Category Archives: Heidegger


Maybe without the opportunity to make being our own that is provided by ruptures in our familiar world, we could not return to that world and truly inhabit it. Maybe without emergency, we could never truly belong. Our starting point – immersion in a familiar whole – may be nothing but the effect of forgotten emergencies. Emergency generates being, opening a world – but then we lapse or relapse *into* this world. Once again, we take the given for granted. The un-settling emergency that made genuine settlement possible tends to be forgotten as we settle into our home and settle for the quotidian. Fighting against this lapse would mean allowing ourselves to be vulnerable to emergency – an emergency that is not simply handed to us but which we must also seize; an event in which all being, including our own, would become urgent; an event in which we would fully *be there*; an event that would found belonging.

– Richard Polt, The Emergency of Being: Heidegger’s Contributions to Philosophy

The everyday has lost its authority

For most of us most of the time, the given as such is no problem at all. Things in general are simply available and present. We take them for granted: we do not recognize them either as something taken or as something granted. In ordinary experience we rely on beings, use them, and refer to them, without reflecting on the fact that they are accessible in the first place. Just as we automatically expect the ground to support us when we take a step, we count on the subsistence of the whole of beings in our every act. Plato’s word for our relation to corporeal things is also the right word for our prephilosophical relation to all things: pistis (Republic 511e), which is best interpreted neither as belief nor as faith, but as trust.

Of course, within the sphere of things as a whole, there are problems and limits in abundance. Particulars are often untrustworthy or unavailable, painfully and importantly so. Our need for these nongiven things consumes our energy and our thought. We hunt, plan, communicate, and calculate as we try to secure the insecure. Getting beings can even become our main way to relate to them; we then treat action as a matter of getting and keeping objects, and knowledge as a matter of getting and keeping information. But while we are engaged in this attempt to get things, we take the whole for granted as reliable and thus for-get it. Strictly speaking, since we may never have recognized the whole in the first place, one can say that it lies in oblivion.

We are primally familiar with the whole; we inhabit it. It is our own in the sense that we are comfortable in it, as a fish is comfortable in the sea. But this is why we cannot recognize it as our own, any more than a fish can recognize that it belongs in the sea and not on land. Precisely because we trust the whole, we cannot experience it as a whole. As long as we are immersed in it, it is impossible for us to encounter it as such.

In terms of philosophical positions, this moment corresponds to a naïve empiricism. In order to find the truth we are simply supposed to perceive what is there, get the facts about it, and generalize. This concept of knowledge will always be the most popular, because within our everyday immersion in the whole it functions perfectly well as a way of accumulating information. This attitude can pervade the most advanced scientific research no less than it pervades the most thoughtless, routine behavior; the questions and techniques may differ while the basic relation to the whole remains the same.

The experience of a whole as such requires a space that, paradoxically, is not contained within the whole. The verge of this space is the boundary that defines the whole, that allows it to be a “well-rounded sphere” (Parmenides, frag. 8). This limit divides what is from what is not. But in ordinary experience, nothingness is nothing; absence is absent. Particulars may be lacking and desired, but a radical other to beings as a whole is unsuspected. Things in general are present so thoroughly, so reliably, so inexhaustibly that they do not come into question.

How do we emerge from this immersion in the whole? Somehow, some of us sometimes draw back from everything and feel the breath of nothingness that makes it possible to encounter beings as a whole. From the everyday perspective, this event must remain not just mysterious but impossible: a relation to nothing is no relation at all. But from the perspective of this transformed relation to the whole, the everyday attitude has lost its authority.

– Richard Polt, The Emergency of Being: Heidegger’s Contributions to Philosophy

Being in its openness

In our preceding discussion, we have taken a decisive step. In a lecture course, everything depends on such steps. Occasional questions that have been submitted to me regarding the lectures have betrayed over and over again that most of the listeners are listening in the wrong direction and getting stuck in the details. Of course, the overall context is important even in lectures on the special sciences. But for the sciences the overall context is immediately determined by the object, which for the sciences is always given in advance in some way. In contrast, it is not just that the object of philosophy does not lie at hand, but philosophy has no object at all. Philosophy is a happening that must at all times work out Being for itself anew (that is, Being in its openness, which belongs to it). Only in this happening does philosophical truth open up.

– Heidegger, Introduction to Metaphysics (tr. Fried and Polt)

When we decline

Only a god can still save us. I think the only possibility of salvation left to us is to prepare readiness, through thinking and poetry, for the appearance of the god or for the absence of the god during the decline; so that we do not, simply put, die meaningless deaths, but that when we decline, we decline in the face of the absent god.

– Heidegger, 1966

The world’s night

The essence of technology comes to the light of day only slowly. This day is the world’s night, rearranged into merely technological day. This day is the shortest day. It threatens a single endless winter. Not only does protection now withhold itself from man, but the integralness of the whole of what is remains now in darkness. The wholesome and sound withdraws. The world becomes without healing, unholy. Not only does the holy, as the track to the godhead, thereby remain concealed; even the track to the holy, the hale and whole, seems to be effaced. That is, unless there are still some mortals capable of seeing the threat of the unhealable, the unholy, as such. They would have to discern the danger that is assailing man. The danger consists in the threat that assaults man’s nature in his relation to Being itself, and not in accidental perils. This danger is *the* danger. It conceals itself in the abyss that underlies all beings. To see this danger and point it out, there must be mortals who reach sooner into the abyss.
But where there is danger, there grows
also what saves. – Hölderlin
– Heidegger, The Question Concerning Technology

Gift and threat

A being happens as a given composition or arrangement, something simply there, but not inertly there. ‘There’ as a saying, as coming forth, as a claim, as an event with which I am immediately in the possibilities that it occasions. The immediate complement of ‘claim’ is ‘answer.’ Human existence says itself. That means that it is present always as someone. To be someone is to be a state of giving heed in the presence of beings. Even when I refuse a claim and turn away from it, I am attending to it, and I am in conformity with it in the sense that I respond with it, hear it, and answer.
The vulnerability of human existence is frequently remarked, and man’s fear of his own state of being is frequently discussed. We are remarkably undefended in the immediacy of our being. We are constituted by givennesses which have at once the character of gift and threat because immediacy is neither deserved nor avoidable. When we answer by backing away from our own state of givenness, from what is given, and from the inevitability of answering, we literally refuse our own being, a refusal that immediately countenances what we refuse. This deep contradiction is lived as injury and misery, self-encroachment in the most profound sense, because in this case we are open in the disclosure of what is present by denying both our responsiveness and the meaningful presences.

– Charles E. Scott, ‘Heidegger, Madness and Well-Being’

The sudden flash

And yet – in all the disguising belonging to enframing, the bright open-space of world lights up, the truth of being flashes. At the instant, that is, when enframing lights up, in its coming to presence, as the danger, i.e., as the saving power. In enframing, moreover, as a destining of the coming to presence of being, there comes to presence a light from the flashing of being. Enframing is, though veiled, still glance, and no blind destiny in the sense of a completely ordained fate.
   Insight into that which is – thus do we name the sudden flash of the truth of being into truthless being.
   When insight comes disclosingly to pass, then men are the ones who are struck in their essence by the flashing of being. In insight, men are the ones who are caught sight of.

– Heidegger, ‘The Turning’ (tr. Lovitt)