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Heidegger, Misch, and the “Origins” of Philosophy

Introduction to philosophy: One or myriad beginnings?

Discourses of what should and should not count as philosophy can be contextualized by interpreting them as temporally constituted phenomena, with their own rules of inclusion and exclusion, differing according to social- historical circumstances and the openness and closure of the hermeneutical horizon to intercultural encounter and dialogue. Such historically oriented contextualizing approaches to philosophy risk becoming “just so” historical retellings of arbitrary opinions or sociological theories of subjective worldviews and relative social systems of knowledge, which remain external to the immanent and internally motivating questions of the validity and truth of the thought that are independent of the factical biographical thinker and the idea’s transitory social-historical conditions. This suspicion of contextualization was raised by Martin Heidegger, in a comment that might seem prescient given his own problematic biography, when he stated in a 1924 lecture course on Aristotle that it is sufficient biographical information about the philosopher to state that he lived and thought: “Regarding the personality of a philosopher, our only interest is that he was born at a certain time, that he worked, and that he died.”1 The philosopher’s biography and the empirical historical conditions of the philosopher’s life cannot illuminate but rather obscure and displace the more originary historicity of philosophical questioning in which thinking thinks the thinker and language speaks the speaker.

Heidegger and his student Hans-Georg Gadamer continue to be at the center of standard accounts of the character, tasks, and scope of hermeneutics as a philosophical instead of a philological enterprise. Heidegger in the 1920s and Gadamer in Truth and Method were motivated to critically redefine and rethink hermeneutics against its earlier nineteenth-century incarnations in

Schleiermacher and Dilthey. In particular, the internal moment of philosophical truth as the disclosure of world and language is intended to overcome the social- scientific, context- and biographical-oriented study of philosophy associated with Dilthey and his learned studies in modern European intellectual and cultural biography and history.

Dilthey and Misch, who as noted in Chapter 1 wrote the pioneering History of Autobiography that included Arabic, Chinese, and “non-Western” sources, emphasized the unique personal adaptation to and configuration of natural and social-historical forces in the living and cultivation (Bildung) of a concrete individual life. In this immanent and personalist species of life-philosophy (Lebensphilosophie), the conception of life encompasses more than the general physical, organic, and historical features of life shared by each and all; it is more fundamentally an indication of a life in its singularity. It is here in the conditional and contingent circumstances of a life—forming a singular life-context or nexus (Lebenszusammenhang)—that self-reflection and philosophizing in doubt and wonder commence and unfold in contrast to the vision of a beginning originating in a primordial experience of being or truth detached from individual and social-historical life in its conditional and ontic facticity.

Hermeneutics cannot be detached from the interpersonal relation in Dilthey and Misch, as it is defined as the art of interpersonal understanding and interpretation that proceeds toward others through their behaviors, expressions, objectifications, and monuments. The interpretive art has been cultivated in multiple ways in various cultural situations. The cultivation of hermeneutics outside the West encompasses—Misch notes—the Chinese Confucian literati traditions.2 The disagreement between a contextualizing intersubjective and an ontological hermeneutics has a number of implications for the question: What is philosophy? In both cases, the response to the question of what is and is not considered to be philosophy is articulated in relation to an understanding of interpretation itself and the philosophy of history. Philosophy as the history of truth interpreted as unconcealment and disclosure, as the metaphysical concealment and displacement of its first Greek beginning, can uniquely originate in archaic Pre-Socratic Greece. Philosophy as the fateful destining of being culminates in the current impoverishment and plight of being, in the homelessness and disenchantment of modern technological Western civilization. The East and the South only derivatively participate in Heideggers history of being to the extent that they are increasingly assimilated through the planetary advance of the technological world- picture—and its destructive reduction of beings to instrumental calculation— which originates in the Greek experience of nature asphysis (фите;).3

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