Heidegger on an Education in Thinking

The following words of Heidegger’s have been on my mind for the past couple of weeks.

We all still need an education in thinking, and before that first a knowledge of what being educated and uneducated in thinking means.  In this respect, Aristotle gives us a hint in Book IV of his Metaphysics (1006a ff.).  It reads…”For it is uneducated not to have an eye for when it is necessary to look for a proof, and when this is not necessary.”

This sentence demands careful reflection.  For it is not yet decided in what way that which needs no proof in order to become accessible to thinking is to be experienced.  Is it dialectical mediation or originary intuition or neither of the two? Only the peculiar quality of that which demands of us above all else to be admitted can decide about that.  But how is this to make the decision possible for us before we have admitted it? In what circle are we moving here, inevitably?

Aristotle’s passage–and its non-kissing cousin in EN–have become more and more deeply embedded in my thinking and teaching.  My Seven Deadly Sins course this summer (now just ended) in many ways pivots on the EN passage.  I take that passage to insist on differences in kind among objectivities, differences in kind among, say, geometry and history and philosophy and rhetoric.  I have grown increasingly resistant to attempts to solder philosophy to science or to mathematics–or to whatever.  (Not that I was ever very receptive to such attempts.)  Philosophy is its own thing and not another thing.  Perhaps Heidegger gets a little too invested here and there in soldering philosophy (or thinking) to poetry (that is a topic for another time), but generally he is acrobatically adept at sundering philosophy from other things.  (Heidegger inherits the form of his Idealist predecessors’ metaphilosophy even if he rejects its specific content. –Compare him here to Bradley or to Oakeshott.)

Anyway, I do not like thematizing philosophy as argument, as argumentative.  Why should philosophy be beholden to proof?  I do not mean that philosophy should jettison proof or that proof does not matter.  But why should it be essential?  I am happy to say that argument has its place, an honored place, in philosophy.  But there is no reason to believe that gaining admittance to philosophy requires an inference ticket (apologies to Ryle).   –That does not mean that we just throw open the doors–free admission!  –No, but some things may get in without an inference ticket.  –Ok.  But what, and why, and when, and how?  –We need a sense of what is relevant in philosophy, to philosophy, and a sense that relevance itself is not a matter (always) for proof.  (In what circle are we moving here, inevitably?)  We need to understand what it looks like to be educated and uneducated in philosophy, so that we can embark on our philosophical education.

We glimpse here why the vocabulary of late Heidegger runs through the all the inflections of ‘receptive spontaneity’, why hearkening and following a path become leitmotifs of the work.  The claim of relevance is not always to be established by argument; sometimes the claim of relevance is simply the peculiar quality of certain things, a claim that demands acknowledgment from us.  We hearken to such things.  We follow in their paths.  Their relevance is their solemn power, calling us to free response. We make ourselves available to thought.



7 responses

  1. Philosophical thinking can be episodic and improvising — apt remarks responsive to things the world (and others) throw at us. Retreating to lay out one’s reaction as an argument or proof can be digression and flight from the immediate situation that begs for response, right now. I’m convinced there’s philosophy on every other page of Moby Dick, but it comes as an irregular and interrupted series of profound comments and questions that are part of unfolding life and adventure; they’re folded into the rhythm and “tang of life” (that wonderful Randall phrase you passed our way a week or so ago). The flow of philosophy and the “tang” of its relevance can’t be pried out of the life-circumstances that elicit it. You’re music to our ears.

      • thanks for this KDJ I’m always surprised how unphilosopical folks in the academy tend to be about the subject (as such) they teach and even more so about how they teach it (reminds of of Heidegger on thinking vs gossip and how much of what we call thinking/philosophizing is just about signaling/echoing one’s socialization into an in-group). Bert Dreyfus and SeanDKelly wrote about Moby Dick as a work of philosophy and Al Lingis recently gave an excellent lecture on the subject so some folks are working these matters thru

      • I would love to have heard the Lingis! The Kelly and Dreyfus I know. Unfortunately, you are too much right about signaling/echoing and socialization.

      • I’ll post the Lingis soon and drop a link here, I wonder if there is anyway to widely avoid the problem of thinking turning into mere socialization in terms of the lives of institutions, Rorty felt (pace Heidegger) that this sort of death of metaphors/thinking into relatively blind habits was the price of being part of social systems and that may be so, reminds me of this sermon and how far its garden of eden is from our actual lives:

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