Under the Aspect of Time: Heidegger, Wittgenstein and the Place of the Nothing

(This essay was published in Philosophy Today in the Spring of 2009 – Vol. 53, Number 1)

 

wittgenstein

Under the Aspect of Time
“sub specie temporis”
Heidegger, Wittgenstein and the Place of the Nothing
James Luchte

But some of the greatest achievements in philosophy could only be compared with taking up some books which seemed to belong together, and putting them on different shelves; nothing more being final about their positions than that they no longer lie side by side. The onlooker who doesn’t know the difficulty of the task might well think in such a case that nothing at all had been achieved. (Wittgenstein, Blue Book, p. 44-45)

It is often said that there has been relatively little work devoted to the relationship between Heidegger and Wittgenstein. It has also been argued that this is due, to a great extent, to the barriers of the ‘Analytic-Continental’ divide. Yet, over the last two decades interest in the relationship (or non-relationship) between the two philosophers has intensified and has been articulated in what can be provisionally laid out as four distinct streams of interpretation: Analytic, Pragmatic (both Analytic and Continental), Mystical and Phenomenological.[1] What is surprising (or, perhaps, not surprising) about the discussion of the relationship, however, is the relative lack of awareness of each of the streams to the others, as they trickle blindly, impervious to the others. Indeed, it is not that there has not been any work on this relationship, but that the work has remained segregated by a network of blindnesses, barriers or dams. This network has served to impede any synoptic or perspicuous interpretation of the relationship.

The purpose of this essay will be to invite these streams to break their banks and coalesce into a larger river of interpretation – and by showing one way this could be done. The strategy for this convergence will be a reading of Wittgenstein’s comments about Heidegger – and those that speak as he does – against the background of their respective treatments of temporality, which is a question which has been explicitly ignored or resisted by the dominant streams of interpretation (except for the phenomenologist Gier who will be considered below). In the following pages, I will give a description of the interpretive streams, pointing out the limitations of each with respect to a synoptic interpretation of the relationship. I will next lay out what I see as the proper context, that of Heidegger’s philosophy, for answering Wittgenstein’s comments on the latter, especially his request for a ‘system’ in which Heidegger’s phrases would make sense. I will then lay out this alternative ‘system’, that of a radical phenomenology of ecstatic temporality, which will be characterised as an innovation in the grammar of time and existence. I will next turn to Wittgenstein’s treatment of time in order to see if his perspective would be compatible with that of Heidegger. On this basis, I will finally attempt to bring the philosophies of Heidegger and Wittgenstein into the same interpretive space and let them interact with each other.

I will build upon the place cleared by Gier, but will extend the treatment of the relationship with an renewed emphasis upon ecstatic temporality which is not present in his debate with Reeder (nor in the discussions of the other streams). In this encounter between arguably the most important philosophers of the twentieth century, we will be invited to raise the question of the meaning of meaning, of the fluid context of shifting meanings, of rule-following and rule-breaking, especially in relation to our questions regarding time and temporality.

Heidegger & Wittgenstein: Interpretive Streams

The question of a relationship (in which Heidegger could play a serious role) is resisted by Analytic philosophers, who seem to maintain their own exclusive construct of the meaning of meaning (Ogden) – and have so lambasted Heidegger that a dialogue would seem quite out of the question – or, if they invited him, he certainly wouldn’t come. Duncan Richter (2007), in his recent article, “Did Wittgenstein Disagree With Heidegger?” lays out this stream of interpretation in a detailed focus upon Wittgenstein’s extant comments on Heidegger and their interpretation by Analytic philosophers. He briefly alludes to the pragmatists and the mystics in his opening paragraph, but these philosophers play no essential role in his discussion, even to the extent that their inclusion would raise serious questions for his approach and that of the analytic philosophers whom he treats in his essay.

Wittgenstein’s comments about Heidegger and those who speak as he does can be summarised as follows:

1) that he can readily understand what Heidegger means by being and angst.[2]

2) that underlying Heidegger’s statement is an image, that of an island slowly being dissolved amid a sea of nothingness, which should be brought to light psychoanalytically or therapeutically in order to resolve his questions.[3]

3) that phrases like ‘the nothing noths’ are an attempt to transgress the limits of language, but that, if Heidegger would disclose a differing ‘system’ in which such a statement would have meaning, that Wittgenstein would be prepared to ‘go along’ with it, or in another formulation, acquiesce.[4]

Richter lays out two tendencies in the Analytic stream. On the one hand, there is Hacker (2003) who simply dismisses any relation between the two philosophers, contending that Wittgenstein’s comments are at best ironic. On the other hand, there is Baker (2004) and Conant (2001) who suggest other ways to read Wittgenstein’s comments, but only against the background of what they regard as Wittgenstein’s philosophy – that Heidegger should be engaged as a patient, afflicted with confusions, and that he should be helped to dissolve his problems. What is lacking in these approaches, of course, is an understanding of the comments in relation to the context of Heidegger’s philosophy. Richter acknowledges the necessity of such an understanding, but in that he never leaves the analytic framework of meaning or sense, he fails to comprehend the phenomenological context of Heidegger’s project and the methodological significance of its innovative form of expression. Richter simply runs through a series of questions posed by Wittgenstein with respect to the phrase ‘the nothing noths’, interrogating Heidegger with quite ambivalent results. This interrogation leads to a rather anachronistic discussion of Heidegger’s attempt to enact poetic expression (which is the focus of the mystics). While this would have some bearing on Being and Time, it would make more sense if this reference to poetic expression took place in the context of an examination of Heidegger’s post-turn (Kehre) philosophical work. What Richter fails to take into account is the methodology of Being and Time which is a phenomenology of formal indication, and has been outlined by Gier and also by Kisiel in his indispensable, The Genesis of Heidegger’s Being and Time.[5] A discussion of this methodology of formal indication (which is not readily identifiable with poetry in the manner which Richter uses the term) would have a direct bearing upon the innovations of grammar discussed by Wittgenstein in his Blue and Brown Books. But, strangely, Richter does not mention these texts or other ‘phenomenological’ texts of the period.

Moreover, in light of the Blue and Brown Books, it would seem that this exact string of questions would not in the end be necessary, as Wittgenstein is simply seeking a disclosure of the use or meaning of Heidegger’s innovation in grammar.[6] Contrary to Richter, it is not as if Heidegger had not already laid the basis for answering Wittgenstein’s questions in Being and Time (eg. BT, II.2, 331, 285 on existential nullity, transcendence and freedom) and elsewhere, such as in his twentieth anniversary lecture on the Inaugural Address, ‘Existence and Being’, in which he laments that the Nothing is our ‘best’ word as yet for an indication of transcendence.[7] It is Richter’s own refusal to acknowledge the clear evidence of Heidegger’s work that allows him to postpone the question of a relationship with Wittgenstein. It is as if he has just thrown up his hands and said, ‘We just do not know.’

The second stream is that of the pragmatists, a rather motley city which is composed of both Analytic and Continental philosophers, such as Haugeland (1982), Dreyfus (1991), Rorty (1991), Esfeld (2001), Taylor (1995), and Guignon (1990). The pragmatists have responded to the first of Wittgenstein’s comments and have set forth an interpretation which outlines a distinctly positive relationship between the two philosophers. Yet, they have confined the question of the relationship within the strict limits of their focus upon the convergence between Wittgenstein and Heidegger in terms of their pragmatic criteria of meaning as use. This stream explicitly opposes the early mysticism of Wittgenstein, and the later mysticism of Heidegger as well as the ecstatic temporality in Division Two of Being and Time. They have no commitment, moreover, to the phenomenological project per se, and even less so to Heidegger’s philosophy.

The pragmatists seek to disclose the affinities between Division One of Being and Time and the Philosophical Investigations in their respective pragmatic descriptions of knowledge – situated in ‘practise’, ‘forms of life’, either in the nexus of involvements in Heidegger’s zuhanden, or, as meaning as use in Wittgenstein’s metaphor of the language game which explicitly develops the theme of a radical hermeneutics rooted in ‘practise’. In this regard alone, it is clear that there is a marked affinity between the philosophies of Wittgenstein and Heidegger. Yet, this discussion remains quite on the surface and textually limited. For instance, such a question as ‘What are the implications of a relationship of Wittgenstein to Division Two of Being and Time?’, has been dismissed by this stream as incompatible with a criteria of rule following. Yet, without an exploration of this question there would be no opening into the question of the temporality of language games and forms of life. Indeed, according to Rorty’s over-brief schema, in his ‘Heidegger, Wittgenstein, and the Reification of Language’, it is not even a possibility for ecstatic temporality to be linked to the early or later Wittgenstein, which is clearly untenable on its face. It may be useful in such a situation that we forget Rorty’s picture and bring Wittgenstein’s pragmatism into the horizons of ecstatic temporality so as to unlock the temporal root of his philosophy.

The third stream is that of the mystics, which, represented in the work of Cooper (1997) and Hatab and Brenner (1983) (and negatively alluded to by Rorty) concerns the shared appreciation by Wittgenstein and Heidegger of the mystical, of the wonder in the face of existence, expressed in such questions as ‘Why is there something, rather than nothing?’ The mystics, such as Cooper, have challenged the interpretation of Wittgenstein’s first comment by the pragmatists and have offered a re-interpretation of the relationship that sets forth an illuminating juxtaposition of Heidegger’s later philosophy and what they see as an enduring interest on the part of Wittgenstein in the mystical, in his early and later works. This emphasis may be read as a sympathetic challenge to and deepening of the pragmatic position with an openness to other aspects of Wittgenstein and Heidegger’s thought. What is excluded by the mystics, however, and marks a point of agreement with the pragmatists, is Division Two of Being and Time and its phenomenology of ecstatic temporality – an exclusion reflected, I believe, in their discussion of merely Wittgenstein’s first comment.

This rejection of ecstatic temporality however suppresses an understanding of the radically temporal horizons of the question of Being (historicality) and the self-disclosure of being from the perspective of finite existence. It is an openness to the temporality of existence, for Heidegger, even in his later works, which is pre-requisite to a comportment of humility or solicitude. Heidegger indicates the relationship between wonder and finite existence in his methodology of formal indication which he describes as a ‘dedicated submission to the phenomena’ (Kisiel). In this light, not only are the pragmatic ‘forms of life’ rooted in ecstatic temporality, but so is any attempt to express our wonder in the face of existence. Indeed, it could be argued that Being and Time (as with the Wittgenstein of the Blue and Brown Books) is an answer to the last sentence of the Tractatus, in which the contours of existence are indicated and shown amidst a phenomenology which expresses itself through an innovatory indexical grammar. While this stream is yet another fruitful pathway of research, I will argue that its neglect (and mis-representation) of the phenomenology of ecstatic temporality (as a hubristic or patriotic individuality) leaves it in a state of incompletion, closed off from other significant questions, such as the conditions for individuation, historical change and the existential meaning of spatiality.

The fourth stream concerns a quite vibrant debate concerning the relationship between Wittgenstein and phenomenology (and to Heidegger) and is represented in Wittgenstein and Phenomenology: A Comparative Study of the Later Wittgenstein, Husserl, Heidegger and Merleau-Ponty by Nicholas Gier (1991).[8] Gier lays out a provisional context, that of descriptive phenomenology, as the basis for a discussion of the relationship. This approach, ignored by the other streams of research, perhaps intimates a different question as it lays out the possibility of a deeper affinity between Heidegger and Wittgenstein. This approach is the least restrictive as to the limits of questioning and textual consideration, but does indicate a provisional context of comparison in Heidegger’s 1920’s radical phenomenology and in Wittgenstein’s late 1920’s disavowal of his earlier logical conception of reality and language in his so-called middle and later periods (1929-1951), in a period in which he describes his approach to philosophy as that of ‘phenomenological analysis’.

That which is significant about this stream is that it is longstanding and has taken place far outside the purview (and the notice) of the other streams of interpretation. Gier, for instance, is primarily addressing the negative conclusions of the Husserlian phenomenologist Reeder (1989) in his article, ‘Wittgenstein Never Was a Phenomenologist,’ who we could suggest may have been some use to Hacker (or Richter) if either had ever bothered to look. Gier lays out the case for Wittgenstein as phenomenologist in the work of the Japanese philosopher Watara Kuroda (1978) in his ‘Phenomenology and Grammar: A Consideration of the Relation between Husserl’s Logical Investigations and Wittgenstein’s Later Philosophy’, where it is proposed that Wittgenstein be read against the backdrop of Husserl’s Logical Investigations. Gier takes this, and other insights, to Reeder, who had argued that Wittgenstein was an ‘anthropologist’ and ‘relativist’, to argue that, while not an orthodox Husserlian, it is very clear that he could very well be a phenomenologist in a different sense, as is the case with Merleau-Ponty and Heidegger. While this stream of research serves to establish the potential fruitfulness of the question of Wittgenstein and phenomenology, it needs to be extended, and should be seen as a signpost for further research. What this strand needs is to deepen the exploration with a consideration of Heidegger’s phenomenology of ecstatic or original temporality. I will return to this question below.

On Behalf of Heidegger: The Context of the Discussion

That which is necessary is a consideration of Wittgenstein’s comments with a sensitivity to the context of emergence amid the Heideggerian topos (another, existential, way of reading Frege). There is already a basis of conversation, as pointed out by Gier, in the wake of Wittgenstein’s most explicit statements upon phenomenology in his so-called ‘middle’ period, as published in the Philosophical Remarks. Monk has dismissed the relevance of this text for our purposes as, he claims, its method of ‘phenomenological analysis’ disappears as merely a dead-end or transitionary philosophy. Yet, it could be argued that while Wittgenstein may have given up the principle of verification, he did not give up phenomenology, especially in the sense articulated by Gier. Indeed, it could be argued that the most evident trace of phenomenology is in his discussions of seeing aspects and in changing aspects, which riddle his later works and is developed by Cavell and Mulhull. Indeed, to divide Wittgenstein into such sharply drawn periods is unhelpful, as it hides from our view the genealogical traces of his articulations and revisions, and their possible relation with Heidegger.

It would seem that, for Wittgenstein, the question of Heidegger’s phrases, would not be one regarding material propositions, but of grammatical propositions introduced into our grammar of lived existence, in this case, the ‘Nothing noths’. Wittgenstein is not seeking the entity, or disavowing the existence thereof, as Carnap had done in his parody of Heidegger, but is seeking the rule of the nothing, or, of the ‘nothing noths’. Indeed, Carnap had explicitly rejected grammatical meaning in the context of his criticism of Heidegger, attempting to formulate an ideal language, a purified language that would result from his method of logical analysis. However, things were much more complicated for Wittgenstein, for as Monk pointed out, the distinction between grammatical and material propositions was itself fluid, being determined by use and custom. In this way, we could suggest that Wittgenstein is not seeking a system of propositions in any logical positivist sense. Instead, he is seeking the grammatical use of the phrase in some language game and form of life. Of course, such a determination of usefulness would itself be subject to custom and to differing terrains of language use and other practises.

It is against this background that I could intervene on behalf of Heidegger (or at least sit in for him in this psychoanalytic dialogue) so as to not only lay out the ‘system of propositions’ or language game that Heidegger inhabits, but also to show the use of such a rule of the nothing. Of course, I probably needn’t say that this is not use in any utilitarian sense, but use in the sense of disclosing the grammar of lived existence in terms of temporality (an insight that incidentally points not only to Heidegger’s indication of ‘significance’ (Bedeutsamkeit) in Being and Time, but also to the post-Kehre description of language as the house of Being). For if Wittgenstein can be oriented into this language game and made to see its use, it may be the case that he could give up his suggestions that not only is Heidegger fixated upon a certain image, that of an island surrounded by an infinite sea of nothingness, but also that his philosophy may be an idle wheel in the works. Indeed, even if we were willing to remain upon this merely therapeutic consideration of Heidegger, this is quite arguably a poor image to underlie Heidegger’s philosophy, which on the contrary emphasises standing out, ecstasies, transcendence. A better image would be that of Nietzsche’s wanderer upon an unbounded sea, which became for Heidegger, to hold oneself out into the nothing. For, it may have become clear to Wittgenstein that his philosophy is of use precisely in its disclosure of the conditions of historical change, of system and breach, of the null events that not only challenge custom, but also establish custom and convention in the first place.[9]

It is not clear if Wittgenstein had ever read Sein und Zeit,[10] or any of Heidegger’s works for that matter.[11] However, he did, as I have suggested, come to some of his gnomic phrases – completely out of context – in his discussions with selected members of the Vienna Circle, especially Carnap. The latter felt that a few propositions was context enough, or at best several sentences, but certainly not the essay as a whole or in relation to the project of which it is an articulation. It seems clear however that Wittgenstein has developed a broad and deep sense of context, as the ‘system of rules’ or language game, which allows us to understand the meaning of words, and also the proviso that these rules are based upon custom, which as historical, is itself in a state of fluidity (the door is already open). Whether Wittgenstein adequately deals with what Heidegger’s designates as an original, ecstatic temporality in his philosophy, or, if he can accommodate the insights of Heidegger – not to mention his ‘system of propositions’ or ‘language game’ entitled the ‘analytic of Dasein’ – will be the focus of the rest of this essay.[12]

If they were to reply by introducing a new system, then I have to acquiesce[13]

A different ‘system’ – ‘system of propositions’, or ‘language game’ – in which phrases such as ‘the nothing noths’ can be disclosed to have meaning, use – this is what is requested by Wittgenstein, and a request that goes well beyond the tentativeness of Baker and Conant. It is certainly clear that in 1929 and for a few years after Wittgenstein had been describing his work in terms of ‘phenomenological analysis’. It is plausible, as Gier has pointed out, that this phenomenological aspect of his philosophy remained after he had given up the verification principle. Of course, this is not Husserlian or Heideggerian phenomenology, but it certainly maintains a family resemblance to these philosophical approaches. In this way, Schlick and Waismann were perhaps not aware of the seriousness to which Wittgenstein would place his acquiescence to the rule of the nothing – if such a system of propositions, language game, or grammar were expressed.

One of the cardinal rules which Frege laid down for the determination of the meaning of a word or term was the context of its expression, which for him, fundamentally, was located in the logical proposition. Carnap had followed that rule polemically in his analysis of Heidegger’s ‘What is Metaphysics?’ by cutting and pasting various sentences and phrases, to do with the nothing, negation and not, into a sample, a contextualisation that turned out in the end to be a mockery with no evident interest in their indigenous meaning. Of course, Heidegger’s phrases would be nonsense de facto as they were not susceptible to Carnap’s criterion of application (or Frege’s logicism) – indeed, it would readily be admitted by Heidegger that his were not theoretical or logical statements at all, but phenomenological indications of existence, which even for the early Wittgenstein may lay in the place of the mystical, of showing, (and which is after all the more important part of philosophy). At the time of Carnap’s essay, however, Wittgenstein had already sensed the fluidity and multiplicities of sense and nonsense, and had already left the logicist universe of Frege, Russell and the Vienna Circle. In his essay, Carnap plays the usual game of not knowing whatever Heidegger could mean, playing deaf, dumb, and blind, as it were, when in fact, Sein und Zeit conspicuously sets there ready to hand to be used to disclose the proper context of emergence for such strange sentences. Carnap simply ignores this context of emergence, and therefore fails to give us a perspicuous representation of Heidegger’s possible meaning. Carnap can only say that these phrases have no meaning for himself (and his Circle), and when he tries to assert the limit to meaningfulness, he is simply imposing his own arbitrary rule upon the field of knowledge. Yet, by doing so, as Wittgenstein (and Popper) have shown, he transgressed the limits of meaning himself, as his own principle of operation, that of verification, cannot be verified, nor can his limit have any meaning, for as the saying goes, once one knows a limit, then one knows the other side of the limit, the beyond.

We will thus turn to Heidegger’s language game, a different simile, a different use which innovates upon the grammar of existence: the Being and Time project which is a phenomenology of formal indication of existence. The pragmatists and the mystics have already outlined the remarkable similarities between the two philosophers with respect to their emphasis upon embedded practise and upon their apprehension of ‘wonder’, respectively. But, what each of these streams has failed to grasp is that other side of Heidegger’s radical phenomenology, that of ecstatic temporality, a complex phenomenon which serves as the very topos of the thrown projection of being-in-the-world (Cf. Section 65-66 of Being and Time, ‘Temporality as the Ontological Meaning of Care’ and ‘Dasein’s Temporality and the Tasks Arising Therefrom of Repeating the Existential Analytic in a more Primordial Manner,’ respectively). This other side is clearly articulated in the second Division of Being and Time (and in his many lectures of the period such as Basics Problems of Phenomenology, The Metaphysical Foundations of Logic, and the Phenomenological Interpretation of Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason). Indeed, traces and marks of ecstatic temporality are readily apparent in the first Division, and one begins to see the work as written in a circle, in which the beginning presupposes the end. We can readily see, with the pragmatists, the rule-following of being-in-the-world with its significance and meaningfulness. But, the question of the occasion for the thematisation of the radical temporality of these forms of life is not asked. Indeed, this constitutes a significant blindness with respect to this aspect of Heidegger’s explanation of theoretical knowledge, the vorhanden. It is in the breakdown of rules, systems, or in rule-breaking that the theoretical perspective emerges. Amidst the terrain of thrown projection, we come to realise that it is not merely practise, but refusal, breakdown, collapse which is constitutive of the phenomenon of existence. This break is echoed in the indication of anxiety as an encounter with the Nothing, of thrownness, of the falling away of entities, of things, in the intimation of the possibility of impossibility. After all, we are the beings for whom Being is an issue, for we, each of us, knows the inexorable necessity of our demise, of our mortality amid a horizon of finitude. Temporality, in this more originary sense, precedes theoretical speculations of the time stream in its one dimensional, linear – and bloodless – fashion.

It is not the clock on the wall, the sun-dial or the setting and rising of the sun, but the temporality of existence in its phenomenological self-disclosure, interpretation and expression. Anxiety is not merely a psychological phenomenon – or, for Heidegger, is not one at all, but a conspicuous irruption of the originary meaning of existence into the restricted economy (Bataille) of familiar inconspicuousness. Instead of seeking a sedative or a drink, Heidegger counsels us not to flee anxiety but to undergo what Hoff has described, in a different context, as a thinking practise[14] of ‘going all the way to the end’. In going all the way, one holds oneself out into the Nothing, things having fallen away, in a disclosure of the radical temporality of one’s own existence, of one’s ownmost possibility. Heidegger describes a being-called amidst this ordeal of decision, and contends that it is a call from the eigentlich self to itself, as it is lost in das man, declaring that it is thrown, radically temporal (guilty in Anaximander’s sense), and thus, as it is held out into the nothing, it must apprehend its own temporal truth, meaning, and freedom. Heidegger states,

We are asking about the ontological meaning of the dying of the person who dies, as a possibility of being which belongs to his being.[15]

In choosing the eigentlich self in its nullity, in resolving for this self and the aspects of this self amid one’s own anticipation of death, one attests to certain binding commitments (Bindung)[16], of the singular meaning of the self amidst the maelstrom of Care, a resolution which projects a world.[17] And, this is what Heidegger means by world, a thrown projection of binding commitments which has its root in ecstatic temporality and the events of world-projection. We can see traces of this root most readily in Heidegger’s indication of existential spatiality, as irretrievably rooted in the finite self as being in the world. Yet, his existentials are not merely arbitrary as they themselves arose amidst the projection of world, in its meaning and its morphology. In this way, the various conventional names Heidegger chose, such as Sorge or Schuld could be seen to contain the historicity of such names as they themselves were originally projected amid an anticipatory resolution, of an individuation, or better, a singularisation – a creative rule-breaking, transgression of the rule of the conventional (the prevailing restricted economy) in an expression of an innovation in the grammar of existence. Heidegger said in his lectures that the philosophy of old can no longer ‘speak to our generation’, but can be made to speak anew through a retrieval of the root temporal event of these artefacts. But, this can only occur through one’s own anticipatory resolution amidst the eruption of anxiety, an encounter with the Nothing. This background is quite significant – and it is disturbing that it is ignored – as it seems to provide an important description of the temporality of being-in-the-world and of the possibility of historical change. This background describes the pre-theoretical awakening to one’s own finitude, of the resolution of a world which abides the temporality of the questioner and his transcending existence. Such a phenomenology would be one, with Reiner Schürmann, of systems and breaks, a phenomenology of a makeshift world, which, contrary to William Morris (who used the term as one of abuse against modern commercialism), is our own-most possibility and facticity (not, of course, as shallow commercialism, but as temporal, factical existence). It is upon this topos that we project our binding commitments (and the morphology of lived existence), which, as rooted in original temporality, are themselves makeshift, subject to revision, with their own fluidity, which, much like anxiety, comes with no invitation, and often against our will.

Wittgenstein, Time and Temporality: Blue and Brown Books

It is often repeated that Wittgenstein had no time for history and indeed preferred topographical and engineering metaphors. Yet, from the perspective that we are developing, we must be clear as to what Wittgenstein has said about time, and more specifically, be aware of anything that may be relevant to the theme of an original, ecstatic temporality (and thus, historicity) of lived existence. He has said that he can readily understand what being and anxiety mean, and would acquiesce if he were given a ‘system’ (language game) to disclose the meaning of the Nothing. He has also commended those who speak nonsense, which is a link to the mystical of the Tractatus, and perhaps to Heidegger’s event of worlding, a phenomenology of showing, with a differing, innovative (though not private) language which indicates, points out the phenomena and their self-disclosed metamorphoses. The question is whether Wittgenstein is aware of such an original temporality (and of its existential spatiality), or indeed, of its relevance to the phrases of Heidegger upon which he comments. It may well be possible that Heidegger’s insights into ecstatic temporality and historicity would allow a deeper understanding of the ‘grammar of time’.

Wittgenstein’s most explicit treatments of time are located in the Blue and Brown Books. In the former, his first reference to time intimates it status as a ‘queer thing’,[18] and it is specifically the use of the substantive ‘time’ that ‘mystifies us’.[19] Wittgenstein states that ‘time’ has been a problem for us, symptomatised by our asking the question, ‘What is time? Yet, he suggests that there is a flaw with the form of the question: ‘What is…?’ as it forces us to seek a substance for the substantive. Time is yet another example of the mystery of this paradox, as with ‘mental processes’, ‘thought’, or any other name, for that matter. We become puzzled about time when we begin to look more closely at its grammar, which seems to abide contradictions and paradox. Wittgenstein (as did Heidegger)[20] gives Augustine as an example of the expression of this paradox. He paraphrases Augustine:

‘How is it possible that one should measure time? For the past cannot be measured, as it is gone by; and the future can’t be measured because it has not yet come. And the present can’t be measured for it has no extension.’ (Blue Book, p. 26)

The paradox arises from our captivation to a way of expression and questioning that has become so customary that any other possible modality of expression has been forgotten (as when we forget the meaning of a word). In the case of Augustine, he suggests the difficulty lies in the confusion of two senses of the phrase ‘to measure’. Augustine seems to be referring to our measuring of length, and thus to be confusing two different structures in language with respect to the grammar of measurement. Wittgenstein suggests that Augustine deploys a sense of measurement-qua-length which is not appropriate to the meaning of measure as it pertains specifically to time. For Wittgenstein, the question is one of the rules of any particular grammar, and our captivation to any one rule, mistaking it for the only rule, the only grammar. Our puzzlement arises when we discover paradoxes amid our consistent application of a rule. What we forget is that a name or a phrase may perhaps be following a different rule, that there are many rules amid a network of language in its use. In our captivation to a particular picture (PI, 115), we fail to look close enough to see the differences and the innovative possibilities. It is our superficiality and subservience which engenders the paradox. For Wittgenstein, Augustine is merely playing a game in the context of a form of expression which has excluded other grammars of time.[21]

Wittgenstein claims that this paradoxical situation is a cage that results from the confinement within a single rule, in this case that of substance. On the contrary, language has extensive malleability, and could accommodate other grammars if one so chooses to set up a differing rule. He writes with respect to a new grammar that may at first be unfamiliar, and suspected of having something wrong with it: ‘There is nothing wrong about it, as it is just a new terminology and can at any time be retranslated into ordinary language’[22] (consider Heidegger’s retranslation of the ‘Nothing’ into ‘transcendence’). And: ‘We shall also try to construct new notations, in order to break the spell of those which we are accustomed to.’[23]

Within the captivation to the conventional rule, those things of which we speak seem to haunt us as shadows, as lurking troubles for a philosophy held captive to the picture of substances, mental processes (in distinction from physical processes), and its confusion of substance for substantives, for the inference of an object from some effect (the search for a type, or a doubling as in Nietzsche’s example of ‘lightning strikes’, a seduction to a particular grammar). But, philosophy should not say what it does not know, and we do not know the shadows, but feel them as they haunt our language. It is only our captivation which allows such problems to endure, as innovations in our grammar are possible in which we could, for instance, speak of time as temporality (and not something that needs to be measured). In reference to an innovation of grammar (and here we can use Heidegger’s ‘the Nothing noths’ as a somewhat more complicated example), Wittgenstein writes: ‘It combines well-know words but combines them in a way we don’t yet understand. The grammar of this phrase has yet to be explained to us.’[24] Indeed, it could be said that the grammar of time must allow that measuring time is not always necessary, that it may have differing senses, and be expressed in a differing language game, one that we may also find ‘useful’. This particular discussion ends with a reference to the attempt to create an ‘ideal language’ (presumably by Russell and the Vienna Circle). Indeed, this was merely another attempt to assert the univocity of a particular rule. But, the irony for Wittgenstein is that this attempt to create a different language has in fact set a precedent for what he insists must be the ‘deliberate’ invention of new uses of words (as we can clearly see in the case of Heidegger and Derrida).

In the Brown Book, which follows the Blue Book in composition, Wittgenstein thematises time in the context of his broader discussion of language, rule-learning, and rule-following. Time, he proposes, becomes relevant for the ‘tribe’ in the department of its language which concerns past and future, or, as he suggests, in the ‘narration of past events’ and the ‘expression of possibility.’[25] He begins with the former. Following from his discussion of rule learning and following, he gives the example of asking a child to recount objects that he had had, but now have been taken away from him. It is a question of whether the child can learn the rule of narration of past events, and as Wittgenstein says repeatedly with respect to rule-systems (such as with a mathematical operation) in the Philosophical Investigations, ‘go on’. Another example is that of a correlation of the positions of the sun with the events of the day, and once again, a prompting of the child to complete a narrative initiated by the teacher. A third example, or innovation of the grammar of time, would be the introduction of a clock to perform that role previously played by the sun. Wittgenstein claims that this laying out of life pictures in a specific order entails, at this stage in the exploration of the grammar, the notions of ‘before’ and ‘after’, but not that of ‘measurement’ – there is thus a stark array of differences in the grammar of time already at this simple level: the datability or real milestones of time (such as the human heart, which is ‘the real clock behind all the other clocks’)[26], the before and after, and the means by which we measure ‘time’ in the sun-dial or clock. Yet, we must be vigilant not to repeat the fallacy of leaping from substantive to substance, as there is not a material time to be measured, but the use of time in differing senses, correlated and inter-related in the grammar of time.

Having indicated the place of the grammar of ‘past’ and ‘future’, Wittgenstein turns to the ‘now’. Into his primitive language game of the builders, he introduces the concept of time in the practical form of the clock. With this facility, it is now possible to not only use the term ‘now’, but we can also specify the before and after in terms of measurement, such as ‘in five minutes’ and ‘twenty minutes ago’ – although we need not speak of the past and future in terms of measurement, as we could imagine a situation of the future as expectation or the past as recollection. It is in this context that he returns to the paradox in Augustine’s form of expression, although not mentioning him by name. He says that in the examination of the primitive language game nothing queer or mysterious was apparent, as expressed in the question, ‘Where does the present go when it becomes past, and where is the past?’[27] The problem, or better, the apparent paradox of this expression of time, is that we have been captivated by a particular picture of time, as for instance, the ‘flow of time’. We then apply this metaphor consistently to every instance of temporal expression, despite the fact that this image may not, as we have suggested, be appropriate to some other rule for the expression of time. Wittgenstein claims that we have become obsessed with a symbolism which ‘irresistibly drags us on.’[28] Indeed, this obsession results from a basic confusion in our forms of expression, as for instance, of the meaning of the ‘now’. He states that the ‘now’, as with before and after, is not a specification of time, as for instance, in a measured point of time, say 9:01AM. But, we confuse these two forms of expression and even turn them into synonyms. What is necessary in order to understand the meaning of the now is to consider its use in the language game as a whole, in the grammar of time. Another example is ‘today’ which he says is not a date, nor, in its use, like a date. What is necessary is to be clear about the myriad possibilities and differences in linguistic usage in the context of the overall grammar of time. We could suggest, as will become clear in the next section, that the degeneration of the perspective of the whole language game to that of the particular confused usages, bears a close family resemblance to that distinction in Heidegger between ecstatic or original temporality and the fallenness of generic and linear time of a succession of ‘nows’. It will thus be possible to bring Wittgenstein and Heidegger into conversation about the character of this whole language game.[29]

The thrust of Wittgenstein’s deconstruction of Augustinian time is made apparent in his consideration of the future. If we were operating in the context of ‘now time’, closed in upon ourselves solipsistically, and were seeking the substance for the substantive ‘future’, we would once again encounter the paradox. However, once we understand that there are many ways of conceiving futurity, as with the example ‘after’, ‘in twenty minutes,’ or as expectation or anticipation, we suddenly are no long captivated by the tremendens mysterium of time (in the Augustinian sense). The problem of course is the attempt to find a substance for a substantive, of seeing language as merely a collocation of material propositions. Yet, we understand quite clearly that we cannot physically measure an object that is not there, but as with his earlier discussion, we comprehend that there are differing ways and contexts for the expression of differing senses of time and existence. It could be objected that there still remains an asymmetry between past and future, one which would seem to nullify any reference to a proposition about the future. Yet, once again, Wittgenstein is speaking not of material (or, to some extent against them), but, of grammatical propositions in which we express specific aspects of existence according to the rules of a language which is seeking to express what perhaps is uncommon (which is a very apt expression of Heidegger’s distinction between original and common time). Yet, once we understand the grammatical topos for our expression of time (and not the search for a substance) – and even if the concept of time remains linear as a sequence of ‘nows’, it is quite simple to exhibit forms of expression about the future which we use and readily understand (although to remain with generic time would be to miss much of what is the case). He gives the examples of propositions of probability, conjecture, possibility, of the ‘can’ in the sense of the ability to ‘go on’, and of the projection of a model, such as the ‘mind’, which, as a complex rule, seeks to anticipate certain features of existence. In the context of his novel perspective upon the whole of language, and his emphasis upon the grammar of use, Wittgenstein states that these myriad forms of expression with regard to the future form a network of family resemblances in the expression of possibility.

Heidegger says very similar things about time, as I have indicated, and in terms of his notion of an ontological difference, shows a marked similarity with Wittgenstein’s articulation of grammatical differences (but not, I think, a grammatical difference). Heidegger criticises a conception of time which remains anchored in the ‘now’ (even the nunc stans which he calls derivative of the ordinary conception of time). He writes: ‘The “now” is not pregnant with the “not-yet-now”, but the Present arises from the future in the primordial ecstatical unity of the temporalising of temporality.’ (BT, 427, p. 479)[30] The source of the paradox for Heidegger is the removal of the question of time from its proper context which is that of a self-interpretation and expression of Dasein. It is not a substance that he seeks – indeed, he seeks a no-thing, Nothing. Yet, in order to understand what he means by this, we should look to the quote that he chose from Augustine: ‘Hence it seemed to me that time is nothing else than an extendedness; but of what sort of thing it is an extendedness, I do not know; and it would be surprising if it were not an extendedness of the soul itself (Being and Time, 427, n. vx, p. 499) In his Inaugural Address, he did finally let us in from the cold when he said that a simile for his Nothing would be that of transcendence, which is still a dangerous word. This term, as with its pre-philosophical sign, the soul, is an index that alludes to the being of Dasein as transcending amidst the projections of ecstatic temporality. His radical phenomenology is seeking to disclose this phenomenon, since, though things may be as they are, it is not always the case that they are ‘there’ for our circumspection and understanding – especially if we have been captivated by a particular picture. His notion of truth as a-lethea may have seemed a queer atavism (and even though Heidegger’s existentials, each having its historical credentials as self-interpretations of temporal Dasein, eg. Care), Wittgenstein could regard Heidegger’s work as an innovation in the grammar of time which should be assessed on its own merits – and not as a symptom of confusion. It would be quite out of character for him to react to Heidegger as did Carnap.

Heidegger, Wittgenstein and the Rule of the Nothing

Perhaps it would serve to make Heidegger more clear to Wittgenstein if he stated that his work is a phenomenology of existence under the rule of the Nothing, with anxiety or the breach being the sign and occasion for a change of aspects. Heidegger not only sees existence under the aspect of time, as the radical temporality of being-in-the-world, disclosed through anxiety, he also understands a change-back of aspects in his indication of the fallenness of being-in-the-world. It is language which is the place of the Nothing, sub specie temporis, but the language which is the place of the Nothing is not that of logic or propositions of theoretical philosophy. It is rather the self-expression of Dasein which has its own singular way of being and its own grammar.[31]

Heidegger’s description of existence as that of thrown projection, Care, the radical individuation of anxiety, could be made clear to Wittgenstein with respect to his own description of our existence in terms of an irruption of shifting aspects which compels us to shift our perspective and to innovate in our grammar of existence. The ‘system’ that Wittgenstein wishes to see in relation to the innovation of ‘the nothing noths’ is played out in the language game of Heidegger’s 1920’s phenomenology. Moreover, it is upon this new topos that not only can one discern the morphology and events of rupture of temporal flux, of historical change, but also the question of one’s relation to those who have come before, to the ‘tradition’ of philosophy.

We all know Wittgenstein’s purported views on this subject (although he read more than he ever let on). Heidegger’s method was to attempt to retrieve the original impetus of the philosophy in question through a radical re-contextualisation in its deeper sources in temporality. Heidegger would shift the aspects by tracing a more originary root for the philosophical artifice. The tracing is the deconstruction of a historical philosophy to not only set free its original questioning, but also to say the unsaid, to speak to the new generation of listeners. That which Heidegger can offer to Wittgenstein is the possibility of seeing under the aspect of the Nothing, as the question of the historicity of existence, and that such seeing will have its use, and perhaps, will help to clarify certain unresolved questions in Wittgenstein’s work, such as the relation between rule and custom. Moreover, such a thematisation of temporality would offer a deeper understanding of his own engagement with the history of philosophy and would allow an interpretation that would better integrate his own negatively felt philosophical preoccupation with his all-too-human existence (his Sorge), and to see his own therapeutic practise of philosophy under a differing aspect – for instance, in the context of the anticipatory resolution of Dasein and in its thrown projection of its ‘world’. In this way, anxiety would be seen under the differing aspect of a temporal horizon, such as would show the relation of his factical ‘ground’ of anxiety to the inexorable morphology of primordial temporality, and of the necessity of ‘going all the way to the end’.

Epilogue: Goethe’s ‘The Metamorphosis of Plants’

We can give some interest to those like Baker and Conant who wish to consider the possibility of a therapeutic relationship between Wittgenstein and Heidegger (who detested ‘psychoanalysis’). Yet, this would be an application of Wittgensteinian analysis to a supposed Heidegger. Such a procedure would do nothing to bring to light any intrinsic relationship between their respective philosophies. Aspects of a relationship have been sketched, each in its lonely way, by the phenomenologists, mystics and the pragmatists. And, the family resemblances between the philosophers is quite appropriate in that both had a similar phenomenological (though not in Husserl’s sense) approach to philosophy. This similarity in approach could be described in their mutual admiration for Goethe’s poem, The Metamorphosis of Plants. It is with this descriptive, though intuitive, phenomenology of plant development that we can ascertain the contours of the phenomenologies of Heidegger and Wittgenstein, and attempt to allow the living phenomenon to express itself, and to give the occasion for a change in aspect. Such a perspective concerns innovations in the grammar of existence expressed amid the intimacy of life.

As a provisional conclusion, and this essay merely points to a horizon of possible research, we could imagine an encounter between Wittgenstein and Heidegger, which takes place in the context of their shared appreciation of Goethe’s poem. Standing in front of a plant, Wittgenstein muses upon the delicacy of expression in the poem and of its allusion to the changes of aspect in the metamorphosis of the plant. Heidegger quietly admires the flower, but seems to harbour a malady. He takes Wittgenstein’s arm and whispers, ‘But the plant dies, it is dead. The metamorphosis is merely an intimation of the deeper abyss of temporality, of existence lived under, as you might say, the aspect of time.’ Wittgenstein became very quiet, and later that night, alone in his room, he thought about the death of the plant and felt guilt that he had not thought about that before – its actual death. The death of the plant goes beyond the poem, the saying, and displays a topography of changing aspects amidst the wider streams of life. From this perspective, he could fathom, from the other side as it were, the limits of his own analysis with respect to temporality. With Heidegger’s reply of a ‘new system’, he could then understand the use of the ‘infamous’ phrases, and traverse the topos of radical finitude, of thrownness, and from out of this horizon of historicity, he could divine the fluid relationship between rule and custom, and understand that the root of the myriad differences of life is the in-difference of these temporal projections, which have been unworlded (theoretically) from the stream of life. And, with this insight, Wittgenstein would have been given his answer and would thus have no reason not to acquiesce.[32]

As an addendem for this meditation, I would like to close with a saying (1966) of Heidegger on Wittgenstein,

Wittgenstein says the following.  The difficulty in which thinking stands compares with a man in a room, from which he wants to get out.  At first, he attempts to get out through the window, but it is too high for him.  Then he attempts to get out through the chimney, which is too narrow for him.  If he simply turned around, he would see that the door was open all along.

We ourselves are permanently set in motion and caught in the hermeneutical circle.[i]


[i] Heidegger, M. and Fink, E. (1993) Heraclitus Seminar, trans. by Charles H. Seibert, Evanston: Northwestern University Press, p. 17.

References and Further Reading

Baker, G. P. (2004) ‘Wittgenstein’s Method and Psychoanalysis’ in K.J. Morris (ed.) Wittgenstein’s Method: Neglected Aspects: Essays on Wittgenstein, Oxford: Blackwell.

Conant, J. (2001) ‘Two Conceptions of Die Überwindung der Metaphysik: Carnap and the early Wittgenstein,’ in T. McCarthy and S.C. Stidd (eds.) Wittgenstein in America, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Cooper, D. E. (1997) ‘Wittgenstein, Heidegger and Humility’, Philosophy 72, 105-123.

Elsfeld, M. (2001) What can Heidegger’s Being and Time tell today’s Analytic Philosophy, Philosophical Explorations, 4, pp. 46-62.

Friedman, M. A Parting of the Ways: Carnap, Cassirer, and Heidegger, Chicago: Open Court.

Gier, N. (1981) Wittgenstein and Phenomenology, Albany: State University of New York Press.

________. (1990) ‘Wittgenstein and Phenomenology Revisited’, Philosophy Today 34:4, pp. 273-288.

________. (1991) “Never Say Never: A Response to Harry P. Reeder’s ‘Wittgenstein Never Was a Phenomenologist,'”Journal of the British Society for Phenomenology 22:1, pp. 80-83.

Glendinning, S. (1998) Being-with-others: Heidegger, Derrida and Wittgenstein, Routledge.

Guignon, C. (1990) ‘Philosophy after Wittgenstein and Heidegger’, Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, Vol. 50, No. 4, 649-672.

Hacker, P. M. S. (2003) ‘Wittgenstein, Carnap and the New American Wittgensteinians’, The Philosophical Quarterly 53:210, 1-23.

Hatab, L.J. & W. Brenner. (1983) ‘Heidegger and Wittgenstein on Language and Mystery’, International Studies in Philosophy, pp. 25-44.

Haugeland, J. (1982) ‘Heidegger on Being a Person’, Noûs, XVI, 15-26.

Heidegger, M. (1962) Being and Time, trs. J. Macquarrie & E. Robinson, New York: Harper & Row.

_______. ‘What is Metaphysics?’, Basic Writings, ed. D.F. Krell, London: Routledge.

Kaufer, S. (2005) ‘The Nothing and the Ontological Difference in Heidegger’s What is Metaphysics?’, Inquiry 48:6, 482-506.

Kisiel, Theodore (1993) The Genesis of Heidegger’s Being and Time, University of California Press.

Kuroda, W. (1978) ‘Phenomenology and Grammar: A Consideration of the Relation between Husserl’s Logical Investigations and Wittgenstein’s Later Philosophy’, Analecta Husserliana, Vol. 8, Dordrecht: Reidel.

Luchte, J. (2007) ‘Martin Heidegger and Rudolf Carnap: Radical Phenomenology, Logical Positivism, and the Continental/Analytic Divide’, Philosophy Today.

Merleu-Ponty, M. (2002) Phenomenology of Perception, trs. F. Williams, London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.

Monk, R. (1991) Ludwig Wittgenstein: The Duty of Genius, London: Vintage.

Mulhull, S. (1990) On Being in the World: Wittgenstein and Heidegger on Seeing Aspects, Routledge.

______. (2001) Inheritance and Originality: Heidegger, Wittgenstein and Kierkegaard, Oxford.

______. (1994) Stanley Cavell: Philosophy’s Recounting of the Ordinary, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Perloff, M. (1996) Wittgenstein’s Ladder, Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Reeder, H. (1989) “Wittgenstein Never Was a Phenomenologist,” Journal of the British Society for Phenomenology 20, No. 3 (October, 1989), pp. 49-68.

________. (1991) ‘”Never Say ‘Never Say Never”: Reply to Nicholas Gier’, Journal of the British Society for Phenomenology, Volume 22, pp. 97-98.

Richter, D. (2007) ‘Did Wittgenstein Disagree With Heidegger?’, Review of Contemporary Philosophy, Vol. 6.

Rorty, R. (1993) ‘Wittgenstein, Heidegger and the Reification of Language’, Essays on Heidegger and Others, Cambridge.

Safranski, R. (1998) Martin Heidegger: Between Good and Evil, Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Taylor, C. (1995) Philosophical Arguments, Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Waismann, F. (1979) Wittgenstein and the Vienna Circle: Conversations Recorded by Friedrich Waismann, ed. B. McGinness, tr. J. Schülte and B. McGinness, Oxford: Basil Blackwell.

Witherspoon, E. (2002) ‘Logic and the Inexpressible in Frege and Heidegger,’ Journal of the History of Philosophy, 40:1, pp. 89-113.

Wittgenstein, L. (1958) The Blue and Brown Books, Oxford: Basil Blackwell.

_______. (1963) Tractatus-Logico-Philosophicus, trs. D.F. Pears & B.F. McGuiniss, London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.

_______. (2003) Philosophical Investigations, trs. G.E.M. Anscombe, London: Blackwell.

_______. (1993) Philosophical Occasions, eds. J.C. Klagge & A. Nordmann, Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing.

Wittgenstein, L. & F. Waismann (2003) The Voices of Wittgestein: The Vienna Circle, Ed. by G.P. Baker, Trs. by G.P. Baker, M. Mackert, J. Connolly, and V. Politis, London: Routledge.


[1] I will admit that this division simplifies the topography of extant considerations of the relation between Heidegger and Wittgenstein, especially those which discuss this relationship in the context of other questions and in connection to still other philosophers. This is the case, for instance, with Simon Glendinning (1998) Being-with-others: Heidegger, Derrida and Wittgenstein, which argues that Austin and Heidegger remain in the humanist tradition, while Derrida and Wittgenstein accomplish an anti-humanist position allowing a discussion of the animal mind to be considered within the investigation of mind per se.[2] Waisman, F. (1979) ‘Apropos of Heidegger,’ Ludwig Wittgenstein and the Vienna Circle, Trs. by J. Schulte and B. McGuiness, Oxford: Basil Blackwell, p. 68.[3] Wittgenstein, L. & F. Waismann (2003) The Voices of Wittgestein: The Vienna Circle, Ed. by G.P. Baker, Trs. by G.P. Baker, M. Mackert, J. Connolly, and V. Politis, London: Routledge, pp. 69-71.

[4] Ibid., p. 73. The use of the term ‘acquiesce’ comes from Wittgenstein’s Lectures, 1932-1935: From the Notes of Alice Ambrose and Margaret MacDonald, Ed. by A. Ambrose, Oxford: Basil Blackwell (1979), p. 27. This incidentally is contemporary to the Blue and Brown Books, which I will examine in detail below.

[5] Kisiel, Theodore (1993) The Genesis of Heidegger’s Being and Time, University of California Press.

[6] The neglect of Heidegger’s philosophy is nothing new. The background for these comments (and of their analytic interpretation), of course, is Carnap’s (1931) attack on Heidegger’s Freiburg Inaugural Address, ‘What is Metaphysics?’, which I have explored in Luchte, J. (2007) ‘Martin Heidegger and Rudolf Carnap: Radical Phenomenology, Logical Positivism, and the Continental/Analytic Divide’, Depaul: Philosophy Today). Briefly, Carnap criticises Heidegger use of the term ‘nothing’ in a way that, he contends, is a violation of syntax, and that phrases such as ‘the nothing noths’ cannot sustain logical analysis, and are therefore meaningless. We will return to this topic below. He fears that Heidegger is trying to resurrect the spirit of metaphysics, and seeks to cut it out by the roots. However, it is quite unclear whether Wittgenstein would have agreed with Carnap or would have liked his polemic. Indeed, from the available evidence, especially the ‘Lecture on Ethics’, it is clear that Wittgenstein would have had little to say to Carnap. Yet, the picture of Wittgenstein, even in 1929, as a logical positivist has held us captive as has the basic world-view of this now discredited philosophy.

This neglect serves as a barrier to an exploration of the relationship, which, as we will see, has been explicitly acknowledged in the other streams. Richter is blind to these other debates, which can be seen merely by consulting his bibliography. He does not even include Gier, Cavell (although he is mentioned in a footnote in relation to Vicky Hearn, who it is said was referred to by Mulhull as a Cavellian, that is a Heideggerian and a Wittgensteinian) Guignon, or a host of others on this topic. He cites Mulhull, but only Philosophical Myths of the Fall (Inheritance and Originality is listed but not referred to), and mentions Rorty, but only to rehearse his tired schema of the relationship between Heidegger and Wittgenstein. Indeed, while these are briefly mentioned, none plays any constitutive role in the discussion.[6] With the absence of other perspectives in the game, all we are served up is Hacker’s position laid out over against Baker and Conant’s. The question that there may be a deeper relationship between Heidegger and Wittgenstein is never truly raised. Heidegger is a peculiarity that will have to be dissolved by innovations in mathematical logic – or, ignored.

[7] Heidegger, M. (1949) ‘Existence and Being,’ Existentialism from Dostoyevsky to Sartre, ed. by Walter Kaufmann, Meridion.

[8] Gier, in his Wittgenstein and Phenomenology, enters into an existing debate which originally involved C.A. van Peursen, F.C. Copelston, J.N. Findley, and T.N. Munson, but further stimulated by the 1964 publication of Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Remarks as documented by H. Spiegelberg (1968) in his ‘The Puzzle of Wittgenstein’s Phänomenologie (1929-?)’, American Philosophical Quarterly, 5, 244-256.

[9] Such a concern is also apparent in Mulhull (1990) On Being in the World: Wittgenstein and Heidegger on Seeing Aspects (Routledge), in which he, following Cavell’s recounting of the ordinary, explores the phenomenological interests of Heidegger and Wittgenstein in seeing meaningful aspects amid the world (and the blindnesses to aspects), and his most recent Inheritance and Originality: Heidegger, Wittgenstein and Kierkegaard, in which he interrogates the philosophical project as to the relationship of modernity to its past and future, including its relationship to theology.

[10] Richter makes the claim that Wittgenstein’s first comment was made in reference to Being and Time, which the latter held in respect. Yet,, there is no evidence either way that he had read it.

[11] Heidegger mentions Wittgenstein in his 1970 Zurich lectures on Heraclitus, saying that those who press against a door do not see that the door is already open.

[12] Wittgenstein, L. Blue Book, p. 5: ‘The sign (the sentence) gets its significance from the system of signs, from the language to which it belongs. Roughly: understanding a sentence means understanding a language.’ Yet, it is often the case that a particular sentence cannot be understood without a sense of the systematic context of its emergence.

[13] Waismann (1979), p. 27.

[14] Hoff, J. (2005) Das Subjekt entsichern. Zur spirituellen Dimension des Subjektproblems angesichts der Dekonstruktion des cartesianischen Wissenschaftsparadigmas. In: Schmidinger, Heinrich and Zichy, Michael (Hrsg.): Tod des Subjekts? Poststrukturalismus und christliches Denken, Salzburger Theologische Studien 24, Innsbruck – Wien: Tyrolia, pp. 213-242.

[15] Being and Time, 283.

[16] Heidegger, M. Metaphysical Foundations of Logic, p. 192.

[17] The title of this essay, sub specie temporis, under the aspect of time, is meant to this extent in direct contrast to Spinoza’s sub specie aeternitatus, which is espoused in his Ethics. It is significant that Spinoza claimed that the man who thinks least about death is the most free. For Heidegger, it is the exact opposite, as it is our death which is that which reveals our freedom.

[18] Blue Book, p. 6.

[19] Ibid., p. 6.

[20] Heidegger discusses Augustine’s conception of time in Division Two of Being and Time (80, 427, p. 479-80).

[21] In the Blue Book, Wittgenstein is however concerned with dismantling the self-certainty of substances and mental states than perhaps to notice the synchronicity of he and Heidegger’s concerns regarding Augustine’s Confessions and his mythology of time (although, we have to remember his comments on Heidegger as an example of what he is suggesting with respect to the innovations of grammar.). At the same time, he manages to say quite a few things that would be encouraging to those with an interest in Heidegger.

[22] Blue Book, p. 23.

[23] Ibid., p. 23.

[24] Ibid., p. 10.

[25] Wittgenstein continues his oblique discussions of time in his study of expectation and other themes in the Philosophical Investigation, eg. 444, 445, 461, 472 among many others.

[26] Ibid., p. 106.

[27] Ibid., p. 107.

[28] Ibid., p. 108.

[29] The primary purpose of the second Division of Being and Time was to answer the question of the possible ‘whole’ of Dasein which was not possible in the context of the incompleteness of Care.

[30] Wittgenstein makes a suggestion that may have some bearing on Heidegger’s prioritization of futurity, if only to give another example of use. He writes, p. 109: ‘We could, of course, imagine a realm of the unborn, future events, whence they come into reality and pass into the realm of the past; and, if we think in terms of this metaphor, we may be surprised that the future should appear less existent than the past.

[31] Cf. Being is not a real predicate, in Basic Problems of Phenomenology (1927) and Kant’s Thesis about Being’ (1962).

[32] Heidegger, we could imagine, could have taken from his encounter with Wittgenstein an appreciation for the flexibility of expression, which while he allowed himself this freedom in his lectures, does not show itself in the ‘extreme model’ of the extant torso of Being and Time, a criticism he set forth himself in his lecture course, Metaphysical Foundations of Logic.But, perhaps, both showed a certain antipathy to the current dispensation of existence, the state of affairs.  Wittgenstein writes in his 1930 notebooks that became Culture and Value: ‘This book is written for those who are in sympathy with the spirit in which it is written. This is not, I believe, the spirit of the main current of European and American civilisation. The spirit of this civilisation makes itself manifest in the industry, architecture and music of our time, in its fascism and socialism, and it is alien and uncongenial to the author.’  Too bad they never met in 1930, Wittgenstein may have had a good impact on Heidegger at this crucial time.

1 Comment

  1. duncanrichter said,

    May 15, 2009 at 6:18 pm

    Interesting article! Thanks for reading and discussing my piece.

    I don’t think I have made the purpose of my article as clear as I should have though. My goal in that paper was simply (if that is the word) to investigate what Wittgenstein thought of Heidegger, not what he might have thought if he had understood Heidegger better, and not even what he should have thought given his overall philosophical position (although I do go some way in this direction). So I wouldn’t say that I refuse “to acknowledge the clear evidence of Heidegger work.” What Heidegger thought is simply not what the paper is about. As you suggest in footnote 10, there is no proof that Wittgenstein even read Heidegger’s work. (I wouldn’t say there is no evidence–the fact that he discusses, however briefly or inadequately, ideas that are to be found in Being and Time is surely evidence that he had read it, but, of course, people talk about books they haven’t read all the time. Wittgenstein wasn’t usually that casual, but this might have been an exception.)

    You say also that it is surprising (or perhaps not) that the different streams of interpretation you identify trickle impervious to each other. You refer more than once to blindness in this regard. But it isn’t quite as simple or as bad as that, I think. For example, I did not write about Rorty’s work on the relation between Wittgenstein and Heidegger because I don’t think Rorty’s interpretation of Wittgenstein is very good. And in this paper it is Wittgenstein’s point of view that I am trying to get at. Nor did I ignore the work of Brenner and Hatab. Bill Brenner is a friend of mine. I read his (and Hatab’s) paper and he gave me valuable feedback on mine. I did ignore Gier’s work, it’s true, as I was not aware of its existence when I wrote the paper. I’m sure the same kind of things account for the blindness you allude to. No one can read everything, and no one wants to discuss everything. People focus on the work they find helpful or simply right.

    In footnote 6 you talk about the picture of Wittgenstein as a logical positivist holding us captive. You then say that “This neglect serves as a barrier to an exploration of the relationship” (the relationship between Wittgenstein and Carnap, I take it, or is it between Heidegger and Wittgenstein?), a relationship which has been acknowledged in “the other streams.” And then you say that “Richter is blind to these other debates.” You seem to think that a) I am unaware of the relevant work of Rorty, Mulhall, Cavell, and others on this topic, and b) that this is because I see Wittgenstein as some sort of logical positivist. On a you are partly right–I have not read all the work that has been done on Wittgenstein-and-Heidegger. But I have read more of it than you seem to think. I don’t talk about it in this paper because it isn’t relevant to my concerns, which are not the same as yours. You write, very well, about how Wittgenstein (hypothetically) could have been brought to regard Heidegger’s work. I wrote about how Wittgenstein actually did regard it. Your project is doubtless more philosophically significant, but mine has a certain interest of its own I think. Especially since leading Wittgenstein scholars take such diametrically opposed positions on it. As for b, I do not at all take Wittgenstein to have been, at any time, a logical positivist. Nor am I one myself. Nor do I think that “Heidegger is a peculiarity that will have to be dissolved by innovations in mathematical logic – or, ignored.” I don’t think Wittgenstein thought that either.

    Anyway, I am very glad to see the relation between Wittgenstein and Heidegger being discussed. Much has been written on it, as you say, but there is still plenty more to be said. I hope I’ve made my position a little clearer. Not that it contributes much to the debate, but it won’t contribute anything at all if it gives people the wrong impression of what issue I am addressing and what my position on it is.


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