Friday, April 15, 2005

Martin Heidegger on Truth as Aletheia

Martin Heidegger is acknowledged to be one of the most original and important philosophers of the 20th century, but also the most controversial. His thinking has contributed to such diverse fields as phenomenology (Merleau-Ponty), existentialism (Sartre, Ortega y Gasset), hermeneutics (Gadamer, Ricoueur), political theory (Arendt, Marcuse), psychology (Boss, Binswanger, Rolo May), theology (Bultmann, Rahner, Tillich), and postmodernism (Derrida). His main concern was ontology or the study of being. In his fundamental treatise, Being and Time, he attempted to access being (Sein) by means of phenomenological analysis of human existence (Dasein) in respect to its temporal and historical character. In his later works Heidegger had stressed the nihilism of modern technological society, and attempted to win western philosophical tradition back to the question of being. He placed an emphasis on language as the vehicle through which the question of being could be unfolded, and on the special role of poetry. His writings are notoriously difficult. Being and Time remains still his most influential work.

Truth and Being have always been associated, so any phenomenological investigation into Being should include a phenomenological investigation into Truth.

1. The Traditional conception of truth.

a. Three features:

1. "The locus of truth is the proposition (judgment).

2. The essence of truth lies in the 'agreement' of the judgment with its object.

3. Aristotle, the father of logic, attributed truth to judgment as its primordial locus, he also stated the definition of truth as 'agreement.'" (p. 198).

b. But what is the nature of this agreement, and what kind of thing is it that connects ideas and ideal things (contents of judgments) with real objects? A way into this question is by looking at the presence of truth in the act of knowing.

c. Knowing occurs when judgments are confirmed, that is, when the object shows itself to be as it is asserted to be. There is not an intermediary representation, proposition or idea, just the judgment and the object and the object's "showing of itself in its self-sameness" (p. 201).

d. Truth, then is the occurrence of the discovery of the object through confirmation (a statement is true if it discloses the object) and is therefore conditioned upon our being-in-the-world.

2. The phenomenology of truth.

Truth, aletheia, is disclosedness. This is not merely a definition, but a sign of an ontological feature of Dasein. It belongs to the nature of Dasein to disclose. In fact, Dasein is this to the extent this too is disclosed. Dasein is discloseness and it is to the extent it discloses itself to itself. The discloseness of Dasein also points to Dasein as a "thrown-project": as always already belonging to a definite place and time and as always disclosing its own possibilities. It also shows that Dasein exists as fallen, as always lost into the world and as always concealing even as it unconceals.

3. The relation between the primordial and the traditional accounts of truth

All judgments posit something as something­the apophantical as. This structure is derived from and an expression of a hermeneutical understanding of the world as something and this occurs only to the extend Dasein essentially disclose the world as something. Dasein expresses the world through language and the expression, like that it discloses itself becomes objectively present thus creating the impression that the primary relation of truth is between two objectively present things: the expression and the object. The unfortunate consequence is that as Being gets commonly understood as objective presence, truth seen as objective presence is correlated with Being as is thought to remain all that can be said about truth. Truth's relation to Dasein is covered over. "Understood in its most primordial sense, truth belongs to the fundamental constitution of Dasein" (p. 208).

4. The Being of truth

As truth belongs to Dasein, something can be considered an "eternal truth" only to the extent Dasein can be shown to be eternal. Truths, like Newton's Laws, were not true before Newton, which is not to say they were false. They came to disclose only through Newton and only are true in their disclosure. Truth, then, "is relative to Dasein" though this doesn't mean truth is subjective. AS to why presuppose truth, it is Dasein as being in truth that any presupposition is possible. So the question does not make sense. Truth is the condition of questioning. Skepticism is as meaningless as the positing of eternal truths, though denying equating Dasein with subjectivity, transcendental or otherwise, does not eliminate the possibility of a the focus on the a priori.

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