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Basic Principles of Thinking, IV of V

Mark Douglas

We go back to lecture II. Let’s talk about this old text in one of Plato’s dialogues. Socrates wants to talk about “to what is seemly and unseemly of writing and the written” (p. 122). Then we have a whole mess of Socrates saying things about Egypt and gods. Theuth was a god and he figured out number and calculation. Thamus was a king (aka god Ammon). Thamus didn’t like writing. Theuth thought it was gonna be great. Theuth said it would make people forgetful. “For it will produce forgetfulness in the soul of those who learn it through neglect of the memory—from trust in writing they will recollect externally, through foreign figures, not internally from what is their own.” Thamus didn’t want anything to do with the representational realizations. Socrates then waxes on about writing. Writing has an uncanny aspect to it. Writing tends to be monotonous.

Heidegger then reminds of lecture II and the intent of path building for thinking. The primary modality of thinking at the time (and nowadays) is calculative and dialectical. Thinking is now grounded in rationality. That lecture said that logic was the best signpost for us. Thinking is much more of a crucial engagement that reckoning and rationalizing. Because “thinking pervades our essence, i.e., the relation of being in itself to us. Experienced in this way, thinking means letting be, namely, letting the being be in its being. So experienced, thinking also first gives a playspace to poetizing. So experienced, thinking requires for itself a way of its own, more in the sense of a melody, the performers of which are called thinkers” (p. 126).

The title says basic principles in regards to thinking. This means “how we hold ourselves in thinking, in what way we let ourselves into thinking and engage with thinking” (p. 126). But if we think we will merely surmount nihilism we are surely mistaken. Now we need to review the entire lecture course thus far. The grounded saying of thinking (grundsatzen denken), i.e., their basic principles as a title speaks to us. “[I]t attempts to transform what is written back into something heard, and that which is heard, however, into something caught sight of….We only know what has been seen, knowing taken in the ancient sense that says: having seen and retaining what was seen, namely as something that continually regards us….the ‘idea’ is that outward appearance of things from which they regard us, the humans” (p. 127). This is not simply a notion of vision and appearance. “Outward appearance is the sense of ιδεα is no rigid vision, but rather the wafting of χάρις, of grace” (p. 127). With that I want to emphasize the notion of grace as the clearance granted in virtue of which somebody is co-present with something. The ideal of the thing is the clearance granted in virtue of its existence as an existent.

So now we have a threefold structure of what is meant by laying out the basic principles (ground sayings) of thinking. “1. A double meaning; 2. An ambiguity; 3. A transformation of sense” (p. 128).

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First the double meaning. This “concerns the genitive” so ground sayings of thinking objectively means “those laws to which thinking remains subordinated as their object.” Taken subjectively, the genitive says that the ground sayings of thinking “are the regulations posited by thinking itself” (p. 129) For thinking to put forth or posit means that the thinking itself is laying out the ground rules. But there is twofold meaning. Thinking is the laws on the basis of which there is thinking as well as the laws of thinking laid out in themselves. “Thinking goes and stands in a light that, to all appearances, it itself has ignited. Yet at the same time thinking thereby enters a shadow that, by virtue of the capacities loaned to thinking each time, it can never catch sight of. It is a mistake to define thinking as rationality. To do so is to reflect absolutely within subjectivity. Whatever remains as unreflected upon is then taken to be dim-witted. The unthought is not dim-witted; it is simply lying in a blind spot.  

Now we get more on the analogies among light and thinking. The problem is when we only pay attention to the presence of thinking as lighting without considering darkness as the reversal of lighting. Darkness or shadow is not the complete absence of light full stop but is rather the occlusion of light. We cannot forget “the shadowing from which thinking stems” (p. 130). One way we talk of light and thinking is by way of reflection and representation. We see a pipe on a chair. We gather that what we see is a pipe before us as seen from our vantage point or aspect. The pipe is “optically given” and if we come to conclude merely that it is optically given then we rest with the insight that “objects present themselves to us ever only in a particular aspect” (p. 130). Aspect depends on vantage point and vantage point “is a way of our representing. The particular aspect of the object lets us reflect upon our vantage point” (p. 130). With this equation all that would be left is to sum up all the vantage points as the total representational dimension of the object.

“Nevertheless, if we think of the mentioned objects as things, if we experience them commemoratively, then they do not refer us to our vantage points and representations, instead they hint at a world from out of which they are what they are” (p. 131). World is no small term here. World is weighty for Heidegger. The next example is of Cezanne and his paintings again and again of a mountain. “The painter paints what he hears as the appeal of the essence of things.” There is subtle difference here. Mere representational comportment considers only what is before somebody. Reflective comportment “poses what presences both before itself and toward itself” in terms of the object. Reflective comportment and thinking regards the perspective of oneself from the standpoint of the thing and the perspective of the thing from oneself. Reflective comportment is grounded in the world and is an interstitial stance. “[R]eflection means the shining back upon thinking of what is thought in thinking and, conversely, of thinking upon what is thought. “[T]hinking can even draw the circle along which it revolves around itself in orbiting” (p. 131). This means that thinking is at a third order removal. First order would be the prelogos. Second order is the logos of saying. Third order is the dialogos of thinker with the logos of what is thought.

Long passage against the grounding of Marxist thought as second order dialectic (intrastitial).

Second the ambiguity. Today there is baseline from which we can claim a ‘thinking in the raw’ or “thinking as such” (p. 133). Thinking today can only come out of a tradition of thinking. There is no pre-traditional western thinking. It’s a severe blind spot to hold that one can think apart from tradition. It is the blind spot from which nihilism grew and grows. The main characteristic of thinking is held by the logos. The logos is fundamental. The verb incantation of logos is legein, to read. This sounds connotations “of gathering, laying together” (p. 134). Here we throw back to our second lecture. Logos apophantikos is the logic of logos in that it says a “laying together whose capacity is such that, through what is laid together—the path is long—it lets appear what was already-together-before—the long path as such” (p. 134). Apophantik connotes “the bringing-to-appearance, here from itself, of what is already lying before” (p. 134). Heidegger translates the apophantik as the exposition. This is the primordial and essential characteristic of the logos, that is, as the allowance or clearance granted to what comes to the fore.

The problem stems from a misconception of logos apophantikos in the form of legein ti kata tinos; saying something about something, or laying out what about which, or “to expose something in the direction of something, namely that upon-which and about-which the exposition comes when it directs itself toward what is present” (p. 135). This is truth as correspondence in which the idea is true only on the off chance that a condition is rightly represented by a stipulation. It’s like saying the ends justify the means with complete oblivion to the means just so long as the ends are made anyhow. This opens the door to sheer and utter “calculating, founding, concluding” (p. 136).

Third is the equivocality of found in ground sayings of thinking. A ground saying is a thesis. In that sense a ground saying is a letting lie before out of or from what already lies before and thus lies at what is each time pre-sent. “Here, however, the word ‘thesis,’ proposition, has the sense of spontaneity, the deed, the practical deed” (p. 138). This is ground saying as the active granting of clearance of that which lies before. “We speak of the earth’s soil, of the ocean floor. The peasant knows the poor soils within his fields, ground that only produces stunted growth” (p. 138. Leopold worried about growing away from the soil.)

But how are ordinary statements like the sky is blue related to the principle of identity? Ordinary statements concern “what lies at the ground and what lies before” in that the statement the sky is blue takes for granted the clearance that is granted as the possibility space for there to be anything like a sky and anything like blue along with the standing forth of these entities in that possibility space. However the ground saying (principle) of identity is not something present like the blue sky. “Identity belongs in presence as such; we never encounter it as something among other present things” (p. 139). Presence itself where in identity inhabits is a grounding. We then get a lament about modernity misconception of presence. We’ve lost touch with phusis and are out of touch with presence as the ground of possibility for being a being. Ground signifies the condition of the possibility of something along with the presence of something as a twofold (earth and gods).  And yet there is still strife between thinking and being.

Logos stands as the place of strife among being and thinking. “Logos names both in their reciprocal relation and is thus the word for the primordial conflict between the two” (p. 141). The ground sayings as basic principles of thinking clear the way for thinking in the clearance that is granted to the logos as the being of beings. This gives us the equivocality in terms of a transformation of sense. The ground principles as ground sayings are leaps. Ground itself is an abyss in that being is ontological rather ontically reified. Thinking is therefore an ontological excursion into the groundless process of being in becoming.