Two: Other Beginnings Another “another beginning”?
I would like to propose here that there is another “another beginning” in thinking about the origin of philosophy. In the hermeneutical life-philosophy of Dilthey and Misch, philosophy cannot have one unique primordial starting point that defines a closed lineage from antiquity to modernity. It has multiple temporal beginnings as do all sciences, life-attitudes, and worldviews. There is no one origin insofar as they are born of various provenances and inevitably mediated by personal and social life. In the multiplicity and singularity of human life, in its strivings and conflicts, typical patterns emerge that can serve as heuristic models to begin to approach and interpret individuals and peoples across diverse social- historical and hermeneutical situations.
The nineteenth-century German historical school, or historicism, had taught the relativity of all forms of life such that one needs to immanently perceive and interpret a perspective from the inside in order to understand it. Dilthey contested historicism’s radical perspectivalism and relativism by developing notions of structure and pattern as well as the anthropological dimension of human existence. The dynamic social, psychological, and anthropological structures of human life are relational and positional rather than defined by an underlying essence or constant identity. The human sciences (Geisteswissenschaften) investigate these common formations and their individuation in myriad ways in the lives of individuals and peoples. Such structured formations limit and limit to the incommensurability of forms of life and language games. It also challenges, as evident in the critical responses of Misch and Plessner to Heidegger and Carl Schmitt, the possibility of a pure historicity and existential decisionism that denies any natural and anthropological determinations and limits.23
This alternative hermeneutical strategy is one that Heidegger explicitly rejected. Heidegger critiqued Dilthey’s thesis of the plural ontic origins of philosophy in the name of the unity of the question of being, which can fundamentally only be the one question of philosophy, in his winter semester 1928-1929 lecture- course Introduction into Philosophy (Einleitung in die Philosophie).24 Heidegger discusses here how one enters into philosophy by already being within it in this work. Heidegger presented, in the context of discussing the nature of philosophizing, his last sustained reflection on Dilthey’s hermeneutical life- philosophy and indirectly Misch’s interpretation and extension of it. Misch’s role has been little noticed in scholarship about Heidegger despite the fact that, in an interesting footnote in Being and Time, Heidegger mentioned his reliance on Misch’s interpretation of Dilthey.25 In the lecture-courses of the late 1920s and the early 1930s, Heidegger takes up and responds to a number of topics from Misch, including Misch’s work Life-philosophy and Phenomenology (Lebensphilosophie und Phanomenologie) that developed one of the earliest extended critiques of Being and Time.26
Heidegger claimed in Introduction into Philosophy that Dilthey’s worldview thinking is absorbed and lost in the ontic starting points of thought and reflection as if there were any other points of departure but those of ontic life, without recognizing the dignity and unity of the ontological origin. This origin consists in the ontological difference between beings as separate entities (Seiende) and being (Sein) itself. Heidegger concluded that Dilthey leaves us adrift in an endless sea of ontic multiplicity and myriad human scientific and historiographical investigations without a proper relation to the ontological event of history and the primordial origin.27
Despite the insights Heidegger acknowledged gaining from Dilthey in the 1920s, Dilthey cannot be counted a genuine philosopher for him. He is a human scientist and historiographer investigating the plurality of contingent ontic conditions of ideas and worldviews.28 The philosopher in Heidegger’s estimation must rise or return to a higher vocation in the movement from history as a mere science to history as tracing the event of being.
Whatever the other merits or faults of Heidegger’s understanding of history and philosophy, and its impact on contemporary thought through Derrida and Rorty, it articulates the idea of philosophy primarily in a monistic form. This form might be elucidated as an existential a priori that binds the questioner and as a method of discovering the ontological in the ontic. Heidegger described this in the sense of a hermeneutical anticipation or formal indication that abstracts from the particularity of one perspective in order to allow the multiplicity of concrete particulars to be encountered and engaged. The unity of the ontological difference between beings-being, which alone defines philosophy for Heidegger, would consequently permit the plurality of concrete forms of existence and ontic ways of being to be disclosed and recognized.
Heidegger’s method of formalization in formal indication and anticipating the way is in a significant sense not formal enough.29 It remains committed to a particular form of experience and bound to an ontological prejudice that marginalizes the ontic empirical particularities that are the plural points of departure for self-reflection (Selbstbesinnung) in the context of a life in all of its texture and singularity. In the context of the hermeneutical life-philosophy of Dilthey and Misch, and in classical Chinese philosophy as evidenced in the onto-generative hermeneutics implicit in the Yijing the point of departure for reflection needs to be the hermeneutical situation of life itself instead of an abstract formalized conceptuality. Such life is a changing and dynamic holistic nexus rather than the static identity of one determinate origin or a determinate systematic totality that would subordinate and totalize all elements.30
Heidegger might well break with the prejudices of abstract theorizing and mathematical vision that limited Husserl’s phenomenology. The ontological prejudice prevents Heidegger, in spite of himself to the extent that he wishes to prepare for a dialogue with Eastern thought, from recognizing philosophy in different settings that do not stem from the Greek origin and do not prioritize or pose the question of being. As Misch and Plessner indicated in the politically charged atmosphere of 1931, Heidegger’s idea of philosophy is intrinsically Eurocentric.31 It addresses the “being-there” ofthe Indian, the Etruscan, or the Egyptian only insofar as they can adopt themselves to the classical Greek-Christian tradition.32
Heidegger’s visualization of philosophy is, despite his moments of openness toward Asian thinking to the extent that it is poetic thinking rather than philosophy, transfixed by and beholden to an “ethnocentric a priori," which still structures contemporary Western philosophical discourses and institutional practices, such as in the guise of “ethnocentric relativism" Philosophy has been ethnocentric to the extent that its very idea is restrained to a particular—whether racially or culturally conceived—ethnically based historical tradition.
It is remarkable that modern and contemporary Western philosophy continues to conceive of itself as a closed universe. Medieval and early modern European thinkers were aware of and in discussion with Jewish, Arabic, and eventually Indian and Chinese sources. While Leibniz and Malebranche assessed elements of Chinese philosophy positively or negatively in relation to Christianity, a discourse that was not exclusively European or Western for them, philosophers since Herder and Hegel have excluded Chinese philosophy as incommensurable with Western philosophy. Even after the end of explicit developmental teleological philosophies of history that conclude with the triumphant culmination of Greek logos in modern Western thought, this ethnocentric a priori remains operative in Western philosophy’s self-deconstructive and immanent internal critics.