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Heidegger on Thinking GRAEME NICHOLSON THE TERM "thinking," denken, which Heidegger uses so often, especially in his later works, is first and foremost a self-reference, a reference to the project which animates his works. The case of a body of work systematically employing a term to refer to itself is not unique or even strange. This is just the way Plato employs the term "philosophy," Hegel the term "Wissenschaft," and so on. This paper describes Heideggerian thinking, drawing on the statements he has made about it himself. We could have described his thinking independently of these second-order remarks--there are many essays in which its typical procedures appear dearly before our eyes. But his own remarks on the subject add up to a considerable testimony nevertheless. If Heidegger's comments on thinking are a self-reference, then they are not concerned with "thought-processes" in general--reasoning, fantasy, consciousness, and so on--all the psychic experiences we are more or less acquainted with and which psychologists study. Hence these psychic phenomena are not our concern here. Naturally the question will arise as to the connection between Heidegger's thinking and the multitude of operations which are commonly given this name. But then the prior question--whether there is any unity in this field of phenomena--would impose itself. It is necessary to describe Heidegger's thinking before trying to connect it with these phenomena: if this order were reversed, we would be sidetracked into a thicket of problems in psychology. This paper offers only the description. By Heidegger's own account, his thinking is not an autonomous activity, depending on no conditions outside itself. His references to it invariably situate it in rdation to a condition or correlate outside, which is what he calls "being." Being, as he says, is the element of thought.1 It might seem to follow from this that any description of Heideggerian thinking, if it is not to be an abstraction removing it from its dement, must begin with a study of the element, and only then proceed to define the sort of thought that is suitable to it. Thus we would need to make a detour through the question of being. However, I believe this is not true. It is possible to describe thinking without the detour, provided that a clear index of the heteronomy of thought can be discerned within thought itself. I shall show that wherever this thinking occurs a three-part structure is formed, in which the activity of thinking is only one of the factors. One of the other two 1 This is the main point of Was Heisst Denken? (Tiibingen, 1954; hereafter abbreviated WD), and is stated clearly on the first few pages; for English translation (hereafter "e.t.") of. What is Called Thinking? tr. F. D. Wieck and J. G. Gray (New York, 1968); all page references in this paper are to the German texts. The Brief iiber den Humanismus (Frankfurt, 1949; hereafter HB), pp. 6ft., also uses the term "element"; e.t., "Letter on Humanism," tr. E. Lohner in Philosophy in the Twentieth Century, ed. W. Barrett and H. D. Aiken (New York, 1962). It likens thinking to the fish, and being, as the element of thinking, to the water, and compares any discussion of thinking without a study of its element to an experiment which would determine the powers of the fish according to how well it could function on dry land. A comparable discussion is found in Vortrtige und Au/stitze (Pfullingen, 1954; hereafter VA), pp. 139-143. [491] 492 HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY factors will be the index of the heteronomy of thought. So our description of thinking will contain the mark of its own incompleteness. Let us begin the study with a glance at the historical aspect of Heidegger's work. The thinking he practices and describes stands in historical sequence to Platonic philosophy, Hegelian Wissenschaft, and other intervening and subsequent forms of research. This historical sequence allows Heidegger to emphasize the break between his thinking and the preceding history of philosophy.-~He sees that history as a totality, as the single history of metaphysics which begins with Plato and reaches its...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1538-4586
Print ISSN
0022-5053
Pages
pp. 491-503
Launched on MUSE
2008-01-01
Open Access
No
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