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Posted - 31 Mar 2007 :  23:35:44  


very good

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Posted - 05 Apr 2007 :  00:30:26  


Heidegger's discussion of truth as aletheia rather than as veritas I think is highly significant. I am currently reading William Spanos's End of Education in which this contrast is discusses further. While I am not a trained philosopher I am attracted to try and respond to Don's remarks in relation to the impact aletheia might have for logic. To do so I will refer to John Dewey's book "Logic: The Theory of Inquiry". Dewey, like Heidegger, was also an anti-essentialist and therefore considered truth not to have an essence. Rather than as a noun or adjective, truth should be considered as an adverb (truly). Therefore our way-of-being can be considered to be 'in' truth as Heidegger mentioned. With this background Dewey went on to assert that "truth-falsity is not a property of propositions" because the subject-matters of propositions function as means, and means can be neither true or false. He went on to argue that "validity-invalidity is thus to be distinguished not only from truth-falsity but from formal correctness." Formal propositions could be 'correct' but 'invalid' if they worked against inquiry (which of course was Dewey's main barrow which he pushed regarding education).
You ask if Heideggarian's need logic. I would say they certainly do but that they also incorporate it within a broader scope of what they regard 'thinking' (and indeed existence) to be. Heidegger lamented that thinking was all too often reduced to calculative thinking in the West and had lost its meditative aspects. Under the essentialist sway to find out 'what the thing 'is'' we miss out engaging with the uniqueness of particular phenomena 'that are'. Dewey also argued against a purely rational approach to thinking claiming that while intellectual thoroughness is extremely important it also needs to be acknowledged that personal purposes, ends-in-view and emotional uncertainties were at the basis of much of our philosophical thinking.
What I think aletheia offers, and I would appreciate your thoughts on this, is that it requires a personal presence in order to be involved in the uncovering of phenomena which are 'hidden'. This is in contrast to the rather positivistic reliance upon verifyability which employes a form of rationality divorced from concerns (purposes and ends-in-view) of the subjects actually participating in the inquiry. Through aletheia we have a greater role for personal responsibility and meaningfulness/significance which is not apparant in veritas which I think tends to abstract persons out of existence (hence rise of existentialism in reponse to this).
These are my tentative thoughts on this subject and I would really appreciate hearing more of your ideas on this.

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Don Paarlberg

50 Posts

Posted - 06 Apr 2007 :  06:55:37  


You offer up, Scott, lots of advance advertising as to how your new product is better, but you never take it out of the box and let us see it. You seem to suppose that somebody else, somewhere, has already done this, and that the result must have been stupendously successful; but in fact no one has ever shown how this new thing works.

We’ve got meditation, inquiry, personal purposes, ends-in-view, uncertainties, presence, personal responsibility and meaningfulness. I might add poetry, art, religious feeling, and emotions. All worthy stuff, which I do my best to deal with, the same as you. But when you argue your case and tell us how much better your new product is, you rely exclusively on the apophantic, non-aletheic propositions that you say Heidegger and Dewey condemn as inferior. If you really have something new, why don’t you trot it out – especially now, at the crucial juncture? If there’s a logic of inquiry, why not use it? If truth is aletheia, why don’t you uncover instead of asserting?

Understood correctly (and distinguished from the straw man caricatures your secondary sources knock down), traditional views of truth and logic seem well worth maintaining. Consider Euclid’s classic proof that there is no greatest prime (Elements, Book IX, Proposition 20). We assume there is a greatest prime, infer contradiction, and therefore infer the negation of our original assumption, Q.E.D. The argument works because negation in logic enables us to draw valid inferences from false assumptions and identify assumptions’ contradictories. And of course we draw similar inferences in a very wide range of non-mathematical arguments (including posts to this board). Two points now. First, it is not clear whether you and/or Dewey reject Euclid’s proof. If so, what do you propose in its place? Or perhaps you haven’t decided about Euclid and don’t know if you have a proposal. (Again, it remains hard to guess what you’ve got in your box, particularly since you yourself never use it.) Second, regardless what Dewey might say, Heidegger’s aletheic truths do not have unique negations. So Euclid’s proof wouldn’t work; and so too Heidegger must regard as invalid the very wide range of other sorts of inferences and assertions that we customarily rely on. This apparently would reduce us to gibbering idiots, unable to assert anything, infer anything, or even communicate. If that’s the price we pay for “personal responsibility and meaningfulness”, it seems rather high.

For my own part, I think we can take personal responsibility on the old, traditional approach that you – perhaps misled by your sources – urge us to abandon. (Among other things, Plato’s portrait of Socrates seems to involve plenty of responsibility and meaningfulness.)

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5 Posts

Posted - 07 Apr 2007 :  00:51:08  


Dear Don
Thank you for being so kind to respond to my thoughts and to share some of your challenging ideas towards our understanding of Heidegger's promotion of aletheia.
Sorry if I appeared to portray that I failed to take something out of my box and to offer promises and praise for something that I nevertheless was choosing to hide. I will endeavour to be more clear. I thought my introductory statement that "I" was present in this engagement and that the reference to "significant" might have been regarded to be demonstrative of participating in aletheia. Truth for Heidegger is more of an event word that a proof. I think that I was uncovering that, in addition to my own personal participation in this conversation that there was also an end-in-view present, that is, significance. But I grant as nothing more was offered to this that my position therefore appeared more of an 'assertion' as you say rather than an uncovering.
So what of my reference to 'significance' and why am I using it instead of 'relevance'? While many principles might be relevant for particular contexts, if they remain abstract from the perspective of the existing individual, they may not be significant to how one understands the meaning and purpose of one's life and how to life it well. I am using 'significance' here to try and explore both the existential perspective of Heidegger and the pragmatic perspective of Dewey with regards to their attraction to the pre-Socratic (i.e. pre-Plato) understanding of truth (aletheia) before it changed into something more akin to veritas (which privileged the abstract over the practical and therefore mirrored Greek culture).
What I would like to do here is offer some of my current understandings of Heidegger’s use of aletheia and then address the two points you raise specifically regarding Euclid’s proof.
In making his case that truth as aletheia should be understood as an event rather than as the proof of ‘objective’ facts, Heidegger referenced the meaningfulness of humankind’s essence and claimed therefore that it is “something ultimate and primary”. Aletheia references beings, the totality of nature and the work of God. It therefore “encompasses man and besets him in a fundamental way, only then is it necessary and possible for man to set about wresting being from hiddenness and bringing them into unhiddeness, thus also placing himself within the unhiddenness of beings”. Such an understanding of truth means that one can be “in” truth in this regard when coming to understand a phenomenon, not for what the thing is but how things are understood in relation to oneself.
Heidegger argued therefore that “the essence of truth… is in man himself” which he also described as a questioning and he explained that it was both liberating and empowering for persons. Elsewhere Heidegger likened this questioning as thinking and as a way. He argued that “thinking itself is a way”. Here he explained that one could only be in the way while one has a problem to grapple with, while one’s thought is being provoked. Such thinking in truth involves the thinker grappling with uncovering the relations that one already has a presence and is in relation with. One leaves the way of thinking once one’s thought is no longer being provoked. He argued that “The answer disposes of the question. By the answer, we rid ourselves of the question”. The notion of truth as aletheia means that persons can be in truth as an event, by a way-of-being characterized by a thinking and questioning disposition.
With this brief background of my current understanding may I now consider your two points which you raise in your later section. The first deals with Euclid's classic proof regarding no greatest prime. The point of issue is, is it to be regarded as a "proof" in the sense of an absolute first principle or not? With regards to Euclidean geometry specifically, Dewey argued that it could not be considered as consisting of 'self-evident' truths. This was because it had already been demonstrated in its inadequacy in tackling various 'practical' problems which have emerged especially in physics. Any of Euclid's principles or 'proofs' which remain as being useful – even regarding the greatest prime – should therefore, according to Dewey, be understood as postulates. They are given sense as a result of our exploration of nature rather than as the conclusion to our inquiries before we even begin them. His main concern, which I think I mentioned in my first entry, is that claims to truth, such as 'proofs' should not inhibit further freedom of inquiry. The unquestioning acceptance of self-evident truths discourages a disposition to inquire freely into whether they maintain their claims in all possible situations. This is not to say that such principles should be ignored or the 'facts' which are considered to support them. This is important with regards to understanding physical phenomena and for moral phenomena, especially with regards to how we should live our lives. In short, Euclid's 'proof' is not rejected as a demonstration of a possibility in abstract knowledge (i.e. it has a relevance). It might be considered however as having little significance if it has no bearing on enhancing the worthwhileness of living our lives. It would I suspect, be rejected if it is to be regarded as a principle which is asserted as a self-evident truth in such a manner that it prevents free inquiry as to the basis of its legitimacy. It is not the actual claim of the principle that would be rejected but rather its oppressiveness to inquiry as something that is somehow ‘beyond’ question and critique, because truth/aletheia as an activity (i.e. inquiry or event) would not be possible. However Euclid's 'proof' is not rejected if by means of investigating several phenomena it is developed as a useful postulation which encourages further intelligent inquiring.
To use what is in my box I would need to consider 'why' I should engage with this ‘proof’ of Euclid's in the first place? What is the reason/purpose of pursing such a study? Would such a study make the living of my life more worthwhile? When working as a high-school teacher these were frequent questions asked of me by some pretty unengaged teenagers. While Euclid's proof might have some relevance in an abstract sense, if it didn't offer any significance for the lives of these teenagers personally then there was no way they were going to engage themselves in its study. There would be no event (aletheia).
Regarding the second point you raise regarding Heidegger's use of aletheia (irrespective of references to Dewey), is he unable to assert anything that does not reduce us to gibbering idiots? With due respect I think that this might be a rather hyperbolic remark. As I mentioned before, I do not have an official philosophical background and am currently grappling with this material myself. Indeed with further exploration and 'uncovering' I may reach a point like yourself which fails to appreciate much value in Heidegger's position. But in order to do so I feel that we should not, as Paul Feyerabend argues, just throw away hypotheses that 'don't readily fit' but rather see if we can't understand them better to be able to adjust ourselves to see if we can't learn how to appreciate how they might fit.
Consequently what might be in my box that could demonstrate a possible value of pursing aletheia? I suggest one aspect might be Heidegger's 'question of the meaning of being'. I take this to be the disposition we might experience at existential moments when we are confronted with the question - 'what is the meaning and purpose of my life?' Such a question can be used to distinguish between things that might be significant from things that might only be relevant - with the former being understood as engaging with such an ultimate concern as the meaning of life (hence the terms that you listed such as end-in-view, purpose, etc.). If this is what might come out of my box to be used then I do not 'abandon' the traditional values, principles and customs (and I do believe that Dewey especially has been misunderstood in this regard). Instead the issue is 'if' these traditions/customs have so much value then it needs to be made clear exactly 'why' they are to be considered as valuable. That is, its the reasons/justifications/warrants which are to be more valuable rather than just the assertions by themselves. Aletheia as an event is involved this aspect of active inquiry.
To answer the 'so what?' to such an approach of aletheia then, if we adopted it in our systems of schooling we would have a populace of persons who might understand 'why' the better is better and 'why' the worse is worse, and being able to integrate these whys with an overall world-view of their significance of how and why we are to live together. The alternative to which you refer I may have been misled to believe via these secondary sources, are against the sort of life that would emerge from a school system where veritas is emphasized, that is, one in which learning is reduced to memorization and application only, where the attributes of compliance and obedience are esteemed in curricula which claim to teach the 'unquestionable truths' in physical nature, morality and citizenship. This second approach is more akin to indoctrination (i.e. the teaching of doctrine which are demonstrated as proved) rather than education (i.e. the enablement to participate in free critical and intellectual inquiry) which UNESCO describes as democratic dialogue. This they consider as essential if world peace is to be pursued seriously. The notion of democratic dialogue is similar to how both Heidegger and Dewey understood the early Greek notion of logos - hence Heidegger's engagement with logos and aletheia together.
I fear I may have gone on too long for the nature of such postings, but again I would be most appreciative of your thoughts.
Kind regards

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Don Paarlberg

50 Posts

Posted - 08 Apr 2007 :  10:09:56  


That was very good, Scott. You saw through my crabbed exposition, understood my points and dealt with them more ably than I had expected. You must be an outstanding teacher. But I don’t think you’re right. Below, four questions, with answers I suggest you consider.

1. You portray yourself in previous posts as uncovering rather than asserting. How so? In that, if I understand you, your views are not abstract from your perspective as an existing individual, and so are significant as to how you understand the meaning and purpose of your life, and how to live it well.

I think you’re dead wrong. And my views – though differing from yours – are, just like yours, not abstract from my perspective as an existing individual, and are significant as to how I understand the meaning and purpose of my life. In addition, I think that my views are even more significant to me than are your views to you.

What does this indicate regarding the supposedly aletheic truth of our respective views? Are we both right? Is ‘significance to the believer’ the main criterion of truth, so that I would be more right than you are if my beliefs are more significant to me? But might I after all be less right than you if I’m mistaken as to the fervency of my beliefs? And etc., and etc.

Don’s suggested answer: We must distinguish truth from significance. Distinguishing them is not to deny fervency and significance. If fervent belief determines truth, though, no means is available for anyone ever to decide in any consistent and final way what the truth is. This in turn invites a nihilism where your beliefs condemning indoctrination in education are no better than Hitler’s fervent beliefs to the contrary.

2. 700 years ago, men believed the earth was the center of the universe and the sun revolved around the earth once a day. This belief played an extremely meaningful role in peoples’ lives, undergirding their sense of moral purpose. Was this geocentric belief aletheically true 700 years ago and false today; or was it always aletheically false (irrespectively as to peoples’ fervent belief in it); or is our view today aletheically false because we regard the sun’s location as a cold objective fact, lacking any significance for our lives?

Don’s suggested answer: Same as above. We must preserve a basis to hope we somehow can, at least in principle, find means to decide what the truth is. If truth is objective, we can use telescopes, etc. We court impossible puzzles if we must also (or primarily) take into account “the meaning and purpose of my life”.

3. Dewey, you suspect, might reject Euclid’s proof if it came to be regarded as an assertion of a self-evident truth that might serve to deny the legitimacy of inquiry.

(a) Is inquiry always legitimate? How so? Because it is never, ever possible to decide what is true? That’s rational nihilism, where a reasonable man’s views are no better than a fanatic’s – where those who would prevent inquiry are “just as right” as you are.

Don’s suggested answer: Inquiry is great, but endless inquiry is nihilism. Take care to preserve possibilities in principle at least that we can make progress in inquiry, that some opinions are better than others, and that there’s a sense in which inquiry should cease if we come to find the truth.

(b) By the way, you misconstrued my Euclid example, dragging in the issue of self-evidence. I meant to describe the logical processes whereby we can discover what’s what. My account of Euclid’s proof showed how we might make progress in our inquiries. (So my question from the original post still remains: if you agree that logic can aid us in our inquiries, you still need to come up with some account as to what logic is and how, on your view, logical reasoning is possible.)

(c) By the way, you might depart from Heidegger’s view at this point. For Heidegger’s view seems to involve that uncovered truth must be in some sense obviously more uncovered than it used to be. If per your view we must always be able to inquire, it’s hard to see how Heidegger could ever regard himself as having made any real progress in his uncovering efforts.

4. Euclid’s proof, you suggest, is abstract; and studying it may not make the living of your life more worthwhile. You cite, here your experiences as a teacher of trying to deal with “pretty unengaged teenagers”.

How does it help to make life more worthwhile if we commit ourselves to a view implying that it is impossible ever to decide what is true?

Don’s suggested answer: You got flustered with the benighted teenagers and have gone too far. Again, we must hold out hope that it is possible to make progress in inquiry, and that some views are better than others. We must maintain that truth is objective and can be discovered in rational inquiry. You destroy the hope if – in overenthusiasm for some writers’ colorful rhetoric about existence and meaningful lives – you get yourself hustled into accepting Heidegger’s dictum that is aletheia.

P.S. Though we needn’t debate it further, I was not at all hyperbolic in concluding Heidegger’s view would reduce us to gibbering idiots: If we can’t assert anything and can’t infer anything, verbal communication would indeed be impossible. In this connection, I’ve always suspected that Heidegger overstates his view and does not actually condemn apophantic truth to the extent his writings suggest. (That would help explain, among other things, why Heidegger in his writings relies so heavily on apophantic assertions.)


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