From ‘Heidegger to Suhrawardi’ / Part 3

Heidegger’s Hermeneutic Phenomenology 

~Samir Mahmoud 

“To the things themselves” is Husserl’s well-known maxim for a phenomenological approach to reality that gains access to the pre-reflective given-ness of things and avoids the subjectivism of modern thought. However, in contrast to Husserl who bracketed the ontological and reduced phenomena to consciousness, Heidegger proposed a phenomenology that was more essential and basic. His aim was to uncover, through an analysis of Dasein, those hidden meanings of existence that were prior to reflection and thought itself. To understand Heidegger’s hermeneutic phenomenology, we must first understand what he means by phenomenology and hermeneutics. 

In Being and Time, Heidegger provides a lucid exposition of what he means by phenomenology. First, the very concept of ‘phenomenon’ is to be understood in its Greek sense of phainomenon, which is derived from the verb phainesthai “show itself”, “come to light.” Thus, phenomenon signifies “to show it self.” In Heidegger’s own words, “the expression ‘phenomenon’ signifies that which shows itself in itself, the manifest.” The phenomenon does not show itself through anything other than itself and in this sense, Heidegger’s ‘phenomenon’ is to be distinguished from the ‘phenomenon’ of Kant who uses it in the sense of an appearance as opposed to the thing itself, the ‘noumenon.’54 

To better illustrate this Heideggerian theme, we may well refer to the later Heidegger and his discussion of the nature of truth. This discussion is important because the later Heidegger can be seen as one who was trying “fully understand and appropriate all of the ramifications of Being and Time’s theory of truth.”55 For Heidegger, ‘truth’, or in its Greek sense aletheia, means bringing out of concealment. Heidegger is criticizing the theory of truth as correspondence and establishing the meaning of Truth as disclosure. Truth as correspondence depends on a primordial notion of truth as disclosure, which constitutes the very condition of the possibility of any form of propositional truth or correspondence.56 Thus, the ‘phenomenon’ shows itself as a self-disclosure, a self-revealing of the thing of itself and in itself. What lies hidden in the phenomena is the Being of things that exist. This Being of things is precisely that which goes unnoticed, hidden, and concealed; it becomes so forgotten that not even the question of its meaning arises.57 

The Greek logos comes to mean for Heidegger “reason, judgment, concept, definition, ground, relation.” However, its primary meaning is “making manifest” or “reveal.” Logos also means “talk, discourse” in the sense that discourse reveals that which is talked about. Heidegger proposes to understand ‘truth’ as a “definite mode of letting something be seen.” In this sense, Heidegger understands logos as a “letting-something-be-seen.”58 

The meanings of both phainomenon and logos thus converge and “Phenomenology means to let what shows itself [the Phainomenon] be seen [-phainesthai] from [-apo] itself in the very way in which it shows itself from itself.”59Phenomenology, therefore, becomes for Heidegger our way of properly raising the question “what is Being?” and providing an adequate answer to it. In this way, phenomenology leads to ontology and ontology has as its approach to Being, phenomenology. “Only as phenomenology, is ontology possible.”60 It is important to insist at this point that for Heidegger, there is nothing ‘behind’ the phenomena of phenomenology. The opposite of ‘phenomenon’ is not ‘noumenon’ as in Kant, but ‘covered-up-ness.’ What is covered up is not the ‘essence’ of a phenomenon concealed behind its appearance, but the very phenomenon itself in the plentitude of its being.61 

Therefore, the Heideggerian hermeneutics is directed towards ontology, not consciousness; it is directed towards the act of presence that pre-determines the act of understanding itself. Corbin, writing approvingly of Heidegger, has this to say: 

The hermeneutic proceeds starting from the ‘act of presence’ signified in the Da of the Dasein; its task is therefore to illuminate how, in understanding itself, the human Being-there situates itself, circumscribes the Da, the situs of its presence and unveils the horizon which had up until then remained hidden.62 

As such, Heidegger’s hermeneutical phenomenology, unlike that of his predecessors, is not just another method of the human sciences but the most essential and basic approach towards understanding the relation between being and knowing, to account for understanding as an ontological possibility of Dasein. This amounts to saying that our modus intelligendi corresponds to our modus essendi; the sum precedes the cogito. For Corbin, this is the indissoluble link to which phenomenology draws our attention. “The modes of being are the ontological existential conditions of the act of ‘Understanding’, of ‘Verstehen’, which is to say of hermeneutics. Hermeneutics is the definitive task set before the phenomenologist.”63 

For Heidegger, as for Corbin, in order to overcome our oblivion of being we must begin by questioning the very modus essendi that constitutes our most basic attitude towards what Heidegger calls our being-in-the-world; we must bring it to light. It is the mode of presence that situates us in a world and determines our very understanding of it. As such, Heidegger’s hermeneutic phenomenology becomes a “hermeneutics of presence.”64 It is this connection between being and knowing in Heidegger that is so important for Corbin; a connection he also found in his study of Islamic Philosophy. For despite Corbin’s immense debt to Heidegger’s notion of phenomenology as “Being, aware of itself,” he regards the Islamic mystics as “the first phenomenologists.”65

To summarize Heidegger’s legacy for Corbin, we may say that for Corbin, Heidegger’s greatest merit is that he “centered the very act of philosophizing on hermeneutics.”66 Corbin had discovered in Heidegger’s hermeneutics the “lineage of hermeneutics,”67 which extended from Luther, Hamann, Schleiermacher, Dilthey, to Heidegger. The triumph of Heideggerian hermeneutics, moreover, was the “ontologization of knowledge.”68 That is to say that Heideggerean hermeneutics had grounded the hermeneutic act in the “act of being”, or in Corbin’s words, “that which we truly understand, is never other than that by which we are tried, that which we undergo, which we suffer and toil with in our very being.”69 This was the Lutheran influence. As Corbin explains,

Hermeneutics does not consist in deliberating upon concepts, it is essentially the unveiling or revelation of that which is happening within us, the unveiling of that which causes us to emit such or such concept, vision, projection, when our passion becomes action, it is an active undergoing, a prophetic-poetic undertaking. 70

Hermeneutics, for Corbin, thus focuses on passion (what we receive and undergo) becoming action (what we understand and know). We recall that for Corbin, the link between the signifier and the signified in Heidegger’s hermeneutics is Dasein, Being-there, human presence, “to be enacting a presence” “by which and for which meaning is revealed in the present.” For Heidegger “that presence is the place of revelation.”71 Heidegger had overcome the subjectivist epistemology and “asserted understanding as-presence to be a function of Being as-presence, and truth as aletheia, unhiddeness, a perpetual journey.”72 Corbin, “The modality of this human presence is thus to be revelatory, but in such a way that, in revealing the meaning, it reveals itself, and is that which is revealed. And here again we are witness to the concomitance of passion-action.”73


54 Robert Avens, “Things and Angels: Death and Immortality in Heidegger and in Islamic Gnosis,” Hamdard Islamicus VII, Number 2, Summer (1984), p. 13. 
55 Julian Young, Heidegger’s Later Philosophy, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002). p. 6. 
56 Ibid, p. 7.  
57 Heidegger, Being and Time, p. 59. 
58 Ibid, p.56. see also Michael Inwood, A Heidegger Dictionary, (Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 1999). p. 159. 
59 Ibid, p.58. 
60 Ibid, p. 60. 
61 Avens, “Things and Angels,” p. 13 
62 Corbin, “From Heidegger to Suhrawardi,” p.2. 
63 Ibid, p. 2.  
64 For an analysis of this “hermeneutics of presence” in Heidegger and Suhrawardi see. Tom Cheetham, The World Turned Inside Out: Henry Corbin and Islamic Mysticism, (Woodstock, Connecticut: Spring Journal Books, 2003), p. 50-54. 
65 Henry Corbin, Cyclical Time and Ismaili Gnosis, (London: Kegan Paul International & Islamic Publications, 1983), p. 62. 
66 Quoted in Bamford, Esotericism Today, p. XXXIX. 
67 Ibid. 
68 Ibid, p. XXXIX. 
69 Corbin, “From Heidegger to Suhrawardi,” p. 4 
70 Ibid, p. 4 
71 Bamford, Esotericism Today, p. XL. 
72 Ibid, p. XL. 
73 Corbin, “From Heidegger to Suhrawardi,” p. 5.