Part IV: Jean-Luc Marion, Beyond Conceptual Idolatry

In section two, entitled, “Ontological Impediment,” Marion gives a fairly complex and detailed analysis of Heidegger’s onto-theology critique, pointing out both the insights and the shortcomings of Heidegger’s claims. (I have to say that given my very basic knowledge of Heidegger, I found this section extremely difficult and am not sure whether I have properly understood it. Hence, I welcome corrections). Having engaged and examined Heidegger’s position, Marion concludes that though Heidegger was correct in pointing out the onto-theo-logic that characterizes the Western metaphysical tradition, Heidegger himself does not escape his own critique.

Marion sees Heidegger as diminishing theology’s dignity by making it submit to the requirements of Dasein, which in the end for Marion means Being, as well as and the very ontology Heidegger himself criticizes. Heidegger wants to make a strict separation between philosophy and theology, the former constituting the science of Being (ontological science) and the latter an “ontic” science of faith, which studies a particular slice of reality (having the same standing as chemistry or mathematics) [p. 66]—it’s object is not Dasein or “God” but faith in Christ crucified. In other words, faith becomes an aspect or modality of philosophy and consequently remains a conceptual idol. “The invariant of Dasein appears more essential to man than the ontic variant introduced by faith. Man can eventually become a believer only inasmuch as he exists first as Dasein” (p. 68). In the end, theology as a mere ontic variant of Dasein remains subordinate to Dasein as such.

Second, according to Heidegger, it is valid and perhaps even preferred to speak of faith as “the experience of faith.” Yet, again faith must be understood according to the strictures or conditions of philosophy, particularly of Heidegger’s phenomenology, which means that faith cannot show itself or give itself as itself but is always filtered through Dasein (and the horizon of Being).
Marion, however, wants a theology that allows Gxd to reveal himself “without condition, antecedent, or genealogy” (p. 70). In other words, he asks, “why must revelation be determined by the strictures of a philosophy that says in order for Gxd to show himself he must do so as a being within the framework of Being? (p. 70). “Who then decides that that mode of revelation, about which the Bible emphasizes that it speaks […] ‘in many refrains, in many different ways’ (Heb. 1:1), should have to sacrifice, as a retainer fee, to Being?” (p. 71). Marion ends this section with a simple but profound question: “does the name of the Gxd, who is crossed because he is crucified, belong to the domain of Being?”

4 thoughts on “Part IV: Jean-Luc Marion, Beyond Conceptual Idolatry”

  1. Cynthia,

    Another wonderful posting–speaking of criticisms of Heidegger, I wanted to run a question by you to get your thoughts. I’m not as familiar with Heidegger as I should be, so please forgive me if my question is unworthy of discussion.

    Given Heidegger’s charge that the entire history of Western metaphysics has neglected the question of the meaning of being, he proceeds to conduct his own ontological (as opposed to ontic) inquiry. As we know, he does so by “interrogating” Da-sein, for whom being is a question for it. As the Heideggerian story unfolds, we see how he understands being as it discloses itself to Da-sein in terms of its readiness-to-hand, being-in-the-world, being as care, etc. Now, though these might be considered as phenomenal or existential “modes” of being, they nevertheless appear to be certain “kinds” and therefore “categories” of being. Here’s my question: is it not the case, then, that Heidegger’s attempt at an ontology, really turns out to be just one more “ontic” investigation into different kinds of being? So, if Parmenides, Plato, and Aristotle each fall short of carrying out an ontology because each understands “being” in terms of unity-self-sameness-eternity, Idea, and substance respectively, then doesn’t Heidegger fall prey to Seinsvergesenheit too inasmuch as, for him, “being” is understood according to a mode?

    Thanks for your thoughts.

  2. Cynthia,

    It is an interesting question that is posed here, and I think that seeing as how Marion is looking to Dionysius for some part at least of his inspiration, it would be helpful to see what D. has to say on the subject. I know for instance, that in one of his letters, D. says that all theology, philosophy, and the very contents of faith and the Scripture are all given to us wrapped in many sacred veils. That is, we do not get to get the ineffable essence of God unmediated. Hence, for instance the Incarnation and the human words of Scripture.

  3. Dear Anxietas,

    Your question is not at all “unworthy” of discussion, but I am afraid that I am not worthy to give an answer. I myself have only a very basic understanding of Heidegger, so I am not qualified to give an answer. Sorry. I wish that I could say more.

    Best wishes,

  4. David,

    This is one of the reasons that I look forward to reading Dionysius’ On Divine Names, especially with Dr. H., as he has expertise in this area! So perhaps in few weeks we will both have a better idea of how to view Marion’s appropriation of Dionysius.


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