Was ist das–die Philosophie?

What Is Philosophy?

Heidegger delivered this lecture in August 1955, in Cerisy-la-Salle in France. With the question “What is philosophy?,” we touch upon the topic of the lecture, that is, an introduction to philosophy. When we ask this question, we talk philosophy, but as long we talk about it, we remain outside of it and do not philosophize in any genuine sense.

Heidegger claims that the word philosophy appeared for the first time in Heraclitus and there as an adjective, rather than as a noun. Φιλόσοφος describes the man who φιλει to σοφόν, that is, loves the wise. The philosophical man responds to the address of being. The original meaning of love is to be in harmony with the wise λόγος. Wise means for Heraclitus ἕν πάντα, that is, one is all. According to Heidegger, this means being is being, the meaning of which he interprets as being’s gathering of all entities into their singular and distinctive way of presencing. For us, thus, may seems a trivial truth; for the Greeks it was the wonder of all wonders. Astonishment is the fundamental mood of Greek philosophy.

During the era of sophistry both the address and response took different forms. The mystery of being revealed itself to the true thinker as threatened by the charlatanism of the Sophists. In this situation, Plato and Aristotle try to salvage being from this fallen condition. They search for wisdom beyond the level of everydayness. Philosophy thus becomes an erotic search for wisdom instead of an attempt to be in harmony with the λόγος. Aristotle transforms the original thinking of being of Heraclitus and Parmenides into metaphysics. The search for wisdom becomes an inquiry into the first grounds and principles of the being of entities. The guiding question of metaphysics is, “what is beingness?” Philosophy is a saying of what being is in the sense of beingness. Aristotle’s conception of philosophy is a genuine response to the address of being, since it makes explicit the relation between being and human beings in a specific historic ways.

Christianity transformed the original Greek understanding of philosophy and therewith also its fundamental mood. The mood of modern philosophy since René Descartes is doubt. This is the reason why he searched for the certitude of the being of entities. He founded this certitude upon the self-certain subject. The completion of metaphysics is technology. For this reason we must return to the original Greek experience of thinking as the saying of the harmony between being and human beings. This responding to the address of being serves language. The nature of language holds sway in both thinking and poetry. Both have been determined by the Greek experience of λόγος. Heidegger therefore states that we can learn what philosophy is only in dialogue with Greek thinkers.