William McNeill 138

already is, that which is already present, and whose being, moreover, always is as it is (aei): that which is constantly present in its sameness. Accordingly, Heidegger indicates in Contributions:

[T]he task was . . . above all to avoid an objectification of beyng, on the one hand by holding back the “Temporal” [temporalen] interpretation of beyng, and at the same time by attempting to make “visible” the truth of beyng independently thereof. . . . Thinking became increasingly historical. . . . Beyng itself announced its historical essence.21

A key transitional text in this respect, on the way from Heidegger’s early phenomenology to the thinking of Contributions, is the last lecture course of the 1920s, the course of winter semester 1929/30, entitled The Fundamental Concepts of Metaphysics: World, Finitude, Solitude. Toward the end of that course, Heidegger raises the critical question of the appropriate “dimension” for thinking the ontological difference, that is, for thinking the distinction between being and beings. It is inappropriate, he now insists, to think this distinction in the manner of objectifying thinking, as though we could simply place “being” and “beings,” and the difference between them, all before us on the same level, as though they simply lay independently there to be contemplated by our theoretical gaze. For metaphysical thinking has in essence always represented being and beings in this manner, in their difference, although without thinking this difference radically enough (and thereby tending to reduce being to what Heidegger calls “beingness,” an existent quality or ground of beings) or paying heed to the difference as such. Not only does the ontological difference not lie before us as an object that lies present-at-hand within the field of presence; it is also, Heidegger emphasizes, not something first created by a particular way of thinking (philosophy). Rather, “we are always already moving within the distinction as it occurs. It is not we who make it, rather, it happens to us as the fundamental occurrence of our Dasein.”22 Furthermore, not only is this differentiation of being (presence) from beings (that which is present) something that happens constantly, whether with or without any explicit intervention or conscious action on our part, but it must, Heidegger stresses, “already have occurred” simply for us to be able to apprehend beings in their being such and such. “In a metaphysical sense, therefore, the distinction stands at the origin [Anfang] of Dasein.”23 In these statements we see at once an explicit recognition of the precedence of the event of presencing as an event of differentiation, and an insight into this event as lying at the origin of the being of Dasein, as that starting from which Dasein can first be open for the approach of beings themselves. Finally, and most importantly, Heidegger here makes the decisive call to set aside the thematic coining of the distinction and to “venture the essential step of transposing ourselves into