Brief über den Humanismus

Letter on Humanism

Heidegger wrote this letter in the fall of 1946, in reply to three questions posed by the French philosopher, Jean Beaufret: (1) How can we restore meaning to the concept of humanism? (2) How can we determine the relation of ontology to a possible ethics? (3) How can we preserve the element of adventure that all research contains without simply turning philosophy into an adventuress? Although he only discusses the first question at length, this letter is an important path mark in Heidegger’s way of thinking. In it he rethinks some of the main points of Being and Time in light of the turning, and tries to move beyond metaphysics.

Heidegger rejects the term humanism, since it remains tied to the metaphysical conception of human being as a rational animal. This conception fails to take into account the turning relation of beyng (Seyn) to being-there. Heidegger defines the existence of human being as ecstatic openness, that is, standing in the light of being. The difference between his thinking and Jean-Paul Sartre’s existentialism is that, while Sartre is dealing with a level where there are principally human beings, Heidegger is dealing with the level where there is principally being.

Being-there exists in the “there” of being as the clearing. The being of the “there” has the structure of existence, that is, taking a stance within the truth of being. The existentials, projection, thrownness, fallenness, care, and historicality determine being-there. Since, in the unconcealment of entities, being refuses itself at the same time, being remains hidden as destiny. Errancy belongs to the innermost dynamic of truth. This also means that the forgottenness of being in the history of metaphysics is due primarily to being itself. Only when we heed the destiny of being is there a chance of experiencing the “saving grace.” This thinking of being has to take into account that being conceals its truth in revealing itself as the being of entities, since being is not an entity. This negating moment of being belongs to being as the dynamic of reservedness or the preservation of its mystery. The thinking of being must heed the silence of this nothing and proceed along the path of language, because language is the house of being. The coming to pass of ἀλήθεια among entities is entrusted to being-there. Being-there should guard truth, serve as a steward, and be the shepherd of being.

Thinking lets being be when it unfolds the relation between being and being-there. Like language, thinking is a response to the address of being. Language comes into its own when it becomes a saying of being. When this happens, being-there is dwelling in the house of being. All true and essential thinking is a saying of being. Thinking, as such, is bound to the unconcealment of being, to being as unconcealment.