Tutors Talk Books: Ian Moore on Heidegger and Schelling

February 28, 2022 | By Eve Tolpa

Santa Fe Tutor Ian Moore

Santa Fe tutor Ian Moore completed the first-ever English translation of the first volume in Polity Press’s Heidegger series: The Metaphysics of German Idealism: A New Interpretation of Schelling’s Philosophical Investigations into the Essence of Human Freedom and Matters, published in 2021. Moore—who is also the author of  Eckhart, Heidegger, and the Imperative of Releasement—is currently on leave from St. John’s to serve as assistant professor of philosophy at Loyola Marymount University.

What appealed to you about this project?

I had just finished an excellent reading group with St. John’s students on Schelling’s Philosophical Investigations into the Essence of Human Freedom, which is the main text Heidegger is interpreting in The Metaphysics of German Idealism. I was eager to understand [better] Heidegger’s relationship to Schelling, whom Heidegger had earlier seen as a philosophical precursor but whom he later considered to be one of the last representatives of Western metaphysics, which Heidegger was trying to supplant.

What is German idealism?

German idealism emerged in the late 18th [and] early 19th centuries as a critical reaction to one of the fundamental limitations of Kant’s system—namely, our inability to know reality independently of the categories we subjectively impose upon it (see the notorious “thing in itself”).

Roughly speaking, German philosophers such as Fichte, Hegel, and (earlier) Schelling asked instead, what if thinking and being itself were inseparable? What if the workings of my mind were the same as the workings of reality? If I could know the former, wouldn’t I then also know the latter?

Philosophy, as Hegel puts it in the Phenomenology, would then no longer be a love (philia) of wisdom; indeed it would no longer be philosophy—absolute knowing would take its place, wisdom (sophia) itself would be achieved. In other words, the perplexity which Aristotle saw as inevitably accompanying any inquiry into being would, with German idealism, finally be resolved.

What about Heidegger’s exploration of those subjects do you find so compelling?

Heidegger contests this general claim to unconditional knowledge on the part of the German idealism by critically turning his attention to what he takes to be its summit, Schelling’s so-called freedom essay (Freiheitsschrift) or, as Heidegger refers to it, freedom treatise (Freiheitsabhandlung). Through an innovative distinction between being as existence and being as the ground of existence, Schelling’s treatise tries to reconcile human freedom with rational systematicity and at the same time to justify God’s goodness in view of evil (a project known as theodicy).

Although Heidegger recognizes the brilliance of The Philosophical Investigations into the Essence of Human Freedom—and various scholars have shown how this and other texts by Schelling proved highly influential on Heidegger’s own thought—Heidegger finds that its strong emphasis on the will (“willing is primal being,” Schelling writes) nevertheless keeps it stuck in traditional metaphysics.

Scholars of Schelling may disagree with Heidegger here, especially when Schelling’s thought as a whole is taken into account, but Heidegger’s engagement with his German idealist predecessor is a thing to be reckoned with. Some have even argued that it is one of the main reasons there is so much interest in Schelling on both sides of the Atlantic today.

Is there a case for the book you just translated being incorporated into the St. John’s Program?

I don’t think it would work as a Program book, but it would make for a good supplement to Schelling’s Philosophical Investigations into the Essence of Human Freedom, a work that is, in my estimation, of comparable significance to Hegel’s Phenomenology—and, at around 70 pages, much more manageable. Schelling’s essay worked well as a Summer Classics course I taught [in 2021] with Topi Heikkerö, and I believe it would also work well in senior seminar.

I’d also recommend The Metaphysics of German Idealism to anyone studying Heidegger’s Being and Time, as it gives the reader an opportunity to see what Heidegger understood himself to be doing in that text and how it relates to the history of philosophy up to that point.

How has this book differed from your previous projects on Heidegger?

The biggest challenges in translating this volume included its uneven style and the different ways in which Heidegger and his German predecessors use the same terms. The Metaphysics of German Idealism consists of a fairly polished lecture course Heidegger gave in early 1941, as well as notes from a seminar he gave later that year and several appendices on authors such as Leibniz and Hegel. The latter portions [especially] often contain incomplete sentences, sometimes in Greek or Latin with no accompanying German translation.

With authors such as Heidegger, who are fond of neologisms and highly attentive to the etymologies and philosophical histories of words, it’s advisable to co-translate or at least to solicit the advice of scholars along the way.

[Co-translator Rodrigo Therezo and I] wanted to be as faithful to Heidegger’s text as we could while also helping the English reader out as much as possible. We decided, at the expense of occasional inelegance, to preserve the note-like character of much of the volume and largely to translate words consistently, but also to supply extensive glossaries (German-English and English-German) and a Greek/Latin-English lexicon and to provide, in footnotes, translations of foreign phrases and sentences.

Was there any part of the scholarship or translation process that you found particularly rewarding?

One of the most interesting parts of The Metaphysics of German Idealism is a very long section that is only nominally about Schelling, wherein Heidegger traces the transformations that the concept of existence has undergone throughout the history of Western philosophy, especially in Kierkegaard (to whom Heidegger is significantly, if reluctantly, indebted) and Heidegger’s own Being and Time (including the never-published third division of its first part). Thanks to this volume, I now know much better how Heidegger wanted his early magnum opus to be read. Whether it should be read that way is, of course, another matter.

What drew you to Heidegger initially?

I’ve been interested in Heidegger ever since I prepared a presentation on his essay “Who Is Nietzsche’s Zarathustra?” for an undergraduate seminar I was taking on Nietzsche. Heidegger awoke in me a sense of wonder about being [and] language and their connection, and disabused me of an uncritical, naive enthusiasm I shared with many of my peers about Nietzsche.

While Heidegger is too sweeping in his critique of Nietzsche as a mere inversion of Plato, and hence the last metaphysician (see especially Heidegger’s essay “Nietzsche’s Word: ‘God Is Dead’”), he is right to identify limitations in Nietzsche’s doctrine of the will to power. Incidentally, the problematic status of the will is also at issue in Heidegger’s critique of Schelling in The Metaphysics of German Idealism.

How has your relationship to Heidegger and his thinking changed over the years?

Heidegger once said that before reading Nietzsche, you should spend ten years studying Aristotle. I believe the same could be said for reading Heidegger. As I have read more broadly, I have come to appreciate the profundity and boldness of Heidegger’s project to undermine the predominant conception of being as constant presence and to take matters like concealment, finitude, and death as his point of departure for ontology.

Heidegger’s conception of releasement (Gelassenheit), which he takes from the medieval Dominican Meister Eckhart, has also been important for my scholarship and for my life, as a way in which to resist the demands of technological maximization and to let things be.

Finally, with the 2014 publication of anti-Semitic passages in Heidegger’s Black Notebooks, I have grown more critical of Heidegger, although, in contrast to many other scholars, I attempt to draw resources for my critique from within Heidegger’s own thought—reading Heidegger against himself, as it were.