Heidegger and Truth – Lecture 3

So far we have been looking at two kinds of logic, informal and formal in our introductory course on philosophy. Both take for granted a certain interpretation of truth, which is agreement. The truth of a sentence is the agreement of that sentence with some state of affairs in the world. A purely logical sentence might only have an internal validity but the truth of its premises is to be found in some experience of the world in which I can verify the meaning of the words.

In section 44 of Being and Time, ‘Dasein, Disclosedness, and Truth’, Heidegger questions this priority of this logical meaning of truth. We have, however already, seen such a questioning of the priority of propositional truth in another text we have read this semester. When Gaita writes that whatever the nun revealed to him about their mistreatment of patients in his book Common Humanity, was not open to an ‘epistemic routes’, then he is questioning the value of propositional truth for ethical inquiry (Gaita 2000, p.22).

When we think about truth, we usually think about it in terms of judgement. It is precisely this way of truth that is common to both formal and informal logic and is very visible in its examples which usually take the form of sentences or propositions. ‘Truth’ as a word is simply taken as granted. A sentence is either true or false, and this consists only of whether it is consistent or valid. Heidegger argues that there is a more primordial notion of truth, which is a kind of showing or manifesting. What is the traditional notion of truth that Heidegger wants to show is secondary? The traditional notion of truth is judgement, and the essence of truth lies in the agreement of the judgement with the state of affairs that it represents. This notion of truth is known as adequation or correspondence:

The ‘locus’ of truth is assertion (judgement); that the essence of truth lies in the ‘agreement’ of the judgement with its object; that Aristotle, the father of logic, not only has assigned truth to the judgement as its primordial locus but has set going the definition of ‘truth’ as ‘agreement’.(Heidegger 1962, p.214)

What Heidegger is attempting to show in this section is that this conception of truth has a hidden ontology which conceals the real meaning of truth as disclosure, manifestation or presence. His aim, therefore, is not to demonstrate the logical conception of truth is false, but that it is secondary. The first question that needs to be asked is what kind of agreement is proper to this definition of truth, and how is this agreement possible. Heidegger uses the example of man who has turned his back to the wall and makes the true assertion: ‘the picture of the wall is hanging askew.’ The truth of the assertion is demonstrated when the man turns around and sees that the picture really is askew. In this example, we can grasp that assertion is a way that we relate to things. To be able to assert something of something I must be already be involved with that thing in some way or other: ‘asserting,’ Heidegger writes ‘is a way of Being towards the Thing itself that is’.(Heidegger 1962, p.260) Asserting then is the uncovering or disclosing of thing. This showing itself by being uncovered is the ontological expression of judgement. There are two ontology conditions for assertion:

  1. Things show themselves.
  2. There is a being whose Being is a being-towards things and person which show themselves.

Truth must first of all, therefore, being defined as an ‘uncovering’ (Entdeckend). But uncovering is only possible if there is a being whose existence is already expressed as having a world in which things or other people can be present. Only because the painting on the wall is something that means something to me in my world, and that it not hanging straight is something that is significant to me, would I make an assertion about it and would this assertion first of all be true or not true. Truth is first of all a way being toward things and persons in a world. In Heidegger’s language it is a way of bringing these entities out of their concealment in into the disclosure. One might imagine in a different culture that such things would not matter and therefore they would not be revealed as significant and no-one would make any statements about them.

The ontological meaning of truth is visible in the original Greek conception of truth as aletheia, which literally means un-forgetting, un-concealing, or un-hiddenness:

‘Being-true’ (‘truth’) means Being uncovering. […] But while our definition is seemingly arbitrary, it contains only the necessary interpretation of what was primordially surmised in the oldest tradition of ancient philosophy and even understood in a pre-phenomenological manner. […] Being-true is aletheia in the manner of apophainesthai – of taking entities out of their hiddenness and letting them be seen in their unhiddenness (their uncoveredness). (Heidegger 1962, p.219)

If truth is way a being in the world, then it can only belong to that being that exists in a world. The only being whose being is being in the world is Dasein, which is Heidegger’s word for human beings. That I can make judgements and assertions about things must mean that they are ‘there’ in some manner and that they show themselves to be there; that is, they are already significant. But this ‘there’ is dependent on a more primordial ‘there’. This ‘there’ is the space of disclosure. This space itself is not a thing, but the world in which things and person become intelligible. Disclosure is the coming to presence of things and persons, and some thing or person being present is dependent on this originary disclosure:

Uncovering is a way of Being for Being-in-the-world. Circumspective concern, or even that concern in which we tarry and look at something uncovers entities within-the-world. These entities become that which has been uncovered. They are ‘true’ in the second sense. What is primarily ‘true’ – that is uncovering – is Dasein.(Heidegger 1962, p.220)

Something can be true only because Dasein in some sense exists ‘in the truth’. What does it mean to say that Dasein exists in the truth? It certainly does not mean that it knows everything; rather is means that it belongs to the possibility of Dasein of uncovering things and persons in the world. The world already has to have an interpretation, a significance, a sense for me, before I can make any judgement about it. This interpretation is not itself cognitive, if we mean by cognitive making assertions about things, but expresses the background of my everyday experience of the world in which I am always already involved with things and persons. I must already relate to things in this manner before any logical relation to them, and this relatedness itself is dependent on the disclosure that belongs to Dasein’s way of being.

Why is it that the logical notion of truth has become to be seen as the only notion of truth? This too must be understood in terms of Dasein’s everyday being. Dasein understands itself in its relation to things and persons. For the most part when it makes this understanding visible to itself it does so through things and persons being present to hand. It ends up with a notion of being in general, as Heidegger describes in the opening pages of Being and Time, which itself is nothing but ‘present-to-handness’, where the world is no longer visible. Yet, the ‘present-to-hand’ has its source in Dasein’s own being that cannot be understood in terms of something present to hand, but must be understood as being-in-the-world. How then to make sense of being in the world without reference to logic? My primary relation to things and other people is not present-to-hand as philosophers think it is, but ready-to-hand. I use things before I make specific judgements about them. Thus I use the hammer to hammer a nail before I make a judgement about the hammer being a hammer. In using the hammer, I have in mind a specific goal or purpose: building a shed. This project itself only makes sense in terms my practical world: something to put my garden tools in, and in the end the fundamental sense of my existence (why do I have a garden). My world is just the way in which things and persons related to one another in terms of their significance. This significance is given to them by my existence that includes both my cultural background and the individual sense that I give it, but this world is lived before it is known, and in fact the perceptual or even epistemological scientific world is dependent on the fact that I live in this world, rather than this world being dependent on them. The source of the doctrine that truth is first of logical has it origin, therefore, in Dasein own misunderstanding of its own being. Because it sees itself as a thing, it forgets that logical statements already need a context (which itself is not logical) so that they can have a meaning.

There is only truth because Dasein is. It we did not exist then nothing would be true. It is because we exist in a relation to things and they matter to us that they are there. If we were not there then they would not be true. They of course would still exist, but they would not exist for someone and therefore would not be true. This is even the case with the most sophisticated understanding of science. As Heidegger writes, ‘Newton’s laws, the principle of contradiction, any truth whatsoever – these are only true as long as Dasein is.’(Heidegger 1962, p.226) Science too, as logic, is not the original relation to the world. It is only because we have or live in a world, which is part of our way of being, that things are present to us and we can make judgements about them or attempt to understand them. But this scientific understanding is always derivative of a cultural background of intelligibility supporting it.

Work Cited

Gaita, R., 2000. A Common Humanity : Thinking about Love and Truth and Justice, London: Routledge.

Heidegger, M., 1962. Being and Time, Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell.

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