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Sunday, August 17, 2008

Edwards on Heidegger and Wittgenstein

Just got back from backpacking.A couple interesting quotes from this book review of The Authority of Language: Heidegger, Wittgenstein, and the Threat of Philosophical Nihilism - James C. Edwards.

Edwards connects representational thinking with nihilism in terms of a reading of Heidegger's interpretation of Nietzsche's discussion of nihilism, which Edwards "most emphatically" judges to be a poor reading of Nietzsche (18).

Edwards mentions but does not discuss Heidegger's actual involvement with Hitler's political program, but he does discuss the political direction of Heidegger's path beyond representational thinking. That direction is away from the rational criticism so characteristic of Socratic inquiry and enlightenment politics. Though he concedes Heidegger would quickly reject any identification of LANGUAGE with a particular deity or leader, Edwards is convinced that the position of LANGUAGE in the later thought of Heidegger is pervaded by what he calls a "totalitarian architecture" (226).

Wittgenstein's turn away from representational thinking is also a turn from the attempt to understand or represent linguistic practice as a calculus. Since rules need to be interpreted and rules don't interpret themselves, there must be more to language than a calculus of rules. But interpretation itself won't be the answer, because interpretations-no less than the voices of angels or the whispers of LANGUAGE-are in precisely the position that rules are in. They stand in need of interpretation. According to Wittgenstein, linguistic practice rests on the "brute fact that most of us are able to master certain physical routines of appropriate imitation and continuation" (156). In the end, language leans neither on far-sighted calculation, nor on pious listening, but on "utter contingency" (239).

Edwards emphasizes that Wittgenstein does not replace the authority of rational principles with the authority of a mysterious, primordial LANGUAGE. But he cautions that this does not mean anything goes. Languages lean on the authority of nature, our natural reactions. These natural facts are not unified in any person or principle; they are dispersed and various. They include our having upright posture and our being likely to notice this and to laugh at that: the whole of the biological dimension-there are others-of what Wittgenstein calls forms of life.

The central difference between Heidegger's and Wittgenstein's turn away from the principles-rules-of the enlightenment is that Wittgenstein proposes "a grammatical dispersal of authority, not its centralization" and mystification (227). Edwards calls him a "polytheistic thinker;" thus implicitly contrasting Heidegger's monotheism (227). In this way Wittgenstein's path away from the enlightenment does not, like Heidegger's, lead in a totalitarian direction.
"Polytheistic" is a great term to play with but maybe "pluralistic" would be sufficient there. Bearn goes on to suggest Wittgenstein's take may not be totalitarian but that it may not stand up well to charges that it is oligarchic.

Related: Heidegger, Wittgenstein, and Zen, Wittgenstein and the inescapable

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