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Recognizing the Gift in Giving Thanks: Thoughts on Emmanuel Levinas and Meister Eckhart
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Recognizing the Gift in Giving Thanks
Thoughts on Emmanuel Levinas and Meister Eckhart

Preliminary Considerations

If there has ever been an upheaval in phenomenological philosophy that attempted to give a reasonable account of belief, then it is the transition from Husserl’s phenomenology of pure consciousness to a hermeneutics of the factually lived mortal Dasein. This came to full fruition in Heidegger’s thinking. Yet it already began at the end of the First World War with Franz Rosenzweig and around the same time with Ferdinand Ebner’s thinking on language. The move beyond transcendental phenomenology was also taken later by philosophers such as Hans-Georg Gadamer, Paul Ricoeur, and Emmanuel Levinas, who expressedly connected the hermeneutics of life to the Jewish tradition.

In order to reveal the richness of this upheaval and new beginning, I wish to depart from the comment Husserl makes in the Crisis, on the tremor that the “universal a priori of the correlation” as the beginning of all thought had caused in him: “The first breakthrough of this universal a priori of correlation between experienced object and manners of givenness . . . affected me so deeply that my whole [End Page 53] subsequent life-work has been dominated by the task of systematically elaborating on this a priori of correlation.“1 Just as for Descartes the nightly Neuburg vision of the mathesis universalis became the source for the certain disclosure of the world in the horizon of the fundamentum inconcussum of ego cogito, for Husserl insight into the apriority of being-already-in-relation became the most fundamental precondition of all cognition. This insight revealed itself to him as a necessary first insight by which the scission between subject and object was overcome and at the same time recognized in its proper depth as experience.

Husserl understands this correlation of having always already happened and happening anew in every unreserved regard as one that comes to itself solely in human consciousness. It happens in the eidenai, in the seeing knowledge [sehenden Wissen] to which, according to the first sentence of Aristotle’s Metaphysics, all human intentionality is by its very nature directed.2 Led by the intentionality of this eidenai, Husserl’s questioning in the reality of time thus necessarily became a Phenomenology of Internal Time-Consciousness.3 Everything cognizable and finally even the cognizing subject must become visible and transparent for itself in consciousness.

The young Heidegger began the way of his thinking quite within the horizon of this Husserlian a priori of correlation. But Heidegger asks beyond Husserl for the very specific mode of being (Seinsart) of the human being, who precisely can only be understood as that being distinguishing itself from all other beings by its factually lived mortal Dasein that discloses the real. In such a way, this being is—intentionally—“in its being . . . concerned about its very being.”4 Heidegger explicitly ponders the access to reality that not only happens in the pure I think of transcendental subjectivity, but in the I am of factually lived Dasein. Because of this primordial access, the fundamental questions of philosophical thinking must become “experienceable in factical life, able for me to experience it,” as Heidegger declares pro-grammatically in the 1920/21 lecture course on Aristotle.5 These questions must not be examined in their noematic content but rather [End Page 54] in their senses of actualization and maturation that are lived in the factual I am.6 Only by these senses does one arrive at the true ground of the phenomenality of phenomena by way of thinking.

If one were to ask wherein lies the difference between the access to the being of beings by way of the transcendental of ego-cogitocogitatum, on the one hand, and by way of the lived I am, on the other, one would soon turn to the different character of temporality in each. The transcendental subject, in its correlative disclosure of the being of beings, attains being without time; thus, whatever it discloses has the same validity for all thinkable subjects without respect to their temporality. In this way, the “sphere of transcendental being” is disclosed as “monadological intersubjectivity.”7

Yet the I am...