James Bahoh (Bio)

Event, Alienation, and Ground in Heidegger’s Ontology

The concept of Ereignis or ‘event’ forms the central motif of Heidegger’s middle and later work. It has had a widespread impact on the phenomenological tradition, recent non-phenomenological theories of events (e.g., Deleuze and Badiou), and broader 21st-century post-analytic-continental divide philosophy. Despite also being a major topic in recent Heidegger scholarship itself, there has been little agreement on the nature of ‘event’ in his work or its role in his overall philosophical program. In my view this has resulted in a failure to cultivate remarkable resources Heidegger’s account offers to us – philosophers working in the 21st century. I argue, in contrast to previous treatments, that explaining the concept of event in his philosophy requires explaining the methodological evolution of his ontology from the phenomenological, existential analysis of Dasein (the human being) to his later quasi-transcendental ontological realism. In my presentation I will focus on three essential points. (1) I will mark what I call a ‘diagenic’ distinction between two concepts of event in Heidegger’s work. I call them his ‘historical’ and ‘ontological’ concepts of event. In the former, ‘event’ names a fundamental rupture in the history of metaphysics that has the potential to generate what Heidegger calls ‘another beginning’ – a radically different framework for the intellectual and practical lives of human beings. The second, properly ontological concept of event articulates the logic of being (Sein) in a way freed of certain metaphysical presuppositions. (2) Heidegger suggests that we live within an historical framework of metaphysics initiated in ancient Greece and that this poses a problem insofar as it entails fundamental forms of alienation in human existence (alienation from ourselves, from others, and from our ontological ground). The historical concept of event offers a way to think about how this alienation might be remedied at existential and ontological levels. (3) A dominant view on Heidegger holds that this historical event is accomplished only by a mysterious quasi-agency of being (when being ‘sends’ [schickt] itself in a new historical configuration), while we human beings can do little more than meditate on our historical condition. I call this the fatalist interpretation, which I find dangerously close to a quietude about alienation suffered by human beings. In contrast, I argue that the historical event described in Heidegger’s philosophy is something we can endeavor to bring about. I explore how this works in terms of his concept of Er-gründung (‘fathoming the ground’).