Dasein’s Being is intrinsically constituted by temporality and historicality, such historicality is necessarily intrinsic to the very unfolding of the question concerning Being and to its very necessity. Thus, Heidegger insists, the question of Being must inquire into its own history [Geschichte], that is, become historiological [historisch] so as to secure its ownmost possibilities of questioning through a “positive appropriation” of the past.
Heidegger’s question of Being itself arises from, and in response to, the history of ontology initiated by the Greeks and in particular by Aristotle. Now the tradition that comes to dominance here, Heidegger suggests,
at first and for the most part makes that which it “transmits” [namely, a specific understanding of Being] so little accessible that it instead conceals it. It delivers what has been passed on to the status of self-evidence and blocks access to the original “sources” [“Quellen”] from which the traditional categories and concepts were drawn, in part in a genuine manner. The tradition even brings such provenance [Herkunft] in general into oblivion. It gives rise to an absence of any need to understand the very necessity of such a regression,[Rückgang].
As a consequence, Being itself has been forgotten, has concealed itself in its questionability, concealed itself as a question – and such is the predicament from which the project of Being and Time notoriously begins.
It is Greek ontology itself that is thus responsible for such concealment, Heidegger insists: “Greek ontology and its history, which, through manifold twists and turns [Filiationen und Verbiegungen] still today determines the conceptuality of philosophy, is proof of the fact that Dasein understands itself and Being in general in terms of the ‘world’ [i.e., entities present-at-hand within the world], and that the ontology that has thus arisen sinks [verfällt] to the status of tradition….” Greek ontology interprets the Being of beings in terms of “world” or “nature,” conceived and experienced as that which lies independently presentbefore us, and thus understands the meaning of Being as presence, as parousia or ousia, thus in terms of a particular mode of time, the present.
Greek ontology, Heidegger here implies, is itself a consequence of Dasein’s falling.
It is ancient Greek ontology and its heritage, therefore, that face the initial task of Destruktion. Heidegger writes:
If transparency regarding its own history is to be attained for the question of Being itself, then what is needed is a loosening up of the congealed tradition and a liberation from the concealments it has brought about. We understand this task as the Destruktion of the transmitted content of ancient ontology, accomplished by way of the guiding thread of the question of Being, to arrive at the original experiences from which,the initial and subsequently leading determinations of Being were acquired.
The goal here, as Heidegger stipulates, is transparency regarding the history of the question of Being itself. Yet that history is a non-history, insofar as the question of Being has not been explicitly posed as a question ever since the Greek beginning: the meaning of Being, rather, has been presupposed, implicitly understood as the presence of what lies before us; and this non-history – the history of this covering-over – which would be the result of Dasein’s intrinsic tendency to understand itself in terms of the “world,” or “nature” in the broadest sense: in short, in terms of parousia or ousia – this history of concealment would now, following the Destruktion, become transparent in what it really is and was.
Such are, in outline, the task and framework of Destruktion as presented in Being and Time, a project that will be maintained at least over the next two years, as documented in the #%!2 Basic Problems of Phenomenology and1928 Metaphysical Foundations of Logic. And yet, there is something naïve about this very project. Heidegger himself later – much later – concedes as much. In his Zähringen seminar of 1973, he makes the following remark:
In Being and Time, however, there was as yet no genuine recognition of the history of Being, and from this there arose the inappropriateness and, strictly speaking, the naiveté, of the “ontological Destruktion.” Since then, the unavoidable naiveté with regard to what had yet to be experienced has given way to an insight.
The inappropriateness and naiveté of Destruktion, Heidegger indicates, lay in its failure to recognize and experience the history of Being. And yet, as Heidegger suggested in “Time and Being,” Destruktion itself prepares for and anticipates this very experience: only the Destruktion “a’ords thinking a precursory insight into what then reveals itself as the destining of Being,” that is, into the essence of the history of Being itself as destining. What, then, is the path that leads from the Destruktion to a precursory insight into the destining of Being?
The path, I want to suggest, cannot simply be a delineation of the project of Destruktion itself, but must entail reflection upon the insight that gives rise to and grounds the necessity of Destruktion: the historicality of Dasein itself, and how that historicality is conceived in Being and Time.
The key reflection here, I would propose, is found in section 2& of Being and Time.
This section, entitled “The Existential Origin of Historiology From Out of the Historicality of Dasein,” has the explicit task of “preparing for an ensuing clarification of the task of a historiological Destruktion of the history of philosophy.”
The central question of this section concerns what exactly constitutes authentic historiology and what is to be its theme. Since historiology is a possibility grounded in the historicality of Dasein, and presupposing such historicality, authentic historiological inquiry into Dasein’s own history must evidently be grounded in authentic historicality itself, that is, in the historical unfolding of Dasein’s possible authenticity.
And its theme is Dasein itself, being-in-the-world itself as having been there, and as transmitted through its traces: historical remains, documents, reports, monuments, and the like. Authentic historiological inquiry must therefore thematize its object, Dasein that has been there, in terms of Dasein’s ownmost possibility of existence – that is, in termsof Dasein itself as possibility. It must have as its object nothing other than the possible, possibility itself. Heidegger thus writes:
“Because existence in each case is only as factically thrown, historiology will disclose the quiet force of the possible all the more incisively, the more straightforwardly and concretely it understands and ‘merely’ presents having-been-in-the-world in terms of its possibility.”
Authentic historiology is thus at once grounded in the authentic historicality of Dasein, temporalizing itself from out of Dasein’s ownmost possibility of Being, and it has such possibility as its object or theme: it is concerned with such possibility itself. Such historiological inquiry is undertaken not out of mere historical interest, for the purposes of disclosing what was or was not possible in the past, but as an openness toward and retrieval of possibility to come.
As Heidegger puts it, such historiology discloses the history that has been there “in such a way that in this retrieval, the ‘force’ of the possible impacts factical existence, that is, approaches it in its futural character.”
What is critical here, I think, is Heidegger’s acknowledgement of a “force” (Kraft) of the possible, a force pertaining to the possible itself, a force that Dasein does not project, but at most discloses, and that thus approaches it from beyond the horizon of Dasein’s own projective activity. For what becomes apparent here is that Dasein does not project itself – does not project its own Being as possibility – and that to suggest that it does (as in fact occurs in the hermeneutic phenomenology of Being and Time) is not only phenomenologically inaccurate and misleading, but inevitably attributes to Dasein a kind of subjectivity: not the classical subjectivity of modernity, to be sure, but still a subjectivity that attributes too much power to the activity or action of Dasein as source of its Being, of its giving birth to itself (as historical).
The projection and configuring of possibility belongs, rather to Being itself as such, as a happening to which Dasein (or the Being of the human being) is exposed in advance – an antecedent happening or “event” (Ereignis) that “destines” Being in this or that historical manner. The “history of Being” is the history of what has thus been destined (in a non-dialectical, non-causal manner) and ha scome to language in the history of philosophy as the metaphysical representation of Being.
The human being’s actions are always primarily responsive: responsive to what is historically destined by Being (and such destining is the very opening of freedom: cf. “The Question Concerning Technology”). The destining of Being is the historical unfolding of the “quiet force of the possible.”
The significance of this insight within Being and Time itself is attested to by Heidegger’s own retrieval of precisely this theme and by his renewed appeal to “the quiet force of the possible” at the beginning of what is arguably his most important text from the #%$”s, the “Letter on ‘Humanism’” 1946).
“When I speak of the ‘quiet force of the possible,’” Heidegger there writes, “I do not mean the possibile of a merely represented possibilitas, nor potentia as the essentia of an actus of existentia; rather, I mean Being itself….”
Possibility is now thought not on the basis of Dasein’s projective activity, but in terms of the quiet force of the possible as that of Being itself, as the “element” that “enables” (ermöglicht) thinking – a thinking that is more originary than philosophy as determined by the Greek beginning.
From the perspective of the “Letter on ‘Humanism’,” we can now appreciate that it is this element, from out of which the historical Destruktion of the history of philosophy itself comes to pass, that was first uncovered and exposed as such through the analytic of Dasein in Being and Time. In the “Letter,” the essence of the possible is conceived in terms of an enabling (Vermögen) that refers, not to the capability to accomplish something, as the ability belonging to Dasein or to a “Subject,” but to a more originary “embracing,” a “loving,” a “bestowal,” a “favoring” – thus in each case to the felicitous giving of a gift, an excess that first gives rise to the possible, that constitutes its very emergence:
Thinking is – this says: Being has embraced its [i.e., thinking’s] essence in a destinal manner in each case. To embrace a “thing” or a “person” in their essence means to love them, to favor them. Thought in a more original way, such favoring means the bestowal of their essence as a gift. Such favoring [Mögen] is the properessence of enabling [Vermögen], which not only can achieve this or that, but also can let something essentially unfold in its pro-venance [Her-kunft], that is, let it be. It is “by force” [“kraft”] of such enabling by favoring that something is properly able to be. This enabling is what is properly “possible” [das “Mögliche”], whose essence resides in favoring. From this favoring Being enables thinking. The former makes possible [ermöglicht] the latter. Being is the enabling-favoring, the “may-be” [das “Mög-liche”]. As the element, Being is the “quiet force” of the favoring-enabling, that is, of the possible.