Friday, January 29, 2016

Heidegger's Philosophy of Fundamental Ontology

By Ljubodrag Simonović

  Heidegger’s philosophy does not see itself as a concrete historical  thought that is conditioned and thus qualified by the nature of the time in which it was developed. Heidegger determines the idea of “fundamental ontology” as the starting point for the self-reflection of his philosophy. Heidegger’s understanding of man and his existence, in effect, comes from philosophy as a separate area of the capitalist spiritual sphere. His thought is based on and framed by a capitalistically divided world. Although Heidegger sought to create an impression that his fundamental ontology has a supra-historical character, his philosophy belongs to the capitalist spiritual supra-structure alienated from man. With his philosophical rethoric, Heidegger built a labyrinth for the mind, which is but an addition to the capitalist ideological sphere.

  In order for a question to be authentic, it has to be a concrete  historical question, which means that it should take into consideration the governing tendency in the development of the world. The question of the nature of Martin Heidegger’s philosophy should also be a concrete historical question. It is one thing when a question is asked in a blossoming field and quite the other when it is asked on the brink of the abyss. The concrete historical question is the following: Does Heidegger’s thought indicate the processes that lead to the destruction of man and nature, and does it offer a possibility to step out from capitalist civilization into a civilization of freedom, where man will live in harmony with nature?

 Heidegger's philosophy should be given a chance to appear as concrete historical thought in the relation of destruction to life-creation, i.e., destructive mindlessness to life-creating mind. Only relative to the mind's libertarian and life-creating potential can a concrete historical meaning of Heidegger's philosophy be perceived. Life on Earth is increasingly threatened and everything that possesses a life-creating potential should be included in the fight for survival. The essential criterion to determine whether a thought is reasonable is whether it contributes to the preservation of life on Earth.

  A life-creating humanism should become the basis for the mind’s self-reflection and, as such, the source of the self-consciousness of man as a life-creating being that, through his life-creating practice, should confront capitalism as a destructive totalitarian order. Guided by the life-creating mind and relying on a combative sociability, man should abolish the “consumer society” and “technical civilisation” and create a humane society and a life-creating civilisation, which will be the organic part of nature as a  life-creating totality. We are talking about a life-creating pantheism, which creates not only a new life, but a new world.       

  For Heidegger’s followers, his philosophy is the only framework within which the question of its essence and meaning is possible. Philosophical legitimacy of any discussion of Heidegger’s philosophy is acquired by its becoming a self-reflection of Heidegger’s philosophy. “Fundamental ontology” becomes a synthesis of everything valuable that appears in the realm of the mind. It acquires the status of the only true philosophy and as such becomes the criterion used to determine the legitimacy of philosophical thought. „Fundamental ontology” becomes the other name for true mindfulness.

  Bourgeois theoreticians seek to analyse Heidegger's thought departing from philosophy as an „objective“ sphere with a supra-historical character. Thus, Heidegger's philosophy becomes an abstract thought. They use Heidegger's philosophy to eliminate the visionary mind and, thereby, any possible spaces for the future. Heidegger's philosophy heralds the end of history. At the same time, bourgeois philosophers appeal to Heidegger so that, in the shadow of his philosophy, they might obtain philosophical legitimacy for their own writings. They treat Heidegger in the same way Heidegger treats Being (Sein). To be in Heidegger's „neighbourhood“ ensures „immortality“ in the world of philosophy.

   The most important reason for Heidegger’s popularity with the bourgeois intelligentsia is that his philosophy enables the preservation of the elitist status of philosophy and thus the elitist status of the academic intelligentsia. His “fundamental ontology” becomes the philosophical “Holy Scripture”, whereas his “interpretors” become the guardians of the keys of wisdom. Bourgeois philosophy turned Heidegger into a myth and made his philosophy one of the key intellectual pillars of Western civilization.

   The production of the myth of Heidegger and other “great” philosophers serves to create a sectarian single-mindedness and elitist self-sufficiency of the bourgeois intelligentsia. Its members voluntarily accept the ghettoization of the mind at academic faculties and other exclusive „intellectual” domains, since it gives them “freedom” and a comfortable life. Such social position releases them from responsibility for the survival of life on the planet and from the risk that a struggle against the ruling order entails.

    The representatives of traditional philosophy base their relation to Heidegger’s philosophy on existential apriorism. By becoming a totalitarian order of destruction, capitalism discredited that point of departure. The insistence on such an approach deprives Heidegger’s thought of a concrete historical dimension and turns the discussion of Heidegger’s thought into intellectual gymnastics with an abstract character. The traditional philosophical approach to Heidegger not only sterilizes the life-creating potentials of his thought, but also averts the mind from the basic existential issues currently facing humankind ever more dramatically. “Consumer society” is the final confrontation with a thought grounded in existential

   A demystification of Heidegger’s philosophy involves the emancipation of Heidegger’s thought from philosophy, which means discarding the philosophical veil under which his thought loses any concrete historical character and becomes abstract thought. Heidegger must be drawn away from the gloominess of philosophical gibberish into the light of history and treated as a concrete social being, whereas his philosophy should be treated as  concrete historical thought. Only then can we discover both its limits and its emancipatory potential. At the same time, a concrete historical discussion of Heidegger’s philosophy is possible only if it does not fall into the trap of his philosophical rhetoric. It is a labyrinth without exit, where, in hopeless wandering, the mind loses its life-creating power.

   In addition to ancient Greek philosophy, Heidegger found the source and inspiration for his ideas in the philosophy of St. Augustine, Meister Eckhart, Franz Brentano, Friedrich Schelling, Friedrich Hölderline, Sørene Kierkegaard, Friedrich Nietzsche, Rainer Maria Rilke, Fyodor Dostoevsky,
Wilhelm Dilthey, Edmund Husserl, in Taoism and other Far-Eastern religions. In order to grasp the true nature of Heidegger’s philosophy, we should also bear in mind the ideas and political movements relative to which Heidegger sought to build his philosophy.           

  Rather than in theory, a concrete historical source of Heidegger’s thought is to be found in the reality of life in Germany in the first half of the 20th century. Only when Heidegger’s philosophy is viewed in the context of historical events in which it occurred can we discover its true nature. We are talking about German expansionism; the crisis of capitalism and the First World War; Germany’s defeat and the collapse of the German Empire; the Munich Revolution and the development of the communist movement; the founding and fall of the Weimer Republic; the development of German revanchism and the rise of fascism; the “thrust toward the East” and the collapse of Nazi Germany… Heidegger’s philosophy was only possible on German soil.

  There is no denying that Heidegger's philosophy has an authenticity reflected not only in its specific parlance, but also in the specific treatment of basic philosophical questions. Essentially, Heidegger sought to answer the question of the future of Germany in the form of a philosophical treatise. That
 is, most importantly, what makes Heidegger a „German philosopher“ and determines both the self-consciousness of Heidegger's philosophy and Heidegger's notion of himself as a philosopher. Without such an approach to Heidegger's thought, we cannot correctly answer the question of the political essence of his philosophy and, in that context, of the nature of Heidegger's relation to Nazism.

Fundamental Ontology
  Before the modern era, religion played the most important role in the contemplative life of European peoples. However, the development of artisanship and trade, the appearance of the first towns, the advancement of science and techniques, the appearance of the bourgeois intelligentsia and “The Gutenberg Galaxy”, as well as the development of schools and universities and civil political movements – all that created new sources of thinking. Along with the philosophical mind, the scientific mind started to have an increasingly important role in man’s thinking, throwing off the religious shackles. A new way of life and a new position of man in the world gave rise to a new art, which sought to create its own autonomous thinking. The thinking life in Europe became multi-faceted and multi-layered. It was now based on the capitalist division of labour, which separated manual from intellectual labour and institutionalised spheres of thought wherein people became alienated from their creative powers. At the same time, the dynamics of the thinking life were conditioned by scientific discoveries, conquests of new territories, technical inventions, industrial development, increased literacy of the general population, the introduction of a non-working time, which increased the number of readers and gave rise to the theater, opera houses, galleries and other cultural institutions.
  The modern age saw a struggle between different world views, whereas the bearers of religious, scientific, philosophical and artistic thought sought to turn their respective fields into the sum total of all wisdom and the pillar of the thinking life. At the same time, under the influence of political pluralism, there appeared various schools of thought, each of them seeking to make its view the basis of all thought. Rather than being founded on the mind, this tendency to establish a domination of one world view over all others is the consequence of a struggle for power between political and economic centers, which instrumentalised the mind. This is what the idea of fundamentalism is based on. It does not strive for truth, which can be found only by opposing different views, but for the establishment of a centre of power with an indisputable monopoly on the „truth”.
  Heidegger's fundamental ontology is developed in a world divided into spheres that are alienated from and dominant over man. Without that division, a demand for fundamentalism would be meaningless. Fundamental ontology is a synthesized essence of separate areas of suprastructure, where the powers alienated from man are institutionalized, becoming the means by which the ruling order oppresses man and destroys nature. Heidegger does not seek to reconcile the divided world and give man back his powers, those taken from him in the form of alienated spheres of the capitalist suprastructure. He does not seek to abolish the sphere of philosophy by people becoming reasonable beings; to abolish the sphere of art by people becoming artistic beings; to abolish the sphere of technique by turning the conquered forces of nature into the means for satisfying genuine human needs and increasing the likelihood of human survival; to abolish class society by abolishing private ownership over the means of production and the repressive institutions of bourgeois society and by man becoming the agent of social life and the master of his destiny.
  Fundamental ontology has an integrative character. It is based on an integrative ontological point, which is the source of thought and is indisputable. If fundamental ontology is the source of overall thinking, then it is not possible to pose an autonomous ontological question about its essence, which means to establish an autonomous critical standpoint, from which it may be brought into question. A discussion of the nature of fundamental ontology is possible as its self-reflexion.              
  The self-reflexion of fundamental ontology is based on all principal standpoints of thought being contained in it, and through it they obtain their ontological legitimacy. Self-reflexion of the ontological as ontological is possible only via fundamental ontology. In other words, the very nature of the ontological is conditioned by the nature of fundamentalism as a totalizing way of thinking. Every ontological approach that does not correspond to the totalizing intention of fundamental ontology is eliminated. The ontical excludes the struggle of opposites and thus the historical development of society, whereas ontology excludes the confrontation of opposites as a way of finding the truth. Fundamental ontology is opposed to the dialectic of history and the dialectical mind.
  For an ontology to justify itself, it should be capable of posing the question of the truthfulness of fundamental ontology. Fundamental ontology is legitimate only as ontology, which means that the self-reflexion of fundamental ontology is possible only through the ontological. Since fundamentalism, as a synthetic-totalizing principle questions the essence of the ontological, fundamental ontology does not have the legitimacy of the ontological. In fundamental ontology, ontology has lost its ontological essence.                            
  Fundamentalism as a principle of thought is opposed to the emancipatory nature of the ontological. It deprives ontology of the visionary.
ince the ontological is self-conscious of the ontical, by abolishing the openness of the ontological towards the future, the ontical is deprived of an emancipatory self-consciousness. What should be affirmed instead of the principle of fundamentalism is the principle of ontological openness, which then enables the thought to soar into the future. This is the basic presupposition for the life-creating potential of the ontical to acquire a visionary self-consciousness.
  Fundamental ontology is not a thought opening the horizons of new worlds; it is rather a strengthening of the foundations of the existing world. The fact that it is a “path” (Heidegger) does not mean searching for or opening new ontological standpoints, but rather projecting the given fundamental ontological point into the future.
 Bearing in mind that the contemporary world is based on a totalitarian destruction, we can conclude that fundamental ontology draws thinking into the sphere of a totalizing anti-existential mindlessness. With capitalism becoming a totalitarian destructive order, the question of the truthfulness of fundamental ontology as a concrete historical question is possible only from an existental and, in that context, a libertarian standpoint.
  Heidegger developed a new philosophy which should indicate the essence of human existence. Philosophy is abolished by philosophy. This contradicts Heidegger’s demand that all forms of mediation between man and his existence be abolished. Rather than by replacing all other philosophies with his so that his philosophy becomes the only mode of mediation between man and his existence, Heidegger seeks to abolish philosophy altogether as a mediator between man and his existence. His fundamental ontology does not strive to develop a philosophy, but rather represents the end of philosophy and the birth of the poetic. It does not only carry the seed of a new thought, but also of a new relation of man to his existence.
  The essence of Heidegger's novum is that man's relation to being is not grounded in the thinking of being, but on its experience. Hence the self-reflection of Heidegger's philosophy is not possible through philosophy as  wisdom alienated from man, which as such is the criterion for determening its own truthfullness, but rather through a way of life based on immediate experience of a tragic existence and thus on co-existence with Being.
  If the basis of its self-reflexion is not thinking but rather the experience of a tragic existence, why then fundamental ontology? Is it a source of wisdom needed for man to understand the nature of his tragic existence and the nihilism into which he is thrown so that new social conditions can be created enabling him to re-experience his tragic existence and return to Being, or is it but a means for eliminating the mind as a mediator between man and his existence?
  Heidegger called into question philosophy as a mediator between man and his existence, and this is one of the most significant emancipatory possibilities of his thought. His analysis of the history of philosophy indicates that Post-Socratic philosophy, which mediates between man and his existence by reducing them to the objects of analysis, resulted in the “obliviation of Being”, and this led man to nihilism. Hence we should go back to Pre-Socratic Helada, where man was in unity with Being and where philosophy was a self-reflection of Being. If this Heideggerian appeal is viewed in light of the fact that capitalism increasingly threatens the survival of life and in the context of a demand to eliminate all forms of mediation between man and world, which as insisted upon by Marx and Nietzsche, he can have not only an emancipatory, but also an existential significance.      
  Heidegger's philosophy has a critical undertone and thereby offers  the possibility of being present and alive in a world that, inspite of falling deeper and deeper into existential hopelessness, does not seek to overcome capitalism and create a new world. It offers the possibility of being critical without crossing the „red line“ dividing a „politically correct“ thought from a thought that seeks to confront capitalism and step out into the future, where the emancipatory potential of a civil society might be realised. Heidegger's philosophy is a critique of the capitalist reality that does not bring capitalism into question. It is an anti-visionary critique of capitalism.
  Heidegger’s philosophy does not see itself as a concrete historical thought that is conditioned and thus qualified by the nature of the time in which it was developed. Heidegger determines the idea of “fundamental ontology” as the starting point for the self-reflexion of his philosophy. Heidegger’s understanding of man and his existence, in effect, comes from philosophy as a separate area of the capitalist spiritual sphere. His thought is based on and framed by a capitalistically divided world. Although Heidegger sought to create an impression that his fundamental ontology has a supra-historical character, his philosophy belongs to the capitalist spiritual supra-structure alienated from man. With his philosophical rethoric, Heidegger built a labyrinth for the mind, which is but an addition to the capitalist ideological sphere.
  Heidegger gave to philosophy an inadequate social and historical dimension. Ancient Greek philosophers did not determine the nature of the governing thought; it was the governing order that, indirectly and directly, conditioned man’s thinking and the nature of philosophy. The same goes for the modern age. The nature of the governing thought is not conditioned by philosophy, but by capitalism as a destructive totalitarian order. The capitalist ratio, which rules bourgeois philosophy, is but a rational manifestation of  destructive capitalist mindlessness. It corresponds with philosophy as a mystificatory skill that sterilizes the life-creating power of the mind and thus confronts visionary consciousness and changing practice. Traditional philosophy fits into this by turning concrete existential issues into abstract theoretical questions.
  As with other “great philosophies”, Heidegger’s faces the issue of its logical consistency. Heidegger created specific terms that he sought to “fill up” with notions having a hierarchical order. To create the illusion that this pyramid of notions is non-contradictory, Heidegger had to resort to verbal juggling. As he developed his philosophy, he elaborated and changed the content of the notions with which he set out toward Olympus. On that increasingly strenuous and uncertain trek, the notions behaved as a flock of sheep that the shepherd cannot keep together. Some sheep fell off a cliff, some got lost, and the shepherd had to eat some of them in order to keep moving on. Ultimately, it turned out that the path Heidegger took led not to Olympus but to Auschwitz.

Translated from Serbian by Vesna Todorović (Petrović)
English translation supervisor Mick Collins
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