Contents of spoon-archives/heidegger.archive/papers/BasicConcepts
Date: Thu, 15 Jun 2000 08:39:47 +0100
From: Michael David Pennamacoor
Subject: Heidegger's "Basic Concepts"
this is the promised text for those that are interested... A lecture course
around the year of 1941, during the period of Heideger, referred to as The
Turn (Kehre)... here it comprises the Introduction and the 2 or of 3
Divisions of the First Part... so a torso but a good one :-) also forgive
the typos and the unreadable Greek phrases (will try to render them later
but the main one (Anaximander) can be transliterated as "meleta to pan" --
"take care beings as a whole"... happy reading :-)
BASIC CONCEPTS (Heidegger)______________________________________________
INTRODUCTION The Internal Connection between Ground-Being-Inception §1.
Elucidation of the title of the lecture "Basic Concepts" a) Basic concepts
"Basic Concepts" [Grundbegriffe]-of what? The title of this lecture does
not say. Hence what is supposed to be grasped by these concepts remains
unclear "Concepts" are said to be representations [Vorstellungen] in which
we bring before ourselves an object or entire regions of objects in
general. "Basic Concepts" [Grundbegriffe], then, are more general
representations of the most possibly encompassing regions. Such regions are
nature, history, "the" state, "the" law, humanity, animal, or whatever
else. However, in the lecture's title there is no talk of the basic
concepts of nature, of art, and other regions. The title does not specify
anything of the kind for which the "Basic Concepts" are supposed to be such
basic concepts, whether for the investigation of art history or
jurisprudence, for chemistry or mechanical engineering, or for any other
"subject area" or field of human practice. Perhaps the unsupplemented title
"Basic Concepts" means this: that it does not treat of particular regions
of beings, nor of the corresponding sciences that investigate them
Since, however, the lecture is listed under the "rubric" "philosophy,"
'naturally' the basic concepts "of philosophy" are meant. But if these were
meant it would have been stated. Instead, the title only says "Basic
Concepts," not "The Basic Concepts" nor "the" basic concepts of philosophy.
According to the traditional and also correct view, philosophy indeed
thinks something more general than the particular regions of nature,
history, state, art, nation, living thing. If we do not intend to mean the
basic concepts of philosophy, then the unsupplemented title must have
something even more general in mind than what is thought in "philosophy."
This most-general-of-all supposedly does not allow itself to be said
directly. Perhaps there are no words with suffficient naming power to do
so; perhaps the "appropriate" words are so used up they do not say anything
anymore. Hence such an indefinite title is perhaps well suited, for thus we
do not commit ourselves to anything in advance.
On the other hand, this nondescript title has a peculiar decisiveness about
it. Evidently nothing arbitrary or peripheral is spoken of here, but only
what is necessary and pertains to the main issue. But why isn't this said
directly? Well, it is. We only have to listen in the right way. With the
first apprehension of the title, we must immediately begin to practice what
will be demanded of us from now on: relinquishing the customary, which is
at the same time the comfortable. We have to assume an attitude whose
achievement requires no special knowledge in advance, neither scientific
nor philosophical. The latter may be useful for other purposes, but here
such knowledge would only be a hindrance. For here only one thing is
required: readiness to put the essence of man at risk in thinking that
which grounds this essence, and, foremost, that which grounds everything
that man takes for being. Whatever grounds everything and gives ground to
everything is itself the ground.
Thus the title tells us something about what is to be comprehended there
after all. We only have to write the word differently: GroundConcepts
[Grund-Begriffe]. Now the title says "the ground" is to be conceived,
grasped, seized, indeed first reached, indeed first only anticipated. We
think toward the ground of everything.
We are not, as it might appear, dealing with "concepts" as such-with
muchmaligned "mere concepts," from which we easily recoil, though we assure
ourselves at the same time that they are nothing concrete and lead nowhere.
b) The claim of the ground-concepts
"Ground-Gncepts" calls for us to grasp the ground, reach the foundation.
This title calls us to come to stand where a footing and a permanence are
granted, where all decisions are made, but also from where all
indecisiveness borrows its hiding places. Grasping the ground means
reaching the ground of everything in an understanding that not only takes
notice of something but is, as a knowing, a standing and a stance. Knowing
the ground is more originary, that is, more farreaching than common
understanding. But more originary also means more decisive than every usual
"willing," and more intimate than every familiar "feeling." Therefore
knowing the ground does not first need a "character" in order to have
stability. This knowing is character itself. It is that stamp of man
without which all firmness of will remains blind stubbornness, all deeds
mere fleeting successes, all action a self-consuming busyness, and all
"Ground-Concepts, " that sounds more like a claim [Anspruch] upon us. We
are exhorted [angesprochen] to set our thinking upon the path of
reflection. From the time when the essential configuration of Western
history (and not the mere succession of events) begins to unfold, a saying
is handed down to us that goes p£~£Ta TO R~V, "Take into care beings as a
whole" [das Seiende im Ganzen]-that means, consider that everything depends
upon the whole of beings, upon what addresses [anspricht] humanity from
there. Always consider the essential, first and last, and assume the
attitude that matures us for such reflection. Like everything essential,
this attitude must be simple, and the suggestion that intimates this
attitude (which is a knowing) to us must be simple as well. It suffices for
this suggestion to distinguish what humanity, having come to itself, must
c) The difference of claims upon man u) The claim of requirements: Needing
We attend either to what we need or to what we can do without.
We measure what we need according to our requirements, according to desires
left to themselves and their cravings, according to what we
count with and count upon. Behind these desires and cravings stands the
press of that unrest for which every "enough" is just as soon a "never
enough." This unrest of continuously new needing, of self-increasing and
expanding "interests," does not originate from anything like an
artificially cultivated avarice. Rather, this avidity is already the result
of that unrest within which the surge of mere life, of the merely living,
reveals itself. To remain thrust and forced into its own craving belongs to
the essence of the living. Indeed, "the living," which we know as plants
and animals, always seems to find and maintain its fixed shape precisely in
this craving, whereas man can expressly elevate the living and its cravings
into a guiding measure and make of it the "principle" of "progress." If we
attend only to what we need, we are yoked into the compulsive unrest of
mere life. This form of life arouses the appearance of the moved and the
self-moving, and therefore of the free. Thus the appearance of freedom
exists precisely where man attends only to what he needs. For man's
calculating and planning move within a field of play whose limits he
himself can adjust to his particular wants.
However, this way man is only "free," i.e., mobile, within the compulsion
of his "lifeinterests." He is, in certain respects, unfettered within the
circuit of compulsion, which determines itself from the premise that
everything is a matter of utility. Servitude under the dominion of the
constantly "needed," i.e., of utility, looks like the freedom and
magnificence of consumption [Nutzniessung] and its increase.
p) The claim upon the essence of historical man
Man attends either to what he needs or to what he can do without.
In this other attitude, he does not calculate under the compulsion of
utility and from the unrest of consumption. He does not calculate at all,
but considers everything from a standpoint that is limited to the
essential. This limitation is only an apparent restriction, in truth it is
a release into the expanse of those demands that befit man's essence.
Attending to the dispensable brings man into the simplicity and
unequivocalness of an entirely different domain. Here speak claims that do
not derive from his needs and do not pertain to the prospect of the
wellbeing of the individual and the many. This domain alone is the site in
which a "realm"
[Reich] can be founded. For here alone historical man can stand out into
an openness while subordinating everything needful and useful to himself,
thereby first becoming capable of ruling in an essential sense.
Man, in his essence, is addressed by claims that demand an answer. But
these claims, which we better name exhortations [An-sprechungen], cannot be
displayed like matters of fact, nor enumerated like priorities. Historical
man must be struck by them, and for that he must allow himself to be struck
in the first place. Perhaps the old saying pS\£Ta TO ~av puts something
into words that strikes historical man in his essence, such that all that
is merely human is not sufficient to satisfy the claim.
Perhaps the attempt to think "Ground-Concepts," to reach the ground of
everything, comes to a knowing that cannot be added up from knowledge about
"life," nor from the results of science, nor from the doctrines of a
"faith." Presumably, also, an individual can never invent such a knowing
from the fortuitousness of his abilities and endowments. He can foist such
knowledge neither upon himself nor upon others by decree. The relation to
the essential, wherein historical man becomes free, can have its origin
only within the essential itself.
d) Readiness for the originary, the incipient, and the "knowing better" of
Man is either ready for what is always original, or he knows better.
Knowing better also reigns where man seems to subjugate himself to a divine
worldplan. This knowing better begins in Western history with the advent of
the age of historiological [historischen] consciousness. The rise and
universal currency of historiological science and its varied utilization
and exploitation, however, are already the late development of man's
calculating "attitude" toward history. This attitude begins with the
ascendancy of Christianity as a principle for shaping the "world." Since
man has become ever more ingenious and clever in the last centuries so that
nothing escapes him, the relation to the essential is more and more covered
over, or, what is even more portentous, is reckoned into the otherwise
calculable. There arises a condition in which everything is gauged
according to whether it is new or old. In general, what counts for
unlimited historiological calculation as "new" is not only the hitherto
unfamiliar and unprecedented, but also everything that continues and
promotes whatever progression happens to be under way. What is useless in
relation to the promotion of progress counts as "old." The old is then the
antiquated. Thus in each epoch historiology and historiological research
endeavor, always under different catchwords, to "paint" over the old and
the bygone with the gloss of the respective present, and so to justify
historiological activity itself as indispensable.
However, the essential has its own history [Geschichte] and is not
calculable according to the ciphers "new" and "old." Where such calculation
nevertheless occurs, relations to the essential are most covered over.
There man stubbornly sets himself against the demand that he reach the
essential upon the path of remembrance [Erinnerung] and that he grasp the
ground. According to the view of the merely calculating man, remembrance
fixes itself to something earlier, hence older, hence old, hence
antiquated, and therefore at best attainable through extant historiological
research. Yet the earlier, assuming it is essential, remains outside that
utility to which everything "new" and "old" in the conventional sense must
e) The meaning of rellection upon the inception of history
According to the historiological reckoning of time the earliest is indeed
the oldest, and, in the estimation of ordinary understanding, also the most
antiquated. The earliest, however, can also be the first according to rank
and wealth, according to originality and bindingness for our history
[Geschichte] and impending historical [geschichtliche] decisions. The first
in this essential sense for us is the Greeks. We name this "earliest" the
incipient [das Anfangliche]. From it comes an exhortation, in relation to
which the opining of the individual and the many fails to hear, and
misconstrues its essential power, unaware of the unique opportunity: that
remembrance of the inception can transport us into the essential.
We can fail to hear the claim of the incipient. That it comes to this seems
to alter nothing in the course of our history. Thus the dispensability of
remembering the inception is "practically" demonstrated. Indeed,
we can not only fail to hear the claim of the incipient, but even drive
ourselves to the self-delusion that we do not have to listen to it in the
first place, since we already "know" about it. The whole world talks about
the extraordinary "cultural" significance of the ancient Greeks. But no one
who speaks like this has the slightest knowledge that, and how, an
inception occurs there.
Those who evince a somewhat belated enthusiasm for "classical antiquity,"
and likewise those who encourage and promote the "humanistic gymnasium,"
demonstrate a no more essential stance toward the incipient, so long as
their efforts are devoted only to salvaging what has been hitherto; so long
as they fall back upon an inherited and very questionably arranged cultural
treasure, and in so doing consider themselves superior to the enthusiasts
of the technological age. Familiarity with the ancient Greek language is
certainly indispensable for the endeavor, expressly understood as a task,
to awaken, develop, and secure remembrance of the incipient. The education
of those who must bring about remembrance of the incipient cannot forgo
instruction in the language of the ancient Greeks. But one should not infer
from this the erroneous opinion that those who, for whatever reasons and
intentions, possess knowledge of the Greek language and pursue a
"humanistic schooling" would also be in possession of the ancient Greek
world. Not all of those who study at a humanistic gymnasium, nor all of
those who teach there, nor all who train these teachers at the university,
have already, by reason of that fact, a knowledge of the inception of the
essential in Western history, and that means of its future.
How many Germans "live" who speak their mother tongue effortlessly and yet
are unable to understand Kant's Critique of Pure Reason or one of
Holderlin's hymns! Hence whoever has mastered the Greek language, or has
some acquaintance with it by accident or choice, possesses not the least
proof thereby that he is able t,o think according to the thought of a Greek
thinker. For it could be that he does not let himself get involved with
questions in the first place, since he imagines himself, perhaps as an
adherent of a religious faith, to be in possession of the truth. In such
cases, which are not at all rare, passion for the "classical" and for
"humanism" is even more fateful than naked ignorance of this "cultural
treasure." Love of antiquity is then a pretext for striving to evade every
Readiness to confront the inception of our history thus remains more vital
than any knowledge of languages. This means readiness to confront the
essential, which, as a decision, is projected ahead of this history at its
inception, and is its ground.
Readiness to confront the inception can originate as genuine only from the
necessities of the history into which we ourselves are placed. When we cast
aside reflection upon the necessary and insist we are in possession of the
truth, all remembrance of the inception is impossible. And where such
remembrance does seem to be fostered, it is only an evasion of what is
worthy of question and a flight into the past.
The measure of whether remembrance of the inception is genuine can never be
determined from an interest in reviving classical antiquity, but only from
a resolve to attain an essential knowing that holds for what is to come.
This knowing need not even concern the inception of our history at first.
The test, however, of whether we are merely collecting information, whether
we are merely taking bygone cultural aims as a pretext for thoughtlessness,
or whether we are willing to set out upon the path to reflection, this test
we must put to ourselves. To this belongs inner freedom, but also the
opportunity to experience first of all how such reflection proceeds and
what it entails.
f) The goal of the lecture: Reflection as preparation for confronting the
inception of our history
This lecture aims to provide the opportunity for such reflection or
experience. You should think according to and along with what is here
thought forth. This thinking is not prescribed in any examination protocol,
and fortunately cannot be so prescribed. Such thinking does not belong to
any "required course of study." Indeed, it does not belong to any "course
of study" at all. It also does not serve to further "general education." It
cannot provide entertainment for students of all departments. The thinking
in which we reflect and do nothing but reflect does not
yield any utility whatsoever, for it allows us to recognize that there is
something that does not have to be "effective" or useful in order to be.
Therefore in this thinking we are left to our own freedom.
The possibilities for professional training, the appropriation of the
skills necessary for this, instruction in areas of knowledge not directly
relevant to professional training, these can always be subsequently
obtained and improved upon where needed. By contrast, the moments for
essential reflection are rare and unrepeatable. That holds above all for
those moments that occur once in a lifetime that either awaken, bury, or
waste one's fundamental abilities for the entire future.
"Ground-Concepts"-this title involves the readiness to reach the ground and
not to let it go again. If this readiness is not to remain an empty
curiosity, it must immediately begin practicing what it is ready for. It
must begin with reflection.
It is now time to actually carry out a simple reflection, in which we shall
prepare to confront the inception of our history. From such remembrance of
this inception we can come to anticipate that history is moving toward
decisions that will surpass everything otherwise familiar to modern man in
his objectives. If this is the case, then it is necessary at this moment of
the world for the Germans to know what could be demanded of them in the
future, when the "spirit of their fatherland" must be a "holy heart of
Recapitulation 1. Our understanding of "basic concepts" and our relation to
them as an anticipator,v knowing
By "basic concepts" one usually understands those notions that delimit a
region of objects as a whole, or according to single, leading aspects. Thus
the concept of "force" is a basic concept of natural science, the concept
of "culture" is a basic concept of historiology, the concept "law" is a
basic concept of jurisprudence-in another way also a basic concept of
natural science-, the concept of "style" is a basic concept of research
in art history, but also in "philology." Indeed, it originates from here,
as it first means the mode of writing and then of saying and speaking, and
finally pertains to the "formal language" of each "work," which concerns
the historians of plastic art and painting, indeed all "aesthetics."
So understood, basic concepts assist the particular sciences with the
investigation of their regions as guidelines for questioning, answering,
We now take more literally the title of this lecture, according to which
the first elucidation was given. We write it correspondingly:
GroundConcepts. The title expresses the demand to reach the ground of all
that is, of what can therefore be called beings, or to anticipate it and
not to let what is anticipated go again.
We are thus concerned solely with attaining the ground and the relation to
the ground, not with becoming acquainted with "concepts" as mere casings of
representations. The relation to the ground is also already a knowing, even
where it is a matter of essential anticipation [Ahnen]. And anhcipation of
the essential [Wesenhaft] always remains more vital [wesentlich] than any
certainty in calculating what is without essence
[ Wesenlos] .
If we are talking here about anticipation, we should not substitute a
rambling feeling of incidental states of mind for the concept and its
rigor. The word anticipation should show us the way to consider that what
should be brought to knowing here cannot be produced from man by his own
choice. Anticipation means grasping something that comes upon us, whose
coming has long held sway, except that we overlook it. And indeed we
overlook it simply because our knowing attitude as a whole remains confused
and does not recognize the simplest differences, or mistakes or ignores the
import of differences that are known. Thinking in anticipation and for
anticipation is essentially more rigorous and exacting than any
formal-conceptual cleverness in whatever sector of the calculable.
To attain anticipatory knowing we must practice such knowing. The
fundamental condition for such practice is not a prior familiarity, for
example, in the form of philosophical opinions acquired through reading.
The fundamental condition is readiness to make ourselves free for the
essential. Mere familiarity, whether narrow or wide, is capable of nothing
by itself. However, that does not mean we can do without familiarity
everywhere and completely, especially mature and carefully cultivated
familiarity. Nor that its possession belongs to the long elapsed ideals of
an "intellectualistic" era. Thinking that merely looks to the useful first
notices gaps and mistakes only when it comes to harm, when lack of those
who are capable and knowledgeable endangers the mastery of present and
2. The decay of knowing in the present age: The decision in favor of the
useful over what we can do without
The store of knowledge that today's youth bring with them corresponds
neither to the greatness nor to the seriousness of the task. Knowing is
equal to the task of the "age" in only one respect: its decay and its task
are equally enormous.
But these deficiencies will not be eliminated by suddenly beginning to
learn more and faster. We must first begin again to learn "learning" and to
know standards of measure. Cultural dissolution will not be abated by the
mere introduction of newer and more convenient "textbooks." The youth must
not wait until more fundamental acquaintance and actual contemplation are
demanded of them from above, for it is precisely the other way around. It
is the prerogative of a true and wakeful youth to develop exhortations to
knowledge from out of itself, and to cling to these exhortations for
itself, in order to construct the future. Whether one occasionally "reads a
book" is a measure for the petite bourgeoisie. It does not ask whether
today's man, who gets his "education" from "charts" and "magazines," from
radio reports and movie theaters, whether such a confused, dizzy, and
purely American man still knows, or can know, what
.. .. ..
Nor will the degeneration of knowing be overcome when one merely declares
how much better it was in the old days. For even the former school and
educational system of the last decades was already no longer able to awaken
and keep awake the binding power of spirit and the bindingness of the
essential, and thus no longer able to force us into reflection. In times of
essential decisions a comfortable retreat to what has been up
to now helps as little as the hurried restriction to daily needs. Here
only reflection saves us, and the inner choice as to whether we want to be
exposed to the claim the essential makes upon us or not. The decision as to
whether we are capable of making decisions about ourselves comes before
everything. If we are, then the decision is whether we adhere to what we
need or attend to what we can do without.
If we adhere to what we need, that means, in your present case, chasing
after what is necessary for the most convenient possible arrangement of
By comparison, if we attend at the same time to what we can do without,
when, as for many of our young friends at the front, it comes to the most
extreme, then what alone remains essential comes into view almost of itself.
The mark of what we decide here does not consist in the fact that some
enroll in a philosophy course and others do not. How the aforementioned
decision is made, and if it is made, no one can establish immediately from
any kind of mark or certificate. Here each person is responsible for
himself, for his own delusions, and that for which he holds himself ready.
Thus one can note this reference to the crisis of knowing, grounded
actually in the essence of modern history and not produced by the present
emergency, with a certain satisfaction that such a thing is said. Such a
one takes his misplaced smirk over this criticism already for an
accomplishment. However, one then leaves everything the way it was, not
wishing to know that what is at risk here is not the organization of the
teaching system, but the most proper concern of youth: that it must take
things into its own hands, that the best organization and the best
curricula do not help here, because behind all of these stand decisions
about what is essential. Whoever thinks he can find confirmations of his
own decisionless discontent here is living in an illusion.
3. The inception as a decision about what is essential in Western history
(in modern times: unconditional will and technology)
Of course it is especially difficult for modern man to find his way into
the essential, because in another respect he is familiar with too much and
indeed believes he is familiar with everything. For him everything earlier
is something past, by means of which he can illuminate what comes later and
what pertains to him according to his needs. Here the earlier has no power
of decision because it is no longer experienced as the incipient in
history. The inception, however, can only be experienced as an inception
when we ourselves think inceptively and essentially. This inception is not
the past, but rather, because it has decided in advance everything to come,
it is constantly of the future. We must think about the inception this way.
By inception we understand the originary decisions that sustain in advance
what is essential in Western history. To the essential first belongs the
determination of the essence of truth, in whose light Western man seeks,
finds, secures, and transforms what is true.
The inception as the inception of history is only where there is freedom,
that means where a humanity decisively comports itself toward beings and
their truth. Nations and races can perhaps live without history if it is a
matter of mere "life." The mere passage of "life" is not yet history, not
even when much "happens," i.e., transpires, in it.
The inception of our history is the Greeks. We see here something essential
that harbors still uncompleted decisions within itself. For us this
inception is not "antiquity," and reflection upon it is not an activity
aimed merely at salvaging a handed-down cultural treasure. The thinker of
history Jakob Burckhardt (who, happily, was never a "historian") said
decades ago: Occupation with antiquity "is treated here and there like a
poor old relative, who, for decency's sake, one may not allow to go under."i
The equipment needed for reflection upon the inception is, for the purpose
of this lecture, directly necessary only for the person who is attempting
to provide an opportunity for reflection for the first time here. Where it
is necessary for us to hear the Greek word of ancient sayings, translation
can be sufficient-to be sure, under the condition that the elucidation of
what the word says to us is not lacking, that it is thought
through within the horizon of our own experiencing and knowing. Besides,
the German language is suited like no other for translating the ancient
Greek word, especially when the Greek word is not merely translated into a
current German usage, but when this too is renewed at the same time and
becomes incipient itself.
But what actually distances modern man from the inception of his history is
not only and not primarily the other "language," but the changed mode of
worldinterpretation and the basic position in the midst of beings. The
modern position is the "technological." It is not technological because
there are steam engines and then the combustion motor, but there are these
things because the epoch is technological. What we call modern technology
is not only a tool and a means, over and against which today's man can be a
master or servant. Before and beyond these possible attitudes, technology
is an already decided mode of worldinterpretation, which determines not
only the means of transportation, subsistence, and recreation but also the
possibilities for any human attitude whatsoever. It preforms them according
to their capacity for implementation. That is why technology is mastered
only where it is affirmed from the outset and without reservation. That
means the practical mastery of technology in its unconditional development
already presupposes a metaphysical subjugation to technology. Accompanying
this subjugation within us is an attitude that grasps everything according
to plan and calculation, and does so with a view to vast timespans in order
willfully and knowingly to secure what can last for the longest possible
It is one thing when empires endure for millennia because of their
continuing stability. It is something else when world dominions are
knowingly planned to last millennia and the assurance of their existence is
undertaken by that will whose essential goal is the greatest possible
duration of the greatest possible order of the largest possible masses.
This will has been the concealed metaphysical essence of modernity for the
last three centuries. It appears in various predecessors and guises that
are not sure of themselves and their essence. That in the twentieth century
this will would attain the shape of the unconditional, Nietzsche had
clearly thought through in advance. Participation in this will to man's
unconditional mastery over the earth, and the execution of this will,
harbor within themselves that subjugation to technology that does not ap
pear as resistance and resentment. That subjection appears as will, and
that means it is also effective here.
However, where one interprets the execution of this metaphysical will as a
"product" of selfishness and the caprice of "dictators" and "authoritarian
states," there speak only political calculation and propaganda, or the
metaphysical naivete of a thinking that ran aground centuries ago, or both.
Political circumstances, economic situations, population growth, and the
like, can be the proximate causes and horizons for carrying out this
metaphysical will of modern world-history. But they are never the ground of
this history and therefore never its "end." The will to preservation, and
that always means the will to enhance life and its lastingness, works
essentially against decline and sees deficiency and powerlessness in what
lasts only a short while.
On the contrary, for the inception of our history, for the Greeks, decline
was unique, momentary, laudable, and great. Clearly, we have to distinguish
here between decline while entering into something unique, and perishing
while clinging fast to the ordinary. What is imperishable in the inception
does not consist in the longest possible duration of its consequences nor
in the furthest possible extension and breadth of its effects, but in the
rarity and singularity of each varied return of what is originary within
it. Hence we cannot experience the inception through mere historiological
familiarity with what was before, but only in realizing what essentially
came to be known at the inception itself.
4. Practicing the relation to what is "thought-worthy" by considering the
If now and then we hear a brief saying of the incipient Greek thinkers of
the West, the important thing at first is that we hear, and we think about
the fact that everything has to do with us. But in order to consider this,
we must actually become practiced in thinking. The worst way to practice
thinking, however, would be an academic course in "logic." The usual,
orthodox logic thinks, at best (if it thinks at all), "about" thinking. But
we do not learn to think originarily when someone shows us how to think, in
an inferior and long-since impossible manner, "about" thinking. Rather, we
learn to think only when we try to attain an essential and
genuine relation to what above all else is thought-worthy. And what is
thoughtworthy is certainly not "thinking" but what challenges thinking,
what places thinking in its service and thus bestows rank and value upon
it. We do not learn this essential thinking by means of any "logic."
"Ground-Concepts" means to say: grasping the ground of everything, and that
means to attain a relation to the "ground" of everything. What "ground"
means here must be clarified step by step, along with what the relation to
the ground consists in, to what extent a knowing belongs to this relation,
and to what extent this relation is even itself a knowing. Thus it would be
premature if we wanted to equate "ground" with "cause" of everything, and
wanted furthermore to interpret this cause as a first cause in the sense of
a creator according to the Bible and Christian dogma. It would also be
premature to believe that with these "concepts" it is solely a matter of
representing the ground. It is rather a question of extending our thinking
toward the manner in which the ground includes us in its essence, not the
manner in which we take the ground to be merely an "object" and use it for
an "explanation of the world."
However the essence of the ground, but also "the concepts," i.e., the
relation to the ground, might explain and confirm themselves to us, one
thing remains clear in advance: no individual with a worked-out doctrine
and viewpoint can arbitrarily, at any particular time, expound something
and decide it by decree. It is also easy to see that an examination of
previous viewpoints and doctrines concerning the "ground" and the
"relation" to the "ground" at best provides a "historiological" familiarity
and avoids precisely what is all-important: the relation through which we
ourselves come into proximity with what strikes us essentially and makes a
claim upon us. We do not wish to discuss doctrines. Rather, we want to
become aware of the essential, in which we stand, or within which we are
perhaps still driven to and fro without a footing and without understanding.
5. The essential admittance of historical man into the inception, into the
"essence" of ground
We must listen our way into that place where we ourselves belong. With
this, reflection leads us through the question as to whether we still
belong anywhere at all. Even to merely anticipate where we could belong it
is necessary to experience ourselves. This means "ourselves" not according
to an historiologically given condition, "ourselves" not according to a
currently existing situation, "ourselves" not according to the individually
occurring specimens of humanity, but "ourselves" in respect to what
determines us and is other than us, which nevertheless governs our essence.
We call this, arbitrarily at first, the inception of our history. By this
we do not mean history as a series of events in terms of a "causal nexus,"
of which what occurs later and today is an effect. History means, again at
first appearance arbitrarily, the happening [Ereignis] of a decision about
the essence of truth. The manner in which the whole of beings is revealed,
in which man is allowed to stand in the midst of this revelation, is
grounded and transformed in such a decision. Such a happening is
exceptional, and this exceptional history is so simple when it happens and
prepares itself that man at first and for a long time thereafter fails to
see it and fails to recognize it. This is because his vision is confused by
habituation to the multiplicity of the ordinary.
The simple is the most difficult, and can only be experienced after long
endeavor. Remembrance of the inception of our history is the awakening of
knowing about the decision that, even now, and in the future, determines
Western humanity. Remembrance of the inception is therefore not a flight
into the past but readiness for what is to come.
In such remembrance we ourselves stand everywhere at risk, for in
remembrance we always remain unimportant as extant human specimens and
currently existing human groups. Historical man matters only when and
insofar as he stands in relation to the essence of history and hears a
claim from this essence according to which what matters is distinguished
from what doesn't matter, i.e., the groundless. Above all we ourselves
stand at risk, and that means the truth that determines us and has perhaps
long since become unrecognizable. But we do not find ourselves by becoming
selfish and following the impulse of those interests that merely drive us
along. We are most likely to find ourselves when we succeed in looking away
from what is self-seeking and peculiar to ourselves and bring into relief
something long overlooked. Let us allow ourselves, then, to be struck by
the incipient, and come to hear an ancient saying.
Simply said, "Ground-Concepts" [Grundbegriffe] means for us here: grasping
[begreifen] the ground of beings as a whole. To grasp, however, does not
mean that we merely permit ourselves to represent the ground and to have
thoughts about it. When we have grasped something we also say something has
opened up to us. This means for the most part that we have been transported
into what has opened up and remain determined by it from now on. Thus "to
grasp" [Be-greifen] the ground means above all that the "essence" of the
ground embraces us into itself [ein-begriffen], and that it speaks to us in
our knowing about it. Grasping announces itself to us as
being-embraced-into the "essence" of the ground. This beingembraced-into
does not consist exclusively in a "knowing," although it has the essential
characteristic of a knowing. This knowing, however, can remain concealed
from itself for a long time, and can block the way to itself. Nevertheless,
even so veiled, this knowing permeates the history of mankind and is the
bedrock in the mountain range of history. Man does not occasion this
knowing of the ground through mere flashes of insight, nor can he force it
through the art of mere cleverness. What he can do, and constantly does in
one way or another, is only to remain within this knowing or forget it, to
become aware of it (remembrance) or evade it.
FIRST DIVISION Discussion of the "Is," of Beings as a Whole § 2. Beings as
a whole are actual, possible, r~ecessary
Let us follow the ancient saying:
1ls\~a ~o ~r~av
"Take into care beings as a whole." And if we attempt to think the whole of
beings at once, then we think, roughly enough, this: that the whole of
beings "is," and we consider what it "is." We think the whole of beings,
everything that is, in its being. In so doing we think at first something
indeterminate and fleeting, and yet we also mean something for which we
find nothing comparable, something singular. For the whole of beings does
not occur twice, otherwise it wouldn't be what we mean.
To what "is" belongs not only the currently actual, which affects us and
which we stumble upon: the happenings, the destinies and doings of man,
nature in its regularity and its catastrophes, the barely fathomable powers
that are already present in all motives and aims, in all valuations and
attitudes of belief. To what "is" belongs also the possible, which we
expect, hope for, and fear, which we only anticipate, before which we
recoil and yet do not let go. To be sure, the possible is the not yet
actual, but this not-actual is nevertheless no mere nullity. The possible
also "is," its being simply has another character than the actual.
Different yet again from what happens to be actual and the possible is
the necessary. Thus beings do not exhaust themselves in the actual. To
beings belong the wealth of the possible and the stringency of the
necessary. The realm of beings is not identical to the domain of the actual.
In terms of number, but above all in terms of modality, we mean more than
the "actual" when we say "beings." Indeed, the actual is perhaps not at all
the standard for beings. And whenever one demands closeness to the actual
for human life, the "actuality" that is really meant is not what is simply
present, but what is planned, not what is mastered, but an unspoken claim
to power. The oft-mentioned "actual" is not the actual, but the possible.
Thus we never think "beings" as a whole as long as we only mean the actual.
Henceforth, if we earnestly think beings as a whole, if we think their
being completely, then the actuality of the actual is contained in being,
but also the possibility of the possible and the necessity of the necessary.
It remains to be asked why precisely these three (possibility, actuality,
necessity) belong to being, whether they alone exhaust its essence. For
metaphysics (ontology) it is clearly decided, beforehand and without any
consideration, that these three types of beings, also simply called "the"
"modalities" (actuality, possibility, necessity), exhaust the essence of
being. That a being is either actual, possible, or necessary strikes
ordinary understanding as a truism. However, this is perhaps a
misunderstanding of the other truism that beings are actual and the actual
is the effective and what counts at any particular time.
§3. Nonconsideration of the essential distinction between being and beings
But what passes itself off as even more self-evident is just that beings
"are," or, as we say, are determined "by being." When we say "beings are,"
we distinguish each time between beings and their being, without noticing
this distinction at all. Thus we also do not ask what this distinction
consists in, from whence it originates, how it remains so obvious, and
where it gets the right to this obviousness. We also do not find the
slightest reason to concern ourselves with this distinction between being
and beings in the first place.
When we consider the whole of beings, or even just attempt to think about
it in a vague way, we leave what we envisage for the most part
indeterminate and indistinct, whether beings or being, or both of them
alternately and indefinitely, or each separately but in a barely
comprehended relation. From here originates an old confusion of speech. We
say "being" and really mean beings. We talk about beings as such and mean,
at bottom, being. The distinction between beings and being seems not to
obtain at all. If it does obtain, ignoring it seems not to cause any
particular "harm. "
Things take their course. However, we do not first hold ourselves within
the abovementioned distinction between beings and being when we reflect
upon the whole of beings and actually consider its being. The distinction
pervades all of our speaking about beings, indeed, it pervades every
comportment toward beings whatever they might be, whether toward beings
that we ourselves are not (stone, plant, animal) or beings that we
When we say, for example, completely outside scientific deliberation and
far from all philosophical contemplation, "the weather is fine," and then
by "weather" we mean something actual and existing, and we mean with "fine"
the actual condition, and we mean with the inconspicuous "is" the manner in
which this being, the weather, thus and so exists. Hence we mean the being
of the being that is called "weather." The "is" does not thereby name a
being, unlike "the weather" and "fine." Conversely, "the weather" and
"fine" name a being, unlike the "is."
The weather is determined by the warmth of the sun, by the radiation of the
earth and by its soil conditions, by wind (air current), by relative
humidity, by the electrical conditions of the atmosphere, and more of the
same. We can directly observe and, with the appropriate apparatus, assess
the weather and what is relevant to it. We can decide if the weather is
good or bad or "doubtful." What is good or bad or doubfful about the
weather, we can see, sense. We can encounter the weather and its condition.
But wherein lies the "is"? What does it mean, what does it consist
in, that the weather "is" and that it "is" fine? The fine weather-that we
can be glad about, but the "is"? What are we to make of it? We can read
from the hygrometer whether the air is more or less humid, but there are no
instruments to measure and comprehend the "is" of what we mean by "is."
Thus we say with complete clumsiness: there are hygrometers, wind gauges,
barometers that indicate how the weather "is," but there are no
"is"-gauges, no instrument that could measure and take hold of the "is."
And yet we say the weather-itself, namely,-is thus and so. We always mean
by this what a being is, whether it is, and the way it "is." We mean the
being of beings. While we mean something like this, namely being, we
nevertheless attend only to particular beings.
In the case above we are interested only in the weather conditions, only in
the weather, but not in the "is." How many times a day do we use this
inconspicuous word "is," and not only in relation to the weather? But what
would come of our taking care of daily business if each time, or even only
one time, we were to genuinely think of the "is" and allow ourselves to
linger over it, instead of immediately and exclusively involving ourselves
with the respective beings that affect our intentions, our work, our
amusements, our hopes and fears? We are familiar with what is, beings
themselves, and we experience that they are. But the "is"-where in all the
world are we supposed to find it, where are we supposed to look for
something like this in the first place?
§4. The nondiscoverability of the "is"
"The leaf is green." We find the green of the leaf in the leaf itself. But
where is the "is"? We say, nevertheless, the leaf "is"-it itself, the leaf.
Consequently the "is" must belong to the visible leaf itself. But we do not
"see" the "is" in the leaf, for it would have to be colored or spatially
formed. Where and what "is" the "is"?
The question remains strange enough. It seems to lead to an empty
hairsplitting, a hairsplitting about something that does not and need not
trouble us. The cultivation of fruit trees takes its course without thinking
about the "is," and botany acquires information about the leaves of plants
without otherwise knowing anything else about the "is." It is enough that
beings are. Let's stay with beings; wanting to think about the "is" "is"
mere quibbling. Or instead we intentionally steer clear of a simple answer
to the question as to where the "is" can be found.
Let's stay with the last example. "The leaf is green." Here we shall take
"the green leaf itself," the designated being, as the "object." Now,
insofar as the "is" is not discoverable in this object, it must belong to
the "subject," that means to the person who judges and asserts
propositions. Each person can be regarded as a "subject" in relation to the
"objects" that they encounter. But how does it stand with the subjects, of
whom each can say "I" about itself, of whom many can say "we" about
themselves? These "subjects" also "are" and must "be." To say that the "is"
in the proposition "the leaf is green" lies in the "subject" is only to
defer the question. For the "subject" is also a "being," and thus the same
question repeats itself. Indeed, it is perhaps still more difficult to say
just to what extent "being" belongs to the subject, and belongs to it such
that it would be transferred from here, so to speak, to "objects." In
addition, when we understand the green leaf as an "object," we grasp it
immediately and only in its relation to the subject, and precisely not as
an independent being that we address in the "is" and "is green" in order to
articulate what pertains to the being itself.
The flight from object to subject is in many respects a questionable way
out. Thus we must reach still further and take notice for the first time of
what we mean by the "is."
§5. The unquestioned character of the "is" in its grammatical
determination-emptiness and richness of meaning
When we take the "is" as a "word" we label it, according to grammar, as a
derivation and form of the verb "to be." We can also elevate this "verb"
into a noun: being. We can easily take notice of this grammatically
determinable derivation, but it contributes nothing to our under
standing of what is named by the words "to be," "being," "is," "are,"
"was," "shall be," "has been." Finally we shall find out that no special
assistance is needed in order to understand these words.
We say "the weather is fine." We can ask whether it really is fine, and
whether it will last or isn't already starting to change. There can be
doubt as to the characteristics of this being-the weather-but not about the
"is," that is to say, not about what the "is" means here. Also when it
becomes questionable if the weather is "good" or "bad," and we ask "Is the
weather really as bad as it looks from this corner?"-then the "is" itself
remains entirely unquestioned in the question. There is nothing
questionable about the "is"-about what we mean by it. But how is it
supposed to become questionable? For indeed in the word "is" something is
thought that has no special content, no determination. "The weather is
fine," "the window is closed," "the street is dark," here we constantly
meet with the same empty meaning. The fullness and variability of beings
never comes from the "is" and from being, but from beings themselves:
weather, window, street, bad, closed, dark. When we say about beings that
they are thus and so, we might distinguish between beings and being. But in
this distinction being and the "is" remains continually indifferent and
uniform, for it is emptiness itself. Indeed, perhaps we fall into a trap,
so to speak, and attach to a linguistic form questions that have no support
in what is actual. Useless hairsplitting instead of investigating the
Suppose we say, to stay with the weather, "it rains." Here the "is" does
not present itself at all, and yet we mean that something actually "is."
But what is the point of all this fuss over the empty little word "is"? The
indeterminacy and emptiness of the word "is" is not eliminated by putting a
noun in place of the "is" and pronouncing the name "being." At best, it is
It could appear that something important is concealed in what is named by
the noun "being," something important and in this case especially profound,
even though the title "being" nevertheless remains just a nametag for
And yet, behind the uniformity and emptiness of the word "is," a scarcely
considered richness conceals itself. We say: "this man is from
Swabia"; "the book is yours"; "the enemy is in retreat"; "red is port";
"God is"; "there is a flood in China"; "the goblet is silver"; "the soldier
is on the battlefield"; "the potato beetle is in the fields"; "the lecture
is in room 5"; "the dog is in the garden"; "this man is the devil's own."
"Above all summits/Is rest.... "
Each time, the "is" has a different meaning and import for speech. We do
not want to avoid this complexity but rather to emphasize it, for such a
survey of the obvious can serve as a preliminary exercise for something
"The man is from Swabia" says: he originates from there; "the book is
yours" says: it belongs to you; "the enemy is in retreat" means: he has
begun to withdraw; "red is port" means: the red color is a sign for . . .;
"God is" is supposed to mean: God exists, he is actually there; "there is a
flood in China" means: there something prevails, spreads, and results in
destruction; "the goblet is silver" means: according to its material
characteristics, it consists of . . .; "the soldier is on the battlefield"
would say: he engages the enemy; "the potato beetle is in the fields"
establishes that: this animal causes damage there; "the lecture is in room
5" means: the lecture takes place there; "the dog is in the garden" means
to say: the dog is located there, runs around there; "this man is the
devil's own" means: he acts as if possessed by evil. "Above all summits/Is
rest . . . " means- yes, what does this mean? Above all summits "rest
locates itself'? Or: "takes place"? "exists"? "spreads"?-"Above all
summits/Is rest."- Here not one of the abovementioned elucidations of the
"is" fits. And when we collect them together and add them up, their sum
does not suffce either. Indeed, no paraphrase at all will do, so we simply
have to leave the "is" to itself. And thus the same "is" remains, but
simple and irreplaceable at once, the same "is" enunciated in those few
words that Goethe wrote upon the mullions in a hut on the Kickelhahn at
Ilmenau (cf. the letter to Zelter of Sept. 4, 1831).
How strange, that in response to Goethe's word "Above all summits/Is rest"
we vacillate over an attempted elucidation of the familiar "is," and
hesitate to give any elucidation at all, so that we come to give up
completely and only say the same words over and again: "Above all summits/
Is rest. " We forgo an elucidation of the "is," not because its understand
ing could be too complicated, too difficult, even hopeless, but because
here the "is" is said as if for the first and only time. This is something
so unique and simple that we don't have to do anything on our part to be
addressed by it. Hence the "intelligibility" of the "is" that precludes all
elucidation, the "intelligibility" that has perhaps a completely different
mode than that familiarity in which the "is" otherwise occurs to us,
constantly unthought, in everyday discourse.
All the same, the simple "is" of Goethe's poem holds itself far away from
the mere indeterminacy and emptiness that we indeed easily master, if only
through the hastiness of our understanding. Here, on the contrary, and
despite its intelligibility, we are not at all equal to the address of this
word, but are admitted into something inexhaustible.
"Above all summits/Is rest . . . "; in this "is" speaks the uniqueness of a
gathered wealth. Not the emptiness of the indeterminate, but the fullness
of the overdetermined prevents an immediate delimitation and interpretation
of the "is." The insignificant word "is" thus begins to shine brightly. And
the hasty judgment about the insignificance of the "is" starts to waver.
We now recognize the wealth of what the "is" has to say and is capable of
saying, only in different respects from the complexity of the enumerated
propositions. If we attempt to transfer the meaning of the "is" from any
one of the above-cited propositions to the others, we immediately fail.
Thus the emptiness and uniformity of the "is" shows itself to be a clumsy
pretense that clings to the sameness of the sounds and the written
characters. But how, then, is the alleged wealth supposed to lie in the
The word "is," taken by itself, remains helpless and poor in meaning. Why
it is so with the "is," indeed why it must be so, is also easy to see. The
complexity of the meanings of the "is" has its intelligible ground in the
fact that a different being is represented each time in the above-cited
propositions: the man from Swabia, the book, the enemy, the color red, God,
the flood, the goblet, the soldier, the potato beetle, the lecture, the
dog, the evil man, and finally in Goethe's poem-what? "Rest"? Is "rest"
represented there and something about it ascertained, that it is present
"above all summits"?
Here again, we hesitate over the interpretation. And that is no wonder,
since the propositions cited above are "prosaic" observations and
declarations, while in the last example precisely a "poetic" proposition
was brought forward. In "poetic propositions," if they may be called
"propositions" at all, things do not lie on the surface as much as they do
in familiar, everyday discourse. The "poetic" is the exception. The rule
and the ordinary are not to be gathered from it, and that means whatever
can be discerned of the "is" commonly and in general. Therefore we may hope
to ascend to the level of "higher," "poetic" expression, and to be able to
attempt its clarification, only when the meaning of the "is" is first
clarified satisfactorily in the common assertive proposition. Thus it is
perhaps just as well that we do not allow ourselves to be prematurely
confused by the "poetic" example that was merely tacked on to the end of
the propositional sequence.
The previously cited propositions suffice, then, to demonstrate that the
"is" derives its meaning each time from the being that is respectively
represented, addressed, and articulated in the proposition. Only thus can
it fill the emptiness that is otherwise, and indeed characteristically,
inherent in it from case to case, and present itself in the appearance of a
a) The emptiness and indeterminacy of the "is" as a presupposition for its
being a "copula"
Citing the examples above thus proves the exact opposite of what is
supposed to be shown, not a richness of the "is" but precisely its
emptiness. Hence the impression afforded at first by this much-used word is
confirmed, i.e., that of an indeterminate and not further determinable
word, which is the essential mode of this word. Indeed, the alleged
emptiness of this word, the "is," can be properly demonstrated as soon as
we cease to deal with it in an approximate way. Let us attend to the
character of this word instead of the many examples of its application,
which can easily be multiplied to infinity. Grammar informs us about this.
According to grammar, the "is" has the task of connecting the "subject"
with the "predicate." The "is" is therefore called the "link" or "copula."
The connecting remains dependent upon what is supposed to be connected,
and the mode of the bond is determined by the mode of what is supposed to
come into connection. That the "is" has the character of the copula shows
clearly enough the extent to which its meaning must be characterized by
emptiness and indeterminacy. For only thus can the "is" suffice for the
various uses that are constantly demanded of it in discourse. The "is"
remains not only actually an empty word, but due to its essence-as a
connecting word-it may not be loaded down beforehand with any particular
meaning. Its own meaning must therefore be totally "empty. "
b) Being ("is") as the general, the universal
The uniformity of the "is" therefore cannot be passed off as a mere
appearance. It distinguishes this word and thus indicates that the noun
"being," derived from its infinitive "to be," also only signifies a perhaps
indispensable but fundamentally empty representation. This uniformity is
won by turning our view from beings and their respective determinations and
retaining only the empty universal. For a long time now "being" has
therefore been called the most common, the "general," the most general of
all that is general. In this word, and in what it means, the solidity of
each respective being evaporates into the haziest haze of the most
universal. Hence Nietzsche calls "being" the "last breath of a vaporizing
If, however, being thus vaporizes and disappears, what becomes of the
difference between being and beings?
In this difference, we "have" before us two differentia: beings and being.
If, however, one of the two differentia in this difference, namely being,
is only the emptiest universalization of the other, owes its essence to the
other, and if consequently everything that has content and endures shifts
to the side of beings, and being is in truth nothing, or at best an empty
word-sound, then the differentiation may not be taken as completely valid.
For it to be valid, each of the two "sides" would have to be able to
maintain a genuine and radical claim to essence from out of itself.
If we are to consider the whole of beings, then we could certainly give
the most universal but also the emptiest of beings the name "being." But
we fall at once into error when, fooled by the naming and establishing of
the name "being," we chase after a so-called "being itself" instead of
considering only beings (is . . . to be-being-being itself). Indeed, we do
not simply fall once more into error, but into the mere emptiness of the
purely null, where inquiry no longer finds any support, where there is
nothing to be in error about. If we want to follow the saying p£~£1a TO
7rav, we therefore do well to avoid the phantom of an "abstract concept"
named by the word "being."
§6. The solution of healthy common sense: Acting and effecting among beings
instead of empty thinking about being (workers and soldiers)
But an alert sense for the actual and a healthy instinct for "realities" do
not need such far-ranging reflections. These are already abstract enough,
and additionally, they attempt to demonstrate the emptiness and
groundlessness of the abstract. A forthright man experiences the whole of
beings not through the dislocations of empty thinking about "being" but
only by acting and effecting among beings. Of course, not every random
activity guarantees a coalescence with the actual, and thus "the concrete,"
in distinction from the abstract. For this, participation in the inner law
of the age is needed. But where this participation occurs, there awakens a
heightened knowledge which is delivered over to something necessary, and
that means indispensable for it. Therein lies an authentic concept of being
free and freedom articulated by Nietzsche (see Twilight of the Idols, 1888).
But who would deny that active participation in the actual takes place in
various levels of knowing and acting, and must do so completely for an age
in which the "Will to Power" alone everywhere determines the fundamental
characteristic of acting, and even rules over the most apparently opposed
standpoints, so that nothing more remains of the previous world? Who would
deny that here all human planning and effecting displays, in particular
clarity, the character of a great "game," in which no individual nor even
everyone together can muster the stakes at risk in
this "world-play"? Who could wonder that in such a time, when the world as
we have known it is coming out of joint, the thought arises that now only
the love of danger and "adventure" can be the way man secures the actual
Nietzsche says: " . . . every higher man feels himself to be an adventurer.
"2 In any case, it becomes clear that all interpretations of humanity and
its determination, issuing from previous explanations of the world, lag
behind what is. In the meantime, it has been decided that "the worker" and
"the soldier" completely determine the face of the actual, all political
systems in the narrow sense notwithstanding. These names are not meant here
as names for a social class or profession. They indicate, in a unique
fusion, the type of humanity taken as measure by the present
world-convulsion for its fulfillment, that gives direction and foundation
to one's relation to beings. The names "worker" and "soldier" are thus
metaphysical titles and name that form of the human fulfillment of the
being of beings, now become manifest, which Nietzsche presciently grasped
as the "will to power. "
This emerging formation of humanity was already clear to Nietzsche in the
eighties of the last century, not from observations of social and political
conditions, but from metaphysical knowledge about the selffulfilling and
long-decided essential form of being as will to power.
Three sketches from the decade between 1880 and 1890 might suffice to prove
this. We must forgo a more exact interpretation here.
In 1882 Nietzsche writes (Will to Power, 764): "The workers shall live one
day as the bourgeoisie do now-but above them, distinguished by their
freedom from wants, the higher caste: thus poorer and simpler, but in
possession of power. "
In 1885/86 Nietzsche writes (Will to Power, 757): "Modern socialism wants
to create the secular counterpart to Jesuitism: everyone a perfect
instrument. But the purpose, the wherefore? has not yet been found."
In November 1887/March 1888 Nietzsche writes (Will to Power, 763):
"From thefuture of the worker-workers should learn to feel like soldiers.
An honorarium, an income, but no pay!
"No relation between payment and achievement! But to place the individual,
each according to his kind, so that he can achieve the highest that lies
within his realm."3
In these sketches by Nietzsche the names "worker," "soldier," and
"socialism" are already titles for the leading representatives of the main
forms in which the will to power will be enacted!
"Workers" and "soldiers" open the gates to the actual. At the same time,
they execute a transformation of human production in its basic structure;
of what formerly was called "culture." The latter, according to previous
notions, is an instrument of "cultural politics." Culture only exists
insofar as it is plugged into [eingeschaltet] the operations that secure a
basis for a form of domination. That we use the term "plug in"
[einschalten] to name this connection, an expression from machine
technology and machine utilization, is like an automatic proof of the
actuality that finds words here. "Workers" and "soldiers" remain obviously
conventional names that nevertheless can signify, roughly and in outline,
the humanity now arising upon the earth. If the peasant transforms himself
into a worker in the provisions industry, then this is the same process by
which a leading scholar becomes the managing director of a research
institute. But it would be backward and only half serious, thus not at all
seriously thought out, to try to characterize these events in terms of past
"political" ideas, e.g., as a "proletarianization," and to believe thereby
that we had grasped the slightest thing. To interpret everything from what
has been, and thus to exclude oneself from the realm of the already actual
and its essential being, corresponds to natural human inertia. Only a
dreamer and a visionary could want to deny that, in the age dawning upon
the entire earth, man experiences real beings as a worker and soldier does,
and makes available what alone is to count as a being.
Only those who are permanently ill-tempered and angry on principle
could propose to stay essential decisions by flight into what has been, to
whose past formation and preservation they have contributed nothing. Yet,
genuine participation in the law of the age is also essentially other than
the comportment that exhausts itself in advocating "optimism." For mere
optimism is only a concealed pessimism, a pessimism that avoids itself. In
this age of the convulsion of the entire world pessimism and optimism
remain, in the same way, powerless for what is necessary' The sobriety of
knowing and reflection upon what is are necessary above all. However, this
sobriety includes recognizing the truth under which the history of the age
stands. Sobriety also includes asking whether the uniqueness of this
world-age demands of Dasein an originality for which having intellectual
interests and attending to so-called cultural concerns, in addition to the
life of action, do not suffice. For the genuine passion of sobriety the
best optimism is too lame, every pessimism too blind. All this should
indicate that the call to participate in the actual always stands under a
different law; it does not each time guarantee a straightforward experience
of what is. Certainly, today, "workers" and "soldiers" experience beings in
helping to bring about their characteristic features.
§7. Renouncing being-dealing with beings
But do "workers" and "soldiers," in virtue of this experience, also know
the being of beings? No. Yet perhaps they no longer need to know it.
Perhaps the being of beings has never been experienced by those who
directly shape, produce, and represent beings. Perhaps being was always
brought to knowledge merely "by the way," like something apparently
If it were so, then within the realm of historical humanity, besides the
boundless complexity and fullness of beings, this "superfluity," being,
would still reveal itself. Then it would remain to ask whether this
"superfluity" is also the gift of a surplus and a wealth, or whether it
always remains merely useless, the poverty of emptiness-the emptiness that
already announced itself to us distinctly enough in the connecting word
Without noticing it, we are again considering the difference between
beings and being. Perhaps being cannot be so conveniently shoved aside, as
the discussion of the copula seems to have succeeded in doing. Even when it
is established that man knows nothing of being in all his experiences and
dealings with beings, indeed that he needs to know nothing of being, then
it is still by no means decided whether what he experiences before all
beings, experiences differently and more originarily than any particular
being, is what we call being. The remark that the word "is" means only an
empty representation of something indeterminate and not further
determinable can no longer suffice to decide what being "is" apart from
Meanwhile, we have only given voice to the undeniable "fact" that the
immediate experience of beings holds beings secure and therein finds
contentment. One finds proof of "actuality" in the actual itself, equates
the one (the actual) with the other (actuality), and, in case one still
concedes a proper essence to "actuality," it is in the role of capturing
the "universal representation" of the most universal-called being-in a
word's sound. One is content with beings, and renounces being so decisively
that one does not allow this renunciation to count as such, but declares it
to be a gain: the advantage, from now on, of not being disturbed by the
"abstract" in dealing with beings. Where does this remarkable contentment
Perhaps this complacency about the experience and cultivation of beings
stems from the fact that man, in the midst of beings, thinks only about
what he needs. Why should he need a discussion of the meaning of the word
"is"? Indeed-it is of no use. Discussions about the "is" in the proposition
therefore also remain useless, even if it should turn out that we are not
dealing with mere words and mere verbal meanings. This reflection is
devoted to something superfluous and perhaps even to an excess.
For this reason alone, we do not prematurely cast aside discussions of the
"is" in the proposition. Perhaps something essential conceals itself here,
especially if everything essential occurs "despite" all that is
nonessential. Everything decisive is "despite" the ordinary, for the
ordinary and usual recognizes and wants only its own kind.
Perhaps the previous discussion of the "is," where the "is" is understood
as the copula, was only an ordinary discussion, made ordinary by our long
being accustomed to thinking of so-called "grammar" as appropriate for
imparting authoritative information about language and the word. Perhaps
the ordinary must first of all be shaken, so that we receive a first sense
of the superfluous. Thus, forsaking the beaten path of former opinion, we
wish to take up anew the discussion of the "is" and "being. "
Recapitulation 1. Consideration of beings as a whole presupposes the
essential inclusion of man in the difference between being and beings
We follow an ancient saying, and in so doing cast off the hasty presumption
of a willful cleverness that would perhaps like merely to contrive a
worldview or "represent" a particular standpoint. This saying goes:
p£~£T~ T0 ~V
"Take into care beings as a whole."
This saying in no way serves as a timeless rule, but demands that we follow
it by returning to the inception to which it belongs, and that we
experience in the incipient a unique decision. Accordance with this
decision does not mean imitating and renewing something earlier, but
beginning something yet to come. Tofollow the saying means, at the same
time and at once: remembering what is incipient and deciding what is yet to
come. All this implies that we must single out Greek thought as a first
beginning, but we can never prescribe it, as the "Classical," as a rule for
Following the saying, we consider beings as a whole and see ourselves
forced to acknowledge the possible and the necessary as beings. We must
therefore give up the seductive identification of beings with the merely
actual. The actual, to be sure, retains its priority in our experiences,
opinions, and plans. But this priority does not necessarily entail the
preeminence of the actual within the whole of beings. However, when we
experience this whole in terms of its possibilities and necessities,
beyond the merely actual, it remains to be decided whether we have indeed
already traversed its domain.
Meanwhile, we have noticed that in thinking beings we also "thereby" think
being. The whole of beings is neither merely the sum of all beings nor is
it already thought when we succeed in representing its "totality." For if
totality is not simply adventitious to the whole, but projects ahead of all
beings as their determination (because it resonates through the whole of
beings as "a being"), then totality itself is only a satellite of what
distinguishes beings as beings. We call this "being." In considering beings
as a whole we think the whole as a being, and thus we already think it from
being. We differentiate each time, without knowing how or why or wherefore,
beings and being.
Obviously we do not first make this differentiation and carry it with us
like a piece of information, like an arbitrary differentiation such as that
between red and green. Rather, we move within this differentiation of
beings and being just as we stay, in advance, within the difference between
right and left, where the differentia are of the same kind and concern a
particular realm of the spatial.
If we need evidence that we always remain and encounter ourselves within
this differentiation of beings and being, it suffices to note that we
continually name being in our comportment toward beings when we say "is."
Whether we actually assert propositions that contain this word "is" or
silently busy and concern ourselves with beings is all the same. That we
must continually say "is" whenever we speak indicates that what we "so"
name, precisely being, wants to be put into a word, into a word that,
admittedly, we always at the same time mis-hear. This failure to recognize
the "is" resembles the all too familiar and monotonous tick of the clock
within the usual sphere of everyday residing. We first hear the motion of
the clock when it stands still. In just this way, we become aware of the
"is" and what it says when an interruption intrudes upon speaking. To be
sure, "we" can experience this interruption only hypothetically, only as
possible, never as actual. We can posit the case where we utterly fail to
say or even merely think the "is." What would happen then, each may work
out at first for himself. It suffices simply to consider "exter
nally" any series of utterances whatsoever in which we directly and
continually say the insignificant word "is."
We consider beings as a whole, and thereby think being. Thus, in thinking,
we move within the differentiation between beings and being. Not that we
apply this differentiation and refer to it like a familiar rule. We are in
accordance with it without actually knowing of it or having a concept of
its essence and essential ground. Perhaps it is already too much and
inappropriate when we speak of the differentiation between beings and being
in the first place. For in this way a difference is already objectified
without our being able to specify where it belongs, whether it only
subsists because we carry it out, or whether man carries it out because
something essential determines him-to which we want to cling fast, so to
speak, under the empty name of the differentiation between beings and
being. For otherwise many things are differentiated. What all isn't
distinguishable and addressed as a differentiation! Talk of the
differentiation is supposed to indicate, however, that this differentiation
is the origin of all differences.
The differentiation / "beings and being" / contains an indication that
after all "being" and "beings" harbor within themselves the relation to
being. How exclusively we refer to being in every attitude toward beings is
evidenced by our saying "is."
2. Wealth and poverty of meaning in the "is"
A survey of the quoted propositions made clear that the "is" in a
proposition means something complex. A short pause at Goethe's verse "Above
all summits/Is rest" showed beyond this that the "is" announces, in all
simplicity, the inexhaustibility of a wealth to which we are not
The noun and name "being" names what we mean by the "is." In the wealth of
meaning in the "is," the essential fullness of being shows itself. But when
we look closely, it appears as if the "is" does not derive its complexity
of meaning from the fullness of being, but always only from the fact that
each time a different being, man, color, dog, etc., is named. Taken by
itself, the "is," in fact, remains empty. Indeed, it must be empty
according to its essence, like the word for the empty and indeterminate
itself. For the "is" has the verbal character of the "copula" in the
proposition. As this "connection," it must for its part be unbound and
leave everything open and indeterminate, in order to be able to conjoin
completely different beings. Thus the opposite of the previous conclusion
shows itself: the "is" does not distinguish itself through fullness of
meaning, but through poverty of meaning. The same holds even more, and even
more properly, for the noun and name "being." Here emptiness and
indeterminacy are made into a fetish. It looks as though being is not only
"something" next to beings, but being and what constitutes the being of
beings is the most real being. Thus already at the beginning of metaphysics
Plato conceived the being of beings as the authentic being of all beings
(OVT035 OV). By contrast, at the end of Western metaphysics, and that means
Platonism, Nietzsche recognized being not as the most real but as the most
negative. Nietzsche grasped being as the last breath of a vaporizing
This contradictory interpretation of the being of beings, according to
which being "is" first the most real and then the utmost nullity, shows two
contrary versions of being. And yet it is a matter of the same
interpretation. Its self-sameness is articulated in a fundamental doctrine
of Western metaphysics. According to this, being is the most universal of
the universal (KOlVOTaTOV). The most universal, which does not permit
anything more universal for its determination, is the most indeterminate
and emptiest. If it is so with being, then one side of the differentiation,
that of being, loses weight against the other, that of beings. The one side
becomes superfluous and there is no longer a distinction to be made.
3. Equating dealing with the actual with considering beings as a whole
If we are now still supposed to follow the saying and consider beings as a
whole, then the task is clear and the direction is firm: we can and must
cling to beings. "Take into care beings as a whole" now has a univocal
sense, which suggests itself on its own and does not require any special
reflection: stick to facts, deal with the actual and its actualization, and
secure its effectiveness. Equating dealing with the actual with
considering beings as a whole completely loses all questionability when we
recognize, at the same time, that the correct recognition indeed lies only
in such dealings. Acting and effecting bring to experience what the actual
is, and thus what beings themselves are. Acting, however, is always
accompanied by thefreedom from whence man comports himself toward beings.
Freedom is now participation in the law of the age. Nietzsche expressed its
more determinate essence in the passage cited from Twilight of the Idols:
For what is freedom? That one has the will to self-responsibility.4
This answer of Nietzsche's sounds like Kant's answer to the same question.
Freedom is self-legislation, is placing oneself under the law of the self.
Nietzsche's answer not only sounds Kantian, it also thinks (in the
essential sense) in a Kantian, i.e., modern, way. And yet Nietzsche thinks
differently than Kant. For everything depends upon what the "self" means
here, whose self-responsibility we are talking about. Being as self is the
essence of the "subject." In distinction from but in internal connection
with Kant, Nietzsche conceives being a self as the will to power. Freedom
as will to self-responsibility then means: freedom as will to fulfill the
"will to power." However, since according to Nietzsche the will to power is
not only the being of "man," but also the being of atoms no less than the
being of animals, since it is no less the essence of the political than the
essence of art, freedom as the will to the will to power means the same as
participation in the actuality of the actual.
4. The unthought residence of man in the distinction between being and beings
We reflect upon what the ancient saying ,u£~£Ta TO ~r~av says: "Take into
care beings as a whole." The reflection leads us to recognize
something that until now we either did not realize at all or ignored,
namely, that we think "being" everywhere and always, wherever and whenever
in the midst of beings we comport ourselves toward beings, and are thereby
beings ourselves, and thus comport ourselves toward ourselves at the same
time. Briefly: we have our residence in the distinction between beings and
This domain of residence appears to us at first like something negative
when we consider that the home ground, the place of a people and similar
narrower or wider horizons, finally the earth itself, actually bear our
residing and grant all comportment toward beings its expanse. But what
would all of this, home and earth, be, if it did not reveal itself to us as
beings, if beings as such and therefore beings in their mode of being did
not permeate and charge our attunement? That the distinction between beings
and being looks to us (and that means to our ordinary, superficial opining
and hurried "thinking") like something indifferent and negative is indeed
not suffficient evidence that this distinction could not perhaps be
something entirely different in its essence, whose dignity we could never
overestimate, but rather, at best, and to our own detriment, we must always
This distinction between beings and being holds the differentia apart from
one another, and this apartness is in itself an extension and an expanse
that we must recognize as the space of all spaces-so far as we may still
use this name "space" at all here, which indeed means only a particular
type of apartness.
At first, certainly, we know nothing of this distinction. What it consists
in remains hidden. Whether what constitutes its essence is at all
characterized by means of the code word "distinction" remains undecided,
indeed, unasked. For "distinction" is many things. Distinction is, for
example, everything opposed to something that we encounter among beings.
Metaphysics also finds opposition and distinction within being and its
essence (cf. German Idealism). What is here called "the distinction"
between beings and being is more essential than all differences in beings
and all oppositions in being.
SECOND DIVISION Guidewords for Reflection upon Being §8. Being is the
emptiest and at the same time a surplus
Adhering to what was said before, when we consider afresh the "is" as the
connecting word in a proposition we must already acknowledge two things.
The "is" indicates an emptiness in which reflection finds no support.
However, at the same time, the "is" divulges a wealth within which the
being of beings pronounces itself.
Let us think again upon Goethe's verse, which, in terms of content, speaks
only of "mountainpeaks" and "above" and "rest." And yet, the "is" names
something that cannot be determined by what is named and nameable through
this content. Thus precisely in the "is" a peculiar claim is spoken, which
flows from its own source and cannot be exhausted or drained by the naming
of various beings. Therefore the very slightness of the verse says much,
indeed still "more" than an extended description.
In the "is" a surplus is put into words. If we replace the "is" with the
name of the noun "being," then, if we consider what is said in its unity,
we stand before the question: Is "being" only the emptiest, as measured
against each being thus-and-thus determined? Or is being a surplus for all
beings, which leaves each being infinitely far behind? Or is being perhaps
yet both, the emptiest as well as the surplus? Being would then be, in its
very essence, its own opposite. We would then have to acknowledge something
like a discord within being itself.
If, however, this discordant character belongs to being itself, and
constitutes its essential character, then being cannot be split in the
sense of a destruction of its essence. What is discordant must then be held
together in the unity of an essence. But we would be overhasty to speak
directly about an essential discordance of being, and to presume to decide
about the essence of being solely on the grounds of the double character of
the "is" (that it announces itself at once as emptiness and surplus). Above
all, we resist the temptation to take this emerging discordance within
being as the occasion for a dialectical accounting of being, and thus to
choke off all reflection. We want at first only to carry out a reflection,
and so to clarify our relation to the being of beings. We concern ourselves
with this clarification of our relation to the being of beings in order
first to come into position to perceive, with a certain clarity, the claim
of that saying:
p£~£Ta TO ~OV.
From the just-completed reflection, however, we first discern this about
being: Being is the emptiest and at the same time a surplus, out of which
all beings, those that are familiar and experienced as well as those
unfamiliar and yet to be experienced, are granted their respective modes of
§9. Being is the most common and at the same time unique
If we follow this indication of being in all beings, we immediately find
that being is encountered in every being uniformly and without difference.
Being is common to all beings and thus is the most common.
The most common is without every distinction: the stone is, the tree is,
the animal is, and man is, the "world" is, and God "is." Against this
thoroughly "uniform" "is," and in contrast to this uniformity and leveling
of being, many levels and ranks show themselves within beings, which
themselves allow the most diverse arrangements. We can progress from the
lifeless, from dust and sand and the motionlessness of stone, to the
"living" of plants and animals, beyond this to free men, and yet beyond
this to demigods and gods. We could also reverse the order of rank among
beings and declare what one ordinarily calls "spirit" and the "spiritual" to
be only a discharge of electrical phenomena and an excretion of materials
whose composition, to be sure, chemistry has not yet discovered but will
discover one day. Or, we can appoint those beings that we call "living" to
the highest rank and hold "life" to be the actual and figure everything
material into it, and incorporate into it the "spiritual" as well, solely
as a tool for "life." Nevertheless, being is each time thoroughly common in
all beings and thus the most common. At the same time, however, a cursory
reflection just as soon encounters the opposite of this characterization of
being. However one being might surpass another, as a being it remains equal
to the other, hence it has in the other its own equivalent. Every being has
in every being, insofar as it is a being, its equal. The tree in front of
the house is a different being than the house, but a being; the house is
other than a man, but a being. All beings are thrown into the manifoldness
of respective beings, separated from one another, and dispersed into a vast
multiplicity. In experiencing beings we pass through many kinds of things.
And yet, everywhere and without exception, beingsf~nd in each being their
equal. How does it stand, however, with being?
Being has its equal nowhere and nohow. Being is, over and against all
Nothing corresponds to being. Being is not given a second time. There are
certainly different modes of being, but precisely of being, which is never
respectively this and that and thus constantly a plurality like beings. The
uniqueness of being has incomparability as a consequence. Beings can always
be compared with beings and placed into equivalence with one another.
However, being is never merely what is equivalent in the manifold beings
stone, plant, animal, man, God. For to be what is equivalent it would have
to be multiple. Being, by contrast, is everywhere the same, namely, itself.
In order to be equivalent, something other and additional is required. To
be the same, only uniqueness is needed. As the same and unique, being is,
of course, forever different in and from itself. But what is differentiated
is not different in the sense that being could be being twice over and
repeatedly, and would be split and divided into multiplicity. Being is
distinguished by uniqueness in a unique way, incomparable with any other
distinction. Being in its uniqueness-and in addition to this, beings in
But is there not a third thing, which we must distinguish in addition to
being and beings-the Nothing?
One could cut off this question with the observation that the Nothing
precisely is not, and therefore there is no sense or reason to speak of a
third thing here. It is indeed correct that the Nothing is not a being and
can never and nowhere be made into a being, for we think the Nothing as the
negation of beings purely and simply. But the question remains whether the
Nothing itself consists in the negation of beings, or whether the negation
of beings is simply a representation of the Nothing, which the Nothing
requires of us when we set out to think it. For the Nothing is certainly no
being, but nevertheless "there is given" [es gibt] the Nothing. We say here
"there is given" the Nothing, but we cannot, at present, determine more
closely who or what gives the Nothing. We can also say the Nothing
presences [west], in order to indicate that the Nothing is not merely the
absence and lack of beings. If the Nothing were only something
indifferently negative, how could we understand, for example, horror and
terror before the Nothing and nihilation? Terror before the Nothing-.
The Nothing does not first need beings and a being in order to presence, as
if it would presence only if beings were eliminated in advance. The Nothing
is not the result of such an elimination. There is given the Nothing in
spite of the fact that beings are. And perhaps it is one of the greatest of
human errors to believe oneself always secure before the Nothing so long as
beings can be encountered and dealt with and retained. Perhaps the
predominance of this error is a main reason for blindness visa-vis the
Nothing, which cannot affect beings, and least of all when beings become
more and more "existant" [seiender]. Perhaps the belief that the Nothing is
just "nothing" is also the main support for a popular piece of
intelligence, namely: every reflection upon the Nothing leads to
nothingness and endangers the legitimate trust in beings.
If, however, the Nothing is obviously not a being, we cannot at all say
that it "is." Nevertheless, "there is given" the Nothing. We ask again:
what does "there is given" mean here? What is given "is" yet somehow
something. But the Nothing is not "something," jut nothing. Here we easily
fall into the danger of playing with words. People make use of the
justifiable indication of this danger in order to banish all thought
"about" the Nothing as fatal. But the danger is no less that, because we
seem to be merely playing around with words, we take the Nothing too
lightly and fail to recognize that there is given the Nothing. If this
should be the case, we would indeed have to say that the Nothing is. But if
we say this we make the Nothing into a being and twist it into the opposite
of itself. Or else the "is" we use when we say "the Nothing is" means
something other than when we say "beings are." Perhaps we merely cling
obstinately to an untested everyday assumption when we insist that the "is"
is used in the same sense in the propositions "beings are" and "the Nothing
is." A more penetrating reflection might make us suddenly realize that the
Nothing does not need beings in order to be the Nothing as a result of
The Nothing does not need beings. Certainly, however, the Nothing needs
being. That the Nothing needs precisely being, and without being must
remain without essence, remains strange and shocking to the ordinary
understanding. Indeed, perhaps the Nothing is even the same as being. For
the uniqueness of being can never be endangered by the Nothing, because the
Nothing "is" not something other than being, but this itself. Does not what
we said about being also hold for the Nothing: that it is unique and
incomparable? The incontrovertible incomparability of the Nothing is
evidence that its essence belongs to being and confirms being's uniqueness.
That the Nothing "is" the same as being, that the Nothing is related in its
essence to being, if not essentially one with it, we can also surmise from
what has already been said about being: "Being is the emptiest." Is the
Nothing not the emptiest emptiness? The Nothing also shares uniqueness with
being in this respect.
Hence we discern from our considerations so far: Being is the emptiest and
at the same time a surplus. Being is the most common of all and at the same
What we say about being in such propositions, here and in what follows,
cannot count as the sufficiently presented and demonstrated "truth" about
being. Certainly, however, we take these propositions as
guidewordsfor the reftection upon being, which we also think whenever and
however we think back, in remembering, to the ancient saying.
§10. Being is the most intelligible and at the same time concealment
The very preliminary discussions of being in respect to the "is" in a
proposition have already taught us that we understand the "is" and "being"
everywhere and immediately. For this we do not need any special experiences
and ratiocinations. The intelligibility of the "is" in a proposition
remains for us so familiar and certain in advance that at first we pay no
special attention to it at all. In addition, where we actually concern
ourselves with the explanation of beings and must halt before an
"unintelligible" being, where our investigations among beings find their
limit, even there the unexplained being remains for us embedded within a
circuit of the intelligible. This is evidenced for the most part in that we
arrange the unintelligible being immediately within the intelligible, and
most often in an already familiar fashion.
When, for instance, in respect to a domain of beings, e.g., nature, the
confidence prevails that what is hitherto unexplained and unexplainable
will yet be explained with time and in the course of human progress, behind
this confidence already stands the procedure that assumes the
intelligibility of being and beings. In our time we can easily give an
especially impressive example of the limitless power of confidence in
respect to the intelligibility of beings. (See the article by Pascual
Jordan, "Am Rande der Welt."s The article is also a revealing example of
the inner decadence of today's "science." Take especially the practical
application at the conclusion! By contrast, take the serious and careful
essay by C. F. v. Weizsacker, "Die Physik der Gegenwart und das
In the realm of atomic processes, modern atomic and quantum physics have
discovered events where the discharges observable in this realm as a
"statistical average" do conform to certain rules, yet in particular are
not "foreseeable." What is "unforeseeable," i.e., what cannot be computed
in advance from within the purview of physical calculation, shows itself
each time as something new and cannot be explained by something else.
Whatever cannot be explained as a consequence of an antecedent other, as
antecedent, lacks a cause. In the field of atomic physics, one says,the law
of causality is invalid. This invalidity of the law of causality, one
believes, is established in a purely physical way by research. However, one
does not rest content with this allegedly enormous discovery, which,
furthermore, serves to refute Kant and all previous philosophy. One applies
the statement of the invalidity of the causal law in the atomic realm
immediately to the "positive" realm. When something is "uncaused" by
something else and is thus new, originating from itself, it is then
"spontaneous," and if spontaneous, "free." One speaks therefore of the
"peculiar" freedom of action belonging to the microphysical structure.
(The discharge of atomic processes is, to be sure, not "peculiar." Only the
physics is "peculiar" which makes a thoughtless fool of itself with such
assertions, and does not anticipate how it must betray its essential
superficiality, the result of which is that it cannot decide anything "for"
or " against " " causality. " )
But with that, one might think physics has secured a domain for physical
research in which the "living" and the "spiritual," and everything
characterized by "freedom," fit in perfectly. Thus opens the "promising"
vista that one day "human freedom" can also be proven by "natural science"
to be a "natural-scientific fact." I am not relating fictional stories, nor
reporting the fancies of a half-educated dreamer who patches together a
"worldview" from "books" he has arbitrarily picked up. I am reporting the
scientific conviction of today's physicists, who as researchers place the
"exactness" of thought above everything, whose work is already confirmed by
unforeseen technical success and presumably will continue to be confirmed
in ways none of us anticipate. However, because mere success is never a
proof of truth but is always the "consequence" of a grounding principle
whose truth must first be questioned
and which can never be decided by the continually dependent result, the
success of today's "science" is no argument for its truth, and is not
something that could keep us from asking a question.
What is happening here? What commonly occurs to one in representing the
atomic realm, and what is taken as the fundamental determination of the
being of the physical domain, is held to be the intellegible per se, and
one arranges under it everything else. One speaks, without thinking, of
"actions" and "freedom of action" in reference to atoms, and believes,
therefore, one has penetrated into the domain of the organic. One already
dreams of a "quantum biology" grounded by "quantum physics." How
unquestioned these opinions of the researchers are is shown most clearly in
that they believe themselves far superior to the socalled materialists with
this type of research and approach. In contrast with the materialists, one
grants validity to "freedom." However, one does not see that one equates
freedom with physical unpredictability, and therefore physically
pre-interprets everything human. Above all, one does not see that a
privation lies in the determination of the unpredictable, and that this
cannot be without the positivity of predictability, that means of
causality. Causality is not cvercome. On the contrary, it is confirmed to
the utmost, only transformed, and, strictly speaking, ascertainable in the
One finds this procedure to be in order. For one is of the opinion that
naturally everyone knows, offthe street so to speak, what "freedom" and
"spirit" and such things are, for one has and is these things oneself every
day. Whereas, naturally, for example, an understanding of the mathematics
of wave mechanics is accessible to only a very few mortals, and requires a
Herculean effort and a corresponding technical preparation. But why should
a physicist, who is also a human being, not know at the same time what is
essential to human freedom and everything else that concerns man, and what
can be discovered about it? Why shouldn't everyone be informed about all of
this and about the being of beings in general? This attitude of the
sciences, and these claims that we constantly encounter everywhere in
modified forms, state unequivocally that for us the being of beings is the
most intelligible thing of all. We do not remember ever having really
learned what being "is" and means. To the con
trary, we must indeed strive step by step for the cognizance of and
acquaintance with particular beings. Whence stems as well the strange state
of affairs wherein we require the highest exactitude for the study of
beings, and above all, of "nature," and to that end set into motion
gigantic apparatuses, whereas for the determination of being any arbitrary
and approximate notion may and does suffice. That science, e.g., must put
into operation complicated investigations in order historiologically to
secure a historical fact is understandable. But it is no less
understandable that any vague notions, wherever they may come from, are
sufficient for judgments to be made and agreement to be found about the
fundamental appearances of history, about human freedom, about the essence
of power, about art, and about poetry. Respect for facts and for the exact
determinations of beings must "naturally" be required. If, however, what is
essential to beings, therefore to being, is abandoned to the claims of
arbitrary notions, there is no occasion for reservations. All of this, and
many similar things in human comportment, speak for the fact that being, as
distinguished from beings, is the most intelligible. The intelligibility of
being has, we do not know how and when, simply come our way.
However, when we are supposed to say expressly what we understand by such
"most intelligible" being, and that means what we think with the word
"being," and that means what we "grasp" being as, then we are suddenly at a
loss. Suddenly it is shown to us that we not only have no concept for this
most intelligible, for being, we also do not see how we are still supposed
to grasp "something" here with respect to being. Within beings, the task
and the way out remain for us to trace the given being back to another
being that we take to be clearer and more familiar, and through this
reduction to explain it, and to content ourselves with such an explanation.
However, where it is a matter of grasping being, the way out by means of a
being is denied to us if we earnestly stick to the question. For every
being is, as such, already determined by being and lays claim to this for
itself. Next to (praeter) any one being "are," to be sure, always various
other beings, but besides being "there is given" at most the Nothing.
Should we not, then, attempt to determine being from the Nothing?
However, the Nothing is itself the indeterminate per se. How should it
offer something in terms of which we grasp being? This way, as well, leads
to no essential determination of being. Being thus denies itself every
concept and every determination and illumination, and does so in every
respect and for every attempt at an explanation. Being simply withholds
itself from any grasping on the basis of beings. If we say that being
simply withholds itself, then, yet again, we are saying something about
being. This essence belongs to being: to withhold itself from explananon on
the basis of beings. Withholding itsef, it removes itself from determinacy,
from manifestness. Withdrawing from manifestness, it conceals itself.
Self-concealment belongs to being. If we wish to acknowledge this, then we
must say: Being itself "is" concealment. Therefore, we must adhere to the
Being is the emptiest and at the same time a surplus.
Being is the most common of all and at the same time uniqueness. Being is
the most intelligible and at the same time concealment.
§11. Beir~g is the most worn-out and at the same time the origin
If we now consider that being conceals itself, indeed that selfconcealment
belongs to being's essence, it might seem once again as if being remains
completely and necessarily withdrawn from us. But again, it can only seem
so. For we lay claim to being everywhere, wherever and whenever we
experience beings, deal with them and interrogate them, or merely leave
them alone. We need being because we need it in all relations to beings. In
this constant and multiple use, being is in a certain way expended.
And yet we cannot say that being is used up in this expenditure. Being
remains constantly available to us. Would we wish to maintain, however,
that this use of being, which we constantly rely upon, leaves being so
untouched? Is not being at least consumed in use? Does not the indifference
of the "is, " which occurs in all saying, attest to the wornness of what we
Being is certainly not grasped, but it is nevertheless worn-out and thus
also "empty" and "common." Being is the most worn-out.
"Being" stands everywhere and at each moment in our understanding as what
is most self-understood. It is thus the most worn-out coin with
which we constantly pay for every relation to beings, without which
payment no relation to beings as beings would be allotted us. Being, the
most worn-out and the most indifferent! And yet: we do not throw the "is"
away; we also never become weary of the being of beings. Even where one
might sometimes wish, oneself, no longer to be, ennui pertains only to
oneself as this existing human being, but not to being. Even in that most
extreme satiety that secretly remains a wishing, and wishes there might be
the Nothing instead of beings, even there being remains the only thing
called upon that resists expenditure and consumption. For also where we
expect that it would be preferable for the Nothing to be, the last saving
grasp is aimed at the most worn-out-at being. Therefore being can never
become wornout to the point of complete exhaustion and disparagement. On
the contrary, in the extremity of the desired annihilation of all beings,
and precisely here, being must appear. It appears here as something
unprecedented and untouched, from out of which stem all beings and even
their possible annihilation. Being first lets every being be as such, that
means to spring loose and away, to be a being, and as such to be "itself."
Being lets every being as such originate. Being is the origin. Being is the
emptiest and at the same time a surplus.
Being is the most common of all and at the same time uniqueness. Being is
the most intelligible and at the same time concealment.
Being is the most worn-out and at the same time the origin.
§12. Being is the most reliable and at the same time the non-ground
Whenever, whichever way, and to whatever extent beings become questionable
and uncertain to us, we do not doubt being itself. Whether this or that
being is, whether this being is so or that being is otherwise, may remain
undecided, indeed undecidable in specific cases. Through all of the
wavering uncertainty of beings, being, by contrast, offers reliability. For
how could we doubt beings in whatever respect if we could not rely in the
first place upon what is called "being"?
Being is the most reliable, and so unconditionally reliable that, in all
spheres of our comportment toward beings, we do not ever become clear as to
the trust we everywhere place upon it.
Nevertheless, if we ever wanted to ground our plans and recourses among
beings-our using and shaping of things-immediately upon being, if we wanted
to assess the reliability of the everyday according to how being is
grounded in its essence there, and how this essence is familiar to us, then
we must just as soon experience that none of our intentions and attitudes
can be built directly upon being. Being, otherwise constantly used and
called upon, offers us no foundation and no ground upon which we can
immediately place whatever we erect, undertake, and bring about every day.
Being thus appears as the groundless, as something that continually gives
way, offers no support, and denies every ground and basis. Being is the
refusal of every expectation that it could serve as a ground. Being
everywhere turns out to be the non-ground.
Being is the most worn-out and at the same time the origin.
Being is the most reliable and at the same time the non-ground.
§13. Being is the most said and at the same time a keeping silent
Because we first depend upon being insofar as we are given over to beings
and are released into beings, this dependence constantly and everywhere is
put into word. And this not only in the pervasive and immeasurably frequent
use of its explicit names, such as "is" and "are" and "was" and "shall be"
and "has been." In each "tense-word" of language we name being.
If we say "it rains," we mean that rain "is" here and now. In addition, we
name beings in every noun and adjective, and thus name the being of beings
along with them. "The war": the being that "is" now. It is sufficient to
name a "being," and we mean, in a merely approximate yet portentous
thinking, the being of this being. We name being along with it. Being is
said along with every word and verbal articulation, if not named each time
with its own name. Speaking says being "along with," not as an addition and
a supplement that could just as well be left out, but as the pregiving of
what always first permits the naming of beings. Being is "said" even where
we silently act, where, among beings, we wordlessly decide about beings,
and, without actually naming them, comport ourselves toward beings. In the
same way, even where we are left "com
pletely speechless," we "say" being. Being is the most said in all saying,
because everything sayable is only to be said in being (and only "truth"
and its seriousness are sayable).
Must not being, due to its multiple and constant saying, be already so
articulated and well-known that its essence lies uncovered before us in
complete determinacy? But what if the most said in saying kept its essence
secret, if being kept to itself in the disclosure of its essence, and this
not only occasionally and incidentally but according to its essence? Then
not only would concealment belong to being, but concealment would have a
marked relation to "saying" and would be silence. Then being would consist
in keeping its essence silent. Because being remains the most said in every
word, it would be silence per se, that essential silence from out of which
a word first issues and must issue in breaking this silence. From this
break, and as such a break, every word would have its own constellation,
and following from this, the stamp of its sound and resonance. As silence,
being would also be the origin of language.
If this is accurate, then we understand why an animal does not speak and no
other "living thing" can speak. The animal does not speak because silence
is impossible for it, and an animal cannot be silent because it has no
relation to what can be kept silent about, i.e., to keeping silent, i.e.,
to concealment, i.e., to being. For "speaking," if the word comes from such
an origin, is not some arbitrary appearance and condition that we discern
in man as one capability among others, like seeing and hearing, grasping
and locomotion. For language stands in an essential relation to the
uniqueness of being. Being itself obliges us to the next guideword: Being
is the most reliable and at the same time the non-ground.
Being is the most said and at the same time a keeping silent.
§14. Being is the mostforgotten and at the same time remembrance
It becomes clearer and clearer to us how being everywhere remains the
closest in all relations to beings, and yet being is entirely passed over
in favor of beings, in whom all willing and knowing seeks its fulfillment.
No wonder we forget being on account of beings and their multitude, forget
it as something worthy of any consideration at all. Insofar as a claim
upon being is awakened and an inquiry about it is made, the indication
immediately comes forth that being indeed counts as the most intelligible,
but beyond this is not further determinable. Being is thus forgotten in
respect to its question-worthiness and indeed so fundamentally forgotten
that we even forget this forgetting. It pertains to the essence of
forgetting that it forgets itself, i.e., twists itself more and more into
its own vortex. Hence, we must admit: Being is, among all that is worthy of
interrogation and consideration, the mostforgotten.
If we wanted to remain exclusively with this observation, being would
obviously never and nowhere have to concern us. But if we concede for one
moment the possibility, if we once allow the point that being per se has
sunk into the still concealed Nothing of forgetfulness, if we seriously
posit the case that being has been completely stricken from our knowing,
how could we then encounter the smallest and most fleeting being as a
being, how could we ever experience ourselves as a being?
We constantly comport ourselves toward beings and are beings. We discern
not only about ourselves that we are beings, but about our being that we
are concerned, one way or another, with ourselves and how we are. Being
concerns us, whether it is a matter of the being that we are ourselves or
those beings that we are not and never can be. We are always that being
that is concerned with being, who, thus concerned and struck, finds in
being what is most reliable. Being remains everywhere reliable, and yet,
considered in respect to its rank within what is worthy of reflection, it
is the most forgotten. Despite this forgottenness, however, it remains in
everyday comportment not only the reliable, but is, prior to that, already
something that grants us awareness of beings and permits us to be beings in
the midst of beings. Being allows us in every respect to be aware of beings
and of each in its own way. Being re-members [Er-innert] us into beings and
about beings, so that everything we encounter, whether experienced as
present or past or future, each time first becomes and remains evident as a
being through the re-membrance of being. Being thus remembers essentially.
Being is itself what re-members, is the authentic remembrance.
We must indeed consider that being itself is what remembers, not only
something about which we remember, to which we can always return as
something already familiar in the sense of Plato's avorllv~6l6. Plato's
doctrine says only how we comport ourselves toward the being of beings,
when we assess this comportment according to the relation in which we
otherwise stand to "beings." Now, however, we must perceive that being is
not an "object" of possible remembrance for us, but is itself what
authentically remembers, what allows all awareness of anything that comes
into the Open as a being.
Being is the most said and at the same time a keeping silent.
Being is the most forgotten and at the same time remembrance.
§15. Being is the most constraining and at the same time liberation
Even though being (as what is emptiest and most worn-out) might sink from
the sphere of "reflection" that otherwise remains, and completely disappear
into the indifference of forgetting in which even this indifference is
annihilated, everywhere being once again constrains us. And indeed it
constrains us continually, so that beings meet us and carry us away,
surpass us and flatten us, burden us and uplift us. For if, prior to all
beings, being and only being allows each to be a being, then each being
remains, however it might concern and affect us, infinitely far behind the
constraint of being itself. No multitude of beings ever surpasses the
"force" that comes from being and presences as being. Even where all beings
no longer concern us, become indifferent, and give themselves over to empty
caprice, even there the force of being reigns. Because that which
constrains surpasses everything in its force, it gives way before no being
and in no being, but exacts from each that as a being it remains forced
into being. Being is the most constraining, wherever, whenever, and however
a being might be.
And yet: we do not "detect" the force of being, but at most an impact and a
pressing from the side of beings. Despite that constraint, being is as if
it "were" rather not "there," and therefore precisely like "the Nothing."
We attempt in vain to find being there and yonder. Being plays around us
and through us, as if inexperienceable. But this play constantly
has in everything the singular univocity of the unique. For is not "being"
that which has already placed us "there," where beings as such are
differentiated from one another? Is not being that which opens, that which
first unlocks the Openness of a "there," in which the possibility is hrst
granted that beings are differentiated from being, that beings and being
are set apart from each other?
Being first sets being and beings apart, and places us into this apartness
and into the free. Placement into this setting apart of being and beings is
liberation into belongingness to being. This liberation liberates so that
we are free "before" beings and in their midst, free "toward" beings,
"free" from them, "free" for them, and thus we have the possibility to be
ourselves. Placement into being is liberation into freedom. This liberation
alone is the essence of freedom.
Being is the mostforgotten and at the same time remembrance. Being is the
most constraining and at the same time liberation.
§16. Unifying reflection upon being in the sequence of guidewords
If we pull together the previously attempted reflection upon being in the
sequence of the guidewords, we will become attentive and more collected for
what at first might only appear like an empty sound:
Being is the emptiest and the most common of all.
Being is the most intelligible and the most worn-out. Being is the most
reliable and the most said.
Being is the mostforgotten and the most constraining.
At the same time, however: Being is a surplus and uniqueness. Being is
concealment and the origin. Being is the non-ground and a keeping silent.
Being is remembrance and liberation.
The "is" reveals itself as something that apparently only escapes from us
as something said, as something that in truth holds us in its essence, and
yes, even in its non-essence (the forgetting of being).
Are we simply asserting and arranging arbitrary determinations of be
ing here, and using the no less simple device of opposition to multiply
each one by its opposite? A decision regarding this plausible opinion must
be postponed. Before that, we must get beyond the poverty in which common
opinion, and a twothousand-year-old metaphysical thinking as well, present
We only want to "experience" this: that when we follow the saying p£~£Ta 10
nav and consider beings as a whole, we stand immediately in the difference
between beings and being, that herewith being announces an essential
fullness, assuming that we only begin to think being itself.
But have we now in fact thought being itself?
Recapitulation Guidewords about Being 1. Being is empty as an abstract
concept and at the same time a surplus
In the first attempt to trace this distinction between being and beings,
and thereby to illuminate above all what "being" says here, we at first
follow the long habituation of a firmly ingrained way of thinking. This
expresses itself in the doctrine that being is the name for the "most
abstract" of all concepts. Seen thus, the distinction between beings and
being, when we attempt to assess it evenly according to both of its
"sides," is in truth such that all weight falls on the side of beings. For
being is, like a bothersome (if also in a certain respect indispensable)
abstraction, only tolerated as an appendage and a shadow of beings. For
itself, being is nothing that could evenly and equitably maintain itself
"next" to beings and offer a satisfactory basis for reflection. Being is
like the fleeting shadow of a cloud floating over the land of beings,
without effecting anything or leaving behind any trace. The shadowy
character of being confirms, at best, the solidity that belongs solely to
If this is so, then it is also clear wherein, alone, the genuine
fulfillment of the guideword ,u£~£Ta lo 7rav would consist: namely, in
experiencing and shaping and dealing with beings. The now emerging age of
modernity indeed has its undeniable passion in that it grasps all
experiencing, pursuing, planning, and constructing of the actual in all
respects unconditionally, and that it knows this unconditionedness
correctly as the new, and values it as something hitherto not yet willed on
earth and as something unique that was never possible until now. The
superiority of beings over being has been decided.
Yet the question still remains as to whether or not here, and just here, in
this unconditional affrmation of beings (which seems to side exclusively
with beings at the expense of being), whether or not here a decision about
being holds sway. Thus it remains to be asked whether or not being is
precisely something other than merely a name for the most empty concept,
whether being is not always and actually a surplus from which all fullness
of beings, however they might present themselves, originates. It remains to
be asked whether being is not indeed both the emptiness that incontestably
shows itself in the most general concept, and the surplus that announces
itself to us, for example, in Geothe's verse. Being would then be not only
something abstracted and set aside from beings, but contrarily, and at the
same time, it would be what exercises its essence in each being everywhere
and above all.
2. Being is the most common of all and at the same time uniqueness (The
sameness of being and nothing)
In reflecting upon the distinction between beings and being, we asked
about being. The previous consideration led to a second guideword
Being is the most common of all and at the same time uniqueness.
We continually encounter in all beings, may they be completely different in
content and mode, this uniformity: that they are. Thus it might seem as if
being had everywhere dispersed and exhausted itself in being the most
commonplace in the land of the most various beings. Because of its
uniformity, being was not at all conspicuous to us at first. This
"commonness" indeed belongs to being; but being does not exhaust itself in
it. For at the same time being is, by contrast, uniqueness. Being presences
only as something unique, whereas beings are here this and here that, here
the one and not the other. Beings always have their equal. Being, however,
is incomparable. Therefore it cannot be said that being is, in the sense of
the aforementioned commonality, the same in all beings. Rather, being, as
the unique, is always the Same. As this sameness, it does not exclude
differences. What is in itself and everywhere the same need not, according
to its essence, remain merely monotonous. There are various modes of the
same being, but there is no various being in the sense that being could
break up into the something multiple and numerous.
From the development of the Western doctrine of the being of beings
(metaphysics) a much-cited proposition has emerged, above all in its
scholastic form: omne ens est unum. (Every being is one.) To what extent
this proposition goes back to Greek thinking about beings, and in what
respect it presents a transformation of the same, cannot be discussed here.
Only this is to be remembered: that Greek thinking equates beings, lo ov,
early on with To £V, the one, and indeed already in pre-Platonic thinking
being is distinguished by "unity." Until today, "philosophy" has neglected
to reflect at all upon what the ancient thinkers mean with this £V. Above
all, it does not ask why, at the inception of Western thought, "unity" is
so decisively attributed to beings as their essential feature.
The later proposition of scholastic philosophy, omne ens est unum, may not
be equated with the guideword that has sprung from our reflection: Being is
uniqueness. For the former proposition deals with beings (ens), not with
being as such, and says in truth that beings are always manifold. The
proposition means: Every being is always one and as one it is respectively
one to another. Therefore each being is always the other to each respective
one. Omne ens est unum, we can also "translate" by the proposition: Beings
are manifold. But the proposition "Being is uniqueness" is spoken from a
completely different viewpoint. This seems to be endangered by the Nothing,
and certainly insofar as the Nothing is in any way a third vis-a-vis beings
and being, so that the proposition "Being is the unique over against
beings" becomes untenable, but also insofar as the Nothing is in a certain
way the other to being.
(In this way Hegel thinks the relation of "being" and "nothing,"
whereby he remains cognizant that, strictly speaking, he cannot at all
address the Nothing as the other to being, because both are taken as the
most extreme abstractions of "actuality" and have not yet developed into
something (quale). Here, Hegel could never risk the proposition:
"Actuality" (in his sense) and Nothing are the same. In this respect,
however, what is said about the Nothing is meant here, and may not be
conflated with Hegel's "identification" of being and nothing.
The citation of the Hegelian "identification" of being and nothing in the
essay "What is Metaphysics?" does not mean the adoption of the Hegelian
position, but rather intends only to point out that this otherwise alien
"identification" was already thought in philosophy.)
Our considerations ought, only in passing, attend to the following:
notwithstanding the fact that beings are, the Nothing presences, and "is"
in no way the "nullity" that people would gladly cast aside. Ordinary
understanding believes, of course, that the Nothing first enters the scene
when all beings have been eliminated. However, since in this case even man
would be eliminated, no one would remain to think the Nothing, whereupon it
is "proven" that the Nothing rests upon fancy and a mere play of
understanding-but only so long as one misuses understanding instead of
using it only for everyday business. That understanding has its legitimate
domain here, no one would want to dispute. Yet, precisely because this is
so, it could be doubted whether ordinary understanding, without further
ado, has the "legitimacy" to pass judgment upon the essence of the Nothing.
Thus it is necessary to remark that the Nothing is indeed the emptiest of
the empty, but at the same time it has its equivalent nowhere else. This
double characteristic of the Nothing has special meaning for our question.
The Nothing is the emptiest and is unique.
The same goes for being. Otherwise, the sameness of being and the Nothing
would be a strange word, seeming to subsequently strengthen the
aforementioned suspicion that being is only a negative and baseless
However, to us the Nothing is not a nullity. To recoil in terror of
annihilation and to be horrified by devastation is to shrink back from
something that cannot be addressed as mere imagination, as something
On November 2, 1797, Holderlin wrote to his brother: "The more we are
assailed by the Nothing that yawns around us like an abyss or that
shapelessly, soullessly and lovelessly haunts us and disperses us from a
thousandfold something belonging to society and the activity of men, the
more passionate, intense and violent must be the opposition from our side.
Or must it not?"7
But what if the Nothing that horrifies man and displaces him from his usual
dallying and evasions were the same as being? Then being would have to
announce itself as something horrifying and dreadful, as that which assails
us. But we would not gladly accept this. As long as we move within the
usual beliefs about being, we leave it aside as something indifferent, and
that is already an avoidance of being. This avoidance of being is carried
out in many ways, which are not at all recognized as such because the
priority of beings claims all thinking, so that even calculating with
beings often counts as reflection. Avoidance of being shows itself in the
fact that being is taken as the most intelligible of all that is
understandable. That it comes to this, and can come to this, must, however,
rest yet again with being itself. To what extent this is so remains at
first unclear. If we have once become aware of our constant flight to
reassurance through the "self-understood," then we easily observe
everywhere how man at once embeds beings, as yet unexplained, within the
sphere of the intelligible. Thus we find it entirely in order when
everyone, just as they please, presumes to make judgments about the being
of beings according to random notions, immediately current intuitions, and
opinions that are barely thought out. On the other hand, one takes it to be
entirely natural that, where it is a matter of managing and investigating
beings, the trained practitioner, the qualified expert, the appointed
leader has the word, and judgment is withheld from the arbitrariness of
Reference to the contemporary claims of modern atomic physics to be able to
deliver the guiding thread for interpreting the world in general
should make one thing clear: that the fundamental representations of
beings that rule in modern physics are elevated to the standard of measure
for reflection about the world per se, and that in this procedure nothing
exceptional and random is seen. People consider it superfluous to consider
whether the sketch of beings as a whole has its own system of laws so that
it cannot be arbitrarily set to work from anywhere. Modern atomic physics
was also named, and only named, in respect to our guiding reflection aimed
at the essence of being and the way in which it reveals itself. We are not
concerned, here, with expounding a philosophical critique of contemporary
physics. For this purpose reflection would have to be aimed differently; it
also could not limit itself to an examination of the "law of causality."
When, however, contemporary physics equates an event's having been caused
with its predictability, this clearly does not happen incidentally. In
respect to this equivalence, one cannot simply afffirm that the principle
of causality is a principle of beings but predictability is a principle of
the knowledge of beings, so that even physics would fall into the error of
converting an ontological law into an "epistemological" principle, thus
confusing two different realms. The question remains: In what sense is the
principle of causality a law of beings? We cannot make do with the naive
representation according to which causality would be a law of the actual.
Between the naive understanding of causality and the concept of causality
in physics stands Kant and his interpretation of causality, which is not
incidental, but codetermined by the metaphysical rudiments of modern
physics. In our connection, it is not a matter of taking a position in
regard to the understanding of causality in modern physics, but of
indicating that the hardly noticed attitude which takes the essence of
being as self-understood lies at the bottom of the claim of physics, as
quantum physics, to be able to found a "quantum biology" and thus, as it
were, a "quantum history" and, as it were, a "quantum metaphysics." This
reference to the claim of physics, which today also comes correspondingly
from biology, should bring into view a sign, among others, indicating that
in general "being" means for us the most intelligible.
3. The meaning of the guidewords: Instructions for reflection upon the
difference between being and beings
We are attempting, through a series of guidewords, to raise into knowing
something about the being of beings. And this, for the present, only in
order to procure for ourselves, entirely from afar and in a modest way, a
preparation for the resolve to follow the ancient saying p£~£1a 10 ~av, and
in following what is incipient in Western thinking to come nearer and thus
to know something of what, after all, is said in the inception. In case we
are struck by a word from this inceptive saying, we are at least in clearer
readiness for the direction toward which we must listen.
It must be observed with respect to misunderstandings already circulating
that the guidewords about being do not appear as propositions that
promulgate a special doctrine or system, or that merely develop a
particular "theory" about being. The guidewords are not propositions that
can be passed around as assertions "about" a "philosophical standpoint."
Taken as such, they would be misunderstood in everything essential.
The guidewords are instructionsfor reftection upon what comes to light when
we have a proper eye for what we can do without. And indeed this reflection
can be carried out at all times, from all situations, and according to
various forms. It also does not have to cling to the phrasing of what is
The main point is this: to take notice of something neglected, to learn to
take notice of it without the hasty urge to immediately seek out utility
and purpose. In the realm of this reflection, it is a matter of having the
courage not to be as "daring" as the usual and exclusive calculation of
what is actual in each case. It is a matter of having the courage to look
around the domain of the difference between beings and being and simply to
recognize what holds sway here. It is a matter of resisting the nearly
ineradicable thought that every such attempt is only a going astray in
abstractions, and indeed to resist on grounds of the growing knowledge of
being, which might appear to us like the incarnation of all abstraction
pure and simple.
At the end we say: Being is the most said. For it is said in every word of
language, and nevertheless discourse and writing talk for the most part
only about beings. This comes to articulation. Even where we actually say
the "is" and thus name being, we say the "is" only to assert a being about
a being. Beings are said. Being is kept silent about. But not by us and on
purpose. For we are unable to discover any trace of an intention not to say
being. Hence, the keeping silent must indeed come from being itself. Hence,
being is a keeping silent about itself, and this is certainly the ground of
the possibility of keeping silent and the origin of silence. In this realm
of silence, the word first arises each time.
Michael David Pennamacoor
ArchTracker © Malgosia Askanas, 2000-2005