GA 3

Kant und das Problem der Metaphysik

Kant and the Problem of Metaphysics

Heidegger presented the essentials of his reading of Immanuel Kant for the first time during his Winter Semester 1927–28 lecture course Phenomenological Interpretation of Kant’s “Critique of Pure Reason.” His book on Kant is of great importance for the development of Heidegger’s own thought, because it takes up and extends several themes suggested in Being and Time. We can consider the book as a version of the promised destruction of Kant’s schematism and doctrine of time in the never-published second part of Being and Time.

In the first part, The starting point for the laying of the ground for metaphysics, Heidegger asks the question: Why did the problem of the laying of the ground for metaphysics become a critique of pure reason? For Kant, metaphysics is the fundamental science of entities, as such, and in the whole. Through his celebrated Copernican revolution, the question concerning the possibility of ontic knowledge reverts into the question concerning the possibility of ontology itself. This means we must ask how it is possible that our synthetic apriori knowledge of entities is connected with the human knower’s capacity for transcending or “passing over” to the entities themselves. When we ask about our understanding of being that springs from transcendence, we philosophize in a transcendental way.

The second part, Carrying out the laying of the ground for metaphysics, is a discussion of Kant’s elucidation of the finitude of human knowledge as receptive intuition in contrast to creating infinite intuition of God. Finite intuition occurs in reciprocity with pure understanding (Verstand). Heidegger interprets Kant’s transcendental imagination as temporality and claims that it is the common root of the two stems of knowledge: intuition and understanding. When intuition and understanding are joined together by the imagination, ontological knowledge becomes possible. It refers to an opening up of a pure horizon within which entities can present themselves and be represented by being-there.

The third part, The laying of the ground for metaphysics in its originality, is an extensive interpretation of Kant’s doctrine of transcendental imagination. Kant “shrank back” from his unknown root of the essential constitution of being-there in favor of reason (Vernunft). As a result, he was unable to think the original temporality of transcendental imagination. He failed to recognize time as the enabling ground of the finitude of human subjectivity as a whole.

The fourth part, The laying of the ground for metaphysics in a retrieval, provides an important linchpin to the overall aim of Heidegger’s project of (1) addressing hidden reciprocity between being and time, which has remained hidden throughout the philosophical tradition and (2) destroying that tradition or unraveling the false premises on which it rests. Heidegger outlines a basic ambiguity that arises with the inception of Greek philosophy, namely, that being is understood through a single dimension of time, the present, and thereby thematized in terms of a concept of permanent or constant presence (οὐσία). By understanding being uncritically in terms of the present, the Greeks take the first step in distorting the meaning of being as a fixed and static mode of reality. Inadvertently, the ancients, most notably Plato and Aristotle, initiate a second misunderstanding; they employ a derivative concept of being as permanent or constant presence as the false premise for conceiving time exclusively as a mode of the present. No preliminary attempt, however, is made to question time in terms of its origin in ecstatic temporality. As a result, subsequent philosophy succumbs to a false dichotomy of conceiving of time either as the continual presence of eternity or as the transitoriness of a sequence of moments.

By outlining the roots of this conundrum, Heidegger exposes the origin of the forgottenness of being as a double error of (1) neglecting the necessary link between being and time and (2) neglecting to address time as the ecstatic transcendence of human finitude that originates from the future, returns from the past, and opens up into the present. By marking the origin of the forgottenness of being, Heidegger points to the significance of the title of the proposed third division of Being and Time or “Time and Being.” The errancy of metaphysics can only be overcome by considering neither being nor time separately, as the ancients did, but instead by prioritizing time’s reciprocity with being. The retrieval of the problematic of temporality hidden in Kant’s thought would contribute to overcoming this errancy, as the first step in the proposed destruction of the history of ontology.