Thursday, May 10, 2007

Another Misunderstanding of Heidegger

In a piece for The Conservative Voice, writer Albert Brenner attempts to expose the myth of the Noble Savage. In the course of doing so, he quotes and comments on Peter Winch in the following:
Be that as it may; following from Martin Heidegger’s notion that ‘language is the house of being’, Winch comes to the following conclusion; “Reality is not what gives language sense. What is real and what is unreal shows itself in the sense language has”. Brutally summarized; what Winch is saying1 is that the respective discourses (i.e. language games) of disparate societies are what give sense to their approximation of what constitutes reality, in their disparate ‘realities’.
To put it bluntly, this is not "following...Heidegger"! Language is that which brings beings to light in their being, not some mere language game2 that follows the whims of society. The quote comes from Heidegger's "Letter on Humanism" that, strangely enough, argues against this kind of an interpretation. He speaks of the "dominance of the modern metaphysics of subjectivity" that would submit language to the "mere willing and trafficking as an instrument of domination over beings" (Basic Writings, 222-223). While he then immediately applies this to the technological understanding of beings—as mere resources for human consumption—it applies equally well to Winch's subjectivist interpretation. "Before he speaks man must first let himself be claimed again by being" (223). Perhaps the most apt response would be the following quote:
Man does not decide whether and how beings appear, whether and how God and the gods or history and nature come forward into the clearing of being, come to presence and depart. The advent of being lies in the destiny [Geschick: suitability, capacity, or enabling {see 220}] of being. But for man it is ever a question of finding what is fitting in his essence that corresponds to such destiny [Geschick]; for in accord with this destiny man as ek-sisting [as essentially open to beings] has to guard the truth of being. Man is the shepherd of being. (234)
Man is not the dictator of being, either as the being that absolutely determines the real (as in Winch's interpretation, or Brenner's misinterpretation of Winch) or the domineering technological man. He is the shepherd, the one who must preserve and watch over being (see "Building Dwelling Thinking," in Poetry, Language, Thought, 143-159).


  1. It is unclear on whether this is actually what Winch is saying or whether it is simply another bad attempt of the media to understand what an academic is saying. In any case, Brenner is wrong in thinking that what he says follows from Heidegger.
  2. Though I am not familiar with Wittgenstein's work, I do not think this would be an accurate understanding of what he is trying to say either.



Blogger Clark said...

Note that a game theoretic view of language need not entail that language is fully arbitrary (i.e. unconnected with the things themselves) One could well argue that the shepherd metaphor is intrinsically related to a game-theoretical approach where social externalism entails when we are using language correctly. But that "using correctly" is tied to how the society sees our pragmatic use. (i.e. language tied to practices and things)

I can't speak to the source of your quote. I just thought I should point out that things a bit more complex than you suggest.

2:23 PM  
Blogger Kevin Winters said...


I did qualify my claim in the footnote, but focused on what I felt was intended by Winch who seemed to be implying a relativistic view of language. But, again, I'm not familiar with Winch so I may have him wrong. Either way, I have seen this misinterpretation in a few other places, so addressing it is not entirely unwarranted.

8:16 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I beg to differ, Kevin.

Heidegger's aestheticism is, by and large, underpinned by his views regarding language.

Below is the source I used for my article. But I must admit that my favourite book on Heidegger is Alan Meggil's The Prophets of Extremity.

"Language is the house of Being. In its home man dwells. Those who think and those who create with words are the guardians of this home."
—Martin Heidegger, German philosopher, Letter on Humanism, 1947

(This really is a great blog...I'll visit regularly.)


Albert Brenner

4:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Kevin,

My apologies. I only noticed now that I only read your critique on the first page, i.e. I didn't 'read more'.

Well, I did so, and I agree fully with your explanation. Although I must say that you seem to have misinterpreted my 'linking' of Winch to Heidegger by stating that I hold that Winch'es relativism is BASED on Heidegger's.

This is not what I said. I explicitely stated; "following from"....i.e. Heidegger is not responsible for Winch's relativism.

If you familiarize yourself with Wittgenstein and Winch, you'll notice exactly how they interpreted (and were influenced) by Heidegger.

In short; this "misunderstanding" which you higlighted is semantic.

My apologies again, and keep up the great work re Heidegger. He is, without a doubt, one of the greatest thinkers of the modern age!

I think you have noticed my Heideggerian the phrases such as; "letting be" and being "thrown into the world not of our making", etc.



9:27 AM  
Blogger enowning said...

I have another Heidegger related issue with the interpretation of "Colin Farrell’s The New World". Although it can be read as a movie about the Noble Savage, I think that is a naive reading, and that instead it is, as the title says, about discovering new worlds. And as such, it is as much about the English in Jamestown and with the "savages", as it is about Pocahontas in Jamestown and in England. So much so that the encounter with the noble savage is reversed and balanced out, leaving encountering new worlds as the dominant theme of the movie.

10:48 AM  

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