Heidegger and Kuhn
April 11, 2006

Over at Stop that Crow Jeffrey has been doing some writeups on Kuhn. (Here, here, and here) I thought it would be fun to briefly take Heidegger in connection to Kuhn. Kuhn's interesting since there is always that problem of how to adjudicate scientific statements if any judgement itself depends upon other statements. Thus Kuhn's notion of a paradigm evolves. Now it's important to note that even Kuhn agrees with a lot of the criticisms of "paradigm." At a minimum it is hopelessly equivocal. Anyone who reads The Structure of Scientific Revolutions really needs also to read the later The Essential Tension. There Kuhn responds to several criticisms and makes (in my mind) numerous mea culpas. The ultimate issue as I see it is how to avoid a kind of free wheeling relativism.

Now I don't think that Kuhn ends up being a relativist, simply because not any old paradigm will do. The fact some fuzzy headed theorists in literature departments have sometimes made this claim simply demonstrates their ignorance of how science functions. That is they've overlooked the key historical aspect of Kuhn's analysis. But I recognize that outside of these folks there are some who do think Kuhn's thought leads to relativism. I don't think it does. But I don't have time for quite that argument.

Instead, as I said, I want to get at Heidegger's approach. More importantly how Heidegger avoids some of the problems people see (rightly or wrongly) in Kuhn's presentation.

Now one should, at the beginning, note that Kuhn comes from the neo-Kantian tradition. While Heidegger embraces Kant in many important ways, he reads him radically different from how the neo-Kantians do. There are many ways this divide can be examined. I think one helpful way is to think in terms of the problem of Externalism versus Cartesian Internalism. (Ignoring the metaphysical issues of mind for the moment) Kant and especially the neo-Kantians can be seen as looking at Descartes problematizing of philosophy. That is given that we have a mind and have to know via correspondence what is "out there" how do we justify our knowledge? This whole approach of separating mind from world lead in many ways to the problem of Cartesian skepticism. Kant's approach, simplified, is to say that knowledge is possible and ask about what structures enable knowledge. That is Kant is really taking a the Cartesian structure of an absolute inside and outside and radicalizing it.

What Heidegger does, partially in reaction against Husserl's kind of Cartesianism, is to deny this divide. (It's more complex than that - but that'll do for now) Thus we neglect the whole problem of mind or consciousness and assume that our knowledge is of the things themselves. This is more radical than say the naive direct realism of Thomas Reid. Rather we have access directly to the things themselves independent of the problem of representation. What Heidegger does is then give this Externalism (so called because knowledge isn't just in terms of what is in the mind) a Kantian twist. But because we have Kant transformed by Externalism the question then becomes the structures enabling knowledge in a totality of the manifestations of things. It no longer about the structures tied to the epistemological problem of how to correspond between the inner and the exterior. While we can still talk about a kind of correspondence, it is now a secondary rather than primary phenomena.

Now Kuhn's problem of paradigms is basically this neo-Kantian question of how, given only the interior, we can know about the exterior. As with many neo-Kantians of his generation the issue of how the social enables knowledge becomes pertinent. By then, of course, many of the innate structures Kant had postulated clearly weren't absolute. Geometry had become transformed from Cartesian geometry into the complexities of Riemann geometry in Relativity. Further there were many possible geometries. One was probably right to doubt the absolute nature of many of the other categories if some of the bedrock categories were seen as more social. So Kuhn's approach is basically the old Kantian issue with the categories now being more unstable yet still enabling knowledge of things to be possible.

One can doubt this whole approach. But I think the doubt ends up being the sort of doubt that Descartes faced centuries earlier. That is the doubt that social categories can provide a transcendent form of knowledge is really the doubt that we can know the outside at all. Admittedly when the categories aren't absolute there is perhaps more prima facie reason to doubt. But I think it ends up being the same sort of logic.

Contrast this with the Externalist approach where Cartesian doubt of the external world makes no sense at all. One can doubt the approach Heidegger takes towards Descartes in Being and Time but one can't formulate Cartesian skeptism within that framework.

What Heidegger does is adopt the notion of the a priori in Kant and apply it to scientific reasoning. Heidegger will often call this mathematics - but it is important to realize that he means by it something much broader than we typically think of as mathematics. It would include a lot of what we'd call the philosophical commitments entailed by holding a class of statements as true, to adopt more Davidsonian language.

Heidegger argues that the traditional argument of the essence of science as experiments is flawed. Experimentalism can't distinguish modern science from Aristotilean or medieval science. Rather what characterizes modern science is the mathematical. He finds the rise of mathematics (meaning a kind of projective metaphysics) in Descartes. Experiment is always an appeal to facts. Yet as Kant's Critique demonstrates the experimental method is itself a projection of a priori conceptions onto nature. Thus in the 1930's, Heidegger's view of science is as a kind of methodological idealism. Yet an idealism essentially tied to Externalism rather than Internalism.

There are some interesting implications of this approach. For one, a single experiment can suffice to falsify a position (a projective ontology). That is there can be crucial experiments whereas, as I see it, it is hard in many philosophies of science to explain why sometimes a single experiment can cause a revolution.

Yet for Heidegger such things arise because in the theoretical attitude (following B&T terminology now - the key section is §69) we can have a shift in the understanding of Being. That is we make the transition from the essential to the individual. In the experimental process (even, one suspects, thought experiments as with Einstein) this individualization takes place. It is that fundamental eruption of reality within our theoretical system.

I've gone on too long. I just want to briefly explain why this is the crucial difference between Heidegger and Kuhn. For Kuhn one can't ultimately explain how to get at reality itself in this individual way. One is always lost in the social. ("The They" to use Heidegger's notion of inauthenticity) Because knowledge is in terms of the transcendental conditions which are social the question becomes what about the transcendental conditions of the real? But given Internalism can one make such a claim?

For Heidegger there are transcendental conditions, but these are the conditions in which Being lets the beings (the things) manifest themselves as the kind of beings they are. Inauthenticity is to fundamentally lose that "original" encounter with the beings. One gets trapped in social norms. This is Kuhn's place. Yet in the authentic turning towards Being we can have this move from the essential to the individual. To use the later terminology of Heidegger, we talk about the Event or Happening of Being.

Clearly this individual moment of the encounter with things will transform our ontology. Thus the mathematical projection with which we understand beings is transformed and we understand beings in a new way. But they are the same beings. Thus Heidegger avoids the problem of the incommensurability of theories in Kuhn. Since the focus isn't on the representation as in Internalism but on the beings within an Externalism the problem can't occur. The focus isn't ontology as providing a correspondence but ontology as letting us experience the beings.

To give an example, both Newton and Einstein provide projective ontologies. How we experience the beings in analysis are different. Yet they are the same being. Further experiment (both empirical and mathematical inquiry) will allow us to open ourselves up to these beings, to experience them further. And this will take place as a transition from essence to individual. So Heidegger would likely be quite open towards say Superstring theory and those attempting to investigate it. This would be a manifestation of taking up the question in an authentic way. Although by extension one could also push string theory in a dogmatic way such that it becomes deaf to the question of Being. One is caught up in the They. It all depends upon the approach one takes.


1: Posted By: Capt. Obsidian | April 11, 2006 05:24 PM

Clark, I really enjoy your blog. Unfortunately, it has been so long since my college philosophy class that many of the details zoom right over my head. It doesn't help matters that every time I see Heidegger's name I can only think of Eric Idle singing "Heidegger, Heidegger was a boozy beggar who could think you under the table." And don't even get me started on the lines about Kant and Descartes...

Keep it up.

2: Posted By: Clark | April 11, 2006 05:30 PM

Well, the short summary of all the above is:

Kuhn is fundamentally doing epistemology that takes into consideration our historic situatedness. Thus the focus is on the "transcendental conditions of knowledge" which is just a two dollar word meaning the structures that enable knowing to take place. For Kuhn these structures are significantly social and historical. All this is done with an absolute separation between mind and world - at least methodologiclaly. (Internalism)

Heidegger is fundamentally doing (at this time) phenomenology. He's looking for the "transcendental conditions of experiencing phenomena" which means the structures that enable us to encounter the things themselves. For Heidegger these structures are also significantly social and historical. Essentially though the inquirer is part of the world. (Externalism)

The difference is that because Heidegger is doing phenomenology and not epistemology, some of the flaws Kuhn has don't take place for Heidegger.

3: Posted By: Clark | April 12, 2006 12:58 PM

BTW - those interested in Heidegger's philosophy of science really ought pick up Glazebrook's Heidegger's Philosophy of Science. I really is quite good, although a lot of it can be picked up by reading section 69 of Being and Time. But Glazebrook orients it in the Kantian tradition by appeal to several less known Heidegger texts. (Texts available only in problematic and often out of print English translations, such as What is a Thing?)

4: Posted By: Capt. Obsidian | April 13, 2006 11:15 AM

By the way, I was in a book store last night and saw a book on Nietzsche written by Heidegger. My brain exploded. :)

(There's nothin' Nietzsche couldn't teach ya 'bout the raisin' of the wrist...)

Unfortunately, my philosophy class didn't cover philosophers from the late 19th or 20th centuries (it was an intro class), but I still find it interesting, when I can understand it.

5: Posted By: Clark | April 13, 2006 12:14 PM

I'd not suggest starting with Heidegger's Nietzsche books. (They are actually compiled from some various classes on Nietzsche that he taught - most Heidegger books are actually lecture notes and notes by students on the lectures that have been compiled) I really love them, but they are definitely a creative reading of Nietzsche. In particular Heidegger pays quite a bit of attention to a collection of notes by Nietzsche that were compiled by his sister as The Will to Power. But the accuracy of these is often contested. Further many people question whether it is wise to focus on notes never intended for publication over the books Nietzsche did write. Especially when they give two Nietzsches.

However if one is less interested in what Nietzsche actually thought and more with philosophical inquiry then Heidegger's reading is very interesting.

6: Posted By: Clark | April 16, 2006 06:53 PM

Enowning has a nice write up on Heidegger and science by Iain Thomson that is quite pertinent to the above.

7: Posted By: Mark Butler | June 28, 2006 10:41 PM

Two questions:

1) In Kuhn, how can there ever be an *absolute* separation between mind and the world - doesn't at least sensation have to cross the boundary? And isn't sensation at its fundamental level indistinguishable from phenomenology?

2) In Heidigger, say you are investigating a phenomena on a distant planet, and you have a space probe that gathers information and then transmits it back to you, you read it, and interpret it. Where does the uncovering of Being take place - by the space probe, when the optical signals containing a alphabetic representation of the probes measurements reach ones visual cortext, or when one interprets what the measurements mean? Or are they all effectively equivalent?

To me phenomenology is about the presentation of sensation / emotion to the mind, and then an interpretive framework is built on top of that. Being quite familiar with what happens when your brain gets out of whack I am a little skeptical that the mind can directly sense or connect with things less fundamental than the senses, including the internal senses of course, considering emotions to be an internal sense. I don't think it is very advanced yet but neuro-physiology and psycho-pharmacology have plenty of potential for demonstrating the detailed how and why of various sorts of sensory, emotional, and rational disfunction - problems the mind (dangerously so) is often completely unware of.

The whole problem with insanity is that the mind does not realize it has "lost touch" with reality, quite the opposite - the world as imagined or distorted seems more real than ever - the senses may all seem to work just fine, perhaps with some unusual religious or spiritual impressions (a scary topic if there ever was one), ones rationality may seem to be top notch, and yet perception diverges from the reality perceived by everyone else to an incredible degree.

So I think I am a Cartesian internalist as regards sensation, but a externalist as regards semantics. But I do not understand how a pure externalist or a pure internalist position makes any sense, literally.

8: Posted By: Clark | June 29, 2006 01:09 PM

The issue of an absolute "separation" between mind and world is a traditional problem in Kantian philosophy. Kuhn was a neo-Kantian and so while I can't recall him addressing the issue it certainly is there in the approach he takes. I should add that the neo-Kantians in general avoided most metaphysics and focused in on epistemology. So for them Kant was primarily taken to be addressing epistemology not metaphysics. As such the avoidance of such issues isn't surprising. I even believe that some neo-Kantians took a nearly neo-Platonic metaphysics at the end of the 19th century.

One can take this as implying that one need not have a theory on what the mind is in order to speak about the structures of knowledge and the possibility of knowledge. Whether there is or isn't an essential separation of mind and world is thus irrelevant. I'm not sure that position holds, but certainly one can discuss narrow issues. I suspect some might say the burden of proof is on those who argue that such a possible separation is relevant. But that would then, perhaps, take us into the Cassirer / Heidegger debates. And perhaps even Carnap's criticisms of Heidegger.

As to "where the uncovering of Being takes place" that is a somewhat tricky question. One must first unpack what one is seeking by the question "where." My sense is that you are seeking a kind of technological answer to the question. That is a spatial location for the mechanism. But Heidegger, as I understand him, is a holist. Thus the question isn't really sensical. Unless one adopts a different sense of "where." In which case the answer is Dasein. Or more accurately the Da of Dasein.

9: Posted By: Mark Butler | June 29, 2006 02:55 PM

The problem isn't "where" so much, the problem is accounting for misperception - i.e. what Being is authentic and what Being is imaginary and the shades of grey inbetween. For example, does the ether exhibit Being, or not, or somewhere in between?

10: Posted By: Clark | June 29, 2006 03:23 PM

Note that for Heidegger even fictions are an expression of Being. That is to be imagined is still to be. The question you are asking is more about what Heidegger calls the Ontic. That is about beings. The question Heidegger is asking is, as I tried to illustrate above, similar to the one Kant asked. That is how do we get from things to phenomena. Kant was primarily focused just on knowledge whereas phenomenology expands this to include all phenomena regardless of whether it is knowledge or not. i.e. my perception that a moving shadow is a dog is still a phenomena whether or not it is knowledge.

This is an important point and a place where many get confused. The reason for this distinction goes back to Husserl who wanted to just analyze phenomena as it was given to us and look at its constitution. Husserl's project clearly is influenced by Descartes. (Thus the title The Cartesian Meditations)

Now while Heidegger doesn't focus in on "thing talk" as much, I think many find Being and Time interesting precisely wherein he does talk about the Ontic. Heidegger's ultimate aim is Being and not things but certainly he says a lot that is interesting about things.

Heidegger is, however, perhaps unclear in his thing talk. Thus you have many philosophers who read Heidegger primarily as an idealist in the German tradition going back at least to Kant. Then you have some who see him more as a realist, albeit with important differences from the metaphysical realists. So this isn't at all straightforward. I tend to favor the realist readings myself and even see a strong pragmatic streak in him. (Thus all my references at times to Peirce and Dewey)

As to the question of authenticity. That is really different from the question of the relation of a phenomena to a thing. Something can be either authentic or inauthentic and be either a fiction or what one might call a "representation" of a real thing. (Correspondence as a derived sense) So the two are really orthagonal.

One should also be careful (and Heideggarians are forever saying this) about reading morality into authenticity or inauthenticity. Both are simply modes of being and we are always switching between them. At the same time Heidegger did adopt a lot of terminology that was ethical while discussing them. Still I think one ought be careful not to read in say Sartre's senses of the terms or how they were used in post-war French existentialism. The best way is to simply think of them in terms of a theoretical stance and a stance which acknowledges the "more" that escapes our theories. Theoretical stances aren't bad and certainly Heidegger had a positive view towards science which is very tied to theory and thus technology. But there is something essentially lost by over technologizing our thinking.

11: Posted By: Clark | June 29, 2006 03:32 PM

BTW - I've discussed Heidegger as an ontic realist in connection with the excellent book Heidegger's Analytic. It's well worth reading. BYU's Mark Wrathall has done a fair bit on this topic as well. He has some subtle differences from Carman's view of Heidegger as an ontic realist. Mainly over the nature of "average talk."

Getting back to the issue of misperception thought. Heidegger's conception of Being ends up including three aspects. This is best brought out in his book One the Essence of Truth. I think it a key aspect of understanding him.

Basically (and I'm grossly over-simplifying to the point of being misleading here) you have the things as unveiled to you. That is as they are "present" to us. Then you have what is hidden. That is as they are veiled to you. What is absent. Every unveiling is simultaneously a veiling. Then there is a third aspect which is roughly what one could call error or lie. That is what is presented but what is not of the thing. This pops up in an obvious way in illusions. But Heidegger argues that it is an essential aspect of how Being gives us phenomena.

Now I find the best way to talk about this to be in terms of semiotics. That is in terms of how signs function. And that's the route Derrida takes in his early works. Basically one oft quoted definition for a sign is anything that can be used to lie. This essential possibility of error in the sign is a key aspect to phenomena and is probably what you are getting at.

If I have time I might make a post on this from a more Peircean perspective as I find it a little easier to understand in terms of semiotics.

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