Heidegger and Logic

Having just finished reading Greg Shirley’s recently published book, Heidegger and Logic, I wanted to jot down a few thoughts before they disappear into the fog as I read the next book, and the next one after that. There are numerous strengths in this book. There are the obvious, headline contributions of offering a detailed account of Heidegger’s writings on logic during the Being and Time period, and thereby addressing the charges of those (beginning with the Logical Positivists) who accused Heidegger of being an irrationalist. In addition, what stood out for me was Shirley’s defense of Heidegger against Ernst Tugendhat’s criticism – at least for me it provided a key to connecting the various different arguments of the book. Tugendhat’s criticism, in brief, is that while Heidegger claims that ‘Before being discovered Newtonian laws were neither true nor false’, Heidegger nonetheless claims that these laws are uncovered as universal laws and hence as transcending, as Shirley puts it, ‘any particular instance of uncovering.’ Put in other words, for Shirley Tugendhat accuses Heidegger of not allowing for the ‘possibility that judgements/assertions may exhibit more or less rational justification, and so may more or less correspond to an object.’ (75-6) In short, on Tugendhat’s reading Heidegger fails to distinguish between, or cannot distinguish between, aletheia and apophansis.

For Shirley, however, Tugendhat’s reading of Heidegger reflects a continued adherence to Kantian epistemology whereby knowledge, as Shirley puts it, ‘is asymptotic: regulative ideas perhaps guarantee that absolute knowledge may ever be approached, while the finitude of discursive reason guarantees that it is never actually achieved.’ For Shirley, however, ‘Heidegger has an asymptotic conception of falsity as well: absolute error may be approached but never actually achieved, since even error presupposes that a minimum of intelligibility has been uncovered about which one may prevaricate or otherwise assert a falsehood.’ (76). In other words, the uncovering of an entity discloses this entity just as it is in itself, even if, owing to Dasein’s temporal and spatial finitude this uncovering is in turn ‘always only a dimension or aspect of the thing itself.’ By maintaining an asymptotic approach to both truth and falsity, Heidegger is able to maintain the distinction between aletheia and apophansis.

Following through on his arguments concerning the ‘minimum of intelligiblity’ that is uncovered, Shirley is able to argue quite convincingly that Heidegger’s thought is not only able to accommodate formal, inferential logic, but moreover he is able to justify this logic independently (in contrast to Leibniz, for example) by showing that the logical ground that is stated in a principle (such as the principle of sufficient reason) ‘is simply [the] verbal articulation of something that precedes all assertion and makes all assertion possible in the first place, the temporal structure of being-in-the-world.’ This structure is revealed as it is, but as being-in-the-world it is implicit and requires an abstraction from context in order to make explicit the inferential, consequential structures of being-in-the-world, and hence logic and logical principles. What is distinctive about logic is that the object that is uncovered, and uncovered just as it is and with a ‘minimum of intelligibility’ that provides normative strictures upon how the thought of this object ought to proceed, is thought itself. Heidegger is clear on this point, as Shirley cites Heidegger:

Thinking taken as thinking about something, with any subject-matter, is formal thought, in contradistinction to material, content-relevant thought. This formal thinking is not without an object, but is very much object-oriented, though neutral with respect to content. General logic, as knowledge of formal thinking, is thus formal logic. (Metaphysical Foundations of Logic, 1984 [1928], 33; cited by Shirley, 93).

In the final chapter of Shirley’s book he shows how Heidegger’s thought can equally provide an understanding of the grounds of contemporary logic. All in all, an excellent book and one I’ll return to often.


5 responses to “Heidegger and Logic

  • Heidegger and Logic « PHILOSOPHY IN A TIME OF ERROR

    […] and Logic J. Bell rings in with a good post on the new book of that title. I’ll need to get it at some point, not least because those […]

  • Tim Morton

    That was a nice post–thank you.

  • deontologistics

    This is quite interesting, and I might have to take a look at it. However, it strikes me that Tugendhat’s criticism is not quite how you present it here. I haven’t read Tugendhat’s big book on Truth in Heidegger and Husserl (as it is unfortunately untranslated), but I have read the paper which presents his criticism in short form (‘Heidegger’s Idea of Truth’). He actually levels two major objections in the paper: 1) that Heidegger has no right to call aletheia/disclosedness by the name of ‘truth’ insofar as it lacks a normative dimension, and more importantly 2) that his account of the truth of assertions fails to properly establish a distinction between truth and falsity insofar as it elides the difference between uncovering the entity as it is in itself and simply uncovering the entity. The former objection holds in my opinion, although it is really a matter of terminology which Heidegger himself accedes to at the very end of his career (see ‘The End of Philosophy and the Task of Thinking’), but the latter objection has some definite teeth (despite being couched within some misunderstandings of what Heidegger means by uncovering and covering). Heidegger’s claims about Newton’s laws are indeed problematic, but they aren’t the central foil of Tugendhat’s critique, even if the issues are related.

    I’ve written about this quite extensively in the 3rd chapter of my thesis. My basic conclusion is that Heidegger’s account in Being and Time is vulnerable to the thrust of Tugendhat’s criticism, even if the account is more subtle than Tugendhat gives Heidegger credit for. Nonetheless, I think that Heidegger’s account shifts around the time of Fundamental Concepts of Metaphysics in a way that makes it immune to the criticism. If you’d like to know more, I can email you the relevant chapter.

  • Jeffrey Bell

    Thanks for this Pete. I’m not familiar with Tugendhat’s criticisms other than as they were covered in Shirley’s book, so your post is helpful. I may need to read your third chapter to get up to speed on these issues (so feel free to send it). I’m also no doubt not doing full justice to Shirley’s arguments, trying as I was to present what struck me as a (if not the) salient move in his book, and for me this came with his arguments concerning the asymptotic nature of both truth and falsity. Thanks again for your post.

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