IDENTITY AND DIFFERENCE by Martin Heidegger
I don’t propose to attempt any sort of reply to Martin Heidegger in this article. The purpose of this article is to explain Martin Heidegger’s thoughts, as they are found in the book, Identity and Difference. Martin Heidegger is a difficult thinker to understand, and requires a lot of work to fully appreciate his arguments. My primary goal in this article is to introduce the reader to two very important articles written by Heidegger, and, I hope, to properly explain Heidegger’s views on Being and beings.
This book is composed of two articles written by Martin Heidegger and translated with an introduction by Joan Stambaugh. The first article, The Principle of Identity, is “the unchanged text of a lecture given on the occasion of the 500th anniversary of the University of Freiburg im Breisgau, for the faculty day on June 27, 1957.” The second article The Onto-theo-logical Constitution of Metaphysics, is “the explication that concluded a seminar during the winter semester 1956-57 on Hegel’s Science of Logic. It has in part been revised. The lecture took place on February 24, 1957.”
The first article is essential for understanding a number of themes in the second article. In the first article Heidegger discusses what is commonly known as the Principle of Identity. Most people view this principle as the fundamental principle of logic, and, this is certainly true. What most people don’t realize is that, as Heidegger points out, this principle is primarily (both in importance and in temporal order) a principle of Being. Heidegger notes that traditional portrayal of the principle, A=A, tends to cause confusion because where as “equality” implies 2 terms, “identity” implies only 1 term. As such, he proposes that the principle of identity would be better portrayed as “A is A”. The principle of identity is then seen to refer primarily to that which is, and to truly discuss identity rather than equality. Heidegger then goes on to explain that the principle is primarily claiming that it itself is the same as it itself. Heidegger then explains the history of the notion of identity, beginning with Parmenides, who is thought to have said, “‘for the same perceiving (thinking) as well as being.’” Taking off from Parmenides Heidegger discusses what it could possibly mean for thinking to be the same as, or identical to, Being. This is taken to be the claim that Being and thinking belong together. Heidegger considers what must be meant by “belonging together”, and distinguishes between two approaches to understanding the meaning. The first approach understands the phrase in terms of togetherness, and the second approach understands the phrase in terms of belonging. We are then reminded that the primary characteristic of man is that he is a thinking thing. This drives us into a discussion concerning what it means for man (a thinking thing) to belong together with Being. We are told that the primary characteristic of man, to be a thinking being, just is to be open to Being. Man, then, is primarily a being that is open to Being which is presence. Heidegger tells us that Being can only be made present by Man, but man, through the tradition of Western philosophy has forgotten Being, which has fallen into oblivion. This forgetfulness of Being is what has spawned the modern technological world in which planning and organizing beings is more important that bringing Being to presence. Being and Man are challenged by the modern technological world which brings them face to face in the beings that man secures for his plans, calculations and technology. This challenge is called, by Heidegger, the framework. This framework is where we are brought to the event of appropriation where Being and man are given over to each other, and owned by each other. This event of appropriation provides the possibility for man to truly bring Being to presence, if they are brought together, if Man and being become identical. Thus, this event provides the spring board by which, if appropriated, man will be able to leap out of the western metaphysical tradition, and truly unveil Being – experiencing Being in new ways. Heidegger hopes that the modern technological age will cause the event of appropriation in which man and Being will become identical, and therefore, in which Being will be unconcealed and brought to presence. Of course this can only happen if Man is able to shed the tradition of the West. Heidegger is sceptical that this event will happen quickly.
The second article, though not dependant on the first article, uses some of the main concepts and ideas that are explained in the first article. In the second article Heidegger seeks to explain the onto-theo-logical constitution of Metaphysics, what this means, how it has affected Being, and why, in light of all of this, western Metaphysics has misunderstood Being. Some links between the first article and the second article include the necessity to escape the metaphysical tradition of the West. In the first article Heidegger speaks of a leap out of the tradition. In the second article he speaks of a step back. He also discusses what he calls the ontological difference, which certainly means more in light of his discussion of sameness and identity in the previous article. Finally, we also find a discussion of modern technology in the second article. In order to understand this second article we must first understand some of the key terms. Perdurance means a perpetual bearing up. Arrival means presence or being brought to presence. Overwhelming seems to carry the idea of surrounding and indwelling at the same time – perhaps a mutual grounding and being grounded. Clearing is the place that is created by the Arrival of beings in Being and the Overwhelming of beings by Being. Clearing is, in a sense, the space between Being and being that illustrates the ontological difference of Being and beings which are said to be face to face. The Ontological difference is said to be the difference between Being and beings that underlies all metaphysical thought, but which is never properly analyzed.
When Heidegger says that Metaphysics is onto-theo-logical, he takes the time to explain what he means by this combined word. When he says that Metaphysics is theological, his claim can be divided into two main points: logical and theo. He says, “If science must begin with God, then it is the science of God: theology.” Why is Metaphysics Theo-logical? Because it distinguishes Being and being, and then poses Being as the ultimate ground of all being. This concept of a first cause (ground) is then said to be God. Because Metaphysics deals with Being it is said to be ontology. Thus, Metaphysics is said to be Onto-theo-logical.
Heidegger’s next question is, “How does the Deity enter Philosophy?” In essence, the answer has to do with man’s desires (or interpretation of the Being of being - worldview) and man’s error concerning the ontological difference. In other words, Heidegger is saying that philosophical theology is due to faulty thinking and a preconceived ideas. The first way in which God entered philosophy, according to Heidegger is through the thoughts of the thinker. He says, that if Philosophy is thinking that freely and spontaneously involves itself with beings as beings, then the Deity can only enter philosophy if philosophy requires and determines “that” and “how” the Deity will enter. The idea here is that philosophy as thinking is an activity that is being actively engaged in by the thinker and which concerns beings. As such, the only way that a god of any type could enter philosophy would be if the thinker introduces God into philosophy as he considers the question of beings and Being. Heidegger’s contention is that Metaphysical thinking introduced God as the ultimate being that is the Ground of the Being of all beings, as well as the ground of his own Being. This introduction could only have been due to the thinker bringing God in where there was, according to Heidegger, no need of him.
The second reason why God was introduced into Metaphysics is due to erroneous thinking on the part of the Metaphysicians who, though they were aware of the ontological difference, did not step into the difference, but created a distinction. Once God is introduced into metaphysics as the Being that grounds all beings, including himself, a barrier that is impossible to traverse is set up between beings and Being. Being (God) is seen to be the grounding ground of all beings which are in turn grounded by the ultimate ground. The ontological difference is made into a distinction.
The error of the metaphysicians is to not realise that difference also implies sameness. The difference between Being and beings is not a distinction, it is not a division; rather, it is an opening. It opens up Being to man by letting him see Being in the beings. Being just is the Being of beings and is only known in beings which supremely are. This is where overwhelming and arrival come into play. Being overwhelms beings, and beings bring Being to presence. It should be said, in fact, that whereas Being grounds all beings, beings, in their own way (probably by the fact that they bring Being to presence in the fact that they are) ground Being. Thus there is a constant “circling of Being and beings around each other”. When man is open to the Being of beings, Being arrives in beings. There is, here, no room for the God of philosophy, nor, even, of Christian Theology.
If it is true that Being is nothing more than the Being of beings, then, Heidegger claims, there is either no room for a first ground or cause of all that is, or that first cause is himself one of the beings which comes to presence when man is open to Being. God, then, becomes a being on the same level as all of the others – a being that is possessed by Being. Heidegger concludes, “This ground itself needs to be properly accounted for by that for which it accounts, that is, by the causation through the supremely original matter—and that is the cause as causa sui. This is the right name for the god of philosophy. Man can neither pray nor sacrifice to this god. Before the causa sui, man can neither fall to his knees in awe nor can he play music and dance before this god. The god-less thinking which must abandon the god of philosophy, god as causa sui, is thus perhaps closer to the divine God. Here this means only: god-less thinking is more open to Him than onto-theo-logic would like to admit.”
If Heidegger is right, then philosophical theology is misguided and Christianity a lie. The question, of course, is just this: Is Heidegger right? The Christian philosopher and theologian is left with this question.
Martin Heidegger, Identity and Difference, trans. Joan Stambaugh (1969; repr., Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002), 21.
Martin Heidegger, The Principle of Identity, in Identity and Difference, trans. Joan Stambaugh (1969; repr., Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002), 27. This translation is certainly debatable.
Martin Heidegger, The Onto-theo-logical Constitution of Metaphysics, in Identity and Difference, trans. Joan Stambaugh (1969; repr., Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002), 54.
Ibid., 58-60, 70, 72. I personally see hints of the claim, of René Descartes, that God is self-causing or self-sustaining. (cf. René Descartes, First Reply by Descartes to Caterus, in The Philosophical Works of Descartes, trans. Elizabeth S. Haldane and G. R. T. Ross (1911; repr., Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982), 2:14, 15. René Descartes, Arguments Demonstrating the Existence of God, in The Philosophical Works of Descartes, trans. Elizabeth S. Haldane and G. R. T. Ross (1911; repr., Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982), 2: 55.)