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Now I want to introduce as a parenthesis a brief reflection on Heidegger. I hope the relevance will soon appear as obvious.

Heidegger argues that Western philosophy has come to the end of its tether. By 'Western philosophy' he means everything, from Parmenides and Heraclitus through to Nietzsche. He doesn't regard Christianity as marking a significant change in the overall movement - he accepts Nietzsche's view that Christianity is 'Platonism for the masses'. So Christianity - by which he means entirely Western Christianity, Catholic and Protestant - participates in what Heidegger sees as the fundamental flaw in the whole Western tradition.

This is the tendency to understand Being (Being-as-a-whole) as in itself a sort of being and therefore to understand beings, including ourselves and all the many wonders with which we are surrounded, in the light of a superior Being - an 'essence' or an 'idea' - which obstructs our awareness of the real enormity, the real otherness - the 'abyss' - of what Heidegger then calls (to distinguish it from the common Western idea of Being) Beyng, 'Seyn' instead of 'Sein'. (16)

(16)  'even in intending beyng a mere being is represented and is depicted as what is most general in all representation. Thus being ... is only the thinnest rarefaction of beings and is itself still a being, though indeed the one that is most eminently - since every being is determined in relation to it' Martin Heidegger: Contributions to Philosophy, Indiana University Press, 2012, §266, p.367. By contrast, when we have succeeded in overcoming 'metaphysics'. 'the uniqueness of beyng will come to occur essentially in a correspondingly unique strangeness and obscurity.' Ibid., §265, p.364. 

Heidegger uses the term 'ontic' to characterise the study of beings and on first acquaintance one might think Heidegger is complaining that we are neglecting the 'ontological' (the study of Being) to concentrate too much on the ontic. But actually his complaint is that the ontological, as commonly understood, i.e. the search for an 'essence' of beings which is other than and superior to the beings, obscures the ontic. In proper 'Platonic' fashion we no longer see the tree, we see what we think is the essence of the tree, an intellectual abstraction which facilitates machination - the technological exploitation of the tree.

It should be said that Heidegger continues to regard the Western ontological tradition, from Parmenides through to Nietzsche, with the greatest affection and respect. It is in itself a legitimate historical cycle. But it has accomplished all that it can do. It is time for 'another beginning', only possible on the basis of a thorough understanding of the 'first beginning'.

This new beginning - this new approach to the 'being' of the world - is not based on logical deduction from the appearances of the world. The 'thinking' recommended by Heidegger is much more a question of putting the mind into a state of receptivity to the 'truth' of being understood not as a correct hypothesis but as the 'unconcealment' (according to Heidegger the original meaning of the Greek word usually translated as 'truth') of being. It is thus closer to what we might call 'revelation' though not in the sense in which the word is used when people talk of the Bible as revelation. Heidegger may well have some sympathy for John Romanides when he says:

'Neither the Bible nor the writings of the Fathers are revelation or the word of God. They are about the revelation and about the word of God. Revelation is the appearance of God to the prophets, apostles, and saints. The Bible and the writings of the Fathers are about these appearances, but not the appearances themselves. This is why it is the prophet, apostle, and saint who sees God, and not those who simply read about their experiences of glorification. It is obvious that neither a book about glorification nor one who reads such a book can ever replace the prophet, apostle, or saint who has the experience of glorification.' (17)

(17)  Romanides: Franks, Romanism, Feudalism, p.40. 

The reader may recognise a similarity between Heidegger's non-deductive approach to 'the Being of beings' and the 'true understanding of each thing' evoked in the passage I have quoted from Maximus the Confessor.  Thus Heidegger, reflecting on the meaning of the Old English word 'thanc', which combines the meanings of 'think' and 'thanks', can say:

'The thanc means man's inmost mind, the heart, the heart's core, that innermost essence of man which reaches outward most fully and to the outermost limits and most decisively that, rightly considered, the idea of an inner and outer world does not arise ...

' Only because we are by nature gathered in contiguity can we remain concentrated on what is at once present and past and to come. The word "memory" originally means this incessant concentration on contiguity. In its original telling sense, memory means as much as devotion. This word possesses the special tone of the pious and piety, and designates the devotion of prayer, only because it denotes the all-comprehensive relation of concentration upon the holy and gracious. The thanc unfolds in memory, which persists as devotion. Memory in this originary sense later loses its name to a restricted denomination, which now signifies no more than the capacity to retain things that are in the past. (18)

(18)  Elsewhere - Martin Heidegger: The Essence of Truth - On Plato's Cave Allegory and Theaetatus', London, Bloomsbury, 2002, p.234 - he reminds us that 'Mnemosyne', the Greek word usually translated 'memory', is the Mother of the Muses, which he translates as 'neither recollection nor memory but keeping-in-mind'. 'For the Greeks the Muses enable the singer or artist to visualise and freely form his work in its entire fulness, prior to and without the help of any outline.'

'But if we understand memory in the light of the old word thanc, the connection between memory and thanks will dawn on us at once. For in giving thanks, the heart in thought recalls where it remains gathered and concentrated because that is where it belongs. This thinking that recalls in memory is the original thanks.' (19)


(19)   Martin Heidegger: What is called thinking? New York, Harper Perennial, 2004 (published in German in 1954).