12
The New Heidegger

experience the world as something that exists, yet not as the sum of all existing things.

Now this phenomenon is one that might strike the reader as obvious. And in a way, Heidegger’s sole ambition was to make this obvious phenomenon conceptually transparent. Yet if it seems obvious to most, it is all the more surprising that, at least according to Heidegger, the philosophical tradition seems to have gone to so much trouble to bury it under a series of metaphysical abstractions. As a result, the tradition in question must itself be subjected to the most rigorous critical analysis or, more appropriately, to a systematic Destruktion (a ‘destruction’ that is more a deconstruction or a destructuring than a straightforward annihilation). Through this deconstruction alone will the phenomenon in question be allowed to (re)surface and occupy centre stage.4 Among the many abstractions of the philosophical tradition which hindered a proper access to the being of the human being stands the distinction, almost immediately fixed into a dualism, between man and world. This dualism has run deep ever since Descartes introduced it at the dawn of modern philosophy. It establishes a crucial distinction between who we are, or the being of the human, understood as a ‘thinking thing’ (res cogitans), and the being of the world, understood as ‘extended matter’ (res extensa). The human, this metaphysical construction stipulates, is a self-posited and autonomous thinking substance, which exists independently of the world it faces. The being of the human is ontologically distinct from that of the world. As a result, man can access the world through his own essence as a thinking substance only, or at least primarily and most significantly. Thought is itself understood as the ability to represent and formalize, and knowing as a metaphysical and mathematical–physical enterprise. This is the basis on which an encounter with the world takes place. In turn, the world is itself subordinated to its ability to be known, or represented, whether physically or metaphysically. And it is for that very reason that it can only be envisaged as extended, inert matter. This corresponds to the view of the world that is implicit in the physics of Galileo and Newton, and marks a turning point in the manner in which nature, and man’s position in its midst, is envisaged. Heidegger’s reaction to this metaphysical conception of the world and of ourselves is to say that we exist only in and through our relation to the world, that we, as human beings, are nothing independent from, and in addition to, our being-in-the-world. This means that we are not a substance, and not a thing, but, precisely, an existence, always and irreducibly open to and onto the world, always moving ourselves within a certain pre-theoretical understanding of it. Openness to the world is what defines our being, not thought. Thought is one way – and indeed a distinct way – of ‘understanding’ the world, or of comporting ourselves towards it. But it is certainly not the only way, nor indeed the primordial one.

To the extent that my reader is already familiar with aspects of Western philosophy, and with modern philosophy in particular, he or she will have already noticed the singular nature of Heidegger’s approach. Some of what he says may resonate with aspects of Kierkegaard and Nietzsche’s philosophy, or with the