Stanford scholar upends interpretation of philosopher Martin Heidegger

Introduction 1 Getting to the Topic διορίσωμεν What, after all, was Heidegger’s philosophy about? The usual answer has been “being” (das Sein), at least since the early 1960s when William J. Richardson and Otto Pöggeler crafted their brilliant and still dominant paradigms for understanding Heidegger. But the uncertainty of Heidegger scholarship is nowhere more evident than with that key term. What, in fact, does Martin Heidegger mean by “being”? This is the first question we must take up. To show that the problem of being has troubled Western philosophers from ancient times, Heidegger opens his major work, Being and Time, by citing a passage from Plato’s Sophist, where the Eleatic Stranger asks his dialogue partners Theaetetus and Theodorus: How are we to understand this being (τὸ εἶναι) of yours? . . . We are at an impasse, so explain to us what you mean when you say “being” (ὄν). It’s obvious that you have long known what you mean by these things, whereas we who formerly imagined we knew are now baffled.1 Much the same thing might be said about Heidegger. He may have known what he meant by “Sein,” but he did not always make that clear to the rest of us. In fact, we might well make our own the plea that the Eleatic Stranger expresses in the next sentence of The Sophist: “So first teach us this very thing so that we won’t seem to know what you told us when in fact we do not.”2 Heidegger’s remark on Heraclitus’ fragment 72 articulates that same problem in yet other terms. Without naming who the “they” might be, he says, “They say ‘is’ without knowing what ‘is’ really means.”3 This puzzlement goes to the heart of Heidegger’s project. So, as Aristotle advises, “Let us make some distinctions.” Was Heidegger’s central and final topic “being”? In his later years he said it was not. When it comes down to “the thing itself” (die Sache selbst) of his work, he declared “there is no longer room even for the word ‘being.’”4 Then was his topic something “being-er than being” (wesender als das Sein)?5 And could that perhaps be “being itself,” das Sein selbst, understood as “something that exists for itself, whose independence is the true essence of ‘being’”?6 And if so, how exactly does “being itself” differ (if it differs at all) from “being” as the being-of-beings (das Sein des Seienden) or being as the beingness-of-beings (die Seiendheit des Seienden)? Or was his topic not Sein but perhaps Seyn? Or was it rather Seyn qua 7—and if so, what might that mean? Or was his topic not “being” in any of its instances or spellings but rather the meaning of being (der Sinn vom Sein)? But according to Heidegger we already know what the meaning of being is. From the ancient Greeks onward, the terms εἶναι, οὐσία, esse, das Sein (and so on) have all meant the “constant, steadfast presence” of things.8 And whereas the theme of presence occupies much of Heidegger’s thought, it was not his final focus. In that case, was he after the essence of being (das Wesen des Seins)? Or was it, rather, the essencing of the truth of being, die Wesung der Wahrheit des Seins?9 Or was it the truth of the essencing of being, die Wahrheit der Wesung des Seyns?10 Or was Heidegger’s topic none of the above but, instead, the clearing (die Lichtung)? Or “appropriation” (Ereignis)? Or ἀλήϑεια? Or perhaps the Λήϑη that lurks within ἀλήϑεια? Or was it the ontological difference?11 There is, in fact, considerable confusion at the heart of the Heideggerian enterprise, and it may not be the fault of Heidegger scholars. Heidegger himself said that “it remains unclear what we are supposed to think under the name ‘being.’”12 In the partly fictitious “Dialogue on Language,” based on a 1953–1954 conversation, Heidegger’s interlocutor, Professor Tomio Tezuka of the Imperial University of Tokyo, lays most of the blame for the muddle at Heidegger’s own doorstep. Tezuka: [The problem is due] mainly to the confusion that was created by your ambiguous use of the word “Sein.” Heidegger: You are right. [Nonetheless, my thinking] knows clearly the distinction between “Sein” as the “Sein des Seienden” and “Sein” as “Sein” with regard to its own proper sense, which is dis-closedness (clearing). Tezuka: Then why didn’t you immediately and decisively hand back the word “Sein” exclusively to the language of metaphysics? Why didn’t you immediately give your own name to what you were seeking as the “meaning of Sein” on your path through the essence of time? Heidegger: How can I give a name to what I’m still searching for? Finding it would depend on assigning to it the word that would name it. Tezuka: Then we have to endure the confusion that has arisen.13 And indeed, for some eighty years Heidegger’s readers have had to endure an avalanche of confusion (needless confusion, as I hope to show) in trying to sort out exactly what Heidegger meant by Sein and its cognates. Consider the number of German terms that Heidegger himself gathers around the term “being.” How are we to distinguish (if we are to distinguish) one from the other? seiend14 “das Seiend” when it is equivalent to “das Sein”15 “Seiend und seiend ist nicht ohne weiteres dasselbe.”16 das Seiende17 das 18 das Nichtseiende19 seiender20 das Seiendere21 “Seienderes” in scare quotes in the phrase “es gibt ‘Seienderes’”22 das Seiendste23 “Wassein als das Seiendste”24 “Das Seyn ist das Seiendste”25 “Gott ist . . . das Seiendste”26 das Seiend-seiende27 das seiende Sein28 das seiend-Sein29 das Seiendsein30 das Seiend-sein31 die Seiendheit “Seiendheit ist das Sein”32 das Sein (four different meanings)33 das Sein des Seienden das Sein selbst das Sein als solches “Sein” in the line-up “Sein, Wahrheit, , Ereignis”34 “Sein” in scare quotes in the phrase “‘das Sein’ (Austrag)”35 “Sein” without scare quotes in the phrase “Sein disappears in Ereignis”36 “Sein” in scare quotes in the phrase “‘Sein’ disappears in Wahrheit”37 “Sein” in scare quotes in the phrase “‘Sein’ als Wahrheit des Seins”38 das 39 “Sein” in the phrase “Das Sein ‘ist’—(nicht hat Sein)”40 “Sein” and “ist” when written as: “ | ”41 “Seinen” as a verbal noun42 das Seyn43 das Seyn as das Seyende44 das Seyn as “das Seyende” in scare quotes45 “sey” and “sei,” both in the subjunctive46 “Seyn—: Seiendes als Seiendes”47 das Seyn selbst48 das Seyn des Seyns49 “Seyn—ein Vorname seiner selbst”50 “Sein (Seyn) als Ereignis”51 “Seyn” in the phrase “Das Seyn des Da—aber transitiv!”52 das 53 das Wesen des 54 “ ist . . . das Ereignis”55 “Seyn qua Ereignis”56 “Sein ist Seyn”57 Sein ≠ Seyn58 “‘Sein’ als ‘Seyn’” with both nouns in scare quotes59 “Seyn als Seyn”60 both without scare quotes Seyn qua ”61 “Seyn ist nicht ”62 “Seyn und Sein”63 “das Seyn als die Wahrheit des Seyns”64 “das Seyn” in the phrase “die Wesung der Wahrheit des Seyns”65 “das Seyn” in the phrase “die Wahrheit der Wesung des Seyns”66 “Das Was-sein ist das Daß-sein”67 Erseyn68 erseyn in italics in the phrase “Das Da—erseyn”69 das Isten70

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