Thursday, November 30, 2006

Precis of Heidegger, Language, and World-disclosure

The book is a critical discussion of the conception of language as world-disclosure that Heidegger develops explicitly in his writings after the Kehre,but that has its roots in Being and Time. According to this view, our access tothe world, and to anything that might show up within the world, is structuredby language. This view of language allows Heidegger to criticize thementalism characteristic of modern philosophy and to articulate his new,hermeneutic approach. It lends plausibility to his contention that our primaryaccess to the world is not due to an allegedly neutral perception of entities butto our prior understanding of everything that can show up within the world assomething or other. Thus, the priority of understanding and interpretationover perception requires a hermeneutic transformation of philosophy. WhileHeidegger’s criticism of the subject–object model so characteristic of modernphilosophy is certainly plausible, his view of the role that language plays inour experience of the world leads to counterintuitive consequences. The mostnotorious of them can be found in Heidegger’s writings on language after theKehre, when he provocatively claims that ‘there is no thing when the word islacking’ or that ‘language speaks’ and thus is ‘the master of man’. It is in viewof these claims that the charges of linguistic idealism and of a rei cation oflanguage are a commonplace among many interpreters of Heidegger’s laterworks. Less common, however, seems to be the urge to transform this chargeinto an explicit analysis and criticism of the premise that underliesHeidegger’s linguistic idealism, namely, his claim that our experience withentities is determined by our prior understanding of their being (1). But if thisclaim is right, along with the claim that our understanding of the being ofentities is contained in our language (2), it is less than clear that Heidegger’sidealism, in spite of its counterintuitiveness, is actually wrong.

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