I. The 1943 Lecture Course on Heraclitus: “The Inception of Western Thinking”

A. Φύσις and Manifestation: “The Ever-Living Fire”

To orient ourselves, this lecture course is fundamentally an excursus on the ancient Greek understanding of φύσις as Heidegger saw the matter in the early 1940s – the “middle” Heidegger, so to speak. As I noted in the previous chapters, the theme of Being as φύσις was a central and lifelong concern for Heidegger, and much of what he had to say about φύσις both before and after this particular lecture course is clearly in evidence here. Yet there is a richness (and complexity) to his elucidations in this text that is distinctive of this period. After several opening remarks on Heraclitus, the man and the thinker, Heidegger moves on to argue for a new ordering of the fragments, and he wishes to place fragment 16 in the first position because it is the determinative “centre” of so many of the fragments:

τὸ μὴ δῦνόν ποτε πῶς ἄν τις λάθοι;

Heidegger’s translation: “Dem ja nicht Untergehen(den) je, wie möchte irgendwer (dem) verborgen sein?” (44)

English translation of Heidegger’s translation: “From not ever setting, how could anyone be concealed?”

In a series of detailed observations and word explications (44–101), he makes the case that the “not-ever-setting” (τὸ μὴ δῦνόν ποτε) spoken of in the fragment means the same as the “ever-emerging” (immerdar Aufgehen), which for the earliest Greek thinkers characterized their experience of φύσις. Yet φύσις, he points out, was but another name for Being (εἶναι and the word ὄν in its participial form and verbal sense) as it was originarily experienced by the Greeks, and he proceeds in a familiar fashion to discuss how the originary experience of Being as φύσις was later progressively transformed into the metaphysical foundational notion of the being(ness) of beings. The earliest Greek experience and thinking of Being as φύσις was thereby closed off and “forgotten” from the beginning of the metaphysical tradition of thinking, and a “Seinsvergessenheit” continues unabated to the present day (83). Nevertheless, the Greeks experienced φύσις (as Being itself) as “the pure emerging” (das reine Aufgehen), and for them, all beings and things – “mountain and sea, plant and animal, houses and human beings, gods and the heavens” – emerged from out of this pure emerging (102–3). Furthermore, the Greeks also named this experience of “pure emerging” as “ζωή.” (94). According to Heidegger, the Greeks experienced everything as “living” (ζωή) insofar as everything emerges from out of the pure emerging itself. And since this pure emerging (unconcealing) was also experienced and named by the Greeks as ἀλήθεια, the Greek Ur-words φύσις, ζωή, ἀλήθεια all say “the same” and illuminate, each in a somewhat different manner, Being itself (96, 103).

After this lengthy discussion through which he establishes his basic reading of the pivotal fragment 16, Heidegger proceeds to a reading of the other sayings in the light of 16. One of the most important is fragment 123, which he took up many times over the course of his lifetime, each time with a slightly different rendering and reading. Here he translates the fragment this way:

φύσις κρύπτεσθαι φιλεῖ

Heidegger’s translation: “Das Aufgehen dem Sichverbergen schenkt’s die Gunst.” (110)

English translation of Heidegger’s translation: “Emerging bestows favour upon self-concealing.”

While all students of Heidegger’s work are familiar with the importance and significance of this Heraclitean fragment for his thinking, many may not realize that one of his most elaborate elucidations of the fragment is to be found in this lecture course. The details of his commentary are interesting in their own right, but for our purposes, we may highlight that his fundamental approach to the fragment is essentially the same as for all of his other readings over the years: Being as φύσις is the temporal arising-setting (showing-withholding) of all beings and things. Φύσις itself is this arising-setting and therefore is not any particular “being.” For this reason, φύσις is (comparatively) “inapparent” (unscheinbar). Φύσις “prevails throughout” (durchwalten) all beings and things and is therefore “manifest” precisely as this “prevailing” and not as a particular being or thing. Heidegger, as he reads Heraclitus’s other sayings, calls this peculiar and proper “manifestation” (Offenbarkeit) of φύσις the inapparent “harmony” (ἁρμονίη), the resplendent “cosmos” (κόσμος), and the ever-emerging and ever-living “fire” (πῦρ), as well as the “lightning flash” that “steers” all things (160–71; fragments 64, 66, 30, 124). That Being itself is “manifest” in its own proper way is an important feature of Heidegger’s thinking that is often overlooked by commentators. Being as φύσις is “inapparent” – but only in the sense that it does not appear as a being. Yet Being is most certainly “manifest” to those who can truly “see,” such as the earliest Greek thinkers. As he puts the matter succinctly in the lecture course, “Φύσις is the inapparent shining” (144). In fact, as I discussed in chapter 2, this distinctive manifestness of Being is what, later in his life, he elaborated in a beautifully poetic way as “the gleaming of Nature” in his commentary on one of Hölderlin’s “last poems.”

B. Φύσις and Ἀλήθεια and Being

We may forgo other details of Heidegger’s readings in order to address several important passages at the end of the lecture course that Frings, given his concerns at the time, did not discuss at length. In chapter 4, I highlighted how the early Heidegger understood φύσις and ἀλήθεια as “one” in essence. He makes the same case in this lecture course, in a passing fashion early on (as I noted above), but in a more deliberate and decisive manner in the concluding sections. In §8b (171–4), he states that fragment 30 shows that both the gods and human beings must be understood as shining-forth from out of φύσις – indeed, that no one and nothing “can be concealed before φύσις” (172). And he adds:

The fragment inquires into the relation of φύσις, that is, the κόσμος as the originary resplendence, to the gods and human beings. The emerging resplendence is “beyond” them because gods and human beings, insofar as they are, only are as they emerge into the open and in this way can never be concealed before the open. (173)

The “essence” of φύσις is this “resplendent” (but “inapparent”) temporal emerging-withholding of all things, including the gods and human beings. Yet this hidden “harmony” of rising-setting is the same as “unconcealment” (Unverborgenheit), which the Greeks named ἀλήθεια and which we have come to call “truth” (Wahrheit). What this means, he concludes, is that “we now recognize that in [our] first attempt to think the first fragment [that is, the pivotal fragment 16], ἀλήθεια is thought in it, though it is not named” (173). Consequently, understood in their “essencing,” φύσις and ἀλήθεια say the same. The earliest Greek thinkers had a glancing understanding of this, but they could not thematize it as such. That is for us the task for thinking.

He then briefly returns to fragment 16 in order to read it explicitly in terms of ἀλήθεια. The “never-setting” that is the “ever-emerging” that is φύσις is also ἀλήθεια, provided that we always keep in view that ἀλήθεια is un-concealment, that is, emergence from out of concealment. We must always consider fragment 16 in relation to fragment 123: “Emergence bestows favour upon self-concealing.” Φύσις and ἀλήθεια are the same in this way. Yet having made this clear, he has one more important point to make regarding ἀλήθεια: ἀλήθεια must, in the first place, be understood as the way that Being “is” and not as any kind of function or activity of human knowing or cognition. First and foremost, ἀλήθεια (“truth” understood in an originary and primordial manner) refers to the peculiar and proper manifestness of Being and not to the manifestive activity of the human being as this has been maintained in one way or another in the long tradition of philosophical thinking in the West:

The thinking of metaphysics knows truth only as a feature of cognition. That is why the hint presently given – that “truth,” in the sense of ἀλήθεια, is the inception of the essence of φύσις itself and of the gods and humans belonging therein – remains strange in every respect for all previous thinking. Yes, it is even good and crucial that we hold fast to this strange matter and not be persuaded hastily that ἀλήθεια is not, as metaphysics up until now has meant in a “self-evident” manner, a mere feature of cognitive comportment – but rather is the fundamental feature of Being itself [der Grundzug des Seins selbst]. (175)

Φύσις “is” ἀλήθεια “is” Being itself. This is Heidegger’s original and distinctive position, as I have maintained all along, but he states the case with particular clarity and emphasis in this passage. He leaves no room for doubt: ἀλήθεια, in the first place, “is the fundamental feature of Being itself” and not of the human being. Indeed, we must learn from the ancient Greeks how to comport ourselves once again to Being as ἀλήθεια, to attend to “the truth of Being” rather than only to the “truth” as defined and determined by our own “sense-making” capability and activity.

C. Φύσις Itself Is the Self-Showing and Giving of Signs

That Heidegger’s focal point in 1943 is the manifestation of Being is further underscored by his concluding reflection in the lecture course. Admittedly, his remarks in this final section are difficult and cryptic, but since the point he attempts to make is especially important for our purposes, it is worth our effort to follow his reading closely. He begins by recalling that at the beginning of the lecture course he had observed that the goddess Artemis and her distinctive “signs” (Zeichen) of the “bow and lyre” were centrally important to Heraclitus. Her signs, he states, have helped bring into view the peculiar essence of φύσις as the hidden “joining” (Fügung) of the rising-setting, bringing apart-bringing together, of all beings and things. To this he adds: “Bearing the same sign is Apollo, the brother of the goddess Artemis. He is, along with his sister Artemis, the god of Heraclitus” (177). Heidegger cites fragment 93 as naming Apollo and observes that “Heraclitus says here in which way Apollo is the one looking-in and appearing and how in his appearing he gives a hint unto Being. The god himself must, in the manner that he is the god, correspond to Being, that is, to the essence of φύσις” (177). Thus the fragment:

ὀ ἄναξ, οὗ τὸ μαντεῖόν ἐστι τὸ ἐν Δελφοῖς, οὔτε λέγει οὔτε κρύπτει, ἀλλὰ σημαίνει

Heidegger’s translation: “Der Hohe, dessen Ort der weisenden Sage der in Delphi ist, weder entbirgt er (nur), noch verbirgt er (nur), sondern er gibt Zeichen.” (177)

English translation of Heidegger’s translation: “The high one, whose place of the pointing-saying is in Delphi, neither uncovers (only) nor conceals (only); rather he gives signs.”

According to Heidegger, “λέγειν is here [in the fragment] clearly used [by Heraclitus] as the counter-word to κρύπτειν and means, therefore, [what is] in opposition to ‘concealing,’ ‘uncovering.’” He finds in this particular reference to λέγειν a confirmation of his own reading of λέγειν as “lesen” in terms of “gathering” (sammeln/Sammlung). His comments here are rudimentary and not fully worked out, but we recognize in these brief remarks a preview of the lecture course on Heraclitus that he would offer the very following summer in 1944, which concerned the earliest Greek thinking on the primordial Logos and on the ὁμολογεῖν of the human being. (I take up this lecture course in the following chapter.) What he wishes to emphasize in the text we are presently considering is that “gathering” is closer to the originary meaning of the ancient Greek word λέγειν than other later philosophical terms such as “reasoning.” Although in the 1944 lecture course he will distinguish carefully between the human being’s “gathering” (λέγειν/ὁμολογεῖν) and the fundamental and primordial “fore-gathering” (Versammlung) of Being as the primordial Logos, here the matter is not so clearly articulated. Consequently, he appears to use λέγειν with respect both to how Being fundamentally “is” and to how the human being fundamentally cor-responds to Being. Accordingly, he states rather obliquely that “logos – another fundamental word of Heraclitus’ – means for Heraclitus neither a ‘teaching’ [Lehre] nor ‘discourse’ [Rede] nor ‘meaning’ [Sinn], but rather the uncovering ‘gathering’ – in the sense of the primordially joining One of the inapparent joining.” The next two sentences are more direct and instructive:

[The names] logos – ἀρμονία – φύσις – κόσμος say the Same [das Selbe], but each time as a different originary determination of Being. We learn here in the first place to get a sense of which way the earliest thinkers were able to glimpse and say the richness of the Simple. (178)

Even so, the matter is not so simple because the Simple (Being) unfolds as λέγειν (uncovering, gathering) and κρύπτειν (concealing). Therefore, the primordial “letting-appear” and “making-manifest,” which he states is his core concern, he names, following the words of the fragment, σεμαινειν; that is, Apollo “gives a sign” (ein Zeichen geben). This final step is most puzzling. It is not at all immediately clear how σεμαινειν – Apollo’s “giving signs” – is a proper characterization of Being as φύσις as the temporal revealing-concealing unfolding-way wherein and whereby all beings and things issue forth. Clearly, more needs to be said, and he proceeds to explicate this unusual conclusion.

He starts off by dismissing all previous readings of this fragment as “thoughtlessly nonsensical” and observes that the god Apollo must be understood to be giving an indication about what is essential (das Wesenhafte). But what is essential is φύσις, the “emerging and self-concealing” (179). If the god were only to uncover or only to conceal, he tells us, then the god would utterly fail to correspond to the essence of φύσις. Apollo, however, does not simply uncover or simply conceal, but rather draws together uncovering and concealing into a more primordial Oneness (Einheit). “But this happens,” he states, “insofar as he [Apollo] gives signs” (179). “Then what is a sign?” Heidegger asks rhetorically.

The question is answered in several involved sentences, and his language is certainly an obstacle to a clear understanding of what he is getting at. Nonetheless, his basic point is that the sign is “something that is shown, therefore uncovered” but at the same time indicative of what is not-shown, not-appearing. Therefore, “the essence of the sign is the uncovering-concealing [die entbergende Verbergung],” and “the showing of the sign” [das Zeigen des Zeichens] is precisely this primordial uncoveringconcealing. He concludes by observing that the sign, so understood, thus makes manifest in accordance with the essence of φύσις that has been carefully elucidated in the lecture course. Consequently:

Die φύσις selbst ist das Sichzeigende, das wesenhaft sich in den Zeichen zeigt. (179)

[The] φύσις itself is the self-showing that essentially shows itself in the signs.

This is a striking conclusion, but what does it tell us? What exactly is the matter that Heidegger is so concerned to convey in this final reflection of the lecture course? It must be admitted that this is difficult to say. Nevertheless, I think that despite the challenges posed by his rhetoric, we can discern the fundamental matter that is moving and compelling his thinking, namely, that φύσις itself (Being itself) is the point of the pointing of the sign. But let us approach this matter more deliberately.

In his distinctive way, what Heidegger appears to be vigorously arguing against is all philosophical conceptions of the “sign” (language) as merely a subjective, mental phenomenon. His insistence is that the “sign,” in Greek σῆμα, σημεῖον, σημαίμειν, must be thought, along with the earliest Greek thinkers, as “giving” Being itself (as φύσις as ἀλήθεια). Thus he notes in the next paragraph of the text that “signs,” thought in a Greek way, are “the self-showing of emerging itself” and “are nothing that is made or contrived.” This latter position he finds prevailing in contemporary thinking “and its metaphysics” (179–80). He points specifically to Nietzsche’s position that “truth” is no more than a willed “value” as “already at the most extreme distance from the [originary] essence of truth.” And precisely this wayward thinking continues to dominate philosophy with its preoccupation with “logic” and mere linguistic and propositional analysis. Heidegger’s creative reading of fragment 93, then, is really meant as a stern critique of the modern philosophy of consciousness, inaugurated particularly by Descartes, and its focus on the “ego cogito” or “subject” that is self-contained, isolated, and locked away with its “signs” (language) with no possible access to Being. In this modern philosophical perspective – which Heidegger ultimately thought that Husserl, too, shared – language is empty, a mere matter of signs or signifiers that can be analysed and manipulated at will. It is this modern “subjectivism” or “subjecticity” – this peculiarly modern form of the “forgottenness of Being” – that Heidegger was determined to break through once and for all. Φύσις itself (Being itself) shows itself in the “sign.”

So far, so good perhaps. Yet we must not miss another crucial aspect of his elucidation of the fragment. His phrasing of the core matter remains surprising; it is Apollo (φύσις) who “gives signs,” and the key sentence states that “φύσις itself is the self-showing that essentially shows itself in the signs.” All that I have noted above regarding his position remains perfectly sound, I think, but it appears that Heidegger wishes to push the matter even further. It seems that in his effort to decisively overcome the subjectivism of the modern period and to return our attention to Being, he deliberately expresses the core matter in such a way that it is Apollo (φύσις itself, Being itself) that is the “giver” of signs! In other words, he is bold enough to let Heraclitus’s words – Heraclitus, the Obscure – speak for his own position here. Indeed, how strange and “obscure” it is to say that Being “gives signs.” What could this mean? We all know that only human beings have and use “signs” and “language.” It is something of a philosophical scandal to say that Being “gives signs.” Precisely. By stating the core issue in this way, Heidegger forces us to look past ourselves and see that it is Being-φύσις that always and everywhere addresses us and compels our cor-respondence. So remark-able is this “address” and “appeal” of Being to us that we may say that it is Being – the appearing of all that is – that gives language, that is, compels language or gathers language. Of course, his saying of this may be cryptic, much like Heraclitus’s own sayings, and therefore certainly immensely frustrating to the usual reader of philosophical texts, but, on the other hand, this very poetic and enigmatic manner of expression may be said to be the true genius of Heidegger’s way of thinking.

Concluding Thought

Near the end of the lecture course, Heidegger observes: “The word, wherein the essence of the historical human being is given over to itself, is the word of Beyng [Seyn]” (180). This phrase “the word of Beyng” says two things. First, the word (sign, language) is, in the first place, not a mental entity, but rather that which brings into manifestation what manifests itself. It is Being that is present to us in language, not simply our own mental constructions. In fact, this point is of such importance to Heidegger – a point that he did not think was sufficiently made by Husserl’s critique of the Cartesian position – that his phrase is also meant to say that the word “belongs” to Being. That is, what comes to us, what arrives to us, is already so pregnant with “word” that we are only the midwife in bringing the word to birth. The self-showing that is Being-φύσις is already “wordable,” we might say, as it comes to us, and we cor-respond in word (and sound and image and movement). Our cor-respondence hails the hailing. In this way, we are indeed the heralds, the sentinels, of Being.

Heidegger's Way of Being