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13 Heidegger and Strauss:A Comparative Study R ichard l. velkley , Celia Scott Weatherhead Professor of Philosophy at Tulane University and the author of two previous books, one on Rousseau and the other on the moral foundations of Kantian philosophy, has brought out another challenging study, Heidegger, Strauss, and the Premises of Philosophy.1 Velkley’s subtitle, “On Original Forgetting,” is intended to call to mind Plato’s view that the entrapment of the soul in the body causes forgetfulness. (Plato speaks of the“plain of forgetfulness [perdion lēthēs]”and the“river of non-­ caring [potamos Amelētos]” in Book Ten of the Republic, where Socrates, through the Myth of Er, recounts the soul’s journey toward Earth.)2 The human person must devote his life to contemplation as an act of retrieving those eternal truths that had been lost with birth. Learning as conceived by Plato was a prolonged act of recalling (anamnēsis) what the soul would again be aware of once distanced from its earthly prison. “Original forgetting”also calls to mind the concept popularized by the German philosopher Martin Heidegger, who viewed his intellectual task as “uncovering” the truth of being. This“uncovering”or“unconcealment,”according to Heidegger, required systematic inquiry.The failure to know or even begin to explore our identity betrayed the persistence of “Seinsvergessenheit,” a forgetting that the philosopher should seek to undo. Overcoming this forgetting could only be undertaken by working through and then moving beyond ready-­ to-­ hand superficialities as we struggled toward self-­ understanding. Unlike Plato, Heidegger believed that self-­ discovery entailed a dimension of time. Zeitlichkeit or Historizität (time-­or history-­ centeredness) provided the context in which Seiende, those who had still not probed beneath the surface of their existence, could uncover their specific being (Dasein).3 This inquiry was ultimately framed by our mortality. There was no transcendence in Heidegger’s thought in either the Platonic or biblical sense; what gave our lives meaning and direction was experiencing a life situation (Mit-­ in-­der-­Welt-­sein) while inescapably moving toward our end (Sein zum Tod).4 120 C H A P T E R T hirteen This being-­ toward-­ death, according to Heidegger, does not simply mean that we are moving physically toward death. It teaches that we can organize our lives and their attendant projects on the understanding that we are destined to disappear from the world. This represents the final point in the ascent of the individual through engagement with his temporally situated being, going from superficial encounters (Zu-­ und Vorhandensein or the apophantic) through various acts of attending to things or to others (Sorge or Besorgung) and from there to a life project that ends in death.In Heidegger’s view there is no dualism between consciousness and the surrounding world. “Being in the world” is a necessary step in the work of defining our Dasein. In a remarkable (and, in my opinion, problematic) fashion, Velkley has paired Heidegger with the German Jewish commentator on political texts Leo Strauss. Strauss was acquainted with Heidegger’s work while still in interwar Germany and openly expressed admiration for his outstanding philosophical achievement . After attending Heidegger’s lectures at the University of Freiburg in 1922, Strauss visited Franz Rosenzweig and told this Jewish theologian that“MaxWeber is an orphan child” “compared to Heidegger.”5 Both Strauss and his companion , the Plato scholar and mathematician Jacob Klein, marveled at Heidegger’s “Destruktion of the tradition. He intended to uproot Greek philosophy, especially Aristotle, but this presupposed the laying bare of its roots as it was in itself and not as it had come to appear in light of the tradition and of modern philosophy.”6 Velkley discusses at length the famous disputation between Heidegger and the neo-­ Kantian philosopher (and Strauss’s dissertation director at the University of Hamburg) Ernst Cassirer in Davos, Switzerland, in 1929.7 The difference between these two formidable minds centered on their interpretations of Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason, a subject on which both disputants were then writing studies. Cassirer, in line with other neo-­ Kantians, interpreted Kant’s work as both providing a theory of the natural sciences and establishing a “realm of freedom” through the positing of a universal moral law. Heidegger vigorously challenged these contentions (he was then at work on his tractate Kant and the Problem of Metaphysics) and tried to give Kant’s Critique an existential twist.What Kant was doing, Heidegger insisted, was linking...


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