The Wonder of Questioning: Heidegger and the Essence of Philosophy

By Engelland, Chad | Philosophy Today, January 1, 2005 | Go to article overview

The Wonder of Questioning: Heidegger and the Essence of Philosophy


Engelland, Chad, Philosophy Today


In the 1937-38 winter semester lecture course, Basic Questions of Philosophy: Selected "Problems" of "Logic," Heidegger subjects wonder to a prolonged analysis. Within this disposition, philosophers were first granted the subject matter of metaphysics, beings as beings. Curiously, though, wonder carries within itself the cause of its own demise; in wonder, the central philosophical mystery of presence is glimpsed but not thought as such. Philosophers respond to the presencing of beings by maintaining beings in presence; they thereby pass over the presencing that makes such presence possible and itself withdraws. Consequently the mystery of presence recedes from view, and wonder inevitably degrades to mere curiosity about beings: "The beginning contains in itself the unavoidable necessity that, in unfolding, it must surrender its originality."5 By exhibiting the limitation of wonder's beginning, Heidegger aims to overcome today's curiosity and prepare for a new philosophical beginning capable of thinking what was only glimpsed in wonder. In the first beginning, wonder disclosed beings, and now in the intimated other beginning, a new fundamental disposition discloses the mystery that is self-withdrawing. Heidegger designates the one fundamental disposition of the new beginning with a manifold of names: terror, awe, reservedness, and intimation.

The question of the fundamental dispositions of these two beginnings is the question of the essence of philosophy, past and future.6 What I would like to explore here is the relation between these two beginnings. Is it the case that they are discontinuous, so that we would be warranted in speaking about a new essence of philosophy? Or is it rather the case that there is a deep kinship between the two? Put differently: Is wonder simply supplanted or is it rather deepened in the fundamental disposition of the new beginning? I will show here that the shift from the fundamental disposition of the first beginning to that of the other beginning is a deepening of wonder and not its annulment. For Heidegger, the question of the essence of philosophy is nothing other than the question of what is most worthy for thought, and the deepening of wonder makes philosophy more faithful to its proper subject matter and thus more truly what it is.

What are Fundamental Dispositions?

In the analysis of wonder in the Basic Questions lecture course, Heidegger points to two texts for a greater elaboration of fundamental dispositions. The first is Being and Time, but "above all," he says, one should consult his winter semester 1934-35 lecture course on Holderlin, and it is to this latter text that we now turn.7 Heidegger warns that a fundamental disposition is no mere feeling or psychical lived experience. Neither can it be understood based on traditional anthropology, since such determinations can only be made within a fundamental disposition.8 Rather, fundamental dispositions transport Dasein, placing it into the opening of beings as a whole, and thereby grounding it: "The opening of the world happens in the fundamental disposition. The transporting, inserting, and such opening power of the fundamental disposition is with this simultaneously grounding, i.e., it stands Dasein in its ground and before its abyss."9 Heidegger indicates that the ground is "the expanse of beings" and the abyss is "the depth of Being."10 These four essential components-transporting, inserting, opening, and grounding-are in the simplicity of their unity what Heidegger calls "suspendedness" (Ausgesetzheit)11 in the midst of manifest being as a whole, which itself simultaneously requires preservation (Bewahrung) of this openness.

In Basic Questions three years later, Heidegger identifies displacement (Versetzung) as the essential character of a disposition.12 He thinks fundamental dispositions in terms of enowning (Ereignis) and need. This need is not a need of "misery and complaint." Rather it is an overflowing gift, which itself gives rise to the highest form of necessity. …

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