In the TLS Angus Nicholls on Hans Blumenberg
Whereas Rothacker provided the institutional framework for Blumenberg’s first book publication, it was Heidegger’s thought, and especially his critique of Husserl, which formed the main background to Blumenberg’s PhD and Habilitation dissertations.
In Sein und Zeit (1927; Being and Time), Heidegger famously accused the Western tradition, essentially since the Presocratics, of having forgotten the main question of philosophy, namely: What is the Being of beings, or what does it mean for something to be? In Heidegger’s presentation, Plato and Aristotle already pass over this fundamental question when they reassure us of a cosmos that pre-dates us, so that we come to the world as subjects merely seeking to know its objects. From then on, in Heidegger’s view, Western thought was led down the false path of only attempting to know the truth about things in the world, rather than posing the more primordial question of how it is that we have a world in the first place. Heidegger had included the Christian tradition in this dismissal of Western thought, in the sense that it reassures us, in advance, that the world is God’s creation. Blumenberg’s PhD dissertation challenged Heidegger’s position, claiming that Scholastic thinkers – Thomas Aquinas, Bonaventure and Duns Scotus in particular – had underlined the radical contingency of the world. Blumenberg argued that because these thinkers understood God as having created the world ex nihilo, they addressed head-on the very question that Heidegger thought the Western tradition to have neglected. Blumenberg’s Habilitation thesis also took up a Heideggerian position, this time in explicit opposition to Husserl. Whereas Husserl had wanted to insulate phenomenology from the pitfalls of historical relativism, arguing that it would be possible for philosophy to examine the pure contents of consciousness through what he termed the phenomenological reduction, Heidegger emphasized that any approach to the question of Being is marked by the position in history from which it is taken up. Blumenberg agreed, observing that Husserl’s phenomenology failed because it did not account for the “extension of history into Being”.
Heidegger clearly remains a theoretical point of departure, rather than just an object of criticism for Blumenberg, as evidenced by Paradigms for a Metaphorology, in which metaphor is seen as a primordial mode of philosophical orientation that takes place before, and conditions, the formation of concepts; and Work on Myth (1985), in which Blumenberg takes over Heidegger’s distinction between generalized anxiety (Angst) and objected-oriented fear (Furcht) in order to argue that myth provides human beings with orientation by providing the disoriented and anxious mind with fictive objects. There is thus no clean break with Heidegger’s works in Blumenberg’s writings, even if Blumenberg does become progressively more critical of him during the 1980s.