What Becomes of the Human after Humanism? Heidegger and Derrida

Rex Gilliland, Dartmouth College


Does the human being have a future? Is it a concept that has outlived its usefulness, or does it offer unique and indispensable resources that we have hardly begun to consider? In the latter half of the twentieth century, the status of the human being was a pervasive issue in both continental and Anglo-American thought. The linguistic turn in both traditions was motivated to a great extent by the desire to bracket the paradoxes and ambiguities surrounding the concept of human subjectivity, and was contemporaneous with a growing confidence in the ability to explain human activity by means of social, psychological, linguistic, and physical determinants. But if we return to this issue today, has the status of the human being ceased to confront us? Or are we even more troubled by it, having lost our confidence in the simple solutions that spring up on both sides of the debate? Although there is no shortage of attempts today to reduce the human being to neurological processes or to merely reassert the traditional conceptions of ethical and political agency, there is resistance to these approaches in contemporary continental philosophy. Whether based on a metaphysics of matter and energy or a metaphysics of the will, these approaches break the human being down into basic components that need to be problematized. But if this is our response, do we have any idea how to proceed beyond this criticism? Can we say anything about the human being without reducing it to a subject or a collection of physical properties? The ambivalence about naturalism and subjectivism only highlights our uncertainty about the status of the human being.

            Although the humanism/anti-humanism debate in postwar France gravitated toward these extremes, perhaps there are still resources to be found there that will assist us in formulating a more subtle conception of the human being. In this essay, we will consider Heidegger’s concept of the human being in the “Letter on ‘Humanism’” and Derrida’s reading of it in “The Ends of Man.” The “Letter on ‘Humanism’” is the first publication in which Heidegger extensively discusses the central themes of his later thought and is also the text that framed Heidegger’s reception in postwar France. In it, Heidegger critically examines the metaphysical foundation of humanism and develops a conception of the human being that attempts to think human decision in terms of its fundamental orientation toward being. Against humanists such as Sartre, Heidegger argues that being, not the human being, is of primary importance. At the same time, he maintains that the human being cannot be reduced to an epiphenomenon of being because being needs the human being to preserve its truth. We will discuss the conceptions of human freedom and responsibility in Heidegger’s later thought by examining the manner in which being and the human being belong together. In addition, we will consider Derrida’s response to the “Letter on ‘Humanism’” and his own views about the human being. In “The Ends of Man,” a nuanced reading of this text and the debate about humanism it helped to inspire, Derrida highlights the inadequacies of the interpretations of Heidegger found on both sides of the debate. However, Derrida also argues that there is a certain justification for these readings: Due to the fact that he privileges the human being and defines its essence via the proximity and presence of being, Heidegger fails to escape metaphysics. Does Heidegger’s conception of the human being really have this consequence and, if so, does Derrida provide an alternate conception that avoids these difficulties? We will explore these questions by examining Derrida’s notions of undecidability and the relationship to an impossible presence: Is the extreme minimalism of Derrida’s position needed to disrupt the metaphysics of presence, or does it lead to a conception of the human being that is unnecessarily meager?

The Human in the Later Heidegger: Ek-sistence


Although it is commonly held that Heidegger marginalizes the human being in his later thought by turning his focus from Dasein to being, the “Letter on ‘Humanism’” shows that the shift, if there is one, is not nearly so extreme. In this essay, Heidegger poses the question of the relationship of the human being to being, a question that is foreign to humanism and other forms of metaphysics. Heidegger distinguishes his thought from humanism when he claims that being, not the human being, is what is essential, and states that his intention is not to elevate “the human being to the center of beings” (W 164, 183/254, 268).[1] At the same time, Heidegger acknowledges that, despite his own hesitations, it would be possible to characterize his thought as a type of humanism due to its concern with the essence and dignity of the human being (W 176/263). According to Heidegger, the human being has a special relation to being since being needs the human being to preserve its truth in thought and language (W 162, 172-173/252, 260). This mirrors Heidegger’s earlier claim in Metaphysical Foundations of Logic that “there is being insofar as Dasein exists” (GA 26 194-195/153). Indeed, the inseparability of being and the human being is a theme raised continually in Heidegger’s later thought. For example, in What is Called Thinking, Heidegger writes, “Every philosophical – that is, thoughtful – doctrine of the essence of the human is in itself alone a doctrine of the being of beings. Every doctrine of being is in itself alone a doctrine of the essence of the human” (WhD 73/79).

            If it is clear that the human being remains a central theme for Heidegger, its status still remains in question. What is the human being in its essence, and what relationship does it bear to being? For Heidegger, not surprisingly, these two questions are intimately linked: The essence of the human being is defined by its orientation toward being. In response to Sartre, Heidegger argues that it is not the case that the human being’s essence precedes its existence. Rather, in its essence, the human being is ek-sistence, a standing outside of itself into the truth of being (W 180-181/266). According to Heidegger, the fundamental orientation of the human being is not toward itself and its narrow everyday concerns, but toward something beyond itself – an open possibility. Being is the beyond, that which exceeds thought, not only in the sense of a question that lies concealed in oblivion, but also as an abyssal opening that reveals the provisional character of beings. It is not a transcendent being, but a transcendence, a standing out beyond itself. Ek-sistence is a manner of being that is proper only to the human being. The dignity of the human being lies in this privileged relationship to being, in the fact that it is the being that is needed to preserve the truth of being.

But how does the human being come into its essence by preserving the truth of being? And what does it mean for the human being to not be in its essence? One might wonder whether the human being could ever cease to stand out toward the truth of being and what the consequences of this would be. Although Heidegger suggests the possibility of a permanent closure within metaphysics with his concept of machination, he also indicates that, short of this, the essential nature of the human being and the status of the truth of being are a matter of degree. Even if the human being ignores the question of being, it still stands out in the truth of being to some extent, for the unessential, the metaphysical, is still a manner in which being unfolds itself in its history and truth. But though the unessential is still essential in some sense, just as Enteignis is still Ereignis, it is nevertheless possible to distinguish between being more and less essential: “[T]he essence of the human being consists in its being more than merely human” in the metaphysical sense of rational animal, “more originally and therefore more essentially in terms of its essence”  (W 173/260). In what manner of standing out into the truth of being is the human being most in its essence? The human being is most essential when it stands out into the truth of being as an opening to the beyond, or, to put it somewhat differently, when it lets itself be claimed by being (W 150/243). It is here that we come across the issues of human freedom and responsibility.

In “On the Essence of Truth,” Heidegger defines freedom as letting beings be the beings that they are. Letting be is neither “neglect and indifference” nor “the mere management, preservation, tending, and planning of the beings in each case encountered or sought out.” Rather, “To let be is to engage oneself [sich einlassen] with beings.” For Heidegger, this means “to engage oneself with the open and its openness into which every being comes to stand, bringing that openness, as it were, along with oneself” (W 83-84/144). Engagement is the manner of revealing beings in their singularity by taking one’s standard from them, i.e., letting them be what they are by following them into the opening to the beyond. ‘Letting beings be the beings that they are’ may sound like a tautology or the most passive form of restraint, though, as Heidegger indicates, it is hardly self-evident or a matter of mere observation. For example, in the act of writing an essay one attempts to unfold the issue at hand in its essence. One cannot do so by making capricious decisions or merely following the established methods or views. It requires that one engage with the issue at hand in a manner that is responsive to the unique possibilities that lie hidden in its history, a task that requires great patience and care.

Since the engagement with the beyond cannot be captured in specific rules, according to Heidegger there is never a guarantee that one will succeed in unfolding the being in its essence. But engagement is not a haphazard grappling in the dark, for standing out into the truth of being is letting oneself be claimed by being. Engagement, despite the lack of specific rules, is never mere human decision, which would be arbitrary. Rather, one is claimed by being in the sense that one responds sensitively to beings in their opening, letting them unfold in a manner appropriate to themselves. As such, one is thrown into a situation granted by being; one allows oneself to be claimed and carried away by being, though in a manner that always includes the counter throw of the human being’s free response (W 172/260). For Heidegger, human freedom and responsibility in their highest sense are one and the same: We are called in our essence to ek-sist, to let beings be by engaging with the history and truth of being. The responsibility that we are called to is none other than the preservation of the question of being through one’s essential freedom.


Causality, the Metaphysics of Presence, and the Human


The claim that Heidegger retains the notion of human freedom in his later thought might be alarming, for isn’t this an example of the subjectivism that he criticizes? If Heidegger retains this notion, isn’t his conception of the human being trapped within humanism? This objection arises from the concern that concepts of human agency turn the human being into an independent causal force, a present at hand faculty or mechanism that makes it possible for us to control our actions and to manipulate beings in the surrounding world. But is human freedom necessarily thought of as a form of causality? Even in his earlier thought, where the concept of human freedom is discussed more explicitly, Heidegger argues that freedom is not a form of causality but rather something that claims us and puts our being into question (see GA 31:302-303). Thought in this way, human freedom is not a faculty or mechanism but rather an opening to the beyond. Freedom enables us to preserve the truth of being by raising it as a question. In addition, there is something mysterious about the occurrence of freedom that outstrips explanation.

But why should we refer to it as ‘human’ freedom, and, by doing so, don’t we define the human being as an entity independent from the granting of being? Although Heidegger distinguishes between being and the human being, this does not mean that the two are independent from one another. The human being is not something fundamentally different than being, since being is what is most proper and most enigmatic for it. Conversely, being needs the human being to preserve its truth. As we saw above, the two are inseparable. In Heidegger’s view, one cannot make sense of the human being without being, or vice versa. The contemporary debate about subjectivity is often framed as a choice between two mutually exclusive options – that human actions are controlled by the human being or by something absolutely other than it. As a consequence, many critics of subjectivity unwittingly accept the assumption that freedom is a type of causality, and thereby reduce being to a causal process, a being.[2] Although Heidegger rejects such a choice, he does locate freedom in the human being. This is not to suggest that freedom is something completely other than the granting of being. Rather, it indicates that the human being is a privileged site or opening for the question of being, and, although it is we who decide whether to respond to this question, the grounds for our decision are ultimately as mysterious as any unfolding of being.

            Derrida’s reading of Heidegger’s in “The Ends of Man” is concerned not with Heidegger’s concept of freedom, but with his notion of responsibility and the manner in which he privileges the human being. In this essay, Derrida points out the limitations of the readings of Heidegger found on both sides of the humanism/anti-humanism debate, but argues that there is a certain authorization for these readings because Heidegger fails to escape the very humanism that he criticizes. Derrida argues for this by examining the role that the concepts of proximity and presence play in the “Letter on ‘Humanism’” – the proximity and presence found in the relationship of the human being to being. As the title of his essay indicates, Derrida plays on the double meaning of ‘end’ [fin], both a termination and a goal. According to Derrida, humanism and metaphysics are brought together through the unity of these two ends of the human being – an eschatology and a teleology (M 144/121). In Heidegger, he argues, these ends take the form of mortal finitude and the completion of the human being (M 161/134). Derrida develops these themes through an examination of the manner in which being becomes present for the human being.

In his reading of Heidegger, Derrida points out that the theme of proximity is central to the question of being throughout the course of Heidegger’s thought. According to Heidegger, the vague average understanding of being shows that the meaning of being is always already available to us. This is why Dasein – the being of the human being – is an exemplary being and receives a certain priority over other beings. According to Derrida, the priority of Dasein results from a privileging of presence: The proximity of Dasein to being includes both being’s presence to Dasein and Dasein’s presence to itself, though this presence is always finite since it never takes the form of complete transparency (M 148-152/124-127). In the “Letter on ‘Humanism’” and other later texts, Heidegger raises the theme of proximity in relation to the essence of the human being. According to Heidegger, the homelessness that arises from the negligence of the question of being is overcome when one reduces one’s distance to being. By doing so, the human being restores its essence and dignity (M 154, 155/128, 130). As Derrida indicates, the proper of the human being, its authenticity or sphere of ownness (Eigentlichkeit, Eigenheit), is a matter of its proximity to being. “The near is the proper, the proper is the nearest” (M 160/133). What is proper for the human being is its nearness to being, a proximal presence that both brings the human being into its essence and preserves the truth of being. Since being needs the human being in order to come into its own, this is a co-propriety. According to Derrida, the consequence is that the thinking of being is the telos of the human being and the destiny of being is tied to human finitude.

            Hasn’t Derrida succeeded in demonstrating the residue of a metaphysical humanism in Heidegger? Hasn’t he shown that the question of being fails to escape the metaphysics of presence due to its dependence on the teleology and eschatology of the human? Although Derrida’s reading is both original and provocative and it highlights an aspect of Heidegger’s thought that has often been overlooked, it is possible to challenge it. For example, Derrida fails to consider whether the theme of the concealment and oblivion of being displaces the priority of presence found in the metaphysical tradition. Aren’t concealment and distance as essential to being as its nearness? Isn’t there an alterity at the heart of what is most proper to the human being?

            This objection can be expanded into a broader question about Derrida’s interpretation of Heidegger. Derrida poses his interpretation as an internal reading of Heidegger, a strategy of deconstruction that uses the resources of a position against itself by demonstrating an internal tension (M 162-163/135). But we might wonder whether Derrida really succeeds in developing an internal reading. Is Derrida’s interpretation based on certain assumptions not shared by Heidegger? Although Derrida finds authorization for his reading in Heidegger’s comments about the complicity of metaphysics and humanism (M 140 n. 7/118 n. 10; see W 245/153), we might wonder whether Derrida’s interpretation of metaphysics is the same as Heidegger’s. Is the concept of presence as problematic for Heidegger as it is for Derrida? Is presence necessarily metaphysical? The fact that proximity, presencing, and the proper are central themes in Heidegger might be a matter of oversight on his part, but it could also indicate that his overall conception of the metaphysics of presence is more moderate than Derrida’s.  Unfortunately, Derrida does not consider the latter possibility in his reading of Heidegger. Although being, for Heidegger, is not presence, it is not wholly otherwise than presence – it is not an “impossible presence,” to use Derrida’s phrase (see M 20/19). Presencing, the manner in which beings break out of and fade back into concealment, is essential to being (H 335-337/50-52). If being did not both presence and withdraw, how could it be proximal to the human being in a manner familiar and yet enigmatic? When considered in conjunction with Derrida, Heidegger’s thought raises the question whether one can offset the privilege of presence without positing a strict limit or rupture between presence and what exceeds it, the beyond. Can we conceive the relationship between presence and the beyond as one of continuity and gradation, as a surface that opens toward and gradually fades into the abyss? Can presence take a form that is fundamentally oriented toward the beyond?

            The concept of presence is not necessarily pernicious for Heidegger because it does not inevitably close off the opening to the beyond. Presence certainly has a vigorous tendency to do so; it dominates our understanding of being as the continual presence (beständige Anwesenheit) of the now point or eidos. In metaphysics, presence is presumed to be self-evident and conceals the need for inquiry into the question of being. But this is not the only form that presence can take. Presence can also be conceived in a manner that opens the question of being, as in the case of the present (Gegenwart) as the moment of vision (Augenblick) and presence as the presencing (Anwesen) of beings. Even the metaphysical forms of presence have a certain continuity with being: Heidegger’s claim that being enowns itself as metaphysics and that the more extreme metaphysics becomes, the greater likelihood that we will experience being in its oblivion is an indication that metaphysics can also provide an opening into the question of being. Perhaps this helps to explain the fact that Heidegger occasionally treats metaphysical concepts such as subject, will, and spirit in a relatively uncritical manner: If one can dispel the self-evidence of these concepts by inquiring into the being of the subject (Dasein) and the being of will (care or freedom), isn’t this a movement toward the opening of the beyond rather than a slide back into metaphysics (see SZ 136, 182, 194-195, 229; GA 26:237-238, 251-252/185, 195; ZS 274/218-219)?


Undecidability: A Meager Conception of the Human?


If Heidegger is guilty of teleology and eschatology in his account of the human being, couldn’t we say the same of Derrida? Isn’t there an imperative in deconstruction, an imperative to continually reinscribe the impossibility of the presence of the other? And doesn’t this imperative result from a finitude – the constant deferral of the goal of articulating the trace of that which lies beyond metaphysics, brought about by our dependence on the language of metaphysics? The teleology and eschatology implicit in these claims are not separate from a certain privileging of the human being. Although Derrida problematizes Heidegger and Levinas’ conceptions of the animal, who does he address with this imperative to deconstruct the economy of presence but the human being? It is true that Derrida does not distinguish between the animal and human as other, but it appears that his hand is forced in the case of the reader who can understand and respond to the imperative. As this suggests, the human being and its two ends are alive and well in Derrida’s thought. But Derrida appears to acknowledge as much at the end of “The Ends of Man,” when he indicates that these problems continue to reemerge even after one has deconstructed the ‘we’ that underlies metaphysics (M 164/136). This claim is consistent with Derrida’s view that we are constantly pulled back into the closure of metaphysics of presence, even when we restrict ourselves to a language of the beyond as minimal and indirect as negative theology – a language of impossibility, alterity, and undecidability. The appropriate response to the tireless undertow of metaphysics is not an attempted escape but to vigilantly problematize these issues over and over again by reinscribing one’s relationship to the impossibility of presence.

            The inevitable complicity with the teleological and eschatological features of metaphysics can be seen in Derrida’s concept of undecidability, where he raises the issues of freedom and responsibility. In “Force of Law” and the afterword to Limited Inc, Derrida argues that ethical and political responsibility is structured by the experience of the undecidable. Responsibility calls for a decision, but a decision that exceeds the order of the calculable (LI 209-210/116). According to Derrida, this does not mean that ethical or judicial decisions should occur without taking account of laws and rules or without calculating the results of these decisions. But the responsibility that calls us to decide is not of the order of rules, which is why no rule can guarantee the correctness of the decision it leads to (FL 24). Consequently, a decision must not only follow a law, “but must also assume it, approve it, confirm its value, by a reinstituting act of interpretation” (FL 23). Responsibility is prior to the law. Derrida maintains, however, that the decision is neither indeterminate nor relativistic: “[U]ndecidability is always a determinate oscillation between possibilities … These possibilities are themselves highly determined in strictly defined situations (for example, discursive-syntactical or rhetorical – but also political, ethical, etc.)” (LI 273-274/148). Although a decision cannot be calculated through the mere application of a rule, this does not mean that we are left with an arbitrary choice between equally weighted possibilities. What is most important for Derrida here is not the decision as such but the experience of the paradox of undecidability, which reveals that responsibility lies beyond the metaphysics of presence. According to Derrida, the tension of this undecidable dilemma is not resolved by the eventual decision because there is never any guarantee that one has made the right decision (FL 24-25).

            There are many similarities between Derrida’s account of undecidability and Heidegger’s notions of letting be and engagement, not least of which is the inseparability of freedom and responsibility. Like Derrida, Heidegger privileges a conception of responsibility that exceeds the calculability of present at hand rules while arguing that we should not decide in the absence of traditional principles: According to Heidegger, we should “safeguard and secure the existing bonds even if they hold human beings together ever so tenuously and merely for the present” (W 183/268). Although Heidegger and Derrida promote a similar ethical and political imperative, we should not overlook the differences in their conceptions of freedom and responsibility. As I will argue, their respective views about the beyond and its relationship to presence provide distinct responses to the question of how to conceive the human after humanism.

One important difference between Heidegger and Derrida is that while Derrida stresses the determinacy of the context of decision, Heidegger highlights its indeterminacy. This can be illustrated in part by Derrida’s semiotic background: The metaphysics of presence has the same determinacy as a complex system of signifiers, a purportedly stable set of relations that stands in contrast to the différance that displaces and reinscribes it. In Heidegger, the concept of aletheia adds a certain indeterminacy and depth of gradation to presence that is lacking in Derrida. Since there is a concealment that underlies the presence of beings, these beings have an indeterminacy in them that leads to the question of being. In Heidegger, there is no strict separation between presence and the beyond but rather a continuity between them established by degrees of concealment. Hence, being can come to presence to a degree as presencing, intimation, granting, and destiny without closing off the question of its mystery and oblivion. For Heidegger the contrast lies not between presence and the beyond but between metaphysics and the thinking of being. But even in this case there is a certain continuity between the two, as we saw above.

            The term ‘indeterminacy’ is often regarded with caution because it suggests carelessness and pervasive ambiguity. This is another reason for Derrida’s discomfort with the term, which he associates with relativism. Because of these connotations, Heidegger carefully delimits his use of the term. Although it might be easier in some ways to avoid the term ‘indeterminacy’ altogether, it provides help with a possible objection. As I argued above, Heidegger’s critique of the metaphysics of presence consists not in a critique of presence as such but rather the self-evidence of continual presence. But if this is the case, why does this critique affect only the concepts of metaphysics and not Heidegger’s own claims? Although there is something provisional about the existentials in Being and Time – due to their ontic ground – and Heidegger’s later concepts such as the essence of the human being and the history of being – since they are not propositions – they still have a formal character to them that draws suspicion. Since many of Heidegger’s claims lack exceptions, are claims about the characteristics of being or the human being that are always already the case, don’t they take on the form of continual presence, of an eidos? Although Heidegger could be more explicit on this point, the difference between his claims and the concepts of metaphysics is the indeterminacy of the former. Metaphysics makes specific (i.e., ontic) claims about the being of beings. In contrast, fundamental ontology and the thinking of being make claims general enough to avoid predetermining the ontic characteristics of beings. In Being and Time, Heidegger illustrates this difference in his discussion of the call of conscience and resoluteness. The call is indeterminate because it “‘says’ nothing that might be talked about, gives no information about events.” At the same time, it takes a definite direction because it “points forward to Dasein’s potentiality for being” (SZ 274, 280). The call is ontologically determinate because it calls one to authenticity, but is ontically indeterminate because it provides no present at hand rules to predetermine how to act authentically within a specific factical situation. This indeterminacy is both intentional and essential. According to Heidegger, resoluteness necessitates holding oneself open within the current factical situation by not predetermining the nature of authenticity (SZ 307). “To resoluteness, the indeterminacy characteristic of every potentiality for being into which Dasein has been factically thrown is something that necessarily belongs” (SZ 298). In Heidegger’s view, the ontological difference allows us to distinguish between claims that reduce beings to continual presence and those that make it possible for beings to presence in the manner of presencing. Due to the ontic determinacy of its claims, metaphysics conceives being as a being. In contrast, the thinking of being presences in a manner that opens us to the beyond or abyss of being. Although Heidegger’s concepts of authenticity and letting be might be described as teleological, they are not so in a metaphysical sense because they lack the determinacy that would predetermine the current situation.

            A second difference between Heidegger’s conceptions of freedom and responsibility and Derrida’s has to do with the concept of decision. Like Derrida, Heidegger stresses the fact that the question of responsibility is an open question that always contains the risk of error. However, since he maintains that freedom and responsibility can come to presence to some degree, Heidegger has more to say about the nature of decision. We saw this above in our discussion of letting be: Letting beings be the beings that they are is a free engagement with beings that takes these beings, in their singularity, as its standard. The human being preserves the truth of being by freely binding itself to the singularity of beings. This is how it ek-sists in its essence. This account of the human being will not satisfy everyone: Like Derrida, Heidegger sets strict limits on the types of claims that can be made about freedom and responsibility, and, as a consequence, is often accused of failing to provide an ethics. On the other hand, due to his more moderate conception of the beyond, Heidegger has more to say about the human being and its freedom and responsibility than Derrida. For Derrida, the concept of the human must be pushed over into the impossibility of presence in order to avoid humanism. Freedom and responsibility can only be described in an indirect, negative manner – as undecidability. Although we can examine these issues in more detail by deconstructing the texts of metaphysics, the views discussed will be considered problematic and there is no motivation to further develop them except as a means to articulate our relationship to the beyond. In Derrida’s account, there is a significant gap between calculation and undecidability and we are told very little about the latter besides the fact that it exceeds calculation without leaving it behind. Heidegger’s discussion is more reassuring for those concerned about relativism because it provides a more substantive account of how one can make a decision that is neither arbitrary nor guided by specific principles.[3]

            As this indicates, Heidegger provides richer resources for thinking the human after humanism. The difference between Heidegger and Derrida’s accounts of the human lies in their respective conceptions of the beyond. I have argued that the debate between the these views is still open because Derrida fails to establish an internal reading of Heidegger in “The Ends of Man.” Keeping this in mind, each side has its own potential advantages. Derrida is more vigilant about disrupting the metaphysics of presence than Heidegger, but this is a consequence of his conception of metaphysics and not necessarily a deficiency on Heidegger’s part. In contrast, Heidegger’s approach has the advantage that it provides richer resources for thinking the human being while not losing sight of that which lies beyond thought. If we are still confronted today with the question of the human being, Heidegger’s conception of ek-sistence in the “Letter on ‘Humanism’” provides a subtle alternative to the various forms of naturalism and subjectivity that dominate the contemporary debate. As Heidegger attempts to show, it is possible to think the essence of the human being in a manner that leads us beyond humanism and metaphysics.


[1] This paper will use the following abbreviations for Heidegger and Derrida’s works:

FL = “Force of Law: The ‘Mystical Foundation of Authority’,” trans. Mary Quaintance, in Deconstruction and the Possibility of Justice, ed. Drucilla Cornell, Michel Rosenfeld, and David Gray Carlson (New York: Routledge, 1992).

GA 26 = Metaphysische Anfangsgründe der Logik im Ausgang von Leibniz, ed. Klaus Held (Frankfurt: Klostermann, 1978); English translation Metaphysical Foundations of Logic, trans. Michael Heim (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1984).

GA 31 = Vom Wesen der menschlichen Freiheit. Einleitung in die Philosophie, ed. Harmut Tietjen, 2nd corrected ed. (Frankfurt: Klostermann, 1994).

H = Holzwege (Frankfurt: Klostermann, 1950); English translation “The Anaximander Fragment,” in Early Greek Thinking: The Dawn of Western Philosophy, trans. David Farrell Krell and Frank Capuzzi (New York: HarperCollins, 1974).

LI = Limited Inc., trans. Elisabeth Weber (Paris: Galilée, 1990); English translation Limited Inc (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1988). “Afterword: Toward an Ethic of Discussion” trans. Samuel Weber.

M = Marges de la philosophie (Paris: Minuit, 1972); English translation Margins of Philosophy, trans. Alan Bass (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1982).

SZ = Sein und Zeit, 7th ed. (Tübingen: Niemeyer, 1953).

W = Wegmarken (Frankfurt: Klostermann, 1967); English translation Pathmarks, ed. William McNeill (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998). “Letter on ‘Humanism’” trans. Frank A. Capuzzi; “On the Essence of Truth” trans. John Sallis.

WhD = Was heißt Denken? (Tübingen: Niemeyer, 1954); English translation What is Called Thinking? trans. J. Glenn Gray (New York: Harper & Row, 1968).

ZS = Zollikoner Seminare, Protokolle—Gespräche—Briefe, ed. Medard Boss (Frankfurt: Klostermann, 1987); English translation Zollikon Seminars: Protocols—Conversations—Letters, ed. Medard Boss, trans. Franz Mayr and Richard Askay (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 2001).


[2] The concept of causality is introduced whenever one distinguishes between two entities – body and will, human action and an external force or process – and maintains that a change in one is brought about by the other. Heidegger attempts to avoid this concept by examining the manner in which a being unfolds in its essence without making a rigid distinction between being and beings. When Heidegger responds to the traditional view that freedom is a type of causality by maintaining that freedom is the condition for the possibility of causality (GA 31:303), he is arguing that causality can only become manifest as a way in which beings emerge in their being if one freely binds oneself to the standard of the objectivity of objects. Consequently, letting beings be, as a manner in which beings unfold, is more originary.


[3] Heidegger’s account also appears to be more sensitive to the singularity of decision due to the fact that he stresses the indeterminacy of responsibility and engagement rather than the determinacy of the possible choices. However, Derrida also has conceptual resources for raising the issue of singularity in his notions of displacement and reinscription.