Beyond rigorisms: notes on Martin Heidegger’s “What is Metaphysics?” (1929). By Gerardo Muñoz.

A preliminary note: it is important to have in mind that Heidegger understood metaphysics as onto-theology. This means that metaphysics was not anevent among others in history, but rather the event that allows the dispensation of the history of the forgetting of being as such. This is why it is always insufficient to take up the mission of founding an “alternative metaphysics” or an immanentization of the metaphysical horizon, which is, at the end of the day, the high price that Averroism has to pay for reenacting absolute aristotelianism against Christian dogmatics. Already in the opening line of “What is Metaphysics?” (1929), (“The question awakens expectations of a discussion about metaphysics…” 82), we encounter the gesture of awakening from the sleepwalking that is the essence of metaphysics as constituted by figures of the supreme (those “idols” that Gareth Williams already brought up to our attention in his commentary) on the one hand; and by the logic reconstruction of identity and difference of historical time on the other.

The engagement against all metaphysical rigorisms must open to a region of factical existence that clears a distinctive path that does not coincide with the demand for “exactness” in the wake of modern scientific development and the legitimacy of the ‘spiritualization of technology’. This spiritualization grounds the objectivity of scientific knowledge as its self-legitimation: “Today the only technological organization of universities and faculties consolidates this multiplicity of dispersed disciplines; the practice establishment of goals by each discipline provides the only meaning source of unity. Nonetheless, the rootedness of the science in their essential ground has atrophied” (82-83). Thus, the question of Da-Sein must necessarily move away, in a counter-universitarian fold, from the demand of exactness of mathematics and the rigorisms of inquiry that is only capable of establishing grounds. The techno-universitarian machination vis-à-vis exactness and rigor ascertains legitimacy through being understood as unveiled will-to-power and reserve for transformation, production, and distribution-organization.

But how? Of course, Heidegger not once speaks of legitimacy in this essay, and I would leave it open to whether the ontological difference and existence is a path that could be thought as an otherwise point of entry into the inquiry for legitimacy in the modern age. (A long parenthesis: this question seems pertinent, in my view, in order to bypass the recurring indictment of Heideggerianism as a “mystical step back” to the antiquity of the Greeks, to the inhumane hypsipolis apolis of the city, or turn to dichtung as the stamp of the German genialismus destroyer of the Enlightenment. I would bracket this question here for future investigation. I must clarify, however, that I pose this question not in the order of intellectual history, but as someone interested in the problem of the genesis of modernity. Also at stake here is the crucial debate with Ernst Jünger regarding the “crossing over the line” as the condition of nihilism, as well the unexplored relation between Lacan’s psychoanalysis, anthropological deficiency, and the ontological difference). In “What is Metaphysics”, Heidegger suggests that any real confrontation must be done through the nothing. The question of nothing for science and the techno-spiritual constellation is “an outrage and a phantasm”, a sort of suppository for transparent rationality (84). Indeed, Heidegger writes: “Science wants to know nothing about the nothing.” (84). But the nothing is never sutured, and that is why it takes a spectral figure; it returns whenever science fails to bring to unity of its own ground.

The question regarding nothing must be cleared from the logic operation of ‘negation’, which for Heidegger is “a doctrine of logic and a specific act of the intellect” (85). Here, Heidegger not only wants to break away from all forms of the Hegelo-Marxist dialectical philosophy of history, but with a deeper anthropological assumption that resides in the insistence of the condition of anticipation (86). (Note for future elaboration: a central kernel of philosophical anthropology – from Helmuth Plessner to Arnold Gehlen, from Hans Blumenberg to Odo Marquard – has been the story of finding ways to institute conditions of anticipation to discharge the absolutism of phenomena and organizing symbolic reality through compensatory and manageable partitions of spheres and actions). But I agree with Gareth Williams that what is at stake in the non-grasping of the question of the nothing is sustaining thinking as nihiliation to an “unconcealed strangeness” that opens up the condition of finitude. Originary attunement is what “makes manifest the nothing” (88), for Heidegger, the possibility of the closest proximity and near true distance. The unwelt of attunement (which never constitutes the idealism of a weltanschauung) is said to be found in boredom or anxiety that rips a hole in language, since “anxiety robs us of speech” (89). Boredom puts us in relation to the animal.

Now, this ur-stimmung knows no hypokeimenon (the pure “that is” of the subject, what subjects the pre-supposition), and that is why it is an instance where the “nothing is manifest” as the clearing of being as a sort of black sun in the open of nothing. “Nihiliation will not submit to calculation in terms of annihilation and negation. The nothing itself nihiliates” (90). This original attunement is what allows for freedom completely disintegrate “logic itself in the turbulence of a more originary questioning” (92). The digression on freedom is important. That is, the freedom that is evoked here is necessarily detached from the freedom of the subject of dialectical thought, the two conceptions of freedom in classical Liberalism (positive and negative), and freedom understood as a conatus of experience engrained in the subjective fabric of affects and habits in the tradition of immanence and philosophies of vitalism, etc. Let’s bracket it in a schematic form: freedom against liberty (liberalism):: attunement against affect (life). A question at this point: is the emergence of the freedom in this early text as a vortex of the attunement of anxiety and boredom, later displaced in Heidegger’s insistence on the Galassenheit as the fundamental mood of a suspended topology? Or is the Galassenheit an adjoined mood as the attunement with the nothing? The question of freedom emerges again at the end in an important passage:

“We are so finite that we cannot even bring ourselves originally before the nothing through our own decision and will. So abyssally does the process of finitude entrench itself in Dasein that our most proper and deepest finitude refuses to yield to our freedom” (93).

The question of freedom as posited here runs all absolute rigorisms amok, whether ethical or political, which ultimately makes their propositions fall within the regime of the “legitimacy of the dominion of “logic” in metaphysics” (95). I would like to call the freedom that opens up in this region where philosophizing takes place infrapolitical freedom. But philosophy here is trans-formed; this is thought. The dismissal of the nothing “with a lordly wave of the hand” as science does, or through an accumulation of facts as it is done in historiography, cannot guarantee freedom in the originary sense that is housed in existence.

As Heidegger says at the very end: “no amount of scientific rigor attends to the seriousness of metaphysics. Philosophy can never be measured by the standard of the idea of science” (96). Not fully abandoning Husserl (or at least that is my wager here, briefly crossing to a late essay on the question of “Earth” beyond science), the philosozing occurs in the measureless earth, an earth that does not move, and beyond any conception as a ready-made idea of measurement. The moment that philosophy raises the question of our existence, it embarks in a decisive removal of all rigorisms of truth (be it ethical, logical, political, anthropological, or historical –hegemonikai or guiding faculties) as well as the absolute trepidations of the negative. Only when positing being at the proximity of the fissured ark, there is the possibility of a bringing the questioning of the nothing. It is here where all rigorisms collapse and good theories end.


Edmund Husserl. “Foundational Investigations of the Phenomenological Origin of the Spatiality of Nature: The Original Ark, the Earth, does not move”. Shorter Works (University of Notre Dame, 1981). 222-233.

Gareth Williams. “First Take on “What is Metaphysics” by Martin Heidegger”.

Martin Heidegger. “What is Metaphysics” (1929), Pathmarks (University of Cambridge Press, 1998). 82-97

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