World, Subjectivity, and Meaning:
Husserl, Heidegger and the Transcendental Problem of Signification
Für Ernildo Stein
Mitten im Weg lag ein Stein
Lag ein Stein mitten im Weg
Lag ein Stein
Mitten im Weg lag ein Stein.
(Carlos Drummond de Andrade,
trans. Curt Meyer-Clason, Poesie, Frankfurt am Main, 1965)
“Husserl, Heidegger and the Transcendental Problem of Meaning” would be indeed an appropriate subtitle for a paper to celebrate the 80 years of the publication of Sein und Zeit, around the correlation of “World, Subjectivity and Meaning.” For we may use the word Signifikation, in the Husserlian terminology, to refer to both Bedeutung and Sinn in their distinctive, correlated roles in carrying out a phenomenology of meaning. Much has been said and written about the problematic relationship between Heidegger and Husserl, either to highlight the geniality of the disciple and his incalculable debt toward his master, or to signal the misunderstandings and misreadings from both parties and the incommensurable magnitudes in another plot of philosophical parricide. I should just like to focus here on the single problem of meaning/signification (Bedeutung) within the constellation of signifiers that make up the 20th-century receptions of phenomenology, hermeneutics, and the philosophy of language with a view to clarifying the originality and grandeur of Heidegger’s interpretation of Husserlian phenomenology, particularly the former’s transcendental conception of meaning, through the subtle recasting of the articulation between world and subjectivity, beyond the Husserlian correlations between intentionality, consciousness and intersubjectivity. Furthermore, the remarkable contribution of the Husserlian phenomenology of meaning to a new semantic turn and, indirectly, to the linguistic and hermeneutic turns in phenomenology consolidated by Heidegger’s ontology finds in this misapprehended interlocution some of the very clues that lead us from the worldhood of the world to the mode of Being-in-the-world proper to Dasein.
Before anything, I must recall the difficulty of resorting to the translation of several of Heidegger’s key concepts, such as Dasein (which I’ll leave untranslated), Weltlichkeit (translated here as worldhood, worldliness or worldishness) and Bedeutung (translated as meaning or signification, depending on the context and Heidegger’s criticisms of Husserl’s phenomenology of meaning). I am following Magda King’s superb commentary of Sein und Zeit (originally published in 1964) and the proposed translations offered by Joan Stambaugh’s (which came out in 1997) and John Macquarrie & Edward Robinson’s (1962) translations.[i] Although some of these polemical difficulties seem to be inherent in translating Husserl and Heidegger into any other language, I shall seek to focus on the main issues relating to the convergences and divergences of these two great, original thinkers.
As we know, the treatise was dedicated to Edmund Husserl, on the 8th of
April, 1926, “in veneration and friendship” (in Verehrung und Freundschaft zugeeignet) on the occasion of his sixty-seventh
birthday, celebrated in the Black Forest
“Heidegger’s silence about the stark similarities between his account of temporality and Husserl’s investigation of internal time-consciousness contributes to a misrepresentation of Husserl’s account of intentionality. Contrary to the criticisms Heidegger advances in his lectures, intentionality (and, by implication, the meaning of ‘to be’) in the final analysis is not construed by Husserl as sheer presence (be it the presence of a fact or object, act or event). Yet for all its “dangerous closeness” to what Heidegger understands by temporality, Husserl’s account of internal time-consciousness does differ fundamentally. In Husserl’s account the structure of protentions is accorded neither the finitude nor the primacy that Heidegger claims are central to the original future of ecstatic-horizonal temporality...”[iii]
On the other hand, Donn Welton has convincingly shown that the nearly systematic use of the “ontological” in Heidegger to refer to the transcendental account of Dasein, as opposed to the “ontical” alluding to what Husserl called “regional ontologies,” reveals their disagreements about their understanding of the world. Grosso modo, it has become usual to assert that every apprehension (Heidegger’s Auffassung, Husserl’s Erfassung) and, therefore, every perception (Husserl’s Wahrnehmung) or circumspection (Heidegger’s Umsicht) could be reducible to an interpretation (Auslegung) dependant on language, qua articulation of the hermeneutic “as” (als) irreducible to the apophantic “as,” within a structure of meaning (Bedeutung). Welton questions, however, whether Husserl or Heidegger would ever have agreed to current versions of the so-called “interpretation thesis.”[iv] Now I should like to reexamine in which sense the Transcendental Problem of Signification in Husserl and Heidegger might help us recast the correlation between World, Subjectivity, and Meaning. The Transcendental Problem of Signification may be provisionally stated as follows: how Dasein qua Being-in-the-world (In-der-Welt-sein) proves to be the being whose transcendental, ontological structure consists in its comportment of self-understanding (Sichverstehen), not so much as a capacity, faculty or categorial property but as its very mode of being, in itself and its relating to every other being ready-to-hand (Zuhanden) or present-at-hand (Vorhanden). The Transcendental Problem of Signification remains, after all, a self-positing questioning of subjectivity vis-à-vis ontology and language: the very question of the Being of beings must be recast so as to avoid misleading preconceptions of entities and discursivity that would keep us in sheer oblivion. Following Dorothea Frede, we may thus distinguish at least three levels to be tackled in this problematic, namely:
1. the immanent level of worldishness and of the world according to an understanding of the Husserlian project, as the transcendence of beings and of objects is only given within the flow of consciousness;
2. the properly transcendental level of subjectivity at stake in the Heideggerian programme of retrieving the hermeneutical thrust of self-understanding, to wit, by calling into question the transparency of the transcendental self of Husserl’s phenomenology ;
3. the theoretical level of the Husserlian phenomenology of signification, which despite its later developments towards an ontology of the Lebenswelt and generative phenomenology, failed to radicalize a pre-theoretical conception of praxis in the co-constitution of horizons between subject and world.[v] In order to make sense of the question of Being (Seinsfrage) and deal with its forgetfulness (Vergessenheit), Heidegger thematizes the ontical-ontological difference (ontisch-ontologische Differenz), as Ernildo Stein has shown, throughout the six parts corresponding to the six main theses outlined in SZ, namely[vi]:
1. The question of Being (Seinsfrage) which has today been forgotten is the question about the meaning of Being (die Frage nach dem Sinn von Sein).
2. The fundamental analytic of Dasein unveils its transcendental structure.
3. Dasein is Being-in-the-world (In-der-Welt-sein).
4. Being-in-the-world is correlated to care (Sorge) qua the Being of Dasein.
5. Care is temporal (zeitlich).
6. Temporality (Zeitlichkeit) is ecstatical insofar as Dasein is historical (geschichtlich).
Hence, we may speak of the Fourfold Task or the Four Projects at stake in SZ:
1. Fundamental ontology (Fundamentalontologie)
2. Existential analytic of Dasein (Fundamentalanalyse des Daseins)
3. Hermeneutics of facticity (Hermeneutik der Faktizität)
4. Deconstruction of Ontology (Phänomenologische Destruktion der Geschichte der Ontologie)
In order to better understand the shortcomings of existentialist and dichotomist readings (following Heidegger’s famous preface to Richardson’s book) of SZ, several critics and commentators have suggested that one should also take into account Heidegger’s own struggles with the phenomenological problem of interpretation, including his readings of philosophical traditions and of his own hermeneutic, linguistic, and semantic transformations of transcendental philosophy. My working hypothesis here is that Heidegger is struggling with the post-Kantian, Hegelian problem of overcoming transcendental idealism by resorting to a historically, linguistically mediated phenomenology. Since Heidegger does not accept a dialectical solution, he ends up falling back into a Nietzschean-inspired perspectivism that allows also for a Husserlian-like correlation between world-forming (Weltbildend) and the existential experience of meaning.
1. The Transcendental Problem of the World
According to Husserl,
“The world is the total set of objects of experience and of possible empirical knowledge, of objects on which grounds actual experiences are knowable in a right theoretical thinking.” [“Die Welt ist der Gesamtinbegriff von Gegenständen möglicher Erfahrung und Erfahrungserkenntnis, von Gegenständen, die auf Grund aktueller Erfahrungen in richtigem theoretischen Denken erkennbar sind”. Ideen 1 - Husserliana III/1 11]
Both Husserl and Heidegger suggested that the problem of the world is
better understood in terms of worldishness (Weltlichkeit,
worldhood, wordliness) and of what might be elaborated as a transcendental
phenomenology of meaning. Furthermore, both Husserl and Heidegger turned to
Aristotle’s conception of ontology in order to work out such a phenomenological
theory of meaning. Heidegger has particularly shown that Aristotle’s work
remains one of the best clues to the understanding of Western metaphysics and
to the “destruction” of its onto-theo-logic. For Aristotle’s Metaphysics bears witness to the oblivion of Being at the same time that it compels us to a
phenomenological return to the ordering of the physis, which can categorially grasp the unity-in-diversity of
Being. Although Heidegger remarks that even Aristotle failed to articulate
Being qua universal transcendens in
terms of its ontological determinateness (SZ 3), his usage of analogy and the
Aristotelian conception of legein qua
apophainesthai allows us to retrieve
the question of the worldhood of the world as the phenomenological problem par
excellence. To describe the “world” as a phenomenon, i.e. “to let us see what
shows itself in ‘entities’ within the world,” such is the main task of
phenomenology which Heidegger undertakes to explore in the third chapter of Division
One of his magnum opus (SZ 63ff). “The worldhood of the world” (Die Weltlichkeit
der Welt) designates more than one theme among others in Being
and Time, as it remains Heidegger’s lasting contribution to
phenomenology and the guiding motif of his opera omnia. Although I cannot
elaborate on this problem here, it is my contention that Heidegger’s
contribution problematizes the taken-for-granted ontological conceptions of
both naturalism (empiricism) and transcendental phenomenology, including Husserl’s
decisive contributions. In effect, it was with a view to understanding Being-in-the-World
as the basic state of Dasein (SZ 53-62), that Heidegger set out to problematize
and elucidate anew the concept of the world. As early as
World is not something subsequent that we calculate as a result from the sum of all beings. The world comes not afterward but beforehand, in the strict sense of the word. Beforehand: that which is unveiled and understood already in advance in every existent Dasein before any apprehending of this or that being, beforehand as that which stands forth as always already unveiled to us.
Dasein is always already in the world. Accordingly, “world” must now on be understood in a phenomenological sense, as opposed to the “pre-philosophical” concept of world as “totality of intra-worldly beings.” For Heidegger, the world is “a determination of being-in-the-world, a moment in the structure of the Dasein’s mode of being.” This radical understanding of the world has lent to subjectivist and existentialist misreadings of Heidegger’s project, but neither philosophical anthropology nor humanism is what determines the ultimate orientation of this ontological problematic. Thus, in order to overcome the epistemological present-at-hand (vorhanden) dichotomy opposing a subject vis-à-vis an object, Heidegger shows that Dasein’s everyday attitude towards the ready-to-hand (zuhanden) does not require the emergence of a thematically conscious subject (SZ 67 ff.) Heidegger’s critique of traditional “ontology” is particularly aiming at the idea of a primordial intentionality, which always already presupposes a background environment (Umwelt) that accounts for the most trivial relations of everydayness. The context or background of the world always precedes Dasein’s “consciousness of something.” There remains, however, a fundamental question: How is Dasein’s primacy articulated with the primacy of the world? It is precisely to elucidate the relationship of Dasein to the world that Heidegger calls for a phenomenological understanding of worldhood and its transcendental implications. Before I proceed to explore Heidegger’s critique of Husserl’s conception of transcendental subjectivity qua consciousness, I must briefly allude to the worldly implications of this problematic.
Now, the name of Husserl occurs 25
times in Sein und Zeit, and out of
the 18 allusions to his thought or to some of his works in Heidegger’s treatise
refer to a supposed anthropological conception inherent in the phenomenological
conception of world and consciousness. To be sure, for Heidegger, Husserlian
phenomenology could not be reduced to a mere science of the conscious life or
even to the “objective subjectivity” claimed by Husserl himself (CM § 13)--, since
it was phenomenology that paved the way for an ontology or prote philosophia giving access to objectifying structures beyond
psychologist and logicist versions of rationalism and empiricism. Thus it is
thanks to Husserl’s insights into the horizon-making of the “world” that we are
led to rethink anew the relations of “being” and “time.” In his most celebrated
autobiographical text on his way into phenomenology (Mein Weg in die Phänomenologie, 1963), Heidegger explains that one
of the motives for his phenomenological wonder, when he began reading the Logical Investigations, was precisely
the problem of psychologism, which did not seem to have been adequately dealt
with by Husserl’s philosophy: after all, how could one carry on a phenomenological
description of conscious acts without falling back into some sort of psychologism?[vii]
Just as the reading of seminal works by Brentano and Braig, when Heidegger was
still at the Gymnasium, were his “rod
and staff” –echoing the words of the Psalmist in the Lutherbibel [dein Stecken und
1. lifeworld is what can be meaningfully given in intuition
2. the ground of sense
3. the realm of relative subjetive truths
4. the lifeworld is an essential structure, as a perceptual world (Eidos)
The concepts of Welt and Lebenswelt are at first formulated according to an ontological conception, belonging rather to a static phenomenology (non-genetic, non-generative) and should be therefore distinguished from the transcendental concepts of Lebenswelt as horizon and as foundation. As Anthony Steinbock’s brilliant study has shown, one might thus speak of six distinct concepts of Lebenswelt in Husserl.[ix] The four preliminary conceptions of lifeworld in the Krisis would be thus irreducible to a single concept and could not allow for a coherent, unambiguous theory of the lifeworld in Husserl. According to Husserl, an ontology of the lifeworld is carried out without any transcendental interest in the natural attitude prior to the epoche. That might help us make sense of Husserl’s contempt for Heidegger’s conception of Dasein qua Being-in-the-world. Grosso modo, for Husserl, an ontology of the lifeworld must be diferentiated from a transcendental analysis of the lifeworld –for instance, in sections 37 and 51 of the Krisis—even though one may as well recall that Heidegger’s analytic was never reducible to a philosophical anthropology. The Husserlian task consisted in attaining to a theory of the essence of the lifeworld so as to elucidate the transcendental concepts of the Lebenswelt, in its modalities of “territory” qua horizon of the world (Welthorizont) and foundation of the Earth (Erdeboden). If within a Cartesian perspective, the lifeworld is essencially approached as world, as totality, or as a pure intentional phenomenon, perhaps this is made evident by the treatment it receives as object or “physical body” (Körper). After all, the world qua synthetic totality is, for Husserl, correlated to the universality of synthetically connected undertakings. Phenomenology must deal with entities in their totality, as world, so that from the world one could proceed to the object, to the world itself qua object, insofar as the world has a strutucre –from a phenomenological standpoint—of an object. (Ideen I, p. 10, 390; § 49, 114). For Heidegger, on the contrary, that meant an aporetic constraint on Husserlian investigations, as every ontical concept of the world must always already presuppose an ontological conception of worldishness which can only be accessed through Dasein qua Being-in-the-world. Dasein is precisely what makes worlding and world-forming possible, since it is always in the world that Dasein is, exists and lives factually. The Husserlian conception of abandoning an ontology of the lifeworld, so as to leave the ontical world of the natural attitude towards a transcendental analysis of the lifeworld as horizon and foundation, remains foreign to the Heideggerian formulation of a fundamental ontology. Hence the Husserlian conception of the world could be thus sumarized according to its programme of phenomenological research:
1. The world is presupposed as having the same structure of an object.
2. From a phenomenological standpoint, that means that the world becomes a correlate to intentional life (as in a Cartesian analysis of the world).
3. The world becomes an all-embracing unity, a telos and arche, a single constitutive force.
4. Precisely as “futural” world, it marks the development of the unitary sense of all objects, communities and cultures.
5. In the last analysis, there is no longer the possibility of finding a radically other world, that is, a Heimwelt implies every possible Fremdwelt, insofar as they are co-constituted in opposed modalities (normal and anormal) of sense constitution.
In effect, Heidegger
seems to articulate his Hermeneutic of Facticity in response to Husserl’s Lebenswelt. In its very thrownness, the
factical self is given the possibility of an authentic self-understanding,
unveiling thus the ecstatic nature of existence, “left to the null ground [an den nichtigen Grund] of itself [Überlassenheit]” (SZ 348). The worldhood of the
world is indeed what accounts for the lighting of the phainomena, the manifestness of “the totality of what lies in the
light of day or can be brought to light” (SZ 28). The phenomenological
retrieval of the kosmos implies also a recovery of the physis. That is why
Heidegger problematizes, from the outset, any “natural conception of the world”
Of course only as long as Dasein is (that is, only as long as an understanding of Being is ontically possible), 'is there' Being. When Dasein does not exist, 'independence' 'is' not either, nor 'is' the 'in-itself'. In such a case this sort of thing can be neither understood nor not understood. In such a case even entities within-the-world can neither be discovered not lie hidden. In such a case it cannot be said that entities are, not can it be said that they are not. But now, as long as there is an understanding of Being and therefore an understanding of presence-at-hand, it can indeed be said that in this case entities will still continue to be. (SZ 255)
2. The Transcendental Problem of Subjectivity
Heidegger followed much of Husserl’s critical analysis of the fate of ontology in the history of modern philosophy. However, he could not agree with Husserl’s positive assessment of the transcendental philosophy of subjectivity or the fundamental role assigned to a theory of representations in the overcoming of the ontological paradigm of premodern metaphysics. In several notes of SZ, Heidegger critiques the substantialist conception of the self and subjectivity which persisted in Kantian transcendental psychology. To be sure, Heidegger saw in the shift from the Investigations to the first book of Ideas the hermeneutic key to understanding how Husserl anticipated several of the problems involved in the contemporaneous debate on rationality, through the attempt at a possibility of a science without presuppositions. It is particularly interesting that Husserl anticipated an endless debate on semantic and pragmatic, by introducing the notion of a semantic category (Bedeutungskategorie), as opposed to a genetic approach, differentiated from the static approach of the first writings, as one proceeds from the abstraction of the world, out of a natural attitude (Einstellung) toward a phenomenological-theoretical attitude –for instance, when dealing with the phenomena space and time. According to Heidegger, Husserl missed the practical thrust inherent in the very posing of the problem of intentionality and, subsequently, of intersubjectivity, as would be later on galvanized in the generative problem of the historicity and of the co-constitution of the consciousness and of the world, especially in the Krisis writings. Furthermore, Heidegger cannot accept Husserl’s use of the epoche as a Cartesian procedure to recover a transcendental account of the method to be carried out in phenomenology. The notion of intentionality, inherited from Brentano, in the constitution of mental or psychic acts, that is, the fact that each consciousness is, always already, consciousness of something, was largely discussed in the 5th Investigation and is now dismissed together with the Cartesian dichotomy of subject-object. Hence the difference between an “intuitive act” (that reaches its object) and a “signifying act” (which simply envisages such an object)-- a fundamental difference for the conception of “fulfilling” (Erfüllung) in the (re)constitution of meaning qua signification--, had been phenomenologically articulated by Husserl just to be dismissed by Heidegger’s account of the formal indication (formale Anzeige). Heidegger maintains the Husserlian assumption that the indicating meaning is pointless, insofar as it does not direct one to a fulfillment of what it says. But Heidegger emphasizes that the formal indication turns out to be a methodological resource to account for the pretheoretical function of meaning in Dasein’s search of authentic self-understanding. Formal indication means, in the last analysis, that Dasein’s incompleteness and indefiniteness attest to its future-oriented possibilities and worlding temporality, so that interpretation never comes to full closure. In this sense, the hermeneutical circle serves to indicate an endless working out of the phenomenological reduction –but Heidegger certainly did not accept the Husserlian terminology, given its compromise with the paradigm of subjectivity. To be sure, since consciousness is always intentionality, a difference between “pure thought” and “contact with reality” does not reside in the object, but in its mode of givenness, in its mode of being experienced. Knowledge thus emerges as the confirmation by intuition of what had been meant and envisaged in signifying intention, not filled, insofar as the “emptiness” of signifying acts is finally fulfilled by the “fullness” of intuitive acts. (cf. Sixth Investigation)
3. The Transcendental Problem of Signification
From the Logical Investigations up to the Origin of Geometry appended to the Crisis writings, the entire phenomenology is, in effect, oriented towards the problem of meaning. After developing the idea of a pure logic with a view to furnishing a “science of science,” Husserl proceeds to examine the nature of “meaning” and its problematics in the second volume of his Logical Investigations. The title of the volume is very revealing (Untersuchungen zur Phänomenologie und Theorie der Erkenntnis) of Husserl’s phenomenology of meaning, which is largely developed in the first four investigations. The phenomenological orientation of his studies is carefully expounded in the Introduction:
We are not here concerned with grammatical discussions, empirically conceived and related to some historically given language: we are concerned with discussions of a most general sort which cover the wider sphere of an objective theory of knowledge [objektiven Theorie der Erkenntnis] and, closely linked with this last, the pure phenomenology of the experiences of thinking and knowing [einer reinen Phänomenologie der Denk- und Erkenntniserlebnisse]. This phenomenology, like the more inclusive pure phenomenology of experiences in general [reine Phänomenologie der Erlebnisse überhaupt], has, as its exclusive concern, experiences intuitively seizable and analysable in the pure generality of their essence, not experiences empirically perceived and treated as real facts ...This phenomenology must bring to pure expression [zu reinem Ausdruck], must describe in terms of their essential concepts [deskriptiv in Wesensbegriffen] and their governing formulae of essence, the essences which directly make themselves known in intuition, and the connections which have their roots purely in such essences. Each such statement [Aussage] of essence is an a priori statement in the highest sense of the word. (LI II, 249/6)[x]
It is thus made clear that, in order to understand the essential constitution of our objects, we must proceed in “purely intuitive fashion” to investigate, according to the laws of a pure logic, how these objects have been given in grammatical form, that is, in linguistic expressions:
The objects [Objekte] which pure logic seeks to examine are, in the first instance, therefore given to it in grammatical clothing. Or, more precisely, they come before us embedded in concrete mental states which further function either as the meaning-intention or meaning-fulfilment of certain verbal expressions --in the latter case intuitively illustrating, or intuitively providing evidence for, our meaning --and forming a phenomenological unity with such expressions. (LI II, 250/8)
What Husserl is concerned about is not the psychological judgement (“the concrete mental phenomenon”) but the logical judgement, “the identical asserted meaning, which is one over against manifold, descriptively quite different, judgement-experiences” (LI II, 251). Thus Husserl goes on to develop a veritable analysis of signification, by studying the logical core of language in the First Investigation, “Expression and Meaning” [Ausdruck und Bedeutung]. It is interesting to notice that Husserl starts this investigation by pointing out the ambiguity (Doppelsinn) in the term “sign” (Zeichen): “Every sign is a sign for something, but not every sign has ‘meaning,’ a ‘sense’ that the sign expresses [Jedes Zeichen ist Zeichen für etwas, aber nicht jedes hat eine “Bedeutung,” einen “Sinn,” der mit dem Zeichen “ausgedrückt” ist]” (LI II, 269/30). Although all signs signify, in that every signified has been pointed to by a signifier, not all signifiers have a meaning, insofar as not all signs are “expressions” (in Husserlian terminology). Of course, to speak of the signifié/signifiant oppositional couple is an anachronistic abuse on our part, for Ferdinand de Saussure’s famous Cours de linguistique générale was not published before 1916. Moreover, strictly speaking in Saussurean terms, that would be quite problematic. One must only bear in mind that Husserl’s conception of language falls within what has been called a “traditional” view of language, which Heidegger completely subverted, together with its implicit conception of truth as correspondence. According to this view, language is a mere vehicle for expressing and transmitting a thought, which represents some independent reality. This traditional view, which dates back to Aristotle, maintains that a rational correspondence between the essence of a thing and its thought, and the word referring to both, is what makes knowledge and language possible. The order of “determination” is thus obtained as we move from reality to thought and language, while the order of “reference” is to be dealt with in the opposite direction, as words refer to concepts and things. The traditional, metaphysical notion of “truth” is therefore logically implied by this view: truth is the correspondence of ideas with reality, adequatio intellectus ad rem. The rational coherence of reality, thought, and language has become, in philosophical tradition, the task of metaphysics, epistemology, and logic, respectively. Following the revival of Kantian philosophy at the end of the nineteenth century, insoluble epistemological problems led some German philosophers of mathematics to turn to logic as a new kind of philosophia prima. And Frege was among those logicians whose contributions played a decisive role in the development of Husserl’s theory of meaning. According to Frege, the meaning (Bedeutung) of a sentence or name is its reference, while the sense (Sinn) designates how the object referred to is actually thought of. This important distinction between “meaning” and “sense” was established in a seminal article by Frege, “Über Sinn und Bedeutung,” first published in 1892. Because subtle differences between Frege’s and Husserl’s terminologies may lend to some misunderstandings, one must make clear the following correspondence: what Frege calls “Sinn” is named “Bedeutung” by Husserl, while Frege’s “Bedeutung” corresponds to Husserl’s “Gegenstand.” One of Frege’s own examples can help us to illustrate this distinction: although the two expressions “the morning star” and “the evening star” have the same meaning (Bedeutung) for they refer to the same object, the planet Venus, they do not have the same sense (Sinn), in that they refer to Venus in different ways. For Husserl, however, no distinction is to be made between “Sinn” and “Bedeutung,” as we read in the Logical Investigations,
“Meaning” [Bedeutung] is further used by us as synonymous with “sense” [Sinn]. It is agreeable to have parallel, interchangeable terms in the case of this concept, particularly since the sense [Sinn] of the term “meaning” [Bedeutung] is itself to be investigated. A further consideration is our ingrained tendency to use the two words as synonymous, a circumstance which makes it seem rather a dubious step if their meanings are differentiated, and if (as G. Frege has proposed) we use one for meaning in our sense, and the other for objects expressed [für die ausgedrückten Gegenstande]. To this we may add that both terms are exposed to the same equivocations [Äquivokationen], which we distinguished above in connection with the term “expression” [bei der Rede vom Ausgedrücktsein], and to many more besides, and that this is so in both scientific and in ordinary speech. (LI II, 292/58)
Even though it was Frege’s antipsychologism which inspired much of
Husserl’s phenomenological conception of a pure logic, we can see that Husserl’s
theory of meaning differs from Frege’s precisely because of the former’s
understanding of psychological concepts such as consciousness and
intentionality. The entire problematic of constituting the object of thinking,
and therefore what one refers to when speaking of something, is now to be
examined in our study. Before we go on to consider what Husserl means by “Bedeutung”
or “Sinn,” we shall first try to expound Husserl’s conception of the “Gegenstand,”
that is, the object of reference of an expression. We have seen that Husserl
starts the First Investigation with a remark on the ambiguous sense of the term
“Zeichen”: on the one hand, a sign has the general characteristic of “expression”
(Ausdruck); on the other hand, a sign
may stand for nothing, without expressing anything, being simply taken for an “indication”
(Anzeichen), such as marks and notes. And Husserl proceeds to assert that “(t)o mean [Das Bedeuten] is not a particular way of being a
sign in the sense of indicating something.”(LI II, 269) An indicative sign
is thus deprived of “Bedeutung,” it is bedeutungslos, in that it does
not fulfill a “significant function” (eine Bedeutungsfunktion). It
follows that expressions (Ausdrücke) are to be distinguished from indicative
signs (anzeigenden Zeichen) in that they are meaningful (bedeutsamen)
(LI II 275/37). Furthermore, an expression not only has a meaning but it refers
to certain objects (Gegenstände), that is, every expression is about
something (über Etwas) (LI II 287/52). And this is not always a relation
of naming, for not all expressions name their object(s). It is precisely at
this level of reference of propositions that Husserl’s theory of meaning marks
itself off from Frege’s. Whereas Frege associates the meaning (Sinn) of
a proposition with the thought (Gedanke) expressed and its reference (Bedeutung)
is the truth-value (Wahrheitswert), Husserl’s proposition means a Gedanke
but refers to a Sachverhalt, “state of affairs” (LI II 288/53). Husserl
illustrates this by pointing out that two sentences saying different things
such as “a is bigger than b” and “b is smaller than a” express, in fact, the
same state of affairs, in that “the same ‘matter’ [Sache] is
predicatively apprehended and asserted in two different ways.” The
phenomenological approach which characterizes Husserl’s analysis of meaning
cannot thus be content with a simple understanding of symbolic and linguistic
functions, but it seeks to go back to the “things themselves,” to employ the
evidence of fully developed intuitions, truly symbolized by the words, and to
reconstitute all meaning by determining their “irrevocable identification.” For
the main purpose of Husserl’s “phenomenology of knowledge” remains the
reconstitution of the essential connection between meaning-intention (Bedeutungsintention)
and meaning-fulfillment (Bedeutungserfüllung), i.e. how the “subjective”
and the “objective” are meaningfully articulated in the essence-structure of “pure”
experiences. I am deliberately using the verb “re-constitute” to emphasize the
implicit move of “recovery” in Husserl’s theory of meaning, especially when he
uses the verbs auffassen (“construe,” “apprehend”) and auslegen (“lay
out,” “explicate”) in an interpretive, illustrative sense which we hope to explore
throughout this paper. The constitution of meaning, from its founding intention
to its fulfilled signification, is itself reconstituted by Husserl’s
methodological Einführung into phenomenology proper, of which the Logical
Investigations constitutes the ideal propaedeutics. That is why Husserl
concludes the First Investigation with the logical thesis of “the ideally
unified meaning” (§§ 29-35). Because logic has been established as “the science
of theoretical unity,” the nature of all given theoretical unity is “unity of
meaning” and that is what makes knowledge possible. Husserl makes clear,
however, that he is not advocating the metaphysical existence of “universal
objects” in a divine mind or in some topos ouranios, but he is radically
seeking to overcome both idealism and realism by displacing the center of the
epistemological debate, away from its actual reference toward the very
correlation of meaning between the “knowing” subject and the object to be “known.”
Objectivity (Gegenständlichkeit) is determined by the logical laws of
meaning, “which consider meanings in respect of their having or not having
objects.” As an object, “the parallelogram of forces” results from the
apprehension of an “ideal meaning,” while “the city of
If we seek a foothold in pure description, the concrete phenomenon of the sense-informed expression breaks up, on the one hand, into the physical phenomenon forming the physical side of the expression, and, on the other hand, into the acts [Akte] which give it meaning [Bedeutung] and possibly also intuitive fulness [anschauliche Fülle], in which its relation to an expressed object is constituted [eine ausgedrückte Gegenständlichkeit konstituiert]. In virtue of such acts, the expression is more than a merely sounded word. It means something [Er meint etwas], and in so far as it means something, it relates to what is objective [Gegenständliches]. This objective somewhat can either be actually present [gegenwärtig] through accompanying intuitions, or may at least appear in representation [vergegenwärtigt], e.g. in a mental image [im Phantasiebilde], and where this happens the relation to an object is realized. (LI II, 280/44)
Brentano’s notion of intentionality in the constitution of mental acts, i.e. the fact that all consciousness is consciousness of something, is critically discussed in the Fifth Investigation (“On Intentional Experiences and their ‘Contents’”). It is only then that the difference between an “intuitive act” (which reaches its object) and a “signifying act” (which simply aims at it), an essential difference which underlies his entire conception of “fullness” (Fülle) in the (re)constitution of meaning, is phenomenologically articulated. Because consciousness is always intentionality, the difference between “pure thought” and “contact with reality” does not lie in the object, but in its mode of givenness, in its mode of being experienced. Knowledge appears then as the confirmation by intuition of what was meant in the unfulfilled, signifying intention, in that the “emptiness” of signifying acts is finally fulfilled by the “fullness” of intuitive acts. Such is indeed the pervasive theme of the Sixth Investigation, “Elements of a Phenomenological Elucidation of Knowledge.” Even though I cannot deal here with Husserl’s meticulous theory of intuition, I have simply tried to indicate its correlative significance for his theory of meaning. In fact, Husserl’s phenomenology must always be taken as a whole, as a complex whose correlated parts inform and support each other. Precisely because phenomenology originally meant to get rid of “presuppositions,” some of the main groundmotifs of the Logical Investigations cannot be fully understood until we take into account their developments in Husserl’s Ideas. As the title of his Second Investigation indicates (Die ideale Einheit der Spezies und die neueren Abstraktionstheorien), Husserl’s key notion of “ideality” is to be now extensively expounded. I have suggested above that the ideality of meaning is bound up with the fact that pure logic deals exclusively with “the ideal unities that we here call ‘meanings’” (LI II, 322). Such is the basis for knowledge, in general, and for scientific expressions in particular, in that objectivity and “objective meaning” are made possible. The essence (Wesen) of meaning cannot thus reside in a subjective experience, but must be found in its “content,” in its “Idea”: in Husserl’s own illustrative words, “we mean, not this aspect of red in the house, but Red as such” (LI II, 340). This act of meaning as an identical, intentional unity is an act “founded” (ein fundiertes) on underlying apprehensions (Auffassungen) of the object, i.e. on certain aspects of this object “meant” by the knowing subject: “a new mode of apprehension has been built on the intuition [Anschauung] of the individual house or of its red aspect, a mode of apprehension [Auffassungsweise] constitutive of the intuitive presence of the Idea of Red [die für die intuitive Gegebenheit der Idee Rot konstitutiv ist]” (LI II, 340/114). We cannot thus have “meaning” without the givenness of the object itself; moreover, this givenness is correlative to intuitive acts, which possess its object, whether by “perception” (Gegenwärtigung, “presentation”) or by memory and imagination (Vergegenwärtigung, “re-presentation”) (§§ 25-30). Since perception is, for Husserl, a “primary intuition,” insofar as it gives us being in persona, it is in this correlative opposition between “intuition” and “re-presentation,” but especially in (re)presentation itself that we must find one of the conceptual clues to the ambiguous sense he assigns to the word “meaning” (Sinn/Bedeutung). Following Brentano’s theory of intentionality, Husserl affirms the interdependence of intentional acts and representations, in that “an intentional experience only gains objective reference by incorporating an experienced act of presentation in itself, through which the object is presented to it [Ein intentionales Erlebnis gewinnt überhaupt seine Beziehung auf ein Gegenständliches nur dadurch, da in ihm ein Akterlebnis des Vorstellens präsent ist, welches ihm den Gegenstand vorstellig macht]” (LI II, 598/443). We must recall that Husserl’s systematic criticism of the theories of abstraction that were proposed by Locke, Berkeley, Hume, and Mill, in the Second Investigation, reaches a climax in his attack on the traditional conception of representation as “a device for economizing thought” or as mere “substitution” (§§ 24-31). As over against idealism and empiricism, Husserl criticizes the language of cause-and-effect which characterizes those theories of thinking, and proposes the psychological explanation which takes into account the intentional nature of consciousness. Furthermore, Husserl maintains that we intend or mean a “generality,” in a part-whole correlation of meaning which ultimately discloses a unity of fulfilment. He finally denounces the nominalist tendency to confuse generality with the representative function of an image or name. For Husserl, meaning is thus bound with intentionality and its fulfilment as expression: expressions as such are constituted by their meaning. As he says in the First Investigation,
The new concept of meaning therefore originates in a confusion of meaning with fulfilling intuition. On this conception, an expression has meaning if and only if its intention --we should say its “meaning-intention” --is in fact fulfilled, even if only in a partial, distant and improper manner. The understanding of the expression must be given life through certain “ideas of meaning” (it is commonly said), i.e. by certain illustrative images. (LI II, 295)
An essential distinction is thus upheld between intuition and meaning: as Levinas puts it, “(m)eanings aim at their objects; intuition, and in particular perception, reaches them.”[xi] It follows that “representation,” as opposed to the “direct presentation” of perception, implies different modes of apprehension in the objectifying act. Of course, the use of three different words in German (Vorstellung, Repräsentation, and Vergegenwärtigung) might serve to indicate the psychological nuance of their semantic trope, in connection with the theory of intuition. However, Husserl’s theory of meaning turns out to emphasize an equivocal, albeit significant continuity between these words, so that it remains within a theory of representation (Vorstellung), itself compromised with a certain metaphysics of presence. Husserl’s transcendental phenomenology moves away from the ontological ground of Kant’s critique towards the constitutive problem of subjective life, and yet he fails to account for the very “foundation laying” (Grundlegung) which allows for the articulation of the limiting function with the self-determination of the in-itself as freedom in the practical use of reason. For Heidegger, this zero-point or null-ground is the groundless soil of Dasein’s freedom, so that Husserl’s shift from the “world of things” towards the “life-world,” and the transitions from his static phenomenology towards genetic and generative phenomenologies in the later writings, just reveals the unfinished, aporetic task of a transcendental phenomenology of meaning. The essence (Wesen) of phenomenology, its peculiar characteristic as foundational, pure science, consists in its radical opposition to what Husserl calls “the natural attitude.” As opposed to our naive belief in the world, which we often take for granted in our natural, dogmatic attitude, Husserl challenges us to suspend, to bracket, such an ensemble of doxai we call “world,” in order to become conscious of this very “world” we have constituted as unity of meaning and of our being-in-the-world which conditions this constituting. Phenomenology as we find in Husserl’s Ideas I may be fairly described as an invitation to see what has been given to us in the constitution of the world and the meaning of this givenness (Gegebenheit). “Seeing” must be understood in its most phenomenological sense, the “bringing into light” and “making to appear” (phainesthai) of the phenomena, which Heidegger so neatly explores in § 7 of Sein und Zeit (“Die phänomenologische Methode der Untersuchung”). Heidegger’s “ontological investigation” essentially differs from Husserl’s “logical investigation” precisely because the “transcendental” claims of the latter were linked to subjectivity qua consciousness and intentionality. Heidegger’s hermeneutic turn seems to subvert such a tacit longing for the parousia of the Other. In effect, Husserl’s philosophy gradually moves away from an ideal, transcendental logic towards the intersubjectivity of a transcendental, linguistic community. The Cartesian cogito is no longer reified in the dichotomist opposition of res cogitans to the res extensa, but it gives way instead to the stream of consciousness (Bewusstseinsstrom) uniting each distinct cogitatio to a distinct cogitatum (Ideas §§ 28, 34-37). The transcendental spiral of Husserl’s epistemology, predelineated in his ideal of a Wissenschaftslehre in the Logical Investigations, is now more sharply drawn against the contrasting backgrounds provided by both naturalism and idealism. Heidegger realized that the rich promises of the Investigations were not fulfilled as Husserl sought to deliver a scientifically acceptable account of a presuppositionless science. For Heidegger, phenomenology had to explore its vocation as a radical questioning of the meaning of its first principles, beginning with the question of the meaning of Being. Hence, Dasein was to fulfill the significant role of horizonal opening of worlhood and temporality. Thus Heidegger sought in Sein und Zeit to pave the way for a radical rupture with the ontical forgetfulness of the ontological difference, by proposing a new approach to language, by the existential analytic of Dasein as the sole viable method of correlation between worldhood and meaning. The Kehre and subsequent attempts to approach the theory-praxis problem without resort to traditional conceptions of ethics and language just attest to this monumental task of thinking anew the essence of techne. Insofar as it is regarded as ultimate horizon and the meaning of Dasein as Being in the world, time was then shown to open up the possibility of a new way of dwelling on Earth: poetically, by avoiding the domination of nature, the reification of presence-at-hand and the technological instrumentalization of techne as an end in itself. Poetically, that is, by letting language emerge anew as the House of Being itself. Perhaps only then could one think anew in nontechnical, nontranscendental terms the question of the meaning of Being. Unlike a stone in the middle of the road, worldless, Dasein’s existential thrownness is what allows for worlds to come into being as it is now only up to Dasein to poetically dwell and freely think the essence of praxis.
Martin. Being and Time. Trans. J.
and Transcendental Phenomenology and the Confrontation with Heidegger,
[iii] Daniel O. Dahlstrom, “Heidegger’s Critique
of Husserl”, in Theodore Kisiel & John van Buren (eds.),
Welton, The Other Husserl: The Horizons
of Transcendental Phenomenology.
[v] D. Frede, “The Question of Being: Heidegger’s Project,” in the Cambridge Companion to Heidegger, 42-69.
[vi] E.J. Stein, Seis Estudos sobre Ser e Tempo. Rio de Janeiro: Vozes, 1988.
[vii] In Portuguese, see E.J. Stein’s translation, Pensadores, p. 298. “Mein Weg in die Phänomenologie”, in Zur Sache des Denkens, Tübingen: Max Niemeyer, 1969, pp. 81-90.
[viii] Cf. Magda King, A Guide to Heidegger’s Being and Time. Edited by John Llewlyn. Albany, NY: SUNY Press, 2001.
Anthony. Home and Beyond.
Investigations. 2 vols. Trans. J.N. Findlay.