Heidegger and the Pathway to Philosophy

How does one make sense of the world? Many people have tried and tried to explain the conditions of our world and the things that have come from it. Martin Heidegger fruitfully explains his mindset on the problems with modernity, history and philosophy in much of his work. The essence of being is a large topic to which he is not the sole undertaker of. The motions as to which philosophy is kept alive are an issue that Heidegger outlines in The Metaphysical Foundations of Logic. How do we come to a philosophy about an object, and idea, the world we live in? It is not necessarily the “origin,” but rather the “mode.” “Philosophy is not of course something objectively present and at hand, about which we can have and exchange opinion. Surely the idea of logic will have its origin in the idea of philosophy. But this says nothing about the mode and manner, how and in what order we conceive this dependence by origination (p. 6).” Heidegger is referring to the manner of metaphysics. So why must one have a full metaphysical understanding of physics to know the philosophy of our modern world?
The manner of something is the way in which this something is done. The mode of something is the form of which something exists. These two together create an understanding of our experiences that give us a better understanding of the world. Heidegger points out that we must not have a generalized view on the concept of philosophy and its beginnings, for that does not lead us into the overall problems and questions we face. There must be a pathway into the inner workings of philosophy, not something that simply surrounds the issues that lie within its boundaries. “One can never philosophize “in general,” but rather every genuine philosophical problem is, in each case, a single specific problem. But, on the other hand, no genuine philosophical problem is a so-called specialized problem, Every genuine problem is a fundamental problem (p. 7).” I feel that he is saying here that we must treat each detail with its own premises. One cannot think wholly about an issue without understanding the fundamentals of each argument or issue.
“For only then can the loosening produce an occasion for establishing and maintaining a direction toward philosophy and staying on course. That is indeed indisputable. But from this we can only immediately infer that the teacher of a certain way must already have in view the way’s discretion, that he really must have, as it were, already been where he wishes to take us (p. 7).” I believe that Heidegger is making a correlation between history and philosophy. In history we experience things, and we must experience things to have complete understanding of what happened. Having experienced certain things give way to new ideals that can help one gain a better understanding of the problem or teaching. Having the “discretion” of that way allows one person to have an authority of that way, in other words, the authority to understand it and teach it to others.
History is an important learning tool for developing an understanding of philosophy, Heidegger explains. “The ways of historical recollection and of reflection on the present are not two ways, but are both essential elements of every way toward the idea of philosophy (p. 8).” I feel as though he is saying here that both the past and the present are, together, important factors to understanding. But do we truly have an understanding of a history? WE cannot simply use our knowledge of the present to try and understand the knowledge of history, that concept is simply wrong for Heidegger. “This idea is to be defined not by out devising, say, so-called modern notion of philosophy, so that we may then consult the history of philosophy in retrospect to find out what has already been thought and intimated of our idea and what has not. Nor is it an appropriate procedure for is to pick out a philosophy from history, be it the philosophy of Plato or Aristotle, or of Liedniz or Kant, and simply install ourselves in it as in the presumptive truth, in order then to tailor and supplement it, as it were, for modern needs (p. 8).” I believe that Heidegger mentions these said philosophers because they are representative of a history of philosophy, especially Plato and Aristotle, who are both ancient philosophers. There is no way that we can truly understand history, simply because we were not there to experience it ourselves. There is no possible way we can imagine the past because we were not there. Heidegger is saying that we cannot simply take history and mold it and transform it to better our understanding of the essence of present philosophy, because we simply cannot understand the true teachings of history when we ourselves were not there. We can’t install the teachings of history for the sake of modern needs. Each experience brings about new ideals, so therefore each question of philosophy will be inherently different than the last one. So, in saying, the present question is inherently different than the question in history.
“The recollection from historicity is necessary not because we have already a long history of philosophy behind us, nor because piety demands that we also heed the ancients. Even if there were no explicit history of philosophy, it would still be necessary to go back and take up the tradition in which every human Dasein stands, whether it has a developed historical consciousness or not, and whether or not what it has to recollect is expressly called “philosophy.” (p. 9).” I believe that Heidegger is saying here that we must go back before history to have a true understanding of philosophy. He is not saying that we should go back to history for the pure fact that we must only see the ancient ways as the true or because history is the right and best, we must go back before this history. I feel like that hints to a claim that to gain an understanding there must be a new history, that is created by the experiences in which we gain ideal about a “new” philosophy. We must go back before history in order to understand. History and the present are treated as two separate questions in the eyes of Heidegger, but since we must go back before history to understand a philosophy, does that mean that true history that has already happened is not even relevant to the question at hand?

One thought on “Heidegger and the Pathway to Philosophy

  1. Julie,

    This is a decent attempt to wrestle with a difficult topic.

    I am not sure whether Heidegger is, as you say, characterizing history as something in principle inaccessible, i.e., because we weren’t there when an event happened or because we can’t imagine it. He thinks Greek is the archetypal philosophical language, as best as I can tell, because it offers us an insight into the origins of philosophy (since philosophy was originally done in Greek).

    However, I think you right to suggest that he views the history of philosophy as problematic. He thinks the tradition has layered over or sedimented (to use Husserl’s language) truth beneath it. So the difficult thing about doing philosophy is that the history of philosophy somehow gets in the way; it is a history of the “metaphysics of presence,” of seeing everyday objects as objects of inquiry (e.g., “What is a hammer?”) rather than as things to be used unreflectively (e.g., the way a carpenter would use a hammer).

    So whether or not we can experience or imagine history, the history of philosophy gets in the way of our understanding of things. So the first task is to “clear the way” for the possibility of philosophy. In this way Heidegger seems very modern to me–Descartes, Locke, and Kant, for instance, say much the same thing. This similarity speaks to whether postmodern philosophers who follow Heidegger’s lead are really modern rather than postmodern, I think. Maybe postmodern philosophy, as I have often said, is merely modern philosophy taken to its logical conclusion.


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