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.
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.