Verendlichung (Finitization): The Overcoming of Metaphysics with Life

By Lawlor, Leonard | Philosophy Today, Winter 2004 | Go to article overview

Verendlichung (Finitization): The Overcoming of Metaphysics with Life


Lawlor, Leonard, Philosophy Today


Like so many written during the last fifty years, this text attempts to think with Heidegger and beyond Heidegger. To think with Heidegger means that we must still concern ourselves with the task of overcoming metaphysics. What is metaphysics? From Heidegger, we know that metaphysics consists in a persistent confusion between beings and being. If we want to overcome metaphysics, this confusion must be dispelled; beings and being must be dis-ambiguated; in other words, the ontological difference must be established. But, we can make the concept of metaphysics more precise. In the history of metaphysics, the confusion appears in two general forms: Platonism and Cartesianism. In Platonism, the confusion occurs in the copying relation of particulars and universal forms; in Cartesianism, the confusion occurs in the recognition relation of particulars and general representations. Therefore, the overcoming of metaphysics can occur only through a re-conceptualization of the particulars below the level of both universal formality and general representation. They, that is, the beings, must be conceived no longer as particular, but as singular. In order to be truly different, they must no longer be recognizable as copies of something general.

But, we are going to attempt to go beyond Heidegger.1 In order to do this, I am going to follow an insight that Michel Haar has given us in his Heidegger and the Essence of Man. Haar tells us that there is an opening in Heidegger's thought beyond metaphysics and indeed beyond the thought of being.2 The opening, according to Haar, is contained in the following sentence: "We are so finite that we cannot even bring ourselves originally before the nothing through our own determination and will. So abyssaly [abgründig] does finitization [Verendlichung] entrench itself that our most proper and deepest limitation [Endlichkeit] refuses to yield to our freedom."3 In order, however, to pursue the opening in Heidegger's thought, and this is my thesis here, it is necessary to understand Verendlichung by means of a new notion of life. The thesis is: we can overcome metaphysics only with life. As we are going to see, this turn to life does not consist in a return to vitalism or to Lebensphilosophie, with its concept of Erlebnis. Instead, the overcoming of metaphysics with life results in, coining a new English word, "life-ism."4

Now the quote that I just presented containing the word "Verendlichung" comes from Heidegger's 1929 inaugural address "What is Metaphysics?" We are going to start with this text. But, in order to go through this opening, we are going to follow Foucault. What Heidegger calls "Verendlichung," in "What is Metaphysics," it seems to me, refers us to a process of life that only Foucault has described. This description occurs in The Birth of the Clinic? when Foucault discusses the French early nineteenth century biologist Xavier Bichat. Thus, after examining Heidegger's "What is Metaphysics?" in order to find the opening, we shall look at Foucault's discussions of Bichat in order to go beyond Heidegger to life. As I said at the beginning, this text attempts to think with Heidegger and beyond him. One might wonder what unifies this "with" and "beyond," in other words, what unifies Heidegger and Foucault. It seems to me that both of these great thinkers are unified by the attempt to keep the question of who we are open. They are both concerned to transform us. As we are going to see, at the very end, the opening that Verendlichung presents transforms us into being "les suivants," literally, "the followers."

Confusion (Verwechslung)

Before turning to Heidegger's 1929 inaugural address, "What is Metaphysics?" we must assemble three points from the other Heidegger texts surrounding "What is Metaphyscs?" These texts are "On the Essence of Grounds," written in 1928; the lecture course from the academic year 1929-30 called The Fundamental Concepts of Metaphysics: World, Finitude, Solitude;6 the Postscript that Heidegger added to "What is Metaphysics? …

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