The Thing [1415]

Only because res signifies what concernfully approaches can it lead to the compound words res adversae, res secundae; the former is that which concernfully approaches the human in an adverse way, the latter what favorably accompanies the human. The dictionary, however, translates res adversae with misfortune, res secundae with luck; of that which the words say when spoken as they are thought, the dictionaries say nothing. In truth, here and in the rest of the cases it is not that our thinking lives off etymology, but rather that etymology along with the dictionaries still think too little.

The Roman word res names that which concernfully approaches the human, the affair, the disputed matter, the case. For this the Romans also used the word causa. In no way does this authentically and primarily mean “cause”; causa means “the case” and for this reason also “that which is the case,” that something comes to pass and becomes due. Only because causa, nearly synonymous with res, means the case can the word causa subsequently attain the meaning of cause in the sense of the causality of an effect. The Old High German word thing or dinc, with its meaning of gathering, namely for the negotiation of an affair, is thus appropriate like no other for fittingly translating the Roman word res, that which concernfully approaches. But from this word of the Roman language, with its inner correspondence to the word res,2 from the word causa in the meaning of case and affair, there arose in the Romance languages la cosa and the French la chose; we say: das Ding. In English, thing still has retained the robust naming power of the Roman word res: he knows his things, he has an understanding of his “affair,” of that which concerns him; he knows how to handle things, he knows how one must proceed with matters, i.e., what it concerns from case to case; that’s a great thing: that is a great (fine, powerful, splendid) matter, i.e., something that comes of its own accord to the human in a concernful approach.3

Yet what is decisive is by no means the semantic history of the words briefly mentioned here: res, Ding, causa, cosa and chose, thing, but rather something entirely different and hitherto not at

2. at the earliest

3. Translator’s Note: italicized phrases here in English in the original.

Martin Heidegger (GA 79) Bremen and Freiburg Lectures

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