- Formal Indications
Je ne conteste pas que nous sommes toujours en fait dans ce monde, mais c’est un monde où nous sommes altérés. La vulnérabilité, c’est le pouvoir de dire adieu à ce monde. On lui dit adieu en vieillissant. Le temps dure en guise de cet adieu et de l’à- Dieu.1
Early on in The Genesis of “Being and Time,” Theodore Kisiel remarks: “Heidegger’s breakthrough to his lifelong philosophical topic is inherently tied to a personally felt religious topic, in ways we have yet to ‘divine.’”2 In spite of the fact that many penetrating studies have been devoted to this subject—the relation of life and work, in particular where religion is concerned—it is fair to say that the riddle has not yet been solved and that it may never be solved in any decisive way.
Regardless of all the confessed importance of the “personally felt religious topic,” it was Heidegger himself who stated time and again that the philosophical, phenomenological, or fundamental ontological analysis should be kept at an equally far remove from both empirical (anthropological, psychological, biological) and theological preconceptions of Being and human existence. In its very mode of proceeding—and in its very essence, to the extent that it is a phenomenological and philosophical undertaking—the existential analytic, Heidegger maintained, comes before and is superordinate to that [End Page 635] of the so-called ontic and positive (read: empirical and formal) disciplines. For instance, in discussing the demarcation (Abgrenzung) between the existential analysis of death—of Dasein’s being-towards-death, that is to say, its most distinctive or most proper possibility—and other possible interpretations of the phenomenon, of death and dying, Heidegger insisted:
Den Fragen einer Biologie, Psychologie, Theodizee und Theologie des Todes ist die existenziale Analyse methodisch vorgeordnet. Ontisch genommen zeigen ihre Ergebnisse die eigentümliche Formalität und Leere aller ontologischen Charakteristik. Das darf jedoch nicht blind machen gegen die reiche und verwickelte Struktur des Phänomens.3
It is, precisely, with regard to these attempts to ascertain the principal difference between the task of thinking proper—that is to say, of the phenomenological or ontological Urwissenschaft called philosophy—and the whole spectrum of scholarly or scientific disciplines that remain indebted4 to ontic presuppositions and oriented towards some empirical content (in the case of mathematics and logics, to abstract, indeed formal, principles), that a serious suspicion might nonetheless arise. This suspicion seems to affect, perhaps fatally so—that, in any case, will be our question—the very heart and virtually every conceptual delimitation of Heidegger’s “lifelong” undertaking. In Aporias, Derrida formulates this difficulty as follows:
since it thus precedes all content of knowledge, such an analysis may seem to be formal and empty, at least from the viewpoint of ontical content…. Heidegger recognizes this, but he sees here only an appearance, which [End Page 636] should not blind us to the differentiated richness of the phenomenological structures described by such an analysis…. we [must however] raise the question of whether, in order to sustain this existential analysis, the so-called ontological content does not surreptitiously reintroduce, in the mode of ontological repetition, theorems and theologemes pertaining to disciplines that are said to be founded and dependent—among others, Judeo-Christian theology, but also all the anthropologies that are rooted there.5
Is this just another way of saying, then, what Heidegger himself states at the outset of Sein und Zeit, namely that in the final analysis the existential analytic is, indeed, rooted in a concrete existential, i.e., factual and ontic, “possibility”?6 Yet in what sense, exactly, can or must the ontological remain ontically grounded? Or must we think the relationship between religion—here the Christian religion—and fundamental ontology in yet another way? Should we assume, for instance, that one is an inevitable transcription or echo—a belated effect of sorts—of the other? And what, then, is it that explains this inevitability? History? Tradition? A heritage that one cannot but affirm and attest to? Or do of all of these come down to the same “necessity,” that is to say, to the same “possibility,” in...