03/02/2010 17:13

Heidegger’s (Unspoken) Justice: the Ordering of the World

Shane Ewegen
Boston College

Heidegger’s (Unspoken) Justice: the Ordering of the World

In his 1942 lectures on Parmenides, Heidegger offers one of his few sustained meditations on the character of the political. More precisely, through an analysis of certain sections of Plato’s Politeia, Heidegger attempts to meditate upon the essence of the political as the open place wherein beings show themselves in various and conflicting ways. The polis, as the pole around which beings orbit, is the place where beings can come to be at issue for the human being; and to the manner in which these beings come to be at issue Heidegger gives the name order—his translation of the Greek word Dike, more typically rendered justice. Dike is that which orders beings with respect to mortals—and thus, orders mortals with respect to beings—within the open expanse of the polis.

Unfortunately, Heidegger does not elaborate upon this understanding of Dike (which we will here, for the time being, call ‘justice’). How is it that justice orders beings? How is one to think ‘order’ as Heidegger conceives it? What does order, so understood, have to do with the polis? Finally, what, if anything, do Heidegger’s oblique remarks about the ordering of beings have to do with justice as we late-comers understand it?

In order to raise these questions, a careful analysis of the relevant pages of Heidegger’s Parmenides will be undertaken, with special attention being paid to the role of Dike as the ordering of beings for mortals. What will be shown is that Dike, as Heidegger understands it, names the manner in which beings are given to human beings within (and precisely as) a given historical situation. Through such a gift—which, properly understood, is nothing other than the gift of Being (thought in the double-genitive)—the human being comes to know its place in the polis, that is, comes to know its place with respect to Being. Through the ordering of Dike the human being is appropriated into its proper place.

After these questions have been raised, an effort to elucidate what such an understanding of Dike entails will be pursued through an analysis of Heidegger’s das Ding (1950), the essay now famous for its elaborate, if not poetic description of an otherwise common wine-jug. Though the purported purpose of this text is seemingly far removed (both topically and chronologically) from the lectures on Parmenides, what will be shown is that Heidegger’s rigorous phenomenological analysis of the jug, properly understood, articulates precisely the ordering that Heidegger has in mind in the Parmenides lectures.

Briefly stated, Heidegger argues in das Ding that a thing conditions us by relating us—or, I will argue, by ordering us—with respect to what Heidegger calls the ‘four-fold’: namely, the unified experience of the earth, sky, morals, and immortals (gods). When we use a jug, Heidegger argues, we do not simply employ some extended (Cartesian) substance over which we have mastery. Rather, if we attend to the being of jug, we let ourselves be situated with respect to the wine which the jug holds, wine which was made from grapes grown in the earth (the realm of mortals) and moistened with water from the sky (the realm of gods). To let the jug be what it properly is, is to let ourselves be ordered with respect to the unified-fourfold, i.e., the world. In a word, it is to let ourselves be appropriated by the gift of Being. To comport oneself toward the world in such a way as to let oneself be ordered by the gift of Being is, it shall be argued, Heidegger’s (unspoken) notion of Justice.

However, one could object that such a notion of justice fails to attend properly to other human beings, and further seeks to understand all things within the horizon of Being. Phrased in Levinasian terms, is this notion of justice not another case of Heidegger’s reduction of the Other to the Same? In the concluding section of the paper it shall be argued that, far from reducing the human other to the same, Heidegger’s (unspoken) notion of justice as ordering extends the role of ‘other’ to non-human others as well. Heidegger’s notion of justice—and, indeed, his phenomenology as a whole—requires listening to others as they show themselves from themselves. Once one has let oneself be ordered by the world—once one has become just within the polis—one sees that even wine-jugs are radically other.