Richard M. Capobianco
Professor of Philosophy
All of us desire to know, but philosophers have a passion to know. As far back as I can recall, I experienced a need to question, and that ultimately led me to the discipline of philosophy. More specifically, it was great thinkers and engaging teachers such as Hans-Georg Gadamer and William J. Richardson who inspired me to my life-long study of existentialism, aesthetics, phenomenology and hermeneutics, and particularly the thought of Martin Heidegger.
There is not — and never shall be — a teaching technology that can replace the transformative face-to-face encounter of human beings together in the pursuit of understanding. That's why the classroom has always been so special to me and why teaching has been so rewarding and satisfying over the years. The classroom is a place where a special kind of 'friendship' is forged.
- B.A., Hofstra University
- M.A. and Ph.D, Boston College
- Named Inaugural Humanities Scholar in Residence in the Meehan School of Business
- Featured in the Boston Business Journal as Meehan Humanities Scholar
- Forthcoming Collection of Essays titled Heidegger and the Holy
- Contributor to the major reference volume The Cambridge Heidegger Lexicon
- Heidegger's Way of Being translated into Spanish and Slovak; Italian and Chinese (forthcoming)
- La vía del Ser de Heidegger--New Published Spanish Translation
- Heidegger's Way of Being, University of Toronto Press, 2014
- Named as one of the nation's top 300 Professors by The Princeton Review
- Invited to lecture at the University of Siegen, Germany, Fall 2013
- Spoke in the Fall lecture series at the Catholic University of America, Washington, D.C. (2011)
- Published Engaging Heidegger, University of Toronto Press, 2010
- Founder and director of the College's Honors Program (1991-2002)
- Received the Stonehill Teaching Excellence Award (2000)
Publications & Research
Edited By Richard Capobianco
The holy (Being-as-the-holy) is a distinctive theme in Heidegger’s work that is perhaps well-known to readers, yet not attended to sufficiently in contemporary Heidegger studies. The essays in this volume, authored by an international group of scholars, offer readers an opportunity to consider the many dimensions and possibilities of the notion of “the holy” (das Heilige) in his thinking.
The authors in this volume document the multiple texts and contexts of Heidegger’s discussions of the holy, and they offer detailed readings and their own particular interpretations and applications. The chapters, taken together, make a significant contribution not only to Heidegger scholarship but also to our understanding of our fundamental human situation in relation to Being-as-the holy.
By Richard Capobianco
University of Toronto Press, October 2014
Heidegger's Way of Being translated into Spanish and Slovak; Italian and Chinese (forthcoming)
From the UT Press:
In Heidegger’s Way of Being, the follow-up to his 2010 book, Engaging Heidegger, Richard Capobianco makes the case clearly and compellingly that the core matter of Heidegger’s lifetime of thought was Being as the temporal emergence of all beings and things. Drawing upon a wide variety of texts, many of which have been previously untranslated, Capobianco illuminates the overarching importance of Being as radiant manifestation—“the truth of Being”—and how Heidegger also named and elucidated this fundamental phenomenon as physis-Nature, Aletheia, the primordial Logos, and as Ereignis, Lichtung, and Es gibt.
Heidegger’s Way of Being brings back into full view the originality and distinctiveness of Heidegger’s thought and offers an emphatic rejoinder to certain more recent readings, and particularly those that propose a reduction of Being to “sense” or “meaning” and maintain that the core matter is human meaning-making. Capobianco’s vivid and often poetic reflections serve to evoke for readers the very experience of Being—or as he prefers to name it, the Being-way—and to invite us to pause and meditate on the manner of our human way in relation to the Being-way.
Selected Journal Reviews
By Richard Capobianco
Foreword by William J. Richardson
University of Toronto Press, April 2010/Paperback 2011
The centrality of the name of Being in Heidegger’s thinking; Being itself distinguished from beings in their beingness; Ereignis in relation to Being itself; an elucidation of die Lichtung and other key notions, especially in relation to Being itself; Heidegger’s "turn"; approaching the East; Heidegger and "building"; Heidegger and Lacan on Antigone; the rich and resonant existential implications of Heidegger’s "meditative thinking."
- Richard Velkley, Research in Phenomenology, 41 (2011) 423-449
- Graeme Nicholson, Review of Metaphysics, 65, 1 (2011) 147-148
- William Koch, Human Studies, 34,2 (2011) 231-236
- Bret W. Davis, Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews, 10 September 2010
- Andrew Ryder, Studies in Social and Political Thought, 18 (2010) 142-145
- Lawrence Hatab, Gatherings: The Heidegger Circle Annual, 1 (2011) 86-93
- Reginald Lilly, Journal of the History of Philosophy, 51:2 (April 2013), 323-24
- Douglas Peduti, Teaching Philosophy, 36:2 (June 2013), 196-99
- David P. Haney, Southern Humanities Review, 47:1 (Winter 2013), 91-96.
- See the book description, all reviews, and an interview with the author at www.beyng.com.
- Martin Heidegger, "Zur Frage nach der Bestimmung der Sache des Denkens"/ "On the Question Concerning the Determination of the Matter for Thinking"; trans. Richard Capobianco and Marie Göbel, Epoché: A Journal for the History of Philosophy, 14:2 (Spring 2010), 213-223.
- Koichi Tsujimura, "Martin Heidegger's Thinking and Japanese Philosophy," and Martin Heidegger, "From Martin Heidegger's Reply in Appreciation"; trans. Richard Capobianco and Marie Göbel, Epoché: A Journal for the History of Philosophy, 12:2 (Spring 2008), 349-357.
- “Overcoming the Subjectivisms of Our Age (Or Why Heidegger is Not a Phenomenologist)” in After Heidegger? ed. Gregory Fried and Richard Polt (London: Rowman & Littlefield International, 2017).
- “In the Black Notebooks: Heidegger’s ‘Turn’ Away from the Transcendental-Phenomenological Positioning of Being and Time to the Thinking of Being as Aletheia and Physis” in Zur Hermeneutik von Heideggers “Schwarzen Heften,” Heidegger-Jahrbuch 11, ed. by Alfred Denker and Holger Zaborowski, (Freiburg/München: Verlag Karl Alber, 2017).
- A Heidegger Lexicon, ed. Mark Wrathall (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, forthcoming 2018). Multiple entries, including main entries on Sein (Being), Wesen (Essence), and Anwesen (Presencing).
- Heidegger on Hebel: The Inexhaustible Depth of "Things"
- Book Review, NDPR, October 2015
- Essay, "No Heaven on Earth", Environmental and Architectural Phenomenology
- "Heidegger and Jung: Dwelling Near the Source," Review of Existential Psychology and Psychiatry, 21:1/2/3 (1993), 50-59. [Also published on the website cgjungpage.org]
- "Re-thinking the 'Germinative Point' [of Jung's Work]," The San Francisco Jung Institute Library Journal, 11:4 (1993), 45-53. [Also published on the website cgjungpage.org]
- "Heidegger and the Critique of the Understanding of Evil as Privatio Boni," Philosophy and Theology, 5:3 (Spring 1991), 175-186. [In a slightly modified form, also published on the website cgjungpage.org]
- "Heidegger and the Gods: On the Appropriation of a Religious Tradition," in Hermeneutics and the Tradition.Proceedings of the American Catholic Philosophical Association, ed. Daniel Dahlstrom, 27 (1988), 183-188.
- "In the Beginning: Jung and Freud on Introversion,"Psychological Perspectives, 20:2 (Fall/Winter 1988), 244-255.
- "Missed Chances Define Easton's Library Project," Easton Journal, January 22, 1999; one of a number of articles over several years.
- "On the Road to College in Alice's Steps," Springfield Union-News, September 13, 1998.
- "New Stonehill College Library Welcomes Easton Residents [an architectural review]," Easton Journal, August 21, 1998.
- "No Cure for the Human Condition," Providence Journal, November 24, 1997.
- "Reason to Celebrate New Richardson and Olmsted Schools [an architectural review]," Easton Journal, September 12, 1997.
- "On the Yellow Brick Road to College," Boston Globe,August 31, 1997.
- "An Exclusive Multiculturalism," Providence Journal, August 23, 1997.
- "Ourselves, Our Machines," Providence Journal, June 4, 1997.
- "Creating Yourself: Reflections on Emerson," Freshman Orientation Address 1995-96, Stonehill College Alumni Magazine.
- Heidegger and Science--and Postmodernism"
- Ecstasy, Catastrophe: Heidegger: From Being and Time to the Black Notebooks by David Farrell Krell (New York: SUNY Press, 2015) in Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews,10/26/2015.
- Heidegger's Temporal Idealism by William Blattner (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999) in The Review of Metaphysics, 53:4, June 2000, 918-19.
- Heidegger and the Ground of Ethics by Frederick Olafson(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998) in The Review of Metaphysics, 53:1, September 1999, 186-87.
- New World Architecture by Christian Norberg-Schulz (Princeton: Princeton Architectural Press, 1988) in Environmental and Architectural Phenomenology, 3:1, Winter 1992, 6.
- Dwelling, Place and Environment: Towards a Phenomenology of Person and World, ed. Robert Mugerauer and David Seamon (New York: Columbia University Press, 1989) in International Philosophical Quarterly, 31:1, March 1991, 110-112.
- Heidegger's Language and Thinking by Robert Mugerauer (Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Humanities Press International, 1988) in International Philosophical Quarterly, 30:2, June 1990, 262-264.
- Did the Greeks Believe in Their Myths? An Essay on the Constitutive Imagination by Paul Veyne, trans. Paula Wissing (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1988) in International Philosophical Quarterly, 29:3, September 1989, 360-362.
Published Interviews on Heidegger
The originality of Heidegger's thinking revolutionized contemporary philosophy, influencing such fields as psychology, history, art and architectural studies, theology and literary criticism. For an appreciation of Heidegger's work, we turn to Professor of Philosophy Richard Capobianco, author of the acclaimed Engaging Heidegger, in this extended version of a recent interview with Stonehill Alumni Magazine.
SAM: What is authentic existence for Heidegger?
RC: In his early masterwork Being and Time, he gives a rigorous analysis of how we are as being-in-the-world. In brief, to live authentically is to take up with ‘resoluteness' our radically finite existence, which includes what he calls our ‘thrownness' and our ‘being-unto-death.' That is, it takes courage for us to live well and live strongly even though we have no control over how we arrived in this world or how we depart it. In his later work, Heidegger also spoke about thinking as thanking--humbly celebrating that we existat all upon the earth, beneath the sky, in the company of other beings.
SAM: What's the implication of his understanding that being itself is not permanent or fixed?
RC: There are many important implications, and that is why his thinking has been so influential across the disciplines. Above all, we learn to accept the dynamic character of our existence, to embrace the flow and flux of ourselves and of all things. We come to understand that we are not simply in time, but that we aretemporal and historical through and through; even our stillness is a moving stillness. As in some non-Western traditions of thinking such as Zen Buddhism, Heidegger understands the ‘self' as a temporal phenomenon rather than as a time-less, unchanging ‘substance,' which was a central tenet in traditional Western metaphysics.
SAM: Explain Heidegger's insight on the limits of science in interpreting reality.
RC: This past semester, I gave a college-wide talk exploring this complex issue. On the one hand, Heidegger gives us the philosophical resources to affirm that science discloses something decisively important about things. On the other hand, he was deeply concerned that the scientific interpretation of reality has become so dominant in our contemporary world that we are increasingly losing sight of the ‘truth' of the poetic and humane interpretations of what is. In other words, not just the sciences speak to us about what is ‘true,' the humanities do as well.
SAM: Can you give us a practical example?
RC: Yes, the ‘truth' of a tree is made manifest as much by the poetic language of Robert Frost as by the language of ‘cells' and ‘photosynthesis.' Heidegger's lesson for us is that we must learn to live with a multiplicity of unfolding truths about reality.
SAM: What is unique about his perspective on art?
RC: Heidegger took note that ever since Plato, metaphysical thinking had demeaned or largely disregarded the work of art. Plus, in his own time, he observed that ‘aesthetics' had become preoccupied with technical concerns about craft or with the details of historical context. What he wanted to show was that ‘art,' fundamentally understood, is a ‘language' that makes manifest what is ‘true.' As he famously put it, ‘art' opens up a ‘world' in which the ‘truth' shines forth.
SAM: But Heidegger is not just talking about an opening to truth, he goes deeper?
RC: For him, the ‘world' thus opened up is always in tension with ‘earth,' which is his way of saying that in all ‘truth' that comes to pass there always remains a dimension of concealment and even untruth. Heidegger elevated the importance of art, and he saw in it a ‘saving power' that could lift us out of our increasingly technologized civilization.
SAM: Why has his thinking been so influential in the environmental movement?
RC: Heidegger worried that in our ‘age of technology' there is a growing tendency to view all that is as merely ‘stuff' to be used, and when done with, discarded. He did not deny the great benefits of technology, but he sternly warned against the growing ‘danger' of this ‘calculative thinking' that aims to master and manipulate nature and everything else.
SAM: Did he suggest a counterpoint to this danger?
RC: The antidote to this ‘enframing' outlook is what he called a ‘meditative thinking' that ‘releases' ourselves to things. In ‘releasement,' we allow beings to be; thereby, we give to natural things the space and freedom to be as they are rather than always dictating to them what they must be for us. It is this aspect of Heidegger's thinking that has been especially appealing--and helpful--to those involved in the green movement.
Published by the University of Toronto Press, Engaging Heidegger (April 2010) is a collection of essays that, in the words of William J. Richardson, the dean of Heidegger scholars, "shine by reason of the thoroughness of their textual foundation, the clarity of their presentation, and the simplicity of a relatively jargon-free style."
Ereignis Could you tell me what attracted you to philosophy and Heidegger? Did you know early on? Was there a Brentano's On the Several Senses of Being in Aristotle in your life?
Richard Ah, nothing so dramatic as the Brentano story! I suppose that all of us who are attracted to philosophical thinking have found in ourselves, from the earliest years, this peculiar need to ‘look’ around in wonder. The ancient Greeks understood this in calling philosophy the ‘looking-science’ (theoria, a looking) par excellence.
When I first arrived at graduate school, I took a number of courses on Plato and Aristotle, but I was not particularly inspired by what I was hearing. The great ancient Greek philosophers were taught—and unfortunately are still largely taught—in such an arid manner: the presentation of a settled body of knowledge; arguments reconstructed, dissected, and evaluated; terms defined; and so forth (all of which I grant has its place). It was Gadamer, who was a visiting professor at Boston College at the time I was there, and also my mentor William J. Richardson, who spoke so glowingly of how Heidegger had exhilarated students at Marburg and Freiburg with his lectures on the ancient thinkers. Heidegger's great effort was to dig past the deadwood of the philosophical tradition in order to get to the root experiences that give rise to philosophical thinking in the first place. So, Heidegger's thinking opened up for me a whole new way of addressing the thought of Plato and Aristotle—whose work I still deeply value—and indeed of all of the other philosophers in the tradition as well; and from that time on I was inspired to continue along this path of thinking. And I would add that teaching—sharing these very same insights with my students—has always been a special and central part of my work.
Ereignis I'd like to ask you some questions about your essays that were published recently in Engaging Heidegger.
The first essay is on being itself, something Aristotle thought about twenty-three centuries ago. At a basic level there are beings, or entities. Aristotle discusses them in his Physics. Entities can have certain properties: the material they are made of, how they move around, the place they occupy. Science has proven very good at describing these properties with great precision.
In his Metaphysics, Aristotle examines the being of beings; to on he on (τό ὄν ᾗ ὄν). He says beings have substance, form, a purpose, and a way they were created. Over the centuries, philosophers have added some footnotes -and Galileo corrected some errors in Aristotle's descriptions of motion - but Aristotle was generally considered to have got things about being right.
Then in the 1920s Heidegger comes along and says the tradition had been overlooking something about the being of beings all along. What was different about Heidegger's being from the metaphysical being?
Richard This is a very big question, but I’ll try to be as clear and succinct as possible.
First, to gloss your question, we have to observe that Aristotle did not speak about ‘being itself’ as Heidegger uses this term. This is one of the reasons that I spend so much time in the first chapter of the book clarifying terminology, a task which may not be inspiring but nonetheless absolutely crucial in any kind of lucid thinking about this issue. And it’s a task that is often overlooked or neglected in the Heidegger scholarship. In any case, I think that we find that Heidegger is largely very careful with the language that he uses to name die Sache selbst or ‘the fundamental matter for thought,’ and as I highlight this in the book, with respect to the question of Being, he names his core concern Being itself (Sein selbst), Being as such (Sein als solches), Being as Being (Sein als Sein), and, for a limited time, Beyng (Seyn). Now, the difficulty here is that, as you suggest, such terms as ‘being itself’ and ‘being as being’ mean something quite different in the age-old metaphysical tradition that goes back to Plato and Aristotle. So, how do we get around this problem with the language of ‘being’? Well, one way, the way chosen by William J. Richardson and other earlier Heidegger scholars, was to distinguish Heidegger’s Sein in English by using a capital ‘B’—hence Being itself, Being as such, Being as Being. This is the solution that I follow as well because it provides continuity with the earlier Heidegger scholarship. But I really have no problem with an alternative solution such as writing these as ‘be-ing itself,’ ‘be-ing as such,’ and ‘be-ing as be-ing.’ The important point, I think, is that we need some kind of orthographical solution so that when we read that Heidegger was concerned with ‘being itself,’ this is not simply confused with what Aristotle or Thomas Aquinas meant by ‘being itself.’ If as Heidegger scholars, we are aware and respectful of the long-standing metaphysical tradition—as Heidegger himself certainly was—then we need to be more careful and precise concerning the language of ‘being.’ And, by the way, writing Heidegger’s core concern with a capital ‘B’ has nothing to do with hypostasizing or essentializing Sein, as my admired friend and colleague Tom Sheehan has been suggesting!
But now let’s get closer to the heart of your question: What is the difference between the metaphysical understanding of ‘being itself’ and what Heidegger names ‘Being itself’? I’ll run the risk of putting it simply. What so struck Heidegger was that Plato and Aristotle, and of course the other thinkers in the later ancient and medieval metaphysical tradition of thinking, identified the ‘really real’ or what ‘really is,’ the ontos on in the Greek, with what is abidingly present, which was elaborated as what is timeless, spaceless, changeless, worldless, and immaterial. Thus, beginning with Plato, the ‘being’ of beings became identified with the timeless and immaterial and immutable ‘form’ or ‘idea’ or, later, ‘essence’ of particular things, and this matter—what Heidegger more properly calls the ‘beingness of beings’—defined the whole tradition of metaphysical thinking in all of its various iterations. But Heidegger’s reading of Plato and Aristotle is yet more subtle. Implicit in their understanding of the ‘really real’ as what is ‘abidingly present,’ he observes, is this liminal reference to time, that is, to what is always-present. This is the clue for Heidegger that temporality was implicated in their understanding of ‘beingness’ even though temporality was suppressed and forgotten. He works all of this out in the lecture courses of the 1920s, and perhaps most pointedly in the summer semester lecture course of 1930 (GA 31).
So—to make this long story short—Heidegger proceeds over the years, guided especially by Aristotle’s insight into the kinetic character of things, to unfold his understanding of Being itself—that is, the fundamental, unifying, and originary meaning of Being—as the Being-way wherein and whereby beings emerge, linger in their full ‘look’ or ‘presence’ (eidos), wane, and pass away. In my own work, I refer to this Ur-phenomenon that Heidegger had in view as ‘the temporal-spatial, finite and negatived, appearing of beings in their beingness in the ensemble.’ But perhaps the key thing to see here in response to your question is that for Heidegger, Plato, and particularly Aristotle, remained close to this originary experience of Being; in other words, the ‘full look,’ the eidos or morphe that Plato and Aristotle determined to be the ‘really real,’ represented only a separating out and privileging of but one aspect of the whole arc of existing that is Being itself or, as I call it, the Being-way. Consequently, for Heidegger, the temporal-spatial presencing or unfolding of beings in their beingness was still at least in the background of Plato’s and Aristotle’s proto-phenomenological thinking, unlike in the later metaphysical tradition in which the variations on the formula ‘being itself = essence’ simply became philosophical dogma.
Ereignis Thank you for that for that description of Heidegger's understanding of Being, his Sein.
We've referred to three meanings to being, (1) a being as an entity, (2) being as described in Aristotle's Metaphysics, and (3) Being as understood by Heidegger. A few centuries ago, Kant named Aristotle's studies of being ontology, and Heidegger called the distinction between beings and Being the ontological difference. Aristotle's being is about beings - concerned with the ontic - while Heidegger is concerned with the originary meaning of Being, the truly ontological.
Heidegger struggles with the word "being" throughout his career, trying out different ways to refer to his conception of being. In some texts he writes it with a hyphen, in others he uses an archaic spelling, and in another he crosses the word out. All done to stress that his Being is different from metaphysical being.
Over the years several scholars have pointed out that in places Heidegger goes so far as to say he is not discussing being at all, and that instead he is talking about emergence (Kenneth Maly) or meaningfulness (Thomas Sheehan). In your essay, "The Fate of Being", you indicate there are problems with those interpretations. Oftentimes Heidegger explicitly says his key theme is being, even though he has a new understanding of it. He says this in cases where he is asked to sum up his life's work.
Are your differences with Thomas Sheehan an indication that Heidegger's problems with terminology are still an issue, and that it will take additional careful readings to sort out precisely what Heidegger wrote and meant in different texts? Or is there an important philosophical distinction here? Is Sheehan promoting a phenomenological interpretation of Heidegger, while you propose a different ontological interpretation of Heidegger?
Richard Let me begin this way: If the question is whether Heidegger himself withdrew or abandoned the name Being in speaking about his core concern, then I think that the textual evidence is compelling and convincing that he did not. On the other hand, if the question is whether he should have given it up, then that’s a very different question, and one that is surely open for debate. But if we hew close to the first question, as I try to do in the book, then I think that we uncover this engaging story of how Heidegger struggled mightily from beginning to end to retain the name of Being while distinguishing it from metaphysical ‘being(ness).’ His perseverance in this effort is simply remarkable—and a measure of how important it remained to him to safeguard the originary word of Western philosophical thinking—Being—right to the very end of his lifetime of thinking.
Now, this said, Heidegger also exercised and enjoyed his freedom as a thinker to name the Ur-phenomenon that he had in view in a number of different ways. And so I have tried to lay out how the many names that he put into play, from the ancient Greek words aletheia, physis, Logos to his own terms Ereignis, Lichtung, Es gibt, all attempt to say and show the one fundamental phenomenon—Being itself—in its several dimensions.
As far as I can tell, my reading is in sync with Kenn Maly’s overall approach to the matter. But where we parted company was in Maly’s suggestion in his earlier work that Heidegger ultimately withdrew the name of Being to mark die Sache selbst. In his most recent book, he has retracted this position, so, at present, I believe that we see eye to eye on the issue. Thus, his often poetic reflections on emerging, which you refer to, are indeed descriptions of Being—the Being-way that I have highlighted.
As for Tom Sheehan, more than a decade of correspondence between the two of us has brought us together, but, alas, not our readings of Heidegger! The whole debate deserves much more careful comment than I can provide in the scope of these remarks, but let me address one key point. Your observation that Sheehan is advancing a ‘phenomenological’ interpretation of Heidegger, whereas I am more committed to an ‘ontological’ interpretation, is fair but needs to be qualified. Although I maintain that die Sache selbst for Heidegger concerns thinking Dasein in terms of Being—and not Being in terms of Dasein, as Sheehan proposes—this does not mean that my position abandons a hermeneutic ‘phenomenological’ perspective and has relapsed into a ‘natural attitude’ or naïve metaphysical stance. No, all along, I underscore that for Heidegger it is Dasein who makes manifest in language (logos) what shows itself from itself (phainomenon).
Nevertheless, Heidegger’s emphasis was always on what shows itself, what shines forth, even in the early work of the 1920s and especially in his brilliant readings of Aristotle—all in his herculean effort to counter the subjectism (Subjektität) of the modern philosophy of consciousness, which, in his view, also colored Husserl’s formulation of the matter. In fact, after the turn (die Kehre), we find that Heidegger pushed his own formulation of the relation of Dasein and Being to the very limit of a hermeneutic ‘phenomenological’ perspective. Thus, in 1941/42, for example, he offers this remarkable observation: “‘Truth’ is ‘independent’ of the human being, since truth means the essencing of what is true in the sense of unconcealment. [The subjectist position is that] ‘truth’ is ‘dependent’ on the human being and caused, brought about, made, produced. But the human being is dependent on the truth, if truth is the clearing of Beyng as Beyng’s essence; since ‘to depend’ means: to be determined and thoroughly attuned in essence (but not caused)’” (GA 88; see also my chapter 6 on Lichtung). Statements such as this one make Heidegger unquestionably ‘Heidegger’ and not Husserl, and in view of such statements, Sheehan’s basic reading that Heidegger’s focal topic was Dasein, or more precisely, Dasein’s finitude which ‘gives being’—this reading appears to be simply untenable. Yet insofar as Sheehan continues to challenge Heidegger scholars to be more clear and crisp with terms and to avoid falling back into a naïve realism in speaking about Being, then his work remains vitally important. And for my own thinking, he remains an indispensable interlocutor.
Ereignis In the book's Lichtung essay, you point out that while Heidegger had worked out an understanding of die Lichtung as the clearing in his later writings, earlier he had emphasized the light-as-illumination origins of the German word Lichtung.
A clearing in the forest can be a metaphor for the light getting in or for an area of fewer trees; a spatial clearing. You quote Heidegger in a 1964 Zollikon seminar, talking about turning off the light: "One can still bump into something in the dark." That remark reminded me of his discussion of the spatiality of Being-in-the-world (Being & Time, p. 144), where he also brings up making sense of dark rooms.
In the next essay, "Plato's Light and the Phenomenon of the Clearing", you translate key passages of Heidegger's piece "On the Question Concerning the Determination of the Matter for Thinking" (1965; GA 16), including this: "The clearing is a spatial phenomenon."
As Heidegger developed his sense of Lichtung from lighting to his mature understanding of die Lichtung as the spatial 'clearing', was his understanding of spatiality also changing?
Richard I have always been interested—both philosophically and existentially—in Heidegger’s notion of die Lichtung, but I found that it had received little scholarly attention. As I looked into the matter more closely, I discovered a number of interesting things that I try to work out in the two chapters that you mention. One thing that impressed me was how the traditional philosophical metaphor of light—ultimately going back to Plato’s light of the sun in the Allegory of the Cave in Bk. VII of the Republic—profoundly shaped and influenced Heidegger’s thinking in the early and middle periods. In the 1920s and 30s, he made a concerted effort to appropriate the metaphor of light to elucidate his own proper concern. But what equally impressed me was how in his writings of the 1960s, Heidegger decisively rejected the traditional metaphor of light in thinking about die Lichtung—and without a word regarding his earlier efforts to recover it and appropriate it for his ownmost matter for thought.
The point of the story that I tell in these chapters is not simply that there was a most interesting (albeit unacknowledged) development in Heidegger’s thinking, but, moreover, that this development represented an intensification of his critique of the Western onto-theological tradition of thinking and its core metaphor of light. Put briefly, I suggest that one important way that Heidegger found to ‘step back’ from Western onto-theological thinking was to turn away from the visual metaphor of light in favor of spatial metaphors (Offene, Weite, Bereich, Gegnet)—and this ultimately necessitated in his late writings denying any Licht to Lichtung.
There are also important existential implications to all of this that I try to bring to light (so to speak) in the studies, but I will pass over these here in order to address your tough question about ‘spatiality.’ I am thinking along with you on this, since my thoughts are by no means fully formed on the matter. It appears evident that Heidegger became unsatisfied with thinking about time and space in terms of Dasein’s fundamental temporality and spatiality as he uncovered these in Being and Time. After the ‘turn,’ he was more interested in the ‘time-space’ (Zeit-Raum) that unfolds and enfolds Dasein. His focus shifted to the time-space of Being itself, this free and open and giving expanse, this ‘play space,‘ ‘leeway,’ or ‘elbow room’ (Spielraum) in which all beings, including Dasein, are let be and allowed to flourish in the first place. The later Heidegger attempted to think time-space, what he called ‘this puzzling onefold,’ in a more primordial way than he was able to in Being and Time, but he approached this by offering evocative indications rather than a sustained analysis. Nonetheless, he was pointing to a temporal-spatial character of Being itself that was more fundamental still than the peculiar temporal-spatial character of Dasein, which he had laid bare in Being and Time.
Ereignis In Plato's cave allegory, prisoners are shackled in a cave, forced to watch shadows on a wall. A prisoner is unshackled, and realizes the shadows are produced by people passing between a fire and the wall. The freed prisoner climbs out of the cave, and encounters the onto-theological sun, the source of good light.
As with his notion of die Lichtung, there's a Kehre, from the luminescent to the spatial, in his interpretation of Plato's cave allegory.
As you show in your chapter on Plato's allegory, Heidegger works with the allegory in several texts from the 1920s and 30s, interpreting the light in his own way. In his later writings, Heidegger deprecated the importance of the light in his interpretation, stressing the cave itself (Parmenides, p. 92). Is the Allegory of the Cave still helpful in understanding Heidegger after the turn from luminescence? Or do we need other metaphors to help us make sense of the later Heidegger?
Richard Well, I have to take issue with the first part of your question! In Heidegger’s multiple readings of Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, from 1926 to 1940, he does not read the light of the sun as ‘ontic’ or ‘onto-theological’ at all. Indeed, the sun, this ‘light-source’ or ‘primordial light,’ as he puts it, is precisely what makespossible all that is lighted and therefore visible. In other words, for Heidegger, the sun, Plato’s ‘symbol’ for the Idea of the Good, is what enables/ lets through/ opens up/ frees up all beings and all ontic truth about beings—and that’s the fundamental matter for thought, die Sache selbst. In all of these readings, Heidegger elucidated his own fundamental concern—the letting be of beings in their beingness—in terms of the metaphor of light that he appropriated from Plato. While you are quite right that he regarded the manifested light as ‘ontic,’ this is not the case with respect to the manifesting light of the sun—which represents Being itself. Therefore, this distinction between the manifesting/manifested light is the figurative equivalent of the ‘ontological difference’ between Being and beings.
Even into the 1950s, Heidegger continued to employ the metaphor of luminosity to unfold his focal topic. It’s not until the 1960s that he explicitly rejected—and emphatically so—the trope of light and luminosity in discussing die Lichtung. In his statements in the 1960s, he refused any Licht to Lichtung, and even went so far as to deny any linguistic connection between the words Licht and Lichtung(which as I point out in an Appendix, is highly dubious). This development has something important to do with his deepening meditation on aletheia, as I discuss in the book. But as I also put it more pointedly, ‘by the 1960s Heidegger had decided to step back—and step away altogether—from the brilliance of Plato’s light.’ The overcoming of metaphysics, indeed.
I myself do not think that we have to relinquish the visual metaphor of light in favor of the spatial metaphors that Heidegger ultimately preferred—the open, the expanse, the region, the clearing, and so forth—in order to think Being as a-letheia as the revealing-concealing of beings. I tend to think that the metaphor can be reappropriated—just as Heidegger attempted to do in much of his own work. Yet, at the same time, we can appreciate how his life-long struggle to set his own thinking apart from the tradition of metaphysical thinking led him, in the end, to turn away from Plato’s light.
Ereignis Is it correct to say then about the role of the sun in the Allegory of the Cave, that Plato understood the sun onto-theologically, as the (ontic) prima causa of light, while Heidegger always interpreted the sun as that which makes beings possible?
Richard It’s not that simple—and that’s the beauty of Heidegger’s readings of Plato (and of Aristotle). Especially in the earlier readings, Heidegger highlights Plato’s words in the Allegory that the Idea of the Good (and its correlate image of the sun) are epekeina tes ousias—‘beyond beingness.’ As Heidegger reads this, the Good, properly understood, is not a being or cause or value at all but rather the (temporal) enabling or empowering of all beings in their beingness. So, Plato did indeed have a glimpse of what is more fundamental than the Ideas, namely, what makes possible all beings in their beingness (Ideas). To this extent, then, Plato’s thinking retained a connection to the originary and ‘founding’ thinking of Anaximander, Parmenides, and Heraclitus. Nevertheless, Heidegger detects a development in Plato’s thinking. Plato was in thrall to thesheer presence of beings, their ‘full look,’ their eidos, their idea—and this became the focal point of his thinking, which, in turn, served to inaugurate the metaphysical tradition of thinking and its preoccupation with the timeless, immaterial, immutable ‘essences’ of things. Plato’s thinking may have tended in this direction, but it is only in the later metaphysical thinking that the Idea of the Good (and the sun) became reflexively interpreted as a supreme essence or highest being or first and final cause. But this observation, too, needs to be nuanced because the Neoplatonists certainly took up the epekeina tes ousias in their own unique and interesting way. But let’s leave that matter for another time.
Ereignis In the chapter titled "Ereignis: (Only) Another Name for Being Itself" you examine Heidegger's use of Ereignis in several texts from the mid-thirties onwards, including some of his private manuscripts, which have not been translated yet; it will probably be several years before non-German speakers can read them. In one of them, Über den Anfang (GA 70), Heidegger writes thatEreignis is die Anfängnis, which you translate as the Originating. Does Heidegger explain in this text what he means by die Anfängnis, and does that change our understanding of Ereignis?
Richard This key word, die Anfängnis, which Heidegger uses to characterize Ereignis, is not a neologism, as some have maintained. Although the word does not appear in the Grimm’s Wörterbuch, it can be found in the Early New High German lexicon, which covers the language from roughly 1350-1650. So, Heidegger retrieved a very old word in the German language, and what I suggest in this chapter is that the word’s structural resemblance to Ereignis has some importance.
As you and the readers of the website well know, das Ereignis is Heidegger’s term d’art, but despite the many pages of commentary over the years, the matter concerning how things stand betweenEreignis and Being itself in his thought has remained unclarified. That was the task that I set for myself in the chapter in the book. And after a careful consideration of the relevant texts, I think that it emerges clearly that Heidegger always understood his signature word Ereignis to be but another name for Being (Being itself, Being as such, Being as Being, Beyng).
Nevertheless, Heidegger’s characterization of Beyng as Ereignis in the 1936-38 Beiträge , and in the other private writings from this period that you mention, is quite different from the one he offered in his published writings from the late 1950s and 1960s. In Beiträge, Heidegger highlighted Beyng as Ereignis as die Anfängnis as the dramatic and even traumatic event-fulness and moment-ousness of historical epochal happening or ‘originating.’ Richard Polt has carefully covered this ground in his book The Emergency of Being .
Yet what I emphasize is that these were private reflections that Heidegger was working out in the turbulent 1930s and that they do not represent his mature position (or core position) on the matter. We need always to keep in mind that he did not consider theBeiträge text to be a publishable work. When in later years, beginning in the late 1950s, he turned to a public presentation of his notion of Ereignis, the whole theme is unfolded in a remarkably different manner. The temporal dimension of Ereignis remains from the earlier work—but not much else. He brings Ereignis (as Being) into close relation with the ancient Chinese Tao, the Way, and characterizes Ereignis as the ‘simplest and most gentle of all laws,’ the ‘law’ that grants but does not dictate. Thus, in his later rendition, which I consider to be closer to the core of his lifetime of thinking about Being, Ereignis is the ‘originating’ as the simple temporal letting be of beings; the serene laying out and gathering together of beings; the gentle appropriating of beings, each unto itself and each in relation to one another. In other words, Ereignisas the Way of all things—the Chinese Tao, the primordial Logos.
Ereignis In various texts Heidegger says that die Sache selbst = Ereignis = Beyng. In other places he describes them in specific ways. For example, Ereignis as a round dance ringing the mirror play of the fourfold ("The Thing", p. 180), as the historical epochal happening of the first beginning (Beiträge), as disclosing coming to pass ("The Turning", p. 45), and as Heidegger's own singulare tantum ( Identity and Difference , P. 36). At different times he writes about Ereignis differently, and its importance goes up and down.
As you point out in your book, when asked to summarize his life's work in a late seminar, he said it was and had always been the question of Being. In the end, were his different descriptions ofEreignis useful ways to elucidate aspects of Being, or were they dead ends?
Richard Your question cuts to the chase: On balance, did Heidegger’s introduction and deployment of the term Ereignisserve to clarify or obfuscate the fundamental matter for thought? On the one hand, as I will elaborate in a moment, the word assisted him in conveying his core insight. But on the other hand, the term, at least as he employed it in certain contexts, proved to muddy the waters. In the book, I discuss this difficulty in relation to his 1962 lecture ‘Time and Being,’ but it is also a relevant issue with respect to the 1957 lecture that you mention, ‘The Principle of Identity.’ In both instances, Heidegger spoke about Ereignis ‘giving’ or ‘appropriating’ ‘being’ (Sein). Only a painstakingly close reading of these texts can discern that what Heidegger appeared to be saying was that Ereignis as Being itself (Sein selbst) ‘gives’ or ‘appropriates’ ‘beingness’ (Seiendheit) in each particular historical ‘epoch.’ But it remains that in such later texts, Heidegger invited confusion—and (arguably) poorly served his own thinking and die Sache—by using ‘Sein’ in such an imprecise manner in relation toEreignis.
Nonetheless, on the positive side, Heidegger found in the wordEreignis a way of bringing forth more vividly the features of the Ur-phenomenon that is Being itself. From the beginning of his path of thinking, he was concerned to step back from the ‘beingness’ of the metaphysical tradition in order to make manifest Being as the movement, the way, in which and through which beings emerge, linger in their ‘full look,’ wane, and depart. This is what I call the ‘Being-way,’ as mentioned earlier. The word Ereignis brings the Being-way into view by virtue of the three basic resonances of the word: (1) the ‘event’ that is the efflorescence of beings coming into (2) their ‘own’ and thereby (3) coming out into full view, all in relation to one another. Of course, for Heidegger, this Ereignis of beings, this ‘singular’ unfolding process, is finite and negatived, but just in case this might be overlooked, he sometimes had recourse to pair Ereignis with the word Enteignis as a reminder. But in any case, ‘Ereignis’ conveys the simple and quiet but also profound and astonishing ‘coming to pass’ of all things, such as the tree coming into bloom—suddenly, or so it seems. I observe that many Chinese and Japanese commentators find this central Heideggerian insight very accessible and see clearly what is being made manifest by this word Ereignis. Koichi Tsujimura is one example.
To sum up, then: The temporal-spatial flow that issues forth all things—this is the Simple, this is the One (hen), this is the singulare tantum that is Being as Ereignis.
Ereignis This interview has opened up new aspects of Heidegger's thought for me and I hope for others too. What will you be working on after Engaging Heidegger?
Richard I very much enjoyed the exchange; thank you.
There is an essay in the book on how Heidegger’s thinking has enriched the study of architecture, and this is a continuing interest of mine. I’ve been fortunate over the years to have been able be to discuss with students the lecture ‘Building Dwelling Thinking’ in the presence of several H.H. Richardson masterpieces, which are just a short walk from the college campus.
I’ve recently translated a small section from Heidegger’s 1928-29 lecture course ‘Introduction to Philosophy’ (GA 27) that I think is crucial to understanding in a more detailed and nuanced manner how he shifted the ‘phenomenological’ concern to the ‘truth’ at the site of the being. My task is to trace his line of thinking from 1924 to 1930—and then to show, or at least to suggest, how this led Heidegger into the ‘turn’ (die Kehre) and to rethink die Sacheunder the rubric of the ‘truth of Being.’
I’ll leave it at that for now. But to come back to where I started in our interview, I would simply add that what is truly special about Heidegger’s thinking is that it always seeks to turn us—or, better, return us—to the experience of Being.
My thanks to you and the readers of Ereignis.
Reflections by Richard Capobianco
- There is no accounting for desire.
- In contemporary Continental philosophy there is far too much talk about the distance of the 'other.' Do these authors not take to heart Heidegger's analysis of Miteinandersein--our being-with-one-another?
- To live wisely and well, we need not the certainty of Abraham, nor the willfulness of Zarathustra, but the discernment of Odysseus.
- Heidegger makes more complex--but does not mock--our understanding of the phenomenon of "truth."
- The thinking that qualifies as wisdom gathers and does not seize. Consider more carefully what Heidegger means: thinking is thanking.
- Let all things come to be and cease to be, including ourselves.
- Care for other beings, but give them leeway, too.
- Life teaches us that the subject of consciousness is not the self.
- Is it that the artist dwells more in the imaginary than the thinker? And yet both disclose what is.
- Why traditionally was there such philosophical resistance to our temporal existence?
- Simple things give us hope.
- The Greeks understood that limit is necessary for happiness.
- Allow for what cannot be changed--but in a creative way.
- All too often today, philosophy wields the hammer of thought to tear down rather than to build up.
- Some change is better than no change at all.
- "It is fitting for a man, even if he is wise, often to learn things . . . . It is also good to learn from those who give good counsel." Sophocles, Antigone
- A wise man wears knowledge lightly.
- Education should liberate our individuality, not smother it; it should make us bold to imagine change and progress for ourselves and for others; it should lead us beyond competence to creativity; and it should touch us and stir us in some profound way.
- Why did so many philosophers miss the decisive importance of our mortality?
- Eros builds in time.
- Completion, not perfection, is our goal.
- Living when the sky is high requires as much wisdom as when the sky hangs heavy with snow.