Measure of human

Martin HeideggerMartin Heidegger

What is the measure for human measuring? God? No. The sky? No. The manifestness of the sky? No. The measure consists in the way in which the god who remains unknown, is revealed as such by the sky. God’s appearance through the sky consists in a disclosing that lets us see what conceals itself, but lets us see it not by seeking to wrest what is concealed out of its concealedness, but only by guarding the concealed in its self-concealment. Thus the unknown god appears as the unknown by way of the sky’s manifestness. This appearance is the measure against which man measures himself.

The concept of measure embraces music and mathematics, law and jurisprudence, and such moral and ethical ideals as moderation and temperance. The word, in both its noun and verb forms, encompasses a wide range of meanings. Among the various definitions that the dictionary provides for the noun, some deal with proportionality and limits (an adequate or due portion; a moderate degree; a fixed or suitable limit; the dimensions of something being measured; an instrument for measuring; and a system for standard units of meaning), some with music and poetry (a melody, tune, or dance; rhythmic structure or movement; a metrical unit, foot; a grouping of a specified number of musical beats located between two vertical lines on a staff), and some with actions or legislative acts (a step planned or taken as a mean to an end; a proposed legislative act). The latent connection, implicit in the various meanings of the word, between poetry and legislation or government recalls Shelley’s maxim in A Defence of Poetry that “poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the World.”

Poetry employs measure, but its relationship to the concept of measure differs from that of other disciplines and other forms of discourse. Like those other forms of discourse, poetry can be seen as a way of approaching, grasping, and communicating experience, truth, or knowledge; and though to the popular imagination poetry is sometimes thought of as vague, to the extent that it employs measure with precision it is at least potentially more rather than less precise than other forms of discourse. Not only does poetry employ measure, it is wholly taken up with measuring, and, in a sense, nothing more than a measuring process of a certain kind. The eighteenth century referred to verses as numbers and considered music and poetry to be a kind of counting without being aware that one was counting. This is as much to say that, in addition to presenting and representing the world, the task of the poet involves measuring one thing against another, putting things in proportion, judging, evaluating, and criticizing. It is not, of course, that the world is merely given to the poet: poetry invention; but this too involves measuring and cannot be separated from measuring. Ultimately, poetry employs measure in order to measure. The same, of course, could be said of the sciences, but poetry is obviously distinct from the sciences in a number of ways. For one thing, the measure it employs is musical and affective, not merely mathematical (if poetry involves counting without being aware that one is counting, it also, of course, involves feeling); and for another, in contrast to the sciences, poetry has no positive knowledge to impart and no content distinct from its form.

If man made himself the first object of study, he would see how incapable he is of going further. How can a part know the whole? But he may perhaps aspire to know at least the parts to which he bears some proportion. But the parts of the world are so related and linked to one another, that I believe it is impossible to know one without the other and without the whole….

Since everything then is cause and effect, dependent and supporting, mediate and immediate, and all is held together by a natural though imperceptible chain, which binds together things most distant and most different, I hold it equally impossible to know the parts without knowing the whole, and to know the whole without knowing the parts in detail.Full of merit, yet poetically, man Dwells on this earth. But no purer Is the shade of the starry night, If I might put it so, than Man, who’s called an image of the godhead. Is there a measure on earth? There is None.

COPYRIGHT 2010 The Society for Philosophy and Literary Studies.


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