"Bret Ellis... provides a thoughtful, clear and highly readable translation of these conversations. He includes key German terms in the text and occasionally provides a brief discussion of the resonances of certain German terms likely to be unfamiliar to even those readers with second language German. His informative introduction places the work in the context of Heidegger’s biography and philosophy as well as within the work’s social and historical context." —Philosophy in Review
Country Path Conversationsby Martin Heidegger
First published in German in 1995, volume 77 of Heidegger’s Complete Works consists of three imaginary conversations written as World War II was coming to an end. Composed at a crucial moment in history and in Heidegger's own thinking, these conversations present meditations on science and technology; the devastation of nature, the war, and evil; and the
First published in German in 1995, volume 77 of Heidegger’s Complete Works consists of three imaginary conversations written as World War II was coming to an end. Composed at a crucial moment in history and in Heidegger's own thinking, these conversations present meditations on science and technology; the devastation of nature, the war, and evil; and the possibility of release from representational thinking into a more authentic relation with being and the world. The first conversation involves a scientist, a scholar, and a guide walking together on a country path; the second takes place between a teacher and a tower-warden, and the third features a younger man and an older man in a prisoner-of-war camp in Russia, where Heidegger’s two sons were missing in action. Unique because of their conversational style, the lucid and precise translation of these texts offers insight into the issues that engaged Heidegger’s wartime and postwar thinking.
"Not overly technical in philosophical style, it will be of interest to philosophers outside of Heidegger studies. At the same time, it will be of interest to those who are concerned with Heidegger's writings and continental philosophy generally." —James Risser, Seattle University
"Bret Ellis... provides a thoughtful, clear and highly readable translation of these conversations. He includes key German terms in the text and occasionally provides a brief discussion of the resonances of certain German terms likely to be unfamiliar to even those readers with second language German. His informative introduction places the work in the context of Heidegger’s biography and philosophy as well as within the work’s social and historical context." Philosophy in Review
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Country Path Conversations
By Martin Heidegger, Bret W. Davis
Indiana University PressCopyright © 2010 English edition by Indiana University Press
All rights reserved.
[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]: A Triadic Conversation on a Country Path between a Scientist, a Scholar, and a Guide
Scholar: This past autumn we met for the first time on this country path. That meeting was a splendid coincidence, for I owe a precious inspiration to it: an old Greek word occurred to me, which since then has seemed to me to be a very appropriate name for what we are seeking.
Scientist: Our meeting was indeed splendid, but it was no coincidence. What we so name is always just the gap that still remains in our chain of explanations. So long as we have not ascertained the explanatory causes, we like to plug up the hole that remains with the name "coincidence." Yet the cause of our encounter, which has in the meantime been repeated so fruitfully, lies close at hand. Each of us wished to free himself from his daily work by means of a distraction.
Scholar: The similarity of our occupations also quickly brought us to the thematic object of our conversation at that time. We spoke about cognition.
Scientist: Our discussions did, however, get easily lost in generalities that were difficult to grasp. It often seemed to me as if we were just talking about mere words. All the same, the conversation offered a distraction, which diverted me from the laborious experiments that I had begun at the time with the aim of investigating cosmic radiation.
Scholar: It is true that the definitions of cognition, which we talked through in connection with Kant's Critique of Pure Reason, were indeed grasped quite "generally." Is there anything that cannot be brought under the headings "intuition" [Anschauung] and "thinking" [Denken]—which, according to Kant, are what make up cognition? Hence the physicist among us demanded—rightly so, from his standpoint—an experimental investigation  of the processes which accompany the human activities of intuition and thought. As for me, it was then that the previously mentioned inspiration came to me, which obviously pointed me in a different direction in accordance with my historiological occupation. On that autumn evening I also already felt the first breath of winter, that season which is to me always more favorable than the others for burying myself in the business of my work.
Guide: The coolness of the past autumn is still present to me.
Scientist: Then, if you don't mind my saying so, you have evidently retained little from our conversation.
Scholar: Indeed you barely took part in it; presumably because during the day you devote yourself all too ardently to the occupation of philosophy, and seek only a distraction by walking on this country path.
Guide: In the coolness of the autumn day, the fire of summer finishes in cheerful serenity.
Scientist: This feeling for nature appears to be quite refreshing for you. You get enthusiastic and seek in such moods a counterweight to the abstractions of philosophy.
Guide: The cheerful serenity of the autumn coolness, which harbors the summer within itself, drifts about this country path every year with its gathering play.
Scientist: Then on our walk, if I may say so, you allowed yourself rather to be gathered by the autumnal atmosphere of this path into a pensiveness which can be recommended only on occasion.
Scholar: You were thus not distracted enough to follow our conversation.
Guide: Perhaps. 
Scholar: By this do you want us to understand that in our conversation the thematic object [Gegenstand] of our discussion, the essence of cognition, was constantly slipping away from us?
Scientist: That was hardly possible. We unwaveringly kept our eye trained on cognition with regard to its decisive fundamental trait. I mean that which fuels and rules our cognitive behavior.
Guide: And that is?
Scientist: Its character of work and achievement.
Scholar: Accordingly, our inquiry also directed itself straightaway to thinking, as that component of cognition which, with Kant, we may speak of as the "active" component. In contrast to thinking, intuition is allotted only a preparatory role in the process of cognition.
Scientist: This order of rank between intuition and thinking shows itself with optimal clarity in modern natural science. The intuitive element has here vanished except for a small remainder.
Guide: You are presumably saying here more than you think.
Scientist: I always only say what I think; I mean namely that within modern physics, which is considered to be the model for all the natural sciences, theoretical physics lays the foundation of all research. It creates the mathematical projection of nature. Only then, within its purview, can experiments be thought up and constructed.
Guide: But what about the arrangement and construction of experiments, the putting in place of all the necessary apparatuses? Do you want to assign these matters of "experiment," which do not belong to theoretical physics, exclusively to the intuition side of cognition in physics? 
Scientist: One could of course hardly do that. I would rather count the matters you introduced as belonging to the "technological" side of physics.
Scholar: If we may speak of "sides" here, then a considerable quantum of thought-activity does indisputably lie in the "technological" aspect of experiments.
Scientist: Indeed technology in general is a particular kind of thinking, namely, that thinking which is devoted to the practical application of theoretical natural science for the purpose of controlling and exploiting nature. Hence, we physicists also say that technology is nothing other than applied physics.
Guide: But what if physics, even as a pure investigation of nature, already uses technology in experiments? Just think for example of the machine that splits the atom!
Scholar: Then would physics, and with it the whole of modern natural science, be nothing other than applied technology?
Guide: It is splendid that you yourself pronounced such a thing.
Scholar: How so?
Guide: Said by me, it would have surely sounded like one of those at times unavoidable inversions of common views, inversions that are often received with suspicion.
Scientist: And rightly so. For within the purview of rigorous research work—which everyone with sound common sense can follow in the main, that is, with regard to its fundamental bearing—it often seems as if the wisdom of thinkers were to consist in taking what sound common sense thinks and straightaway deliberately standing it on its head. 
Scholar: This is how it seems to me as well. Moreover, this impression is confirmed by the testimony of thinkers themselves. After all Hegel says, if I remember correctly, that in order to be able to follow the thinking of metaphysics, one must attempt to stand on one's head and walk like that.
Scientist: And so whoever claims, in contrast to the usual characterization of technology as applied physics, that physics is applied technology is just playing with the tricky tactic of reversal.
Guide: To be sure. So it seems. Thus I hesitated to say this, for what appears to be a reversal is at bottom something other than a mere rearrangement of words.
Scientist: I don't understand how this is supposed to be anything else.
Guide: I don't understand it either, but would nevertheless like to surmise that with your statement that physics is applied technology, once again more is said than was thought.
Scholar: I thought only of that which stood under discussion, namely that the pure research of physics, insofar as it proceeds experimentally, applies technology.
Guide: You mean that, because machines as products of technology are used in the apparatus of experiments, therefore physics is applied technology.
Scholar: This is exactly what I mean. Where machines are at work, there is technology.
Scientist: Then the reversed statement, that physics is applied technology, is valid only for experimental physics. The reversal is not valid for theoretical physics, which remains, however, the foundation of "fundamental research" in all the natural  sciences. The reversal is therefore, rigorously thought through, invalid.
Guide: It is quite valid, and indeed precisely when we think rigorously about the matter.
Scholar: By this you mean to say that you conceive of theoretical physics too as technology.
Scientist: I must contradict this view; and everyone will agree with me that theoretical physics operates without any technological means, and that it cannot therefore be technology.
Guide: Certainly. And yet what is technological does not consist in the use of machines.
Scholar: Rather, in the production of machines.
Guide: Or even in that on which the producibility of machines depends.
Scholar: It depends on the laws of motion of natural processes.
Scientist: The knowledge [Kenntnis] of which we owe exclusively to the cognitions [Erkennen] of physics. Physics first discovers in advance the laws of natural conditions and processes. The rules for building machines and for mechanical transformation, control, and storage of natural forces must conform to these laws.
Scholar: And so technology is after all applied physics.
Guide: Contrary to this, I put matters the other way around: Physics must be technology, because theoretical physics is the proper, pure technology.
Scholar: Then you are arbitrarily understanding something different by "technology." 
Guide: It is true that I am thinking of something different with the name "technology." Yet I do not do so arbitrarily, but rather so as to attempt to pay attention to what is theoretical in physics itself.
Scholar: We can hardly then circumvent a meditation on the essence of theoretical physics. For as long as we only state that it does not operate experimentally and so does not use machines, this remains a negative determination. It is difficult, however, to say what physics is in that whereby its essence attains its basis.
Scientist: Above all I fear that as soon as we take our inquiry in this direction, we lose ourselves in "speculations," whereby every clear way and sure foothold breaks off.
Scholar: We cannot evade an inquiry into the essence of theoretical physics. I fear less the danger that we get lost in presumptuous speculations, than that we stray into the entirely different domain of technology, since what we are inquiring into, after all, is the essence of cognition with regard to modern physics.
Guide: Presumably we know so little of technology precisely because of our anxiety about speculation and its atmosphere. We think that knowledge about technology comes to us from descriptions of its procedures and reports of its achievements.
Scholar: Then where does our anxiety about "speculation" come from?
Scientist: From the obvious uselessness of speculation, in the face of which we fear that we will fall into vacuity with it. 
Guide: So everything useless is fearsome, insofar as we take the useful as that which alone is valid and pacifies us with its validity. But what is the useful useful for?
Scientist: Such questions are strange. They always make me dizzy. In their vortex I lose every ground and all space.
Guide: The human only ever loses that which he does not yet properly have. Yet he "has" only that to which he belongs.
Scholar: Now I too must confess that everything escapes me when I try to think what you just said. So I think it would be beneficial for me to bring our conversation back again to its path.
Guide: I am happy to entrust myself to your guidance, so long as you take into account that my interspersed remarks will sometimes slow down the course of our conversation.
Scientist: Such delays don't harm anything, as long as they don't cause us to get off track.
Scholar: This danger certainly exists. Today we have come back to our first country path conversation from last autumn. We were seeking the essence of cognition. We are now considering the fact that cognition is a thinking, and we are attempting to approach thinking in the form of research-work in physics. In this context arose the question of the relation between physics and technology. The essence of technology became puzzling to us, and speculation about it even more so. We are thus going to leave such speculation aside.
Guide: It seems to me that with precisely this intention we fall into the danger of being forced off track. What is called "speculation" is in fact also a thinking, if not indeed that thinking of those whom we call "thinkers."
Yet if we are afraid of speculation and  go out of the way to avoid it, how are we ever to get clear about the essence of thinking?
Scientist: You mean we should speculate about speculation? Then under these circumstances I consider it to be safer and more fruitful to reflect on technology. You were telling us, if I understood correctly, that the technological essence of physics lies precisely in that it is theoretical physics.
The technological and the theoretical would then be the selfsame.
Guide: I surmise that it is so.
Scholar: If you surmise such a thing, you must be able to give us some explanation of this.
Guide: Perhaps. And yet only in the manner of presaging. If you can make do with an approximate indication, then I would like to try to provide one. In the course of this conversation the mathematical projection of nature was mentioned. Thinking presents nature to itself [stellt sich die Natur ... zu, more literally: sets nature toward itself] as the spatiotemporally ordered manifold of moving points of mass. With a view to this essence of nature, natural processes are re-presented [vor-gestellt, more literally: set-before]. In this fashion, nature is what is pro- (in the sense of toward the re-presenting human) pro-duced [Her-gestellt, more literally: set-forth]. As what is so pro-duced, nature is as that which stands over against the human [das dem Menschen Entgegenstehende]. As object [Gegenstand] of human representation, nature is set-toward human representation and is in this sense produced. Thought in this manner, producing is the basic trait of the objectification of nature. This producing does not first make nature in the sense of a manufacturing or creating. Producing sets to work a way in which nature turns itself toward [sich zuwendet] the human, and within this turning [Wendung] becomes deployable [verwendbar]. This producing turns, from the outset, everything natural into something objective for mathematical representation. In accordance with this turning, such representation is already the decisive deployment of nature into calculation.  But this representational setting- forth of nature into objectiveness remains a kind of making-manifest of nature. The basic trait of all objectification is the essence of technology.
Scientist: Then the name "technology," strictly speaking, refers to a kind of representing, that is, a kind of cognition, and hence to a kind of theoretical comportment. The essence and the dominance of technology consist in the fact that, through it, nature has become an object. Nature is set up by the human, halted by him, so that it may be accountable to him and to his plans for it. Technology is the objectification of nature.
Scholar: But then we are forcing a signification on the name "technology" which it does not have in the familiar sense and understanding of the word.
Guide: As if the domain of usual speech alone could find out what a word signifies [bedeutet]. As if the word itself, first of all and from itself, did not have to harbor the significance [Deutung] of the matter named by it.
Excerpted from Country Path Conversations by Martin Heidegger, Bret W. Davis. Copyright © 2010 English edition by Indiana University Press. Excerpted by permission of Indiana University Press.
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Meet the Author
Bret W. Davis is Professor of Philosophy at Loyola University Maryland. He is author of Heidegger and the Will and editor (with Brian Schroeder and Jason Wirth) of Japanese and Continental Philosophy (IUP, 2010).
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