Now, after a series of what one might call "layered reflections", Überlegungen, that I have presented here, I (and perhaps you too, my dear reader) have come to the point where a series of questions starts to arise: Is Heidegger's way of developing the notion of Denken in "Was heißt Denken?" pertinent to today's globalized and technologized world? Heidegger presents thinking as a future challenge: we have to consider the case that we are not yet thinking. How to learn thinking, then? Through instruction? Through worming exercises? What is the role of non-human forms of being in this process? How to encounter the phenomenon of world in a thoughtful way?

"Was heißt Denken?" belongs to the later phase of Heidegger's thinking where the central role of Daseinsanalytik as "fundamental ontology" was relativized.[1] Even if it is clear that Dasein cannot be understood as human being in any anthropological or "humanistic" sense, the legacy of Daseinsanalytik of Sein und Zeit in Heidegger's later writings seems to testify to a basic philosophical orientation according to which Being, in some sense, "needs" "humanity". In ontological terms, there needs to be a da, a place of existence, for the conditions for a relation to Being, i.e. a world, to emerge. How does this da relate to human being? In a lecture course delivered in 1929/30 Heidegger famously presented a threefold thesis according to which stones are "without world" and animals are "poor in world", weltarm, whereas the humanity is "world forming".[2] What kind of role does human existence play in Heidegger's reflections on thinkng in his radio essay from 1952? What kind of notion of world is implicated here?  

It seems to me that Heidegger's way of using the superlative when describing that which in the last instance calls for thinking, das Bedenklichste, "the most thought-provoking", implies a hierarchy amongst beings: "Most thought-provoking is that we are still not thinking".[3] Insofar as the "we" in this sentence that is repeated several times throughout the essay refers to us humans, the passage implies privileging the question of human existence, or perhaps more precicely, humanly conceived existence. Further, this preference accords with an understanding of the world as a framework of sense that is destined to make sense, be it in the form of an errancy, Irrgang: "So bleibt uns nur eines, nämlich zu warten, bis das zu-Denkende sich uns zuspricht. [...] Durch solches Warten sind wir bereits denkend auf einem Gang in das zu-Denkende unterwegs. Der Gang könnte ein Irrgang sein. Er bliebe jedoch einzig darauf gestimmt, dem zu entsprechen, was es zu bedenken gibt."[4] 

It is of crucial importance to note that Heidegger's way of coming into terms with the Western tradition of philosophy, Auseinandersetzung or Überwindung, is not a project of transgression.[5] Rather, what Heidegger tries to do is to exhaust the resources of our metaphycical tradition and thus prepare another beginning.[6] In the context of his fundamental ontology, this project was explicitly conceived as destruction.[7] Here, one central goal was the rehabilitation of the existential phenomenon of world. In his later writings, Heidegger moved on from this human-centered view on the world to a world-centered view on human being. In a series of writings closely related to "Was heißt Denken?" he developed a multifaced discourse on the world as "the fourfold" (das Geviert), an assembly of the sky, the earth, the divine and the mortals. Here, finite human beings ("the mortals") take part in the "worlding of the world" without consituting the center of it. In Sein und Zeit, destruction aimed at revealing the existential stucture of the world behind the ontic constructions of everyday life. In other words, the world was presented as an existentially motivated phenomenon. In the essays published in Vorträge und Aufsätze, in contrast, it is the world structure as such that constitutes the key question.[8]  

At the risk of making a blunt gesture with regard to Heidegger's cunning way of digging into the soil of our tradition, I prefer to unfold my questioning one step further in a rather upfront manner by relating the question of world in Heidegger's thinking to Jean-Luc Nancy's claim that the paradigm of construction governing the metaphysical notions of the world builds on a hypothesis of "intelligent design", i.e. the hypothesis that there is a principle of a unifying sense behind the world. Does Heidegger's conception of the world as "fourfold" succeed in exposing the forces of the metaphysical schema of construction/destruction or is his instruction still quided by this schema? Isn't he, after all, articulating the ways in which the sky, the earth, the divine and the mortals belong together or are tied togther into a whole, that is, into a world? 

Obviously, "the fourfold" as the framework of world does not reproduce the schema of construction in any simple way. It involves the questions of connecting, complying, incorporating, attaching and holding together (fügen) as well as their historical patterns (Fügung). This is the case for example in "Was heißt Denken?", where Heidegger introduces the feminized notion of memory, die Gedächtnis (normally das Gedächtnis). Here, he refers to Mnemosyne, the daughter of heaven and earth. She is the "collection" (Versammlung) of thinking.[9] As the bride of Zeus she also becomes the mother of the muses.[10] To think of the heaven and the earth as elementary dimensions of the world, "the fourfold", is to ponder that which in the world precedes memory and the arts. This urges us to think of the role of technics in the constitution of the world. How originary are the goings-on of technics?

Now I dare to follow the line of my questioning one step further: Does the world structure implicated in Heidegger's radio essay involve a metaphysical rest that we could call "the hypothesis of an intelligent design"?[11] What might be the status of such involvement in the frame of Heidegger's essay?

* * * 

After these groping questions and contextualizing remarks that touch upon the multifaceted themes of anthropocentrism, destiny and construction of the world in Heidegger's thinking, I will focus on the question of "intelligent design".

In his essay "De la struction", Jean-Luc Nancy gives an insightful analysis of the unsettling of the paradigm of construction that has been taking place since around 1900. Nancy underlines that construction has been the key principle of Western metaphysical notions of "the world". With regard to modernity we can even speak of "hypertrophy of construction", which means that the operative principle of construction overshoots itself in form of a whole industry of montages, arrangements and composition of forces.[12] In Heideggerian terms we could speak here of "planetary technics". Nancy, however, adds to this scenario another turn by pondering technics, beyond the question of mastery, with regard to singular-plural being. For him, the very existence is a question of plural technics.[13] With regard to the question of world, this implies a challenge to think a world that is in itself and of itself broken.[14] 

Following Heidegger, Nancy reminds us of the fact that technics, tekhné, is not limited to what we call "technologies". In Nancy's terms, technics is structuration of ends.[15]

When the ends intertwine in complex ways, the various ends and means change their roles incessantly. This is why the arts, i.e. techniques that enjoy their own ends, make up the privileged domain of the interrogation of structuration of ends. The arts show that construction and deconstruction belong together: "Camera and digital montage are not only deconstructing and reconstructing the entire formal landscape of cinema but also the signification and stakes of its art".[16] In the last instance, the stakes of this process are that of structuration of sense (in all senses of the word "sense"). Obviously, this is exactly what motivates my whole exposition.

Nancy states that the Heideggerian Destruktion and deconstruction has to be seen as attempts to turn away from the paradigm of construction (and by implication from the hypothesis of "intelligent design"). They are not about reconstruction. Furthermore, what is at stake in them is struction.[17]


The Latin root of struction, struo, means "to heap". Without a prefix, struction does not imply any form of organization. First con-, de-, and in- of "construction", "destruction" and "instruction" introduce an ordering point of view into the heap. Struction as such is about contiguity and co-presence without any principle of coordination.

According to Nancy, our traditional notion of nature is based on the principle of coordination (of natural ends). Similarly, the traditional notion of technics implies a coordination of human ends. First when we recognize that these two are intertwined and that technics does not add itself to nature from the outside, we are invited to take struction into account. Struction is nothing but non-coordinated and contingent simultaneity of forces, forms, pulsions, projects, elans, etc.[18] The question arises: does struction involve historical patterns (in Heidegger's terms Fügung)?


Nancy notes that struction imposes on us the question of "sociation" in general. It is especially in regard to this question, in my view, that Nancy's way of foregrounding struction forms a backdrop against which the limitations of Heidegger's question concerning thinking start to become recognizable. For Nancy, struction is a name for the state of "with", avec, without sharing; it only puts into play the simple contiguity and its contingence.[19] In Heideggerian terms, it is the "mit" of Mitsein in a categorial sense. It is the pure and simple juxtaposition that doesn't make any sense.[20] Here, as well as in such key texts as Being Singular Plural, Nancy's way of "refiguring fundamental ontology"[21] demonstrates that Heidegger's Daseinsanalytik priorises the existential dimension of mit at the cost of its categorial aspects. This priorization prevents Heidegger of thinking of the body in a way that would match the level of his Seinsfrage, the question of Being. According to Nancy, one symptom of this is the way in which Heidegger envisions the People as a realization of Mitsein.[22] Against this background, it seems to me that the body, for Heidegger, is essentially an organized unit, and as such an image of belonging to a structure of a world. Heidegger's analyses of the essence of life and organism in the aforementioned lectures on "world", "finitude" and "solitude" would make up a relevant starting point for an argument concerning this.  

Nancy's diagnosis is that our history has reached the point where the paradigm of construction is not anymore valid. For him, there is more to this crisis than a simple wearing out of a paradigm. The very principle of construction has been unsettled. We are facing the rupture and saturation of that principle, which reveals that construction already carried seeds of its own deconstruction. "That which first appeared to be an extension of an assembly and montage of tools – prolongations of the body, simple machines – then an expansion of gestures of mastery – administration and government of energies (steam, electricity, chemical reactions) instead of a simple employment of forces (running waters, winds, gravity)– is now revealed as another nature: as that of combinations, interaction and then feedback."[23] This cybernetization involves the unfolding of a certain "quasi-organicity". The paradigm of construction overshoots itself; it over-constructs itself in its tendency towards the organic: "Over-construction returns in struction".[24] Does this imply that there is something like Fügung after all, even if struction as such doesn't make any (existential) sense?


According to Nancy, there is no "intelligent design" behind our world, even if the paradigm of construction has always suggested otherwise. Technics cannot provide such design with "intelligence", since it only reproduces its own projections. And even if it is dependent on its own limits, it doesn't recognize them. Heidegger, to be sure, would agree with this diagnosis. However, and more importantly, the hypothesis of an "intelligent design" is nullified by another fact. The hypothesis implies another hypothesis: the aspiration that there is sense inherent to errancy and non-sense, i.e. sense of errancy of sense.[25]

Is it, against this background, legitimate to read Heidegger's remarks concernig Irrgang in "Was heißt Denken?" as a symptom of his philosophical attachment to the paradigm of construction? A series of interrelated questions follow: 

1) In what sense are epochal schemata, such as that of Seinsgeschichte, pertaining to a world of struction? If there is, as for example Eric Hörl has claimed, something like a "technological sense-shift" going on, it still remains an open question whether this shift is historical.[26] Does the existential Mitsein, after all, weigh more than its categorial aspects? 

2) In "Was heißt Denken?" Heidegger suggests that the mythical figure of memory, Mnemosyne as collection of thinking, needs to be taken into account when thinking of the arts.[27] What does this imply with regard to Nancy's insistence on the originary and plural technicity of Being, i.e. "technics of existence" and the arts as "technics of ground"?[28] What would it mean to put emphasis on thinking-with, Mitdenken, instead of existential Mitsein? What would happen to figures of instruction, destruction and construction? What would it be like to think with the fish, the dog and the rock, with Google Translate and digitally assembled images and sounds? What if the "most thought-provoking" resides in the challenges posed by the categorial aspects of Mitsein, by the transcategorical sociation that emerges from the meaningless patterns of interplay between human and non-human beings and technics? "Wir gelangen in das, was Denken heißt, wenn wir selber denken".[29] But how to understand this "selber denken", literally "to think self", and who is the "wir", "we"?

3) What is the role of language in the processes of struction? In his lectures on "world", "finitude" and "solitude" Heidegger ends up stating that the animals, even if they are "poor in world" are in and through their ways of being (Seinsart) open towards the Being of beings, and consequently, contribute to our relation to Being.[30] If we adopt Benjamin's point of view, these non-human ways of being can be considered languages. From this point of view, the extinction of a species would equal to the death of a language. Perhaps Benjamin's view on translation as an undertaking that widens the scope of articulations that can be appropriated in the translating language and as a process that contributes to the virtual growth of the multiplicity of languages, could give us a hint of the originary role of the arts. Where would we end up if we would think of translation in terms of struction?[31] For now, I ended up here.




[1] For example Werner Marx has shown how the focus of Heidegger's thinking shifted in the 1930's from Daseinsanalytik to the question of history of being (Cf. Marx, Heidegger and the Tradition, passim.).

[31] Nancy indicates a possible starting point for another loop of thinking by explicating his notion of "trans-lation" in terms of "stretching or spreading out from one origin-of-meaning to another", Being Singular Plural, p. 87.

[2] Heidegger, GA 29/30, p. 261–396. This threefold thesis has met substantial criticism due to the way it risks presenting a rather monolithic view on "having a world" as the relation to "Being as such". See for example Agamben, The Open: Man and Animal, p. 49–80; Nancy, Sense of the World, p. 55–58; 157, and Derrida, The Animanl That I Therefore Am, p. 141–160.

[3] Heidegger, What is Called Thinking?, p. 4.

[4] Heidegger, "Was heißt Denken?", in Vorträge und Aufsätze, p. 133–134.

[5] See for example Heidegger, "Überwindung der Metaphysik", in Vorträge und Aufsätze, p. 67–95.

[6] See for example Marx, Heidegger and the Tradition, passim.

[7] Martin Heidegger, Sein und Zeit, § 6.

[8] In "Das Ding" Heidegger writes that these four "belong together", gehören zusammen (Vorträge und Aufsätze, p. 166). In "Bauen, Wohnen, Denken" it reads that a thing "assembles", versammelt, the fourfold (ibid., 147). In Unterwegs zur Sprache Heidegger states that the fourfold is "called forth" (herrufen) and intertiwned by the "absolving band" (entbindende Band) of language into a framework (Gefüge) [of world] (Martin Heidegger, Unterwegs zur Sprache, Stuttgart: Klett-Cotta, 1959, p. 24, 243, 252).

[10] Heidegger, Vorträge und Aufsätze, p. 130–131.

[11] Cf. Nancy, "De la Struction", p. 100–103.

[12] Ibid., p. 87–88.

[13] Cf. Hörl, "Die künstliche Intelligenz des Sinns", p. 137–138.

[14] Cf. Nancy and Tyradellis, Was heißt uns Denken?, p. 43.

[15] Nancy, "De la Struction", p. 82.

[16] Ibid., p. 83.

[17] Ibid., p. 89.

[18] Ibid., p. 90.

[19] Ibid., p. 90.

[20] Ibid., p. 90–91.

[21] Cf. Nancy, Being Singular Plural, p. 26.

[22] Nancy, Was heißt uns Denken?, p. 50–55.

[23] Nancy, "De la struction", p. 93.

[24] Ibid., p. 93.

[25] Ibid., p. 102.

[26] The notion of technologische Sinnesverschiebung, "technological sense-shift", is emphasized by Eric Hörl in his reading of Nancy according to which the key issue in Nancy's thinking, informed by the Heideggerian Seinsfrage, is the historical transformation of sense.  

[27] Heidegger, "Was heißt Denken?", p. 130–131. Cf. note 7.

[28] See for example Nancy, "Why are there multiple arts?", in Muses.

[29] Heidegger, "Was heißt Denken?", p. 123.

[30] Heidegger, GA 29/30, p. 341–396.