Responsion is a Correspondence, an 'Entsprechen'

But can we get no closer to this determining, all-pervading word? Is Heidegger's existential ontology expressive only in terms of elusive circularity?

George Steiner
Jun 11, 2022
1 min read

The "answer" elicited by authentic questioning is a correspondence, an Entsprechen. It accords with, it is a responsion to the essence of that after which it inquires (dem Wesen dessen nach dem gefragt wird). In this phrasing, "after" nach, carries undeniable overtones of attendance upon, circumspect effacement before. Heidegger's questioner is very contrary of a Baconian inquisitor.

The talk of Wissenschaft und Besinnung ("Science/Knowledge and Reflection"), which Heidegger gave in August 1953, further elaborates on this methodological and moral interaction of question and answer. A seminal distinction is made between what is merely fraglich, "questionable," and what is fraglich, "worthy of being questioned." The "questionable" (English reproduces the pejorative inflection) pertains to the ontological secondary, contingent, and pragmatic or even trivial spheres of positive investigation.  In this sphere, which we might compare with Mr. Gradgrind's world of "facts," there are terminal answers, decidabilities of a kind that leave the question "settled" and, therefore, inert. There is really not much to be gained from asking yet again what the mileage to the moor is or which is the formula for making hydrochloric acid. We know the answers, and the finality of this knowledge has, according to Heidegger, demonstrated the essentiality or, at the last, smallness of the original question.

On the other hand, that is "worth questioning" is inexhaustible. There are no terminal answers, no last and formal decidabilities to the question of the meaning of human existence, a Mozart sonata, or the conflict between individual conscience and social constraint. The Fragwürdige dignifies the question and the questioner by making of the process of interrogation and response an ever-renewed dialogue and counterpoint. But if there can be no end to genuine questioning, the process is not aimless. "The wandering," says Heidegger, "the peregrination toward that which is worthy of being questioned, is not adventure but [a] homecoming." Man, in his dignity, comes home to the unanswerable. And that, of course, which is most fragwürdige is "Being."

But can we get no closer to this determining, all-pervading word? Is Heidegger's existential ontology expressive only in terms of elusive circularity?

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