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Basic Principles of Thinking, III of V

Mark Douglas

This one’s on the principle of identity which Heidegger claims to be “the highest law of thought” (p. 108). An example of this is A=A. We’ll use this to find the meaning of identity. Straight away Heidegger tells us that the best plan to understand where we’re going with this topic is to pay attention to the route. That is, mind the path. A=A says the equivalence of A and A. With any equivalence there are two parties in play. But does the principle of identity offer this?

Language time; in Latin, identity is said idem. In Greek, to auto, the same. If we continually say the same, such as, “the plant is a plant” then that’s a tautology, i.e. repetition. Repetition needs only one, not two. Two are needed for equivalence, but not repetition. So there’s a problem with the principle of identity if it’s meant to say every A is the same as itself. A = A says every A is equal to another A. It does not say, every A is equal to itself.

Heidegger brings Plato to the path. Plato can help us understand the identical. We can do it with stasis and kinesis; “standstill and transformation” (p. 109). In Sophist, Plato has the Stranger say something to the effect of, “each something is itself given back to itself, every self is the same—namely for it itself, with it itself” (p. 109). [I don’t have it yet, but I sense that autopoiesis is at work.] So the principle of identity becomes A is A. This does not mean that every A is itself the same, “but rather every A is itself with itself the same” (p. 109).

The path gets hard to trace at this point. Here goes. The quality that makes something itself the same with itself is different than the quality the makes something the same, full stop. Making something the same is repetition. Making something the same with itself is synthesis. “In sameness there lies this relationship of the with, thus a mediation, a binding, a synthesis, a unification in unity” (p.109). The unity is not mere monotony.  Any realization of the relational nature of identity has been occluded. In Heidegger’s day, following the work of speculative idealism, it was “forbidden for thinking to conceive the unity of identity in a merely empty manner as sheer monotony and to disregard the synthesis and mediation reigning in this unity” (p.109-110). This means that now it was okay to say A is A instead of A equals A. But this is still abstract and empty. Stay on the path. The reason A is A is hollow is because A is A says is, ontically. This means, mere A is A takes is (being) as an entity and not being. Better then, to say A is A, ontologically.

So the principle of identity truly invokes being. It invokes being to say “every being is, namely, it itself the same with itself” (p. 110). Every entity is in mediation with itself through bounded and unified unity. While it sounds strange, this principle of identity is crucial to Western thinking. Scientists rely upon the assumption that objects of inquiry remain essentially identically constituted and composed throughout scientific engagement. Every entity is unified with itself.

Staying on the path, let’s go back in time to Parmenides’ day. In that day, identity, to auto, the identical, speaks in excess. One of Parmenides’ fragments says “ ‘The same, namely, is perceiving (thinking) as well as also being’ “(p. 111). Parmenides does not say that identity belongs to being (what we came to earlier in the previous paragraph). Parmenides tells us that “Being belongs with thinking in the same” (p.  111). Before, we said identity was a basic characteristic of being. Parmenides is telling us that “[b]eing is defined by an identity as a characteristic of identity. Before it was identity as derivative from being. Parmenides says being (and thinking) derives from identity. This means that we have lost track of what Parmenides meant by to auto, aka idem aka identity aka the same. Heidegger tells us that we can leave to auto in the dark.  Onward the path we go.

From Parmenides we conclude the identity of thinking and being. Thinking and being are connected in that the two belong-together. This is not the essence of thinking and being, though. If we emphasize the together of the belonging-together then belonging depends upon being together. In this case, "belonging means to be assigned to and classified under the gathering of a together" (p. 112). In this sense, belonging is fitting into or linking into a systematic grid; being a connection, nexus, connexio. Another way to lay this belonging-together out is by emphasizing belonging. This has togetherness on the basis of belonging. In this case, the condition of the possibility of together is belonging. Let's spell this out.

If belonging is the condition of the possibility of belonging-together, we are led to ask what belongs, i.e. what belongs together. Thinking and being belong together. Now, if the condition of the possibility for humanity is thinking and thinking and being belong together, humanity belongs together with being.  This path seduces us into now thinking the essence of being but beware. Instead of getting at thinking human being or being at all through humanity or being, better to come to it through the belonging-together of thinking, being, and humanity. In this way, making belonging our entry point, we stand interstitially among thinking, being, and humanity.

Humans are the beings that have being understood. Humans are sensitive to being. What makes a human a human is thinking. Thinking and being belong together. Therefore the human is the belonging-together itself of being and thinking; being >< human >< thinking. "In the human essence there reigns a belonging to being, a belonging that hearkens to being because it is delivered into the ownership of this" (pp. 113-114). All this is meant to solidify the immersion of the human being combination. "The human and being are pervaded by belonging-to-one-another" (p. 114). Remember that together is mere connection and belonging is an interstitial merger. It is not a knot tied from the tail ends of either being or from humanity. That is mere representational thinking.

We must principle ourselves on the grounds of saying (satz) and setting ourselves apart from representational thinking. This is a leap away from being as the ground of beings. That would be falling prey to a stylized notion of being. Where do we leap to? We leap into our ownmost emergence within being. We merge within being; "into a belonging to being, but a being that itself belongs to us in that only with us can it essence, i.e., presence, as being" (p. 114).

This is the story about what it takes to realize that we are always already immersed in a representational style of being. The pre-Socratic style was one that represented being as phusis. The Platonic style that bled into Rome represented being as form. This had being as Lego bricks to be ordered and productively arranged. The medieval style had being as godly creation. The enlightenment had being as objectivity cognitivized by subjects. The moderns have being as ordered willing. That is, the atomic age; technicity.

Heidegger then makes a call to set aside all technological urgency. Instead, “let us attend to the claim under which there stands not only the human, but all beings, nature and history, in respect to their being” (p. 116). Technological urgency challenges us to plan and calculate all things logistically. See my earlier post featuring UPS’s I heart logistics campaign. Not only are we caught up in the urgency of technology, but being is caught as well. The paradigm constitutes all things so that they show up in the light of logistical reckoning. The technological urgency is characterized by positionality. “Positionality is the collection of standards for all setting, placing, and ordering, wherein the human and being concernfully approach one another” (p. 116). Heidegger then goes on about the event of appropriation (Ereignis). His point is that humanity and being are inseparably belonging together  along with thinking; being >< human >< thinking. The challenge is that thinking is nearly entirely enveloped in the urgency of technology. “Event of appropriation names the letting belong that is to be thought from it, and thus the authentic letting belong that brings the human and being into the ownership of each other” (my italics, p. 117).

Through the event of appropriation humanity and being “belong in a togetherness. Belonging now means brought into ownership, delivered into ownership. The event of appropriation is the realm, resonating in itself, through which the human and being reach one another in their essence, and achieve their essencing by losing those definitions that metaphysics has loaned to them” (p. 118). We have to create and preserve the mutuality among being >< human >< thinking by way of discourse. Discourse gives us the means by which we can create, practice, and preserve the resonance among being >< human >< thinking. How does thing hang with the principle of identity?

The self-same resonance of the event of appropriation interactively attunes being >< human >< thinking in togetherness. The urgency of technology as manifested in the momentum of logistical thinking hints at the resonant power of the event of appropriation. The urgency of technology (positionality) gives humanity a clue into its righteous interrelation to being >< thinking. Parmenides gave us our best clue into the being >< thinking semblance and sameness. This sameness is what is meant by identity. The to auto as “the same” still puzzles us. We can only solve the puzzle if we find the condition of the possibility of belonging-together in belonging. Identity is exemplified by, that is, its essence is found the belonging-together of thinking and being. Thinking and being are in identity. The essence of humanity is thinking. Thinking and humanity are in identity. Therefore, being >< human >< thinking is an identity. And being >< human >< thinking stands forth as the event of appropriation. The place held by the event of appropriation is the essence of identity.

The event of appropriation is the condition of the possibility of being >< human >< thinking and is therefore a precursor to identity. If only we could realize how the event of appropriation, as the condition of the possibility for being >< human >< thinking, is presently infused by technological urgency, we could truly “clear a path along which the human would more inceptually experience beings, the whole of the modern technological world, nature and history, and above all, the being of all of this” (p. 120). This means that if we caught sight of the device paradigm and noticed how it orchestrates and choreographs the way of the world, then we could find truth in our relation to being. Finding this truth would allow us to celebrate and resonately attune ourselves to the vibrancy of existence