Heidegger on the Geschick of being

I’m still trying to get straight on the relation between Heidegger’s account of history and Hegel’s.  We’ll be looking at this in more detail in the seminar next week.  No doubt it will remain a crooked timber even then.  But Britt Z. points me to some terrific passages in The Principle of Reason (a lecture course from 1955-56) that look clearly as though they are Heidegger’s attempt to distinguish himself from Hegel.  (Thanks, Britt!) Heidegger says, for example:

[T]he epochs suddenly spring up like sprouts. The epochs can never be derived from one another much less be placed on the track of an ongoing process.

[p. 91]

In denying any derivation (and presumably therefore any rational relation) between the epochs in the history of being, it looks like Heidegger has Hegel’s view squarely in mind. But despite denying any rational relation between the epochs, Heidegger does nevertheless think there is a Geschick to being. (A “destiny”? This is the traditional translation of Geschick, but it can’t be quite the right word for what Heidegger means here. Other suggestions?) Whatever the right translation of the word, the real question is what structure this Geschick can have. The idea that one epoch becomes another the way the earth gives forth sprouts suggests a physis-like process: an epoch whooshes up, lingers for a while, and then fades away. But this is not the only description Heidegger gives.

Heidegger ends the final lecture of the course with a passage that seems more clearly to articulate his positive proposal. He derives it from Heraclitus’ account of the aion as a child at play. Aion in Greek is standardly translated as “epoch” or “age”, but Heidegger assimilates it directly to the “Geschick of being”. The suggestion is something like that history plays instead of develops. The passage remains obscure to me, though, so any thoughts would be appreciated. Here it is, from p. 113:

What does Heraclitus say about aion? Fragment 52 runs: aion pais esti paidzon, pesseuon paidos he basileie. The Geschick of being, a child that plays, shifting the pawns: the royalty of a child – that means, the arche, that which governs by instituting grounds, the being of beings. The Geschick of being: a child that plays.

In addition, there are also great children. By the gentleness of its play, the greatest royal child is that mystery of the play in which humans are engaged throughout their life, that play in which their essence is at stake.

Why does it play, the great child of the world-play Heraclitus brought into view in the aion? It plays, because it plays.

The “because” withers away in the play. The play is without “why.” It plays since it plays. It simply remains a play: the most elevated and the most profound.

About Sean D. Kelly

Sean Dorrance Kelly is the Teresa G. and Ferdinand F. Martignetti Professor of Philosophy at Harvard University. He is also Faculty Dean at Dunster House, one of the twelve undergraduate Houses at Harvard. He served for six years as chair of Harvard's Department of Philosophy. Kelly earned an Sc.B. in Mathematics and Computer Science and an M.S. in Cognitive and Linguistic Sciences from Brown University in 1989. After three years as a Ph.D. student in Logic and Methodology of Science, he received his Ph.D. in Philosophy from the University of California at Berkeley in 1998. Before arriving at Harvard in 2006, Kelly taught at Stanford and Princeton, and he was a Visiting Professor at the Ecole Normale Supérieure in Paris. Sean Kelly's work focuses on various aspects of the philosophical, phenomenological, and cognitive neuroscientific nature of human experience. He is a world authority on 20th century European Philosophy, specializing in the work of Martin Heidegger and Maurice Merleau-Ponty. He has also done influential work in philosophy of mind and philosophy of perception. Kelly has published articles in numerous journals and anthologies and he has received fellowships or awards from the Guggenheim Foundation, the NEH, the NSF and the James S. McDonnell Foundation, among others. Fun fact: He appeared on The Colbert Show in 2011 to talk about All Things Shining. Sean Kelly lives at Dunster House with his wife, the Harvard Philosopher Cheryl Kelly Chen, and their two boys, Benjamin and Nathaniel.
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7 Responses to Heidegger on the Geschick of being

  1. Britt Z. says:

    Heidegger, more than likely, I think, sees history (Geschichte) and destiny (Geschick) in terms of sending (schicken). In the translator’s preface, Lilly seems certain that, by “Geschick,” Heidegger does not mean “destiny,” but he’s also uneasy about “sending,” claiming that it lacks the necessary sense of richness Heidegger’s implying (In one of the Nietzsche lectures, he writes it as “Ge-schick”)….Personally, I prefer “sending,” just because, out of all possibilities, it appears stripped of any metaphysical reassurances. It adds the positive Nietzschean flavor that maybe the epochs are sent simply by the roll of the dice, by chance, without why — an extremely playful Es gibt, a random, temporary suspension/holding back [epoche] of the flux. However, Heidegger would definitely have reservations about such an interpretation. He continually hesitates, wanting the gift of being to be both not accidental and not calculable or necessary (TB 9)! Something holds him back from saying pure chance…I think we just need to push him that way. Even after the whole talk of play, he retreats a little bit with “But this ‘simply’ is everything, the one, the only [a possible translation is “unique” making it more disturbing]”(PR 113).

    In “Time & Being,” Heidegger does, or is translated as, mentioning “the sending of the destiny of being.” Beginning with a discussion on being as a sent gift, here’s the passage, in all its indeterminacy:

    “A giving which gives only its gift, but in the giving holds itself back and withdraws, such a giving we call sending. According to the meaning of giving which is to be thought in this way, Being-that which It gives-is what is sent. Each of its transformations remains destined in this manner. What is historical in the history of Being is determined by what is sent forth in destining, not by an indeterminately thought up occurrence.
    The history of Being means destiny of Being in whose sendings both the sending and the It which sends forth hold back with their self-manifestation. To hold back is, in Greek, epoche. Hence we speak of the epochs of the destiny of Being. Epoch does not mean here a span of time in occurrence, but rather the fundamental characteristic of sending, the actual holding-back of itself in favor of the discernibility of the gift, that is, of Being with regard to the grounding of beings. The sequence of epochs in the destiny of Being is not accidental, nor can it be calculated as necessary. Still, what is appropriate shows itself in the destiny, what is appropriate shows itself in the belonging together of the epochs. The epochs overlap each other in their sequence so that the original sending of Being as presence is more and more obscured in different ways” (TB 9).

    What exactly is “appropriate?” It must be originally something like “Eigen” or “Eignen” (evoking Ereignis). When talking about historical being, terms like “proper,” “suitable,” and “inherent,” feel too Hegelian, too metaphysical. Anyone agree? If Heidegger really agreed to the use of “destiny,” he’s mistaken about the phenomenon….

  2. Iain Thomson says:

    Thanks Sean. You asked for a few thoughts on this, so:

    I like “sending” too (sent in the manner of a gift, but without any entity playing the role of gift-giver), and think this fits your nice emphasis on a giving without a giver. (And I agree that you can feel profound gratitude without feeling toward a particular entity. Similarly, Tillich describes “absolute faith” as experiencing complete “acceptance without somebody of something that accepts” you.)

    Still, I think Heidegger probably overemphasized the breaks and ruptures between epochs in order to distinguish his view from Hegel’s. When Nietzsche receives the sending of being according to which the totality of entities as such are eternally-recurring will-to-power (i.e., forces coming together and braking apart with no end other than the maximal perpetuation of force itself), and so lays the metaphysical (i.e., ontotheological) basis for the technological understanding of being, he is not making this up and imposing it on world-history. He is, rather, receptive to forces taking shape in the margins (such as the understanding of the competition between living things that drives the evolution of life in Darwin’s biology, and the view of the struggle between supply and demand that fuels economic growth in Smith’s economics), and he is ontologizing and so universalizing those insights, generalizing them to explain the being of all entities, and effectively legislating that vision for the age that follows (our late-modern epoch). Heidegger’s difference from Hegel is that this was a contingent understanding; the epochal shift it effects could have never taken place. (History could have gone otherwise; one of the other three great beginnings — Heidegger names India and China — could have become dominant.) But this sending also was not arbitrary; for it comes from the ways entities disclose their being to particularly receptive individuals (like Darwin, Smith, and Nietzsche).

    And so now we can’t go back; the only way out is through…

    • Britt Z. says:

      But Nietzsche’s forces play at a pre-representational level…they’re best attributed as forces within the Heraclitean flux. World history/metaphysics/ontotheology/truth, all of which Nietzsche would hold as fictions, are attempts to suspend, dam, the becoming of everything, allowing for stable worlds/epochs. Possibly one of the greatest achievements of the ancient Greeks was wrestling being from becoming. However, within post-modernity there is a chance to recognize the anonymous becoming, something often viewed as monstrous, I think of Levinas’ “il y a,” that has always nourished being — “it” rains, the rain rains, down upon the ground of being. If we are ever going to be responsive to a plurality of calls, with multiple worlds, we need to wade through the movement of becoming, that is to say, instead of restricting the flow/the flux, we need to go with it, and let the currents guide us. The Nietzsche of “positing values” failed, but there is something very powerful in the Nietzsche of “becoming” (especially when synthesized with the Heidegger of “play without why”).

  3. M. Heidegger says:

    Destiny is exactly what is meant. There are probably some influences from Nietzsche’s thoughts about endless recursion. But let’s go directly to what it says in the books. Let’s start by looking at p. 237 in The Basic Problems of Phenomenology (BPP) in the middle of the page: Time is thus in a certain sense a circle. Move towards p.306, near the bottom it states: ….. Corresponding remarks apply to the other two ecstases, future and past (repetition, forgetting, retaining). Continue to p. 308, near the top of the page: But this end is nothing but the beginning and starting point for the possibility of all projecting. I can cite more, but you probably get the idea of where the present comes from and where the future resides. This should put to rest Bert’s confusion on how the past “pops” up to bring out the present. For those who have no imagination: The past and the future are one and the same.

    So in this light, the dynamics that unfold what was retained, to play out the instances that make up our existence is a game that Dasein plays with itself mechanically, along the rules that dictate how the game is played which always comes about from Dasein and results in Dasein.

  4. Andrei Pop says:

    Nothing “sent” sprouts up discontinuously, it follows a linear trajectory.
    I would suggest fate rather than destiny, which is used less to indicate a progression than a state. (“That’s fate”) Fate (but not destiny) is applied to a game of luck, which is what Heraclitus has.

  5. Pingback: What is the point of Atonal music? - Page 83

  6. Angiras says:

    Came across your site concerning Heraclitus’ aion. (15+15)X360 days which represented the 30-year cyclic changes in the planets close to the Earth between roughly 3700 and 700 BC. This was the period of the (shining) gods. These were the Olympian gods, the Egyptian gods were Horus, Ra (Mars), Set (Venus), Hathor(former solid core of Mars, now Mercury), the Rg Vedic Indra was Mars and the sons of Aditi were all aspects of proto-Venus, e.g.Agni. You gentlemen seem to be seeking the gods of the past, and I am offering them free. manvantura also linked to cycliccatastrophism.org

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