My Gorgeous Gadamer’s Language and Understanding
Hans-Georg Gadamer (1900-2002) gorgeously redefines the nature of understanding in contrast to its usual definition. He redefines language, too. Gadamer does both for the ears of a layman like me. This is helpful. The two redefinitions place his philosophical hermeneutics in bright and accessible light.
PLEASE NOTE: The following post is too long to read in email, please open it in your browser—it is approx. 12,000 words, a 30-minute read.
After some of my own humble reflections as well as Gadamer’s translator’s (Robert E. Palmer) words of introduction, the Reader will find the text titled Language and Understanding in full. What a treat! (It is possible to jump there directly by tapping this link.) And I’ve allowed myself to have some fun in the footnotes.
Philosophy bakes no bread, they say. Well, man doesn’t live by bread alone, I reply. As the days on Ibiza are getting hotter, I spend time smoking tobacco, sitting at a garden table in the shade of a carob tree. The almond tree behind me with each occasional gust of wind sprinkles my head with pollen. As the hand-rolled cigarette is burning and the pollen in my hair hasn’t turned to mud—I conclude that my head isn’t submerged in water—although it sure feels that way sometimes. Since the onset of the past winter, I have been deep in the waters of “The Bermuda Triangle”, rarely (oh-so-rarely), coming up to the surface for a little breather.
According to Deleuze, philosophy begins with a faire l’idiot—with ‘making oneself an idiot’ where ‘The old idiot wanted indubitable truths at which he could arrive by himself: in the meantime he would doubt everything’—clearly, that is me. So I may be able to get my foot in the door after all... But the fact, nevertheless, remains: for an uneducated, unofficial, un-academic, unprofessional ignoramus layman dilettante like myself (genuinely), the deep waters of philosophy are a forbidding place. That is what I think those days when I am overwhelmed by philosophy, I suppose. What can I do?1
The Bermuda Triangle I’ve been lost in is the triangle with vertices that are marked by a letter, an initial, each: “H.”, “W.”, and “G.”.
Martin Heidegger, who I call “Mr. H.”, Ludwig Wittgenstein, who I call “Mr. W.”, and Hans-Georg Gadamer—you guessed it, I call him “Mr. G.”, are educators to me.2
For the past several years, I have busied myself with a humble study of philosophy more obsessively than before. I think of this study as “being educated”. I keep it close to me and take it personally (I previously and happily wrote about that).
I’ve been making modest attempts at “a philosophising” of my own, which I regard as “gymnastics”. Unknowingly, I seem to have had fallen into methods practiced by the so-called gymnosophists, who preferred to wear little clothing as they lead somewhat ascetic daily lives, giving themselves to heartfelt contemplation.
Usually, I’d be doing my gymnastics with my feet on the solid ground in the shade of the living tree. But several times I felt as if I was drowning, or, in simpler words: I would find myself being overwhelmed. Nevertheless, I persisted because ambiguity in words painfully bothers me (as I vented about elsewhere). How can I exorcise demons of ambiguity present in my thought, speech, and writing? I recognize that my ability to make judgments, to know when and how I am being lied to, to decide for myself, to act, is based on necessary freedom. And freedom depends on, and increases with, every demon exorcised.3
The ambiguity is linguistic. I want to be free of it. I want to know that when I think-speak-write words, I know what those words mean. I want to understand words and understand finely. I want to be able to defend myself from being hypnotised by those who use words to deceive me, to make me err, to make me at the minimum a simultaneous loudspeaker for and receiver (if not “a collabo”) of their degenerate ideology, to separate me from my neighbour and separate me from Grace. In short: language for understanding and self-defense is the language I want.4
Heidegger, Gadamer, and Wittgenstein are the go-to philosophers (within the twentieth century), as far as I can tell, when it comes to linguistics, hermeneutics, thinking, and understanding. But here I’ve been having problems which have been needing solutions:
to approach Heidegger, I don’t have enough Plato, Aristotle and other Greeks, Hölderlin, Husserl, and Nietzsche (to understand Nietzsche, Heidegger tells me to read Aristotle for fifteen years first and at the age of fifty I don’t have fifteen years to give to Aristotle, for Christ’s sake, Mr. H.!);
for Gadamer, I don’t have enough Kant, Hegel, Kierkegaard, and (again) Nietzsche;
for Wittgenstein, I don’t have enough Leibnitz and formal logic and it would be nice to have more physics;
since I don’t have the Ancient Greek, Latin, and German languages—I’m stuck with translations.
Isn’t this a ridiculous state of affairs? Am I suffering from a rare disease, or be there other afflicted laymen like me in “the world here below”? 5
The solution is found in persistence. Not all is lost! When one is drowning, an angel arrives and offers a helping hand. There is a text written by an angel, you see? The text bears the title Language and Understanding and the angel is named Hans-Georg Gadamer.
Gadamer helps me understand Gadamer and the understanding from Gadamer helps me better understand Heidegger and from Heidegger I can get the hermeneutics that I need to have under my scalp when I approach Wittgenstein. . . When I will have been in the company of Misters G., H., and W., having spent quality time together, I will have language and I will be, philosophically speaking, free.6
Let’s get a little taste just to whet our appetite: In his magnum opus, titled Truth and Method (1960), Gadamer writes in the afterword:
(…) there can be agreement about the fact that there is only one “logic of scientific investigation”—but also that it is not sufficient, since at any given time the viewpoints that select the relevant topics of inquiry and foreground them as subjects of research cannot themselves be derived from the logic of investigation. What is remarkable is that, for the sake of rationality, theory of science here abandons itself to complete irrationality and considers philosophical reflection on certain aspects of practical cognition to be illegitimate; it even charges the philosophy that does so with immunizing its contentions against experience. It fails to recognize that it is itself complicit with a much more fatal immunization against experience—for example, against that of common sense and the experience one gains in living. It always does so when it promotes the uncritical expansion of scientific management beyond specific contexts—for example, when it assigns responsibility for political decisions to experts.
Obviously to me, anyone who would write that preceding paragraph has my ear for the whole summer to come: just on the basis of the past two-and-a-half years of the orchestrated plague.7
The plague has been, clearly, to me, an excuse for the thus-far continuous state of exception (if not permanent, we shall see! Can you imagine? A permanent state of exception.). The state of exception, which in turn “allowed” for the suspension of representative democratic processes for so-called epidemiological reasons, and—in an outrageously fast, massive over-reaction and without any discussion—cancelled everyday social interactions, travel, childhood education, business activities, worship, public assembly, going outdoors, and dying in the presence of loved ones. . . Ah, don’t get me started. Please, pardon me for the little rant. The point is: I must give my ear to Gadamer and I must give it today. I suggest that you consider giving your ear to him, too.
Gadamer’s Language and Understanding
Language and Understanding was originally recorded and broadcast as a lecture for Southwest Radio (Sudwestfunk) in 1970. This explains the absence of footnotes, other than the translator’s, in this text. The first in-print publications of the lecture came during the same year.
Richard E. Palmer writes:
(…) First, in this essay Gadamer redefines the nature of understanding in contrast to the usual definition, and he does so without footnotes and to a general audience. This is helpful. Second, he redefines language, also. These two redefinitions place his philosophical hermeneutics in a new and more accessible light. Together, these more accessible redefinitions give us a sense of what is new and exciting in his philosophical hermeneutics. And third, toward the end of his talk and without naming names, he goes on to clarify and defend certain matters that were initially misunderstood in his project of a philosophical hermeneutics.
(…) In taking up the topic of understanding, Gadamer was dealing with a central issue of hermeneutics since Friedrich Schleiermacher, who redefined hermeneutics as a “general theory of understanding,” when it had previously been focused on the task of overcoming difficulties in understanding texts in various disciplines, such as theology, literature, and law. Schleiermacher’s interdisciplinary approach was taken up by Dilthey, who proposed to transform hermeneutics as a general method of understanding texts into the fundamental methodology of all of the humanities. Heidegger broadened the conception of hermeneutics itself even further by making understanding not just a process of understanding texts, but a process of self-understanding in the course of living one’s life temporally and historically. He formulated what may be called an ontological hermeneutics, for it was an interpretation of the being of a temporally existing human being. In Truth and Method Gadamer took up Heidegger’s concept of an existential self-understanding, and also Heidegger’s subsequent ontology of the human experience of artworks. In emphasizing the inseparability of understanding and language, he is restating a key element of his own hermeneutical philosophy in Truth and Method and also adds Heidegger’s emphasis on language and being in later essays. But Gadamer goes beyond what he says in Truth and Method or even what Heidegger says about language and being in his later writings, to assert the social significance of language and understanding. It is this last step in defining language and understanding that constitutes an exciting new step in his thinking, a step that makes his hermeneutics of special interest to the social sciences. And because he is addressing a radio audience, he puts the issues in terms that a layman can understand. At the same time, he is articulating a truly important theme in his later philosophy: solidarity, the social solidarity contained in language.
The fact that language and thinking or understanding are inseparable has been said before, but Gadamer goes further here to articulate the fact that language is a repository of a culture. In other places in his writings he says that language reveals the thoughts and thought forms of a culture, and great texts embody these ideas in a permanent and transmittable way, a way that has to be interpreted and reinterpreted in each generation, and this gives the humanities a special place in education. But in this broadcast to a radio audience, Gadamer does not mention great texts, the role of the humanities, or even “philosophical hermeneutics”; rather, he talks about understanding as a fabric, a network of understandings out of which we understand what we understand. Silent understanding, he notes, rests on a network of previous understandings, and these understandings reside in language. This is his definition of understanding.
The second major theme is language. Gadamer here seeks to show how his view of language is radically unlike scientific views of language that approach it abstractly, in terms of the contextless assertions of logic. He asserts that language is constantly building up and bearing within itself the commonality of a world orientation. It is this shared orientation, this fabric of shared understandings, this common social world that makes social solidarity possible. Gadamer contrasts his inclusion of this background of shared solidarity in understandings with the lack of such a background in the abstractness of scientific treatments of language. More importantly, he makes a political point for this audience: there is an ominous absence of controls within technological knowledge when it is separated from the context of social solidarity that makes human societies human. This is a point that is important to us even today. So in this essay, Gadamer markedly goes beyond the idea that language and understanding are inseparable to state that these shared understandings in language form the background for social solidarity. Thus they have a social, moral, normative character that is lost in the use of language by science, technology, and even in the isolating and abstract way that analytic philosophy generally deals with language.
In the final section of this essay, Gadamer replies to some misunderstandings of his philosophy that have arisen in the decade since the publication of his masterwork. For this audience, however, he does not mention his critic, Habermas, by name. His dialogue with Habermas about language and the nature of the background social fabric of understandings has continued over decades, but his defense of his philosophy always goes back to the fact that for him language is living language and takes place in events of understanding. Thus, language as it is used in a psychoanalytic situation is not a good general model for language and understanding, nor is language as imagined in the distortion-free context of an ideal speech situation (as Habermas calls it) living language. In both of these cases, Habermas sees language in the context of an emancipatory reflection needed to change social norms rather than as it functions in the ordinary processes of understanding and reaching an understanding.
Gadamer’s last paragraph presents his point in a richly condensed and luminous way. He says there that we must get back to the living reality of language that both reveals and conceals, to language such as we find in religious forms of expression, but above all in poetry. His concluding sentence notes that all this is “especially clear in the poetic use of language.” What Gadamer means by “living language” in this essay is not ordinary language, or language about language, or even language in interpretation. Rather, it is ultimately in poetry that language truly shines forth in all its power and beauty. As ever, he turns to poetry as “living language.
So in this essay, Gadamer elucidates in a clear and accessible way his distinctive new way of redefining language and understanding and supplements it with replies to some criticisms of his view. This essay is irreplaceable in the annals of Gadamer’s writings for its accessibility and for clarifying what is new about his way of defining both language and understanding.
Language and Understanding
(The full text. Translated by Richard E. Palmer)
The problem of understanding is of increasing interest in recent years. Certainly this is not unrelated to our very uneasy social and world-political situation and the sharp increase in tensions at the present time. Everywhere one looks one finds that efforts to reach an understanding between zones within a nation, between nations, blocks of nations, and between generations, are failing. It would seem that a common language is lacking, and the concepts that generally serve as guidelines for discussion—I have in mind, for example, concepts like “democracy” and “freedom”—only function as emotional appeals that make oppositions more rigid and the tensions more extreme—the very tensions one is seeking to reduce.
So I think my general thesis here—that reaching an understanding is a problem that must succeed or fail in the medium of language—actually does not require elaborate demonstration. All the phenomena involved in reaching an understanding, the phenomena of understanding and misunderstanding which constitute the central focus of what we call “hermeneutics,” clearly involve language. But in the following discussion I will propose something more radical. I wish to suggest that the general process of reaching an understanding between persons and the process of understanding per se are both language-events that resemble the inner conversation of the soul with itself, a conversation which Plato asserted was the very essence of thinking.
The claim that all understanding is linguistic in character is admittedly provocative. We need only look around ourselves and at our own experiences to find a swarm of counterexamples, or at least what seem to be. For instance, silent, wordless consent is often taken to be the highest and innermost type of understanding. Anyone who observes language carefully will immediately come across such phenomena as silent consent or guessing that something is the case without putting it into words. But I believe that even these cases are in modes of language [of Sprachlichkeit] in a sense. In what follows I hope to make clear why it makes sense to say this.
But what about still other phenomena—like “speechless astonishment” or being “struck dumb with admiration”—to which language may lead us? What we encounter in such moments are certainly phenomena about which we can say they “leave us speechless.” Language deserts us, and it deserts us precisely because what enlightens is standing so strongly before our ever more encompassing gaze that words would not be adequate to grasp it. Is it not a really daring claim to maintain, as I do, that even when language deserts us, this too is a form of language [Sprachlichkeit]? Is my claim not like the absurd dogmatism of those philosophers who over and over again try to stand things on their heads when they can just as well stand on their feet? Yet I would say that when speech deserts us, what this really means is that one would like to say so much that one does not know where to begin. The breakdown of language actually testifies to one’s capacity to search out an expression for everything, so I think it is really only a manner of speaking to say that language has deserted us. In actuality, speaking has not come to an end but to a beginning.
I would like to demonstrate this above all by considering the first linguistic example I mentioned, namely when one speaks of a “silent consent.” What is the hermeneutical significance of this phrase? The problem of understanding, which we find discussed in so many of its dimensions, especially in all of the disciplines where exact methods of verification are available, consists basically in the fact that there we have a merely inner evidence of understanding; for example, understanding that comes to light when I suddenly understand the context of a statement used in a certain situation. That is to say, when it suddenly becomes completely clear and graspable, how justified it is that the other person says what he says, or how unjustified. Actually, such experiences of understanding clearly presuppose difficulties in understanding, the disturbance of an agreement in understanding. So all efforts at trying to understand something begin when one comes up against something that is strange, challenging, disorienting.
The Greeks had a very fine word for that which brings our understanding to a standstill. They called it the atopon. This word actually means “the placeless,” that which cannot be fitted into the categories of expectation in our understanding and which therefore causes us to be suspicious of it. The famous Platonic doctrine that philosophizing begins with wonder has this suspicion in mind, this experience of not being able to go any further with the pre-schematized expectations of our orientation to the world, which therefore beckons to thinking. Aristotle described this very aptly when he said that what we expect depends on how much insight we have into the context, and he gave the following example. When one is amazed at the fact that the root of two is irrational, and that therefore the relationship of the diagonals and the length of the sides of a quadrangle is not rationally expressible, one sees from this that he is no mathematician, for a mathematician would be amazed that anyone could expect this relationship to be rational. The support for this conclusion is relative, is related to knowledge and deep acquaintance with the subject. All this surprise and wonder, all this not being able to get any further, is obviously always connected with getting further, with penetrating to important knowledge!
What I therefore want to maintain is that if we really want to bring into view clearly the place that the process of understanding has in the whole of our being as human beings, and also in our social being as human beings, we must consciously separate the general phenomenon of understanding from an overemphasis on disturbances in understanding. Actually, a prior agreement in understanding is presupposed wherever disturbances in this agreement arise. The relatively infrequent hindrances to agreement in understanding and to reaching agreements in understanding are supposedly what pose the task and desire to agree in understanding and thus are supposed to lead to the lifting of obstacles to understanding. In other words, when we consider the matter carefully, the example of “silent agreement” is not so much an objection to the linguistic character of understanding; instead, it is the linguistic character of understanding that assures its breadth and universality. This is a basic truth that we need to honor and restore, after having endured several centuries in which the concept of method has been posited in modern science as the absolute starting point for our self-understanding.
Modern science, which arose in the seventeenth century, is based on thought about method and the progressive accumulation of knowledge assured by method. This form of science has uniquely changed our planet by privileging a certain form of access to our world, an access that is neither the only nor the most encompassing access that we possess. It is this access to the world by means of methodical isolation and conscious interrogation—in the experiment—which has enabled particular realms in which this isolation can be accomplished to spread out and attain a special hold on our ways of doing things. This was the great accomplishment of the mathematical sciences of nature, and particularly of the Galilean mechanics of the seventeenth century. But it is well known that the intellectual achievement of discovering the laws of free-falling bodies and of inclined planes was not brought about merely by observation. There was no vacuum. Free fall is an abstraction. Everyone remembers his or her own astonishment at the experiment that he or she experienced in school, where a piece of lead and a feather, when dropped in a relative vacuum, fell at the same rate! Galileo isolated things from the conditioning factors that were found in nature, abstracting from the resistance of the medium of air. But it was such abstraction that made possible the mathematical description of factors which bring about natural events, and thereby enable man’s controlling intervention in nature.
The discipline of mechanics which Galileo constructed in this way is, in fact, the mother of our technical civilization. Here a very specific methodical way of gaining knowledge arose, whose success brought about the tension between our unmethodical knowledge of the world, which encompasses our whole experience of life, and the scientific knowledge that brought it about. Kant’s great achievement philosophically was that he found a persuasive conceptual solution for this tension. For philosophy in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries had exhausted itself on the insoluble task of uniting the omniscience of the metaphysical tradition with the new science—an effort that could not bring about a viable balance between a science of reason based on concepts and a science-based on experience. Kant, in contrast, found a solution. His critical restriction of reason and its conceptual knowledge to what was given in experience, a restriction he found in the English critique of metaphysics, carried with it the destruction of metaphysics as a dogmatic science. But Kant, the “crusher of everything” [Alleszermalmer]—as his contemporaries felt the gentle professor of Königsberg to be—was at the same time also the great founder of moral philosophy rigorously based on the principle of the autonomy of practical reason. Kant recognized freedom as a unique fact of reason, that is to say, he showed that without assuming the freedom of the practical reason of man, the moral and social existence of man could not be thought. In doing this, Kant gave to philosophical thinking a new legitimacy for the concept of freedom in the face of all the determinism that was rising from modern science. In fact, the impetus of his moral philosophy, mediated above all through Fichte, stands behind the great trailblazers of the “historical worldview” [historische Weltanschauung]: namely, Wilhelm von Humboldt, Ranke, and Droysen, above all. But certainly also Hegel and everyone who is positively or negatively influenced by him were also filled with Kant’s idea of freedom down to the last detail, and therefore, against the method-centeredness of the historical sciences, they maintained a stream of philosophical thinking that by and large has remained a major trend in philosophy.
Nevertheless, precisely the connection between the rising new sciences and the ideal of method was also the thing that put them at a distance, so to speak, from the phenomenon of understanding. Just as for the researcher into nature, nature is at first something inscrutably strange, such that through calculation and purposeful compulsion, through torture with the help of experiments, nature is compelled to make assertions; so also the sciences that employ understanding are themselves more and more seen in terms of this kind of concept of method. The result is that understanding is largely viewed as the removal of misunderstandings, as bridging the alienation between the I and the thou. But is the thou ever as alien as the object of experimental natural science by definition is? We need to recognize that agreement in understanding is more primordial than misunderstanding, so that over and over again understanding leads us back into a reconstruction of agreement in understanding. This fact, it seems to me, clearly and fully legitimates the universal character of understanding.
But why is understanding, when it comes into the open, linguistic in character? Why does the “silent agreement” among people that again and again is built up as the commonality of an orientation to the world point to what we may call “linguisticality”? The question, so posed, carries the answer implicitly in itself. Language is what is constantly building up and bearing within itself this commonality of world-orientation. To speak with one another is not primarily hashing things out with each other. It seems to me characteristic of the tensions within modernity that it loves this manner of speaking. To speak with another person is also not speaking past him or her. Rather, in speaking with another person one builds up an aspect held in common, the thing that is being talked about. The true reality of human communication is such that a conversation does not simply carry one person’s opinion through against another’s in argument, or even simply add one opinion to another. Genuine conversation transforms the viewpoint of both. A conversation that is truly successful is such that one cannot fall back into the disagreement that touched it off. The commonality between the partners is so very strong that the point is no longer the fact that I think this and you think that, but rather it involves the shared interpretation of the world which makes moral and social solidarity possible [emphasis added]. What is right and is recognized as right by both sides requires by its very nature the commonality that is built up when human beings understand each other. Agreement in opinions is in fact constantly being built up as we speak with each other, and then it sinks back into the stillness of agreement in understanding and things that both regard as self-evident. For this reason the thesis is justified which asserts that all extra-verbal forms of understanding go back to an understanding that unfolds in speaking and in speaking with another person.
When I take this insight as my starting point, as I do, this does not mean that in all understanding there resides a potential relationship to language, such that it is always possible—this is the pride of our reason—whenever a disagreement arises, that one can blaze a path to agreement in understanding through talking to each other. We will not always succeed, but our social life together is based on the presupposition that through talking things out with each other to the fullest possible extent, we will overcome being blocked off from mutual insight by remaining stuck within the compass of our own opinions. It is therefore also a serious mistake to think that the universality of understanding, which I take as my starting assumption and which I try to persuade others to assume also, includes within it something like a harmonizing attitude or a basic conservatism with regard to our social world. To “understand” the structures and ordering of our world, to understand ourselves with each other in this world, just as much presupposes critique and struggle with what has grown rigid or outdated as it does the recognition or defense of the existing orders of things.
One can see this again in the way we speak with each other and build up mutual understandings. One can observe this from generation to generation. In particular, if world history accelerates greatly, as it has done in the last decade, one nevertheless witnesses how new language arises for the occasion. New language here certainly does not mean a totally new language, nor at the same time changing the expressions we have for the same thing. With new aspects, with new goals, a new speaking is worked out and born. A new language brings disturbances in our understanding of things, but at the same time in the communicative event one can overcome the disturbance. At least that is the ideal goal of all communication. Under certain conditions this may prove to be unachievable, of course. One of such conditions is the pathological breakdown of interhuman understandings which characterizes the fact of neurosis. And the question arises as to whether social life as a whole does not in the communicative process itself serve to maintain and spread a “false consciousness.” At least this is the thesis put forward by advocates of the critique of ideology, namely that the contradiction in social interests makes the communicative event practically impossible, just as is the case in mental illness. But just as the therapy in this case consists precisely in reconnecting the patient with the common set of understandings in the society, so also it is the claim of the critique of ideology that it seeks to correct the false social consciousness and by doing so establish a right agreement in understanding. Special cases of a deeply disturbed agreement in understanding with society may make necessary a reconstruction of the social understandings, based on an explicit knowledge of the nature of the disturbance of them. But this point again confirms the constitutive function of agreement in understanding as such.
Moreover, it is self-evident that language leads its tension-filled life in a certain antagonism between conventionality and revolutionary awakening. We all experienced our first linguistic training when we came to school. There everything that had seemed right to our healthy linguistic fantasy was no longer permitted. The same thing happened with our instruction in drawing, which very often led to a child losing all enjoyment of drawing. In reality one can say that the school is largely an institution for bringing about social conformity. It is only an institution among others, of course. I don’t want to be misunderstood as making a complaint against the schools that they should be otherwise. Rather, I think this is society, this is the way society works, always teaching us standards and bringing about conformity. This does not at all mean that education in our society is merely a process of repression and education in language an instrument of such repression. But language continues to live on in spite of all such conformism. New linguistic structures and ways of expression arise from the changes in our lives and our experience. The antagonism we spoke of before lives on, an antagonism that maintains language as something we have in common and that nevertheless is always generating new impulses toward the transformation of what we have in common.
The question arises, then, as to whether this relationship between the natural tendency of society to conformity and the explosive powers connected with critical insight has not in our highly industrialized technical civilization undergone a qualitative change. There have always been subtle unnoticed changes in the life and usage of language; certain slogans and catchwords come into vogue and then die out. The decline that was taking place in especially critical times could be observed by tracing the changes in language, as Thucydides did in his famous description of the terrible consequences of the plague in beleaguered Athens. But perhaps in our present circumstances we are confronted with something qualitatively new and different that was never here before. What I have in mind is the purposeful regulation and control of language today. This is a fact that seems to have been brought about by our technical civilization. For what we call the regulation and control of language today is no longer the unintentional control by the schoolteacher or the general control exercised by public opinion, but is a consciously wielded instrument of politics. Language is now able, by means of a centrally steered communication system, to put matters in a certain suggestive light, such that the regulation of language is prescribed in advance, so to speak, to follow technological paths. A contemporary example of this, in which we just now again find ourselves in the grip of a transformation in language, is the designation of the other half of Germany as the DDR [Deutsche Demokratische Republik]. As we well know, this term was for decades scorned by official regulation of our language, and nobody could overlook the fact that the term they recommended to replace it, namely “middle Germany,” had a sharply political accent. Here the focus of attention was only on a process [Vorgang], quite apart from any content being referenced. The technical form of shaping public opinion today gives the centrally controlled regulation of language an influence that is disabling the natural conforming powers operative in language within society. This is one of the problems we face today: how to harmonize the central control of opinion formation in the political realm with the demands that reason also makes to help determine the life of the society on the basis of free insight and critical judgment.
One may think that science will offer the solution to this problem. After all, does not science have as its distinguishing characteristic that it is able to be independent of politics and public opinion? Is not the scientist taught to form his judgments on the basis of free insight? This may in fact be a distinguishing characteristic of science in its purest realms. But does this mean that all by itself and from its own power it has an effect on the public? Science may want ever so much to escape all manipulation of its own intentions—yet the tremendously high estimation in which science is held goes completely against this. It constantly places limits on the critical freedom that it so much admires in the scientific researcher, by invoking the authority of science where in reality the issue is one of a struggle for political power.
Does science really “have its own language,” a language to which one ought to listen? The question is obviously ambiguous. On the one hand, science certainly does develop its own linguistic means for describing things, fixing meanings, and communicating its understanding within the process of doing its research. In this sense science seems to have its own language. On the other hand, does it have a language that tries to reach the public consciousness and overcome the legendary unintelligibility of science? Does the communicative system that is developed within scientific research really have the character of being a language all its own? If one means this by the “language of science,” then obviously one does not mean the kind of communicative system that grows out of everyday language. The best example of this is mathematics and its role in the natural sciences. What mathematics is for itself is its own private secret. The physicist does not know this at all. What mathematics knows, what its object is, what its questions are, is something unique to it. It is apparently one of the miraculous powers of human reason that unfolds within human reason itself while reason looks on and lingers to have an investigation of itself. But as a language in which the world is spoken of, mathematics is only one system of symbols among the several symbolic systems in the totality of our linguistic comportment and is not in itself a language. The physicist, who always finds himself in a highly embarrassing situation when he wants to go beyond his equations and make understandable to others or himself what he has worked out, always finds himself torn by the tensions in a task of integration. The great physicists even become poetical in this case and often in a very elegant way. How these tiny atoms do everything they do, how they capture and hold electrons and carry out other wonderful and clever processes—that is a whole fairytale language in which a physicist seeks to present what he depicts more exactly in equations, so that he can, within limits, make it all clearer to himself and to all of us.
Certainly mathematics is involved, but the mathematics that the physicist uses to gain his knowledge and formulate it, is not in itself a language; rather, it is only part of a very complex and diverse linguistic instrument which the physicist uses in order to bring to language what he wants to say. This means, in other words, that scientific speaking is always the mediation of a language within a certain discipline or set of disciplinary expressions—we call it a scholarly terminology—that stand within an encompassing language that is living, growing, and changing. This task of integration and mediation with the ordinary spoken language is particularly challenging for the physicist because more than all other natural scientists he speaks in and through mathematics. Precisely because the physicist represents the extreme case of employing a basically mathematical symbolism, his case is especially instructive. In his resort to poetic metaphors, we see that for physics mathematics is only a part of language, and by no means an autonomous part. Language is autonomous when, as we find to be the case in mature languages, it comes forward in its reality to light up aspects of the world in various cultures.
So the question now is how scientific and nonscientific speaking and thinking relate to each other. Is not scientific language just in the situation of only approaching but never reaching the flexible freedom of everyday speaking? If someone denies this situation, one can point out that today seemingly the older, more mature languages are indispensable. But perhaps we all need to learn a bit more about this, and then finally we will all be able to understand without words the equations of physics. Then would we need nothing but scientific language? Modern logical calculus in fact has as its goal an absolutely univocal artificial language. But this possibility is disputed. For instance, Giambattista Vico and Gottfried von Herder maintained to the contrary that poetry is the original language of the human race, and the intellectualizing that was taking place in modern languages was a poor fate for language and was not really the fulfillment of the ideal of language. The question this brings up is: can the opinion be right at all that every language is striving to move toward a more scientific language as the fulfillment of its potential?
In order to discuss this question, I would like to juxtapose two phenomena. The first is the statement or assertion [Aussage] and the other is the word [Wort]. First, I will explain both concepts. When I say “the word,” I do not simply mean the singular form of the plural, “words,” as we might find in the dictionary. I also do not mean the singular form of the plural, “words,” understood as a word that with other words forms the context of a sentence. No, I mean rather the word that is always singular and never plural! This is the word that applies to you, a word that you let be said to you when someone “gives you the word.” This word clearly falls within a certain life relationship, it is a word that receives its unity of meaning from a certain life context. It is good to remember that ultimately behind this singular-only “word” that cannot be plural stands the usage of this term in the New Testament. For what “in the beginning was the Word” means, was a matter over which Faust brooded [in Goethe’s Faust, part 1] when he was trying to translate the first verse of John’s gospel. This active word, this word radiant with power, is not for Goethe an individual magic formula but points (without alluding to the incarnation event) beyond itself to what binds human reason to its deep “thirst for Existenz.”8
If I place “the word,” understood in this sense, next to “statement,” I think the meaning of the term “statement” or “assertion” becomes clearer. We speak of a statement in the logic of statements, of statement calculus in the modern mathematical formalization of logic. This self-evident way of speaking about the term ultimately goes back to the most consequential, most significant, inventions of our Western culture, and that is the construction of a logic based on statements. Aristotle, the creator of this part of logic, the masterful analyst of the process of drawing conclusions in logical thinking, accomplished this through a formalization of assertion sentences and the demonstrable conclusiveness of their connections. We remember the famous school example of a syllogism, “All human beings are mortal. Darius is a human being. Therefore Darius is mortal.” What kind of achievement in abstraction is accomplished here? Apparently this: that only what is uttered as a statement really counts. All other forms of language and speaking are not made the object of analysis, only the statement. The Greek word for this use of statement is apophansis, or logos apophantikos, which means the speaking, the assertion whose only meaning is the apophainesthai, to bring about the self-showing of what is said. This refers to an assertion that is theoretical in the sense that it abstracts itself from everything that is not expressly said. Only that which the statement itself reveals through its being said constitutes the object of analysis and the foundation of logical consequentiality.
Now I ask you: Are there such pure statements? When and where? In any case, the statement is not the only form of speaking there is. Aristotle himself speaks about this in relation to his teaching about the statement, and it is clear in this context what one still has to consider: something like a prayer and a request, a curse and a command. One must even take into consideration one of the puzzling in-between-phenomena: the question, whose peculiar nature is that it stands closer to a statement than any of the other linguistic phenomena, and yet it allows no logic in the sense of a logic of statements. Perhaps there is a logic question. In such a logic, we could note that the answer to a question necessarily arouses new questions. Perhaps there is a logic of the request; for example, we note that the first request is never the last. But the question is whether this ought to be called “logic” or whether logic only applies to the connections between pure statements. But how do we delimit what a statement is? Can one take a statement out of its motivational context?
Of course, in modern scientific methodology these matters are not much discussed. For it is the very nature of scientific methodology that its assertions are like a kind of treasure house of methodically assured truths. Like every treasure house, the treasure house of science has a stockpile of things that are randomly usable. In fact, it is the nature of modern science that it is constantly adding to its stockpile of knowledge available for random use. The many problems that arise with regard to the social and human responsibility of science, problems that since Hiroshima weigh so heavily on our consciences, are rendered so severe because methodologically modern science is not in a position to control the ends to which its knowledge is applied in the same way it can control the contexts in which it acquires that knowledge. The methodical abstraction of modern science is the thing that brings about its great success, in the fact that it makes possible the practical application that we call technology. Again, technology as the application of science is, like science, not itself controllable. I am by no means a fatalist and prophet of doom when I doubt whether science could possibly place limits on itself. Rather, I believe that ultimately it is not science as such that can guide and guarantee the rational application of our technological power. No, ultimately the only thing that can do this is the human and the political capacity that belongs to us all as human beings. At any rate, this is the capacity that can lead us in such a way that we avoid the most terrible catastrophes. At the same time, I fully recognize that the isolation involved in the truth of statements and in the logic built on statements in modern science is fully legitimate. But we pay a high price for this, a price which natural science cannot by its nature save us from paying: such is the universality of science that theoretical reason and the instrumentality of science are not able in themselves to place any limits on the technological capacity that man has built up. No doubt there are in science “pure” statements, but what this means is that this knowledge is still capable of serving any and all possible purposes.
Of course, I wonder if even this example does not in reality demonstrate that the abstract, isolated statements that constitute the basis for the world-forming power of technology are never really encountered in complete isolation. For instance, does it not appear to be true here that every assertion is always motivated by something? Were not the abstraction and concentration on being able to do things that finally led in the seventeenth century to the methodical thinking found in modern science based on a separation from the religious conceptions of the medieval world and on a decision in favor of modest knowledge and self-help? That is the motivational basis here for a will to know which is at the same time the ability to do things. And in order to have this knowledge, this ability to do things, it scorns every effort to govern it or place limits on itself. In contrast to this, in the high cultures of East Asia the technological application of knowledge is governed by the binding powers of social reason, so the possibilities of realizing one’s own capabilities remained unfulfilled. What powers that we lack and what enabled them to do this is a question for the researcher in religion, the cultural historian, and also the philosopher who is really at home in Chinese language and culture (it seems such a person can never be found!).
In any case, the extreme example provided by our modern scientific and technological culture seems to show us that the isolation they accord to the assertion, the total detachment from any kind of context of motivation, becomes very questionable when one looks at the whole of science. So I think I am correct in saying that a statement, as I understand it, is a motivated assertion. There are some especially suggestive phenomena one can cite to show this, such as interrogations or statements by witnesses. In the administration of justice, on the basis of wisdom and discretion or necessity in legal findings, it is the case that the witness, at least in certain cases, is asked questions of which the witness does not know the purpose. In some cases, the evidential value of an assertion that a witness makes rests solely on the fact that it cannot be desired by the witness to be either defending or incriminating the person charged, because the witness does not comprehend the context that has to be clarified. Now everyone who has been either a witness or a victim of an interrogation knows how dreadful it is when one has to answer questions without knowing why one is asked them. The fiction of a “pure” assertion apparently corresponds in this kind of witness testimony to the no less fictitious pure determination of factual statements, and it is precisely this fictitious restriction to the factual that then gives the attorneys their opportunity. So this extreme example of the assertion that is made in court teaches us that one speaks with motivation, and does not just make a statement but answers a question. Answering a question, however, entails grasping the sense of the question and therewith its background motivation. As we know only too well, nothing is so difficult as when we are supposed to answer so-called dumb questions, that is, questions that have no clear, univocal direction of meaning.
It follows from this that an assertion never contains the full content of its meaning solely within itself. In logic we have long been acquainted with this as the problem of occasionality. “Occasional” expressions, which occur in every language, are characterized by the fact that unlike other expressions, they do not contain their meaning fully in themselves. For example, when I say “here.” That which is “here” is not understandable to everyone through the fact that it was uttered aloud or written down; rather, one must know where this “here” was or is. For its meaning, the “here” requires to be filled in by the occasion, the occasio, in which it is said. Expressions of this type have, for this reason, been of special interest to logical-phenomenological analysis, because one can show that in the case of these meanings, they contain the situation and the occasion in the content of their meaning. The special problem posed by these “occasional” expressions appears to be that in many respects they require further elucidation [Erweiterung, expansion]. Hans Lipps in his Untersuchungen zu einer hermeneutischen Logik [Investigations Toward a Hermeneutical Logic]9 has elaborated on this, and the English logical analysis of J. L. Austin and his followers likewise has put forward an important standpoint represented in the expression, “How to do things with words” (How one can do something simply by using words).10 These give us examples of forms of speaking that transcend speaking and become transactions. They offer an especially sharp contrast to the concept of assertions as existing purely in themselves.
Now let’s place this concept of the isolated assertion [Aussage] with its very blurry boundaries over against the concept of the “word,” but not word defined as the smallest unit of speech. The word that a real person utters or has said to him (or her) is not that grammatical element in the linguistic analysis of a sentence, for one can demonstrate in the concrete phenomena involved in learning a language how secondary the word is compared to the linguistic melody of a sentence. The word that can truly be accepted as the smallest unit of sense is not the word one finds in breaking down a speech to its last constituent piece. This word I refer to is also not a name, and speaking it is not a naming process, because the report we get in Genesis, for example, about naming conveys a false implication that we just go from one thing to another giving things names. No, the freedom of assigning names at random is not at all our basic linguistic relationship to words: there is no first word. To speak of a first word is a contradiction in itself. There is always already a system of words that is the basis for the meaning of each word. Also, I cannot say something like: “I would like to introduce a word.” Certainly one finds here and there people who say this, but they greatly overestimate themselves if they do this. They are not the ones who introduce a word. At most they put forward an expression or coin a technical term, which they then define. But when a word comes into being, this is certainly not how it happens. A word introduces itself. A word only becomes a word when it breaks and enters into communicative usage. This does not happen through the introducing act of someone who has suggested the word, but apparently happens when and because it “introduces itself.” However, the very term “language use” [Sprachgebrauch] always implies things that look past the real nature of our linguistic experience of the world. It suggests that words are like something one has in one’s pocket and when one uses them one just pulls them out of one’s pocket, as if linguistic usage were at the whim of the user of language. But language is not dependent on this or that user. In reality, language usage shows us that ultimately the language refuses to be misused. For it is language itself that prescribes what will be linguistically acceptable. This should not be taken to mean some kind of mythologizing of language; it means, rather, that the claim of language can never be reduced to what an individual subjectively intends. It belongs to the way of being of language [Seinsweise der Sprache] that we and not just one of us but indeed all of us are the ones who are speaking.
A word is also not completely separable from what people call the “ideal unity” of the word meaning of signs or other phenomena of expression. Indeed, one of the most important logical and phenomenological achievements at the beginning of the twentieth century was that phenomenology, especially Husserl in his Logical Investigations, worked out the difference between all signs other than words and the meaning of words. He correctly showed that the meaning of a word has nothing to do with the fantasy images that practical psychology [realpsychologischen Worstellungsbildern] had found to be provoked by the use of a word. The idealization that a word possesses through the fact that it has one— and always this one—particular meaning distinguishes it from all other senses of “meaning,” for example, the meaning a sign has. While the insight of phenomenology that the meaning of a word was not simply a psychic event was fundamental and important, it made a mistake when it spoke of the “ideal unity of a word meaning.” Language is such that, whatever particular meaning a word may possess, words do not have a single unchanging meaning; rather, they possess a fluctuating range of meanings, and precisely this fluctuation constitutes the peculiar risk of speaking. Only in the process of speaking, as we speak further, as we build up the fabric of a linguistic context, do we come to fix the meanings in the moments of meaning of our speaking. Only in this way do we mutually agree on what we mean.
Especially in understanding texts in a foreign language do we find this to be the case. There everyone knows very well how the fluctuation of word meanings is gradually stabilized in the process of using them, and only slowly does one reproduce the unity of sense of a sentence. Even this is not an adequate description of the process. One needs only to contemplate the process of translation in order to see how incomplete such a description is. For the despair of translation lies in the fact that the unity of viewpoint that a sentence possesses in its own language does not permit its being arranged in the corresponding order of sentence parts in the target language. To do so produces the dreadful sentences we often find in translated books: letters without spirit [Buchstaben ohne Geist]. What is missing that necessarily constitutes the very nature of language is that there is a word being offered by the other person, a word that calls forth other words, so to speak, that themselves hold open the continuation of the speaking. A translated sentence that has not been worked on and fundamentally transformed by a master of translation to the extent that one no longer longs for the more vibrant original sentence, is just a pale map of a territory instead of the territory itself. The meaning of a word resides not just in the language system and in the context; rather, this “standing-in-a-context” means at the same time that the word is never completely separated from the multiple meanings it has in itself, even when the context has made clear the meaning it possesses in this particular context. Evidently, then, the meaning that a word acquires in the speaking where one encounters it is not the only thing that is present there. Other things are co-present, and it is the presence of all that is co-present there that comes together to make up the evocative power of living speech. For this reason, I think one can say that every speaking points into the Open of further speaking. More and more is going to be said in the direction that the speaking has taken. This shows the truth of my thesis that speaking takes place in the process of a “conversation” [Gespräch].
If one grasps the phenomenon of language not by starting from the isolated sentence but by beginning with the totality of our behavior in the world, which at the same time is a living in conversation [Gesprächsleben], we can understand why the phenomenon of language is so puzzling, drawing us toward it but at the same time turning us away. Speaking is the most deeply self-forgetful action that we as rational human beings perform. Everyone has had the experience of how one stops in the midst of one’s own speaking, becomes conscious of the words one has just uttered, and becoming conscious of them just at that moment continues speaking. A little story about an experience my daughter and I had illustrates this point nicely. She was supposed to write “strawberries” and asked me how to spell it. As I was telling her this, she said to me, “Isn’t it comical that when I hear all this, I don’t understand the word at all any more. Only when I have forgotten it does the word come back and live again in me.” This being with the word in such a way that one does not treat it like an object that one uses is clearly the basic mode of all linguistic behavior. Language contains a self-protecting and self-concealing power, such that what happens in it is protected from the grasp of one’s own reflection and remains hidden in the unconscious. When one comes to recognize both the revealing and the self-concealing nature of language, then one is obliged to go beyond the dimensions of sentence logic and press forward to wider horizons. Within the living unity of language, the language of science is always only a moment that is integrated into a whole, and there are all kinds of other ways that words are used, such as those we find in philosophical, religious, and poetical speaking. In all of them the word is doing something quite different from just self-forgetfully passing through the world. In words we are at home. In words there is a kind of guarantee for what they say. These things are especially clear in the poetic use of language.
THE END 11
More Mr. G. on YouTube here.
Thanks for reading “The Flying Fish”. I kiss you on the mouth.
And before we say goodbye, two more references that didn’t seem to fit into the footnotes:
A.) “Philosophy bakes no bread” is what H.-G. Gadamer said, as related by Professor Babette Babich in her writing here
B.) And “the world here below” is one of my favourites among many expressions given to me by Saint Simone Weil.
23 June AD 2022
On the brighter days, I’m fine. I’ve been lucky to know to take a break. Taking a break may be necessary for me to be able to return to the ‘fundamental attunement’ needed as the base camp for the ‘beginning of an actual living philosophizing’, as I s’ppose Heidegger would tell me, or the more opaque to me ‘passionate commitment to a system of reference’ of Wittgenstein. Yogic breathing, which I am fairly familiar with, followed by a friendly puff of hashish smoke, enables silent listening for which the carob tree on Ibiza provides the heavenly umbrella. Silent listening is perfectly (“perfectly”, I say, and I don’t use that word very often!) described by Hölderlin’s Hyperion:
“My whole being stills and listens when the gentle ripple of the breeze plays about my breast. Often, lost in the immensity of blue, I look up into the aether and out into the hallowed sea, and it’s as if a kindred spirit opened its arms to me, as if the pain of isolation were dissolved in the life of the godhead.
To be one with everything, that is the life of the godhead, that is the heaven of man.
To be one with everything that lives, to return in blissful self-oblivion into the all of nature, that is the summit of thoughts and joys, that is the holy mountain pinnacle, the place of eternal peace.”
From the religious gesture of listening to divine silence when it is “as if the pain of isolation were resolved” one can return to thinking as a way of loving of truth: an interpretive stance in which we want all our judgments to be determined by objective reality instead of by our own desires. Refreshed.
I’m in the habit of calling any older-than-me man or woman who I respect and admire, and especially one who becomes my educator leading me to “understanding”, by the first letter of his or her surname. My yoga teacher of twenty years ago, Jimmy Barkan, even though we became close friends, never heard me call him “Jimmy” to his face—it’s always been “Mr. B.”.
My usage of the word freedom here has to do with the freedom given to me along with my being a man. This freedom is the foundation of my humanity; it gives uniqueness to my very existence. But also freedom from “my” culture, society, and law—where ‘freedom’ denotes that area of activity in which social organization neither forbids nor dictates, but leaves me free to make my own choices without fear of reprisal.
Perhaps the following joke, most likely dated from before the First World War, can make things clearer: In Austria, whatever is not forbidden is permitted; in Germany, whatever is not permitted is forbidden; in France, everything is permitted, including whatever is forbidden; and in Russia, everything is forbidden, including whatever is permitted. (The joke comes from my notes taken during reading of Leszek Kołakowski and I don’t have a more exact reference.)
At this moment, in the main text, for reasons of time as well as because I’d like to not sail away from the current topic, I cannot go into the details of what I see as, often oxymoronic, linguistically demonic phenomena (in other words, whatever appears to be linguistically engineered in order to possess a man, take him away from his good sense and make him lose his marbles) such as “hate speech”, “misinformation”, “disinformation”, “social distancing”, “conspiracy theory”, “the science”, “LGBT (etcetera) rights”, “saving lives”, “preventing deaths”, “war on Ukraine”, “independent expert”, “fact-check”, “Artificial Intelligence”, “untruth”, “climate change”, “health sector”, “rules based order”, “world order”, “Public Health”, and other groupthink-inducing monstrosities. But, because I can’t stop myself from doing so, please let me just bring an antidotum from Bertolt Brecht here, who writes in On Restoring Truth (1934):
“In times when deception is demanded and errors are encouraged, the thinker strives to correct whatever he reads and hears. Whatever he reads and hears, he says aloud quietly, and as he says it he corrects it. Sentence by sentence, he replaces the false statements with true ones. He practises this for so long that he is no longer able to read and hear differently.
The thinker proceeds from sentence to sentence so that, slowly but utterly, he corrects what he has heard and read in its full coherent form. In this way he leaves nothing out. At the same time, however, he places correct sentences alongside incorrect ones, without concerning himself with their context. He thus ruptures the context of the incorrect sentences, in the knowledge that a context often gives sentences an illusion of correctness, an illusion which comes from the fact that, in context, proceeding from one incorrect sentence, one can still deduce several proper conclusions. The process of deduction is then correct, but the sentences are not correct.
The thinker does not act like this simply in order to establish that deception and errors are being perpetrated. He wishes to master the nature of the deception and of the errors. When he reads: ‘A strong nation is less easily attacked than a weak one’, he does not need to alter it but to augment it: ‘but it attacks more easily’. When he hears that wars are necessary, then he adds under which circumstances they are necessary, as well as: for whom.”
Fair enough, I’m exaggerating. I mustn’t forget to count my blessings and remember the times when Northrop Frye would swiftly arrive as I was getting stuck in my reading of The Holy Bible. The King James Version gives me the sense of unity of man and the world—and Christ tells me who my neighbour is. Knowing who my neighbour is, I can know Ivan Illich and I can love him. Walk under the nose of Illich—and you can defend yourself from devilry.
English is, obviously, my second language. But I cannot help but think and write in English when it comes to “philosophical” matters. Firstly, I suppose it isn’t that English is more “analytical” than Polish—the Polish language has great potential for hermeneutic thought, I am sure of it, as this has been demonstrated by Czesław Miłosz, Stanisław Lem, Bogusław Wolniewicz, Leszek Kołakowski, or Józef Maria Bocheński—just to name the few—but I have noticed that when I try to think, what is the most thought-provoking is withdrawing itself slower and less abruptly from me than when I think in English.
Secondly, might I also be sticking to English since my more “mature” reading, if there’s been such a thing, of The New Testament of the Holy Bible has been done in English (KJV)? Has that reading become the basis of my thinking? Yes, it has. That would be that.
Thirdly, I find it funny to discover that there are times when the Polish language is definitely my preferred choice for thinking when it comes to wanting to understand more and understand better about matters related to whatever is seemingly or truly absurd (and illogical, irrational, “incorrect”, and vulgar—or when I don’t care to reach any sort of conclusion, and / or when certainty isn’t essential). That sort of thinking in Polish seems to generate the most goose bumps for me (is that what they call “being emotionally affected”?). And, by synchronicity, I suppose, as I ponder my language choices, I come across what is called “Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis”, which, in short, argues the following: the way people think is greatly influenced by their native language, the structure of a language affects cognition, the structure of a language can strongly influence or determine someone’s world view. My thoughts on Sapir and Whorf’s hypotheses aren’t included in my current writing as I need to, well, give those thoughts more thought.
In any case, once I had realized that I think in words and that there is an underlying quality of feeling (for instance, goosebumps or their opposite: a bad taste in my mouth) to go with words, and that there is a hunger to put the feeling into words—I came to my very own, short and often paradoxical, conclusions: The fact, what is the case, itself—the fact that I think in words—is worth thinking about; all thinking is linguistic even when it isn’t; thought of different quality can be accomplished depending on the language I do the thinking in. There are several more conclusions, which I will leave unmentioned at the moment, but I cannot help saying that it gave me great pleasure to come to those conclusions by myself as my gymnastics began to bear fruit, only to find the confirmation in Mr. H.’s inisight (e.g. that language is the house of being), Mr. W.’s (I should throw out the possibility of the construction of systems in favor of philosophy as critique of language, what cannot be spoken about can only be shown and what cannot be shown must be passed over in silence), and Mr. G.’s (we think in words; understanding is interpretation, understanding and interpretation are linguistic, language clothes and reveals our openness to the world, language is the medium through which it is possible to understand).
When I say the orchestrated plague, I mean the pandemic of panic propaganda for profits and boosted “politics”, obviously. See more at Brownstone here
Translator’s note: The term Existenz refers in Heidegger to future existential possibilities. For this reason, “existence” is not quite the right translation. I do not know whether Gadamer is citing this phrase from a particular source.
Translator’s note: Hans Lipps, Untersuchungen zu einer hermeneutischen Logik (Frankfurt: Klostermann, 1938), now in his Werke, vol. 2 (Frankfurt: Klostermann, 1977).
Translator’s note: See J. L. Austin, How to Do Things with Words (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1955).
I drew water from the well of the following publication: The Gadamer Reader: A Bouquet of the Later Writings, Hans-Georg Gadamer. Edited and translated from German by Robert E. Palmer, (2007).
From Byung-Chul Han’s “Artificial Intelligence” chapter in Non-things: Upheaval in the Lifeworld (2022), I got three quotations that moved me and which I followed up with a further reading of my own (which moved me even more) and on which I drew in my reflections above:
The idea from Gilles Deleuze that making oneself an idiot is required to begin philosophizing is from Deleuze and Guattari, What Is Philosophy?, (1994).
In the footnote , the required being ‘pervaded’ by the ‘fundamental attunement’ as the ‘beginning of an actual living philosophizing’ is explained by His Holiness Martin Heidegger in The Fundamental Concepts of Metaphysics. The ‘passionate commitment to a system of reference’ comes from Ludwig Wittgenstein, Culture and Value (1947), tr. Peter Winch (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980), 64e. “It strikes me that a religious belief could only be something like a passionate commitment to a system of reference. Hence, although it is a belief, it is really a way of living, or a way of assessing life. It is passionately seizing hold of this interpretation. Instruction in a religious faith, therefore, would have to take the form of a portrayal, a description, of that system of reference, while at the same time being an appeal to conscience.” The “love of truth” (reflected upon by Pascal) is elucidated in William Wood’s Blaise Pascal on Duplicity, Sin, and the Fall, (2013), p.216. The passage by Friedrich Hölderlin, in the footnote , comes from Hyperion, or the Hermit in Greece(2019).