Tijdschrift Voor Filosofie 59 (4):702-714 (1997)

Heidegger's Letter on 'Humanism' formulates with virtuoso variations of styleand metaphor time and again the same incantation: „Think the truth of Being”. Heideggeropposes this kind of thinking, which in his view is the guard of Being, listens to Being, and keeps open a clearing for Being, to 'humanism' in its traditional sense. He provides the latter with polemic quotation marks, because it puts the humanitas of the homohumanus not high enough. According to this 'humanism' which is essentially metaphysicaland ontotheological by nature, man is the master of Being, not its shepherd, as he should be. Humanism can only acquire a new content when man descends in poverty to the neighbourhood of Being. This essay criticizes Heidegger's view in three respects. Firstly, it is asked whether this descent to the neighbourhood of Being does not mean as such a revival of the same metaphysics and ontotheology that Heidegger repudiates so vehemently. Secondly, the way in which Heidegger reformulates in his Letter important statements from his Being and Time is characterized as a loss of the dynamic relation between Being and existence in favour of an immobilized thinking in the clearing of Being. Thirdly, the Letter is considered as a document of the post-World War II period. Heidegger seems to hold 'humanism', rooted as it is in the forgetfulness of Being, responsible for the horrors of that war. But should it not be our doing, our making, our rationality that we must put into action to avert such dangers of mankind? Is humanism, without quotation marks, not the only expedient that can save us in the end?
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