Language, truth and universality

That Dasein can make an assertion at all – that the southerly winds are cold or that someone seriously ill is dying – is based on the universal truth of the uncoveredness of being (Sein) qua beings (Seiende) that it has access to thanks to its ontological structure as being-in-the-world (In-der-Welt-sein) (Heidegger, 1988, p. 208). Without language, Dasein becomes ontologically impossible. Indeed Heidegger, in his postwar career, famously stated that “language is the house of being” (Heidegger, 1982 , p. 5). Were being to become homeless, Dasein cannot be in the world.

As being-in-the-world, Dasein is not only Mitdasein but also exists alongside other beings. Language, while at Dasein‘s disposal, is at the same time through which Dasein can express its being alongside other beings. Hence, as a whole, language is not the sum total of words but the existential expressivity of Dasein and carries its temporality, and hence its historicity, in the history of being (Heidegger, 1988, p. 208). The concept of historicity is significant in respect of language. Instead of transparency in meaning, Heidegger understands language as problematised by the advent of technology and of das Man, the average, anonymous person in mass society that impoverishes Dasein‘s potentiality-of-being. Viewing this problematic in the context of hermeneutics, it becomes clear that in order to understand what Dasein expresses in language, interpretation qua Mitdasein is required. In Truth and method, Gadamer sees this as an opportunity for “fusion of horizons” (Horizontverschmelzung) in Mitdasein and not a cause for pessimism. Its challenge, however, is taken up by an American philosopher from a non-phenomenological tradition such as Davidson, in what he calls “radical interpretation”, which in fact implies the existence of the hermeneutic Vor-Struktur in communication. This points to the universality of the hermeneutic circle, given that it is not confined to phenomenology and its practitioners’ insights.

In Being and time, the universal question of the meaning of being is asked, with no one final metaphysical answer (i.e., without any dogma), by way of fundamental ontology (Fundamentalontologie) in which Dasein, the being-in-the-world that we ourselves are when we live in ecstatic-temporal ek-sistence and do not degrade ourselves as mere objective presence among other beings, is the central character in the polemos of the question of being. Given that the structure of Dasein‘s understanding follows the movement of the hermeneutic circle, it can be said that fundamental ontology is the appropriate ontology for hermeneutics. Given that hermeneutics qua Dasein cannot do without language, Dasein uses language in a hermeneutic way, and this means in the form of the hermeneutic circle. Because of this, words do not actually refer to objects, but primordially express Dasein‘s comportment to being (Seinsverhältnis). Language and Dasein‘s mode of being are intimately bound up and cannot be understood separately from each other. Primordially speaking, language is translated into Dasein. This is the basic Ereignis of fundamental ontology, where being comes into the realm of the question of being and takes up residence in language as Dasein‘s expressivity.



Heidegger, Martin. (1982) On the way to language. Trans. by Peter D. Hertz. New York, NY: Harper & Row.

Heidegger, Martin. (1988) The basic problems of phenomenology. Trans. by Alfred Hofstadter. (Revised edition) Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.


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