The Significance of Heidegger and His History of Philosophy for Russia — Part 2

The Significance of Heidegger and His History of Philosophy for Russia — Part 2

Translated by Michael Millerman. Founder of - online philosophy and politics courses on Plato, Aristotle, Nietzsche, Heidegger, Dugin, Strauss, and more.

Philosophy of the evening

For Heidegger, the history of the West is the history of Western philosophy. That is, philosophy expresses in itself the deep content of the whole historical process. At the same time, Heidegger, as well as Husserl and all Western European thinkers, identifies the fate of the West [Zapad] with the universal fate of humanity, which in its life cycle is fated to move towards the sunset [Zakat], to the “behindfalling” [za-pad] of its spiritual sun. The West is a place of sunset, where the sun “falls,” goes to sleep. “West” in German is “Abendland,” “the country of the evening.” The evening is, in a sense, the eschaton and the telos of the day cycle. Whatever part of the day we might be in - morning or afternoon - sooner or later we will face the horizon of the evening, the West, the sunset. Western European philosophy is universal in the sense that everything comes to its decline [Zakat] sooner or later.14 Therefore, he who thinks about the end, about the evening, about the twilight of being, thinks not only about himself, but about everyone who is sooner or later fated to reach this point.

Therefore, for Heidegger the homology is just: world history is reducible to the history of Western culture and civilization; and the history of Western culture and civilization is reducible to the history of Western philosophy. Consequently, world history is reducible to the history of Western philosophy. Therefore, the structure of Western philosophy as a process is a concentrated expression of the “destiny of being” (Seynsgeschichte).15

This logic of historical finalism (typologically repeating Hegel’s pattern of thinking, only at a different, existential rather than conceptual level) predetermines one more homology: the teleologism of the history of philosophy itself, which leads to the eschaton. Being of the evening, by definition, this history eventuates at the point of midnight, which is the goal and limit to which the whole process is directed. Heidegger leads us to the idea that the end point of Western European philosophy is the most important point in the whole process of its unfolding and therefore can be taken as the main moment of its content.

Thus, the homologous chain receives the last element: the history of humanity is reduced to the history of Western European humanity, which, in turn, reduces to the history of Western European philosophy and then to the end point of Western European philosophy.

But just such a scheme is what is necessary for the actualization of Russian philosophy. If we trust Heidegger, we will get exactly what we need as a prerequisite for living philosophical thinking. We get not just a moment of Western philosophy, but the algorithm of this philosophy, and close to its end, which, in this interpretation, means the introduction to the most significant thing in this philosophy; after all, this is the philosophy of sunset [zakat], where the most important element is night and its structure. Heidegger in this case becomes the sought-for possibility of Russian philosophy, allowing us to relate to its schematically described whole.

Heidegger, the hologram, and the hermeneutic circle

Reconstruction of the history of Heidegger’s philosophy requires supplementing the more or less well-known and explored periods of his work with an understanding of the meaning of the middle period when Heidegger’s thought (according to the famous “Letter on Humanism,” to his French friend and correspondent Jean Beaufret) was primarily concerned with the problem of Ereignis. 16

The fact that Heidegger is the greatest representative of the Western European tradition is not disputed by anyone, no matter their attitude towards him. But the understanding that Heidegger drew a clear picture of the history of the Western European philosophical tradition, its meaning and destiny, is much less common. However, acquaintance with all three periods of his work and correct reconstruction of the structure of his philosophical thought allows us to present Heidegger's concept of the history of philosophy with all its unambiguity. Decisive for us is not whether this historical-philosophical picture is fair or problematic. It is important for us to state that it exists, that it is systematically and structurally described, which means that it can be used as a full-fledged philosophical apparatus, as a methodology and a hologram.

After clarifying the structure of the Heideggerian concept of the history of philosophy and distinguishing its phases and stages from the perspective of the philosopher himself, we - as Russians, looking from the Russian [perspective] (which means from the indefinite) - will be free to treat it differently, critically and uncritically. In the first case, having clarified the structure of this history of philosophy, we decide to not trust it; in the second - to trust it, to take it as reliable.

Here, the question arises of hermeneutics and the problem of the “hermeneutic circle,” which concerned Dilthey and Gadamer. Understanding is possible only when correlating the particular with the general. But a better understanding of the general affects (changes) the understanding of the particular, and an understanding of the private transforms the vision of the general; in the process of comprehension, two unknowns are clarified, which correct each other, but which can never be completely determined by themselves, without correlation with the other. Therefore, in the process of cognition, presumptions of both the whole and the relatively particular always appear, which are clarified (sometimes refuted and replaced by others) in the course of the hermeneutic practice itself.

With regard to Heidegger and the interpretation of his philosophy, we face the same hermeneutic problem. In order to correctly evaluate its place in the process of Western European philosophy, we are forced to have a general scheme of this process (the hypothesis of the whole and its structure). But we have to find this scheme somewhere. We can borrow it either from Heidegger or not from Heidegger. In the first case, we can use his history of philosophy (which, as we have seen, exists, especially if we carefully examine the theses of the middle period of his work of the 1930s - 1940s) as a whole, starting from which we will consider the whole structure of Western European philosophy and Heidegger’s place in it. Of course, according to the logic of the hermeneutic process, we will be able in parallel to specify both the meaning of the history of philosophy as a whole and our philosopher’s place in it, which can lead to results different from the ready-made formulas put forward by Heidegger himself. But the starting scheme of the hermeneutic circle will be just that. We can say that in this case, we trust Heidegger and move along the hermeneutic axis proposed by him. Where this movement will lead is obviously difficult to say.

The second option is that we do not trust Heidegger’s history of philosophy (for example, not recognizing its legitimacy, or, which happens more often, not spending the effort to study it and understand it consistently), and therefore should take as a whole a different version of the history of philosophy. This is where the difficulties begin.

The fact is that very few authors were engaged in the creation of a coherent history of philosophy in the West, and among the figures of the first magnitude only a few can be recalled. The first and largely unsurpassed initiative of this kind so far was the philosophy of Aristotle. In the 19th century Hegel established the history of philosophy as the highest manifestation of philosophy itself, creating the prerequisites for a wide range of philosophical theories, Marxism in particular, which was extremely popular in the 19th and 20th centuries. Moreover, for these and other impressive histories of philosophy, to one degree or another, the principle of holography acted: these philosophies themselves were thought of as a synthetic generalization of the historical-philosophical process. The history of philosophy and philosophy of Aristotle were located at the beginning of the history of philosophy, opening its first pages and summing up the “preface” (pre-Socratic thought). Hegel thought of himself as a thinker completing the historicalphilosophical process, finding in his writings its teleological end (in accordance with the teachings on the Absolute Idea and the phases of its dialectical deployment). Other “nonholographic” attempts to offer a history of philosophy as an open process, most often represented formally descriptive, rather than semantically structured models (Johann Franz Buddeus (1667-1729), Johann Jakob Brucker (1696-1770) and so on, up to Bertrand Russell (1872-1970)). In them, the history of philosophy was conceived not as a whole, but as a sequence of moments. At the same time, the presence or absence of the holographic construction of the history of philosophy for the Western European philosophers themselves was uncritical, since they naturally belonged to this process and were inside a culture built on philosophical grounds, which obviously predetermined their implicit complicity in what might not be explicitly formulated. In other words, an open, purely descriptive history of philosophy or, in general, the absence of any kind of history of philosophy, was not a serious problem for Western European philosophers. They could well do without it.

Russian philosophy is a completely different thing. It felt an urgent need for a summing hologram in order to correctly interact with and relate to each of the real moments of Western philosophy (that is, the teachings of one or another philosopher). Without an image of the “whole,” it could not be what it should have been.

Therefore, we face a serious problem in the Russian cultural context: if we refuse to trust Heidegger’s history of philosophy, we will have to place the philosopher himself in some other historical and philosophical context on the basis of correlation with another “whole.” And here there is little choice: it is hardly correct to interpret Heidegger based on the history of the philosophy of Aristotle (the illuminating moment of the beginning of the philosophical tradition) or on the Hegelian or Marxist schemes of the “sought” whole. Marxist readings of Heidegger in the Soviet school of philosophy did not give any results except for misunderstandings, and Western currents of Marxism and rqaCJ-Marxism, which absorbed, apart from Marx and Hegelian dialectics, many more philosophical elements from other contexts (Kantianism, phenomenology, Freudianism, existentialism, structuralism, the philosophy of language, Nietzscheanism, etc.), failed to bring these areas into a general updated history of philosophy, or did not set themselves such a task. In such a situation, the projection of Hegelianism onto Heidegger’s interpretation would simply be an anachronism, especially since Hegelianism did not survive in the twentieth century in pure form, and its diverse interpretations (including critical ones) were transformed into a spectrum of conflicting philosophical systems that darkened the original clarity and conviction of Hegel himself.

The question of trusting or not trusting the history of Heidegger’s philosophy is thus acute for those who are thinking about the possibility of Russian philosophy, and the choice “not to trust” seems even more difficult and prob- lematic than “to trust.” To account for this, it is necessary to emphasize once again that this problem does not arise for Western philosophy. Heidegger’s history of philosophy can be taken into account or not taken into account with the same success: organic cultural participation in the history of philosophy is guaranteed by the “rootedness” of the Western thinker in the cultural environment, and for this no special hologram is required.

This gap of cultural context, however, can give the Russians, interested in philosophy, the illusion that, through direct imitation of Western philosophers, one can do without the “whole.” Here lies the error: it is possible for Europeans, it is impossible for us. If we want to relate to the hermeneutic circle of Western philosophy, we can not do without the image of the “whole,” only after that we gain the possibility of full-fledged philosophizing.

My thesis is as follows. At the previous stages of the 19th and 20th centuries, the possibility of Russian philosophy was justified by referring to the Hegelian history of philosophy, on which we had been building the process of Russian philosophizing for almost two hundred years. Seen from this angle, the Marxism of the Soviet period fits perfectly - after all, Marxism also represented a capacious and holographic, teleological and eschatological version of the history of philosophy. But today the legitimacy and constructiveness of the Hegelian-Marxist history of philosophy has been exhausted for us. We took from it the maximum of what was possible and exhausted this paradigm. Therefore, we must again - now with the support of new historical and philosophical constructions - substantiate the possibility of Russian philosophy. And it is proposed to take as such a historical-philosophical hologram, as a basis for entering the hermeneutic circle, Martin Heidegger’s philosophy. To do this, we must set aside our mistrust, and, on the contrary, treat Heidegger’s philosophy - albeit at the first stage - with trust and openness, with a kind of gnoseological empathy. If we will be successful, we will obtain in a new historical era a ground for Russian philosophy to be.

Three stages of Heidegger’s philosophical work

As previously noted, it is common in Heidegger studies to divide his philosophical cycle into an early period (phenomenological studies and writing Sein und Zeit), a middle period (little-known, occurring as thought about Ereignis, and including the series of lectures on Nietzsche, the Holzwege, and the lecture cycles of the 1930s, combined into the posthumous collections Beiträge zur Philosopie, Von den Anfang, Geschichte des Seyns, etc.), and a late period (connected with the philosophy of language and the formalization of the description of Geviert).

At all these stages, separate elements of the Heideggerian history of philosophy are scattered in various works. If we aim at their identification, consolidation, and systematic description, we will find them in the earliest works, in Sein und Zeit, and in the hermeneutic period. But they are set out especially explicitly in the middle period. Beiträge zur Philosophie and Geschichte des Seyns, in general, are abstracts of lectures arranged as a history of philosophy, and Einführung in die Metaphysik sheds light on the structure of this history of philosophy and its ontological basis. From this perspective, the famous Heideggerian theory of Dasein will be revealed as the culminating point of the historical and philosophical process, on which this process teleologically converges.

Thus, the works of Heidegger’s middle period give us a framework for clarifying his historical and philosophical schema, onto which theories from other periods of his works are superimposed.

Heidegger’s schema of the history of philosophy

Heidegger’s reconstruction of the history of philosophy can be schematically described as follows.

The birth of philosophy in pre-Socratic thought is the great triad of Anaximander, Heraclitus, and Parmenides, which is the first Beginning or the great Beginning.

Here philosophy comes from pre-philosophy or nonphilosophy, from thinking. Its forerunner several centuries earlier was Homer's poetic genius.

According to Heidegger, the first Beginning of philosophy is characterized by the decision of the ontological problem, the question of what is being and how it should be understood. This problem first acquires a clear form in Heraclitus’s teaching on physis and logos. Being as that which makes what is, that which it is, is conceived in the great Beginning as “physis,” that is, the opening, ascending, revealing “power of presence.” For Heidegger, in this teaching of Heraclitus lies the radiant triumph of philosophy and at the same time the first birth of that tendency, which - much later - will lead philosophy to its End. The identification of “being” with “physis” is only a half-correct solution of the ontological problem. Of course, Heidegger thinks, being is physis, the generating force of the world, bringing things and beings to the light of presence, into openness, making the existent [sushcheye] existent, that which is. In this sense, being is an existent [bytiye i yest' sushcheye], all existence as a whole, that is, physis. But this starting point of philosophy — with all its fundamental majesty — already contains a certain error: by celebrating being as presence and bringing to presence, as existent, the pre-Socratic ontology overlooks the other side of being — the one that leads the existent to nonexistence, to death, the one that nihilates, annihilates the existent. Nothing is hidden behind being, apprehended only as “physis,” disappearing in it. And Parmenides in his famous poem will consolidate this disappearance by the formula “non-being is not.” According to Heidegger, nonbeing, nothing (Nichts) as the to-not (Nichten) is indeed. And pure ontology would have to initially put this “to-not” inside physis, see it in being as its opposite side, different from it and at the same time identical with it. But Greek thought took a different path: it focused on “being” as “physis,” losing sight of “nothing” (because of its nothingness). Thereby, already in the great Beginning, a certain gap arose between how philosophy began to take shape and how it should have taken shape if the ontological problem had been formulated properly. The gap between how it was historically and how it should have been gave rise to two points in the structure of ontology, through which a straight line was drawn that predetermined all the other stages of the history of Western philosophy. As a result, we got a ray with both a trajectory (a line) and an orientation (a direction vector, going from how one should have understood being to how it should not have been understood). Already in the first Beginning, Heraclitus and Parmenides formalize the fundamental configuration of the entire historical and philosophical process. This process is structured by the main paradigm: a progressive “retreat from being,” “loss of being”, “forgetting about being.”

Logos and nihilism

Compensation for the loss of the distinction of the nihilating side of being in being as “physis” was the appearance of the “logos.” “Logos,” which Heidegger interprets etymologically as “harvest,” “harvesting,” becomes a priority topos, in which the nothing that is lost in the understanding of being as “physis” reminds of itself. This is the specificity of philosophy, the introduction into the game of an nihilating logos, placed this time not in being (as it should have been), but outside of it, at the conditional point that later will become with Aristotle the “upokeimenon” and in modernity the Cartesian “subject.”

Heidegger identifies the work of the logos in the procedure of “techne,” or in what he later calls “Gestell.” If the existence of the world begins to be thought of as a predominantly positive presence, then nothing concentrates more and more on the side of cognition and its dual topos. Cognition as a process is the root of “techne,” in which there is a rigid splitting of being into physis and logos, into the cognizable and cognizing, which further leads to the arrangement in the center of precisely the the cognizer, the carrier of the logos, deploying its nihilating power onto the sphere of physis, conquering being and in the end, reproducing being as an artificial product. In this limit of the development of the technical beginning, the triumph of nihilism manifests itself.

Logos should have been inside physis, but it turned out to be outside, and this became the fate of Western European philosophy, the fate of the West, as well as the meaning and content of its unfolding.


14. Heidegger M. The History of Beyng

15. Heidegger M. The History of Beyng

16. Heidegger, M. 1978. “Letter on Humanism,” in Basic Writings: Nine Key Essays, plus the Introduction to Being and Time. London: Routledge

The Significance of Heidegger and His History of Philosophy for Russia — Part 1