174 § Poetry, Language, Thought

Res becomes ens, that which is present in the sense of what is put here, put before us, presented. The peculiar realitas of res as originally experienced by the Romans, a bearing-upon or concern, i.e., the very nature of that which is present, remains buried. Conversely, in later times, especially in the Middle Ages, the term res serves to designate every ens qua ens, that is, everything present in any way whatever, even if it stands forth and presences only in mental representation as an ens rationis. The same happens with the corresponding term thing or dinc; for these words denote anything whatever that is in any way. Accordingly Meister Eckhart uses the word thing (dinc) for God as well as for the soul. God is for him the "highest and uppermost thing." The soul is a "great thing." This master of thinking in no way means to say that God and the soul are something like a rock: a material object. Thing is here the cautious and abstemious name for something that is at all. Thus Meister Eckhart says, adopting an expression of Dionysius the Areopagite: diu minne ist der natur, daz si den menschen wandelt in die dine, di er minnet—love is of such a nature that it changes man into the things he loves.

Because the word thing as used in Western metaphysics denotes that which is at all and is something in some way or other, the meaning of the name "thing" varies with the interpretation of that which is—of entities. Kant talks about things in the same way as Meister Eckhart and means by this term something that is. But for Kant, that which is becomes the object of a representing that runs its course in the self-consciousness of the human ego. The thing-in-itself means for Kant: the object-in-itself. To Kant, the character of the "in-itself" signifies that the object is an object in itself without reference to the human act of representing it, that is, without the opposing "ob-" by which it is first of all put before this representing act. "Thing-in-itself," thought in a rigorously Kantian way, means an object that is no object for us, because it is supposed to stand, stay put, without a possible before: for the human representational act that encounters it.

Martin Heidegger (GA 7) The Thing