Academic journal article Philosophy Today

Hans-Georg Gadamer's Platonic Destruktion of the Later Heidegger

Academic journal article Philosophy Today

Hans-Georg Gadamer's Platonic Destruktion of the Later Heidegger

Article excerpt

In a 1923 Freiburg lecture, Martin Heidegger stated emphatically: Hermeneutik ist Destruktion!1 While this striking assertion may need to be discounted as an example of what Hans-Georg Gadamer calls Heidegger's "pedagogical overstatement,"2 the idea that the one concept is equivalent to the other suggests the possibility that Gadamer's own appropriation and development of early-Heideggerian hermeneutics can be viewed in terms of an application of earlyHeideggerian Destruktion.3 In fact, Gadamer has mentioned that this particular course was the first lecture course of Heidegger's he attended.4 In this essay my contention is that, with the help of Plato, Gadamer tacitly but effectively applies the early-Heideggerian project of Destruktion to the later Heidegger himself. Thus he has described his project in Truth and Method as bringing the later Heidegger to language again in terms of hermeneutical consciousness.5 By so doing, he does not so much "urbanize the Heideggerian landscape," in Habermas' famous phrase, as reinscribe it with his own life-long focus on the question of the human good-exactly where Heidegger so disastrously went astray.

This Destruktion represents a stunning achievement, one ofthe most creative uses of Platonism in twentieth-century philosophy. In the same way that Gadamer credits Holderlin with providing the positive stimulus and voice for the later Heidegger's thinking,6 Plato must be credited for providing positive stimulus and countervoice to the later Heidegger for Gadamer's thinking. In the end, much of the difference between these two thinkers may be traced to the contrasting inspirations of the German poet and the Greek philosopher.


Destruktion, the name the early Heidegger gave to his project of working through the history of philosophy, may in retrospect have been a misleading choice of terms. As Gadamer has pointed out, the German word does not have the negative connotations of its English or French cognates.7 In Gadamer's reading, Heidegger uses the term to refer above all to an activity that characterizes all authentic thinking: the rejuvenation of conceptual language.8 By dismantling or destructuring the reified, "technical" vocabulary of philosophy as it has become "sedimented" in the tradition, it becomes possible for the original insights of living language to reappear. This reflects the hermeneutical turn in Heidegger's application of phenomenology to the history of philosophy.9

Although this is by no means the final word on Heidegger's purposes, even to Gadamer,10 it is consistent with the early Heidegger's own remarks on the subject.11 The most famous statement of this is Section 6 of Being and Time, entitled "The Task of Destroying the History of Ontology," where he describes the goal of Destruktion in terms of regaining access to the ("in part") genuinely primordial experiences transmitted through tradition.12 In the 1922 "Aristotle Introduction," which Gadamer describes as having affected him "like an electric shock,"13 Heidegger characterizes Destruktion as a "dismantling return towards the primordial motive sources of explication," which is "the authentic path upon which the present must encounter itself in its own basic movements."14 Thus Heidegger's Destruktion of major figures in the history of Western thought, from Aristotle to Kierkegaard, represent not so much critique as, in Gadamer's words, "incomparable renewal" of the tradition.15 In his interpretations of the theological and philosophical thinkers of the West, Heidegger brought the language of the tradition back to life and repeated or "reinscribed" it with the unmistakable stamp of his own original expres sion. 16 Gadamer says that it was for a time impossible to tell the difference between the old and the new, so complete was Heidegger's apparent fusion of Aristotle in particular with his own way of thinking.17

Plato occupies a special, even anomalous position in this early-Heideggerian project of dismantling-cum-reinscription. …

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