The Significance of Heidegger and His History of Philosophy for Russia — Part 3

The Significance of Heidegger and His History of Philosophy for Russia — Part 3

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

The End of the first Beginning

If the main tendency of Western European philosophy was only outlined in Heraclitus and Parmenides, in Plato and Aristotle its path was clearly fixed. Heidegger calls Platonism and Aristotelianism the “End of the first Beginning.” This is still absolutely Greek philosophical thought, breathing ontology and being, but the possibility of interpreting being as something open, the possibility of placing the logos not outside physis, but inside it, is here removed from the agenda. Plato's doctrine of ideas fixes the prerequisites of the referential theory of truth, formulated fully, which consists in the search for the correspondence of the speculative principle (the idea) and the things of the natural world. The implementation of this operation concerns reason, the logos.

Being is henceforth thought of as a being, only as the highest being or beings-as-a-whole. Moreover, it is not just a dynamic of natural power, pushing a thing to presence, but a fixed and static visual image, a moment of “luminous intellectual perception” [svetovogo sozertsaniya].

According to Heidegger, this is a fundamental and irreversible step in the diminution of the status of being, now equivalent not simply to physis, but to the idea. Symmetrically to this, the logos, in turn, makes a serious step towards nihilism and the technical relation to the world; the metaphor of the demiurge god, the worker, the artisan who technically manufactures the world starting from fixed images-ideas, begins to dominate.

In his philosophy and history of philosophy, Aristotle fixes the qualitative moment of the End of the pre-Socratic period of Western philosophy. This is an end in all senses, termination (withdrawal) and fulfillment, that is, the achievement of complete maturity, perfection, the fullness of what was incorporated in the thinking of the pre-Socrates. The philosophy of Aristotle is the hologram of all early Greek philosophy. It summarizes the previous period and lays the foundation for further stages, which is true not only for the Stoics, but also for the later scholastic period of Western philosophy, and also, to a large extent, for modernity (after all, Kant remarked that the field of logic has not advanced a single step since Aristotle's philosophy).

According to Heidegger, Plato and Aristotle mark the moment of completion of the philosophical Beginning. Next comes the middle period associated with Christianity and scholasticism and, in the broadest sense, called the “Middle Ages.” From the historical and philosophical point of view, these centuries are called “Middle” precisely because they occupy an intermediate position between the philosophy of Antiquity (the philosophy of the first Beginning) and the philosophy of modernity.

The Middle Ages

Heidegger studied medieval philosophy meticulously in the early stages of his teaching at the University of Freiburg; later he paid very little attention to it. From his point of view, Nietzsche’s formula that “Christianity is Platonism for the masses” is an exhaustive axiom for summing up the philosophical state of affairs with medieval philosophy. For Heidegger, Christian scholasticism is the development of the philosophical step that Plato made in principle, putting the idea (the highest idea, the idea of good) in the place of being, thus fundamentally removing being from the sphere of philosophical thinking, replacing epistemological and ontological problems. Theology continues the same tendency, putting God in the place of the highest being, that is, remaining in the same Platonic paradigm.

For Heidegger nothing fundamentally new happens in the Middle Ages. Philosophy moves in the path predestined for it by the pre-Socratics and especially Plato and Aristotle.

Modernity – Descartes

But a truly interesting time for Heidegger is modernity. He defines it as the “Beginning of the End” (symmetrical to how Platonism was for him the End of the first Beginning). Modernity unfreezes medieval scholastic Platonism and gives free rein to the nihilistic power of the logos. At the center of this process is Descartes with his dual construction of subject and object. The subject replaces logos, the object physis. At the same time, Heidegger believes that in this modern philosophy approaches a more direct formulation of the problem: the rejection of ideas and the appeal to rational logical thinking directly as a subject reveals the very essence of the philosophical problem laid down in the era of the Beginning of philosophy. Cartesian rationalism, English empiricism, Newton and all other areas of modern philosophy (from Spinoza and Leibniz to Kant) develop in the field of more acute problematisation of ontology, where things are called by their own names.

Thus, Descartes, with his cogito, openly places the argument about ontology in the field of epistemology, making it a derivative of the logos, of reason. According to Heidegger, this is the beginning of the clear domination of the technical attitude to the world and man; man becomes a technician in relation to nature-object, and Gestell, earlier veiled, exposes its historico-philosophical power. Philosophy itself becomes more and more a technical occupation, a technique of thinking, which boils down to methods of calculation and evaluation. In other words, in modernity nihilism as the essence of Western European philosophy is revealed in full.

Hegel and Nietzsche

Modernity ends, according to Heidegger, in Hegel’s philosophy, and Nietzsche is its last chord.

Hegel makes his history of philosophy a grandiose, monumental creation of the Western European spirit, concentrating in itself the destiny of the Absolute Idea, embodied during the “end of history” in the subjective spirit of the Western European culture of modernity. Hegel seriously poses the question of the relationship between being and nothing, being and knowledge, building his dialectic on that. In his summarizing work, Hegel, according to Heidegger, still remains within the framework of Western European metaphysics, thinks with the help of “concepts” and “categories,” that is, he is still in the space of the referential theory of truth and the common European philosophical topos. Hegelian ontology for Heidegger is the maximum approximation to what true ontology should have been (hence Hegel’s enormous attention to Heraclitus and the pre-Socrates, who thought on a symmetrical segment of the history of philosophy - but only in the era of the Beginning, while Hegel himself thinks in the era of the End), but the approximation is fatally incorrect due precisely to its belonging to the old metaphysics, its structures and methods.

Nietzsche philosophizes even more honestly and frankly. He directly proclaims “European nihilism,” the crisis of Western metaphysics and the “death of God,” exposes the “will to power” as the basis of the historical process and, therefore, the basis of philosophy and the history of philosophy. At the same time, Heidegger believes that Nietzsche, who demolished metaphysics, did not make a single step beyond its borders, but became precisely the last metaphysical thinker of the Western European tradition. The Nietzschean “superman” and “will to power,” according to Heidegger, do not at all indicate a new horizon of thinking, but only the absolutization of the nihilistic nature of logos and the highest concentration of Gestell.

In other words, Nietzsche is not only not an alternative, but represents a genuine and accomplished End, the End of Western European philosophy and, accordingly, the end of philosophy itself.

So, along with Hegel and Nietzsche, Western European philosophy goes through a full cycle from the first (great) Beginning through the middle (medieval, in a broad sense) period to the Beginning of the End in Descartes and the complete and irreversible End in Hegel and, especially, Nietzsche. Starting with a somewhat inaccurate definition of being as physis, and only as physis, Western philosophy entered its fatefully predetermined history (destiny), the only content of which was progressive deontologization, loss of being, growth of nihilism, techne, Gestell, nihilating reason as an expression of the will to power. Being declined [ubyvalo] until it had declined completely.

But this, according to Heidegger, is the destiny of the West as the “Land of Evening” (Abendland). The decline [Ubyvaniye] of being is the lot of the West and the meaning of the history of philosophy as a purely Western phenomenon. Deontologization, concealment of being, and the onset of a nihilistic night are not an accident and not a catastrophe, and even not a consequence of error — this is a statement of philosophical geography. The light goes out there and then when it must. And when it must, the darkness sets in, the “Great Midnight”.

According to this reconstruction, Western philosophy is over. The remaining time can be devoted to understanding this ending, describing and interpreting the meaning of this event.

But Heidegger has another theme that predetermines the cutting edge of his thought in the 1930s and the first half of the 1940s. This is the thought about another Beginning or about “Ereignis.”

Another Beginning

In the middle period of his work, Heidegger focuses his attention on the concept of “Ereignis” and the theme of another Beginning that is directly connected with it. Ereignis is, according to Heidegger, another Beginning. 17 But this is not just an “event” (“event” is a literal translation of “Ereignis”), but the possibility of an “event,” an “accomplishment” having a fundamental philosophical meaning.

Another Beginning – that is that Beginning which did not begin in pre-Socratic thought. It is an understanding of being that includes nothing in being as its necessary component; which, identifying being with existence and physis, emphasizes that this identification does not exhaust being, since being is simultaneously non-existent, non-being, nothing, as well as that which makes a being not only existent but non-existent, that is, that which is nihilates. Being in another Beginning must (should) be recognized both as that which is, and as that which is not, but that, although not a being, nevertheless is (non-being is, in spite of Parmenides).

The whole history of philosophy is distancing from the possibility of Ereignis, is primarily non-Ereignis, as embodied in deontologization and oblivion of being, in Gestell and techne. But the negative Heideggerian interpretation of the historico-philosophical process as a non-Ereignis carries an opposite indication of Ereignis itself, if only to decipher this process as a narration not of what it is in itself, but of what it is not, and that non-manifestation is its highest and chief meaning. Western philosophy, recognized as a progressive distancing from truth, its gradual concealment, is a paradoxical form of finding the truth itself through its dialectical denial and veiling. Therefore, Ereignis and another Beginning should be sought not elsewhere, beyond the limits of Western European philosophy, but in it, in its inversely interpreted content. The very fact of distancing from being in the course of the unfolding of the history of philosophy is a reverse indication of the significance of being and how one should think of it.

Heidegger describes the correct thinking of being in the framework of “authentic” (eigene) existence through the graphic figure of Geviert, the fourfold.18 Two pairs of opposites intersect in it, representing ontological unity: 1) Sky (“world”, in some versions) and 2) Earth, 3) mortals (people) and 4) gods (immortals). This image, borrowed from Hölderlin’s poetry, leading, by the way, to Plato, where in Heraclitan enmity four world domains of being converge among themselves, describes how one should understand being in another Beginning.

Another Beginning, according to Heidegger, must be born directly from the End of philosophy, if only this end is correctly decoded and recognized. On this point, Heidegger quotes lines from Hölderlin: “Where the danger is, grows the saving power also.”19 To transition to another Beginning, you need to take not a step to the side, not many steps back, but a step forward. However, this is a very difficult step, during which nihilism itself, the loss of being in Western European philosophy, techne itself and Gestell itself, will be revealed as the unconcealment of the truth of Seyn-being through its self-concealment. From this perspective, Western philosophy, which is, in the first approximation, a progressing crisis and fall into twilight, will reveal itself as a path to salvation: the one who first reaches the bottom of the abyss can be the first to push off from it and begin to rise.

17. Heidegger M. Contributions to Philosophy (of the Event)

18. Heidegger M. Das Ding. Heidegger M. Vorträge und Aufsätze

19. Heidegger M. Holzwege

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

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