Quotation from Martin Heidegger


Theory identifies the real - in the case of physics, inanimate nature—and fixes it into one object-area. However, nature is always presenting of itself. Objectification, for its part, is directed toward nature as thus presenting. Even where, as in modern atomic physics, theory—for essential reasons—necessarily becomes the opposite of direct viewing, its aim is to make atoms exhibit themselves for sensory perception, even if this self- exhibiting of elementary particles happens only very indirectly and in a way that technically involves a multiplicity of intermediaries. (Compare the Wilson cloud chamber, the Geiger counter, the free balloon flights to confirm and identify mesons.) Theory never outstrips nature—nature that is already presencing—and in this sense theory never makes its way around nature. Physics may well represent the most general and pervasive lawfulness of nature in terms of the identity of matter and energy; and what is represented by physics is indeed nature itself, but undeniably it is only nature as the object-area, whose objectness is first defined and determined through the refining that is characteristic of physics and is expressly set forth in that refining Nature, in its objectness for modern physical science, is only one way in which what presences—which from of old has been named physis—reveals itself and sets itself in position for thus refining characteristic of science. Even if physics as an object-area is unitary and self-contained, this objectness can never embrace the fullness of the coming to presence of nature. Scientific representation is never able to encompass the coming to presence of nature; for the objectness of nature is, antecedently, only one way in which nature exhibits itself. Nature thus remains for the science of physics that which cannot be gotten around. This phrase means two things here. First, nature is not to be “gotten around” inasmuch as theory never passes that which presences by, but rather remains directed toward it. Further, nature is not to be gotten around inasmuch as objectness as such prevents the representing and securing that correspond to it from ever being able to encompass the essential fullness of nature. It is this, at bottom, that haunted Goethe in his abortive struggle with Newtonian physics. Goethe could not yet see that his intuitive representing of nature also moves within the medium of objectness, within the subject-object relation, and therefore in principle is not different from physics and remains the same metaphysically as physics. Scientific representation, for its part, can never decide whether nature, through its objectness, does not rather Withdraw itself than bring to appearance the hidden fullness of its coming to presence. Science cannot even ask this question, for, as theory, it has already undertaken to deal with the area circumscribed by objectness

In the objectness of nature to which physics as objectification corresponds, that which—in a twofold sense—is not to be gotten around holds sway. As soon as we have once caught sight in one science of that which is not to be gotten around and have also considered it somewhat, we see it easily in every other.

Psychiatry strives to observe the life of the human soul in its sick—and that means always simultaneously in its healthy— manifestations. It represents these in terms of the objectness of the bodily-psychical-spiritual unity of the whole man. At any given time human existence, which is already presencing, displays itself in the objectness belonging to psychiatry. The openness-for-Being [Da-sein] in which man as man ek-sists, remains that which for psychiatry is not to be gotten around.

Historiography, which ever more urgently is developing into the writing of universal history, accomplishes its entrapping securing in the area that offers itself to its theory as history. The word Historie (historein) [historiography] means to explore and make visible, and therefore names a kind of representing. In contrast, the word Geschichte [history] means that which takes its course inasmuch as it is prepared and disposed in such and such a way, i.e., set in order and sent forth, destined. Historiography is the exploration of history. But historiographical observation does not first create history itself. Everything “historiographical,” everything represented and established after the manner of historiography, is historical [geschichtlich], i.e., grounded upon the destining resident in happening. But history is never necessarily historiographical.

Whether history reveals itself in- its essence only through and for historiography or whether it is not rather concealed through historiographical objectification remains for the science of history something it cannot itself decide. This, however, is decided: In the theory of historiography, history holds sway as that which is not to be gotten around.

Philology makes the literature of nations and peoples into the object of its explanation and interpretation. The written word of literature is at any given time the spoken word of a language. When philology deals with language, it treats it in accordance with the objective ways of looking at language that are established through grammar, etymology, and comparative linguistics, through the art of composition and poetics.

Yet language speaks without becoming literature and entirely independently of whether literature for its part attains to the objectness with which the determinations of a literary science correspond. In the theory of philology language holds sway as that which is not to be gotten around.

Nature, man, history, language, all remain for the aforementioned sciences that which is not to be gotten around, already holding sway from within the objectness belonging to them— remain that toward which at any given time those sciences are directed, but that which, in the fullness of its coming to presence, they can never encompass by means of their representing. This impotence of the sciences is not grounded in the act that their entrapping securing never comes to an end; it is grounded rather in the fact that in principle the objectness in which at any given time nature, man, history, language, exhibit themselves always itself remains only one kind of presencing, in which indeed that which presences can appears but never absolutely must appear.

That which is not to be gotten around as characterised above, holds sway in the essence of every science. Is this, then, the conspicuous state of affairs that we should like to bring into view? Yes and no. Yes, inasmuch as that which is not to be gotten around belongs to the state of affairs referred to; no, insofar as what is not to be gotten around, as mentioned above, of itself alone still does not constitute that state of affairs. This is already evident in the fact that what is not to be gotten around still itself occasions a further essential question.

That which is not to be gotten around holds sway in the essence of science. Accordingly, it would have to be expected that science itself could find present within itself that which is not to be gotten around, and could define it as such. But it is precisely this that does not come about, and indeed because anything like it is essentially impossible. What is the basis for our knowing this? Of the sciences themselves should at any time be able to find at hand within themselves what is not to be gotten around of which we are speaking, they would have before all else to be in a position to conceive and represent their own essence. But they are never in a position to do this.

Physics as physics can make no assertions about physics. All the assertions of physics speak after the manner of physics. Physics itself is not a possible object of a physical experiment. The same holds for philology. As the theory of language and literature, philology is never a possible object of philological observation. This is equally the case for every science.


From “Science and Reflection”, in The Question Concerning Technology, translated by William Lovitt (Harper Torchbooks, New York, 1997)