A Thematic Unity for Heidegger's Was Heisst Denken?
ABSTRACT: This essay is primarily an analysis of Heidegger's Was Heisst Denken? I aim to provide a thematic unity for this enigmatic text, thereby rendering Heidegger's thoughts on thinking more available to those investigating the nature of human rationality and thinking. The procedure is to gather together some of the sundry themes and puzzling features resolved by unpacking this sentence: 'Most thought-provoking in our thought-provoking time is that we are still not thinking.' The chief results of this study include the establishment of a global logic to the text, the identification of 'being-thoughtful' as the proper phenomenon to be studied, and receptivity ('listening for what calls for thinking') as the distinguishing mark of the thoughtful.
Perhaps it is a sign of the times that precisely this work, of all my publications, is the least read. (1)
This remark by Martin Heidegger about Was Heisst Denken? is puzzling given that in the same interview he suggests that the most important issue facing us is the confrontation with what thinking is. If Heidegger is correct, then why does Was Heisst Denken? not rank among the most read of his works? Is it because we are unaware of the importance of encountering thinking? Because we believe already to understand thinking (e.g., thinking is "having thoughts")? (2) Either of these proposed explanations, it should be noted, would not startle Heidegger; he anticipated them in Was Heisst Denken? An explanation that he does not consider, however, is that Was Heisst Denken? is itself puzzling and stands in some need of critical clarification.
In this essay I present an analysis of Heidegger's Was Heisst Denken? The aim is to provide a thematic unity for this enigmatic text, and thereby to render Heidegger's thoughts on thinking more available to those investigating the nature of human rationality and thinking. I proceed by enumerating some of the puzzling features of the text, and included among them are the ambiguity intentionally built into the German title and the odd fact that Nietzsche and Parmenides take center stage in a series of lectures--which collected form the text--on thinking. The main thesis of my analysis is that one particularly promising way of showing how the twenty-one lectures hang together is by unpacking this sentence:
Most thought-provoking in our thought-provoking time is that we are still not thinking. (3)