“What Does Thinking Mean?”
A translation of Heidegger’s “Was Heißt Denken?
(GA 7, 1952),1 by Will Britt


We arrive at what thinking means [heißt] when we ourselves think. If such an attempt is to succeed, we must be ready to learn thinking.

As soon as we allow ourselves to engage in this learning, we have already admitted that we are not yet capable of thinking/do not yet enable thinking.

Yet the human is regarded as that being [Wesen] that can think. Rightly is it regarded so. For the human being is the rational animal [Lebewesen]. Reason, however, ratio, unfolds itself in thinking. As the rational animal, the human must be able to think simply by wanting to. Yet maybe the human being wants to think and yet cannot. Ultimately, the human wants too much with this desire to think and for that reason can [do so] too little.

Humans can think to the extent that they have the possibility for it. Only, this possibility does not yet guarantee us that we are capable of thinking. For to be capable of something means [heißt]: to admit something near us [etwas … bei uns einlassen]2 according to its essence, to shepherd [or guard: hüten] this admittance steadfastly. Yet we are only ever capable of/only ever enable [vermögen] what we love [or favor: mögen], what we are taken with, in that we allow it [zulassen]. We truly love only that which beforehand and of itself loves us, namely, loves us in our essence, in that it is inclined toward this essence. By this inclination, our essence is claimed.3 The inclination [Zuneigung] is address [Zuspruch]. The address claims us in our essence, calls [ruft] us forth into the essence, and thus keeps us within this essence. Keeping properly means [heißt] shepherding. What keeps us within our essence, however, keeps us only so long as we, of ourselves, retain [behalten] what keeps us [Haltende]. We retain it if we do not let [lassen] it out of memory [Gedächtnis].4 Memory is the gathering of thinking. Toward what? Toward that which keeps us in our essence insofar as it is considered by us at the same time. To what extent must what keeps us be considered? Insofar it is natively what is to be considered. If it is considered, then it is gifted with recollection. We offer it recollective thinking [An-denken] because we love it as the address of our essence.

1 [The first several pages of this text differ only slightly from the opening pages of the lecture course by the same name, available in GA 8, translated (from the Neske version, not the GA version) by J. Glenn Gray as What is Called Thinking? (Harper Perennial, 1968, reprinted 2004). Large portions of the translation here could thus also serve as a translation of GA 8. I have indicated places where the texts differ by marking them in orange, and I indicate the place where the texts diverge for good on p. 138, below. If only the first word of a sentence is colored, it means something before it in GA 8 is missing here. Translations of the marginalia included in GA 7 are given here as unbracketed footnotes. It should be mentioned that the title of the talk might also mean: What Calls for Thinking? What Does ‘To Think’ Mean? What Calls Thinking Forth? Gray’s rendering tries to keep multiple meanings in play, at the cost (to my ear) of putting the question in a way that no English speaker would ask it.]

2 Third edition, 1967: to engage ourselves in something [uns auf etwas einlassen]

3 Usage in the event

4 [The phrase im Gedächtnis behalten, not used here but implied, means ‘to keep in mind.’]