I was reading an excerpt from Heidegger’s 1949 Bremen Lecture Insight into That Which Is and I stumbled across an almost embarrassing intellectual gaffe on his part. In the lecture, he performs a phenomenological reduction on a normal pitcher to illustrate his usual distinction between presence-at-hand and readiness-to-hand. Part of his point is to emphasize that what a pitcher primarily “is” is a container i.e. something useful for containing liquid. Moreover, he says:
When we fill the pitcher, the liquid flows into the empty pitcher. The emptiness is the containing of the container. The emptiness — this nothingness that belongs to the pitcher — is what the pitcher, as a containing container, is…The thingness of the container in no way rests in the material that it is made of, but in the emptiness that contains.
What’s embarrassing for Heidegger is that this is so obviously borrowed from the Tao Te Ching yet he fails to make reference to how Eastern philosophy understood this basic phenomenological point thousands of years ago. See for yourself:
Thirty spokes share the wheel’s hub;
It is the center hole that makes it useful.
Shape clay into a vessel;
It is the space within that makes it useful.
Cut doors and windows for a room;
It is the holes which make it useful.
Therefore profit comes from what is there;
Usefulness from what is not there.
While it is certainly possible that Heidegger was simply unaware of such an obvious reference, given Heidegger’s exposure to Eastern philosophy (according to this wikipedia page, citing Tomonubu Imamichi), I find it doubtful that he was simply ignorant about the reference. Was Heidegger then just unwilling to cite his sources?