Sunday, March 27, 2011

On the employment of “§76 Remark” from the Critique of Judgment in Heidegger’s “Kant’s Thesis about Being (1961)

On one occasion when Robert Schumann was asked the meaning in a composition, he played it again. An exegetical exercise that commented on the meaning of a philosophical text by merely repeating it in an analogous fashion might be regarded as unhelpful . Yet commentary relies, somewhat at least, on the repetition of parts of the original texts. Through the bricolage of aptly chosen quotes, an essay can amplify a theme, drawing out elements of an argument that might have posed difficulty or been hard to discern in the original, and moreover such essays can make the philosophical texts of an earlier age present testimony to a later time, or finally they can set the original work a new task by setting the historical text side-by-side with the work of the commentator. Heidegger’s late essay Kant’s Thesis on Being (KTB) is by no means merely exegetical; nonetheless, it attempts to clarify Kant’s scattered comments on Being across several texts. To do this, of course, necessitates the repetition of Kant’s statements concerning Being. Of particular significance is the following statement from the Critique of Pure Reason (CPR):

'Being' is obviously not a real predicate; that is, it is not a concept of something which could be added to the concept of a thing. It is merely the positing of a thing, or of certain determinations in and of themselves.” (A 598,B 626)

Heidegger both amplifies upon and discerns the difficulties posed by this compressed statement; he presents testimony regarding its relevance both within Kant’s critical project, and for the larger discussion about Being through which “the tradition speaks”, and finally he sets Kant’s thesis on Being to work alongside his own perennial question concerning Being, this question that, he had claimed as early as 1927, “has today been forgotten”.

In Kant’s Thesis about Being, Heidegger marshals Kant’s episodic statements about Being in a manner that demonstrates both their consistent elements and their progression. Finally, he says “we can make clear to ourselves what is unavoidable in Kant’s ultimate step” and do so by means of certain reflections. What Heidegger hopes to achieve, it seems to me, is not simply a presentation of Kant’s results; rather, he suggests, our approach should be that of “following Kant’s path”. Since “episodic statements about being as positing, belong to the style of his [Kant’s] work” and since these statements are pressed by Heidegger beyond the limits “[i.e., the most] Kant can say about being,” it therefore is valuable to remind ourselves of the context in which any given episodic statement was made. That is, one goal of a meta-commentary such as mine can be to provide a sort of philosophical “hyperlink” back to the textual context in which any one of the episodic statement was made.

So here I attempt a disarticulation of one small piece of the brickwork of Heidegger’s commentary on Being in Kant’s work – that is, his use of §76 of the Critique of Judgement. §76 is an important section and has attracted considerable critical attention – from Schelling as Heidegger reminds us, but also from Hegel and from contemporary writers like Derrida. I say little more about the use to which these writers put the section – but it serves to remind us that there is some pedigree to resorting to this short and at first glance only barely remarkable section. The way I proceed here is to remind us first of how, in the most proximate way, the section is put to use in Heidegger’s essay – what parts does he quote and what themes does he take up from that section?; that is, to what purpose is it put in commenting on Kant’s thesis? After these initial comments, I will unmoor §76 from Heidegger’s immediate use of it, and place the section back into the play of the Third Critique. When replaced into its original dock in the Critique of Judgement, the work of the section can only be adequately assessed by reference to its preceding section upon which §76 follows as a “remark”. The substance of the “remark” brings forward some commentary on the peculiarities of the human cognitive faculties which Kant comments on in §77. Minimally, therefore, even an economical comment on §76, requires a nod towards the proceeding section and the one that follows on from it. Taken together the three sections can be seen as important cogs in the machinery of the Dialectic of Teleological Judgment though more perplexingly still, they serve an important functional role in a reflection of the entire critical project. Clearly, the task of commentary on the role of §76 in Heidegger’s essay could quickly ripple beyond the useful limits of the present task. Therefore, I more simply reinsert §76 into the Third Critique and comment on the local significance of the passage for the work of the Dialectic. After this, I provide commentary on the details of the remark before returning finally to Heidegger’s use of this section, but this time freighted with a secure grasp on the textual environment in which our section originally did its work.