What is Called Thinking?

I have been reading Heidegger’s What is Called Thinking? and I am realizing very quickly that it is not the kind of book that can be read and then summarized after the fact, a problem that I encounter again and again with the more philosophical books that I read, but that I am feeling acutely now with respect to this particular book.  So I will try to write a little differently about it as I am reading, as a kind of experiment.  I will offer a quotation from the book, or perhaps a brief summary of a section, and then I will add my own questions and reflections, and I may write more than several times about the book over the course of a few weeks.  Hopefully there will be those who are willing to think these things with me, or, as Heidegger might say, hopefully there will be those those who are willing to journey with me on the way to thinking.

Heidegger says, “What of itself gives us most to think about, what is most thought-provoking, is this – that we are still not thinking.

If we are not yet thinking, what is it in us that recognizes this ‘still not”, this thinking that might be but is ‘still not’?  What is it in us that recognizes that we are still not thinking, that we are perhaps not yet even on the way to thinking?  What is it in us that undertakes, or perhaps does not undertake, the way to thinking?  What is it in us that would make an ideal of thinking, that would desire to learn how to think?

This recognition of thinking, this desire for thinking, this will to thinking, cannot be said to belong essentially to all human being in the world, since there are many who refuse it and who are no less human for this refusal.  It cannot even be said to belong potentially to all human being in the world, since there are many who are not even capable of thinking in this way and who are no less human for this lack.  Yet there is something, something that appears only in relation to human being in the world, something that nevertheless, in some cases, perhaps only here and there, but again and again, recognizes, and desires, and wills thinking.   What is this thing?  Though I may not yet know how to think, though I may not yet even have undertaken the way to thinking, why is it that I desire to undertake it?  Why do I want to know what is called thinking?

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14 comments
  1. I realize that it is likely large prerogatives and lengthy topics Heidegger and you are exposing us to, however, we need a bit more exposition here, predominantly in the aspect what exactly prompts the speculation regarding thinking and thought, the explanation of it’s origin is still concealed, and would be helpful in following you if you can distill it for us.

  2. Curtis,

    The context is this: Heidegger is delivering a series of lectures on the question, What Is Called Thinking? He observes first that “we are not yet capable of thinking,” and he goes on to suggest that what most provokes us to thought is this recognition that we are still not thinking. My question involves trying to identify the part of us that, while still not capable of thinking. while still not even on the way to thinking, is capable of recognizing and desiring and willing thought.

    By the way, I think you are misusing the word ‘prerogative’ here.

  3. “I have been reading Heidegger’s What is Called Thing? and I am realizing very quickly that it is not the kind of book that can be read and then summarized after the fact” — I couldn’t agree more. When I read this last summer, I posted on it endlessly, and often simply to quote it. It’s a very hard book to summarize, and I think this is part of its strength. In order to think I must get on the path to thinking. Thinking isn’t something available to me, let alone something I can share.

    I’ll be interested to follow your other posts on this, as well as to discuss this at length when next we meet.

  4. .
    an exclusive right, privilege, etc., exercised by virtue of rank, office, or the like: the prerogatives of a senator.
    2.
    a right, privilege, etc., limited to a specific person or to persons of a particular category: It was the teacher’s prerogative to stop the discussion.
    3.
    a power, immunity, or the like restricted to a sovereign government or its representative: The royal prerogative exempts the king from taxation.
    4.
    Obsolete. precedence.
    –adjective
    5.
    having or exercising a prerogative.
    6.
    pertaining to, characteristic of, or existing by virtue of a prerogative.

    The exclusive right and power to command, decide, rule, or judge: the principal’s prerogative to suspend a student.

    Hence, Heidegger’s approach to the topic he has chosen to write about, is his prerogative,and his stipulations also, as well as your words and approach, specifically yours, as not having access ourselves to the material, is also a prerogative.

  5. Curtis,

    Precisely. So let us insert the synonym ‘privilege’ into the sentence that you first wrote, rearranging the sentence structure in order to correct the passive construction and the clause ending in a preposition: “I realize that you and Heidegger are exposing us to large privileges.” As you can see, this is not really an accurate use of the word.

  6. Dave,

    You should brush up. I will need you to explain some sections to me.

  7. John Jantunen said:

    I am very interested, Luke, just exactly what he means by thinking. By this I mean, what purpose does it serve? Is he specific? Does he give examples? I wonder if, like John Garnder’s morals in fiction, thinking divorced from any real usefulness (Gardner specifies the usefulness of fiction as being in its capacity for creating life affirming moments that the reader will be able to take with them into their day to day, thus making the world a better place) is not just empty rhetoric (Gardern’s sin of succumbing to stylistic fads). In Magister Ludi Hesse came to the conclusion that genuine knowledge of the world (which I am assuming is where real thinking must begin) is beyond the reach of those in a position to do something with it. Too long have they been sheltered that when confronted with the hard reality of a cold lake and the opportunity for a swim their hearts simple can’t take it. If that is the case then I wonder if there is a way out of this paradox (ie. real thought isn’t possible because real thinkers have been wasting their time thinking instead of living so they have something to really think about). Once again, I am not well enough read in Heidegger to know if any of this is relevant.

  8. John,

    To this point (fifteen pages) Heidegger has not yet given a real definition of thinking, but I suspect this is because he has not yet finished laying the groundwork for this definition. His title asks the question, “What Is Called Thinking?”, but the very fact that this question needs to be asked and cannot easily be answered means that we do not really know what thinking is.

    His opening paragraph reads, “We come to know what it means to think when we ourselves try to think. If the attempt is to be successful, we must be ready to learn thinking. As soon as we allow ourselves to become involved in such learning, we have admitted that we are not yet capable of thinking.”

    In other words, our inability to think what thinking is implies that we are not yet capable of thinking.

  9. Brandi said:

    I’m currently reading this book for a university class. He is not trying to define thinking by saying “What is CALLED thinking?” It is more, “What is it that CALLS US to think?” What commands us to think? What is it that brings us to thought? The first part of the book is attempting to show us to unlearn everything we have previously thought of as thought and thinking. Man is quite possibly capable of thinking. In the second part of the book, he is leading us along the path to a point at the end, where we may, if we take the final step ourselves, be capable of thought. What calls us to thought WANTS to be thought about, by nature, which is why it calls us to thought. That which is thought provoking, which is food for thought, is a gift in itself, bringing us to thought. What allows us to think is what is thought provoking. Heidegger says that this is a gift, this thought-provoking in itself. He then tries to tie together the words “thinking” and “thanking”, as they are similar in Old English, “thencan” and “thancian” respectively. If there is a gift, which is that which is food for thought and thus thought provoking in itself, there must be a thanks. In order to give thanks to that which is thought provoking, one must perhaps think then. “The supreme thanks, then, would be thinking? And the profoundest thanklessness, thoughtlessness?”(143) The original thanks is the thanks owed for being, and (a little reverse from Descartes) we ARE therefore we THINK. Memory as well has a crucial role in becoming capable of thinking . Heidegger says that “memory is the container of all reflection.” It holds together the path to being capable of thinking. “Thought is in need of memory, the gathering of thought.” All the terms which I have now mentioned all all terms that have stood out to Heidegger, these words “speak to him from the verb think.” From this, I get that he is attempting to put them all together, like puzzle pieces, and memory is necessary for that. It holds all thought, and it brings forth these words to him which are now interconnected. Again, like he did with call, he goes back to the original meanings of words, “a steadfast, intimate concentration upon the things that essentially speak to us in every thoughtful meditation.” Memory reminds us what must be thought. I’m still unsure of the next little bit, but from my understanding, he calls upon what Parmenides has to say about being, and from this, he deduces that what is present speaks, and therefore thinking and its essential nature is determined by what there is to be thought about, which is found through beings in being which are recalling. In the end, he says, “The essential nature of thinking is determined by what there is to be thought about: the presence of what is present, the Being of beings.” Thinking must recollect. “And that is the duality of beings and Being. The quality is what properly gives food for thought. And what is so given, is the gift of what is most worthy of question.” With this, you then must make yourself capable of thinking.

    I know this summary is a little shaky… I’m by no means the top of my class, or a philosophy student, I just happen to be taking this course as an elective for fun, to stimulate my mind a little. Hope this helps.

  10. Brandi,

    Thanks for the comment. I touch on some of what you are saying in a later post on “Heidegger and the Call“, which may interest you as well. And don’t worry. I was never the head of my class either.

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