Heidegger’s Legacy and the
Need/Use of Being

Christopher D. Merwin and Ian Alexander Moore

in memoriam – Friedrich-Wilhelm von Herrmann1


This article first retraces the history of Heidegger’s “The Argument against Need” and situates it in the context of extant notes from his never-completed introduction to the Gesamtausgabe titled “The Legacy of the Question of Being.” It then argues that, for the later Heidegger, Brauch (“need,” “use”) becomes another name – indeed one of the most important, albeit neglected, names – for being in its deepest sense. To appreciate Heidegger’s legacy and that of the question of being, it is crucial that we (1) critically assess the argument against Brauch qua “need” – i.e., the argument according to which the being of certain entities, such as those that predate Homo sapiens, does not depend on the human – and (2) understand the ontological sense of Brauch qua “use.” We must not only recognize that Dasein is needed for the safeguarding of truth, but also move beyond this and see being in its independent use.

[…] Denn weil
Die Seeligsten nichts fühlen von selbst,
Muss wohl, wenn solches zu sagen
Erlaubt ist, in der Götter Nahmen
Theilnehmend fühlen ein Andrer,
Den brauchen sie; […]

For because
The most blessed feel nothing themselves,
Another, if to say such a thing
Is permitted, must, I suppose,
In the gods’ name, sympathetically feel,
They need
[brauchen] him; […] (GA 42: 284/164)

– Hölderlin2

Votre traduction de Sprache est belle et ne peut guère être dépassée. “Usage” pour Brauch est difficile; brauchen a, dans ma pensée, le double sens de benötigen [nécessiter, avoir besoin de…] et de verwenden [utiliser]; que cela soit également pensé dans “usage,” je ne saurais le dire.

Your translation of [my poem] Sprache is beautiful and can hardly be surpassed. “Usage” for Brauch is difficult; in my thinking, brauchen has the double meaning of benötigen [to require, to need…] and verwenden [to utilize]; I cannot say whether this is also thought of in “usage.”

– Heidegger to Roger Munier, February 22, 19743

Sometime during the first half of the 1970s (presumably between 1973 and 1975), Heidegger began drafting an extensive introduction to his Gesamtausgabe (GA) under the heading Vermächtnis der Seinsfrage (“The Legacy of the Question of Being”). Knowing that death was near and that he would be unable to complete the introduction, he instead decided in 1976 to preface the edition of his collected writings with the motto, Wege – nicht Werke, “Ways – not works” (GA 1: 457/171).4 In addition to a couple of programmatic notes published in the afterword to the edition’s first volume (GA 1: 457–58/171–72), longer selections from “The Legacy of the Question of Being” have appeared outside the framework of the GA in limited-edition gift booklets sent to members of the Martin-Heidegger-Gesellschaft. Among these selections, which include reconsiderations of the role of the turn, of phenomenology, of the ontological difference, of the step back, and of the nature of thinking in Heidegger’s oeuvre, are a draft of an essay (referred to as the “Complete Elaboration”) and notes published in 2014 under the title Das Argument gegen den Brauch (für das Ansichsein des Seienden) (“The Argument against Need: For the Being-in-Itself of Entities”).5 The current special section of Gatherings is devoted to appreciating the significance of “The Argument against Need.” We and the other contributors to this special section mostly refer to Heidegger’s text according to the updated edition and translation of it published last year in the British Journal for the History of Philosophy.6 It is unclear when the entirety of “The Legacy of the Question of Being,” which can be found among Heidegger’s papers in the Deutsches Literaturarchiv Marbach, will appear.7 Currently, the editorial staff of the GA has plans to publish this material at some point in a supplementary volume of the GA.8

Although Heidegger wrote “The Argument against Need” prior to April 1970, when a stroke caused his handwriting to change, he considered it important enough to include with other preparatory material for the never-completed introduction. Further, the term Brauch (which we will render, for the moment, as “need”) appears as a technical term in all of the other selections of the “Legacy” manuscript published by the Heidegger-Gesellschaft, which suggests its ongoing importance for the final stretch of Heidegger’s path of thought. Indeed, in “The Argument against Need,” Heidegger makes the surprising claim that “[n]eed is being itself [Brauch is das Sein selbst]” (AGB: viii/AAN: 526). Brauch becomes another name – indeed one of the most important, albeit neglected, names9 – for being in its deepest sense. Hence responding to the argument against Brauch qua need – i.e., the argument according to which the being of certain entities, such as those that predate Homo sapiens, does not depend on the human – and understanding the ontological sense of the term, which also has the sense of “use,” were crucial components of how Heidegger thought we should take up his legacy and that of the question of being. To this end, we must be able to address a lingering concern about transcendental subjectivity in Heidegger’s understanding of being and time.

“The Argument against Need” takes its impetus from two documents and from conversations that Heidegger had with his longtime friend and collaborator, the Swiss psychoanalyst Medard Boss, between 1959 and 1969, especially during their trip to Sicily in April–May 1963. The latter involved a flight from Rome to Zurich over the Alps, during which they discussed the ontological and temporal status of the Earth before humans.10 The first document, dated March 26, 1955, is a letter from the geologist Rudolf Trümpy to Boss. In the letter, which is appended to the manuscript of “The Argument against Need,” Trümpy recommends several texts on geology and paleontology, provides information about the age of the Earth, and concludes by expressing a worry about the human measure of time: “For us geologists there can be no doubt about the reality of a very long history of the Earth before humans. This reality may in the end exist only thanks to the retrospective activity of the human mind – but then one would be somewhat frightened by its likeness to God.”11 The question here is whether time is something “objective” and apart from the human, or whether time is “subjective” and contingent upon human thinking.

The second document, also included with the Brauch-manuscript, is a typed note, most likely by Boss, with handwritten underlining and marginalia by Heidegger. In seven steps, it lays out the argument against need. The final three steps are worth reproducing here, since, next to the fifth and last, Heidegger jotted in the margins “How so?,” thereby setting up his more nuanced response to the problem:

5. Entities-in-themselves [Das An-sich-seiende], mountains for example, could not be entities without being-in-itself [das An-sich-Sein].
6. To being-in-itself, as to being in general, the human being belongs as a clearing [gehört das Menschenwesen als Lichtung].
7. If entities-in-themselves are grounded in being-in-itself, but the latter requires [bedarf] the human being, then entities-in-themselves, mountains for example, cannot have been there before the arrival of the human being. (AGB: xii/AAN: 530)12

Heidegger’s response moves by means of a staged debate that centers around the question of whether and how we know that the Earth or, more specifically, entities-in-themselves, such as the Alps, are older than humans. Heidegger does not, in idealist fashion, simply reject the notion of human-independent entities. Nor does he cede to an eliminativism according to which being (whatever its need of humans may be) and the thoughts of the human would themselves be ultimately reducible to entities or at least characteristic only of them. Rather, Heidegger allows for an ontic or entitative independence, even as he questions the attribution of being (Sein) to that independence. The argument for Ansichseiendes, entities-in themselves, is not an argument against being itself or against being’s need of the human. But it is not an argument for the being-in-itself, the Ansichsein, of those entities either. To use Heidegger’s example from “The Argument against Need”: the mountain system known as the Alps “is” an individuated entity (ein Seiendes) with properties capable of investigation by the natural sciences, such as the age and types of its rock; the Alps do not, for all that, have being (Sein), at least not independently of human involvement. The copula should thus be used with caution or put under erasure. Seen independently, the Alps are literally “beingless [seinlos],” as Heidegger puts it at one point in the manuscript (AGB: xi/AAN: 529; see also GA 70: 121–23 on “the beingless [das Seinlose]”13).

What is at stake in Heidegger’s text is not only the ontological status of human-independent entities, which in some sense exist even though they lack being, but also whether and to what extent being itself and time are independent from or dependent on humans. Throughout the text Heidegger places the burden of his argument on the notion of Brauch, which is difficult to translate into English with a single word. Typically, it means “custom” or “convention,” neither of which is, however, suitable in the present context. Brauch, as a nominalization of the common verb brauchen, should no doubt be translated as “need” or “requirement” when formulating the argument against Heidegger’s position on the special relation between Dasein and being, even if, as we have seen, that position does not entail the dependence of entities on the human. But to understand Heidegger’s position positively, we must also appreciate a different, older valence of the terms Brauch and brauchen, namely, as “use” and “to use.” The latter can still be heard today in the word root of Gebrauch, which is a typical term for “use” (as in Hölderlin’s phrase, “der freie Gebrauch des Eigenen das schwerste ist,” “the free use of what is one’s own is the most difficult”14). Perhaps the closest we can get to the polysemy of the German in English is with “employment,” which has the dual sense of using someone or something (literally “enfolding” or “implicating” them) to fulfill a need.

In any case, understanding and attempting to articulate the special relation between Dasein and being was a large part of the motivation for Heidegger’s beyng-historical manuscripts from the mid-1930s to the mid-1940s. However, beginning in part with the analysis of Anaximander in the 1940s, which we will take up later, and more fully on display in the early 1960s, Heidegger saw fit to emphasize and articulate this special relation under the heading of Brauch. In the “Argument against Need,” Heidegger sets up two possible, opposing positions: position A. (espousing Ansichsein) claims that entities-in-themselves are older than humans, and therefore being and time cannot be contingent on the human; position B. (espousing Brauch) maintains that being, even the being of entities-in-themselves, in some sense presupposes and requires humans (Heidegger’s own position). Heidegger’s text “The Argument against Need” is not only an articulation of Heidegger’s own position as outlined above. The text also nicely summarizes his poietic thinking across the 1940s and 1950s and shows how Brauch comes to occupy a central place in his work. Instead of moving through the main features of the argument as Heidegger does, we instead summarize Heidegger’s own position, which he calls B., in the text and focus on Heidegger’s discussions of being, time, and time-space.

Before continuing, we want to make an observation about Heidegger’s deployment of Brauch as a technical term in his thought. While the term appears occasionally in earlier works (e.g., GA 58: 32/27; GA 59: 85/65; GA 61: 21/17; GA 62: 75, 239; GA 64: 27/20; GA 20: 339/246; GA 21: 12/10, 14/11; GA 27: 4, 163, 360; GA 28: 13; GA 3: 88/62), the meaning is non-technical there and largely in line with the everyday German sense of the word as “custom.” A few times, Heidegger deploys it in the sense of “use,” though without a direct connection to use on the part of being itself (GA 62: 237; GA 63: 5/4; GA 52: 190/162). Heidegger’s first in-depth thematization of the ontological character of Brauch does not seem to occur until the 1942/1946 “Saying/Verdict of Anaximander” (GA 78; GA 5: 321–73/EGT: 13–58), although we can already see him moving in this direction in a telling passage on being’s need (here Heidegger uses the verb brauchen) in the 1935 lecture course Introduction to Metaphysics:

the human being is urged [genötigt] into such Being-here, thrown into the urgency [die Not] of such Being, because the overwhelming as such, in order to appear in its sway, requires [braucht] the site of openness for itself. The essence of Being-human opens itself up to us only when it is understood on the basis of this urgency that is necessitated [ernötigt] by Being itself. (GA 40: 171–72/181; see also GA 65: passim)

In the Anaximander material from 1942, which can be found in a manuscript for an undelivered lecture course that later served as the basis for the final chapter of Holzwege, Heidegger distinctively uses Brauch as the German translation of the Greek τὸ χρεών and develops its importance for his thought across several large sections of that manuscript (GA 78: §§13, 17, 19, 26). We will discuss the connection between Brauch and τὸ χρεών later.

Heidegger continues to develop the term Brauch throughout the 1950s and 1960s. While the original 1962 version of “Time and Being” does not make use of the term, Heidegger mentions it in several important annotations to his personal copy of Zur Sache des Denkens (now in GA 14: 20n6, 21n7, 28nn10–11, 50n3; these marginal notes were not available to Stambaugh and thus do not appear in the English translation of “Time and Being”). Brauch defines the very relation between being and the human; it thus defines what Heidegger claimed in 1969 to be the main issue in his work (GA 16: 704) and what, in the 1956 appendix to “The Origin of the Work of Art,” he also saw as “a distressing difficulty that has been clear to me since Being and Time” (GA 5: 74/55).15

Brauch primarily refers to two things for the later Heidegger: not, as noted, “custom,” which the word typically means, but the way in which being avails itself of entities, including the human, and the way in which being has need of the human. Being’s need of the human is not an absolute need, however. Rather, for Heidegger, being as appropriative use maintains conceptual priority over, indeed a certain independence from, being as need. Hence there is in Heidegger a realism, not just about entities, but also about being-in-itself. Need, for its part, has two main senses, one ontological (being’s need for the human essence), the other ontic (being’s need for particular humans, particular peoples, or particular moments within the history of humanity). Thus, we must distinguish among three senses of Brauch at the level of being itself: being’s appropriative use (ereignender Brauch), being’s need for the essence of the human (Brauch des Menschenwesen), and being’s need for the human qua entity (Brauch des Menschen).

Recall that Heidegger’s own ontological position (position B.) is not at odds with the customary scientific ontic position of A., so long as the latter does not purport to determine the being of entities. Entities do not require humans for their “existence.” For Heidegger, however, this is not the main point. Instead, the ontological argument wants to ask the question of what being-in-itself means and whether any interpretation of being or being-in-itself can be independent from our human understanding of and relation to being. This is no mere mental or categorial exercise. Heidegger thinks that human mental representation and our very ability to categorize are possible precisely because the essence of the human is our ability to articulate being from out of the experience of the open relation to the presencing of other entities in their presence. In a long passage from “The Argument against Need” that would seem scarcely comprehensible without understanding the terminological developments in Heidegger’s thought, he writes:

Being-in-itself is dependent on the human essence [Menschenwesen] insofar as being always already shelters within itself the clearing of presencing [Lichtung von Anwesen] that is safeguarded by the human essence, but in such a way that this human essence itself belongs to the essence of being, from which that being-in-itself comes forth.
Presencing is in itself time-like according to a still unclarified essence of time. Presencing forth [An-wesen] is an arrival [An-kommen] in unconcealment, whose16 essence is presumably the same as the time we mean now. Time and unconcealment prevail in the essence of being as such. Arrival from a to-come [aus einem Zukommen] and unconcealment need [brauchen] in themselves an openness; the human is that essence which is needed for the true sheltering [Wahrnis] of openness. He is authentically human as the one so needed.
Referring to this need does not humanize being, but rather directs the human into his essence and this essence into the belongingness to being. (AGB: viii/AAN: 526 tm)

There is a great deal to unpack here, but we believe that this passage represents the most succinct description of Heidegger’s own position in the text. It is apparent from Heidegger’s language that he is referring to some of the technical terms he had developed in The Event (1941–1942) and “The Saying/Verdict of Anaximander.” The structure of presencing forth (An-wesen), arrival (An-kommen), and the sheltering of openness (Wahrnis der Offenheit) were part of the central themes of those two texts. Heidegger’s insertion of a hyphen after the prefix An- in both An-kommen (arrival) and An-wesen (presencing forth) emphasizes the movement and relational aspects of each term (the same can also be said for Zu-kommen, the “to-come” or “coming-to”), while also, in the case of An-wesen, stressing the connection to essence (Wesen). Moreover, Heidegger’s declaration in the passage that the same essence underlies both unconcealment and time (conceived ontologically rather than chronologically), just before stating that “[t]ime and unconcealment prevail [walten] in the essence of being as such,” harkens back to points made in “Time and Being” that time only emerges or obtains from out of the experience of being in unconcealment (AGB: vii/AAN: 526; cf. GA 14: 20/15 and GA 78: 196, 221, 237). Heidegger had not expressly stated in “Time and Being” that the articulation of being (Sein) is what necessitates or requires the human, but it is evident in that essay that this is nevertheless the relation Heidegger had in mind (GA 14: 38/30).

What is different in “The Argument against Need” is the distinction between being and being. Being, on this view, is the human articulation of the encounter with the presence of other entities. What then is being? Heidegger’s placing of the term “being” under erasure is intended to signify that being is not exhausted by our human representations of it, nor is it a thing in itself, standing off somewhere on its own (GA 9: 411/310; see also GA 73.2: 937). One way of understanding being, as Heidegger explains in “On the Question of Being,” is that it is intended to mark the sites that call to us and the things among which we belong, as well as their abyssal source. Heidegger writes that the crossing-out of being with a chiasm (χ) points “toward the four regions of the fourfold [earth, sky, divinities, mortals] and their gathering in the place of this crossing through” (GA 9: 410–11/310–11). As Andrew Mitchell has written: “being is pronounced ‘world.’”17 Heidegger recognizes that when we humans bear witness to a moment of epochal unconcealment, when we name it being and in so doing temporalize it, we do not exhaust the source of that beingness of entities – the world in its totality of things that gather the earth, divinities, the sky, and the mortals that it is incumbent upon us to become after millennia of hubris and ontological oblivion, indeed to become for perhaps the first time (GA 79: 18/17). Being – to Dasein – may be a representation, but only as a marker for being or for the event. In a thought experiment designed to think through the problem of which came first, being-in-itself or the “oldest” entities-in-themselves, such as the Earth, Heidegger writes:

How would we come to the oldest entities-in-themselves if something like being-in-itself were not already given previously – previously, not only within the backward chronological order of the old, older, and oldest entities-in-themselves, but “previously” as before this chronological order as such? This latter “previously” [“zuvor”] belongs to the inception of earliness [Frühe], which we must learn to think of as the time which first grants time–space to ordinary time in which the entities-in-themselves of the cosmos and the Earth exist. What grants this is the event itself. The turning-in of the human essence into the event is the turning-back into its essential provenance, in which humans have always already been, without as yet having expressly inhabited it. (AGB: vi/AAN: 524 tm)

Heidegger’s point here is that our very temporal determinations, our ordinary sense of time, our understanding of “old,” “older,” and “oldest,” are predicated upon the human experience of the event, which is only possible through our human co-relation with other entities: the Earth, the Alps, and all the things of the fourfold. Drawing on the German die Frühe (“earliness”), Heidegger asks us to think of time here in its more four-dimensional structure in which the entities of the cosmos and the Earth are. The sense of this noun is difficult to directly capture in English, in part because we hear too much of the adjective in “earliness.” Instead, die Frühe evokes a sense of dawn, of incipience, of tempus antelucanum as the origin of time.18

Fundamentally, for Heidegger, entities do not so much live in time; rather it is entities and our human encounter with them (and with being) that originate time for us. At bottom, we should think of terms such as “earlier,” “before,” “past,” “present,” and “future” as originating from our human encounter and relation with being and all the things of the world. Time, like being, here, is the articulation of the meaning we give to our human experience of entities. As Heidegger himself recognized, this necessitates “a departure from history in the sense it has had up to now; in no way does this amount to a denial of what [history] has transmitted [Überlieferung]; rather it signifies its transformation” (AGB: vi/AAN: 524).

In this process, Heidegger distinguishes the need for the human essence from a conceptually prior Brauch that can best be understood as a pre-human appropriative use. Brauch, Heidegger writes, names “the belonging of the human essence to the essence of being,” but it “belongs before this [vordem] to being qua event” (AGB: xii/AAN: 530). In a series of notes, Heidegger explains the prior belonging of Brauch to being qua appropriative event (Ereignis) as follows:

Appropriation [Vereignung] from out of the event into the holding in a relation [Ver-hältnis]
Brauch is the delivering up of the event to the human essence – as transformed from out of the event
The event does not itself thereby become dependent on the human; rather the independence of what is delivered over becomes clear [lichtet sich].
This appropriation first brings [übereignet] the human into the unfolded essence of mortals that has been brought into its own from out of the harbouring of the relation [in das entfaltete – aus dem Gebirg des Verhältnisses ereignete Wesen der Sterblichen]. (AGB: xii/AAN: 531)

First, it is hard to identify anything like what we typically mean by the word “need” in these notes. Heidegger, rather, highlights the independence of being (or being) qua appropriative event from the human. Second, while Heidegger may mean the human as an entity here – he does, after all, when speaking of independence, use Mensch and not Menschenwesen – even the Menschenwesen, the human essence, would seem to emerge from out the appropriative event and would hence be derivative of the latter. (Note that we are not talking about chronological derivation here; all of this is taking place outside of linear time. The event is conceptually prior to the human essence.) A passage from the essay portion of “The Argument against Need” supports these points, although it begins in terms of our experience and understanding of being:

Need is […] the experience of being, insofar as being thus first comes to shine in the fullness of its essence. Accordingly, with the needed belongingness of the human essence to being, the latter itself transforms into the event [Ereignis] that brings the need into its own [vereignend] and appropriates it for itself [sich vereignend]. Need [or “use” now], in the sense of needing [or “using”], is the relation, but no longer as that wherein being lays a claim upon the human essence, but rather as that which comprises the essencing [das Wesende] of being as event itself. (AGB: viii/AAN: 526)

In the course of Heidegger’s text, we come to see Brauch no longer as ontic dependence, and even no longer as a relation of need between being and the human essence, but as the way of being of the appropriative event itself. That Heidegger means something more like “appropriative use” than “need” here is corroborated by the 1946 essay “The Saying/Verdict of Anaximander,” derived from the 1942 manuscript. As mentioned, in this material, Heidegger avails himself of the German word Brauch to translate τὸ χρεών in Anaximander. Although τὸ χρεών is typically rendered as “necessity” in the famous Anaximander fragment (“But where things have their origin, there too their passing away occurs according to necessity [nach der Notwendigkeit, κατὰ τὸ χρεών]; for they pay penalty to one another for their recklessness, according to firmly established time” [Diels’s German translation rendered into English in GA 5: 322/EGT 13]); and although Heidegger had himself translated τὸ χρεών with the language of necessity earlier in his career (GA 35: 9–10/8, 204/159 et passim: die Notwendigkeit; GA 51: 94/81 et passim: die nötigende Not; GA 71: 38/29: das Notwendige schlechthin) – the way Heidegger uses Brauch for τὸ χρεών in “The Saying/Verdict of Anaximander” suggests that, at key moments, the term means not “need” but “use.” The latter, however, should be understood not in the sense of appropriation for one’s own ends, but in the sense of helping something to come into its own (ad proprium); not in the sense of consumption, but in the sense of an enjoyment of the other as other, that is, in the sense of what Heidegger elsewhere, invoking Augustine, calls a love that lets be (GA 16: 563). Here is the crucial passage from “The Saying/Verdict of Anaximander”:

to use [brauchen] is to brook [bruchen, in the archaic sense of “having the enjoyment of”], in Latin frui, in German fruchten, Frucht. We translate this freely as “genießen” [“to enjoy”], but nießen originally means to be pleased with something and so to have it in use [im Brauch haben]. Only in its derived senses does “enjoy” mean simply to consume or gobble up. We encounter what we have called the basic meaning of “use” [brauchen] in the sense of frui, in Augustine’s words, Quid enim est aliud quod dicimus frui, nisi praesto habere, quod diligis? [“For what else do we mean when we say frui if not to have at hand something that is especially prized?”] Frui involves praesto habere [literally “having (something) stand there in front of”]. Praesto, praesitum is in Greek ὑποκείμενον, that which already lies before us in unconcealment, οὐσία, that which lingers awhile in presence. “To use” accordingly suggests: to let something present come to presence as such [etwas Anwesendes als Anwesendes anwesen lassen]; frui, to brook, to use, usage [Brauch], means: to hand something over to its own essence and to keep it in hand, preserving it as something present. (GA 5: 367/EGT 53 tm)19

A few things should be noted about this passage from the Anaximander commentary. First, Brauch is not essentially a human activity. Rather, Heidegger is interpreting what he identifies as “the oldest name in which thinking brings the Being of beings to language” (GA 5: 363/EGT 49). This thinking that brings the being of beings to language is itself dependent on being’s already having enabled entities to emerge into presence, i.e., on being’s own Brauch. As Reiner Schürmann writes, “‘usage’ becomes a name no longer for man’s attitude but for the way in which the origin of Being and language lets beings be present and lets language speak.”20 Second, the being to which Heidegger is referring here resembles what he elsewhere writes as beyng, being, or Ereignis in contrast to the beingness of entities as determined variously throughout history by metaphysics. The former – however we write it – is the non-epochal condition for the possibility of the epochs of the beingness of entities. Heidegger often uses the language of “letting” to describe it, as he does throughout his discussion of Brauch/τὸ χρεών in his interpretation of Anaximander (see especially GA 78: 134–35). If being as Brauch allows for the presence (παρουσία) or beingness (οὐσία) of everything that is present (i.e., of entities, τὸ ὄν), it must differ from that which it makes possible. Being is neither a being nor the beingness of entities. Third, and most importantly, there is no indication in the long passage on Brauch that the word should be taken as “need.” If anything, that which is present relies on being for its presence. Following Heidegger’s connection of τὸ χρεών with ἡ χείρ (the hand) (GA 5: 366/EGT 51) – a questionable etymology, if that is what Heidegger is intending21 – we could say that the presence of what is present lies at the hand of being. Heidegger writes:

[Brauch] now designates the manner in which being itself essentially holds sway [west] as the relation to what is present [das Anwesende], approaching and handling [be-handelt] what is present as present: τὸ χρεών.
Brauch hands what is present out into its presencing [händigt das Anwesende in sein Anwesen aus], i.e., into its lingering. Brauch dispenses to what is present the portion of its while. (GA 5: 368/EGT 53 tm)

This dispensation, however, does not mean divestiture or abandonment. Rather, being keeps its hand in that which it hands out. “Brauch,” says Heidegger, “hands out order and reck in such a manner that it reserves for itself what has been handed out, gathers it to itself, and secures it as what is present in presencing” (GA 5: 368/EGT 54 tm). Letting, using in the sense of enjoying, handing out while keeping in hand, helping to bring something into its own – these are all, we maintain, different nuances of the Brauch of being itself that Heidegger, in “The Argument against Need,” says is conceptually prior to the Brauch that characterizes “the belonging of the human essence to the essence of being” (AGB: xii/AAN: 530). It is, however, to the latter that Heidegger may be pointing when, at the end of “The Saying/Verdict of Anaximander,” he asks:

But what if being in its essence braucht the essence of the human? If the essence of the human consists in thinking the truth of being?
Then thinking must poetize on the riddle of being. It brings the dawn of thought into the neighborhood of what is for thinking. (GA 5: 373/EGT 58 tm).

Other passages in Heidegger’s oeuvre call for the translation of Brauch as essential need, however. Needed for what, we might ask? For language and truth, above all (although here too Heidegger is not always consistent). Such passages do not necessarily exclude the possibility that being could, in some sense, be without the human. It is just that, on this view, being would not be able to find expression and manifestation independently of the human.22 Regarding language, Heidegger says in On the Way to Language that being’s “peal of stillness [Geläut der Stille] is not anything human,” even though it uses or, more appropriately here, needs human language to resound: “the essence of language, i.e., the peal of stillness, braucht the speaking of mortals in order to sound as the peal of stillness for the hearing of mortals” (GA 12: 27–28/PLT 205 tm). Language, we could say, is less a human instrument than the human is an instrument of language – an instrument, however, with a scope of freedom to correspond or to let itself be used in better or worse ways. There is always some distortion – human language never corresponds fully with the claim of being – but it can be minimized or at least shown as distortion. Poetry is paradigmatic in this respect.23

Regarding truth as unveiling or manifestation, in the 1942 lecture course on the Anaximander fragment, Heidegger does, to be sure, suggest that entities can shine for being itself, even, it would seem, without the human:

We now translate [κατὰ τὸ χρεών]: “as befitting Brauch.” The letting of Brauch lets presencing essentially hold sway as the while and only as such. […] In the word τὸ χρεών, being is itself cleared and brought into the unconcealed. […] By letting presencing essentially hold sway as in each case the while, Brauch brings about the splendor in whose gleam present entities appear and disappear.
Wir übersetzen jetzt: “füglich dem Brauch.” […] Das Lassen des Brauchs läßt das Anwesen als Weile wesen und nur als solche. […] Im Wort τὸ χρεών wird das Sein selber gelichtet und ins Unverborgene gebracht. […] Der Brauch erbringt, indem er das Anwesen als je die Weile wesen läßt, die Bracht, in deren Glanz Seiendes als Anwesendes erscheint und verscheint. (GA 78: 136)24

But typically, the human essence is understood as what is used and needed by being to be the site of manifestation, where things can show up as meaningful in their presence (e.g., GA 15: 370/63; GA 77: 147–48/96).

Heidegger often refers to the human essence when discussing this need. The human essence is not an entity, though particular humans may be. The former is always already correlated with being, is always needed by being, even if this correlation does not come about ontically, even if, we could say, Homo sapiens (or other intelligent species of the genus Homo) did not happen to evolve. A heterodox analogy might be to think about God before creation, who could be said to have always essentially needed the human (for relationality, to be God’s image, etc.), even when there were as yet no humans to fulfill that need.

Things become more complicated once one starts to speak of being’s need vis-à-vis specific humans or peoples. Although, to our knowledge, Heidegger does not directly deploy the noun Brauch in this fashion, there are clearly moments in his corpus when the unforgetting of being is conceived of as contingent on particular people (Hölderlin, Heidegger) or a particular people (Germans) writing in a particular language or languages (German, Ancient Greek). There are also indirect connections, such as in the Spiegel interview, where Heidegger first explains “that ‘being’ […] needs [braucht] the human, that being is not being without needing the human for its revelation, preservation, and formation,” only to emphasize, a few pages later, the “special task” of the Germans in this endeavor “in dialogue with Hölderlin” (GA 16: 672, 679/HR 326, 331, tm).

Whatever we are to make of such claims, Heidegger’s “Legacy” manuscript and the Brauch material in particular – for all their interpretive challenges – give us something of a final articulation of the relation between Dasein and being. The ultimate task seems to be not only to recognize that one is needed for the safeguarding of truth, but to move beyond this and to see being in its independent use. Above, we corroborated this hypothesis with recourse to Heidegger’s discussion of τὸ χρεών as Brauch in his interpretation of Anaximander from the 1940s. A passage from his interpretation of Heraclitus from the end of the war also offers support. Heidegger first uses brauchen in the sense of need: “Because being is Λόγος, it needs [braucht] λέγειν [which refers to what is essentially ‘“human” about the human’].” But then Heidegger writes that “being requires the latter [namely, human λέγειν] for the preservation of its independence [Das Sein bedarf dessen, zugunsten der Wahrung seiner Unabhängigkeit]. Here we are thinking within that realm (i.e., the realm of the truth of beyng [Wahrheit des Seyns]) where all relations are completely different from those in the region of beings” (GA 55: 379/282 tm; emphasis added).25 A transformation of need would seem to take place. We move from a consideration in which we are needed for the opening up of being back to being itself as independent, using things, bringing them into their own, letting them be.

Heidegger’s defense of Brauch in “The Argument against Need” aims primarily to show that being’s need of the human (whether of the human essence or of the human qua entity) does not entail the sort of correlationism according to which entities would be dependent on the human, but it also contains hints about the various senses of being’s own Brauch. They are no more than hints, at least if Heidegger stayed faithful to a note he wrote to himself in the manuscript: “In the following elucidation of the argument against ‘need,’ need – that is to say both the name and as it is in its essence – must be allowed to remain in the realm of the unsaid [im Ungesagten gelassen werden]” (AGB: xii/AAN: 531).

And yet, what Heidegger does manage to say about Brauch – however elliptically – has potentially much to say about how we should read Heidegger. The Brauch material, along with “The Legacy of the Question of Being” more generally, raises important interpretive questions with which we would like to conclude. If Heidegger’s “The Argument against Need,” with its discussion of various relations among being, the human, entities, and the beingless, was indeed intended for a never-completed introduction to the entire Gesamtausgabe, how does this impact our reading of earlier texts like Being and Time? Are we to interpret the “Legacy” material as a methodology for how one should read the Gesamtausgabe, or is the “Legacy” material – following Heidegger’s oft-cited statement “Ways – not works” (GA 1: 457/171) – intended as a compass by which one should orient oneself through the twisting paths of Heidegger’s attempts to think the meaning of being? How does “The Argument against Need” fit in with the discussions of Brauch in the other selections of the “Legacy” manuscript that have been published? Is Brauch the ultimate word – and not just the last – for being as well, or is it to be interpreted as another term in the constellation of stars which Heidegger tracks as our shifting understanding of being? Our hope is that the community of Heidegger scholars will take up these questions in fruitful and enthusiastic conversation. There is no better place to begin, we believe, than with the articles that follow.26


1 Sadly, von Herrmann, who served as Heidegger’s assistant while the latter was composing “The Legacy of the Question of Being,” passed away before he was able to complete for this special section of Gatherings an introductory essay on the text and on his time working with Heidegger. We dedicate the special section to his memory.

2 “The Rhine,” as cited in the conclusion of GA 42: 284/164. Cf. GA 4: 191/218–19 and GA 53: 193/155–56.

3 In “Lettres à Roger Munier,” trans. Roger Munier, in L’Herne: Martin Heidegger, ed. Michel Haar (Paris: l’Herne, 1983), 114–15. Cf. ibid., 98–99, and GA 13: 229.

4 The English pagination for this text refers to the new translation of Heidegger’s Habilitationsschrift, Duns Scotus’s Doctrine of Categories and Meaning , trans. Joydeep Bagchee and Jeffrey D. Gower (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2022).

5 Martin Heidegger, “Kehre”? “Sagen der Kehre” [“Turn”? “Saying of the Turn”] (2007); Eine gefährliche Irrnis [A Dangerous Errancy] (2008); Das Eigentümliche [The Proper] (2009); Das Geringe [The Slight] (2010); Auszüge zur Phänomenologie aus dem Manuskript “Vermächtnis der Seinsfrage” [Excerpts on Phenomenology from the Manuscript “The Legacy of the Question of Being”] (2011/2012); Das Argument gegen den Brauch (für das Ansichsein des Seienden) (2013/2014); Das Wegfeld des Denkens [The Path-Field of Thinking] (2015/2016). William McNeill discusses and translates portions of Auszüge zur Phänomenologie in The Fate of Phenomenology: Heidegger’s Legacy (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2020), chapter 7 (“The Last Word of Phenomenology”). See also Günter Figal, “Tautóphasis: Heidegger and Parmenides,” trans. Margot Wielgus, in Paths in Heidegger’s Later Thought, ed. Günter Figal, Diego D’Angelo, Tobias Keiling, and Guang Yang (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2020), 179–89. Tobias Keiling and Andrew J. Mitchell do the same for “Kehre”? “Sagen der Kehre” and “Das Geringe” in, respectively, “Heidegger on the Failure of Being and Time,” in The Cambridge Critical Guide to Heidegger’s “Being and Time,” ed. Tobias Keiling and Aaron Wendland (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, forthcoming), and The Fourfold: Reading the Late Heidegger (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 2005), 276–78, 319–20.

6 Martin Heidegger, “Das Argument gegen den Brauch (Für das Ansichsein des Seienden),” ed. Dietmar Koch and Michael Ruppert with emendations and notes by Tobias Keiling and Ian Alexander Moore, British Journal for the History of Philosophy 30, no. 3, online appendix (2022): i–xvi (henceforth “AGB”). Translated into English by Tobias Keiling and Ian Alexander Moore as “The Argument against Need (for the Being-in-Itself of Entities),” British Journal for the History of Philosophy 30, no. 3 (2022): 519–34 (henceforth “AAN”).

7 The manuscript is in four (or possibly five) slipcases of Heidegger’s Nachlass, catalogued under Bestandssignatur A:Heidegger, Martin 1; Zugangsnummern HS.2006.0021.00001-00004 (and possibly HS.2006.0021.00005). The first and fourth are described in the archive’s online catalog as containing, inter alia, “Das Wegfeld des Denkens” (see the Heidegger-Gesellschaft edition referenced in note 3, above); the second as containing, inter alia, two folders with material titled “Vom Geschick des Seins zur Befugnis des Brauches” [From the Destiny of Being to the Sanction of Need], “Im Echo des Parmenides” [In the Echo of Parmenides] (cf. GA 73.2: 1474–83), “Vom Geschick des Austrags her über die Ge-stellnis zum Brauch der Eignis hin aus dem Vorenthalt – der Befugnis” [From the Destiny of the Carrying-Out through the Realm of Com-Positionality to the Need of Propriation from out of the Withholding – of the Sanction], and “Entwurf zu einer nicht vorgetragenen vom Eigentum her gedachten Besinnung [Ge-Viert, M.H.]” [Draft of an Undelivered Reflection, Thought on the Basis of Property (Four-Fold, M.H.)]; and the third as containing, inter alia, “Wege” [Paths], “Das Eigentümliche” (see the Heidegger-Gesellschaft edition referenced in note 3, above), “Bemerkungen zur Gesamtausgabe” [Remarks on the Gesamtausgabe] (from which the notes reproduced in GA 1 may derive), “(Einsame) Vermutung über das seynsgeschichtliche Verhältnis des Denkens zum Dichten Hölderlins. Seinsvergessenheit und Seinsfrage” [(Solitary) Supposition about the Beyng-Historical Relation of Thinking to Hölderlin’s Poetizing. Forgetfulness of Being and Question of Being], and a letter from François Fédier to Martin Heidegger dated October 24, 1975. The editors of the Heidegger-Gesellschaft edition of Das Argument gegen den Brauch (page 75) indicate that “The Argument against Need” comes from the first slipcase, but the online catalogue of the Deutsches Literaturarchiv has it together with other manuscripts in a fifth slipcase. See also the third part of GA 81, especially the texts on pages 313/553, 316/559, 349/619, and 351–52/623 bearing the same title as the “Legacy” manuscript.

8 The plan to publish “The Argument against Need” in GA 91 did not materialize. Cf. Tobias Keiling and Ian Alexander Moore, “Heidegger on Deep Time and Being-in-Itself: Introductory Thoughts on ‘The Argument against Need,’” British Journal for the History of Philosophy 30, no. 3 (2022): 509.

9 Brauch does not, for example, appear as an entry in the recent Heidegger Lexicon, ed. Mark A. Wrathall (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2021); in Michael Inwood, A Heidegger Dictionary (Maiden, MA: Blackwell, 1999); or in Frank Schalow and Alfred Denker, Historical Dictionary of Heidegger’s Philosophy, 2nd ed. (Lanham, MD: Scarecrow, 2010). That said, Brauch has played an important role in post-Heidegggerian thought due to the prominence accorded to the term as a translation of τὸ χρεών in Heidegger’s 1946 essay “Der Spruch des Anaximander” (on which more below). See, for example, Giorgio Agamben, The Use of Bodies, trans. Adam Kotsko (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2016), 45–48, and Jean-Luc Nancy’s response thereto: “Restituer,” in Politique de l’exil: Giorgio Agamben et l’usage de la métaphysique, ed. Anoush Ganjipour (Paris: Lignes, 2018), 181–96 (194–95); Marcia Sá Cavalcante Schuback and Jean-Luc Nancy, “Heidegger et la traduction occidentale,” Les Cahiers philosophiques de Strasbourg 36 (2014), https://journals.openedition.org/cps/1337; Pedro Erber, Marita Tatari, Facundo Vega, Jean-Luc Nancy, “He Has Taken Taken Me This Far and Afterward I Leave Him: An Interview with Jean-Luc Nancy,” Diacritics 50, no. 2 (2022): 156–67); and Jacques Derrida, Margins of Philosophy, trans. Alan Bass (Brighton, Sussex: Harvester, 1982), 23–27. Regarding Heidegger’s Anaximander essay more generally, see Jacques Derrida, Specters of Marx: The State of the Debt, the Work of Mourning and the New International, trans. Peggy Kamuf (New York: Routledge, 1994), 27–34, and Hannah Arendt, The Life of the Mind, one-volume edition, Two/Willing (San Diego: Harcourt, 1978), 187–94. For secondary literature on these connections, see, for example, Peg Birmingham, “Heidegger and Arendt: The Lawful Space of Wordly Appearance,” in The Bloomsbury Companion to Heidegger, ed. François Raffoul and Eric S. Nelson (London: Bloomsbury, 2013), 157–63; Björn Thorsteinsson, “From Différance to Justice: Derrida and Heidegger’s ‘Anaximander Saying,’” Continental Philosophy Review 48 (2015): 255–71; and Gert-Jan van der Heiden, “On Use and Care: A Debate between Agamben and Heidegger,” International Journal of Philosophy and Theology 81, no. 3 (2020): 310–27.

10 See GA 89: 81–84, 661–66; Zollikon Seminars: Protocols, Conversations, Letters, ed. Medard Boss, trans. Franz Mayr and Richard Askay (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 2001), 176–82; and Keiling and Moore, “Heidegger on Deep Time and Being-in-Itself,” 509, 512. For evidence that the Brauch-material may date back to 1955, see Andrew Mitchell’s discussion of ZS 315/250 in this issue of Gatherings.

11 In the Heidegger-Gesellschaft edition of Das Argument gegen den Brauch, 41.

12 It is possible that this is Heidegger’s own reconstruction of the argument and that his questions are posed to an imaginary interlocutor, but numerous reasons support attribution of authorship to Boss: (1) Heidegger did not use a typewriter, and it seems unlikely he would have asked his brother to prepare this as a single typed sheet for him; (2) the fourth step in the argument grants that geological dating is not only “correct [richtig]” but achieves “a partial truth [eine Teilwahrheit]” (AGB: xii/AAN: 530), a phrase that, to our knowledge, Heidegger never uses elsewhere (see also Markus Gabriel, “Ancestrality and (In-)dependence – On Heidegger on Being-in-Itself,” British Journal for the History of Philosophy 30, no. 3 [2022]: 544n12); (3) the editors of the Heidegger-Gesellschaft edition of Das Argument gegen den Brauch (page 78) note that Heidegger uses yellow underlining, although they neglect to clarify that he would do so when he had critical reservations about a passage (on this see Ian Alexander Moore, Eckhart, Heidegger, and the Imperative of Releasement [Albany: State University of New York Press, 2019]: 168); and (4) step six conflicts with Heidegger’s remark, made during one of his conversations with Boss on their trip to Italy, that the human is not coextensive with the clearing; rather, “Da-sein’s being needed [Das Gebrauchtsein des Daseins] as the shepherd of the clearing is a distinguished manner of belonging to the clearing” (GA 89: 663/Zollikon Seminars, 178).

13 For more on the beingless, see Tobias Keiling’s and Andrew Mitchell’s contributions to this issue of Gatherings, as well as Mark A. Wrathall, “The Question of Ontological Dependency,” British Journal for the History of Philosophy 30, no. 3 (2022): 547–59, and Daniela Vallega-Neu, Heidegger's Poietic Writings: From “Contributions to Philosophy” to “The Event” (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2018).

14 Friedrich Hölderlin, letter to Casimir Ulrich Böhlendorff, December 4, 1801, in Sämtliche Werke und Briefe, ed. Michael Knaupp, 3 vols, 2nd ed. (Munich: Hanser, 2019), 2: 913 (emphases removed).

15 See also Zygmunt Adamczewski’s report of his conversation with Heidegger, which centered on the meaning of being’s Brauch of the human. In his explanation, Heidegger had recourse to his essay on Anaximander (on which more below). Adamczewski entertains translating Brauch as “issue.” Zygmunt Adamczewski, “On the Way to Being (Reflecting on Conversations with Martin Heidegger)” in Heidegger and the Path of Thinking, ed. John Sallis (Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press, 1970), 28–35.

16 As William McNeill rightly points out in his contribution to this special section of Gatherings, there is a transcription error here in the German editions: darum (“for which reason”) should instead read deren (“whose”), which thus functions as a relative pronoun of Unverborgenheit (“unconcealment”). We have modified the translation accordingly.

17 Mitchell, The Fourfold, 316.

18 Deutsches Wörterbuch, ed. Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, Volume 4 (Leipzig: 1854–1961, 1971), s.v. Frühe.

19 Cf. the German Nießbrauch and Latinate English “usufruct.” See also GA 60: 271–72/203–206; GA 78: 135; and GA 8: 190–94/187–91, where, however, a paragraph with the important definition of Brauchen “in the elevated sense of releasing into essence and preserving therein [einlassen ins Wesen und darin wahren]” does not appear in the English translation of the non-GA edition of Was heißt Denken?

20 Reiner Schürmann, “The Ontological Difference and Political Philosophy,” Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 40, no. 1 (September 1979): 120.

21 On this issue, see Sergiusz Kazmierski, Die Anaximanderauslegung Heideggers und der Anfang des abendländischen Denkens (Nordhausen, Traugott Bautz, 2011), 132n89, 224n183.

22 On this point, see Markus Gabriel, Fields of Sense: A New Realist Ontology (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2015), 199–200.

23 See Christopher Fynsk, Language and Relation: … that there is language (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1996); David Nowell Smith, Sounding/Silence: Martin Heidegger at the Limits of Poetics (New York: Fordham University Press, 2013); and William S. Allen, Ellipsis: Of Poetry and the Experience of Language after Heidegger, Hölderlin, and Blanchot (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2007). Allen notes: “In this one word [namely, Brauch] we find the most demanding and ambivalent aspect of Heidegger’s thinking of language, for if being needs and uses, enjoins, humans in order to be, and if it is by way of language that this relation is conducted, then there is a deep dissymmetry in this relation that exerts an extreme pressure on the very possibility of gathering it together in any kind of relation” (162–63).

24 Elsewhere in the text, Heidegger connects the word Bracht (literally “the brought”) with Pracht (“splendor”): “Das Anwesende als das Angebrachte ist die Bracht, die Pracht: das Glänzende – im Glanz sich Darbietende” (GA 78: 61; see also 289).

25 On being’s independence, see Richard Capobianco’s work, most recently Heidegger’s Being: The Shimmering Unfolding (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2022), 32–35, 48–51, 74–75.

26 With special thanks to Richard Capobianco and Tobias Keiling.

Christopher D. Merwin and Ian Alexander Moore - Heidegger’s Legacy and the Need/Use of Being
Original version in Gatherings 13 (2023).