In his late, 1962 lecture “Time and Being,” Heidegger pointed to an intrinsic connection between the task of Destruktion, which was central to his conception of fundamental ontology in the 1920s, and his later thought of the history of Being.
In the period surrounding Being and Time, Destruktion was conceived as a dismantling (Abbau) of those concealments which, in the history of ontology, had covered over the initial, Greek sense of the meaning of Being as presence. In “Time and Being,” Heidegger stated the following:
Only a dismantling [Abbau] of these concealments – this is what is meant by “Destruktion” – a’ords thinking a precursory insight into what then reveals itself as the destining of Being. Because people everywhere regard the destining of Being only in terms of history and represent the latter as a happening, they attempt in vain to interpret such happening in terms of what is stated in Being and Time about the historicality of Dasein (not of Being).
By contrast, the sole possible way for thinking to anticipate the later thought of the destining of Being coming from Being and Time is to think through what is presented in Being and Time concerning the Destruktion of the ontological doctrine of the Being of beings.
One must take Heidegger’s hint seriously here, when he tries to direct our view away from the historicality of Dasein and toward the disclosure of Being itself within the perspective of Destruktion in Being and Time. And yet, this retrospective indication, coming from the later perspective of the history of Being, oversimplifies what is at stake in the historicality of Dasein, and in particular conceals a key element in what is at stake in understanding the transition from the historicality of Dasein to the history of Being.
For what Heidegger states here in 1962 implies that one could separate the issue of the historicality of Dasein from the task of Destruktion, something that is emphatically not the case in Being and Time. There, the theme of Destruktion is introduced explicitly in terms of the historicality of Dasein: Insight into the essential historicality of Dasein indicates that the question of Being – as an ontic possibility of Dasein – is itself characterized by historicality, and so the unfolding of the question of Being must inquire into its own history (the history of ontology) by itself becoming historiological, so as to accomplish a “positive appropriation” of its own past and to “take full possession of its ownmost possibilities of questioning.”
It is this historiological inquiry that is characterized as Destruktion, and its ground and necessity are rooted in and understood from out of the historicality of Dasein itself.
It is this intrinsic connection between Destruktion and the historicality of Dasein that I would like to pursue in these remarks, with a view to better understanding just how the fundamental ontology of Dasein anticipates and opens onto what would later be called the history
of Being. My underlying thesis – and it is, I hope to show, an uncontroversial one – can be stated straightforwardly: Heidegger’s later thinking of the history of Being in terms of the destining of Being (Geschick des Seins) is nothing other than a renewed thinking of what, in Being and Time, is intimated at a decisive point as “the quiet force of the possible” (die stille Kraft des Möglichen).
To begin with, let us undertake a brief survey of how Destruktion is understood by the early Heidegger in some of his lectures that predate Being and Time. Following this, I shall turn to Being and Time itself, and finally to the “Letter on ‘Humanism’.”
Heidegger developed his conception of Destruktion well before Being and Time.Although the first appearance of the term “Destruktion is a mention of the term in the course on Basic Problems of Phenomenology from winter semester 1919/20 the theme is already anticipated the
previous semester, in his course on Phenomenological and Transcendental Philosophy of Values, where Heidegger insists on the critical import of phenomenology. The idea of phenomenological critique, which would soon become understood as Destruktion, was, however, not to be taken in a negative sense, Heidegger insisted.
Although Heidegger here presents the concept of phenomenological critique in Husserlian terms – its criterion is “… the evidentiary understanding of lived experiences, of living in and for itself in the Eidos” – it is concerned neither with logical proof and refutation, nor with theoretically imposed criteria, but rather with historical questions of provenance (Herkunft) and motivation.
By the summer semester of 1920, in his course on Phenomenology of Intuition and Expression, the idea of phenomenological critique had become what Heidegger explicitly called that of “phenomenological-critical Destruktion.”
A couple of years later, in his treatise Phenomenological Interpretations with Respect to Aristotle, Heidegger further clarified his notion of historical critique intrinsic to phenomenology in terms of the need for a “critique of the present”: “Critique of history is always only critique of the present. […]
History gets negated not because it is ‘false,’ but because it still remains e’ective in the present without, however, being able to be an authentically appropriated present.”
The phenomenological hermeneutics of facticity, Heidegger insists in the same text, can occur “only on the path of Destruktion”; and the latter is conceived as essentially regressive, as a “deconstructive regress” (abbauenden Rückgang) that will penetrate into the “original motivational sources” underlying the traditional concepts and categories used to interpret factical life. Destruktion is “ ‘historical’ knowing in the radical sense of the term…”; it is philosophy’s “destructive [destruktive] confrontation with its own history.” As such, it is not a return to the past, but “the authentic path upon which the present needs to encounter itself in its own basic movements.”
It is in the summer semester 1923 course Ontology (Hermeneutics of Facticity), however, that Heidegger provides the fullest delineation ofwhat is entailed by Destruktion. Phenomenology as a distinctive “how” of research that seeks to make present its thematic object,
Dasein itself in its facticity, must proceed beyond the initial givenness of its object, which is permeated by tradition and conceptual concealments, to “a grasping of its object [Sacherfassung] that is free of concealments.”