Academic journal article Philosophy Today

Heidegger's Phenomenology of the Greek Gods

Academic journal article Philosophy Today

Heidegger's Phenomenology of the Greek Gods

Article excerpt

Martin Heidegger's long career shows a variety of engagements with philosophical thought on religion. Recent scholarship on this aspect of Heidegger's thought typically examines one of the two principal thematic strands of his engagement with this subject. Some scholars are interested in Heidegger's writing from the early 1 920s on the phenomenology of religious life, in which Heidegger shows a strong interest in religious authenticity and the concept of the holy.1 Others studying Heidegger and religion have looked to the later post-Being and Time writings on topics such as the fourfold, human dwelling, and Heidegger's engagement with gods, the holy, and the divine in Hölderlin.2 A few recent texts have also appeared that seek to account for the progression and guiding threads of Heidegger's views on religion from his early studies to his later works.1 On this note there is also some disagreement regarding whether one can discern in Heidegger a unified, consistent view of religion, or whether his various analyses of religion remain subordinate to his larger philosophical concerns.4

Notably absent from the significant work that has been done in the last two decades on Heidegger's philosophy of religion is any sustained consideration of whether Heidegger's writings on the gods of the presocratics should be viewed as studies of religious themes, or whether he understands these gods in an altogether different frame of reference. This paper seeks to comprehend Heidegger's understanding of the Greek gods in his work on Heraclitus and Parmenides from the early 1940s. My point of orientation is the lecture courses he gave on these figures between 1942 and 1944, with specific focus on the Heraclitus course of summer 1 943. A larger goal of this paper is to lay some groundwork for future scholarship regarding how Heidegger's engagement with the Greek gods - and what is traditionally seen as Greek "religion" - squares with his broader views on the religious. Some work has made reference to the religious dimensions of Heidegger's reading of Parmenides.5 But there is an especially large absence in the scholarship concerning Heidegger's understanding of gods in Heraclitus, particularly in view of the central role gods play in Heidegger's reading. The continued lack of availability of Heidegger's Heraclitus lecture courses in English translation has no doubt led scholars to overlook their significance for this area of Heidegger research.6 In addition, one could argue that Heidegger's longavailable writings on Hölderlin, and on this poet's attempts to regain for modernity the spirit of the Greek experience, have overshadowed what Heidegger expresses in his own voice on the ancient gods.7

The main challenge in Heidegger's account of the Greek gods that I wish to reckon with stems from some assertions he makes at the beginning of the summer 1943 Heraclitus course. He states that "there is no Greek 'religion'" and also "no Greek 'theology'" (GA 55, 13-14).8 This claim would likely be less problematic if, for instance, Heidegger were to suggest alongside that the Greeks of Heraclitus' time are simply secular or that they already understand gods metaphysically. What is puzzling, however, is that Heidegger holds Heraclitus and the Greeks to have gods that show themselves in ordinary spheres of experience (GA 55, 1 3). Heidegger justifies this initial claim about a lack of Greek religion by asserting that gods are not objects of a faith but instead are entirely present for the Greeks in a way foreign to modern sensibilities. The questions that arise from these claims are the following: how is one to regard Heraclitus' gods within a non-religious framework? And more generally, how does Heidegger understand the role of the Greek gods? Heidegger gives some attention to these questions at the 1943 course's end, arguing that gods function as a specific manifestation of Being revealed as f?s??. But he leaves significant interpretive work to the reader. …

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