Of such a narrative one feels compelled to say, as Pieter Geyl did of Arnold Toynbee’s work, “C’est magnifique, mais ce n’est pas l’histoire.”70
In order for Heidegger’s etiology of die Technik to earn its right to any serious philosophical attention, he (or his followers) would need to conjugate this meta-metaphysical account with something more than the texts of a few select metaphysicians. This would require rethinking the relation between his ontological history of being and the ontic course of lived history in its concrete material manifestations. Is Heidegger arguing that the forgottenness of appropriation is the driving force of Western history or only a reflection of such forces in philosophical terms? Or is it something in between? Heidegger is notoriously vague about all of this. He seems to agree with Hegel that philosophy, his own included, arrives too late to direct the course of history. But he does claim to have found the ultimate reason for why “the world is shifting out of joint,” and he purports to offer a “glimpse into what is the case today.”71 Is it philosophically responsible to pontificate on the current state of the world—and in fact the whole trajectory of Western history—by engaging in yet one more, and in fact quite idiosyncratic, “labor of the concept” while refusing to take up the labor of history?
Richard Rorty has claimed that “[t]he whole force of Heidegger’s position lies in his account of the history of philosophy.”72 If that refers to Heidegger’s devolutionary vision of how metaphysics has unfolded in the West, along with the technological consequences of that, I think the statement is dead wrong. With his history of philosophy, especially as he worked that out in the 1930s and 1940s, Heidegger overplayed his hand. The enduring core of Heidegger’s work is his demonstration that, overlooked as it might be, radical human finitude—with no need for a supervenient God or some preternatural “Being”—is the ultimate source of meaning-at-all and thus of culture in all its historical configurations. He laid the foundations for this argument in his masterwork as well as in his subsequent readings of individual philosophers in the Western tradition. After that, full stop.
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Heidegger had originally planned Being and Time in two parts: first, to trace meaningful presence back to finite, mortal thrown-openness (“temporality”) in its horizon-forming and presence-defining function; and then
70. Pieter Geyl, “Toynbee’s System of Civilizations” in Pieter Geyl, et al., The Pattern of the Past,
43.9, reprinted from Journal of the History of Ideas IX (1948) 1, 93–125 (at 111.3–4).
71. GA 9: 242.4 = 185.23: “Der Erdball geht aus den Fugen.” “What is”: GA 79: 74.29 = 70.27.
72. Richard Rorty, The Consequences of Pragmatism, 52.