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4 The History of Philosophy: Nietzsche and the History of Ontology
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Further Discussion of Heidegger's Nietzsche Lectures

Heidegger's views of Nietzsche have attracted attention in a specialized literature. As in the case of any original text, it is difficult, perhaps not possible, to provide more than an incomplete idea in a summary.[194] Since we are concerned here with Heidegger's Nazism, a few very brief remarks will suffice to delineate some main themes of his lectures on Nietzsche.[195]

We have already noted that early in the initial lecture series Heidegger twice asserts the unity of Nietzsche's basic concepts of the eternal return of the same and the will to power in the transvaluation (Umwertung ) of all previous values. The first volume is divided into three large discussions concerning "The Will to Power as Art," "The Eternal Return of the Same," and "The Will to Power as Knowledge." In the account of "The Will to Power as Art" Heidegger brings together his interest in the link between art and truth and his concern with Nietzsche's position.[196] He presents Nietzsche's view as an inverted Platonism, culminating in a relation between the will to power as art, and as a way to understand the unity of Being and becoming.

Art as will to semblance is the supreme configuration of will to power. But the latter, as the basic character of beings, as the essence of reality, is in itself that Being which wills itself by willing to be Becoming. In that way through the will to power Nietzsche attempts to think the original unity of the ancient opposition of Being and Becoming. Being, as permanence, is to let Becoming be a Becoming. The origin of the thought of "eternal recurrence" is thereby indicated.[197]

Heidegger regards the eternal return of the same, which he discusses in a lengthy section, as Nietzsche's basic metaphysical position. He sees this concept as a confrontation with the Platonic-Christian mode of


thought characteric of the Western tradition. The discussion culminates in three points. First, Nietzsche's idea constitutes the end of metaphysics.[198] Second, Nietzsche's effort to eliminate the fundamentally Platonic position through its inversion in his own system fails, and in fact confirms Platonism.[199] Third, Nietzsche's failure, at the end of metaphysics, to go beyond it can function as the opening to transcending it if we adopt a questioning attitude toward his guiding question: what is Being?[200] In other words, we can use Nietzsche's effort to transcend Western thought, by thinking with him and against him, to carry out what he meant to accomplish.

The account of "The Will to Power as Knowledge" occupies the last part of the first volume. Here, from the vantage point of his view of Nietzsche as the last metaphysical thinker, Heidegger explores Nietzsche's idea of truth as an "illusion." He interprets Nietzsche's doctrine of the return as pointing to a view of truth based on value, related to correctness.[201] In the same way as he refused to accept Nazi biologism, Heidegger refuses the appellation of "biologism" for Nietzsche's thought,[202] although he maintains that in Nietzsche's system correctness refers ultimately to life itself.[203] From an epistemological point of view, Heidegger regards Nietzsche as favoring permanence over change in the idea of the eternal return of the same, which finally refers to life.[204]

The second volume contains seven smaller accounts of the "The Eternal Return of the Same and the Will to Power," "European Nihilism," "Nietzsche's Metaphysics," "The Ontological-Historical Definition of Nihilism," "Metaphysics as the History of Being," "Sketches of the History of Being as Metaphysics," and "Memory in Metaphysics." The most important passage, which takes up roughly half of the second volume, concerns the topic of European nihilism.[205] Heidegger's discussion here of nihilism is neither unprecedented nor even unusual. To the best of my knowledge, this theme is not discussed in his corpus, or at least not discussed under that title, prior to the Nietzsche lectures. But nihilism was a frequent topic in the German-language discussion of the period.[206] The theme is further anticipated in Heidegger's earlier writings under the heading of nothing (das Nichts ).

The idea of nothing is discussed by Heidegger in several early texts. In Being and Time , in a remark on authenticity and inauthenticity Heidegger describes inauthenticity as not nothing but as average;[207] and in a later passage, he states that nothing functions as that in the face of which we are anxious.[208] Here, nothing is related to value, as values that can be realized in authentic comportment, that can fail to be realized in inauthenticity, and that can be definitively lost in death. Heidegger brings out another dimension of nothing in "What Is Metaphysics?" by reemphasizing the relation to human being and adding an explicit link to


metaphysics. In the inaugural lecture, nothing, which science has supposedly failed to analyze, becomes an explicit theme. According to Heidegger, "Dasein" literally means "being held out into the nothing."[209] Nothing here is presented as transcendence, or the Being beyond beings, as the nihilation of nothing that is human being.[210] Heidegger goes on to claim that when we reflect on nothing, it leads to the metaphysical question of the meaning of Being.[211]

Heidegger's discussion of nothing continues his earlier reflections on this theme. In Being and Time , he was concerned with the individual and with falling as a basic kind of being that belongs to everydayness, or inauthentic Dasein. A similar concern is visible in the rectoral address, where Heidegger mentions Nietzsche's statement that God is dead and asks about the consequences for science in the Greek sense given the abandonment of today's man in the midst of beings.[212] In the Nietzsche lectures, he provides a historical interpretation of Nietzsche's view as a determination of a fall away from Being as such. He further refers to a passage in Being and Time , in which falling is described relative to the potentiality for being-in-the-world.[213]

In An Introduction to Metaphysics , Heidegger brings together his prior analyses of nothing in relation to value and metaphysics in an explicit meditation on history from Nietzsche's perspective. He now provides what can only be regarded as a mythical explanation of the source of fallenness through an equally mythical happening. In an important passage, which largely anticipates the discussion of nihilism in the Nietzsche lectures, he writes:

And should we not say that the fault did not begin with us, or with our immediate or more remote ancestors, but lies in something that runs through Western history from the very beginning. a happening [ein Geschehnis] which the eyes of all the historians in the world will never perceive, but which nevertheless happens, which happened in the past and will happen in the future? What if it were possible that man, that nations in the greatest movements and traditions, are linked to Being and yet had long fallen out of Being, without knowing it, and that this was the most powerful and most central cause of their decline?[214]

In comparison with earlier discussion of this theme, the account in the course on metaphysics differs in the dual emphasis on an event linking metaphysics to history and on a grasp of that event in respect to Nietzsche's thought. Nietzsche is said to be important in that he alone has grasped the fall away from Being which supposedly determines all of Western history and which is now manifested in the decline due to the fall out of Being. This same decline is visible in Europe's being pinched between Russia and America, in the rise of modern technology, and in


the spiritual decline affecting Germany, that most metaphysical of nations, which needs to realize its vocation through an authentic renewal of the fundamental question of metaphysics.[215] Once again, Heidegger is merely stating his obviously mystical belief in the salvific power of a renewal of philosophy for the future history of the world.

Heidegger believes that the importance of Nietzsche's insight into history goes beyond merely getting metaphysics right after several thousand years. This new understanding means that we can now make another beginning, a beginning beyond the old beginning which will not merely be a continuation of what has previously occurred. "To ask: 'How does it stand with being?' means nothing less than to capture, to repeat, the beginning of our historical-spiritual existence, in order to transform it into the other beginning."[216] All of these themes, including metaphysics, technology, modernity, are now decisively linked by Hei-degger to his understanding of the unfolding of Nietzsche's thought with respect to the decisive event described as the fall away from Being.

The discussion of nihilism in the lectures on Nietzsche records Heidegger's effort, in a lectures series given in 1940, to come to grips with the fall away from Being. In comparison with his earlier writings, his Nietzsche lectures innovate through a detailed study of Nietzsche's grasp of this so far unnamed but fateful event, the introduction of a partially novel terminology to refer to the event and its consequences, and the statement in allusive fashion of the outlines of the position he began to develop in the Beiträge in the period immediately preceding this lecture course.

The term "nihilism" occurs in previous writers, but Heidegger believes that Nietzsche uses it in a different way to designate a phenomenon he was the first to identify. For Heidegger, Nietzsche concentrates the meaning of the concept in the statement "God is dead," interpreted as the loss by the "Christian God," or the "transcendent" in general, of any meaning for beings and for human being.

Nietzsche uses nihilism as the name for the historical movement that he was the first to recognize and that already governed the previous century while defining the century to come, the movement whose essential interpretation he concentrates in the terse sentence "God is dead." That is to say, the "Christian God" has lost His position over beings and over the determination of man.[217]

Heidegger now argues for a connection between an ongoing event in which the transcendent loses its sway and the history of ontology. If Nietzsche's metaphysics is the fulfillment of Western metaphysics, then we can only confront the former if we confront the latter.[218] In Being and


Time , the history of ontology was the series of incorrect views which, through their dogmatic reproduction, continue to dominate the metaphysical tradition deprived of access to the original Greek insight into Being. Here, the history of ontology is revealed as coextensive with the ongoing process of the loss of transcendence symbolized by the death of the "Christian God."

Nihilism is that historical process whereby the dominance of the "transcendent" becomes null and void, so that all being loses its worth and meaning. Nihilism is the history of being itself, through which the death of the Christian God comes slowly but inexorably to light. In his recognition of the ongoing process of nihilism, the history of being. and metaphysics itself, has come to an end.[219]

But since history continues, the task at present is to reflect on the significance of the end of metaphysics as symbolized by the statement of the death of God.

The end of metaphysics discloses itself as the collapse of the reign of the transcendent and the "ideal" that sprang from it. But the end of metaphysics does not mean the cessation of history. It is the beginning of a serious concern with that "event" [Ereignis]: "God is dead."[220]

Heidegger makes a number of further points to indicate the significance of nihilism for his own thought. His remarks on Nietzsche's relation to Descartes reflect an acute embarassment. This is an illustration of Heidegger's arbitrary, often violent reading of views in the philosophical tradition to follow his prior explanatory framework instead of adapting his framework to the views. Since Heidegger's view of Being depends on the rejection of Descartes, in virtue of his conviction of Nietzsche's importance it cannot be that Nietzsche accepts the Cartesian philosophy. Heidegger provides a strained, unconvincing effort to demonstrate that Nietzsche only seems to accept the Cartesian theory since he fails to grasp it. Although Heidegger concedes that Nietzsche adopts Descartes's fundamental philosophical position,[221] that Nietzsche is in fact admittedly rigorously committed to the Cartesian concept of subjectivity,[222] Heidegger nevertheless maintains that Nietzsche holds a different view,[223] since Nietzsche misunderstands the relation of his own view to the Cartesian view.[224]

Heidegger ends his discussion of nihilism with a reaffirmation of the significance of Nietzsche's insight. As in the rectoral address, he maintains that Nietzsche's metaphysical view is insightful for the present historical period. Heidegger here attempts a transition from the thought of Being to a characterization of social being. Unlike Sartre, who held


that Marxism is the philosophy of our time, Heidegger believes that this age is defined by Nietzsche's metaphysics.[225] The leading characteristic of this period is an indifference to the true thought of Being, which has given way to a worldview (Weltananschauung ) concerned with beings as opposed to Being, the decline of metaphysics in the legitimate sense of the term, and the increasing dominion over beings.

In Heidegger's terminology, "worldview" is antithetical to metaphysics in the true sense since through the conjunction of ideas and values the essence of Being, even the distinction between Being and beings, has been lost. For Heidegger, contemporary metaphysics has become a meaningless echo of true metaphysics. The rise of the dominion over beings has only been rendered possible by the emergence of the concept of the worldview at the end of metaphysics. But this result is not due to human being; rather, according to Heidegger it is due to Being itself, which is the cause of the history of being and, as a result, of human history. In the last paragraph, Heidegger writes:

The age of the fulfillment of metaphysics—which we descry when we think through the basic features of Nietzsche's metaphysics—prompts us to consider to what extent we first find ourselves in the history of being. It also prompts us to consider—prior to this—the extent to which we must experience history as the release [Loslassung] of being into machination [Machenschaft]. a release that Being itself sends, so as to allow its truth to become essential for man out of man's belonging to Being.[226]

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