The Influence of Schleiermacher's Second Speech on Religion on Heidegger's Concept of Ereignis

By Jensen, Alexander S. | The Review of Metaphysics, June 2008 | Go to article overview

The Influence of Schleiermacher's Second Speech on Religion on Heidegger's Concept of Ereignis


Jensen, Alexander S., The Review of Metaphysics


MARTIN HEIDEGGER'S CONCEPT OF THE EREIGNIS has fascinated and puzzled interpreters of his philosophy. The strangeness of this concept is illustrated by the number of different translations. It has been rendered as "event of appropriation," "enowning," "happening," and "emergence" (1)--and this list of translations is far from complete. Various explanations for the background of this term have been given, including the Eastern concept of Tao.

In this essay, I suggest that Heidegger's use of Ereignis is rooted in the young Heidegger's study of Schleiermacher's speeches On Religion in 1917. In the second speech, Schleiermacher speaks of a "mysterious moment," in which an individual thing is immediately perceived in relation to the universe. Only in a second stage is this immediate perception conceptualized. The same structure, as I am going to argue, can be found in the revelation of Being in the Ereignis, which is later conceptualized as Lauten des Wortes.

Given Heidegger's reading of Schleiermacher at a formative stage of his life and the great similarities in Schleiermacher's and Heidegger's thought in this area, one may claim that the similarities are not accidental. I am not going to argue that Schleiermacher's "mysterious moment" is the only source of Heidegger's Ereignis. Nevertheless, I believe that although these later influences on Heidegger were signigicant in shaping his understanding of Ereignis, this took place on the basis of his earlier understanding gained through his reading of Schleiermacher's Speeches.

The insights presented in this essay will have a number of implications. First of all, it will provide a relatively straightforward reading of the otherwise inaccessible and obscure material. Second, it will highlight the continuity of Heidegger's thought in a key-area of his philosophy throughout his lifetime. Third, it will present valuable insights into the nature of reference and meaning in existentialist philosophy. Finally, it will anchor Heidegger's thought closely in the German Romantic tradition.

I

It is interesting to observe that most authors do not venture to give a definition of Ereignis. Kockelmans's insightful study of Heidegger's later philosophy, for example, first observes that Ereignis "expresses the process in which Being appropriates to man his essence in order to appropriate him thus to itself." (2) Later, he points out that "the ontological difference, the difference of Being and beings, issues forth from the appropriating event [Ereignis]." (3) Consequently, Ereignis is "Being as such." (4) Kockelmans goes on to explore the notion of Being as "the clearing process by which things are lit up so that they can emerge as what they are." (5) Finally, this clearing, or coming-to-pass of truth also has a negative aspect: "Being, giving rise to beings, must withdraw at the very moment that it reveals itself." (6)

In one respect, Kockelmans's description of the Ereignis is quite characteristic of the majority of interpretations of this concept. He describes what Ereignis does, yet he does not explain how it does it. There is, as it were, a void in the center of Ereignis.

Some interesting additional insights are offered by Hans Jaeger. He points out that the Ereignis is closely related to the "fourfold"--the four "regions" of earth, sky, divinities and mortals, on which all meaningful relations of being are founded. In this context, Jaeger refers to an occasional remark by Heidegger, in which Heidegger suggests that we "should think the Ereignis as the center of the Fourfold." (7) Jaeger connects this remark with Heidegger's notion of the word "Being" crossed through, as introduced in "On the Question of Being."

Being

Heidegger explains this notion: "From what has been said, the sign of this crossing through cannot, however, be the merely negative sign of a crossing out. It points, rather, towards the four regions of the fourfold and their being gathered in the locale of this crossing through. …

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