Rewriting Heidegger

Thomas Sheehan

Stanford University













APPENDIX I: Richard Polt: response to Thomas Sheehan’s “Rewriting Heidegger”

APPENDIX II: Response to Richard Polt’s response

APPENDIX III: Some texts on the relation of Geworfenheit and Ereignis



There is a double crisis threatening Heidegger scholarship today, one ab extra, one ab intra. Symptomatic of the crisis ab extra are the works of Emmanuel Faye and Richard Wolin. Faye’s work is so incompetent that it hardly passes the laugh text. Wolin, for his part, knows that Heidegger was an antisemite and a Nazi—and he’s right: Heidgger certainly was. But that’s all Wolin knows. In his role as village explainer, Wolin uses Wikipedia’s potted version of Heidegger as a weapon to reduce the philosophy to crowd-shocking headlines (épater les bourgeois!) in a crusade to close off job opportunities for younger philosophers who actually do understand the work.

But the crisis ab intra is far more troubling: the deepening uncertainty among Heidegger scholars themselves regarding what his work was about and why it should matter. I’d like to I address the ab intra crisis by asking a “what” question and a “so what” question.

The crisis ab intra takes many forms. I’ll begin by mentioning two snares that Anglophone Heidegger scholarship is caught in: the language trap and the being trap.


Your experience of teaching Heidegger may be like mine. Students read the texts mostly in English, and the first wall they crash into is Heidegger’s language, where virtually every key term has a different meaning from either ordinary or even philosophical German. For example,

Seindoes not meanbeing
Zeitdoes not meantime
Wahrheitdoes not meantruth
Ereignisdoes not meanevent
Verstehendoes not meanunderstanding
Sorgedoes not meancare
dadoes not meanhere or there

. . . and the list goes on.

Moreover, the translations themselves pose a host of problems. Either they leave his two key terms, Dasein and Ereignis, in the German because Heidegger claimed, improbably, that they simply could not be translated, or they flagrantly ignore his objections to translating Dasein as “being-here” or “being-there” and Ereignis as “event.” Or they hue so closely to Heidegger’s German that they produce calques and neologisms that are simply not English (e.g., de-severance, de-distancing) or that suffer from acute hyphenitis (ready-to-hand, present-to-hand, being-in-the-world, being-towards-death) without adequately explaining what Heidegger means. All this, not to mentioning the way the English deals with complex German syntax, including compound sentences with long embedded modifying clauses. Consider, for example:

Apart from the fact that in the question just formulated, the ‘standpoint’ – which is again not demonstrated phenomenally but is rather constructivist – makes its appearance....

which might remind one of Mark Twain’s parody in “The Awful German Language.”

But when he, upon the street the (in-satin-and-silk-covered-now-very-unconstrainedly-after-the-newest-fashion-dressed) government counsellor’s wife met….”1

Moreover, the literalistic, word-for-word accuracy of the English translations can be a serious disadvantage insofar as Heidegger’s key terms often bring Aristotle’s Greek lexicon into German while giving it a phenomenological rather than a metaphysical sense. Translations that are ignorant of that can go wide of the mark, for example by rendering Gestell as “enframing” (missing its roots in μορϕή) or Riß as “rift-design” (ditto regarding πέρας) or Umschlag as “overturning” (ditto regarding μεταβολή).2

The result is that Anglophone scholarship is hamstrung by its proprietary Pidgin, which is based on German and understood only by paid-up initiates. Heidegger had good reasons for crafting his own unique terminology, but its rhapsodic repetition by generations of disciples is getting a bit old. Even more bizarre is that this idiolect is not even Heidegger’s. Rather, it’s the one invented by John Macquarrie and Edward Robinson some sixty years ago. To be sure, they did yeoman’s service in quarrying out of the hard granite of Sein und Zeit their groundbreaking translation, Being and Time. But they did so in ignorance of the Greek that underlies the German and with a lapidary literalism that to this day remains only semi-understandable and has long since outlived its usefulness.


Worse yet, Heidegger scholars are caught in the “being” trap, convinced that die Sache selbst, the core of Heidegger’s thought, is Sein—this in spite of Heidegger’s insistence that it wasn’t. It took him a while but he finally got around to making that clear.

Most of these statements were as yet unpublished in 1962-63 when William J. Richardson and Otto Pöggeler were moving Heidegger scholarship out of its post-war existentialist paradigm and into the classical “being” paradigm that has dominated Heidegger scholarship ever sense. With Heidegger’s clarifications of Ereignis in Beiträge zur Philosophie (1989), the tectonic plates under the classical paradigm began to shift, and now some thirty-five years later the question presses to the fore: If Heidegger’s focal topic was not being (and if Ereignis is not “just another name for being”), what was Heidegger’s central issue? And where do we start in order to find out?

A few years back, Gregory Fried and Richard Polt published the important collection After Heidegger? The question mark in the title is important, signaling that in order to project an “after Heidegger,” one first has to know what Heidegger was after. Like Socrates, Heidegger held that questions are determined by the answers they are searching for. So, if Heidegger was not searching for Sein, what was he after?


In the spring of 1971, through the good offices of my teacher, William J. Richardson, I spent the better part of an afternoon with Heidegger at his home in Freiburg-Zähringen. I was teaching in Rome at the time, and he wrote inviting me first to submit some questions and then to visit him on May 21. I was fresh out of graduate school, and admittedly the questions I forwarded were somewhat naïve. Heidegger saw that, and as he poured a glass of wine in his second-floor study, he cut to the chase. If you want to understand my work, he said, you first have to understand two things: the categorial intuition in Logical Investigations and Aristotle’s doctrine of κίνησις in the Physics. The first text, he said, led him to revise his understanding of the second. Once he saw that Husserl’s breakthrough regarding the categorial intuition had already been anticipated by Aristotle in Metaphysics IX, 10,8 Heidegger had a new insight, one that launched him on his lifelong pursuit of “the thing itself.” He saw that movement determines meaning.9

Aristotle said that a small error in the beginning gets multiplied ten-thousandfold down the road.10 In approaching Heidegger, it is important to get off on the right foot from the very beginning by understanding the presuppositions that underlie his work. For Heidegger the fundamental presupposition is his understanding of κίνησις. Like any fundamental presupposition, this one operates in the background of everything he taught and wrote, and yet if κίνησις is the hidden presupposition of Heidegger’s work, it is hiding in plain sight. It massively informs his early courses on Aristotle as well as his famous 1922 “Natorp Bericht,” his first major text on Aristotle, where the term Bewegung is mentioned 52 times in a 51-page manuscript.11 In a 1928 seminar he declared that human beings are the Urbewegung and, as such, can understand the being of things only as a form of movement.12 To state this in terms of SZ: insofar as we are existential κίνησις (Zeitlichkeit), we necessarily understand being as ontological κίνησις (Zeit). Indeed, the bond between human being as κίνησις and Sein as κίνησις is itself kinetic.13 This is the fundamental fact underlying Heidegger’s discussions of Ereignis throughout the last forty years of his career.

The story I tell in what follows takes Heidegger’s 1971 suggestion seriously and is focused on movement and meaning and especially on the “and” that binds them together.


Hölderlin famously said that where you begin is where you remain, and T.S. Eliot wrote that the end of all exploring is to arrive back where you started and know the place for the first time.14 True to both maxims, Heidegger remained when he began and kept coming back to where he started, and that place was the phenomenological correlation. His first course (winter semester, 1915) was dedicated to Parmenides’ formulation of the correlation: νοεῖν and εἶναι, minding and being, are correlative and inseparable.

νοεῖν and εἶναι from τὸ αὐτό

Heidegger took that as the bedrock of human being and of all Western philosophy, and for the next sixty years he did all his work within the correlation of the Vollzug and the Gehalt, the enacting of an understanding of Sein and the meaning of the Sein that gets enacted.

Another presupposition that Heidegger brings to his work (and a fundamental one insofar as denying it only instantiates it)15 is that human beings are embedded a priori in meaningfulness (Bedeutsamkeit). He holds that we are less in possession of λόγος (as per Aristotle’s τὸ ζῷον λόγον ἔχον) than we are possessed by λόγος (as in Heidegger’s rewrite: λόγος ἄνθρωπον ἔχων).16 He reads λόγος as referring primarily to “gathering into meaning” rather than to the consequences of that: the ability to interpret, speak, and reason.17

Before it is anything else, phenomenology is the correlation, if only because that correlation is our fate. Lacking a God-like point of view, we are locked into the relation between enactment and enacted. We cannot experience anything without experiencing it; we cannot understand being without understanding it. As Heidegger puts it, “the philosophizing person . . . belongs together with the matters being treated.”18 Everything else in phenomenology—whether intentionality, the things themselves, the reductions, or even hermeneutics itself—is located within and is secondary to the correlation.

The correlation is what structures the first Division of SZ:

Vollzug and Gehalt from Bezug 1st Division

It likewise structures all of Part One of SZ as originally projected.

Vollzug and Gehalt from Bezug Part One

. . . even though SZ as published completed only the Vollzug side.

Parmenides may have been the first to articulate the correlation of νοεῖν and εἶναι, but according to Heidegger, the reason the correlation is ineluctable eluded him and everyone else in Western philosophy . . . until Heidegger himself. Philosophers failed to probe the Bezug that unites the minding-of-being and being-as-the-minded. But as Heidegger said in his Kant book, that Bezug—the “and” between enactment and enacted—is what he was finally after.19

Given the centrality of the correlation, it’s amazing that books on Heidegger’s phenomenology can still be published today without so much as mentioning the correlation.20 Even more amazing is the widespread claim that Heidegger gave up phenomenology in the 1930s. We know he surrendered the title “phenomenology” just as he surrendered the titles “fundamental ontology” and “hermeneutics,” but without ever surrendering what those titles refer to. Heidegger never gave up phenomenology—and couldn’t without ceasing to be Heidegger.


If phenomenology is first and foremost about the correlation, it is first and foremost about meaning, intelligibility, and significance, and not at all about being as that word is understood both in everyday speech and in philosophy. The word “Sein” is catnip for Heideggerians, sending them into paroxysms of ecstasy. Nonetheless, in none of its forms—εἶναι, οὐσία, esse, entitas, and even Heidegger’s Sein—was it ever die Sache selbst. “Sein” is the first of those technical terms in Heidegger that do not have their usual philosophical meanings. Here we reach the pons asinorum of Heidegger scholarship, with the attendant difficulties the scholarship has had in spurring Balaam’s ass over that bridge.

Ever since (as he said) “Husserl put phenomenological eyes in my head,”21 Heidegger saw that phenomenology was about an immediate first-person engagement with what is given in experience (das Was) in terms of the way it is given (das Wie). To use ontological terms, phenomenological experiences are of beings (das Seiende) in their being (das Sein). Such a formulation can be misleading if, as Heideggerians often do, one were to take “being/Sein” as referring to the intrinsic essence and/or existence of a thing apart from the person relating to the thing. That would be in-itself-ness in Aristotle’s metaphysical sense, where what one encounters is considered as ἔξω ὂν καὶ χωριστόν, independent of and apart from thinking.22

Since short of death there is no escape from Bedeutsamkeit, Heidegger understands the in-itself-ness (the being/Sein) of a thing phenomenologically as

“Sein” means “presence” but not in the physical or chronological sense. Instead, it means presence-to-mind,23 just as Parmenides’ νοεῖν means having εἶναι present to mind. However, “mind” refers to minding, whether that consists in caring about something (as in “Do you mind if I smoke?”) or caring for a person or thing (“Mind your little brother while I’m out”) or being attentive to a situation (as in “Mind the gap” in the London Tube). In short, “Sein” is Heidegger’s stand-in for the significance of something to someone within a correlation that structures the specific meaning-giving context. “Sein” is about how things matter to us; it stands for such “mattering.”

When Heidegger speaks of “Sein,” he means Anwesen/presence as the Bedeutsamkeit of what one encounters. That’s why Heideggerians should bite the bullet, take the pledge, and swear off the Sein-sauce once and for all, the way Heidegger himself finally did.24 It’s time to follow his good example and hit the pause button on what he called “Seinsgerede”25—all that banging on about “being”—if for no other reason than such being-babble is the greatest obstacle to understanding Heidegger’s work and making any progress beyond it.

. . . nonetheless, since it’s the term Heideggerians continue to employ, I will (reluctantly) use “being” and “significance” interchangeably in what follows.

I call these remarks “Rewriting Heidegger,” and the final goal is to move beyond Heidegger to an “after Heidegger” that gets to the tasks he left undone. The Ariadne’s thread guiding this text’s trajectory will be Heidegger’s 1971 remarks on movement and meaning.


The first issue is der Sinn von Sein, a phrase that has two distinct meanings, one performative and the other semantic. The Vollzug-sense is about how we are structured so as to be able to enact an understanding of being (the material covered in SZ I.1-2), whereas the Gehaltssinn concerns the semantic sense, i.e., what we understand being as (the material that was to be covered in SZ I.3).

In 1962 Heidegger twice renamed the enactment of the understanding of being. In his April letter to William J. Richardson he called it what brings about (erbringt) Anwesen. And in a private seminar in September of that year he referred to it as what allows for meaningful presence, das Anwesen-lassen. Here “lassen” does not refer to what puts presence “out there” in the world as something we might or might not run across. Sein occurs only in the enactment of Sein. So the question “Was erbringt/läßt Sein?” asks about what we do to make significance happen at all.

Still on the performative side, Heidegger identified the Sinn von Sein with die Lichtung and in turn identified die Lichtung with Existenz, the being of human beings. (Some contest the identification, but I think the textual evidence is clear.)26 Therefore, it is we ourselves qua ex-sistent who “erbringen das Anwesen,” Ex-sistence is the “es” that gives or dispenses Anwesen. It is die Sache selbst of all Heidegger’s work both early and late.

But then what about the enacted-semantic side of der Sinn von Sein? What do we understand being as? SZ-as-published dealt only with the Vollzugssinn, whereas the unpublished third division was to work out the Gehaltssinn regarding what being means. Even though the book remained a torso, Heidegger nonetheless said the performative side in Divisions 1 and 2 foreshadows what Division 3 would have worked out.27 Therefore, to discover the semantic content of “being,” we have to work with what we’ve got: Existenz as the Vollzugssinn. The fundamental structure of that is laid out in § 65 of SZ, entitled “Die Zeitlichkeit des Daseins,” which brings us to the second issue, which in fact is the key issue.


SZ § 65 is one of the least understood sections of the entire treatise, and the worst translated. What I’ll call the “received interpretation” of § 65 has two problems, the first regarding the structure of Zeitlichkeit and the other regarding the terminology for it. Underlying both problems is an issue that was mentioned above: Heidegger’s retrieval of an ex-sistential-phenomenological meaning from one of Aristotle’s Greek metaphysical terms.


The traditional metaphysical model sees time as composed of three moments: past, present, and future. The received interpretation holds that the same applies to Zeitlichkeit, so that those three chronological moments give their names to the very different ex-sistential moments of Zeitlichkeit. Thus, Gewesen, Gegenwart, and Zukunft get translated as, respectively,

But that is egregiously wrong. For starters, Zeit does not mean “time,” and Zeitlichkeit does not mean “temporality” in either the everyday or the philosophical sense of measuring the length of events. Here we meet the full impact of Heidegger’s 1971 remarks about κίνησις.28

Heidegger lifted the issue of time out of Aristotle’s chronological model and relocated it (provisionally) in Plotinus’ model of διάστασις ζωῆς, which Augustine interpreted as distentio animi and which Heidegger called “die Erstreckung des Daseins,” ex-sistence as stretched out ahead of itself.29 Ex-sistential Zukunft does not refer to a human being’s “future,” all those experiences that are yet to come. Rather, it is Heidegger’s name for becoming yourself, asymptotically and mortally, as in his term das Auf-sich-Zukommen.30

Then what about Gewesen? We know it doesn’t refer to das Vergangene, the by-gone past; but the received interpretation insists it means “what-is-as-having-been,” in the present perfect tense—which it emphatically does not. It is Heidegger’s retrieval of an unsaid possibility in Aristotle’s phrase for “essence,” τὸ τί ἦν εἶναι, which Heidegger interprets as “das Gewesen” and uses in reference to the essence of human being. — But there’s a problem. The Greek phrase uses the imperfect verb form ἦν, “it was”; and if we translate the Greek literally (and in this case incorrectly) the human essence (τὸ τί ἦν ἀνθρώπῳ εἶναι) would be defined in terms of “what it was to be human,” as in the medieval mistranslation, quod quid erat esse. This reduces ontology to chronology and locates our essence somewhere in the past imperfect.

Here things get a bit complicated, and we will take it in two steps. First, what τὸ τί ἦν εἶναι does not mean.

Only in 1976, the last year of his life, did Heidegger clarify the issue. Someone (probably von Herrmann) asked him about the ἦν, and Heidegger wrote out a note that he inserted in the copy of SZ that he kept in his Todtnauberg cabin. That handwritten note eventually become the marginal gloss that appears in the Gesamtausgabe edition of SZ at page 114 (note “a”). The note explains that the Greek verb εἶναι does not have a grammatical form for the present perfect; hence, to express that tense, Aristotle resorted to a work-around and invented the phrase ἦν εἶναι—which can be translated into English as is-as-having-been: Jones, having been born some thirty years ago, still is the child of her parents.

But that hardly solves the problem. Translated literally (and again incorrectly), it would ascribe the essence of a human being to what has been (Latin: quod quid fuit esse), thereby still reducing ontology to chronology, while simply switching from the imperfect to the present perfect tense.

Second, what τὸ τί ἦν εἶναι does mean. The Todtnauberg note further explains that τὸ τί ἦν εἶναι (and implicitly Heidegger’s das Gewesen) refers not to chronology and the present perfect tense but to ontology and what Heidegger calls the “apriorisches Perfekt and “ontologisches Perfekt.” He uses these two terms in the etymological sense of the Latin perfectum: what is “done unto” human beings (factum) and done “thoroughly,” i.e., a priori and determinatively (per-)—or as Heidegger puts it in the note: “das jeweils schon voraus Wesende,” what is

In other words, these terms refer to the dynamic ontological structure that makes us what we are and cannot not be if we are to be human at all. And that dynamic structure is ex-sistential κίνησις, ontological becoming, the fact that, as long as you are living, you are asymptotically and mortally becoming yourself. Your self is not what and how you are in the isolated present moment; rather, it is you as ever becoming yourself.

Therefore, das Gewesen and die Zukunft are not two “time zones,” one in the past or present perfect and the other in the future. Rather, Gewesen functions grammatically and ex-sistentially as an adjectival modification of Zukunft. Zukunft is ex-sistential becoming, and the adjective “gewesen” expresses the kind of becoming that you are: one that, far from being your chronological future (next year, the year after that, and so on), is the on-going, ever-operative κίνησις that you cannot not be. This fleshes out what Heidegger means by Seinkönnen as Zu-sein, and what he means by Möglichkeit when used in the singular for Existenz. It is one’s ontological δύναμις as the ability to keep on keeping on, what Heidegger elsewhere calls “das Entheben in das Mögliche.”31


We move from the the terminology for ex-sistential “temporality” to the question of its structure.

Recall that Sorge is a preliminary and provisional formulation of the structure of ex-sistence, whereas Zeitlichkeit is the fundamental formulation; hence the two structures should map onto to one another. The received interpretation does the mapping by claiming that both Sorge and Zeitlichkeit have a trivalent structure—each is allegedly composed of three moments—whereas in fact they are bivalent, composed of only two moments. With Sorge the two moments are:

  1. Sich-vorweg-schon-sein-in (einer Welt)32
  2. Sein-bei (innerweltlich begegnendem Seienden).

The first moment indicates that the human being is

That makes possible the second moment, so that

  1. we are a priori thrown ahead as the sphere of intelligibility
  2. and thereby make sense of whatever we encounter.

The two moments that structure Sorge cannot be stretched to fit Zeitlichkeit’s supposed three moments of past, present and future. However, they do fit Zeitlichkeit when we see that ex-sistential “temporality” is composed of only two moments:

  1. gewesene Zukunft: we are a priori becoming ourselves asymptotically and mortally
  2. Gegenwärtigung: we thereby make sense of ourselves and of all we encounter.

Gewesen says that ex-sistential becoming is our a priori fate, what we cannot not be. When Heidegger, in his full definition of Zeitlichkeit, replaces “gewesen” with the invented participle “gewesend” (SZ 326.19), he is emphasizing that our ex-sistential becoming is, ever was, and ever will be operative as long as we live.


What to make of a phrase in § 65 that describes a person as “zukünftig auf sich zurückkommend”?

The English translations make a hash of it, rendering the phrase as “[Dasein,] coming back to itself futurally” (Macquarrie-Robinson) or even worse “[Dasein,] coming back to itself from the future” (Stambaugh-Schmidt). Who can make any sense of the English or, for that matter, of Heidegger’s German?—unless one sees Aristotle’s τὸ τί ἦν εἶναι hovering in the background.

Recall that § 65 is defining Zeitlichkeit not as just a neutral ex-sistential structure but as authentic Zeitlichkeit, the mode of Zeitlichkeit that you personally enact when you take over and own your mortality in an act of resolve. In doing so, you do not “return to yourself from the future” or “return futurally to yourself,” whatever that would mean. Instead, you return to yourself (if I may invent a word) “zukünftig-ly.” Here “zukünftig” has an ex-sistentiel (personal) rather than an ex-sistential (structural) sense. It is still about becoming, but now it is about how you personally become your structural becoming by taking over your mortality as your own (zu eigen machen), making yourself responsible for it (eigentlich). This is what SZ calls “taking over your thrownness” (Übernahme der Geworfenheit), which Beitráge will rewrite as “taking over your appropriation” (Über-nahme der Er-eignung).34 It’s a matter of becoming your becoming, which is precisely what Heidegger was referring to in SZ § 31 when he channeled Pindar’s γένοι' οἵος ἐσσί as “Werde, was du bist.”35


A brief note on the phrase “making sense of,” since I use it to paraphrase both Sein bei in Sorge and Gegenwärtigen in Zeitlichkeit. Etymologically it comes from the Latin sentire, which has two distinct connotations: kinetic-directional and epistemic-semantic. When you are driving in Paris and the sign says sens unique (or in Rome and it says senso unico), the sign is indicating a one-way street, employing the kinetic-directional sense. On the other hand, when you speak of making sense of something, you’re employing the epistemic-semantic sense. The two senses are interrelated. For Heidegger the kinetic-directional sense underlies the semantic-epistemic one: movement makes for meaning. In making your way ex-sistentially, you open up a sphere of meaning within which you can understand things as this or that.36

I have argued that SZ § 65 cashes out Heidegger’s 1971 suggestion about Bewegtheit and Bedeutung. In Sorge, the movement-moment of our being thrown ahead as the sphere of intelligibility allows for the meaning-moment of rendering things meaningfully present. So too in Zeitlichkeit, the movement-moment of a priori becoming accounts for the meaning-moment of rendering things meaningfully present. In making-our-way (bewegen), we make sense of things (bedeuten). Our mortal movement (Zeitlichkeit) makes for meaning (Sein).

“Die Temporalität des Seins” is Heidegger’s term for the fact that and the way in which ex-sistential κίνησις is responsible for the understanding of being. But how exactly does ex-sistential κίνησις determine the meaning of being?

§ 65 works out two distinct modes of ex-sistential “time,” Zeitlichkeit and Zeit, both of which are the same thing: ex-sistence.37 The sameness and the distinction are important, and the mediating term that Heidegger uses is “sich zeitigen”: Zeitlichkeit unfolds into and as Zeit. “Sich zeitigen” is his translation of ϕύειν (cf. ϕύσις), something the English translations obscure by rendering the phrase as “temporality temporalizes itself as time,” a sentence that says nothing and obscures everything.

From the get-go, Heidegger has a field-theory of Existenz. To express that, he often uses the image of a horizon, which doesn’t really capture what he means. A horizon is an imaginary line up ahead where Earth and sky seem to meet, whereas Heidegger is referring to what lies on this side of the horizon, namely Existenz as the sphere of meaningfulness. That field, formed by ex-sistential becoming, is what Heidegger calls “the clearing.”

temporality unfolds as time

That sphere is not static. It’s a “Kraftfeld,” a charged field of force that determines whatever appears within it. Think of a magnetic field exerting a directional force on the metal filings that fall within its scope.

Bar magnet with magnetic lines

Analogously Zeit, as the “field of force” into which and as which ex-sistence unfolds, is what determines the “directionality” aka significance of whatever falls within its scope.

§ 65 is the culmination of SZ in its published form. It establishes the thesis that constitutes the core of Divisions 1 and 2 and that was to be further spelled out in Division 3, namely that we understand “being” in terms of “time.” In § 65 the picture that SZ had been drawing for some 350 pages finally begins to become clear, and as it does, we see the utter radicalness of what Heidegger was driving at. At this point—not even a third of the way through SZ as originally projected and long before Part II, which was to take on the history of being—Heidegger has already destroyed traditional ontology. He has dismantled being as it was imagined at the origins of Western philosophy: static, firmly grounded, identical to itself—all the characteristics (other than its correlation with minding) that Parmenides had established.38 He has shown that we understand—and cannot not understand—everything in terms of our groundless, asymptotic becoming. There is no founding reason for that: we’re simply thrown into doing it ineluctably. In a way that is analogous (but only analogous) to Nietzsche, Heidegger has stamped being with the characteristics of becoming. He has done Nietzsche’s homework for him.39

Heraclitus famously said that you cannot step into the same river twice.40 Some fifty years later Cratylus did him one better by saying that you can’t step into the same river once.41 Heidegger agrees with Cratylus and tells us why he is right. You can’t step into the same river once because there is no bank from which to step into the river. You are the river.

To speak of Heidegger’s work as a “topology” is to use a term that is far too static.42 It would be more accurate to call it a “potamology.” (Only kidding.) The same goes for “the clearing”: die Lichtung as a cleared space in a woods is far too static an image for what Heidegger has in mind. Heidegger himself saw that problem and went on to show that the verb “lichten” has a dynamic sense43 and can mean “clearing the way,” which he expressed by the verb “wëgen,” a Swabian dialect word for “to make one’s way.”44 By ex-sistentially making our way, we open up and clear a space that makes meaning possible.45

And yet it’s extraordinary that once Heidegger has arrived at this utterly radical thesis, he showed so little interest in cashing out the details of the Gehalt side of the phenomenological correlation by showing what Anwesen is understood as. It’s true that two months after publishing SZ, during the very last hour of the last meeting of his course on “Grundprobleme der Phänomenologie” (Saturday, July 16, 1927), Heidegger did make a pass at working out the Gehaltssinn of being, in at least one of its modalities.46

Die Temporalität des Seins

That glancing blow would be his sole attempt to work out die Temporalität des Seins, at least until the equally unsatisfying effort thirty-five years later in his lecture “Zeit und Sein” (January 31, 1962). And in the Todtnauberg seminar that he gave on that lecture a few months later (September 11-13, 1962), he was less interested in the Gehaltssinn von Sein than in further elaborating the Vollzugssinn under the rubric of “Es gibt Sein,” i.e., how there is an understanding of being at all. In the end, he seemed satisfied with clarifying the “Es” of “Es gibt Sein” by simply saying that the Lichtung (aka Zeit) erbringt Anwesen: ex-sistential becoming accounts for all forms of significance . . . period.47


But didn’t all that change with the so-called “Kehre” in the 1930s? The short answer is: No. The later work confirms that Existenz is what “gives” or “dispenses” all forms of being.

In 1929 Heidegger said that the key issue of all his work lay hidden in the “and” that holds together time and being, the Bezug correlating νοεῖν and εἶναι, Dasein and Anwesen.48 The Bezug is the Lassen of Anwesen, and that Lassen comes down to Existenz. Shortly before drafting the “Letter on Humanism,” Heidegger wrote a note on what he called the “Wahr-heit des Seyns,” perhaps the “revealed-ness” of Seyn as the clearing, which he said is the most important thing we are given to contemplate (“das Höchste dessen, was den Menschen zu denken gegeben”). Within that issue, the richest mystery is the relation of das Seyn to human being (“der Bezug des Seyns zum Menschen”). He goes on:

Der Bezug ist jedoch nicht zwischen das Seyn und den Menschen eingespannt als seien beide vordem bezuglos Seyn und Mensch. Der Bezug ist das Seyn selbst, und das Menschenwesen ist der selbe Bezug: der entgegnende zum Gegenden des Seyns.49
However, the relation is not something stretched between human being and Seyn as if, beforehand, Seyn and human being were two elements unrelated to each other. Instead, the relation is Seyn selbst, and the essence of human being is that very relation: the replying to the presence of being.50

So yes, we can see how Heidegger could use “Seyn” as a cipher for “die Sache selbst”; however, it is merely a formal indication of the thing itself. Once we work out the content of that formal indication, it becomes clear that Seyn qua die Sache selbst is Existenz, the asymptotic and mortal ex-sistential κίνησις that we are a priori thrown into. Because we are ever teetering at the edge of death (Sein-zum-Tode), we can make sense of everything we encounter—in fact, we have to make sense of it. And because as soon as we are born, we are old enough to die51 and thus are ever at the point of death, we always live at the chiaroscuro border where ex-sistence shades off into nothingness, into utter meaninglessness.

Even without Division 3 we see the radical outcome Heidegger was driving at. He pulled every vestige of ground out from under our feet and left only the flux of becoming, human being as a question to which there is no answer.


This talk is called “Rewriting Heidegger,” but its real title is “Rewriting Heidegger in order to get beyond him.” Heidegger did not want more Heideggerians. He thought one Heideggerian was quite enough, thank you. What he wanted are people who would learn from him and then think beyond him. In fact, Heidegger himself wanted to think beyond Heidegger. What do I mean by that?

At first blush it might seem that Heidegger’s program in the late 1920s was twofold: fundamental ontology and the dismantling of metaphysics, the two Parts of SZ as projected. However, on July 12, 1928, as he was leaving Marburg to assume Husserl’s chair at Freiburg, he laid out a different plan that included a post-SZ project. In the 1920s the word “metaphysics” still had a positive sense for Heidegger—properly understood, it described his own project—and Heidegger sketched out what he saw as its full structure.52


With meta-ontology, he said, fundamental ontology becomes radical;53 it returns to its roots in the ex-sistentiel and the ontic. Ariadne’s thread guides us back out of the dark cave of the Temporalität des Seins, back to ourselves where, as Heidegger famously said, the question of ex-sistence is clarified only by how we ex-sist.54 The analyses in SZ were not an end in themselves. They issue in a protreptic to self-transformation, a Verwandlung des Menschseins,55 a call to social authenticity as well as to personal authenticity. Didn’t Heidegger tell Richard Wisser in a 1969 interview that metaphysics had only interpreted the world, whereas the point is to change it?56

Meta-ontology was to be a step in that direction. It would make the transition from a fundamental ontology of becoming to the concrete metaphysics of human being (including an ethics) and to regional ontologies of non-ex-sistential entities, all in the name of fulfilling what he said philosophy is ultimately about: the concretion of what it means to be human.57 Meta-ontology brings us back from the depths of fundamental ontology and lands us in the economic, social, and political worlds where we live our daily lives.


To return to where we started, the two questions of “what” and “so what.”

It should be safe to assume that after a century of scholarship, after thousands of superb articles and books, Heideggerians do know what Heidegger was ultimately after. They surely have mastered the “what” question and can now ask the “so what” question. What difference does all that make?

You no doubt remember the nineteenth-century parable about a famous German professor who wanted to save people from drowning. He was convinced that people sank under water because they had the idea of gravity in their heads. Therefore, he dedicated his whole career to driving the idea of gravity out of people’s minds and replacing it with the idea of levity. However, he died in despair because, his best efforts notwithstanding, people continued to drown.58

Surely none of us wants to repeat that feckless gesture, hoping to save Western civilization (or at least Western philosophy) by driving the idea of metaphysics out of people’s minds and replacing it with the idea of Ereignis. Nor do we want to repeat the trahison des clercs of those German philosophers in the 1930s who never looked up from their copies of Diel’s Fragmente der Vorsokratiker as the world was going to hell in a handbasket. And yet I wonder what Heideggerians will be discussing some twenty years from now—or even closer in, just four years from now, in 2027, at the one-hundredth anniversary of the publication of SZ. Will they still be picking over paragraphs in the 102 volumes of Heidegger’s Gesamtausgabe and training up scores of grad students to continue the grind after they’re gone? Will they be embalming Heidegger or weaponizing him?

Whatever one thinks of his efforts, Heidegger wanted to be transformational, even revolutionary. He shook the congealed tradition of ontology down to its foundations in hopes of extracting its explosive potential . . . only to have his would-be revolution end up as its own congealed tradition, safely ensconced behind the walls of the academy, predictably self-replicating and meticulously curated by bien-pensants professors dedicated to filling the minds of the young with the ideas of Seyn-with-a-y and Ἀλήθεια-with-a-capital-alpha.

The word “Verwandlung” is a constant drumbeat throughout Heidegger’s work, a call to personal and social transformation. A step in the direction might be to work out the ethics Heidegger projected in 1928.59 But that would require first working out the social ontology that lies buried in SZ, especially in chapter four, where Heidegger makes such radical statements as: all ex-sistence is for the sake of social ex-sistence.60 This would require pushing past Heidegger’s analyses of Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics and into the Politics with its strong interest in τὸ κοινῇ συμφέρον and its analyses of χρῆσις μεταβλητική.61

* * *

In 1971 Heidegger directed a young scholar’s attention to κίνησις, what SZ calls ex-sistential “time.” Fifty years earlier, in 1924, he ended a lecture on time with a set of questions that still hangs over our heads today if we want to take Heidegger beyond Heidegger. He asked:

What is time?
Or better: Who is time?
Or better yet: Are we our time?

With that last question, he said, ex-sistence begins to become interesting.62

— FIN —

Richard Polt’s response to this paper follows immediately below in Appendix I.
It first appeared in (May 14, 2023)

Sheehan’s response to Polt’s response is in Appendix II.



Richard Polt
Heidegger Circle, Boston University, 2023

* [ Richard Polt’s response was uploaded to on May 14, 2023. Solely for reasons of formatting, I have here placed his two notes as endnotes rather than footnotes. - Tom Sheeha n]

Tom, thank you for an excellent, thought-provoking paper, full of insights.

Since we want to leave time for discussion and since you’ve asked me to criticize you as firmly as I can, I’ll forego summarizing your paper and praising its many merits, and go straight to my critical questions.

I admit that I could not be present in Freiburg on May 21, 1971. I had a prior engagement with my stuffed animals. So I can’t contradict your report that Heidegger directed you to categorial intuition and κίνησις—nor do I want to. I have no doubt that these are important entries to his thought. But I’m concerned that some misunderstandings may arise if we say, with you, that Heidegger’s “‘Zeit’ does not mean ‘time,’” but rather “the movement of our ex- sistential becoming”; or that “das Gewesen has nothing to do with” the past, but is “Heidegger’s retrieval of Aristotle’s phrase for essence, τὸ τί ἦν εἶναι.”

First, how Aristotelian is Heidegger? You say that his “key terms [are] often efforts ... to bring Aristotle’s Greek into German.” He certainly read Aristotle deeply and learned a great deal, but we should be clear that, as I think you’d agree, his “retrieval” of Aristotle is also a dismantling that aims at Aristotle’s “unthought.” (There’s a new book by Sean Kirkland titled Heidegger and the Destruction of Aristotle.) As you put it, Heidegger’s Aristotle is phenomenological rather than metaphysical (though I’m not certain what you mean by “metaphysical”). One could even say that, rather than Heidegger being an Aristotelian, he reads Aristotle as a proto-Heideggerian. So to say that Heidegger is really talking about κίνησις doesn’t get us very far, since he appropriates Aristotle’s concept in a Heideggerian way.

A quick, doctrinal way to support this point is to note the definition of κίνησις in Aristotle: the actuality of the potential qua potential. Aristotle also argues that actuality is prior to potentiality in three ways. But for Heidegger, “possibility … is the most primordial and ultimate positive ontological characteristic of Dasein” (SZ 143-44), whereas Aristotle’s doctrine of actuality is an example of the exaggerated role of presence in traditional ontology.[1] Presence as a meaning of being is available only within the horizon of presence (Gegenwart or Präsenz) as an ecstasis of … time.

But does Zeit really mean “time”? This question is semantic, and more than semantic. Of course I agree that Heidegger’s Zeitlichkeit, or ursprüngliche Zeit, is not time as it is conceived in ordinary life or by most philosophers, but it doesn’t follow that it has nothing to do with the everyday and philosophical notions, or that the word “time” is wrong. Heidegger is trying to find a deeper layer of the phenomenon we call time, the condition of possibility of the usual notions. To justify using the expression “original time” to designate the ground of vulgar, linear time, he cites the principle a potiori fit denominatio: the name for a phenomenon should be based on its stronger element—its more essential, important, or fundamental aspect (SZ 329).[2] Heidegger’s point is that ecstatic temporality is time par excellence, whereas everyday, linear time deserves the name “time” only in a secondary sense.

Of course, we don’t have to accept this principle of nomenclature. But then what will we call the deeper or “stronger” phenomenon? Do we have a word for it? If we call it κίνησις, we risk portraying Heidegger as an Aristotelian. If we use the English word “movement,” don’t we open ourselves to the same kind of objection that you’ve raised against the word “time”? “Movement,” in everyday language, is when an object changes location. Surely that’s not Dasein’s Existenz. “Becoming”? That’s a synonym for “change,” which applies to far more than Dasein. So should we say that in Sheehan, “movement” does not mean movement, “becoming” does not mean becoming, and “keeping on” does not mean keeping on?

That would be uncharitable. I think we should listen to what you mean by these expressions, in the context and flow of your thinking. But we also owe the same charity to Heidegger when he uses words such as Zeit, which can reasonably be translated only as “time.”

We should also recognize that nearly all our words are ontic: we use them to deal with particular, mutually exclusive, contingent situations, instead of pointing out ontological structures that underlie all these situations. Should we make up new words to designate those structures? I prefer Heidegger’s approach: use real words in such a way that, with a bit of luck, they shed light on the deeper dimensions of familiar phenomena.

Let me turn to a couple of more specific issues about Existenz and what I still prefer to call our temporal way of being.

First, you say that being “thrown ahead” is just one thing, not two. But clearly it has two interdependent aspects. “The thrown thrower,” as Heidegger calls Dasein in the thirties, is a twofold phenomenon. So I don’t think that the usual distinction between projection and thrownness, which correspond to Zukunft and Gewesenheit, is as pernicious as you make it out to be.

As for the meaning of das Gewesen: I agree that in Being and Time, Heidegger wants to describe our essence, what we always already are, where “already” means due to our very way of existing.

But I also think he is interested in the “already” as having been, and that gewesen does have that meaning in many, if not all, passages in Being and Time. No, it is not pastness in the vulgar sense of bygone (vergangene) moments on a chronological timeline—but it is the deeper or “stronger” level of the same phenomenon, where pastness involves issues such as heritage, legacy, and debt.

Let me try to translate a key passage from SZ 325-26:

Taking over thrownness means authentically being Dasein in the way in which it already was in each case [wie es je schon war]. But taking over thrownness is possible only in such a way that futural Dasein can be its ownmost “how it already was in each case,” that is, its “been” [sein “Gewesen”]. Only insofar as Dasein as such is as I-am-and-have-been [ist als ich bin-gewesen], can it futurally come toward itself in such a way that it comes back. Authentically futural, Dasein is-and-has authentically been [Eigentlich zukünftig ist das Dasein eigentlich gewesen]. Running forward into the utmost and ownmost possibility is understandingly coming back to the ownmost “been.” Dasein can authentically be-and-have-been [gewesen sein] only insofar as it is futural. Pastness [Gewesenheit] arises, in a certain way, from the future.

The published translations fail to capture the je, “in each case,” in the phrase wie es je schon war. (Macquarrie and Robinson omit the word, and Stambaugh and Schmidt translate it as “always.”) I think this is a mistake that lends itself to an essentializing reading, as if Heidegger were saying that authenticity takes over the essence of Dasein in general. Yes, I have always already been a human being—but that is not what I have been in my particular case (je). And it is my particular thrownness, the concrete person that I find myself having been, that I must take up and appropriate for the sake of becoming who I authentically choose to be. Speaking for myself, I can’t even understand what it would concretely mean to take over my essence, or “personally become [my] structural becoming,” as you put it, without turning to some content that is not just my species, but the individual situation that I find myself having inherited from my given circumstances and my own past behavior.

I’ll also point out that if Heidegger did not intend das Gewesen to refer to the past in any sense, it would be odd for him to juxtapose it with Zukunft and to play with the fact that, in German, the perfect tense of “be” is formed with “is” as its auxiliary verb. In German you don’t say “I have been,” but rather “I am been” (ich bin gewesen). Heidegger uses this grammatical fact to suggest that the past is still present—or rather, that our present cannot even occur, and certainly not authentically, unless the past plays a part in it.

This connects to some difficult questions about presence that I’ll just mention briefly.

You claim that if we broaden the concept of presence beyond spatiotemporal immediacy, taking it as “presence-to-mind,” or meaningful intelligibility to someone who cares, then presence is the meaning of being according to Heidegger. This is another semantic question—how broadly do we want to use the word “presence”?—that is more than just semantic. It seems to me that Heidegger wants to press even beyond your broad sense of “presence.” This means surpassing meaning itself—looking for experiences in which we run up against meaninglessness, a kind of experience for which Heidegger offers various knowingly inadequate words, such as das Nichts (your paper says nothing about the nothing).

Finally, I expect that some hackles were raised in our audience when you said that “the question ‘Was erbringt Sein?’ refers to what we do to let significance happen at all.” This makes it sound like we are actively making the fundamental occurrence of meaning. I think you’ll agree that that can’t be right, since, from Heidegger’s point of view, meaning must already be taking place for us before we can do or “enact” anything. Now, I do understand why you want to avoid the suggestion that meaning is brought about by a quasi-divine source that is independent of human history. So how do we steer a course between humanism and theism, between turning meaning into a human possession and creation and turning it into a gift from a Source from Beyond?

I suspect the answer involves those experiences of “the nothing,” the moments when we struggle with the limitations of meaning. These are human moments that humans do not bring about—moments in human history when our identity is shaken. At these times, the sense of our being and all being is disrupted and, by the same token, refreshed.

These experiences might also be essential to the very important call you make at the end of your paper to get our heads out of the books and try to make a difference in the ontic realm. We need to be open to disruptions when they come, and sensitive to how others are also liable to be disrupted. We need to take care of who we have been while keeping open to the possibility of becoming different. This brings me full circle to your words “becoming” and “movement,” which—along with “time”—are helpful reminders of what we can learn by reading Heidegger.

1 “Der Anfang verfängt sich sogleich im Sein qua Anwesenheit (Wirklichkeit)” (GA 33, 25).

2 I couldn’t find the origin of this phrase, but variants of it are used by many German theological, philosophical, and scientific authors, including Luther, Kant, and Schopenhauer. The notion seems to go back to the Greek κατ' ἐξοχήν. For uses of the phrase before 1927, see

[Sheehan’s response to Polt follows.]



Thomas Sheehan

My thanks to Richard for his response, which makes five strong points that I abbreviate as follows.

  2. ZEIT

All five points pertain to Existenz, so at least Richard and I are on the same page. Nonetheless some rough edges remain. In what follows I respond briefly and inadequately to each of his five points.


Yes, Heidegger’s Aristotle is a radically retrieved Aristotle—not only de-constructed but also, and more importantly, re-constructed. Heidegger’s reading of Aristotle unfolds in two phases.

In short: Based on clues within Aristotle texts, beginning with his use of the phrase τὸ ὂν λεγόμενον,63 Heidegger’s readings “phenomenologize” and “ex-sistentialize” Aristotle.

A crucial issue is Heidegger’s retrieval of the concept of ex-sistential becoming from Aristotle’s doctrine of κίνησις. Both Aristotle and Heidegger acknowledge that κίνησις is difficult to understand.64 Moreover, Aristotle famously says that if you do not understand κίνησις, you will never understand ϕύσις65—to which Heidegger would add: and if you don’t understand κίνησις, you certainly will never understand ex-sistence.

At the heart of Aristotle’s doctrine of κίνησις is the relation of ἐνέργεια and δύναμις, and the crux of that relation is what Aristotle takes to be obvious (ϕανερóν): that ἐνέργεια has ontological priority over δύναμις: to actually be has more ontological clout than merely to be able to be.66 Heidegger, however, upends Aristotle’s hierarchy. Ability, he says, is higher than actuality.67 Applied to ex-sistence, this means we are always beyond whatever actuality we may have achieved, which is what Heidegger means by saying that ex-sistence is ekstatisch.

This (very important) difference aside, Heidegger agrees formally with Aristotle’s reading of movement as ἡ τοῦ δυνατοῦ, ᾗ δυνατὸν, ἐντελέχεια.68 Movement is ability enacted, but enacted only insofar as the ability is still ability and has not yet achieved the goal and been transformed into a further actuality. For both Aristotle and Heidegger there are different modes of ability. Your car parked in the garage is able to get you to Los Angeles (= δύναμις-1), but the car is actually getting you to Los Angeles (= ἔν κινήσει) only when it’s on the road, i.e., only when that ability is in the course of being enacted (= δύναμις-2).

This is what Heidegger finds in Heraclitus’ hapax legomenon from the Suda: ἀγχιβασίη, what James Joyce calls “almosting it,” approaching without yet having arrived.69 In Heidegger’s reading of ex-sistence, becoming is “higher” than static being: it is the enacting, the putting into ontological action, of the ability to ex-sist, something that we cannot not be doing (cf. gewesen) as long as we are alive. Each one of us is ever coming to him- or herself without ever overcoming or getting beyond the becoming.

So, yes, Richard is right: Ex-sistence is never just “presence” but always pres-abs-ence, ahead of itself and thus beyond and relatively absent from whatever actuality it may have achieved. We are entities of distance: “Der Mensch ist ein Wesen der Ferne.”70


But no, “Zeit” does not mean “time.” Heidegger frequently said that “Zeit” was only a Vorname for Existenz, and specifically for Existenz as die Lichtung.71 Heidegger finally shelved the term “Zeit” in favor of “Lichtung.”72

Richard is right: Heidegger was searching for something “deeper than time” in the chronological sense. He was after the ex-sistential condition that makes such time possible, and he found it in what Augustine called vivere moriendo: our mortal becoming.73 Following Augustine, Heidegger introduced a new, non-chronological “tense” into ex-sistential κίνησις: the present future, the praesens de futuris.74 There are not three “tenses” to ex-sistential becoming. Rather, the past is already folded into the present (as Faulkner’s Temple Stevens puts it, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past”),75 and the present is not even just “present” but always stretched into the future.


No, thrown project (geworfener Entwurf) is not two separate things. It is a single phenomenon. Just as geworfen defines our ex-sistential becoming, so too it defines our ex-sistential projectedness and our ex-sistentiel projecting. (Note how Heidegger’s definition of Sorge employs hyphens to bind into a unity our thrown-aheadness-as-the-world-of-meaning.)76


As we have seen, Zeitlichkeit as gewesende gegenwärtigende Zukunft is the ontological-ex-sistential basis of chronological time, while not being itself chronological. In (rare) moments of resolve, I take over my essence, what and how I always already am, my a priori thrownness into (or appropriation to) my mortal becoming. But Richard asks what it would mean to “take over one’s essence” and to “personally become one’s structural becoming.” Do I (improbably) take over some generic human species-being?

No, my Existenz is always mine (jemeinig) and mine to become. In an act of resolve I take over my own mortal becoming—not yours or hers and certainly not “human being in general.” I recognize and embrace my own mortal becoming, the hard fact that I am dying, which inhabits all I have been, am, and will be, including the legacies I have inherited.77 Regardless of what others think or do, I, like the voice in Montale’s “Forse un mattino,” turn and see the wonder of all wonders, and go on from there.

Forse un mattino andando in un’aria di vetro,
arida, rivolgendomi, vedrò compirsi il miracolo:
il nulla alle mie spalle, il vuoto dietro
di me, con un terrore di ubriaco.
Poi come s’uno schermo, s’accamperanno di gitto
Alberi case colli per l’inganno consueto.
Ma sarà troppo tardi; ed io me n’andrò zitto
tra gli uomini che non si voltano, col mio segreto.78

Regarding Richard’s citation of Macquarrie-Robinson’s (iffy) translation of SZ 325.37-326.8: As I mentioned in the lecture, § 65 is one of the worst translated sections of the whole of SZ, and nowhere is that more obvious than in the passage Richard cites. I have a very different reading of those crucial seven sentences, which I present here in a close paraphrase of the German.

    • Übernahme der Geworfenheit aber bedeutet, das Dasein
    • in dem, wie es je schon war,
    • eigentlich sein.
    • Taking over my thrownness means
    • being myself, personally and authentically
    • in the way that in each case I a priori am.
    • Die Übernahme der Geworfenheit ist aber nur so möglich,
    • daß das zukünftige Dasein
    • sein eigenstes “wie es je schon war”, das heißt sein “Gewesen”,
    • sein kann.
    • But taking over my thrownness is possible only insofar as,
    • in personally becoming myself,
    • I am able to be
    • my own “as-I-a-priori-am,” in the sense of τὸ τί ἦν εἶναι.
    • Nur sofern Dasein überhaupt ist
    • als ich bin-gewesen,
    • kann es zukünftig auf sich selbst so zukommen,
    • daß es zurück-kommt
    • Only because in general I am
    • as I a priori am,
    • can I personally and authentically become myself in such a way
    • that I come back to myself.
    • Eigentlich zukünftig ist das Dasein eigentlich gewesen.
    • Authentic becoming = authentically being what I am a priori.
    • Das Vorlaufen in die äußerste und eigenste Möglichkeit ist
    • das verstehende Zurückkommen auf das eigenste Gewesen.
    • Living mortally—i.e., living my very own ultimate possibility now
    • means returning personally, with understanding, to my very own how-I-a-priori-am.
    • Dasein kann nur eigentlich gewesen sein,
    • sofern es zukünftig ist.
    • I can be authentically as I a priori am
    • only insofar as I personally become what I a priori am.
    • Die Gewesenheit entspringt in gewisser Weise der Zukunft.
    • My a priori status arises from my becoming in a very particular way.*

    * Cf. GA 12: 91.27f. “Herkunft aber bleibt stets Zukunft.”


Whether or not (as Richard intimates) it raises any hackles, the fact is that, yes, we alone bring about the significance of things. There is no Sein apart from Dasein. There was no being in the Jurassic Period, and there will be no being after the last of us is smoked. We alone bring it about—but we can bring it about only because we are a priori possessed by λόγος,79 such that we cannot not make sense of whatever we encounter. Within the phenomenological correlation “being” is how things matter to us; and they can matter to us only because, as thrown into mortal becoming, we are a priori possessed by λόγος.

But Richard asks: What about meaninglessness?

Because we are mortal, all mattering-to-us is suffused with nothingness, both relative nothingness (because we are finite) and, ultimately, absolute nothingness (because we are ever at the point of death). All mattering is thus suffused with meaninglessness, both relative meaninglessness (some things just don’t make sense, even though they once may have, and still might in the future) and ultimately absolute meaninglessness: the fact that my ex-sistence is absurd, i.e., deaf (surdus) to all attempts to find an ultimate explanation for why I ex-sist. I spend most of my time ignoring the absolute absurdity of my ex-sistence, but sometimes it catches up with me in moments of dread.

* * *

If Heideggerians have indeed answered the “what” question, that still leaves the “so what” question. If the core of Heidegger’s thought is Existenz as mortal, asymptotic ability to become oneself, what about the concretion of such ability that Heidegger alluded to?

Ability becomes concretized in forms of power. In the economic order, for example, it takes the form of money as power, which develops into social power, which in turn develops into political power, the power to make sure that power in the economic and social orders is not disturbed. Does Heidegger’s philosophy offer any insights on that?

In 1908 the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., remarked that “the philosophers are hired by the comfortable class to prove that everything is all right.”80

Let’s hope he wasn’t talking about Heideggerians.





1 Mark Twain, “The Awful German Language,” in A Tramp Abroad, London: Chatto and Windus, 1880, 603.39-604.2, translating “…wenn er aber auf der Straße der in Sammt und Seide gehüllten, jetzt [sehr] ungeniert nach der neuesten Mode gekleideten Regierungsrätin begegnet….” from Eugenie Marlitt (= Eugienie John), Das Geheimnis der alten Mamsell, 2nd ed., Stuttgart/Berlin/Leipzig: Union Deutsche Verlagsgesellschaft, 1890, 303.21ff. (originally, Leibniz: Gartenlauben-Verlag, 1868).

2 See, respectively, GA 9: 273.8, GA 5: 71.16, and GA 26: 199.27.

3 GA 7: 234.13f.

4 GA 9: 385.6:

5 GA 12: 103.24f.

6 GA 14: 50.2f.

7 GA 15: 365.17f.

8 See GA 21: 170-181.

9 At the meeting, Heidegger expressed his hope for an English translation of his “Vom Wesen und Begriff der Φύσις. Aristoteles Physik β 1,” GA 9: 239-301. The English translation appeared five years later: Heidegger, “On the Essence and Conception of Φύσις in Aristotle’s Physics B, 1,” in Continental Philosophy Review [then Man and World] 9:3, 219-270 and, with slight revisions, a dozen years later in Heidegger, Pathmarks, 183-230. The German text is now found in GA 9: 309-371.

10 De coelo et mundo I 5, 271b8f.: τὸ μικρὸν παραβῆναι τῆς ἀληθείας ἀφισταμένοις γίνεται πόρρω μυριοπλάσιον; cf. Cratylus 436d2–4: σμικροῦ καὶ ἀδήλου ψεύδους, and Aquinas, De ente et essentia, Proemium: “parvus error in principio magnus est in fine.”

11 Heidegger, Phänomenologische Interpretationen zu Aristoteles (Anzeige der hermeneutischen Situation), ed. Gunther Neumann. Klostermann, Frankfurt am Main.

12 GA 83: 256.23.

13 GA 83: 20.3.

14 Hölderlin, “Wie du anfingst, wirdst du bleiben,” Der Rhein, 48. Eliot, “Little Gidding,” V.

15 That is, via argument by retorsion (περιτροπὴ τοῦ λόγου). See Sextus Empiricus, Πυρρωνείων ὑποτυπώσεων in Sexti Empirici Opera, ed. Hermann Mutschmann and Jürgen Mau. Leipzig, Teubner. II, 128.

16 GA 40: 184.11.

17 On λόγος as gathering into meaning: GA 9: 279.1-7 = 213.10-15, Re τὸ λόγον ἔχον: De Anima III 9: 432a31, Nicomachean Ethics II 13: 1102b15 and 1103a2; V 15, 1138b9; VI 1, 1139a4; etc.

18 GA 9: 42.25f. (my emphasis).

19 GA 3: 242.28f.

20 See William McNeill, The Fate of Phenomenology: Heidegger’s Legacy, Lanham: Rowman and Littlefield, 2020.

21 GA 63: 5.22-3 “die Augen hat mir Husserl eingesetzt.” Also GA 14: 147.31-2 = 201.14-5: “mit dem inzwischen [in the 1920s] eingeübten phänomenologischen Blick.”

22 Metaphysics XI 8: 1065a24. Cf. ἔξω [τὴς διανοίας]: “outside” [i.e., independent] of thinking: ibid., VI 4: 1028a 2, taken with 1027b34–1028a1: See GA 6, 2: 380.2–13.

23 Cf. Aquinas, “praesens intelligibile,” Scriptum super sententias, lib. 1, d. 3 q. 4 a. 5, corp.

24 GA 15: 20.8f.: “nicht mehr gern gebrauche.”

25 GA 5: 335.17.

26 A far from exhaustive list would include SZ 64.22-24, 133.5, 380.28-30 (etc.); GA 3: 229.10f.; GA 6,2: 323.14f.; GA 9: 325.20f.; GA 14: 35.23f.; GA 15: 380.11f.; GA 15: 415.10–13; GA 45: 213.1–4; GA 66: 129.5; GA 66: 321.12; GA 66: 328.1f.; GA 69: 101.12f.; GA 70: 125.12; GA 73,1: 450.13; GA 73,1: 642.27f.; Zollikoner Seminare, 351.14–17; etc.

In a private communication (June 26, 2018) Friedrich-Wilhelm von Herrmann clarified a passage in Zollikoner Seminare, 223.13-15 that reads: “Er [Dasein] ist nicht die Lichtung selber, ist nicht die ganze Lichtung, ist nicht identisch mit der ganzen Lichtung als solcher.” Von Herrmann wrote: “Wenn also das Sein selbst, die Wahrheit des Seyns, sich in einer geschichtlichen Lichtungs- oder Entbergungsweise bekundet und verbirgt, gewährt und entzieht, dann „erschöpft sich“ das Sein selbst, die Wahrheit oder Lichtung des Seyns, nicht in der jeweiligen Gelichtetheitsweise des Da, sondern bleibt seinem Wesen nach das Unerschöpfliche für alle endlichen Lichtungs- oder Entbergungsweisen. Auf derselben Ebene des Denkens hält sich die von Ihnen angezogene Textstelle aus GA 97: 175.12-19.”

27 GA 66: 414.9-13

28 At the very least the words “temporality” and “time” should be put in scare quotes and modified by the adjective “ex-sistential.” But that is only a stop-gap measure that merely signals, negatively, “not chronological past-present-future,” leaving open what these two terms do mean.

29 Respectively: Enneads III 7: 11.42 (Henry- Schwyzer edition); Confessions XI 26, 33 (Patrologia Latina, 32, 822.47–49); and SZ 371.32.

30 SZ 330.18.

31 GA 29/30: 528.4; see also ibid., 321.26–30 (Möglichkeit-Haben . . . nicht anderes ist als dieses); 343.22–24 (Fähigkeit gehört zum Wirklichsein).

32 The hyphens hold Sich-vorweg-sein and schon-sein-in together as one moment.

33 Re Welt as Lichtung: GA 9: 326.15–16: “Die Lichtung des Seins, und nur sie, ist Welt.”

34 See Appendix III regarding the rewriting of Geworfenheit as Ereignis.

35 Respectively Pindar, “Pythian Odes,” II, 72, in The Works of Pindar, ed. Lewis Richard Farnell (London: Macmillan, 1932), III, The Text, 56; and SZ 145.41. Cf. GA 56/57: 5.35.

36 Cf. GA 9: 291.24f.: “[E]in Weg führt durch einen Bereich, offnet sich selbst und eroffnet diesen.”

37 See among other examples, GA 24: 388.26: “die Zeit als Zeitlichkeit.”

38 Fragment 8: motionless (ἀτρεμές), unending (ἀτέλεστον), ungenerated (ἀγένητον), indestructible (ἀνώλεθρον), now-entire-whole-one-and-continuous (νῦν, ὁμοῦ πᾶν, ἕν, συνεχές). In place of the everlasting (αιώνιος), Heidegger leaves us with the sudden (ἐξαίφνης); instead of the beatific vision, the rare moment of insight (καιρός). Parmenides’ well-rounded circle (εὔκυκλος) has been broken, and all that is solid has melted into air.

39 Cf. Wille zur Macht, no. 617: “Dem Werden den Charakter des Seins aufzuprägen.”

40 Heraclitus, Fragment 91: ποταμῷ γὰρ οὐκ ἔστιν ἐμβῆναι δὶς τῷ αὐτῷ. Cf. Cratylus 402a8-10.

41 Metaphysics II 5, 1010a15: ᾥετο οὐδʹ ἁπαξ.

42 As in Jeff Malpas’ Heidegger’s Topology: Being, Place, World, Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2008.

43 GA 14: 80f.

44 See GA 12: 249-50, passim; GA 74: 46.6 et seq.

45 See note 36 above.

46 For details see GA 24: 431–445 and Sheehan, Making Sense of Heidegger: A Paradigm Shift, 201-06.

47 GA 11: 26-28.

48 GA 3: 242.28f.

49 GA 73,1: 790.2-8.

50 The last phrase (“der entgegnende zum Gegnenden des Seyns”) bespeaks what SZ 8.18f. calls the “merkwürdige ‘Rück- oder Vorbezogenheit,’” the remarkable back-and-forth relation (cf. reci-proci-tas) between being and human being. “Das Gegnende des Seyns” (i.e., das Seyn als gegnend) bespeaks that same a priori reciprocity of significance/presence and human being. Human being serves as the site of all significance, a site that ex-sists for the sake of and as making possible (= der entgegnende zum) such significance and presence. The reci-proci-ty of human being and significance is the proper meaning of “die Kehre.”

51 SZ 245.29f.

52 GA 26: 196-202.

53 GA 26: 197.34; 199.2 and 20.

54 SZ 12.34f.

55 GA 45: 214.18.

56 Not. Or not exactly, although he should have. GA 16: 703.12-14.

57 GA 26: 202.9f.: “Philosophie ist die zentrale und totale Konkretion des metaphysischen Wesens der Existenz.”

58 See MEGA V, 1.

59 GA 26: 199.3

60 SZ 123.21f.: “Das Dasein ist wesenhaft umwillen Anderen.”

61 Respectively. Politics III 7 1282b17f. and 12 (cf. Nicomachean Ethics IX 2, 1160a11f.) and Politics I 9, 1257a9f. Heidegger’s neuralgia towards anything like a democratic polity is reflected in his cathexis on the words Homer puts in Odysseus’ mouth: οὐκ ἀγαθὸν πολυκοιρανίη· εἷς κοίρανος ἔστω, / εἷς βασιλεύς, Iliad II, 204f. Apparently he got his wish in the 1930s.

62 “Dann wäre Dasein Fraglichsein.” Cf. GA 64: 125.1-7.

63 E.g., Metaphysics VI 2, 1026a33. Cf. GA 19: 207.22–23; GA 22: 59.14: “das Enthüllte, λεγόμενον.” GA 6, 2: 317.8f.: “Im ‘als solches’ wird gesagt: das Seiende ist unverborgen.”

64 Physics III 2, 201b33-202a3 (χαλεπóν) and GA 9: 283.23-27 (das Schwierigste).

65 Physics III 1, 200 b 12-15: ἀγνοουμένης αὐτῆς [= κινήσεως] ἀγνοεῖσθαι καὶ τὴν ϕύσιν. Cf. the Latin: ignoto motu, ignota natura.

66 ϕανερὸν ὅτι πρότερον ἐνέργεια δυνάμεώς ἐστιν: Metaphysics IX 9, 1051a 2f.

67 “Höher als die Wirklichkeit steht die Möglichkeit”: SZ 38.29f.

68 Physics III 1, 201b 4f.

69 Respectively, Heraclitus, fragment 122 and James Joyce, Ulysses, “Proteus” (Gabler edition, 39.360).

70 GA 26: 285.18.

71 See GA 9: 159 n.; GA 9: 376; GA 11: 147.16–20; GA 54: 113.32; GA 65: 74.10f.; GA 66: 145.25.; GA 73, 1: 758.2; GA 73, 1: 90.10–13; GA 74: 9.6, and so on.

72 Cf. GA 11: 151.26-28.

73 Augustine, Epistula 95, no. 2, Patrologia Latina, 33: 352.38.

74 Confessions XI 20, 26.

75 William Faulkner, Requiem for a Nun, London: Vintage, 2015, 85.15.

76 See note 32 above.

77 SZ 383.73.

78 From his Ossi di sepia (1925).

79 See note 17, above.

80 Holmes-Pollock Letters (June 17, 1908), ed. Mark DeWolfe Howe, Harvard University Press, 1942, I, 139.16f.

Thomas Sheehan - Rewriting Heidegger
from The Heidegger Circle 2023.