To Think One Thing

Heidegger says, “Every thinker thinks one only thought,” and again, “The thinker needs one thought only, and for the thinker the difficulty is to hold fast to this one only thought as the one and only thing that he must think.”

This idea of the one only thought reminds me of Kierkegaard when he says that “Purity of heart is to will one thing.”  Of course, it would not do to conflate Kierkegaard with Heidegger here, and it would be very hasty indeed to assume that willing one thing and thinking one thing are necessarily related, but I am tempted nevertheless to say that thinking one thing might require a certain purity also, not a purity of heart perhaps, because the heart’s purpose is to will, but a purity of mind.  If purity of heart is to will one thing, then perhaps purity of mind is to think one thing.  Perhaps holding fast to the one only thought is just such a purity.

Would it be too daring to suggest now, as I deliberately refrained from suggesting just a paragraph ago, that the one only thing to be willed by the pure heart and the one only thing to be thought by the pure mind are one and the same?  This is, I think, an audacity that would remain unjustified even after much patient work.  Even so, I will say it, unjustified as it may be, and I will say also, though it dares much more, that a purity of heart and a purity of mind require each other to become fully what they should be.

Yet, how does the thinker come to think this one only thing, come to encounter it, come to recognize it?  Will it consent to be named?  If I was to give it a name, if I was to call to it by name, to call it love, perhaps, or to call it hospitality, or to call it justice, or even, surely in a moment of great rashness, to call it God, how much would these names, one or another, deform the one only thought that I must hold fast, the one only thought that these names try but fail to name?  Is this why Heidegger goes on to say that the thinker must keep saying the one only thought in the manner that befits it, in a manner that lets the thinker be claimed by it?  Is it that the thinker must keep saying, again and again, in whatever ways seem best, this one only thing that is always the same thing?  Is it that this one only thing must claim the thinker precisely because the thinker can never claim the one only thing?

How then does the thinker hold fast to this one only thought that must be thought, and must be said, but can never be claimed, like a desire, a discipline, a lust, a commandment, a will, a need, a perseverance?  How is it that we are to think this one only thing?

  1. Luke, I think you may be finally writing about something so stressed between worlds, elusive and esoteric, that it is simply beyond us, or too obscure to discover.

  2. It might just be that I have no relationship with the content of Heidegger, but it just seems so undefined and impossible to scope, so as can’t be defined, to be saying anything at all.

  3. John Jantunen said:


    Odd that I am reminded of something while reading this passage, which I agree, is as elusive and esoteric as Curtis suggests (not necessary bad things, of course). What I am reminded of is the old saying, All roads lead to Rome. It occurred to me, while writing my latest, that people sometimes use this expression wrong. When they say all roads lead to Rome, what some people, I think, are saying is that the reason why all roads lead to Rome is because Rome is a place of wonder and majestry, the centre of the universe, and all roads lead there because of what it is. In reality, all roads lead to Rome because that’s where they started and it has nothing to do with Rome, the place, but Romans, the people, who were just crazy about building roads. The same, perhaps, applies to the one only thought. Could it be that the one only thought is a pure expression of (for want of a better word) our usness (as roads were a pure expression of Roman identity) and the reason that it is so hard, elusive, to grasp is because it is so very difficult to distill one’s, say Johnness, from the rest of all that themness one confronts on a day to day. To carry the anolgy a little further then, we increasingly define our usness by the people around us and thus become like Rome as seen through the eyes of a traveller, that is our usness is something outside of who we are (our image, our identity, that which we project) when we should be seeing ourselves as if we were Romans, builder or roads, creators rather than observers. In this way (stretching it?) the one only thought is the embodiemnet of all that we are and expands outwards (like a network of roads), encompassing vaster and vaster realms of thought and experience while never losing sight of the empire it is serving, namely ourselves.

  4. Curtis and John,

    I apologize for my lack of clarity. It is a reflection of my own lack of clarity on the subject. I am struggling with how to think “the one and the same”, in Heidegger, and I am not sure that I am succeeding in doing more than talking in circles. Considering that I am only a short way into the book, this does not bode well for me.

  5. I find it to be far too ironic, that, the supposed certainty of discovering ‘the one thought thing’,is so ambiguous, as to derail the process and limit the chance of discovery. On the other hand, perhaps this is the point, to keep us ravenous at thinking, keep pursuing it. A sort of gardening, which takes what is at hand, and though, even by division of thought, into weeding, into tilling, into examining for parasites and what should be pruned, the one thing to be thought, the budding, blossoming, fertilizing, even, the bloom of the fruit, all these seemingly delayed, otherwise, secondary points, removed from the single thought of the ripened harvest, are actually the thousands of thoughts towards the one thing. To think one thing, is all the actions and ponderings in a syllogism leading to a ripe mind.

  6. Curtis,

    I think it would be inaccurate to describe the discovery of the one only thought as “certain” in any way. The problem is precisely that it is not certain, that this one only thing is so difficult to hold fast.

  7. I did not mean to give it the idea that it was certain, just a context, or more concrete platform, and if being honest, for all it’s variables, a crop you can extrapolate, and intend, but as you yourself know, if not certain, but held to in actions that seem, by time, so far removed, but motivated towards the possibility.

  8. tc said:

    painters, artists, those who work carefully,
    when you look at the (body) of their work,
    you can clearly see that they are working
    the same idea over and over again, all the way
    to Rome.
    I don’t know that your last paragraph is correct though.
    It’s not so that a desire can be claimed.

    I wonder what these ideas have to do with the contraction
    and circumscription of an idea (known by heart),
    and the idea of the circumcision of the heart.
    This is something I am thinking and working about at the moment.

    Nice to hear your voice

    ( ) = italics

  9. TC,

    This idea of desire is something that comes from me rather than Heidegger. It is an attempt to explain how a thinker holds fast to the one only idea. I recognize its complications and insufficiencies, but I am still at a loss to explain how it is, why it is, that a thinker might cling to the one only thing.

    I like the idea of the circumcised heart. I have mused on it in a more or less theological sense several times. Will we see a post on it sometime soon?

    It is nice to hear your voice also, a pleasant surprise this morning.

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