15 January 2012

Was Heidegger an Analytic Philosopher?

Brian Leiter is poking fun at the analytic/continental distinction again, this time by way of the late Dummett:

Unnoted, of course, is that Dummett's conception of "analytic" philosophy--as "an armchair subject, requiring only thought" and as trying "to clarify the concepts in terms of which we conceive of [reality], and hence the linguistic expressions by means of which we formulate our conception" as he put it in his last book--was such that huge numbers of philosophers in the Anglophone world today wouldn't qualify, though one can happily stipulate that Dummett is an "analytic" philosopher in his sense, and Heidegger is not.
The funny thing is, I'm not sure that Heidegger doesn't get counted as an "analytic" philosopher, if all we look at from Dummett's book is this one claim. He clearly wasn't doing "empirical" work in the way that Leiter likes to promote, so he can only be ruled out by the second part of Dummett's quote's criterion: Did Heidegger attempt to "clarify the concepts in terms of which we conceive of [reality], and hence the linguistic expressions by means of which we formulate our conceptions"?

My initial reaction is to say that he did, at least in Being and Time. It's easy to find passages like the one from section 14, where Heidegger presents a list of four ways in which the word "world" is used, and notes that he's "unraveling" these uses so that "we can get an indication of the different kinds of phenomena that are signified, and of the way in which they are interconnected." (p.93 in the Macquarrie translation). This looks to be straightforwardly what Dummett's quote says analytic philosophers do. But this is only a particularly clear instance of a general strategy: Being and Time is largely made up of discussions of ordinary sorts of words and experiences in a context which makes clear that it's easy to get confused about them. For instance, Heidegger's discussion of "reality" (the concept) is largely focused on the ways in which Descartes misunderstood things in this area, and the problems it lead him into. (Also fun is Leiter's joking attempt to unify "analytic" philosophers by the fact "that they all probably read "On Sense and Reference" at some point, given that we know that Heidegger read this work.)

What spurred me to think about this was a post Enowning linked to the other day; the post itself doesn't interest me, but I quite liked being pointed to a passage I had overlooked (it wasn't highlighted in my copy of the book): "Nevertheless, the ultimate business of philosophy is to preserve the force of the most elemental words in which Dasein expresses itself, and to keep common understanding from leveling them off to that unintelligibility which functions in turn as a source of pseudo-problems." (p.262 in the Macquarrie) The context of this quote is section 44 of the first division of Being and Time, the discussion of truth which closes that division, and why Heidegger is looking at (what he thinks of as) the etymology of "ἀλήθεια" in Greek. He notes that he needs to avoid "uninhibited word-mysticism" in doing this, and I'm not sure he meets his own demand here (and later on I think he clearly falls into it). But the success of what he's aiming at here doesn't interest me as much as what the goal he set for himself was: he's trying to avoid "that unintelligibility which functions in turn as a source of pseudo-problems" which comes from a "common understanding" which "levels off" words.

It seems to me that one of the main things that Heidegger is concerned with warding off in this section is the idea that it is only in true thoughts (judgements, assertions) that we (our minds, our thoughts, our language) "come into contact" with the world. This comes to seem obvious to us when we think of truth as exhausted by things like the T-schema: "S" is true IFF S. Truth is here a predicate of concatenated strings of signs, and to say of a string that it is true "is just to say what the string says itself": truth is chased up the tree of grammar. As a truth-predicate can be added onto any existing language without changing the inferential connections between the portions of that language which do not contain a truth-predicate, it can thus appear that truth is "not deep", is "redundant", "does not refer to a real property": thus we should handle how the language works without truth, and then a truth-predicate can be added onto it. This is what Heidegger has in view when he criticizes the idea that truth is rightly thought of as simply a property of judgements: to do so makes it easy to think that judgement should be intelligible without truth, and then truth be made intelligible in terms of antecedently-understood judgements.

Against this, Heidegger tries (in various ways) to get us to see that our ability to judge at all, rightly or wrongly, is possible only because of our "disclosedness": there is a binary hiddenness/revealedness to the entities uncovered in our being-in-the-world which is more primordial than explicit judgements, and our ability to say anything (truely or falsely) by means of concatenated strings depends on it. The appearance that the binary true-false predicates of truth could be added onto a language which was antecedently understood thus covered up the fact that the language was understood only against a background of some such disclosedness, which should itself be apprehended in a discussion of truth and falsity, as its binary and the true-false binary are kin. The "common understanding" that allows concatenated strings of signs to be regarded as "saying something (in a language)", and to take these independently-intelligible relations as a foundation for work in semantics, can only be achieved by a "leveling off" which occludes the fact that we symbolize only in the course of our lives together, and that we leave things unsaid if we insist on treating language solely in terms of signs, sets, and satisfaction-relations. Signs "in the language" have the set-theoretic relations they are established to have in the set-theoretic universe; symbols have meanings only in our life together.

So, it seems to me that Heidegger was concerned with clarifying our concepts (our thoughts) and the words we use to express them; if it is necessary to any analytic/continental distinction that Heidegger be opposed to the "analytic" group, then Dummett's quote does not give us such a distinction.


skholiast said...

Sorry to be so tardy commenting on this post. The passage you note in Heidegger ('the force of the most elemental words...') is, I believe, noted by Rorty in Contingency, Irony, Solidarity as evidence for his reading of Heidegger as thinking that in some sense there was something special about the phonemes themselves. Rorty certainly thinks that Heidegger did not avoid "word-mysticism."

Daniel Lindquist said...

I think that reading Heidegger as interested in the phonemes has to be a joke: trivially, he's interested in both the German and Greek versions of words (and the Latin, derisively), and those have different phonemes.

But more to the point: Heidegeger does believe, and Rorty denies, that there are some categories that have remained with us since (at least) the Greeks: things like cause, world, being, mind. Heidegger thinks that thinkers have gotten confused about these things throughout history in various ways, and that one of the tasks of philosophy is to get clearer on them, largely by rooting out prior misunderstandings of them. Rorty doesn't buy this picture of history: he thinks we've just changed our categories a lot, and that the ancients and medievals were working on different problems than any we might care about now. (This is an old idea of his: before "Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature" he was already denying that the Greeks had "Cartesian minds".)

I think that good historical work tends to make Rorty look weak on this front: I'm always impressed when an author can make what *looked* like an antiquated and obscure old debate come alive again, and make long-dead thinkers into conversation partners. (Certainly there are authors who are concerned with things I have no interest in even recognizing as problems, but I don't think history is more full of those sorts than the present: the sort of problem-drift Rorty liked to find diachronically is also a synchronic phenomenon.)

Now, the way Heidegger deals with his categories is hit or miss: I find much of what he has to say about truth and assertion in "Being and Time" impressive, but it's sitting right next to a made-up etymology for "aletheia" that he doesn't give up for another fifty years, and which was never going to be able to do the work he tried to make it do. And in a lot of his later works, he comes to believe that poetry, and not philosophy, is where the sort of clarificatory reminders he wanted are to be found: so he becomes a bad poet.

But I think that in "Being and Time" itself, and in a lot of the other early works, you can still find solid "analytic"-type work on notions like "world", "reality", and "nature" that aren't wed to any weird mythico-poetic speculation. And even later on, when Heidegger does look like a "word mystic", what he takes himself to be doing is either poeticizing or commenting on poets -- and it seems odd to complain that in a poem the phonemes themselves can't be important.

j. said...

i like this post but i would also like to say that the possibility of seeing BT-period heidegger as doing these things doesn't settle the question of how one should do these things, or how one should engage with or respond to heidegger when he does these things.

i'm sure you're aware of the relevant passages, but you've reminded me of something similar i posted about last year:


i think it's the question of the mode or manner of response to heidegger, or anyone who for principled reasons (or whatever you want to call that impulse) writes in a deliberately unusual way, that really separates 'analytics' and 'continentals'. and leiter seems to beg lots of questions whenever he adopts his sneering and posturing attitude toward 'speppers' precisely because he thinks the (only?) legitimate way to do scholarly philosophical work on continental philosophers is to basically deny those philosophers their 'stylistic' 'premises' and hold them to becoming intelligible solely in the positions-and-reasons-articulable-in-plain-technical-english framework.

Clark Goble said...

I think both Heidegger and Rorty have their points. It seems hard to deny that the meaning of popular questions has shifted over time. That is the question may still be a popular topic of debate but it seems difficult to assume all the Greeks thought about the form of the question in the same way. (And this independent of say schools of Platonism in the 19th century that perhaps overly distorted Plato)

That said I think Rorty tries to vastly push this too far.

Heidegger does nearly the same thing as you note. He reads into the Greeks and Plato notions that arguably weren't there in the original. Some times in order to create a strawman to attack in a fruitful way. Other times to create his own vision which he then appropriates attributing it to the Greeks.

However I never can figure out why folks give Heidegger such a hard time of this when he unarguably does the same thing with figures like Kant.

Daniel Lindquist said...

j.: "the possibility of seeing BT-period heidegger as doing these things doesn't settle the question of how one should do these things, or how one should engage with or respond to heidegger when he does these things." -- Agreed.

I'm not sure what to say about your proposed way of drawing the analytic/continental divide. Husserl and people who like him (more than Heidegger) tend to write "normally", or at least as normally as your average analytic metaphysician. And there are "continental" types who won't give someone like Carnap the time of day because they're "logic chopping" rather than writing real philosophy, or who want to read Wittgenstein in total isolation from Frege & Russell. All sorts of animus for all sorts of writing on both sides of the divide, it seems to me.

Leiter I think is prone to sneering in general; it's only an accident that he is in fact sneering at SPEPers, or doing so because of their style. The sneering is primary; the object and rationale for it is ex post facto. (Funnily enough, I think that Leiter would agree with this: his Nietzsche says that this is how more or less all justification works.)

Clark: I actually think Heidegger is a pretty good reader of Kant. His quip that the first Critique is not a work of epistemology gets really deeply at something a lot of people miss about Kant: he's more concerned with how our thoughts can be right or wrong than with how we can tell that the thoughts we already have are in fact right. Why do you think he's "unarguably" a bad reader of Kant?

(I also think he's an okay reader of Aristotle, usually; he's basically a non-reader of Plato.)

j. said...

yeah, daniel - i think that aside maybe from some questions about the appropriation of logic (substantively or in terms of style), husserl seems (on my limited familiarity) to belong together with a great deal of the analytic tradition in virtue of his mode of writing, arguing, use of terms.

not sure what to make of the other group you identify.