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A Thematic Unity for Heidegger's Was Heisst Denken?

ABSTRACT: This essay is primarily an analysis of Heidegger's Was Heisst Denken?


I aim to provide a thematic unity for this enigmatic text, thereby rendering Hei
degger's thoughts on thinking more available to those investigating the nature o
f human rationality and thinking. The procedure is to gather together some of th
e sundry themes and puzzling features resolved by unpacking this sentence: 'Most
thought-provoking in our thought-provoking time is that we are still not thinki
ng.' The chief results of this study include the establishment of a global logic
to the text, the identification of 'being-thoughtful' as the proper phenomenon
to be studied, and receptivity ('listening for what calls for thinking') as the
distinguishing mark of the thoughtful.
Perhaps it is a sign of the times that precisely this work, of all my publicatio
ns, is the least read. (1)
This remark by Martin Heidegger about Was Heisst Denken? is puzzling given that
in the same interview he suggests that the most important issue facing us is the
confrontation with what thinking is. If Heidegger is correct, then why does Was
Heisst Denken? not rank among the most read of his works? Is it because we are
unaware of the importance of encountering thinking? Because we believe already t
o understand thinking (e.g., thinking is "having thoughts")? (2) Either of these
proposed explanations, it should be noted, would not startle Heidegger; he anti
cipated them in Was Heisst Denken? An explanation that he does not consider, how
ever, is that Was Heisst Denken? is itself puzzling and stands in some need of c
ritical clarification.
In this essay I present an analysis of Heidegger's Was Heisst Denken? The aim is
to provide a thematic unity for this enigmatic text, and thereby to render Heid
egger's thoughts on thinking more available to those investigating the nature of
human rationality and thinking. I proceed by enumerating some of the puzzling f
eatures of the text, and included among them are the ambiguity intentionally bui
lt into the German title and the odd fact that Nietzsche and Parmenides take cen
ter stage in a series of lectures--which collected form the text--on thinking. T
he main thesis of my analysis is that one particularly promising way of showing
how the twenty-one lectures hang together is by unpacking this sentence:
Most thought-provoking in our thought-provoking time is that we are still not th
inking. (3)
This essay, then, is literally an analysis, and by the end of my discussion of t
he three major components of the sentence ("most thought-provoking", "in our tho
ught-provoking time", and "we are still not thinking"), the reader will have bee
n provided with the means by which to unify various themes and to clarify puzzli
ng features in Was Heisst Denken?