Posts Tagged ‘heidegger’


So, failing to grasp Heidegger last summer in Being and Time, I thought it could be helpful to read him backwards. I’m working my way through the Routledge edition of his Basic Writings, tackling him one lecture or essay at a time to see if the later Heidegger will familiarise me with and give some framework for reading his earlier stuff. I intend to summarise the material and, if possible when I’ve read a little more, offer some critical observations while trying not to embarrass myself.

What is metaphysics?

Heidegger consistently makes a point of seeing things in relation to the whole as well as their singularity. So the question, What is metaphysics?, like every metaphysical question, “always encompasses the whole range of metaphysical problems” (45). Additionally, a successful question will embrace the questioner as a necessary part of it.

All sciences “seek beings [all things that exist] themselves in order to make them objects of investigation and to determine their grounds” (46).¹ The sciences thus do not differ in importance but only style, so that, unlike mathematics, “To demand exactness in the study of history is to violate the idea of the specific rigor of the humanities” (46). Yet in dealing exclusively with beings, science neglects the nothing. Ironically, “Science wants to know nothing of nothing. But even so it is certain that when science tries to express its proper essence it calls upon the nothing for help” (47).

To ask, What is nothing?, however, already assumes nothing as a kind of being. Through the intellectual act of negation we can posit nothing, first positing a being and then negating it to non-being. Hedeigger goes further to argue that because negation presupposes the possibility of nothing, nothing must precede this intellectual act of negation (I negate therefore nothing…?). But we need to look to our encounter of nothing to define it. At the very least, we encounter it conceptually when we refer to it in language, assuming nothing to be “the complete negation of the totality of beings” (49). However, this has only defined nothing insofar as we encounter it intellectually.

We also encounter nothing through our moods. Boredom, for example, is our indifference to being confronted by the totality of beings. Conversely, anxiety reveals our encounter with the nothing:

Anxiety robs us of speech. Because beings as a whole slip away, so that just the nothing crowds round, in the face of anxiety all utterance of the “is” falls silent. That in the malaise of anxiety we often try to shatter the vacant stillness with compulsive talk only proves the presence of the nothing. … In the lucid vision sustained by fresh remembrance we must say that that in the face of which and for which we were anxious was “properly”–nothing. Indeed: the nothing itself–as such–was there.


Yet in their encounter with nothing, beings are not annihiliated but “nihilated,” nothing “mak[ing] itself known … as a slipping away of the whole” (52). In so doing, nothing makes beings aware that they are not nothing; they are being. Nothing is thus not outside but constitutive of beings. Dasein, the being peculiar to human being, is in this sense transcendent, experiencing both being and non-being. Finally, our encounter with nothing is not solipsistic, dependent on our conscious experience of anxiety. Whenever beings open themselves up to us they do so by virtue of the nothing which we encounter through a general anxiety, however subtle.

Heidegger interprets metaphysics etymologically as “inquiry beyond or over beings, which aims to recover them as such and as a whole for our grasp” (55). Thus What is nothing? is a metaphysical question, concerned with that beyond being. In contrast to Hellenistic (ex nihilo nihil fit, out of nothing, nothing comes) and Christian (creatio ex nihilo) approaches to nothing as nonbeing, Heidegger argues that nothing is not the opposite of but, through Dasein’s transcendent existence, constitutive of being. Science thus needs to address the nothing as otherwise its investigation would be wanting.

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¹Heidegger’s use of “science” includes a number of disciplines going beyond biology, chemistry, physics, etc, so, for example, history is a science.

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Conservative pronunciation and spelling have both communicative and cultural value. We adhere to a linguistic contract on the common sounds and symbols we use to communicate, and these nuances indicate a rich history, among other things. But the same rules apply for a more liberal approach to language. Distinct forms of English literacy are required to communicate in parts of the English speaking world, and these forms clearly have a cultural value; they give the users an opportunity to express themselves beyond whatever baggage their inherited symbols and sounds carry.


Last week I was involved in a holiday programme with round about 10-12 year-olds. I’m no linguist and this sample is not formally indicative of the whole of which it is a part, but it was nonetheless worthwhile to confirm some of the suspicions I had about the changing face of New Zealand English through some informal observations.

(1) The notorious ə (schwa) sound in New Zealand English, in the oft imitated ‘fish and chips’, seems to me to be becoming ‘worse’ or further away from the ɪ in the received pronunciation. The closest sound I could find to represent this sound’s New Year’s resolution was the ʌ, which if you look at the vowel graph you will see makes sense as a natural progression from the standard and the schwa. Australia might be heading in the opposite direction.

(2) Recalling conversations with Italian friends speaking English, I was impressed with the clean i in their pronunciation of words like ‘me’ or ‘lean’. But New Zealand is joining Australia. We’ve turned to dirty diphthongs (two vowel sounds in one, dirty or no). We put less squeeze on this sound and pronounce it more casually. Kiwis I hear saying ‘me’ tend towards ‘may’ but not identically. My guess is it looks something like əɪ in the ipa but I can’t find a sound file to back it up.

(3) Finally two separate but related vowels appear to be naturally progressing further from their British foremothers. These are the ɛ in ‘bad’ and my favourite New Zealand e, shared with South Africa, in ‘bed’. If you listen carefully to your kiwi friends, you might find some taking an intermediary step between ɛ and e when pronouncing ‘bad’ and suchlike, possibly this, but I don’t have magic ears so I’m making the call based on where the sound is situated on Wikipedia’s graph. e, in an attempt to escape ɛ’s bold invasion of privacy has been moving closer towards the aforementioned i (I have suffered this straw-man when other people carelessly attempt to mock my accent), but as another intermediary sound, if there is one, contra Wikipedia, or alternatively towards the schwa. Don’t ask me.

Language changes. Don’t just embrace it but be yourself a destructive-creative force in the world of words! Die Sprache sprict!

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Hey friends, it’s nice returning to WordPress after being ‘away’ for a short while. In this away time I managed to have a little holiday, arrive back in Aotearoa, write a third of a novel (which is indefinitely stowed away somewhere on my personal internets for future completion), apply for bible college in March, read some more and then spend this last week playing far too many games. On a ‘more personal note’, I’m still recovering from a decisive dip in faith some readers will have picked up in the posts last year, a kind of Nietzschean ressentiment, creating truths to revenge myself against existence. Many of my thoughts still stand; I just hope now to express them with more grace and humility, not so much to tear things down, which is the easy and boring thing to do, but to focus on upbuilding, on actually say something. The purpose of this post is a kind of preparatory for my course this year. Ideally it would be beautifully referenced, demonstrating my wide reading on the subject and attempt to answer all the appropriate questions and reservations. Yet this is not so. See it as a kind of journal, something intended for self-reflection, but in this case happenchanced upon by others.

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Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling-block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.

(1 Corinthians 1:20-25 NRSV).

Theology is the study of God. If you want to narrow that down then you can have a g/God, or the point of access to God, like good Christians will tell you that Jesus is the starting point for theology. Alternatively, you can have a specific focus, ecclesiology, the study of the Church, which is rooted in theology, etc. You could also give theology a wider application by saying something like the study metaphysics, that which is beyond the ‘physical’¹. That’s theology, or at least my sloppy definition of it. What, then, does it look like?


“If anyone could prove to me that Christ is outside the truth, and if the truth really did exclude Christ, I should prefer to stay with Christ and not with truth.” — Dostoevsky

Some time ago on a jaunt through Wikiquote I discovered this awesome statement. It raises many questions. Why would you want something other than the truth? Does a good Christian not accept Christ as truth anyway? What does Christ have above the truth? Some beautiful deception? Having not read the context in which this quote appears, the best thing I can do is to possibly misunderstand Dostoevsky by taking his word for it. So what does ‘his word’ mean to me? Here truth operates within the circle of reason and language; Christ operates in a circle beside that. Language, composed of words, structures and myriad other complex nuances, signifies reality/experience and all that is contained within it (this includes what is only contained in it as a possibility, like absolute zero).  Reason can be the manipulation of ideas expressed in language (although there also exists a pre-linguistic reason, coming to conclusions without reference to language, not even an internal one²). The problem then with reason and its position in language is that it signifies; it is not identical to the reality it expresses.

Be careful not to misunderstand me. This is not traditional apophatic theology: our corrupted reason cannot express or think God (although I accept this in another time and place). Nor is this philosophy’s equivalent: How do we know that what we know is true? This is only to assign reason and language to their proper places within experience. It is a redistribution of wealth. As Heidegger says of Descartes, the doubting subject is not the centre of epistemology (method of knowledge), yet it is not absent from it. The doubting subject is not the source of epistemology but only a mode of it. We are thrown into the world before we make sense of it. This is the next point: although language is not identical to that which it expresses, it still expresses it. There is definitely some identificating going on. This, then, is the correct place of language and reason: A part of the whole, one site in reality where the rest of experience can be conveniently bottlenecked.

Note that this applies also to my description of language and reason. A mutiny is occurring at this moment. I cannot assume some metalanguage with which I deal with language, etc. What I can do though is to point somewhere with this contradiction in an attempt to distract the reader. Imagine a politician speaking to a large crowd and attempting to convince them of a certain ideology. Just when the speaker is reaching the crux of their argument, the crowd, as one, suddenly turns and leaves. There is no one left. The speaker may continue but their words will not be received. Or consider rehearsing words in your head for an upcoming job interview, but a Taylor Swift song comes on the radio and you can’t ignore it. The rehearsal sinks out of sight. This is the critique of reason, not with reason itself, but a force from the outside. I will acknowledge that my examples full short because they only exist in the language I am using here rather as actualities. This gap will always be present when speaking of such examples. All I can say is that if you want to take me up on this one I can just disable commenting on the post.

Language is one mode of epistemology. There are infinite others³, such as joy. I ‘know’ something about reality through the extent, variety, etc of joy I experience. Joy as a mode and the knowledge gained from it both exist pre-linguistically. If I am joyful semi-regularly then I experience the world with joy before I can translate that it into words and ideas. Maybe my experience is accompanied by words and ideas. This does not negate pre-linguistic joy as a mode of knowing but only shows it occurs beside our most linguistically recognisable mode, language.

If you’ve still energy after that little excursion then follow me back to the issue at hand, Jesus, who is theology. Jesus is intermodal. I want to avoid saying he is a particular mode because he appears in many modes (you could possibly say the same about joy and language). He is not confined to reason and therefore cannot be ‘reached’ through reason alone. He could possibly be reached without reason, but this would require a strict definition of reason and exceptional circumstances which I have no mind to express. Saying this is akin to saying it’ useless waiting for snow in the middle of Australia but it is possible we could still reach snow if we were somewhere else. Enter Dostoevsky’s Christ. This is the elusive ‘If’ with which Dostoevsky introduces the statement. Now reason is not an end, nor a meaningful end to an end. Reason can only be contributory, the ‘If not’. If Christ is not outside truth then I can reasonably say that this blog post can contribute to myself and others ‘reaching’ Jesus (or, as a good Christian would say, contribute to a medium for Jesus reaching us). As Peter Rollins writes,

a person may “believe” that they are utterly safe in a roller coaster and yet be too terrified to ever step onto one. The point is that the conscious claim (I am rational and know that this is safe) is a mere story that covers over the operative belief (I will not be safe). — Still my favourite, accessed here.

Jesus appears in our beliefs only if they have operative value. A person who practises prayer but often doubts its value believes in it more than a person who merely affirms it intellectually. Or Kierkegaard, “Even if one were able to render the whole content of faith into conceptual form, it would not follow that one had grasped faith”. That appears on banner of my blog. For me it sums up not only Kierkegaard but theology. A cute argument is not the site of God. Jesus exists not in saying “The watch must have a watchmaker”. He was a carpenter. Sound theology will always exist not in the abstract, the beautiful sermon or the journal article of intellectual depth alone, but in the lives of those who practise it. If I am to do theology it be in the open air, rather than in a vacuum. Theology encompasses more than the use of reason and language. A true theologian conforms to the character of Christ and takes part in the Kingdom of God4.

We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sisterin need and yet refuses help? Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.

(1John 3:16-18 NRSV).

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¹Physical literally meaning soul-like. Is the irony intended? That metaphysics is defined as that beyond the metaphysical? Maybe metamaterial (metasomatic?) would be better, but perhaps I’m missing the history involved in this coinage.

²This, of course, is a very lazy definition of reason. Linguistic and pre-linguistic reason are only relatively, not absolutely, distinct: The latter will make use of some non-linguistic signification as it needs to signify reality in some way in order to operate within, which therefore makes it linguistic, as language signifies. Linguistic signification must also depend on the non-linguistic for it to make sense to the subject, ie. we are distinct from the language we use. Therefore when I speak of two kinds of reason, I speak as a good relativist, of two different poles.

³’Language’ is a convenient way of naming a mode but in reality it will be composed of infinite infinitesimal parts which are also modes, the same going for any other examples I give.

4I must also anticipate here any Pentecostal ‘amen’. Reason, thinking, theology as mental education, writing books for Jesus, etc — these are not bad. They just need to be situated in their appropriate context.

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A couple or so days ago I came across Christopher Hitchens’ The Portable Atheist. It’s amazing how someone can be so well-read, where Christopher is both the subject and the object of that verb (which is functioning as an adjective). The book opens with a couple of quotes from Primo Levi, an Italian who survived Auschwitz. Hitchens dedicates the book to him. Here’s one of the quotes:

Silence slowly prevails and then, from my bunk on the top row, I see and hear old Kuhn praying aloud, with his beret on his head, swaying backwards and forwards violently. Kuhn is thanking God because he has not been chosen.

Kuhn is out of his senses. Does he not see Beppo the Greek in the bunk next to him, Beppo who is twenty years old and is going to the gas-chamber the day after tomorrow and knows it and lies there looking fixedly at the light without saying anything and without even thinking anymore? Can Kuhn fail to realize that next time it will be his turn? Does Kuhn not understand that what has happened today is an abomination, which no propitiatory prayer, no pardon, no expiation by the guilty, which nothing at all in the power of man can ever clean again? If I was God, I would spit at Kuhn’s prayer.

And that’s it. On this haphazard visit I foolishly ended up buying a collection of Heidegger’s rightings. I am gradually beginning to experience the gap between owning books and reading them. My soul too is society to an ever-increasing gap between the rich and the poor. Just to let you know, my over-engagement with reading material and good friends has crippled my usual enthusiastic blogging machinations. Something decent will arise out of this. In a few weeks or so. Unless I read Heidegger and realise out of pure deduction from his plethora of perspective that everything to say has already been said and in some sort of cliché despair turn to writing dark children’s books. And with that I leave you with a quote from my second favourite Arminian, Roger E. Olson (although he did not write it but “Someone” did):

“Someone has said that no theology is worth believing that cannot be preached standing in front of the gates of Auschwitz” (Against Calvinism, 2011, p.25).

This is a picture of Heidegger

This is a picture of Marlon Brando

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