The tension between truth and untruth in Heidegger (SZ period)

Obviousness is a special case of common sense perverting disclosive character and yet it simulates real truth through its certainty and clarity; herein lies Heidegger’s reason for doubting obviousness.

Being-certain is essential to Dasein; it is the reason why we orient ourselves to truth, for truth too is about being certain. So how do we have two senses of truth – the unconcealed and the obvious? And how do these interrelate, beyond sharing the appearance of the key characteristics of certainty and clarity?

Certainty is based on common sense. But what is obvious, i.e. based on common sense, perverts the real truth because it holds something up as open when the thing is still concealed. The consequences of this ‘improper certainty’ are two fold: both the being of that about which Dasein is certain, and Dasein’s own being, are covered up.

In contrast, proper certainty is based on convictions. Conviction in Heidegger’s sense is a holding of oneself in truth or maintaining of Dasein in truth. We comport ourselves to the unconcealment of real truth.

Das Man uses Dasein as a disguise. Thus, when we ask ‘who speaks out in certainty’, the They answers through the mouth of Dasein. This is further evidence of the improper certainty of obviousness, the perversion of unconcealment to mere appearance, or semblance of a coming into the light. In Heidegger’s words, a disguise is “something which has been disclosed [which] is still visible, but as a semblance”.

Only in the mode of genuine authenticity can Dasein fully lay claim to being in the truth, holding oneself in the truth. This is because genuine authenticity renders everything transparent, so Dasein cannot be misled. That is not to say that the threats to truth posed by das Man are warded off, but Dasein now has the power to combat them, not only for itself but also for others as ‘conscience’.

Genuine inauthenticity, on the other hand, is characterised by an indifference towards the substance of truth. Inauthentic Dasein is just ‘going through the motions’, putting on a display of being truth seeking, but not doing it for itself. Other adjectives relevant to this mode of being might be misappropriation and disownment.

When we cash out ‘genuineness’, we are faced with four types of character in two modes of being. Genuineness is appropriation, a concern with truth, and can be divided into proper and improper modes of being. The proper mode is that of the philosopher, whilst the improper mode is the philodoxer. Non-genuineness is misappropriation, unconcern with truth, and can be further divided into non-genuine proper and non-genuine improper. Again, the former is the mode of the pseudo-philosopher whilst the latter is the mde of the pseudo-philodoxer. Finally, genuineness is completed by authenticity, whilst non-genuineness is completed by inauthenticity, in the manner described above.

The philodoxer and the pseudo-philosopher are united by their orientation toward the public realm, although they inhabit two sides of genuineness. The philodoxer fails to make distinctions and as such is often prone to being misled by the pseudo-philosopher, who simulates truth claims by putting on the appearance of authenticity. Meanwhile, the pseudo-philodoxer simulates allegiance to untruth through the disguise of das Man. The philosopher might be said to be addressing his claims to the pseudo-philodoxer for this reason, as the latter has a chance at being liberated since he was once oriented toward truth. The relation between the philosopher and pseudo-philodoxer is also characterised by absence – both are excluded from the public realm, neither can converge on common ground, and both therefore exist in solitariness.

Having got to grips with the four possible modes of being oriented toward truth, we can ask ourselves where obviousness might fit in. As we have said, truth is in the mode of genuine authenticity, because this is the only mode devoid of semblance. It is the philosopher alone who can lay claim to truths.

Obviousness, linked to common sense, would fit within the public realm. It cannot be said to be oriented toward truth because it obstructs truth, as we have seen above. Thus, obviousness gives rise to pseudo-truths. But it nonetheless shares a structural likeness with genuine inauthenticity, the mode of the philodoxer. One explanation for the undecideability of obviousness is that it reveals a tension in Dasein between being in truth and untruth simultaneously. Perhaps it is the fate of Dasein that this tension cannot be adequately resolved.

So what do we do? Hopefully this analysis has shown us that, whilst we can be certain in a pragmatic sense – it helps us to get on in the everyday course of our existence in the world particularly in our interactions with others – it is unwise to use that certainty to buttress a more essential view of truth itself.

This article was useful in analysing obviousness within Heidegger’s earlier thought.


Glossing Heidegger on the Essence of Truth

The Questionworthiness of Our ‘Self-Evident’ Preconceptions Concerning ‘Essence’ and ‘Truth’

When we ask the question ‘what is that?’ we are asking after the essence of the thing. But do we not already know the ‘that’? ‘Indeed, must we not know them in order afterward to ask, and even to give an answer, about what they are?’ Must we not be able to use the word ‘table’ in order to even point to the object, and in so using the word be able to call to mind functional characteristics of the object at the very least? Questions so phrased seem to push us toward an a priori understanding of essence. But what is it about essence itself that makes a thing what it is? The essence is the universal, the common feature, the something in general. And yet, it is precisely in our grasp of the particular that we are able to formulate generalisations. By observing what all particular objects hold in common, we are able to extrapolate and pronounce the class of objects as universals. ‘Thus too,’ Heidegger says, ‘in the case of our question “what is truth?”’

So we unpack our question ‘what is truth’ by asking ‘what is the essence of truth?’ We are already familiar with particular truths – from the mathematical to the observational – but what is the essence of these particular truths? They contain ‘something true’. And wherein is that truth contained? It is in the propositions themselves, such as ‘2+2=4’ or ‘it is cold outside’. Thus, truth consists in the content of propositions corresponding with the facts about which they are saying something. We can verify that 2+2 does equal 4 through a simple calculation, and that it is cold outside by opening a window. And we can generalise these particulars through the maxim: being-true consists in correspondence. ‘So truth is correspondence, grounding in correctness, between proposition and thing’.

This is a quite peculiar situation. For not only do we know particular truths, but it would seem that the question we asked previously on the essence of truth is also answered! Not only do we know the essence of truth, we must necessarily know it for how could we otherwise name truths? ‘We could not otherwise bring forward what is stated and claim it as truth’. Not only do we know the essence of truth (correspondence), we also know the meaning of essence itself (universal) and in what essence consists (essence-hood). So why do we still inquire into the essence of truth? What is intelligible is what is understood by us, through our ability to measure, survey and comprehend a thing’s basic structure. What is intelligible is thus self-evident. But is the maxim ‘truth as correspondence’ really intelligible?

Correspondence is a being-toward the thing; the measure for the proposition consists in the correspondence between it and the thing. So do we not know what and how the thing is about which we speak? ‘Such knowing can only arise from knowledge, and knowledge grasps the true, for false knowledge is no knowledge at all’. What is the true? True is what is known, that which corresponds with the facts. The proposition corresponds with what is known and thus with what is true. So are we then left with the definition: true is correspondence with something corresponding?! And so to leave ourselves open to correspondence ad infinitum? What was the first correspondence? Is it not itself a ‘resemblance’, correspondence under another name? ‘Since everything is discussed in a groundless and formal way, we obtain nothing at all intelligible with the concept of truth as correspondence. What presents itself as self-evident is utterly obscure’.

We began by defining true in terms of propositions. But we also call things and beings true. ‘What does true gold correspond with, if being-true means correspondence?’ True is – in truth! – more ambiguous than we first thought. Are we to conclude that truth means something different in different cases? What then is its proper meaning? Does one usage have priority over another? If neither has priority, must we conclude instead that the common derivation consists in something expressed other than correspondence? ‘Truth as correspondence (characteristic of the proposition) is thus ambiguous, insufficiently delimited in itself or determined in its origins. It is therefore not intelligible, its self-evidence is illusory’.

Before, we defined essence as that which determines particularities in general, ‘in respect of what they are’. Essence is the universal, the what-being. And we applied this definition through the example of things – tables, chairs – quite different indeed from truth. Does it follow that the essence-hood of essence is also quite different in both cases? More pertinently, were we justified in ‘transposing’ our conception of essence-hood in things to truth? Even if we grant that essence-hood is the same in both cases, do we really understand the what-being – the definition of being that is at stake in the case of things and truth? The answer is we don’t understand it, we cannot clarify it, and yet we speak of it in such assured self-evident terms. ‘At bottom, what we are asking about remains unintelligible’.

We have said that we have knowledge of particulars, and that through our knowledge of these particulars as such, we already know the particulars in their essence. Indeed, we held that it is necessary to know the essence of the particulars otherwise we would not be able to recognise particulars at all from within their universal class. But why is it necessary? ‘Is it an accident, simply a fact that we register and submit to? Do we understand the essence-hood of essence if we stand helplessly before this peculiarity? Not at all. Essence and essence-hood are also in this respect unintelligible’.

Even assuming that the essence of truth is as we originally claimed, correspondence between proposition as fact and concerning universals governing particulars, are we really able to take this self-evidence as the ‘foundation for our investigation, as vouching for itself and as something secure and true?’ On what have we secured this understanding, how is self-evidence a guarantee for truth in and of itself? ‘How much has been self-evident and obvious to us humans and yet later turned out to be illusory, the opposite of truth and sound knowledge! Thus our appeal to self-evidence as the guarantee of truth is ungrounded and unintelligible’.

That which is self-evident enters into us without us having to do anything, without us having to actively perceive or take anything on. We find it so. But, and this is the devastating question in the whole piece, who are we then? And why is it that we are the ‘court of appeal’? Is what is self-evident to us really to be taken as the ‘ultimate and primary criterion? We don’t even properly understand what is at stake, let alone why it must be us to arbitrate the debate. ‘Do we know whether in general, within which limits, and with which deficiencies, the self-evident can and may be a standard for human beings? Who tells us who the human being is? Is this not all completely unintelligible?’

And so Heidegger has unraveled what at first seemed unshakeable. I will quote his concluding paragraph in full:

‘We began by defining the essence of truth as correspondence and correctness. This seemed self-evident, and therefore binding. Now, already after a few crude steps, this self-evidence has emerged as thoroughly incomprehensible; the concept of the essence of truth in two respects, the concept of the essence-hood of essence in two respects, the appeal to self-evidence as the measure and guarantee of secure knowledge again in two respects. The seemingly self-evident has become incomprehensible. But this means, in so far as we want to linger over and further examine this incomprehensibility, that is has become worthy of questioning. We must first of all ask how it comes about that we quite naturally move and feel comfortable within such self-evidences. How is it that the apparently self-evident turns out, upon closer examination, to be understood least? Answer: because it is too close to us and because we proceed in this way with everything close. We take care, for example, that this and that is in order, that we come here with pen and exercise book, and that our propositions, if possible, correspond with what we intend and talk about. We know that truth belongs in a certain way to our daily affairs, and we know quite naturally what this means. It lies so close to us that we have no distance from it, and therefore no possibility of having an overall view of it and comprehending it’.

Unworthy Preconceptions of Truth


We know that truth belongs in a certain way to our daily affairs, and we know quite naturally what this means. It lies so close to us that we have no distance from it, and therefore no possibility of having an overall view of it and comprehending it.

So the first thing must be to distance ourselves from this self-evidence, to step back from it so that what we so readily conceive as truth can be left standing and resting by itself. But where are we to step back to, from where are we to observe the self-evident?

(Heidegger, The Essence of Truth)

I’m trying to go back to the beginning myself; the way forward in this project will come through a careful consideration of what is essential to a definition of truth. Heidegger teaches us that when he talks about going back to the beginning, back to the Greeks, back to aletheia, to unhiddenness, to see the eroneousness of our path from aletheia to adaequatio. More from Heidegger coming up shortly.

Philosophy & The Mirror of Nature: Philosophy without Mirrors (I)

Hermeneutics and Edification

Having established the priority of hermeneutics in our conception of ourselves and the world, and having dispensed with the term epistemology in the process, Rorty analyses the concept of edification through an exposition of Gadamer’s arguments primarily found in Truth and Method. Gadamer substitutes the notion of Bildung, glossed by Rorty as education or self-formation) for “knowledge” as the goal of thinking. The concept of Bildung points to a picture of self-creation through activities such as reading, talking and writing; it is a ‘dramatic way’ (359) of saying that sentences become true of us by virtue of such activities. These ways of changing ourselves can, furthermore, be classed as “essential”, though Rorty is careful to point out that his definition of essential differs from the traditional metaphysical sense. On the hermeneutical reading, wirkungsgeschichtliches Bewusstsein (consciousness of the past which changes us) characterises the attitude in which we are interested in what we can get out of nature and history for our own practical uses, rather than a merely theoretical interest in what is out there in the world. In this attitude, ‘getting the facts right…is merely propadeutic to finding a new and more interesting way of expressing ourselves, and thus of coping with the world’ (359). Thus, Rorty concludes, from this educational perspective, ‘the way things are said is more important than the possession of truths’ (359).

Rorty chooses to use the term “edification” in place of both “education” (‘ a bit too flat) and Bildung (‘a bit too foreign’), ‘to stand for this project of finding new, better, more interesting, more fruitful ways of speaking’ (360). The project of edification can be characterised in a number of ways, whether it is hermeneutic activity oriented toward making connections between our own culture and foreign cultures (one can substitute disciplines for culture as well) through the poetic creation of new aims, words or disciplines; or the reverse of hermeneutic activity, in which we make the familiar unfamiliar. The process of edification is not constructive; rather, it supports abnormal discourse as a means of taking us ‘out of our old selves by the power of strangeness, to aid us in becoming new beings’ (360).

For Gadamer, there is no tension between the desire for edification and the desire for truth, because the desire for objective knowledge (Truth with a capital ‘T’) is, in the Heideggerian sense, one more human project among others. Sartre takes this one step further and claims that the attempt to gain objective knowledge of the world, and oneself, is a way of abdicating responsibility for choosing one’s project: ‘[the desire for objective knowledge] present a temptation to self-deception insofar as we think that, by knowing which descriptions within a given set of normal discourses apply to us, we thereby know ourselves’ (361). Thus, for Heidegger, Gadamer and Sartre, the desire for objective knowledge is not necessarily a bad thing for it is but another way of seeking to cope with the world; the danger comes when it hinders the process of edification.

The existentialist view of objectivity taken by Gadamer, Heidegger and Sartre can be characterised along the following lines: objectivity is the conformity of norms of justification we find around us. This conformity to norms only because dubious when it overreaches itself, in other words, when we use it to ground our processes of justification. When we ground a practice, we are implying that there is no need for further justification because we have identified a clear and distinct philosophical foundation. For the existentialists and for Rorty, this act of ‘grounding’ is self-deceptive for two reasons. First, it is a circular argument, for how do you ground the ultimate justification on something that is itself unjustifiable? Second, it assumes that the current vocabularies of science, morality etc have a privileged connection with reality, rather than just being further sets of descriptions that may become obsolete for future audiences. Insofar as the existentialists agree with the naturalists that redescription is not a “change of essence”, Rorty argues that this needs to be followed up ‘by abandoning the notion of “essence” altogether (361). The naturalists, however, fall down in trying to show that there is something essential about a particular culture, which leads to all incommensurable vocabularies being branded as ‘“noncognitive” ornamentation’ (362). Thus, Rorty sees the utility of the existentialist’s position as the ability to see various descriptions – be they based on scientific principles or artistic interpretations – as standing on equal footing: ‘the former are not privileged representations in virtue of the fact that (at the moment) there is more consensus in the sciences than in the arts. They are simply among the repertoire of self-descriptions at our disposal’ (362).

The process of education, which is thematic to the existentialist position, is often countered by the positivist attempt to distinguish learning facts from acquiring values. On the positivist point of view, Gadamer merely restates the commonplace idea that ‘even when we know all the objectively true descriptions of ourselves, we still may not know what to do with ourselves’ (363). However, from the existentialist point of view, the trouble with the fact-value distinction is that it conceals the fact that alternative descriptions from those offered by normal inquiry are available to us. Moreover, the positivist position implies that once all the facts are in, there is nothing left but to adopt a noncognitivist attitude, in other words, one that is not rationally discussable. Thus, Rorty argues that such ‘artificial diremptions…tempt us to think of edification as having nothing to do with the rational faculties which are employed in normal discourse’ (364). For Gadamer, Heidegger and Sartre, discovering the facts is just one more project of education among others: ‘all we can do is be hermeneutical about the opposition – trying to show how the odd or paradoxical or offensive things they say hang together with the rest of what they want to say, and how what they say looks when put in our own alternative idiom. This sort of hermeneutics with polemical intent is common to Heidegger’s and Derrida’s attempts to deconstruct the tradition’ (364-5).education-pic