In order to make clear what the name "real" means in the statement "Science is the theory of the real," let us simply consider the word itself. The real [das Wirkliche] brings to fulfillment the realm of working [des Wirkenden] , of that which works [wirkt].5 What does it mean "to work"? The answer to this question must depend on etymology. But what is decisive i s the way i n which this happens. The mere identifying o f old and often obsolete meanings of terms, the snatching up of these meanings with the aim of using them in some new way, leads to nothing if not to arbitrariness. What counts, rather, is for us, in reliance on the early meaning of a word and its changes, to catch sight of the realm pertaining to the matter in question into which the word speaks. What counts is to ponder that essential realm as the one in which the matter named through the word moves. Only in this way does the word speak, and speak in the complex of meanings into which the matter that is named by it unfolds throughout the history of poetry and thought.
"To work" means "to do" [tun] . What does "to do" mean? The word belongs to the Indo-Germanic stem dhē; from this also stems the Greek θέσις: setting, place, position. This doing, however, does not mean human activity only; above all it does not mean activity in the sense of action and agency. Growth also, the holding-sway of nature (φύσις), is a doing, and that in the strict sense of θέσις. Only at a later time do the words φύσις and θέσις come into opposition, something which in turn only becomes possible because a sameness determines them. Φύσις is θέσις: from out of itself to lay something before, to place it here, to bring it hither and forth [her- und vor-bringen] , that is, into presencing. That which "does" in such a sense is that which works; it is that which presences,6 in its presencing. The verb
5. Unfortunately it is impossible to show in translation that the word rendered with "real" (Wirkliche) belongs immediately to the family of words built on the stem of the verb wirken (to work).
6. das An-wesende. Most literally, "that which endures unto." Heideggcr writes elsewhere : Die deutsche Präposition "an" bedeutet ursprungliclz zugleich : "auf" und "in" ("The German preposition an [unto] originally means simultaneously 'toward' [auf] and 'into' [in] "). (Was Heisst Denken?, p. 143). There, in a discussion of presencing, he says: Wesen ist her-bei-, ist an-wesen im Streit mit dem ab-wesen (literally, "Wesen [enduring as presence] is enduring hither, enduring unto, in strife with enduring away from [absenting]"). Cf. What Is Called Thinking?, p. 236.