An investigation of the nature and role of historicality in the thought of Dilthey and Heidegger
Twohig, Andrew K.
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Introduction The question of the meaning, methods and philosophical manifestations of history is currently rife with contention. The problem that I will address in an exposition of the thought of Wilhelm Dilthey and Martin Heidegger, centers around the intersubjectivity of an historical world. Specifically, there are two interconnected issues. First, since all knowledge occurs to a person from within his or her historical age how can any person in any age make truth claims? In order to answer this concern we must understand the essence and role of history. Yet how can we come to an individual understanding ofwhat history is when the meanings that we use are themselves historically enveloped? But can we, we who are well aware of the knowledge that archaeology has dredged up from old texts or even from 'living' monuments of past ages, really neglect to notice these artifacts that exist within and enrich our world? Charges of wilful blindness would arise if any attempt were made to suggest that certain things of our world did not come down to us from the past. Thus it appears more important 2 to determine what this 'past' is and therefore how history operates than to simply derail the possibility for historical understanding. Wilhelm Dilthey, the great German historicist from the 19th century, did not question the existence of historical artifacts as from the past, but in treating knowledge as one such artifact placed the onus on knowledge to show itself as true, or meaningful, in light ofthe fact that other historical periods relied on different facts and generated different truths or meanings. The problem for him was not just determining what the role of history is, but moreover to discover how knowledge could make any claim as true knowledge. As he stated, there is a problem of "historical anarchy"!' Martin Heidegger picked up these two strands of Dilthey's thought and wanted to answer the problem of truth and meaning in order to solve the problem of historicism. This problem underscored, perhaps for the first time, that societal presuppositions about the past and present oftheir era are not immutable. Penetrating to the core of the raison d'etre of the age was an historical reflection about the past which was now conceived as separated both temporally and attitudinally from the present. But further than this, Heidegger's focus on asking the question of the meaning of Being meant that history must be ontologically explicated not merely ontically treated. Heidegger hopes to remove barriers to a genuine ontology by II 1 3 including history into an assessment ofprevious philosophical systems. He does this in order that the question of Being be more fully explicated, which necessarily for him includes the question of the Being of history. One approach to the question ofwhat history is, given the information that we get from historical knowledge, is whether such knowledge can be formalized into a science. Additionally, we can approach the question of what the essence and role of history is by revealing its underlying characteristics, that is, by focussing on historicality. Thus we will begin with an expository look at Dilthey's conception of history and historicality. We will then explore these issues first in Heidegger's Being and Time, then in the third chapter his middle and later works. Finally, we shall examine how Heidegger's conception may reflect a development in the conception of historicality over Dilthey's historicism, and what such a conception means for a contemporary historical understanding. The problem of existing in a common world which is perceived only individually has been philosophically addressed in many forms. Escaping a pure subjectivist interpretation of 'reality' has occupied Western thinkers not only in order to discover metaphysical truths, but also to provide a foundation for politics and ethics. Many thinkers accept a solipsistic view as inevitable and reject attempts at justifying truth in an intersubjective world. The problem ofhistoricality raises similar problems. We 4 -. - - - - exist in a common historical age, presumably, yet are only aware ofthe historicity of the age through our own individual thoughts. Thus the question arises, do we actually exist within a common history or do we merely individually interpret this as communal? What is the reality of history, individual or communal? Dilthey answers this question by asserting a 'reality' to the historical age thus overcoming solipsism by encasing individual human experience within the historical horizon of the age. This however does nothing to address the epistemological concern over the discoverablity of truth. Heidegger, on the other hand, rejects a metaphysical construel of history and seeks to ground history first within the ontology ofDasein, and second, within the so called "sending" of Being. Thus there can be no solipsism for Heidegger because Dasein's Being is necessarily "cohistorical", Being-with-Others, and furthermore, this historical-Being-in-the-worldwith- Others is the horizon of Being over which truth can appear. Heidegger's solution to the problem of solipsism appears to satisfy that the world is not just a subjective idealist creation and also that one need not appeal to any universal measures of truth or presumed eternal verities. Thus in elucidating Heidegger's notion of history I will also confront the issues ofDasein's Being-alongside-things as well as the Being of Dasein as Being-in-the-world so that Dasein's historicality is explicated vis-a-vis the "sending of Being" (die Schicken des S eins).