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What is Called Thinking by Martin Heidegger

"Most thought-provoking in our thought-provoking time is that we're still not thinking."

In this book, Heidegger is committed to distinguishing a type of thinking that differs from the representational, calculative thinking of ordinary discourse. The type of thinking Heidegger calls us to embark upon is different in that it doesn't presuppose an object to be thought about. For instance, he says that most of our thinking is "one-track thinking" where thinking is no more than "having views." So, when we think about the stars, God, the weather, our mother, the government, etc., we think about our views on such matters. It's not that this thinking is insignificant, yet, according to Heidegger, "The one-sided view, which nowhere pays attention any longer to the essence of things, has puffed itself up into an all-sidedness which in turn is masked so as to look harmless and natural."

The thinking Heidegger is after, by contrast, doesn't posit any object for us to express our views about. There's no such thing as thinking about which to think. Rather, there are certain questions that are inherently worthy of our attention. By attending to these questions, such as "What calls us to think?," we may find ourselves thinking.

Heidegger sees our age as one where technology has people, instead of the other way around. For us, in this age, everything and everybody has a significance which is "equipmordial" in nature. By example, Heidegger tells us that in ancient history, the Rhine River in Germany had a holy significance of its own, quite apart from its importance for human progress. But what is the river to us now? It has an energy source. We build dams and powerplants to harness its energy for our technological progress: It's been transformed into just another piece of equipment, not much different than a hammer except for its size. Heidegger's assertion is that only by engaging ourselves in the inherently worthy questions is there any hope of breaking technology's grip on us and "seeing" the essence of things.

What is most thought provoking for Heidegger is that we're still not thinking. Apparently, we're still not thinking because the questions which lie at the heart of the matter for human beings are less significant to us every day. People in our technological age tend to stifle any questions that might reveal anything to do with Being. Heidegger believes that if we can somehow open ourselves to the questions which are inherently most thought-provoking, like, "What calls on us to think?", we might receive the wonderful gift of genuine thinking. In a sense, the gift we receive is ourselves. Certain questions, provided that we open ourselves to them, allow us to see our essential nature so that we don't interpret ourselves as we do the Rhine River (as equipment) but, rather, see ourselves as some thing "holy," as something worthy of questioning.

Near the end of the book, Heidegger talks about the "presence of what's present." And, for those of you who read the book, this perhaps speaks to the possibility that could open up for you: the presence of what's present may shine its light on you.

What Is Called Thinking? is strikingly different from almost all other literature available. The reading is a taxing affair, requiring deep concentration, involvement, and a commitment to the question at hand--a commitment to, as Heidegger says, "settle down and live within it." You won't necessarily derive practical wisdom from this book, or theoretical knowledge, or even the power to act differently. If the context described in this review grabs your attention and you find yourself, on some level, sympathetic to some of Heidegger's assertions, then I recommend you read this book. But be prepared to work.


Review by John Hanley, Jr.

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