Introduction to sections 11 and 12, Heidegger, The Beginning of Western Philosophy.  (Rojcewicz translation for quotations in English, GA 35 for the original German.)

Remember the first words of the seminar:  “Our mission: the cessation of philosophizing?  That is, the end of metaphysics; by way of the originary questioning of the ‘meaning’ (truth) of Beyng” (1).

At the end of Section 11 Heidegger says that the Seinsfrage, that is, the question of the essence of Beyng, is “the fateful question ‘of humanity,'” although he puts humanity in question marks and hurries to say he only means Western humanity.  It is Western humanity that has devoted itself to asking merely “semblant questions” in the name of ontology (42).  The question of Beyng is no longer, it seems, an ontological question.  Ontology has prospered in the forgottenness of Beyng.  We need to go beyond ontology and ontological reflection. 

Heidegger then says an “experience” of the question–Erfahrung–is needed, and that such an experience will bring us to “a possible characterization of the beginning and of its possible proximity” (43).  The question:  “was ist das Seiende, nämlich hinsichtlich des Seins?” (55).  Heidegger then engages in a disquisition on whether and in what sense that question is a Fragliche question, question-worthy (55).   The question must be asked so that what is not (thought of) as question-worthy in what is interrogated shows its question-worthiness, makes it explicit.

“Beings are the interrogated” (44).  They are familiar to us, within known limits: everybody knows “das Seiende im Ganzen.”    We are pre-acquainted with it.  We pre-know it.  We must get beyond that and ask: “was ist das Seiende, es als ein solches, sofern es überhaupt Seiendes ist?  Was macht Seiende, gleichviel welcher Art und aus welchen Gebiet, überhaupt zu Seiendem?” (58).  (“what are beings as such, just insofar as they are beings?  No matter of what kind or of what region, what makes beings beings at all?” 45).   The question-worthiness thus begins to appear:  “das Seiende is das Bekannte, dessen Sein das Unbekannte” (58). 

We know the being of beings to the extent that we know what non-being is.  It is a limited extent.  It is even an extent to which we are generally forgetful, an extent we rarely make question-worthy.  We ex-press it constantly and we do so precisely because it is always “pressing” (“it is already present prior to the expression of it,” 47).  But we generally do so “thoughtlessly” (in Gedankenlosigkeit, 61).  Can we turn that thoughtlessness into thought?

We thoughtlessly know being in its thatness, whatness, suchness, trueness.  And yet we know it “without delusion,” with certainty, and in general agreement with others.  But we have no concept of it: “wir es verstehen und doch nicht begreifen, . . . wir es vor allem Begriff verstehen” (62).  It remains forgotten in favor of beings.  It is therefore the most unproblematic (das Fragloseste). 

How do we turn it into question-worthy?  For the first time (50). 

Heidegger concludes Section 11 by claiming that we have been preparing for that question since the first day of the seminar–it is interesting that here he uses Sein, Sein des Seienden, rather than Seyn (66).  And yet we do not know was das Sein besagt (66). 

[Note that the upshot is that we do not yet know anything about the most fateful, the fateful, question of Western humanity.  We, Western humanity, are clueless about our fate, and ontology and the ontological tradition, beyond our poor understanding of history, itself conditioned by ontology (by bad ontology?), are at least partly responsible for it.  This is what generates the need to proceed to the destruction of ontology, also to the destruction of historiology, and to the recovery of the first beginning, in order to access a “proximity” to the Seinsfrage.]

Toward the end of Section 11 Heidegger remarks that we know little “of the essence of language,” just as little “as we know of the essence of being” (51).  This could offer a clue as to what is meant by Western humanity, since, Heidegger says, “we are now following a linguistic idiom, one in which we have been moving since long ago” (51). 

The linguistic tradition of Western humanity, then, has long moved along a path that opposes Being to becoming, to the “ought,” to thinking (or consciousness), and to semblance.  According to this particular determinateness, which has a history and comes from a history, Being is “perseverance, abiding, rest, standing in availability, presence at hand, palpability, and actuality” (53).  Something is gained regarding the question of Being.  Being is not simply opposed to the nothingness, but is also opposed to all those determinations: “We surely said that the question of Being is the deepest and broadest.  Being is so encompassing that it finds its limits only in nothingness.  Yet now we see that becoming, the ‘ought,’ thinking, and semblance fall outside of Being” (54).  Not trivial, since we are talking about nature and history, all human moral action and even work and even politics, everything having to do with subjectivity, and everything which falls outside of truth.   In the Western tradition, those issues took over philosophical reflection and reduced the question of Being to the unimportant and ar bitrarily narrow.  “And so it might be fully justified that the question of Being altogether disappeared from the ruling center of philosophical questioning” (54).  And so the historiologists, the ontologists, the metaphysicians may be correct: it is really just a matter of thinking about beings (55). 

And yet.  Perhaps upon reflection we will discover that becoming, the “ought,” thinking and semblance do not fall outside of Being.  “Every something that is not nothing has some sort of Being” (55). 

Should we persist in raising the question of the question-worthiness of Being, or have we been persuaded that the question of Being is barely question-worthy? 

In a footnote to the last page of Section 12 Heidegger mentions “the flight in the face of Beyng into graspable beings! Cf. Nietzsche.”  I find it hard to grasp what Heidegger had in mind here in terms of his reference to Nietzsche, but he is clearly pointing out a structure of fugitivity, of flight, from Being to beings, that has occupied, perhaps even defined, the entire history of Western humanity, from its inception. 

[How to turn that flight around, that is, how to begin to think of an alternative fugitivity, a fugitivity from beings back into Being, or Beyng–that seems to be the orientation and the mission of the Seinsfrage.  It would be a total reversal of historiology, which goes through an ontological clearing and destruction already recommended in Being and Time. Is this not the “cessation of philosophizing”?  The cessation of philosophizing may begin to be understood as the destructive character of the Seinsfrage, in a movement of return to the historical beginning, or to a proximity to the beginningProximity to the beginning: Is there a way in which we can find it in ourselves? Heidegger will proceed in Section 13 to an examination of the notion of existence as a way of facilitating that path.  But that secret will only be revealed next week!]

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