A Persian Cafe, Edward Lord Weeks

Tuesday, 1 March 2016

The Non-Problems of Philosophy

A lot of the supposed questions of philosophy appear because we have weird ways of speaking. In other languages these problems disappear entirely. As an example, there is a long-standing debate in the philosophy of language over "what words mean", which exists entirely because the English language confuses the notions of the speaker's intention (what Germans call Meinung) and the thing that words are ordinarily understood to mean by the listener or reader (correspondingly the Bedeutung).

This all looks very silly from the outside. For example, here is a short excerpt from Heidegger's What is Metaphysics?:
In anxiety, we say, "one feels ill at ease." What is "it" that makes "one" feel ill at ease?
Heidegger uses this as part of a long spiel about how humans are greatly affected by a curious entity called "nothing". To those of us who are accustomed to thinking in English, however, his question makes no sense.

The issue is that Germans do not literally say "I am ill at ease"; rather they say "it is unsettling to me" (Es ist mir einem unheimlich). So there is a hanging "it" which is taken by a naive reading of German to be an actual thing.

Apologies if this is a poor attempt at exposition of Heidegger. In my defence, Heidegger's own exposition is even worse.

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