Random thoughts on random topics

Tsinghua campus, Beijing

Interpretation, language, world

Within the analytical tradition the starting point of investigations into the problem of interpretation is two-fold: language and the world (in various senses: objects with properties and relations; or states of affairs; or behaviour) as two independent parameters. Meaning arises, so to speak, from the interaction between these two. From a Heideggerian point of view this approach falls victim of a philosophical picture that is wrong from the start: the distinction between subject and object, with its ontological and epistemological ramifications. Heidegger’s own picture is a reversal of this: it is only as an abstraction (and a distortion) that we arrive at the subject – object dichotomy, what is ontologically fundamental is Dasein in a web of practical significance. Language then comes in at a later stage (at least in Sein und Zeit; there is a significant shift in the later work) as an expression of Interpretation, which in its turn is a particular way of Understanding.

The later Wittgenstein exemplifies yet another approach: he is concerned with language in a concrete sense, and accepts it as a given. But unlike the analytical tradition he does not accept the traditional picture of subject versus object. His emphasis on our ways of acting as the rock-bottom on which language rests refers to the same practical dimension as Heidegger’s Dasein, yet without the underpinning of a formal ontology. He creates the possibility of his own position by coming up with a view on language that is much more congenial to the practical turn, whereas Heidegger has to make a distinction between linguistic interpretation and ontological Understanding because he employs a notion of language that seems derived straight from classical, Aristotelian sources. (In fact, Heidegger’s familiarity with the Scholastics may be relevant here, too.)

Martin Stokhof
from: Interpretation
date: fall 1992