Ein Vorwort: Brief an Pater William J. Richardson

Preface to Heidegger: Through Phenomenology to Thought

Heidegger’s response to a query of William J. Richardson, S.J., was first published as the “Foreword” to his book, Heidegger: Through Phenomenology to Thought in 1963. This letter has been republished in Volume 11 (Identität und Differenz) of Heidegger’s Complete Edition.

In retrospect, the “letter” takes on historical importance for two distinct but related reasons. First, as a response to Richardson’s proposal of distinguishing stages in the development of Heidegger’s philosophy (a so-called “Heidegger I” versus a “Heidegger II”), Heidegger indicates there is no essential shift of viewpoint from “early” to “later,” but only the single-mindedness of the question of being itself. Heidegger thereby emphasizes that his own characterization of a turning (Kehre) pertains to a transformation of how thinking both addresses and “is addressed” by beyng, rather than a “reversal” of viewpoints, which constitutes the abandonment of his “earlier” phenomenological exposition of being-there in favor of a “later” meditation on the truth of being. Second, the publication of the “letter” in 1963 spearheaded a controversy in the scholarship on Heidegger’s philosophy, which continues to rage today regarding the unity of Heidegger’s thought and the import of the “turning.”

The posthumous publication of Heidegger’s seminal text, Contributions to Philosophy, clarifies the root of the confusion stemming from Richardson’s query by characterizing the turning in Ereignis as a “turning relation” of beyng to man. This characterization forecloses any subjective portrayal of the “turning” as a “reversal” of an “earlier” viewpoint by a “later” one. When cast in this light, it becomes evident that Heidegger had, all along, tried to circumvent any such misunderstanding when he cited a passage from his lecture course from the Winter Semester 1937–38, which prepared the way for the text of Contributions to Philosophy (1936–38). In this preceding lecture course, Heidegger states that each way of inquiry—in which provisionally “we are questioning man in relation to being” (as the entrance to ontology), and, in the turning, “we are questioning being and its truth in relation to man”—are both the “same.”

Identität und Differenz (GA 11)