Rigour and openness in philosophical hermeneutics

The hermeneutics of Being and time is evidenced by Heidegger’s subjugation of statement or proposition (Aussage or Satz) to interpretation (Auslegung). While the statement is the traditional site of truth in philosophy, the spirit of phenomenology will take us from statement to things themselves. Heidegger reminds us of Aristotle’s insight that for truth to be what it is, it must give us access to know beings as beings: “episteme, he theorei to on he on“, where philosophy is defined as “episteme tis tes aletheias” (Heidegger, 1996, p. 213). Phenomenologically appropriated, Aristotle’s understanding of a philosopher’s activity as “apophainesthia peri tes aletheias” is described by Heidegger as “demonstrating something and letting it be seen with regard to the ‘truth’ and in scope of the ‘truth'” (Heidegger, 1996, p. 213). The significant connections formed by Heidegger among to on he on, apophainesthai and aletheia enable him to bring the traditional problem of truth into the hermeneutic-phenomenological scope of fundamental ontology (Heidegger, 1996, p. 213). Hence Dasein‘s essence as an interpreting and understanding being and its potentiality-of-being as such come into play. The aforementioned triad in the phenomenon of truth has no validity or objectivity outside Dasein. To continue this argument further, it can be said that an ontological investigation into truth cannot be complete without interpreting and understanding Dasein‘s lived experience (Erlebnis) in its “thrownness” (Geworfenheit) as Mitdasein in its universal mode of being-in-the-world.

Apophainesthai, which brings being into light, cannot be conceived without sight. Seeing or sight, on both actual (physical) and metaphorical levels, is intimately bound up with the hermeneutics of Being and time. Sight, according to Heidegger, is an integral part of the fore-structure (Vor-Struktur) that constitutes the hermeneutic circle; in its pre-ontological form, it is called fore-sight (Vor-sicht). Vor-sicht, as the hyphenated form of the ordinary term Vorsicht (cautiousness) in order to emphasise implied circumspection (Umsicht) in the latter (in the sense of taking care), is used by Heidegger as an interpretive tool to demonstrate that in its being-in-the-world, Dasein is first and foremost circumspect about the environing of its being, which is filled with other beings both animate and inanimate. This existential circumspection saves Dasein from the metaphysical problem of either solipsism or scepticism; it can be said that hermeneutics is neither, and this implies the dawning of the third path in Western philosophy through Heidegger’s hermeneutic appropriation (Ereignis) in his contemporaneous overcoming of Husserlian transcendentalism, which isolates “consciousness” from Dasein‘s thrownness in the world, in the phenomenological movement of Germany.

Fore-sight, in hermeneutic terms, means the following: seeing “something as something” before it is thematised in a statement about it (Heidegger, 1996, p. 149). In other words, seeing (the as-structure) comes before asserting or describing via speech or writing. Invoking apophainesthai again, what Heidegger calls Lichtung – the clearing of being in light – is primordial to the hermeneutic circle. To be “cleared” (gelichtet), explains Heidegger, does not refer to the ontic properties of light, but to the opening up of Dasein in the temporal mode of care (Sorge) (Heidegger, 1996, p. 351). Only in care can Dasein be properly understood as a transcendent being, i.e., as a being that is neither merely “objectively” present (Vorhandenheit) nor merely for use (Zuhandenheit), but as being there for its possibilities in the unity of the three temporal ecstases (Ekstasen) that defines the horizonality of its projective understanding. Dasein‘s transcendence is in the da, not beyond it: the essence of Lichtung in apophainesthai.

It is the da in care that makes Dasein‘s seeing possible, and that includes its pre-ontological fore-sight in the fore-structure of its understanding of being; and not the ontic brightness of light. This is why the blind can “see” through the other senses and interpret their being-in-the-world. It can therefore be said that the ontological difference in fundamental ontology forms the basis of the hermeneutic circle. Without this awareness of primordial differentiation, interpretation cannot arise from understanding: it degenerates into “idle talk” (Gerede), which basically cannot find a home in temporal ecstasis and gets blown about like dust in the wind. Conversation is hermeneutic if and only if hermeneutics is authentically and resolutely understood and carried out as interpretive fundamental ontology.


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