quiet power that can overcome the might of the principle of reason.
Whither leaps the leap away, when it leaps away from the ground? Does it leap into an abyss? Yes, in so far as we only think of the leap and in the field of vision of metaphysical thinking at that. No, in so far as we leap and release ourselves. Whither? To the place into which we have already been released: in belonging to being. Being itself however belongs to us; for only with us can it be as being, that is, be present. (Identität und Differenz, p. 20)
Being is abyss, Ab-grund, only because it is itself Grund, ground (Der Satz vom Grund, 185). The play of being is ‘free of all arbitrariness’ (p. 186), so much so that Heidegger can retrieve in a new key Leibniz’s ‘Cum Deus calculat fit mundus’ which he translates ‘While God plays, world becomes’ (p. 186).
Caputo dilutes this sense of order when he writes:
There are no hidden comforts, no hidden assurances, no steadfast guarantees concealed in this play. The play has the improbability of a child at play and an uncertainty which is marked by the question [‘whether and how, hearing the movements of this play, we play along with and join in the play’ (Der Satz vom Grund, p. 188)].
There seems to be little uncertainty about the serene order of the play of being, as far as its essence is concerned, though our failure to participate may imperil its actualization. It is misleading to say that by our participation in the play we ‘deny it rest and arrest’ as Caputo goes on to say; metaphysics, as an arrest of thinking, is to be overcome, but thinking itself rests in the play of being. It has nothing of the arbitrary improbability of a game of chance. To say of the dominant epochal terms that ‘there is no grounding of these elemental words’ and ‘they cannot lay claim to anything more than a certain historical aptness’, a situation which is ‘one of the most embarrassing things in the history of metaphysics’, is to smuggle into Heidegger’s thought something that it conspicuously lacks: an emphasis on the contingent pluralism of the historical languages of metaphysics.
Heidegger’s ‘destinal formations’ (Identität und Differenz, p. 58) replace Hegel’s epochs and Nietzsche’s theory that ‘as the law [Gesetzlichkeit] of history nihilism unfolds a series of different stages and forms of itself’ (Nietzsche II, p. 279). Their sequence is not a chance one, though it is also not a necessary one (Zur Sache des Denkens, p. 9). For Heidegger, the law underlying the nihilistic sequence of the mittences of being is the Ereignis which is their principle; thought of the Ereignis ends the history of being by recalling it to its source (ib., p. 44). ‘The Ereignis is the law, in so far as it gathers mortals in the appropriation to their essence and keeps them therein’ (GA 12:248). It is the true Grund. The strangeness and otherness of this Grund which turns out to be an Ab-grund does not license Caputo’s interpretation, that ‘everything is caught up in a certain fortuitousness’, nor his suggestion that ‘television and advanced forms of communication will spread the message… of the apocalypse without truth and revelation’ (Radical Hermeneutics, pp. 202, 203, 225, 226).
Schürmann, who tries to think with Heidegger beyond Heidegger in seeing the movement to the archê as betraying an an-archic thrust, does not do justice to the primacy, strongly affirmed in Heidegger, of identity – the belonging together of being and thinking in the Ereignis – over difference. Far from being a differential pullulation the Ereignis is a gathering of things into their essence. Heidegger remains a traditional metaphysician to the degree that the Ereignis is the truth, the ground, the essence of all that is. It first dawned on him as a great revelation in the 1936-8 manuscript (Beiträge zur Philosophie: Vom Ereignis), which rather than being thought of as Heidegger’s second masterpiece or even as his one true masterpiece (thus Otto Pögge1er in various publications) should rather be seen as the magma from which his masterly later writings were to emerge. It is clear that Heidegger is constructing a first philosophy:
The truth: ground as abyss [Abgrund]. Ground not: whence, but wherein in the sense of belonging. Abyss: as time-space [Zeit-Raum] of the struggle; the struggle as struggle of earth and world, since relation of truth to what-is!... [Truth] is the ground as what takes back and what pervades, which towers above the hidden without abolishing it; the affective tone which sounds as this ground. For this ground is the Ereignis itself as deployment of the essence of being. (GA 65:346)
The Ereignis is what lies at the heart of the simple there-isness of being, the ‘il y a’ of one of Rimbaud’s Illuminations (Zur Sache des Denkens, pp. 42-3). Beings do not emerge into presence in the medium of flat objecthood nor of Husserlian transcendental consciousness. Teasing at the mode of the givenness of being Heidegger moved beyond all former apprehensions of objectivity and subjectivity and came up with his own apprehension of the event of being, one which cannot be adequately expressed in propositions (ib., p. 25) but only in the visionary simplicity of the poetic word as found in the essential poets. And the heart of this word is a silence, which is inscrutable. The difference emergent here is of a contemplative order, which deconstructionism no less than metaphysical rationalism is quite incapable of espousing.
2 Mutual irrecuperability of faith and thinking
But it seems that in mapping the world according to the Ereignis Heidegger glossed over the pluralistic texture even of such contemplative simplicity, and hypostatized a unitary element in which all things fall into their proper place, in which ‘the world worlds’ and ‘the thing things’ according to their proper natures. Even the deconstructive version of the Ereignis as essentially difference, unless it is worked out in terms of a concrete pluralism, still risks projecting a unitary instance which undercuts all religions and philosophies as the unnameable other.
In some ways theologians are in a better position than philosophers when it comes to detecting the pluralistic texture of reality even at the depths involved here. Perhaps some theologians have identified their own radicality with that of Heidegger, misread in a still metaphysical sense, as Derrida suggests in the humorous closing pages of De l’esprit. The more alert, however, have stumbled on the differentiations inevitably emerging in any encounter between biblical thought and the thinking of beingl The dialogue between Heidegger and the theologians does not converge on the celebration of a single bedrock reality, beneath being and Spirit alike. Rather it is an experience of difference, of a gulf between the radicality that proceeds from the metaphysical tradition of naming being and the biblical tradition of naming God (and there are other gulfs, notably with the Buddhist tradition of emptiness). When abyss speaks to abyss in this way, a relativization is inevitable.
Heidegger cannot be recuperated in a theological scheme, such as that which seeks in the Es gibt the presence of the Creator who ‘gives’ beings (M. Villela-Petit, Heidegger et la question de Dieu, p. 95). Such religious constructions spoil the integrity of the phenomenon, and are a failure to let being be being. The Ereignis, the granting of being, is a gracious event, a constant source of wonder; but the invocation of the Creator to provide that wonder with a ground seems only to undermine it, to rationalize it. Here then is a depth of which theology cannot speak. Conversely, the Bible cannot be recuperated in a Heideggerian scheme, despite his attempts to bring it under the rubric of the Sacred – and thus is broken the imperialismof the thinking of being. As both traditions tealize their finitude the question of an ultimate originary instance becomes more profoundly obscure. One can practise ‘faith’ and one can practise ‘thinking of being’; the coexistence of the two practices can involve a greater or lesser degree of interaction. To claim the all-importance of one and the relative triviality of the other (as Heidegger presumed theologians would have to do) is a formula for fanaticism.
The hypothesis of a singie unitary granting of being and world certainly provided a grand theme for phenomenology; but it seems destined to dissolve into acceptance of the infinite plurality of human worlds as historically constituted. One may talk of an abstract form of worldhood in general, but this is something far more tenuous than the richly furnished world on which Heidegger meditates. There is a biblical experience of world on the basis of a vivid sense of dependence on the Creator which is neither reducible to onto-theological ratiocination nor assimilable to the Greek experience of world (Heidegger’s alternative ways of dismissing it). A tension between different forms of the worlding of world, worked out in different cultures, may be constitutive of the post-modern experience of the worlding of world. Within each culture the way the world worlds is undergoing constant modification. There is then no step back from the technological world to a unitary experience of the ‘fourfold’, but only an opening-up to a great variety of ways of being-in-the-world. This variety blurs any unitary notion of the truth of being and any unitary notion of God. Philosophical and religious languages, like artistic and literary ones, multiply according to the laws of historical and cultural pluralism.
It is misguided to set up a Pascalian clash between the Ereignis and the God of Abraham (see Heidegger et la question de Dieu, pp. 172-3) since both ‘God’ and Ereignis are unstable notions that dissolve into a plurality of historically constructed contemplative perspectives. The dialogue of theology with Heidegger (or of the biblical with the philosophical tradition) is much like the dialogue with literature: it offers a great variety of points of encounter and a great variety of points of tension, much as any exchange between human beings does. The pluralistic coexistence of the thinking of faith and the thinking of being cannot be reduced to a simple pattern by the imposition of an approved Christian evaluation of Heidegger’s thought or of an approved Heideggerian reading of Christian tradition. That is not to say that the dialogue will not occasion many firm judgements, both positive and negative; but the mutual solicitation is inherently open-ended, a space of thought whose contours cannot be rigidly demarcated – just as the contours of the encounter between Christianity and Platonism cannot be demarcated, even today.
3. For a general theory of pluralism
The acceptance of pluralism both in reason and in thinking does not invalidate the movement, the basic inspiration, of Heidegger’s thought – the reaching back from convenient conceptual lucidities to the obscure wonder of thi presence of things – but it diversifies this movement into a great variety of local and contextual paths of thinking. Each of these can be the critical overcoming of some form of blindness or forgetfulness and the bringing to light of some ‘essential’ phenomenon. Within the great religions such thinking back will try to renew the original impact of the revelation from which the tradition lives, but of course all such retrievals are recreations; even in the Pentateuch what a gulf there is between Deuteronomy and the earlier traditions it repeats! Any discipline may be inspired by the orientation of Heidegger’s depth-hermeneutic of retrieval/recreation; thus his influence may extend as his doctrines wither.
Heidegger’s insight into the Ereignis is not a pure intuition of essence. It is a cultural product, the fruit of an engagement with poetic and mystical traditions. Greisch finds a lack of coherence between the phenomenology of the Ereignis as simple, ineffable ‘identity’ – in which being and thinking (Identität und Differenz), or being and time (Zur Sache des Denkens), belong together – and the phenomenology of the carrying out (Austrag) of the dif-ference between being and beings (‘Identité et différence dans la pensée de Martin Heidegger’, RSPT 57, 1983, pp. 71-111). He suggests that the coherence can be found by pursuing the matter further, entering more fully into the simplicity of the Ereignis and leaving the question of the dif-ference to metaphysics; but it seems the destiny of any phenomenology of ‘world’ or of ‘being’ to come undone in a pluralism of perspectives. The Ereignis, as ‘the post-metaphysical name of the Pre-Socratic alêtheia’ (Greisch, La parole heureuse, 305), as ‘the most unapparent of the unapparent, the simplest of the simple, the nearest of the near and the farthest of the far’ (GA 12:247) – and as too much else besides – is a rubric under which a variety of contemplative perspectives are forced into unity.
As for the next grand principle, the fourfold, subordinate to the Ereignis almost as the Nous is to the One in Plotinus, it, too, seems to patch together into a dreamlike unity phenomenological quantities that are more convincing when left separate – mortal Dasein as the ‘there’ of being, and the struggle between the concealment of ‘earth’ and the openness of ‘world’, make perfect sense in certain particular contexts, but the gracious dance of earth, sky (‘world’ in the first version, GA 65:310), mortals and gods is just pleasantly poetic; can one believe that it lights up a structure at the heart of things, one of universal import? Had Heidegger attended more to the particularity of the worlds of his poets (instead of fusing them into a single phenomenological amalgam dominated by Hölderlin – as Heidegger interpreted him) he would have relinquished the search for a unified phenomenology of world, as Paul Ricoeur in Time and Narrative relinquishes the search for a unitary phenomenologv of time. Or at least he would have been more prudent in expounding the form of the phenomenality of world, refraining from giving it such charged concrete content.To justify the identification of being with world Heidegger has to posit that being is always manifest in a time-space, as the ‘abode of the moment [Augenblicksstätte] for the founding of the truth of being’ (GA 65:32), a moment of destiny in which the space of history is concentrated.
4 The theological leap to a pluralism of origins
Theological imitations of Kant's transcendental leap ground. Christian revelation in a metaphysics of human spirit opening onto the divine; they remain within the realm of subjectivity, subjectivity not in the sense of subjectivism but as ‘the essential law-character of the grounds which sufficiently provide the possibility of an object' (Der Satz vom Grund, p. 137)'. This, too,must be relinquished in the thinking leap to the truth of revelation (this phrase, too, is shorthand for a variety of contemplative perspectives), a leap which can only happen as a response to the call and claim of the divine Word. Barth is the one who his succeeded best in such a naming of the essence of Christianity, eclipsing the previous efforts.of Schleiermacher, Feuerbach or Harnack. What is lacking in Barth is the. Pluralism which opens the truth of revelation to the truth of the other ‘great beginnings' in the religious sphere.
What is the element in which the great beginnings can encounter one another? Is it the element of being? Of Buddhist emptiness? Of the biblical Holy Spirit? Of dialogue? Of an ethos of liberation? It is not, at least, any of the metaphysical elements that have been proposed as the ground of theology: the transcendental consciousness of Rahner, the Hegelian realm of spirit, the Whiteheadian realm of process, or the older Augustinian and Thomist ontologies. Nor is it the kerygmatic-existential element of Kierkegaard, Barth or Bultmann,for this demands to be released from its narrow isolation and exposed to the wider sweep of religious and human reality. Nor is it any discourse that savours of old ecclesiastical wineskins. Great as are the historical constructions of the churches, they appear in the light of the present interreligious horizon far too shrivelled and sectarian to serve as vehicles of spirit. They, too,are to be overcome.
The dimension towards which we must think is one in which all the great religious texts can speak their essential truths with the maximum resonances.It must be pneumatic, ‘empty’, liberational,dialogal in the strong sense of mutual solicitation. Only so can it allow the essence of religion to be released from its counter-essence of sectarianism, intolerance, fanaticism, fundamentalist sclerosis. What is the unifying elementin which these qualities can flourish? These qualities are not ahistorical attributes. They emerge with a special force at this specific historical moment in a conversion away from sectarian traditions, in a movement of expropriation that brings us into a new communality. How name this process? Just as the new realm of the thinkable opened up by Heidegger’s leap can be discerned only in light of the previous history of thinking, now seen for the first time as a destining of being, so the new realm opening up in religious awareness can be grasped only in a critical retreival of religious traditions as happenings of revelation, happenings always intrinsically pluralistic and open-ended.
5 God as Creator in a pluralist perspective
Heidegger raged throughout the thirties and forties against the reduction of beings to ‘products’ which the belief in a creator brought about. (H. Ott, Martin Heidegger, Frankfurt, 1988, makes much of this, tending to undersetimate the intellectual validity of Heidegger’s critique of scholasticism and ‘Christian philosophy’.) Beaufret objected to the monopoly enjoyed by God in the Christian view of being:
In the beginning God created, or rather created for himself, the heavens and the earth and finally his man. Everything is there, Heidegger says: the earth, the heavens, humans, the God – except the essential… For in the scriptural narrative three of the four depend on a Primus who is their origin and their centre as well. In place of the divine priority or primacy, Heidegger names a Fourfold or rather Uni-fourfold of which the centre is none of the four. (Heidegger et la question de Dieu, pp. 28-9)
The centre of the Fourfold is the holy as the chaos which yawns.
K. Rosenthal remarks that ‘the subordination of the God or the gods to chaos is the contrary of what is intended in the creation narrative’ (‘Martin Heideggers Auffassung von Gott’, Kerygma und Dogma 13, 1967, pp. 212-19; p. 224). But Beaufret points out that Heidegger is using the term ‘chaos’ in a special sense ‘in the closest connection with an originary interpretation of the essence of alêtheia, as the bottomless as it initially opens up’ (Nietzsche I, p. 350), the Open as it first opens to bring everything into its grasp, to accord to each differentiated being its presence within limits’ (M. Haar points out that Hölderlin only once uses ‘the holy’ as a substantive and that ‘the idea of a genesis of the gods from the Sacred is visibly unilateral and excessive’ (in Friedrich Hölderlin, ed. J.-F. Courtine, Paris, 1989, p. 504). Marion sees here an idolatry of being and the sacred as a screen against the sovereignty of God (Heidegger et la question de Dieu, pp. 60-6). M. Villeia-Petit defends Heidegger on the grounds that in the Bible God appears as a being, so that the experience of God depends on a prior experience of being (ib., pp. 91-2). Heidegger does not present being as the ground for God but as the space in which God is encountered (ib., p. 94). He is clearing the space for a renewed encounter with God, though his way of putting this is highly misleading, e. g. ‘the divinity as it deploys its essence receives its origin from the truth of being’ (GA 13:154). One might add that Marion’s project of thinking God as love ‘outside’ the question of being, and his dismissal of the play of being as mere inanity, could undercut the human basis for a full-blooded encounter with the divine. His Pascalian gesture of putting being at a distance – the distance measured and granted by the Cross – seems phenomenologically tenuous. But the entire framework of this debate is undercut if we register the historical texture both of the scriptural language of creation and the Heideggerian language of being.
Marion intends to verify this Pascalian subordination of the order of being to the order of charity on the purely philosophical plane through a phenomenology of love. One gathers that love will continue to let being play, but will judge its play to be ‘inane’. Pascalian ennui, in its indifference to beings, ‘suspends the claim of being and by that very fact confirms that the claim precedes being and alone makes it possible. The pure form of the call comes into play before any specification, even of being.’ This is rather dizzyingly rarefied; in prising the claim structure apart from being and siting it ‘beyond being’ is Marion making an apologetic attempt to discern the presence of a Creator through a depreciation of being? In ascribing such powers to ennui Marion seems to betray a notion of being as a projection of Dasein, a quasi-idealistic understanding from which Heidegger increasingly distanced himseif, and to miss the simplicity and undeniability of the Es gibt.
Dasein’s refusal to hear the call of being reveals a new existential, ‘a counter-existential, which suspends Dasein’s state of being destined to being’ to which corresponds ‘a new abyss, anterior, or at least irreducible, to being’, namely ‘the pure form of the call’ which is the unrecognized ‘condition of possibility of Heidegger’s call of being. Here it seems that a unitary logic that insists on the primacy of a single principle, whether being, or the call in general, or love, or the other, or God, suppresses the plurality of forms which each of these take and the ample room for interaction between them. Is not the human being always addressed by many calls, irreducible in their variety: the quiet call of being, the urgent call of duty, the cry of the oppressed, the lure of the beautiful; this variety of calls is found within the biblical kerygma alone - which is not exhausted by the ‘Hear, O Israel!’ of Deuteronomy 6.4. (See Réduction et donation, pp. 297, 283, 296, 295).
A more originary language of faith is not to be constructed from a general unitary form – whether the Ereignis or the pure form of the call or the Word of God. It can emerge only from a plunge into the concrete texture of the world of faith, both in its past sources and its present enactments. One might distil pure forms of logic or ontology independently of the complexities of the metaphysicai tradition, but there are no such pure forms in the world of faith, because that world is not a unitary realm. There is no eidetic science of the religious, either to be read off from a privileged tradition (the form of love from Christianity, the form of spiritual liberation from Buddhism), or to be constructed a priori and later filled with concrete content. In this respect faith is more like art or literature than like ontology or logic.
Not only does Christian identity vary from epoch to epoch and from culture to culture but it is constitutionally dependent on its others: the question what Christian faith is cannot be thought through to the end without an ongoing reference to Judaism, Islam, modern secularism, Hinduism, Buddhism. This means that the question is never fully thought out. Christian faith remains an open-ended project, intersecting with many other open-ended projects. God is revealed and is at work in Christianity, but not in such a way as to curtail or disrupt its dialogal dependence on the other traditions that coexist with it; and by Christian principles God is revealed and at work in all those other traditions as well. Christianity is far more a diachronic adventure than a synchronic system of tenets.The involvement with metaphysics is an important part of this story, which cannot undone by a single leap el sewhere. It is a story to be told and retold, therapeutically. Its significance cannot be encapsulated in a single definitive Wesensschau.
These remarks may apply also to Levinas’s reduction of ontology to a prior foundation in the claim of the other person (Heidegger et la question de Dieu, pp. 238-47). That claim seems to arise in an ontotogical desert – to the point that being lacks the certainty of its ‘justification’, which it can find only by attending to the moral claim which alone is ultimately or originally significant. But a quarrel of precedence between ethics and ontology supposes that both are grasped as unitary instances. The radical pluralism to which the ethical tear in the texture of ontology points is missed when one talks of grounding ontology in ethics. This unconvincing hierarchy of grounding relationships – metaphysics founded on Seinsdenken founded on the ethical – must yield to a pluralistic autonomy of all three instances, each an end in itself, or rather, each a language in itself, intersecting the others richly, but not in a way that admits a synthetic concord of the three languages. There is a touch of absolutism in the refusal of Heidegger, Levinas and Marion to entertain such a possibility. Heidegger does dally with it a little, in leaving the relation of his thought to theology and to ‘the other great beginnings’ open-ended; but usually only to quickly add the Parmenidean warning that whatever is ‘comes to pass in the dimension of being’ (GA 15:437).
To set this dimension against the creation.perspective is to be deceived by abstractions. If one lets both languages melt back into their historical contexts, it may be found that both have valuable functions, but that neither can serve as an all-purpose explication of the world. Unless this is done each style of thought is doomed to wage iconoclastic war against the other. Thus Beaufret has to repress the biblical Creator: the music of Bach, though used to celebrate the divine primacy, ‘speaks of the relation of the divine to the Uni-fourfold rather than of its isolation as supremacy over the rest of what is’. ‘Being in the Greek sense opens no possible access to the God of the Bible, but to a “theology” completely other than that of the Creator of heaven and earth’ (Heidegger et la question de Dieu, pp. 31, 34). Heidegger tries to bring Christ, the prophets and the Holy Spirit under the aegis of a Hellenic and Hölderlinian notion of the sacred (Vorträge und Aufsätze, p. 183). This effort to grasp the biblical in terms of the fourfold never succeeds; it is feit to be the imposition of an idolatrous screen cutting short the movement of faith which the phenomena evoke. But the converse imposition of the creation-perspective on other poetic apprehensions of nature may equally lack phenomenoiogical justice.
M. Zimmerman makes a suggestion which Heidegger himself does not explicitly rule out:
Does this conception of God exhaust the Jewish tradition of the Creator? Or does the Jewish tradition have a non-productionist, non-metaphysical experience of God, one that was ‘corrupted’ at the hands of St. Paul, St. John and other early Christians influenced by Greek metaphysics, especially Platonism? If the Jewish God may be construed as non-metaphysical then perhaps there is another possibility for renewing the West: an originary encounter with the God of the Old Testament. (Heidegger’s Confrontation with Modernity, Indiana UP, 1990, p. 183) (Zimmerman’s discussion of ‘productionist metaphysics’, like so many discussions of onto-theology, fails to engage Heidegger‘s critique of the principle of reason and his awareness of the force of that principle.)
One should add: an originary encounter with the God of St Paul and St John, who is essentially Spirit, and only to a minor degree shaped by Hellenistic conceptions; and indeed with the God of Christian faith of all periods, who is always in tension with the metaphysical constructions of his nature. ‘Lift up your eyes on high and see: who created these? He who brings out their host by number, calling them all by name’ (Isaiah 40:26, RSV). In such texts the event of creation (of absolute divine Lordship) is in resonance with the election and liberation of Israel and the confounding of the might of the nations and their false gods. There are many other traditional ways of imagining creation, each of which deserves close literary and phenomenological study. None of them are simply reducible to productionism, not even the Johannine ‘all things were made (egeneto) through him’ (Jn 1:3) or the Pauline ‘since the creation of the world his invisible nature… has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made’ (Rom. 1:20), though in this latter text a Greek metaphysical component is undeniable.The rhetoric of Creation seems to license talk of God as ground, usually in a sense that would be more pleasing to Samuel Clarke than to Leibniz; but closer phenomenological analysis of it may show that it frustrates the quest for grounds. The multiplicity of ways of conceiving the Creator dissolves the unitary notion of ground into a plurality of projections of the absolute or the supreme real. Our thought, our faith, are drawn toward this realm, but can never reach a point of arrest; they reach out into the plurality of the mystery as art reaches out. It turns out that the inherited conceptions of God are only starting-points in the dialogue about that reality to which talk of God points, a reality that can henceforth be explored only in dialogue with Buddhism. That reality is in some sense ‘grounding’ but how this is to be said and thought remains more than ever an open question.
From C. Macann, ed. Critical Perspectives: Martin Heidegger, Routledge, 1992.