Epoch: Heidegger and the happening of history

Philip Tonner

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This paper offers a reading of the philosophy of Heidegger in terms of the problematic of history as set out by Collingwood. We take Collingwood’s two questions (‘how did people in the past derive the meaning of their lives?’ and ‘what is the nature of historical description?’) as our guiding principles. We show how Heidegger’s philosophy can be put to use in the service of writing history. Ereignis names that event whereby being (the meaningful relatedness of things to human interest and understanding) is revealed and appropriated by historical humanity. Ereignis is that event whereby historical civilizations come to be in world history: it is the happening of historical civilization. Heidegger claims that the history of being, as he understands it, provides the clue to all history. As such, we show how, by way of a reading of the focal artworks representative of particular communities, historians can hermeneutically reconstruct the narrative background or meaning of being constitutive of particular civilizations. And, it is in terms of this background that individuals can come to endow their lives with meaning. We end our piece with a reading of Heidegger on poetry and the poetic function of the work of art. Ultimately, Heidegger understands poetry to be the sustaining ground of history. Poetry is projective saying and projective saying is that original ‘naming’ of things by a historical community which produces the horizons of meaning and meaninglessness constitutive of a historical world. By elucidating Heidegger’s thought on being/history in such a way as to show its relevance to the writing of history and to the reconstruction of past ‘meanings of life’, this article constitutes a contribution to both Heidegger studies and the philosophy of history generally.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)132-150
Number of pages19
JournalMinerva - A Review of Science, Learning and Policy
Publication statusPublished - 30 Nov 2015


  • Heidegger
  • art background
  • R.G. Collingwood


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