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Preliminary sketch for an inter-subjective history as relevant discourse

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Preliminary sketch for an inter-subjective history as relevant discourse investigations with Dilthey and Heidegger
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Naasko, Benjamin Edward
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English
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85 leaves : ; 28 cm

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History -- Philosophy ( lcsh )
Hermeneutics ( lcsh )
Hermeneutics ( fast )
History -- Philosophy ( fast )
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bibliography ( marcgt )
theses ( marcgt )
non-fiction ( marcgt )

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Bibliography:
Includes bibliographical references (leaves 84-85).
General Note:
Department of Humanities and Social Sciences
Statement of Responsibility:
by Benjamin Edward Naasko.

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|University of Colorado Denver
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|Auraria Library
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ocm45211930
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Full Text
PRELIMINARY SKETCH FOR AN INTER-SUBJECTIVE HISTORY AS
RELEVANT DISCOURSE:
INVESTIGATIONS WITH DILTHEY AND HEIDEGGER
By
Benjamin Edward Naasko
B.A., University of Colorado at Boulder, 1995
A thesis submitted to the
University of Colorado at Denver
in partial fulfillment
of the requirements for the degree of
Master of Humanities
1999
f


1999 by Benjamin Edward Naasko
All rights reserved.


This thesis for the Master of Humanities
degree by
Benjamin Edward Naasko
has been approved
by
Date


Naasko, Benjamin Edward (M.H.)
Preliminary Sketch for an Inter-subjective History as Relevant Discourse:
Investigations with Dilthey and Heidegger
Thesis directed by Professor Mitchell S. Aboulafia
ABSTRACT
This essay begins by exploring how history has become socially problematic. It
proceeds to the repudiation of a scientific history in favor of an inter-subjective history
as relevant discourse rooted in hermeneutic theory. In the attempt to establish a solid
ground for such a history, the essay proceeds with a survey of nineteenth century
hermeneutic theory on the philosophy of Wilhelm Dilthey. After thoughtful
consideration, Dilthey is rejected as a possible model because he cannot surmount the
problem of the transcendence of the other. The essay then turns to a discussion of the
ontology of Martin Heidegger as a solution to the problem of the transcendent other.
The essay concludes by offering an inter-subjective history rooted in the throwness of
Da-sein into the they, in which relevance is assured by Da-seins temporal structure.
This abstract accurately represents the content of the candidates thesis. I recommend
its publication.
Signed
211
Mitchell S. Aboulafia


DEDICATION
For my father, who worried I would never finish; for my son Joseph, who understood
that I needed time to work; and for my wife, who has helped me in innumerable ways.
IV


CONTENTS
CHAPTER
INTRODUCTION.................................................1
The Record and the Story..........................3
The Craft of History..............................8
l. HERMENEUTICS...........................................15
Greek Foundations................................17
Schleiermacher...................................20
H. DILTHEY................................................26
The Context of Positivism and the Development of
Descriptive Psychology...........................26
Weltanschauungen and Lived Experience............32
The Challenge of Inter-subjectivity..............39
m. HEIDEGGER..............................................44
Ontological Foundations..........................44
Everydayness...............................47
Temporality......................................63
IV. INTER-SUBJECTIVE HISTORY AS RELEVANT DISCOURSE.. 70
Final Thoughts...................................81
WORKS CITED........................................................84


INTRODUCTION
In recent decades the study of history has encountered some difficulty as it is
pursued in the academy and encountered in everyday life. There is something to the
study of history that has polarized not only academic communities, but also our
neighborhoods. It seems that the idea of the study of history, as something
controversial, is something more Americans are now aware of. For example, it is not
unheard of for communities to be polarized over curriculum reform. People argue
whether or not young students should leam more about the labor movement, or the
rise of industrial capitalism, or the Reconstruction or the Harlem Renaissance. As
parents watch their children learn a different history in school than they did, they have
become more aware that the idea of history has a social impact. They have become
aware that the things we understand about our own past are important to how we will
live out lives and where we see our possibilities both as individuals and as a people.
Our conception of our history even has an impact on what we consider to be our
people, and what connections we have to other peoples, and even whom we might
consider a people and whom we might not.
l


When history, as an academic discipline distinct from local legends and
traditions and chronicles, entered the popular consciousness of the nineteenth century
middle class, none of these were questions to be considered. The subjects of historical
discourse were the political ruling classes of Europe and America. The direction in
history was the unquestioned development of western bourgeois capitalism and
democracy, and the duty of the careful historian was to tell this story of history as it
actually happened. Sure there were debates in the academy as to different
philosophies of history, but even philosophies as divergent as those of Hegel and Marx
understood that history was the history of the development of the ruling classes.
History was primarily understood in the nineteenth century as either political or
economic; in the former case the economic was understood as being political, and in
the latter case the political was understood as being economic. In either case the
nineteenth century common consciousness didn't need to concern itself overly much
with philosophies of history; that is not the case today. We are arriving at a
consciousness in our society of the importance of history to our lives. We wage
political battles over history on our school boards and speak openly of its role in
shaping the future of society. It is with these thoughts in mind that I approach the
writing of this paper. It is increasingly important to modem life that history be
understood.
2


The Record and the Story
One of the major purposes of this paper is to confront and explore the
transcendent quality of history. By transcendent quality I mean the fundamental way
that history can escape our understanding of the world. To understand history one has
to transcend his or her own time and gain access to another time. In good history, and
especially the idea of history I will develop in this essay, the historian also needs to
access the subjectivity of the people that he studies; in this way he must transcend his
own subjectivity and gain an inter-subjective perspective. However, since an integral
part of my approach to achieving this transcendence supposes an everydayness of
history and a real presence of the historical within our very experience of the world, it
seems that it may be important to begin with a brief survey of a more common
understanding of history, an understanding where the transcendent seems to be
without place. For, in the most common understanding of the historical there is not a
transcendent mystery to be explained at all, and to import such a mystery into this
realm seems naught but an unnecessary complication of the already difficult task of
mastering historical knowledge.
History (as it is most commonly understood) is the events of the past, and the
study of history is understood as coming to have knowledge of these events. Certain
credence is given to this view by the approach to history of elementary education. We
come to learn that the Boston Tea Party occurred in 1775, that the Constitution was
3


signed in 1789, and that the Civil War was fought between 1861 and 1865. However,
the limitation of this perspective is realized as soon as it is noticed that even in the
most basic instances, history is more than the mere mastery of a list of events.
History, even at the elementary level is comprised of stories. We learn in school not
only that the Boston Tea Party happened in 1775, but also that the participants dressed
themselves up as Native Americans, stealthily sneaked aboard the vessel at night, and
dumped the cargo of tea into the harbor. Furthermore, we learn that they did not
disguise themselves because they actually expected others to believe that Native
Americans committed these acts, they just didnt want to get caught. We learn that
the participants in the Tea Party were outraged citizens, who were fed up with the
taxes the British were imposing on the American colonies, and that their actions were
a starting point in the American Revolution. We learn that their act of civil
disobedience was part of a greater battle to insure the implementation of just laws on
the American continent and that they were heroes and patriots. History is often seen
as the narrative of the past. In the case of the Boston Tea Party, we see this event in
the larger narrative of the American Revolution. Of course the narrative could go the
other way as well; we might see dressing as Native Americans to be a part of the
larger narrative of the Boston Tea Party too.
I want to stress here that we have so far encountered two different conceptions
of history already in the preceding paragraph. The first is the record of past events
4


and the second is the story of past events. We will find that the concept of history as
the story of the past is an idea that yields more fruit than history as the record of the
past further along in this investigation, but I think that we have not yet given enough
attention to the everyday understanding of history.
I believe the common understanding of history in our scientific age neglects
this difference between the record and the story, and often sees the record and the
story as being one and the same thing. History in the age of scientific understanding is
something that is out there to be discovered. The question of whether or not the
discovery of a story is inherently different than the discovery of a new species of frog
is not one that is often asked. Certainly the discovery of a record is not so differenta
frog is found by searching the jungle and a record is found by searching the archives.
Just as the biologist plods through the rainforest in search of new data to incorporate
into the scientific knowledge base, the historian is seen as searching the archives, or
the memories of the very old to add the historical knowledge base. And just as the
biologists discovery may change the story about frogs, the historians discovery may
change the story about the Boston Tea Party. History this way is seen as parallel to
science in that the historian surveys the parts of the story that are already known,
searches for new data, then uses this new data to modify or expand the story just as
the scientist collects new data and then forms hypotheses. History is out there; it can
5


be discovered, probed and investigated. The story is there; it can be received in
correct manner from the records if only the records are complete enough.
This view of an objective history, one that is out there awaiting discovery is
apparent in our everyday encounters with the discipline. Even in revisionist accounts
of the past, the effort is seen as one of largely setting the record straight. Let us take
as an example of the recent DNA tests of the descendants of Sally Hemings, an
African American slave of Thomas Jefferson. The DNA tests strongly suggested that
these African Americans are the genetic descendants of our third president. The
impact of this study is that we now know the story of Thomas Jefferson more
completely and more accurately. We have, with new evidence, been able to construct
a better picture of what actually happened. We have come ever closer to
reconstructing the story of the past as it was. In this scientific enterprise the material
of history has shown itself to be not unlike the subject material of the other sciences.
A hypothesis was formed about past eventnamely that Mr. Jefferson fathered
illegitimate childrenthe hypothesis was tested, and a new theory about the past
resulted. In this case both the record and. the story are brought around to reflect what
actually happened.
This recent example from the preceding paragraph illustrates an important
point in this discussion because present in the historical question of Thomas
Jeffersons illegitimate children is the question of the importance of the story of
6


history, as opposed to the record of history. In the person of Thomas Jefferson there
is more than the figure who wrote the Declaration of Independence, the third president
of the United States, and the head on the nickel. In the story of Thomas Jefferson
there is also something of our story as a people. The events surrounding Thomas
Jefferson are more than simply the mere historical record; they are the foundational
events of our republic and our nation. His writings, actions and ideas shaped who we
are, and how we think. His vision of a society where all men were created equal,
endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights, sits deep in our national
psyche. His visions of human dignity are supporting structure for those parts of
ourselves which each of us considers the better, nobler parts. In many ways the
personage of Jefferson acts as a national conscience. The monument in his honor sits
across the National Mall from the Whitehouse as a moral reminder to the executive
not to disregard the will of the people. The question arises from the revelations about
Jefferson of what to make of a moral authority who took sexual advantage of a
women he owned, who was young enough to be his daughter, and was the illegitimate
half-sister of his late wife. Of course, there were rumors about the relationship he had
with Sally Hemings for years, but without proof they could easily be shrugged off as
an unjust attempt at the defamation of a national hero by the malicious. But this is no
longer the case. We must now confront the real truth about Jefferson. And perhaps
the reason why the stories about a slave mistress vehemently denied for so long by so
7


many in the majority community is the role that the story of Jefferson plays in our own
story and in the stories of our individual lives. Too many of the best of us have been
inspired to action by the words, deeds, and thoughts of this man. His story is in too
many ways our story, and such serious changes to his story will have ramifications
beyond the history classroom. Surely the change may well be for the good. We may
refrain from deifying our leaders as much in the future, and we may learn to separate
better the ideas from the personality of the thinker, and we may be less proud of
ourselves as a nation, more cautious of our flawed humanity, and understanding of
others when they face difficult circumstances. One thing is certain, you cannot change
the story of Jefferson without having an impact on the moral constitution of the
country, for this history lives in us as people, and a change in it means a change in us.
The Craft of History
In this essay I will take my point of departure from here. It will be my aim to
develop and idea of history within which the story takes precedence over the record. I
will attempt to explore a history that focuses less on the actual events of the past, and
more on the conscious understanding of the student or historian in the present. I will
investigate an idea of history where the past comes alive and is alive in the mind of the
presentwhere past stories contribute to present stories and present stories contribute
to past stories. I will develop a concept of history not as the scientific investigation of
8


a static past, but as an exploration of how the past might come alive for us and speak
to present needs and prejudices. In this model, I wish to elevate the work of the
historian to co-equal that of the actual past in the creation of history. The historian is
more than a mere reporter on past events, he crafts them into a story and thereby
makes them meaningful; such a model will be inter-subjective and relevant.
Of course there are difficulties inherent in such an approach. If we admit that
historical understanding is dependent on the subjective understanding of the historian,
then we must admithowever reluctant we may be in doing sothat there is some
amount of plasticity in what are considered to be the truths of history. However, to
admit some plasticity in this way is not to succumb to a relativistic approach, it is
merely to admit that certain interpretations of the record are arrived at under certain
circumstances and others are not. Historical documents remain more or less static,
and therefore rule out an absolute relativity of interpretation.1 I do not wish to deny
the immutability of past events, to do so would cast a large shadow of doubt across
the most solid parts of our existence; however, I would deny that this solid ground of
history extends very far. Even the perceptions of an event participant or of an
1 Of course as we learn more about any particular document and its context, the conception of its
meaning changesboth the meaning concerning things internal to the document (i.e. what the
language in the document means) and the meaning the document contributes to the illumination of
other documents and a larger historical understanding. This bring up the specter of relativism;
however, it needs to be understood bearing in mind that even though the meaning of documents is
transformed through historical work that the fixed contents of the documents themselves provide a
minimal defense against relativism, which I will expand upon later. Furthermore, although it is an
important issue for historians, I want to note that this essay will not discuss methods for determining
document authenticity.
9


eyewitness are mutable, for the act of recall changes the experience of events recalled.
1 wish to assert that the actions of an historian, while not changing historical events
themselves, change their relevance, and that the historical truth is best understood as
an interpretation that emerges from the relationship between the historian and his
documents.
While such a conception of history as I have outlined seems a far cry from the
ambitions of Leopold von Ranke, the father of modem historical scholarship who
formed the picture of academic history in the nineteenth century and desired that
history should show what actually happened,2 it does seem compatible with the
historiographical reflections of E. H. Carr, a renowned historian of Russia and the
Soviet state. In What is History? a sort of historiographical primer, Carr says that
history is a continuous process of interaction between the historian and his facts, an
unending dialogue between the present and the past.3 In his first chapter, Carr
discusses the misconception that history is illuminated by a presentation of historical
facts. He asserts that facts and the collection of historical data are not the primary
concern of the historian; rather, he says that we ought to understand accuracy and
faithfulness to the historical record as a necessary but not essential function of the
historian. Historians construct and build historical accounts out of the facts they are
2 Ranke, Leopold von. Histories of the Latin and Germanic Nations from 1494 to 1514. Excerpted in
The Varieties of History: From Voltaire to the Present. Ed. Fritz Stem. New York: Vintage Books,
1973, p. 57.
3 Carr, Edward Hallett. What is History? New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1963, p. 35.
10


givenfacts cannot, as Ranke had desired, speak for themselves. According to Carr,
The facts speak only when the historian calls on them: it is he who decides which
facts to give the floor, and in what order or context.4
Carr goes on at length discussing how the historian himself decides what might
even be considered to be a fact of history and what is not; and interestingly enough,
the question of accuracy is left out of this discussion entirely, for accuracy is
considered to be a mere duty of the historian in the same category as proper grammar,
a task that must be performed in the course of work, but not the aim of work itself.
What Carr gets at is that facts themselves are a result of the historians attempt at a
synthesis of information. In the creation of a historical work the historian will consult
thousands of documents, yet he produces a work of relative brevity. He must select
which facts are relevant to his narrative for inclusion, and ultimately these facts are the
only ones that are called to be historical. Yet there are those many facts that are not
selected and employed by the historian, the ones that run counter to his thesis or are
irrelevant to his narrative, and they are no less accurate than the ones he selects and
they are judged not to be historicalalthough they remain in the record and within
documents to be picked up later by another historian, so they may yet become facts of
history on another day. Carr also speaks of the accidents that create the historical
record we inherit. For example, the literate class of the middle ages was the clerical
4 Ibid., p. 9.
11


class, so it ought to come as no surprise that the facts that we know about this period
testify to the importance of faith. The records of the Greek polls were created by the
citizen class of Athens, so our facts about ancient Greece tell us about liberal and
civicly minded people, and not much about the daily life of slaves.5 Above all, Carr
stresses the importance of the historian working with, shaping, and interpreting the
facts. It is clear in Carrs account that historians, and not historical actors are those
who make history; facts without interpretation do not illuminate the past.
Because of the role of the historian in the creation of history, Carr cautions us
that an understanding of the context of a particular historian is of fundamental
importance in order to get the best read of their work. He stresses the importance not
only of understanding the biography of a particular historian you are considering, but
also understanding the broader historical context he is enmeshed in. He points out that
the nineteenth century interpretation of English history as the progress of liberty made
sense in the comfortable times of the British Empire, and the pessimistic predictions
made by Oswald Spengler in his Decline of the West made sense in the wake of the
devastation of the First World War. Carr insists that historians cannot escape the
conditions of their own historical moments when they sit down to do their craft, and
that as students we must be aware of this limitation when we approach their work.
However, there does seem to be the suggestion in his advice to the careful student that
5 It is important to stress here that Carr does not place us entirely at the mercy of clerics and
politicians. He points out the sciences of Archaeology, epigraphy, numismatics, and chronology exist
12


by reading historians in a context conscious way we might be able to transcend their
limitations in some manner and more closely approach what actually happened.
It is at this point that I feel we must leave off Carr and his historiographical
primer. For although he was clearly able to chart a course to the subjectivity of the
historian and the impact that has on the study of the past itself, he cannot be useful in
mapping out a picture of what an inter-subjective history as story telling about the past
would look like. However, before we proceed it may be important to review some
terms that we have encountered so far. First, we recognized the difference between
the record and the story in history. The approach to history as record might be
considered an objective or scientific approach to the study. In this approach the
historian believes that he can scientifically reconstruct a historical account, as it
actually happened, given the proper documents. Carr showed this approach to be
untenable because it ignores the subjectivity of the historian. The objective approach
of history as record also ignores the narrative quality of history as story. Because a
story is something that we can relate to as subjects in a more real way than a recitation
of facts in a record, history as story and narrative inherently takes into consideration
the subjectivity of the historian. History becomes relevant as a story that we find
ourselves relating to. I believe that the best narrative or historical story is one that will
be inter-subjective. By inter-subjective I mean a history where the historian presents
to ameliorate the bias found in the most easily accessible documents.
13


something of the mind of the historical subject in its uniqueness to his reader. In inter-
subjective history there is an awareness on the part of the historian of his own
subjectivity, the subjectivity of the historical actors and the subjectivity of his readers.
The role of historian is to mediate and communicate between these various subjects.
There is however a danger that relevant history might become relativized history. I
understand a relativized history as one which is dominated by the subjectivity of the
historian. Such a history would cease to respect the integrity of the record altogether.
The historian in such a scenario would import his own subjectivity into the historical
subject and understand him as merely another version of himself.
To continue the exploration of historical understanding we need to take up
different tools. Common understanding cannot take us any farther down this road and
I will now turn to a discussion of hermeneutics and interpretation theory, so that we
may attain a more illuminated concept of the understanding of a document. After a
brief sketch of general hermeneutics, I will turn toward the philosophy of Wilhelm
Dilthey, and then to Martin Heidegger to explore the possibility of the very idea of an
inter-subjective model for history. This investigation will illustrate why I said at the
beginning of this essay that history has a transcendent quality, and how approaching
inter-subjectivity can surmount the challenge posed by this transcendent quality
14


CHAPTER I
HERMENEUTICS
Hermeneutics, or the theory of textual interpretation, is something that has
only recently become important in American philosophical and historical circles.
Originally, hermeneutic techniques were developed on the European continent in the
wake of the protestant reformation. The decentralized nature of the reformed church
in northern Germany needed reliable methods whereby local pastors could interpret
scriptural issues that arose within their local congregation. The authority that Rome
had exercised prior to the sixteenth century to decide such matters definitively didnt
bide well with the individualistic theology of Luther. The decentralized approach to
scriptural interpretation provided by hermeneutic technique gave every well-educated
person the tools with which to access and decode the meaning contained in the Bible.
Hermeneutics remained largely focused on biblical issues and was comprised of
a collection of rather esoteric techniques until the latter part of the eighteenth century.
At that time several thinkers, including Friedrich Ast, Friedrich August Wolf, and
Friedrich D. E. Schleiermacher, brought hermeneutical techniques to the study of
classical philology. Ast and Schleiermacher worked on the concept of the hermeneutic
circle, a method whereby a text is illuminated by interpreting the whole in virtue of the
15


part and the part in virtue of the whole. Schleiermacher explained, Complete
knowledge always involves an apparent circle, that each part can be understood only
out of the whole of which it belongs, and vice versa.6 The doctrine of the
hermeneutic circle says that the interpreter learns the meanings of sentences by
knowing the meaning of words, and the knowledge of the meanings of words is further
enhanced by a knowledge of the meanings of sentences; furthermore, an enhanced
knowledge of the meanings of words leads one to an even clearer understanding of the
meanings of sentences, and so forth. This circular technique is not to be used only at
the level of the word and the sentence, but also on the level of the paragraph and the
chapter, and the chapter and the book, or even the book and the genre, or the genre
and the word. Indeed, Schleiermacher wanted to use this technique to better
understand the meanings of words and phrases across different works from the same
period. By using the circular technique he intended to understand the historical
vocabulary of a period so that he could then access the shared vocabulary of the
author of a work and his intended audience.
What was important to this generation of hermeneutic theorists was the
understanding that language is a complex web of meaning and that one has to keep
both the larger and smaller views of linguistic expression in mind when trying to arrive
at the meaning of a textwhether that text be a fragment from Thales, an oration of
6 Schleiermacher, Friedrich. Hermeneutics and Criticism. Excerpted in The Hermeneutics Reader.
Ed. Kurt Mueller-Vollmer. New York: Continuum, 1985, p. 84.
16


Cicero, or a letter of Paul. Schleiermacher also did work attempting to synthesize the
eclectic rules of hermeneutic practice to develop a more complete and systematic
science of textual interpretation. However, before exploring his system, it is
instructive to do some hermeneutic work on the word hermeneutics itself. In doing
this we will see that looking at this part (the word hermeneutics) will yield a better
understanding of the whole (Schleiermacher5 s hermeneutical system). Let us test the
circle and see if it bears fruit.
Greek Foundations
In Hermeneutics: Interpretation Theory in Schleiermacher, Dilthey,
Heidegger, and Gadamer, Richard E. Palmer connects the Greek hermeneuein (to
interpret) and hermeneia (interpretation) to the messenger god Hermes, and notes:
Significantly, Hermes is associated with the function of transmuting what is
beyond human understanding into a form that human intelligence can grasp.
The various forms of the word [Hermes-hermeneuein, hermeneia, and
hermeios (the name of the priest at Delphi)] suggest the process of bringing a
thing or situation from unintelligibility to understanding. The Greeks credited
Hermes with the discovery of language and writingthe tools which human
understanding employs to grasp meaning and convey it to others.7
Palmer goes on to describe three general directions of the Greek usage of the
words hermeneuein and hermeneia, which are: (1) to express or to say; (2) to explain
or to make clear; and (3) to translate. In understanding hermeneia or interpretation as
7 Palmer, Richard E. Hermeneutics: Interpretation Theory in Schleiermacher, Dilthey, Heidegger,
and Gadamer. Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1969, p. 13.
17


saying we need to understand the expressive quality and power of speech. Palmer
noted that in his Seventh Letter Plato emphasized the weak character and helplessness
of written language.8 Nothing can bring this point to bear more quickly than watching
a bad performance of a good play. For instance, I was recently in the audience for a
less than stellar performance of Shakespeare's As You Like It. This play contains one
of the most often quoted passages in English drama; the melancholy Jacques,
expressing an existential frustration with the events of his life, proclaims that "All the
world is a stage, and all the men and women are merely players: they have their exits
and entrances; and one man in his time plays many parts, his acts being the seven
ages."9 In the performance the recitation of these lines detracted from their meaning
instead of enhancing it. The actor interpreted his character in a way that was haughty
and pompous instead of concerned and tired with life. The actor playing Jacques
portrayed him as overly confident and bitter, not melancholy. The result was that this
profound observation was delivered almost as an aside, a reference to the obvious, and
that the audience and other characters would have to have been stupid not to have
realized it previously. While this example may seem to demonstrate the deficiency of
speech to text, the deficiency of speech in this case to convey the complexity of
meaning demonstrates the special power of the spoken word that Palmer is getting at.
As a member of the audience I felt cheated for not having experienced the power of
8 Ibid., p. 15.
9 Shakespeare, William. As You Like It. Act II, scene vi.
18


Shakespeare's words. It did not help my feeling of privation that I could go and read
the words later. What I missed was the experience of their power and efficacy, which
were the actor's responsibility to deliver vocally.
In understanding interpretation as explanation, we need to understand the
expression of the propositional truth of something. The Greeks viewed this as a higher
order of interpretation than saying, and it was considered a fundamental operation
before logic and the operations of reasoning could be performed. According to
Palmer, Aristotle viewed this kind of interpretation as the enunciation of statements
with which logical operations could be performed.10 Finally, Palmer discusses the
third and final Greek understanding of interpretation as translation. We must not
understand translation as the mechanical task of replacing words and structures with
their equivalents in another language. If we are to gain insight to bring to our broader
discussion of hermeneutics, the task of the translator must be understood in the
context of the god Hermes, whose divine function is to transform the unintelligible into
the intelligible. Fundamentally it is the translator who makes the foreign
understandable; he, like the actor in a Shakespearean play, can speak the meaning of
an inaccessible text, or at least allow us to.
In investigating these Greek conceptions of hermeneutics I want to emphasize
the divinatory character of interpretation that was understood by the Greeks. The
10 Palmer, Richard E. Hermeneutics: Interpretation Theory in Schleiermacher, Dilthey, Heidegger,
andGadamer. Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1969, p. 15.
19


power of the spoken word is also important to bear in mind for later in our
investigation. But most important is that the operations of speaking and hearing are
the operations of making meaning, and the operations of making meaning cannot be
divided from the task of interpretation. When we speak we do so from a matrix of
given interpretations of what we have heard. There is in the Greek conception of
hermeneutics and its three directions an indication of the recursiveness and
interdependence of meaning and interpretation, and of understanding and speaking.
Schleiermacher
With this short exploration of the background of the word hermeneutics, we
can now return to Schleiermacher, whose conception of hermeneutics is of
fundamental importance for the history of hermeneutic theory. As I mentioned
previously, Schleiermacher attempted to move hermeneutic practice from the
application of a set of eclectic procedures developed out of trial and error to a
systematic science. His ambition was no less than "To understand a text at first as well
and then even better than its author."11 In order to do this he differentiated two types
of interpretation: grammatical interpretation, and technical interpretation.
Grammatical interpretation covers what might be expected. It consists of the
kinds of techniques that translators use in interpreting a document into another
11 Schleiermacher, Friedrich. Hermeneutics and Criticism. Excerpted in The Hermeneutics Reader.
Ed. Kurt Mueller-Vollmer. New York: Continuum, 1985, p. 83.
20


language. Of course a good grammatical interpreter must be acquainted with the
meanings of words and the structures of grammar in the language he is approaching;
but Schleiermacher goes beyond what is expected here, he emphasizes the
understanding of the more specific language common to both an author and his
intended audience. It is not enough to merely know Classical Greek; one must be
familiar with the idiom of Athenians to translate Aristophenes. Schleiermacher made
this point clear in reference to the authors of the New Testament:
But for this reason we must not suppose that their writings were addressed to
all of Christendom, for in fact each text was addressed to different people, and
their writings could not be properly understood in the future unless these first
readers could understand them. But these first readers would have to look for
what was specifically related to their own situation, and from this material they
had to derive the whole truth about Christianity. Our interpretation must take
this fact into account, and we must assume that even if the authors had been
merely passive tools of the Holy Spirit, the Holy Spirit could have spoken
through them only as they themselves would have spoken.12
This New Testament example, as it speaks not only of the reader's
understanding, but also of his wants and psychology, brings us to Schleiermacher's
second type of interpretation: technical interpretation. Whereas grammatical
interpretation might be understood as a coming to understand the language and plot of
a work, technical interpretation might be understood as being focused on the theme
and style of a work. In this sense, technical interpretation is focused on understanding
the text through an understanding of the psychology of the author. Schleiermacher
21


says, Technical interpretation attempts to identify what has moved the author to
communicate.12 13 Technical interpretation is focused on the personal style of an
author, and his distinctiveness, rather than as a representative of his period. According
to Schleiermacher, To some extent he [the author] initiates something new in the
language by combining subjects and predicates in new ways. Yet to some extent he
merely repeats and transmits the language he has received.14 Technical interpretation
is focused on the first half of this duality.
Technical interpretation and analysis of style involve two methods:
comparative and divinatory. The comparative method is an attempt to place a work
within its genre, and to learn about its meaning by a comparative study of works
similar to it. The divinatory method attempts to intuit an author's uniqueness based on
the assumption that each individual has a receptivity to the uniqueness of every other
person.15 Schleiermacher thinks these two methods also work in a circular way as
another version of the hermeneutic circle. The comparative method supports the
conclusions of the divinatory method and makes them believable, while the divinatory
method is what enables the comparative method to establish its categories of genre in
the first place.
12 Ibid., p. 80.
13 Ibid., p. 94.
14 Ibid., p. 94.
15 Ibid., p. 96.
22


At this point, I wish to pause in my brief explication of Schleiermachean
hermeneutics to consider the importance of the divinatory method of interpretation. In
a striking way the very idea of a divinatory method of interpretation, either of history
or of literary text, brings us face to face with the transcendental task of interpretation.
To insist, as Schleiermacher does, that there is an element of divination inherent to the
task of interpretation seems to be the very giving up of the task of systematizing
interpretation in the first place. For in the act of divination, we must surely attempt to
go beyond the public meaning of a text. We seek to further our understanding by
intuition, and intuition is somewhat necessarily unsystematic. What is attempted in
this divinatory method is to make some kind of contact with the mind of the other and
be able to resonate with his thought, feelings and experiences in a real way. In order
to do this, one must transcend their own subjectivity. In this way, Schleiermacher
touches on the problem we are dealing with, although he never calls it this by name. It
is clear that it is important to his goal that the interpreter is able to make contact with
the mind of the author of the text he is engaged with. Of course the possibilities of
this interpretation are supported by the other means of interpretation that
Schleiermacher speaks of, and this intuitive element is also supposed to support them,
but he never really explains how the intuitive element in his hermeneutics is supposed
to function systematically. It is almost as if he glosses over this interpretive function
by his reliance on circular technique. The interpreter doesn't experience the
23


transcendent demand of escaping their subjectivity too long before he is able to return
to something more systematic and objective. We will see that the demand to transcend
our subjectivity implicit in Schleiermacher will play an increasingly important role in
the ideas we will look at in the coming chapters.
Schleiermacher believes that the two forms of interpretation, grammatical and
technical (along with their different methods), work together in a semblance of the
hermeneutic circle, which underlies them both. They are equally important to the
reaching of an understanding of the meaning of a text; one follows from the other and
vice versa. In stressing this connection he states:
Whenever we are actually engaged in the interpretation of a particular text, we
always hold the two sides of interpretation together...each side of the
interpretation must be developed so thoroughly that the other becomes
indispensable, or better, that the results of the two coincide.16
Schleiermacher is really the father of modem hermeneutics; he was the first to
develop a thorough system of textual interpretation. He began the discussion of
language as an essentially social phenomenon; he emphasized the difference between
seeing a text as an author sees it and as a reader sees it, and he showed how these two
ways of looking at a text are fundamentally two sides of one coin. Schleiermacher
brought hermeneutics out from being an esoteric sub-discipline of theology into its
own. After Schleiermacher, hermeneutics had a home not only with religious scholars,
but also with philologists. He led the way for Wilhelm von Humboldt to develop a
24


hermeneutics of linguistic anthropology, and for Johann Gustav Droysen to bring
hermeneutics to the discipline of history. However, is was Wilhelm Dilthey who
would give the nineteenth century's most developed account of hermeneutics in his
attempt to provide a scientific basis for the human sciences and the study of history.
16 Ibid., p. 86.


CHAPTER II
DILTHEY
The Context of Positivism and the Development
of Descriptive Psychology
In addition to the tradition of nineteenth century hermeneutic theory, Wilhelm
Dilthey needs also to be understood in the context of nineteenth century positivism,
which finds its best representative in the figure of Auguste Comte who outlined
positive social science in his Course on Positive Philosophy. In this work, Comte
states that positive science regards that, "all phenomena are subjected to invariable
natural Laws."11 And he certainly means to include sociological and historical laws
into this invariable and natural category. Furthermore, a primary concern of positive
science is to reduce the absolute number of natural laws, and account for a greater
number of phenomena under a smaller number of principles. Accordingly, the science
of society that results from this positivistic epistemology affirms that the structures
governing social interactions and development are not different in kind from those
governing natural phenomena. "The successive modifications of society have always
taken place in a determinate order, the rational explanation of which is already possible 17
17 Comte, Aguste. Course on Positive Philosophy. Excerpted in Theories of History. Ed. Patrick
Gardner. New York: The Free Press, 1959, p. 76.
26


in so many cases that we may confidently hope to recognise {sic} it ultimately in all
the rest."18
Positivistic social laws were understood in the nineteenth century were
understood in terms of the egoistic theories of popular economists and political
theorists. In the name of systematizing sociological observations into scientific
principles, utilitarians like Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart spoke of the hedonistic
calculus of pleasures and pain and of the doctrine of enlightened self interest whereby
western democracy could achieve policy ends that would benefit the entire society in
the best possible way. Economists understood the invisible hand of Adam Smith to be
operative in mediating the desires of the wealthy classes into an economic benefit for
the poorer classes19. Positivists believed in a rational and mechanistic vision of society
that could be easily explained and controlled by understanding simple principles. They
shared a vision where the clarity of the natural sciences could be brought to our
understanding of social conditions, and used to improve them. It is the tendencies of
positivistic social science that Dilthey sought to reform by bringing to it much of the
hermeneutic thinking of theology and philology. While Dilthey wanted to systematize
historical scholarship and the human science to the extent that they can provide us
with a certain type of scientific knowledge of social phenomena (sharing the end goals
of the positivists to some extent), he specifically reacts against positivistic and
18 Ibid., p. 79.
19 There is some question as to what extent Smith believed this given his argument in The Moral
27


scientific history as it was best understood in the nineteenth century. He says in the
Introduction to the Human Sciences:
The answers given to these questions by Comte and the positivists and J. S.
Mill and the empiricists seemed to me to truncate and mutilate historical reality
in order to assimilate it to the concepts and methods of the natural sciences.20
Dilthey sought to bridge the gap between the natural sciences and the human
sciences through a development of a descriptive psychology. He begins the discussion
of such a psychology by delimiting the difference between inner and outer perception.
Inner and outer perception never occur in one and the same act, and
consequently the reality of mental life is never given simultaneously with that
of our body. On account of this, there are necessarily two different and
irreducible standpoints for a scientific approach aimed at grasping the
connection of the mental and the physical as expressed in the psycho-physical
life unit. If I start with inner experience, then I find the whole external world
to be given in my consciousness and all the laws of nature to be subject to the
conditions of my consciousness and, therefore, dependent on them. This is the
standpoint which German philosophy at the turn of the eighteenth century
designated as "transcendental philosophy". On the other hand, I can start with
the world of physical nature, as Tsee it before me, and perceive psychic facts
ordered within space and time; I then see changes within spiritual life subject to
external interferencenatural or experimentalconsisting of physical changes
impinging on the nervous system. Observation of human growth and
pathology can extend this standpoint into a comprehensive picture of the
dependence of the human spirit on the body. This results in a scientific
approach which proceeds from outer to inner, from physical changes to mental
ones.21
These differences in perception differentiate the philosophical or idealist perspective
from that of the scientific empiricist of positivist. Dilthey's project was involved with
Sentiments.
20 Dilthey, Wilhelm. Introduction to the Human Sciences. Selected Works: Volume I. Ed. Rudolf
Makkreel and Frithjof Rodi. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1989, p. 49.
28


recognizing and dealing with the fact that in the historical situation the objects of study
are involved with their own inner and outer perceptions. Because neo-hegelian
idealistic philosophy had fallen out of vogue in Dilthey's day, ascendant positive
methodology had neglected almost entirely issues concerning an inner-perception in
their approach to historical study. Descriptive psychology would be able to use
hermeneutic techniques not dissimilar form those of Schleiermacher in a comparative
way where the historian could circle from inner observations to outer observations
about his subject.
Dilthey does not deny the efficacy of nature on the individual, or psycho-
physical life unit (in his terminology). He agrees that the biological sciences have
acquired a great deal of reliability, and that the various physical sciences have made
marvelous progress with empirical methods. Indeed it is Dilthey's avowed intention to
give the same sort of methodological foundation to the human sciences that the natural
sciences have, so that they might have comparable success and legitimacy in the
academy. But Dilthey sees a fundamental problem with looking towards outer
perception as the primary means of historical research. He believes that the psycho-
physical life unit acquires a psychological nexus, which unifies its lived experience into
one consciousness. The facts of this consciousness are known in an immediate sense,
and all knowledge of the world extends from the experiences given in consciousness. 21
21 Ibid., p. 67.
29


In this supposition Dilthey begins to sound much more like an idealist than one would
expect from one who so readily admits to the natural sciences being based on outer
perception. Of course Dilthey is not any sort of hard-core idealist, he does believe that
the external world is an important source of our experiences, but he does believe that
we encounter the immediacy of lived experience in the reflexive awareness of our
psychic nexus. However, I believe that because of these idealistic tendencies he would
have to concede that the natural sciences are ultimately derived from the psychological
unity of the perceiving subject. Not sense perceptions, but lived experiences of the
natural world, and generalizations arrived at from reflection upon these experiences
give us the natural sciences. Common descriptions of the lived experiences of the
natural world have the quality of verifiable sense perceptions (this is what is labeled
outer perceptions), and they are far more readily accessible to the natural scientist than
any sort catalogue of what the interior states of people are like would be to the
historianhence the disparity between the natural and social sciences in their
nineteenth century development. This brings us to the need for a development of a
descriptive psychology.
In an attempt to understand the human mind in a way that has some objective
validity and also accounts for the richness of the historical record, Dilthey makes a
distinction between two types of science: descriptive and explanatory. A descriptive
science is one whose concepts and rules are taken from the data given in actual
30


experience, and this is the type of science Dilthey mean to achieve in his psychology.
An explanatory science is one which takes its units and laws from methodological
presumptions. The benefit of explanatory science is that you can operate in a world
beyond our psychic nexus and sense perceptions. An example of such a science is
physics, whose hypotheses about sub-atomic particles can't be understood except
trough abstractions and methodological suppositions, because such data are never
given to lived experience. Dilthey argues that the nineteenth century positivist
program, although it claims to be an empirical approach, is actually an explanatory
science because it attempts to generalize human behavior into sociological laws from
an outer perception of this behavior. In actuality, human behavior needs to be
understood not only from the outer perspective, but from the inner perspective as well.
In other words, human behavior needs to be approached from the context of lived
experience, and not an abstracted objectivist view derived from the common character
of sense perceptions. The outer expression of the human actor needs in some way to
be re-experienced in the inner understanding or the psychic nexus of the observer in
order to truly understand the action. The observer must become in some way
reflexively aware of the lived experience of the observed for the action to be
understood in terms of the psychical unity of the observed. This is what the human
sciences are really about, and this approaches the kind of inter-subjectivity I mentioned
earlier as a goal of this paper.
31


Weltanschauungen and Lived Experience
Dilthey ends up developing his psychology into a typology and theory of
Weltanschauungen. Weltanschauung is German for "world view". Dilthey uses this
term to embody his notion of fundamental psychological types. He believes that
individual minds, and even the collective minds of societies, can be fundamentally
understood as perceiving the world according to one of three specific types or
Weltanschauungen. These three attitudes of mind are: cognition or thinking, feeling,
and conation or desire. These three attitudes or dispositions are all present in each
individual psycho-physical life unit and operate in an interdependent way. That is to
say that each of them is present in the others, but they do maintain enough distinction
to be operative in the development of a typology. The first attitude (thinking and
cognition) gives rise to logic and epistemology; the second (feeling) gives rise to
aesthetics; and the third (conation and desire) gives rise to ethics and political theory.
Important to the theory of Weltanschauungen is that one of these attitudes is likely to
dominate in each individual and subordinate the other two in the formation of the
psychic nexus.
In his book on Dilthey, H. A. Hodges gives a good description of thee three
dispositions.
If the cognitive function is predominant, the man will pride himself on his
"realism", will find his highest value in clarity of mind, and will take pleasure in
32


reducing value-judgements and imperatives to statements of psychological fact.
This is a recognizable type. So is that in which feeling predominates, and the
man singles out those aspects of the universe which most appeal to him, its
beauty and harmony, and makes them clues to its real nature and meaning.
The man in whom will is dominant will see the world of fact as the
manifestation of a creative power, existing to be the theater for human action,
he will see truth not as cognitive clarity, but as a set of Conditions imposing
themselves on action. In each case the categories of one basic attitude will
swallow up the rest, and so a unity of outlook is achieved.22
In this schema, the individual person is to be understood as the psychic nexus
resulting from the interaction of their particular Weltanschauung and their historical
context. Interestingly, certain Weltanschauungen tend to predominate in certain
historical epochs; however, not to the exclusion of othersall three attitudes operate
interdependently at the social level in a manner similar to the way they operate in the
unified self, with one predominating, and the others receding. For example, the
attitude or disposition of will had greater influence on the reformation than it did on
the enlightenment, which might be understood as an expression of cognition and
thinking.
For Dilthey, the exploration of history needs to be the exploration of lived
experiences. A lived experience or erlebnis, a term I have already used a number of
times, is a technical term defined as follows by Dilthey in Fragments for A Poetics:
A lived experience is a distinctive and characteristic in which reality is there-
for-me. A lived experience does not confront me as something perceived or
represented; it is not given to me, but the reality of lived experience is there-
for-me because I have a reflexive awareness of it, because I possess it
22 Hodges, H. A. Wilhelm Dilthey; An Introduction. 1944. New York: Howard Fertig, 1969, p. 92.
33


immediately as belonging to me in some sense. Only in thought does it become
objective.23
Lived experience is typified by its unitary character. For Dilthey any disconnectedness
or haphazardness in perception appears only in reflection of the experience after it has
already been objectified in thoughtthis is after any experience has already been
there-for-me. The psychic nexus unifies our experience, and it does so through our
Weltanschauung.
Lived experiences give rise to life expressions. Such expressions are the
human mind as it objectifies itself in the world. Expressions have a characteristic
spontaneity about them; "for the expression wells up out of the soul immediately,
without reflection.24 And it is because of their subconscious spontaneity that they can
be taken as reliable representations of the content of the lived experiences they arose
out of. Indeed, the interpretation of life expressions is the fundamental method of
gaining access to the subjectivity of others, which is the goal of the human sciences.
Dilthey says, expressions "appear in the world of the senses as the expressions of a
mind, and so they make knowledge of mental events possible."25
Dilthey classifies expression into three types, and these closely mirror the three
attitudes discussed in relation to the Weltcmschauugen. The first type includes
23 Dilthey, Wilhelm. Fragments for a Peotics. Selected Works: Volume V: Poetry and Experience.
Ed. Rudolf Makkreel and Frithjof Rodi. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1997, p. 233.
24 Hodges, H. A. Wilhelm Dilthey; An Introduction. 1944. New York: Howard Fertig, 1969, p.
118.
34


conceptions, judgments and larger ideas. This type of expression asserts the
propositional content of thoughts. What is important about this type of expression is
that it is the same for the person who understands it as it is for the one who expresses
it. The second type of expression is action. Dilthey says, "Actions are systematically
related to the mental states which they express, and this permits assumptions, often
correct, to be made about those mental states.1,26 However, actions do not express the
entire mind and we need to be careful not to ignore the other possibilities they eclipse,
when those possibilities were very much a part of mental life. The third type of
expression is called a life-expression or a spontaneous expression of experience. This
type is an expression of feeling, these expressions are not established by convention,
but are natural to humanity. They are not a part of systematized language, but rather
include things like the clapping of hands, a laugh, a sigh, a facial expression, or a
gesture. The salience of a life-expression is the honest character of it's emotional
content. These types of expressions are commonly understood to intermingle with one
another in the physical manifestations of culture. However, just as the three mental
attitudes are subordinated to one in the psychic nexus, the three types of expression
are intermingled, with one predominating, and the other two subordinate. Certainly, in
the historical record we never find instances of pure action, pure propositional content,
or pure emotional honesty. Yet we can understand how these three types of 25
25 Dilthey Wilhelm. "The Understanding of Other Persons and Their Life Expressions". Theories of
History. Ed. Patrick Gardiner. New York: The Free Press, 1959, p. 213.
35


expressions might intermingle, and in so doing understand physical expression of
culture we encounter in the world. We can see here a close connection between
expressions and their underlying Weltanschauung.
Expressions are the basis of understanding between people. When a person
encounters an expression it comes alive in the mind. This coming alive is a process
whereby the underlying mental states which gave rise to the expression are reproduced
in the mind of the one perceiving the expression; this is called Nachbild or after-
creating. Understanding the expression, and hence the lived experience of the other
arises out of Nachbild. Dilthey claims that in order to truly understand the lived
experience behind an expression we must re-experience or re-live it ourselves. It is
through re-living, and not simply reproducing or Nachbild, that we can come to have
a truly reflexive awareness of an expression. Re-living, or Nacherleben, as it is called
by Dilthey, requires us to make the encounter of the understanding of an expression a
part of our own lived experience. In Nacherleben, the individual must unify the
Nachbild he constructs out of an encounter with physical culture through his own
psychic nexus. Through this being unified by the psychic nexus, the lived experience
behind the expression of physical culture becomes there-for-me, in a way that it was
not in mere Nachbild.
26 Ibid., p. 214.
36


The task of the historian is to treat the historical documents he encounters as
the life expressions of both historical actors, and the social Weltanschauung of the
period he is studying. He is to use the documents as a method of gaining access to the
lived experiences of historical actors. Understood in these terms, a historical
document, or any object that might be the material of hermeneutical analysis is
considered to be a life expression of the person who created it. Because the
expression is the result of lived experiences unified in and by the psychic nexus of its
creator, Dilthey believes that through the proper analysis of the expression, a
reconstruction or an understanding of the lived experiences determining its creation is
possible through the application of good hermeneutics. Approaching history as
hermeneutics, it becomes a descriptive science, since it is about understanding
experiences that human beings essentially like ourselves have; indeed, we relive their
experiences through Nacherleben.
History then, is not about generating sociological laws of human behavior. To
make such a move would be an attempt at first principles of a sort, and would deny
that the three mental attitudes of the theory of Weltanschauungen were inherently
different from one another; to convert human behavior into laws would require the
harmonization of the attitudes, and that is not possibleone will always dominate the
other two in each individual, and they are inherently different ways of understanding
the world.
37


Through the implementation of a descriptive psychology based on
Weltcmschauugen (which the historian should know implicitly, since he has some sort
of innate access to all three of the attitudes in himself), the historian can re-construct
the lived experience of the historical actor through an interpretation of historical
documents understood as life expressions. Dilthey gives a powerful example of how
this historical Nacherleben works in the complicated example of Martin Luther and his
contemporaries.
When I go through the letters and writings of Luther, the opinions of his
contemporaries, the acts of religious conferences and councils, and his own
official acts, I live through a religious process of such eruptive power, with life
and death literally at stake, that it is quite beyond the experience of anyone
today. But I can re-live it. I can project myself into the circumstances;
everything in them urges towards an extraordinary development of the
religious sensibility.. I see how that takes shape in the monasteries is diffused
into the lay world by countless meanspulpits, confessionals, lecterns,
writings; I see how the councils and religious movements spread the doctrine
of the Invisible Church and Universal Priesthood, and how it relates to the
liberation of personality in personal life.27
We see in this passage Dilthey's clear intent that Nacherleben is to be used not
only in coming to understand the lived experience of other persons, but also in re-
constructing the Weltanschauung of different historical periods and groups of people
having an impact in their larger communities. Just as a descriptive psychology of
worldviews can give one a hermeneutic insight into the mind of another individual,
because different historical epochs have larger worldviews attached to them, there can
27 Ibid., p. 221.
38


be a hermeneutic sociological insight when one engages expressions expressive of a
period. The sociological mind or objective mind, as it is labeled by Dilthey, is accessed
through the same means as the individual mind. Everything is dependent on
descriptive psychology and Weltanschauung.
The Challenge of Inter-subjectivitv
What is striking about Dilthey, is that although he has a far more complicated
hermeneutic method than Schleiermacher, he too has a point where the transcendent is
simply transcended without explanation. In Schleiermacher, we saw that there was a
kind of divinatory interpretation that proceeded by an intuitive method to give the
scholar access to the inner life of the author. In Dilthey, the descriptive psychology,
and the descriptive study of history is supposed to give the scholar a more solid
ground for making assertions about the inner lives of others. However, it seems that
in Dilthey, the fundamental access to the inner states of others relies upon the
knowledge I have of myself and my own inner states. He says as much in The
Introduction to the Human Sciences:
Although the psychic process whereby I conclude that a friend in tears [a
spontaneous expression of experience/life expression] is grieving can be
analyzed logically in terms of inferences, it is really the case of transference or
psychological interpretation which involves a more direct completion.28
28 Dilthey, Wilhelm. Introduction to the Human Sciences. Selected Works: Volume I. Ed. Rudolf
Makkreel andFrithjofRodi. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1989, p. 390.
39


Simplest form: I complete the inner state nexus. Reflexive awareness. Another form: Completion by means of the
apperception of a present inner nexus.29
Although Dilthey wants to accord the knowledge of the inner states of other minds a
higher status than an inference of their content, he doesn't succeed in bridging the
foreignness of the other. The mind of the other, be he my neighbor or Martin Luther,
is still in some way fundamentally different from and other than my subjectivity. In
Dilthey's hermeneutics there is still a difficulty in transcending the subjectivity of the
other.
Furthermore, there is some difficulty in the practicality of a method that relies
so heavily on a solid understanding of the historian's own subjectivity. What Dilthey
purports is possible is for the modem scholar to be able to understand the lived
experiences of those who actually lived in the past. In this way he echoes the
sentiments of Ranke, who wanted to show in history what actually happened. Dilthey
is still aiming at a solid understanding of the past as past. One must question then,
given his reliance on the mind of the historian studying the past to relive the
experiences of historical actors, and then render those experience to his audience in
ways more intelligible to the modem reader, what is the impact of the modem
Weltanschauung on the historian as he engages in his task? How is the modem
historian to understand the advance of the Black Death across Europe when he has
29 Ibid., p. 390-391.
40


always lived in a world with antibiotics? How is the modem historian to understand
the subjectivity of an eighteenth century slave on a Virginia plantation, when he has
always known the comforts of living in affluent American suburbs? Clearly Dilthey
thinks that his method can succeed in the light of such challenges. The passage above
regarding Luther speaks directly to this issue. He speaks there of a "religious process
of such eruptive power.. .that it is quite beyond the experience of anyone today".
Descriptive psychology, is supposed to aid in the reconstruction here. The
historian is able to imagine what it would have been like for him to have been there.
He is to imagine how he would have felt given the circumstances of Luther. But I
wonder if Dilthey could have given this same example of Nacherleben if he hadn't
come form a German Protestant tradition. If Dilthey, or the historian studying the life
and times of Luther had been Catholic, might they instead re-live the life of one
corrupt in the faith? Instead of seeing the spread of the Invisible Church and the
Universal Priesthood might they instead see the spread of disease in the faithful and the
abandonment of true apostolic succession? If Dilthey had been a French atheist might
he not have seen the birth of a new intolerant dogmatism which would wage constant
wars with the old and give rise to scores of fanatic demagogues? These are legitimate
questions to ask of Dilthey. It might be true that in one form or another each of these
interpretations has value for those of different traditions, but Dilthey does not want to
construct such a history. He aims at something more objective and scientific than that.
41


His theory suggests that we would really be similar enough to one another that each of
us in honest reflection and approach to the historical documents and life expressions of
the other, could have some access to the lived experience of the historical actor under
consideration. Unfortunately there is no guarantee that this will be the case. The mind
of the historian and his particular circumstances may have a greater impact on what he
is going to find in the life expressions of others than Dilthey wants to accept. Part of
the reason for this danger of subjectivism is that the historians own re-living is that
the only access to other minds that there is in his system.
Dilthey attempts to mount the transcendent challenge of history by making all
of our minds essentially similar. There are only a few variables to compute, and we all
have access to these different variables, even though they might not be dominant in our
particular paradigm. We can give the smaller parts of ourselves a greater part of our
attention and imagine what a person might be like if he was more largely controlled by
what plays so small a role in us. We can get into the mind of the other this way. But
we really aren't doing so. All we are doing in the end is playing a kind of language
game. We say, "How would I feel if I did that, and I was him?"30 Of course this
ignores the question we are really interested in: How was it for him to do that? In
favor of the: How would it be for me to do that if I were him? I think Dilthey has
confused these two questions, and perhaps conflated them. I am convinced that his
30 We see here that what Dilthey gives us is a history that is overly dependant on the subjectivity of
the historian. This cannot provide support for the inter-subjective model of history we are trying to
42


aim of a history that reflects what happed as it happened is a goal that cannot be
accomplished. A better question to ask of history might be: What does it mean for
me, what does it mean for us, that he did that as he did it when he did it and how he
did it? Such a question immediately changes the character of historical studies. It
brings them into the present, but it does so in such a way that they are also left in the
past. History becomes relevant without being relativized. To see how such an
approach might work, and to also see how the difficult problem of the transcendent
character of other minds might be overcome, we will turn to the thought of Martin
Heidegger.
build. It is only singularly subjective, and therefore may easily fall prey to the dangers of relativism.
43


CHAPTER III
HEIDEGGER
Ontological Foundations
The ontology of Martin Heidegger can be used as a way to overcome several
of the problems that we encountered in earlier theories and to bring to hermeneutics
the possibility of a history that might be more truly called inter-subjective. Heidegger's
analysis of being in Being and Time can give us the sort of understanding required so
that historical study can be in some way inter-subjective.31 The genius of Heidegger is
that he is able to do away with the subject-object distinction. In contradistinction to
Dilthey, it is not consistent with Heidegger to speak of the importance of
differentiating between inner and outer experience. He would think that the inner and
the outer were too entangled in one another to speak of them in separate terms.
Heidegger would speak only of the experiences of the person, or Da-sein,32 and not of
31 Of course Heiddeger dispenses with the traditional dualism of subjectivity and objectivity. The end
result we will achieve with Heidegger will not be inter-subjective in a way where subjectivity is
understood as half of a subject-object dualism, but will involve a being-there-with and a Mitda-sein. I
persist in using the term subjectivity is spite of Heideggers discomfort with it because I think there is
a good deal more linguistic economy in the term subjectivity than there is in the word Da-sien, even if
it is laden with historical prejudice. Besides, to even suggest the possibility of an inter-subjectivity
suggests that we are going beyond a more traditional concept of subjectivity.
32 Dasien translates as being-there, but might also be understood to mean subjectivity, mind, human
being, or psycho-physical life unit. In the introduction to this chapter I am equating it to the person.
44


the importance of reflexive awareness for the understanding. Now Heidegger doesn't
go down the positivist road of Comte, quite the contrary. Rather, he explores the
impact of what is traditionally considered the subjective on what is traditionally
considered the objective and what is traditionally considered the objective on what is
traditionally considered the subjective. He does not separate these two spheres as
much as earlier thinkers did.
Heidegger rejects the notion of the stark division between subjective and
objective space. For him, there is no mental life separate from the external world, and
conversely, there is no world out there independent from mental life. Fundamentally,
personhood, or Da-sein, is being-in-the-world. That is to say that the person, or Da-
sein, cannot be separated from its worldliness. The concept of the being-in is
incredibly important here. Heidegger does not simply mean to say that our physical
bodies are in the world as such. He instead means to assert that we are entangled in
the world. We are somehow essentially linked to those things we are with in the world.
In many ways it is more of a being-with-the-world than it is a being in. Here is how
he lays it out:
Being-in designates a constitution of being of Da-sein, and is an existential.
But we cannot understand this by the objective presence of a material thing
(the human body) "in" a being objectively present. Nor does the term being-in
designate a spatial "in one another" of two things objectively present, any more
than the word "in" primordially means a spatial relation of this kind. "In" stems
from innan-, to live, habitare, to dwell. "An" means I am used to, familiar
However, all of the translations are deficient, so I will use the term Da-sein in this essay, as has
become customary when writing about Heidegger.
45


with, I take care of something. It has the meaning of colo in the sense of
habito and diligo. We characterized this being to whom being-in belongs in
this meaning as the being which I myself always am. The expression "bin" is
connected with "bei". "Ich bin" (I am) means I dwell, I stay near . to be
familiar with. . Being-in is thus the formal existential expression of the
being of Da-sein which has the essential constitution of being-in-the-world.33
We pick up several words from this passage on being-in that are incredibly
important for understanding Heidegger's ontology: to dwell, to be near, to live, to be
familiar with, and especially to care. Care is fundamental to the constitution of the
being of Da-sein and its attitude towards objects in the world. The notion of care as
constitutive of Da-sein's attitude towards objects which it itself is not helps us to
understand how Heidegger's ontology is one of an entanglement of the human being
with the objects around him. By care Heidegger means to suggest that Da-sein relates
to objects in such a way that they are relevant. Objects become in some way useful for
Da-sein. They do so because the are worldly (they are contextualized in the world
they relate to), and worldliness is caught up in Da-sein.
Some of the comments Heidegger makes regarding the world and worldliness
seem to be in tension. In one place he says, "Da-sein understands itselfand that
means also its being-in-the-worldontologically in terms of those beings and their
being which it itself is not, but which it encounters 'within' its world."34 In another
place he says, "World' is ontologically not a determination of those beings which Da-
33 Heidegger, Martin. Being and Time. Tran. Joan Stambaugh. New York: State University of New
York Press, 1996, p. 54.
34 Ibid., p. 58.
46


sein essentially is not, but rather a characteristic of Da-sein itself."35 On the one hand
he seems to be saying that Da-sein comes to its meaning through its encounter with
the objects it finds in the world. On the other hand, he also seems to be saying that the
world itself finds its very constitution in Da-sein. Both of these are true. Heidegger
wants to overcome traditional separation of the subject from the object. Although he
clearly recognizes that there are objects in the world that are not Da-sein, he is not
going to concede that what is most meaningful about these objects, and he is not going
to concede that what is singularly constitutive of their ontology is their objective
presence (or physical substance). However, he will not deny that objects encountered
in the world do have an element of objective presence that is important in their
ontological description. Objects never cease in their resistance to the care of Da-
sein.36
Evervdavness
In average everydayness we find Da-sein as being-in-the-world in association
with inner-worldly objects. A more thorough understanding of the ontology of inner-
worldly objects will lead us to a better understanding of the they, which in turn will
35 Ibid., p. 60.
36 The resistance of objects to the subjectivity of the perceiving subject is important in Heideggerian
ontology as a way of preventing an overly relativized and overly subjective account of the world. The
physicality of some objects (their objective presence) is one way that they resist an absolute relativity
of interpretation. However, objects can and do resist not only in their objective presence, but also in
their handiness.
47


give us a way of being-there-with, which will then bring us closer to the inter-
subjective history we were striving at to begin with.
Inner-worldly objects have a dualistic ontology of handiness and objective
presence. The notion of objective presence might be crudely understood in the
manner of a more traditional ontology. Objective presence might find a more robust
corollary in the notion of substance. However, for Heidegger, objective presence is
only one side of the ontological coin. The mere physical existence of a thing is not
enough to make an inner-worldly object. In fact, an object such that it had objective
presence and no handiness is not a possible object in the ontology of Heidegger. The
two must and always do go together. According to Heidegger, the idea that an object
can be separated from its handiness or utility is what led to the abdication of true
ontological analysis from the Parmenides through Descartes and down to the twentieth
century. The notion that the ontological description of an object can be separated
from its worldly context and rendered in terms of substance is what led to the isolation
of human subjectivity from objective realityit created the problem of the in-itself.
Heidegger answers the in-itself question by repudiating the notion of substance and
turning towards utility and handiness. He says, "Handiness is the ontological
categorical definition of beings as they are 'in them-selves'."37
37 Ibid., p. 71.
4S


Handiness might be understood in a preliminary way as utility, or the
understanding of a being in the way that is most useful to Da-sein. Heidegger gives the
example of a tool.
Hammering does not just have a knowledge of the useful character of the
hammer; rather it has appropriated this useful thing in the most adequate way.
possible. When we take care of things, we are subordinate to the in-order-to
constitutive for the actual useful thing in our association with it. The less we
just stare at [and try to make exclusively objectively present] the thing called
hammer, the more actively we use it, the more original our relation to it
becomes and the more undisguisedly it is encountered as what it is, as a useful
thing. The act of hammering itself discovers the specific "handiness" of the
hammer. We shall call the useful things kind of being in which it reveals itself
by itself handiness. It is only because useful things have this "being-in-
themselves," and do not merely occur, that they are handy in the broadest sense
and are at our disposal. No matter how keenly we just look at the "outward
appearance" of things constituted in one way or another, we cannot discover
handiness. When we just look at things "theoretically," we lack an
understanding of handiness. But association which makes use of things is not
blind, it has its own way of seeing which guides its operations and gives them
their specific thingly quality. Our association with useful things is subordinate
to the manifold references of the "in-order-to." The kind of seeing of this
accommodation to things is called circumspection.38
Heidegger is clear in this example that the fundamental characteristics of an
object are not found in its physicality. The object finds its being as it is useful to Da-
sein and manifests it worldliness. What makes an inner-worldly object is not a list of
physical properties. Non-physical objects have an ontological status in Heidegger's
thought. Things such as words, and ideas have a handiness about them that can have
an influence on the inner-worldly characteristics of other objects. Of course, such
38 Ibid., p. 69.
49


non-physical objects are of great importance to this essay owing to the inclusion of
historical objects in this group. Indeed, one of the greatest problems with a traditional
historical epistemology is that the objects under study have largely disappeared, and
ceased in their being objects. We are left to study them by their effects having given
rise to other objects, namely documents, that have to be studied not to reveal their own
ontology, but the characteristics of something disappeared.
Furthermore, in the above example about the hammer, there is given an
indication of what Heidegger labels pre-understanding or foreknowledge. The utility of
the hammer is given in the in-order-to; and this might be attached to different sorts of
larger structures relating to worldliness. Hammering is important to building or
constructing. I might hammer the framing together for a house, which makes
hammering an important part of building a house, and my hammering and the
handiness of the hammer may find its in-order-to in the building of a house. But
further along still we may know that the building of a house has its own purpose as far
as providing shelter, and being a residence; furthermore, it might be connected to the
ontologies of home, family life and community. The point is that the handiness of the
hammer necessarily points beyond the direct object of the hammer. But it does this in
such a way that these other and perhaps greater purposes do not come into view.
They are really nothing more that an attribute of the worldliness of the hammer. The
act of hammering itself does not thematically grasp these various contexts for the
50


handiness and the in-order-to of the hammer; yet it is clear that they are given as a
prior condition for such handiness (they are pre-understood). The web of contextual
meanings is a part of the world of Da-sein, and objects, which Da-sein is not, appear in
that world in relation to their own worldliness. However, the question arises of just
how Da-sein comes to apprehend the world and its worldliness in such a way that
handiness can become the fundamental part of the ontology of objects.
The answer to this question rests in throvmess and the they. The they might be
initially understood as the collection of other minds. Dilthey called a concept similar
to this that he called the objective mind, which was sort of the spirit of the times in
which a person lived. Remember in Dilthey the objective mind had sort of a life of its
own and a Weltanschauung that aided in the interpretation of various texts and
expression in terms of a period and what they could tell us about the period. In
Heidegger, the they is more pervasive than this. He also gives a better explanation for
it than to rely on a similarity of psychology for different periods. He gives and
ontological and existential account of the they.
Being-in-the-world necessarily means being there with others. The Mitda-sein,
as Heidegger calls it, of other people is a part of the worldliness of our world.39 When
Da-sein takes an attitude of circumspect care towards an object, the being of others is
there as a part of this circumspection. Other people, and their structure of care and
39 Mitda-sein literally translated as with-being-there. We should understand this expression to mean
the being-there-with of other human subjects in our world of experience. In a more basic sense
51


their in-order-tos, are going to have an impact on the handiness of an object. Our
contextual webs of meaning for objects depend upon the proposition that there are
others in the world that encounter these self-same objects in ways that are largely
similar to the ways that we encounter, experience, and understand them because the
existence of other is implicated by how an object is handy, and how it might be used in
the world. While a more traditional ontology might speak of a similarity of subjective
spaces based upon the ability of persons to meaningfully interact with one another
regarding said objects, it would still maintain that the subjective and objective spaces
were separate from on another. Furthermore, a traditional ontology cannot overcome
the doubt concerning the accuracy of the inferred subjective experience of another
person. However, in Heidegger it is the very experience of the ontic states of the
objects themselves that yield the ontological concept of handiness, which establishes
the social link. The ontology of objects occurs in a space that is defined by a space not
only of world and Da-sein, but also one that has a Mitda-sein, and a being-there-with.
We do not create the worldliness of the world. Although the world is for Da-
sein and cannot be identified by anything that is not in any fundamental sense not mine,
it is not a world created by the I or the ego; rather it is a world appropriated by Da-
sein. Individuals encounter a world of languages, institutions and symbols, and it is
through the use of these symbols and meanings that they are able to initiate and
Mitda-sein can be understood as referring to the other people who are with us in the world.
52


participate in their own projects. It would be silly to suggest otherwise. In this way
handiness resists the subject as well as objective presence might. The will of an
individual cannot bend or shape the handiness of an object towards a project
inappropriate to its use. The hammer is good for hammering and it is best directed
towards projects which require hammering; this makes good use of the hammer's in-
order-to. We would find ourselves thwarted and resisted by attempting to stretch the
handiness of the hammer in the direction of picking teeth. But, you may say, this
example does not seem to speak to the possibility of a being-there-with, it may merely
indicate a physical and objective limitation of the hammer. However, the reason it is
inherently social is because it has to do with the handiness and the directedness of
hammers themselves. It may be better to look at the linked conditions of the handiness
of the hammer and the necessary conditions of hammering, to see why the being-there-
with actually does show itself in this example.
Proper hammering achieves the fastening of lumber to something, this act then
requires lumber and materials to be fastened to itit also requires nails. Nails and
lumber and shingles and siding and drywall and molding, all require producers and
have to come from somewhere, or the hammer is deprived of its handiness as it cannot
achieve hammering. The hammering and the lumber and the building materials are all
directed toward the construction of something of human value in their handiness.
Lumber has in its handiness a potential or an in-order-to that has to do with building
53


homes or schools or churches, and these structures are wrapped up in human meaning.
We build for a purpose. Hammering does not exist and cannot exist outside of this
large context of meanings. Of course when I hammer, I do not and cannot have all of
these various ends and purposes in mind, but they are there latent in the handiness of
the hammer. The hammer is there to be put to use, and it is useful within the world,
and the world is informed by the minds of others, and it is uniquely appropriated by
me, but it is not a creation of mine. I am thrown into its facticity. That is why the
hammer has limitations to its handiness. The physical properties preventing me from
using the hammer as a toothpick are of secondary importance. The possibility doesn't
exist that a hammer could have a meaningful handiness as a toothpick. Of this
intercontextuality of being-with-others and the being-in-the-world, Heidegger says in
History of the Concept of Time:
The tool I am using is bought by someone, the book is a gift from . ., the
umbrella is forgotten by someone. The dining-table at home is not a round top
on a stand but a piece of furniture in a particular place, which itself has its
particular places at which particular others are seated everyday.40
Handiness is founded in the worldliness of the world, and Da-sein is in the
world in a fundamental way. However, Da-sein is not alone in the world. Other Da-
seins are there with it. Together, these Da-seins understand that which constitutes the
handiness of objects. Because the understandings of handiness are understood within
a social framework, these understandings are resistant to changes willed by any
54


particular Da-sein. We know this from the handiness of objects themselves, because
we encounter them as determined in their handiness. So, we see here that the
determinate character of handiness lends an objective character to the understandings
that the they has of the world. Ultimately, it is this inter-dependant social
understanding of the determinate nature of the handiness of objects that will prevent a
history based on Heideggerian principles from becoming overly relativistic.
In Being and Time, Heidegger gives the example of the inseparability of a
noise from its handiness as an example of the principle of the inseparability of an object
from its determinate handiness. He shows that the traditional empiricist, who is
dependent on the perceptibility of pure sound qua sound for his ontology, and the
separation of subjective space form the objectivity of the world, requires a serious
abstraction away from our everyday experience of sound.
It requires a very artificial and complicated attitude in order to "hear" a
pure "noise." The fact that we initially hear motorcycles and wagons is,
however, the phenomenological proof that Da-sein, as being-in-the-world,
already maintains itself together with innerworldly things at hand and initially
not at all with "sensations" whose chaos would first have to be formed to
provide the springboard from which the subject jumps off finally to land in a
"world." Essentially understanding, Da-sein is initially together with what is
understood.
In the explicit hearing of the discourse of the other, too, we initially
understand what is said: more precisely, we are already together with the
other beforehand, with the being which the discourse is about. We do not, on
the contrary, first hear what is expressed in the utterance. Even when speaking 40
40 Heiddeger, Martin. History of the Concept of Time. Tran. Theodore Kisiel. Bloomington,
Indiana: Indiana University Press, 1985, p. 239.
55


is unclear or the language is foreign, we initially hear unintelligible words, and
not a multiplicity of tone data.41
We see here that the intelligibility of other persons is based upon their
participation with the formation of their own world that they are being-in. Therefore,
other persons do not have the same ontology as everyday objects; they do not avail
themselves to analysis in terms of the objectively present and handinessthey are
other Da-seins. Other persons are not beings that we might or might not encounter in
our being-in-the-world, as are everyday objects, they are necessary as a part of the
constitution of the worldliness of the world. The existence of the Da-sein of the other
is in no way accidental. Indeed, Heidegger insists that the other is present in the sense
of a being-with-others, even when Da-sein is alone, because the absence of the other is
a modification of my awn Da-sein. This is true in the sense that being-in-the-world is a
necessary being-with because the underlying contextuality of worldliness and the
modality of being as care presupposes the existence of an other. Others are
encountered in the handiness of objects because handiness itself (being oriented
toward the in-order-to) depends on others being there with it. If the other is not a
particular other, or there is no body objectively present to be an other, then the role
and purpose of the other is subsumed by the they or the anybody .42 In a way the they
41 Heidegger, Martin. Being and Time. Tran. Joan Stambaugh. New York: State University of New
York Press, 1996, p. 164.
42 Heidegger clarifies this point the following way in History of the Concept of Time: "One's own
concernDa-sein as being-withhas placed the others in its care in this way [in its concern over
being apart]. To put it more adequately, Da-sein as being-with is lived by the co-Da-sein of others
56


or the anybody is the vehicle through which worldliness is to be understood as being
maintained throughout the absence of the Da-sein which is mine. The they is revealed
by the determinate handiness and objective presence of circumspect objects at hand. It
is within the contextuality of the they that Da-sein is thrown into its own world. And
more importantly, especially for the purposes of this essay, it is the appropriation of
the worldly character of the they that I come to understand the world (or that Da-sein
which is in every case my own) through discoveredness.
In discoveredness, which leads to understanding proper, we see something of
the reflexive awareness of proper understanding that Dilthey spoke of. In
discoveredness there is a two-fold phenomenon. First, what is discovered is that
which is disclosed in the world; and second, there is that which is disclosed in my
being-in-the world. For something to truly be discovered it must be integrated into the
larger understanding of the worldliness of the world. This is to say not much more
than for something to really be understood, there must be an appropriation of the
knowledge by the Da-sein that is my own; and furthermore, as such it is discovered in
a way that the being-in is in accord with the being-there-with of the other. To be
and the world which concerns it in this or that way. Right in its own most everyday pursuits, Da-sein
as being with the others is not itself. Instead it is the other who live one's own Da-sein. These others
moreover do not have to be definite others. Any other can represent them. It really does not matter
who it is at the time. What matters is only the other to whom one's own Da-sein itself belongs. These
other, to whom oneself belongs and who one is in being-with-one-another, constitute the 'subject', so
to speak, which in its constant presence pursues and manages everyday concern." p. 245.
57


understood something is known both as my own knowledge and as a possibility of
knowledge for an other.
There is, however, another element in discoveredness and understanding that
does not show itself in the previous paragraph; and this is the element of
discoveredness as discovering itself. There is something about the calling and naming
of a coming-to-an-understanding discoveredness, which recalls Plato's theory of innate
knowledge. Plato's position that the human soul had knowledge of the ideal world
that was lost before birth, and is re-gained through the process of education as
recollection, isn't too inappropriate a metaphor for Heidegger's notion of
discoveredness (although, it is important to remember that Heidegger repudiated
Plato's formalistic ontology). Discoveries are made in the world, and the world is
given in Da-sein. So, there is the difficulty of things in one sense already being within
Da-sein, and in another sense still being undiscovered, unknown or un-understood.
Heidegger admits of this pre-understanding, or fore-knowledge, and it is indeed and
important part of his epistemology.
The pre-giveness of the world to Da-sein is why discovering is a two-fold
process. In a traditional ontology, to discover an object or a thing is to find it in the
outside, objective world. For example, I may discover upon rising in the morning that
it is raining outside. I do this through a visual observation through my window of
water falling from the sky; I infer that the water is there owing to certain cloud
58


formations and weather patterns. The point is, in a more traditional ontology, I
discover an object outside of my self in the world and know it as it manifests itself
there physically. This is not the case in Heideggerian ontology. In Heidegger's
thought an object is discovered not merely in its physicality, but also in its worldliness:
it is discovered as an object in the world. An object is not simply discovered out in the
world, but as a part of my world constituted by the Da-sein which is mine. In this way
discoveries are co-discovered, they illuminate not only the world, but also my being-
in-the-world. Things are discovered in their handiness and their in-order-to, and it is
in this way that they affect my being-in-the-world. It is because discoveries occur in
the world, in which I have beirig-in, that they are in some sense given before-hand.
The pre-giveness of discoveries, however, does not operate as Platonic recollection
does, because the ontology of objects is not a fixed formalism. The answer to how
this pre-giveness of discovery is possible is given in the temporal structure of Da-sein
that can precede itself, which I will discuss below.
The Heideggerian subject, or Da-sein, is a being in the world as a being that is
there with others in the sense of a being-there-with or a Mitda-sein. Da-sein discovers
and understands things in accordance with its being-in-the-world and its being-there-
with-others. Because the what-for and the in-order-to are ascribed to the ontology of
beings, the act of discovering as such, includes interpretation. Because it involves
coming to understand in a public way, the finding out of the new is inherently
59


hermeneuticalit involves interpretation. Furthermore, things are understood in a
fundamentally public waythey are understood as what they are in the same way by
others at the same time that I understand them in this way. The possibility of language
(and communication between different minds) is rooted in public meaningfulness.
Different Da-seins understand things as they are in a fundamentally similar way, so
that they can be spoken about. The fundamental similarity of understanding as is
manifested through worldliness and revealed through the ontology of handiness.
Heidegger explains in History of the Concept of Time that "In thus bringing out the
what-for and the for-the-sake-of-which of something the incomprehensibility of
something is removed, the meaning of meaningfulness is made explicit, it is put into
words."43 So here there is the possibility of language for Da-sein that is different from
the representational schema of a more traditional philosophy. Language itself is
concerned not with the construction and maintenance of representational relationships
to the objects found in the world, but instead to an ascribing of meaning to the objects
encountered in our being-in-the-world. With language comes the possibility of
ascribing meaning to things and understanding the possibilities of meaning. Language
also makes discourse, or communication of ideas and expressions beyond idle talk,
possible. All of these things, being-in-the-world, being-with-others, and
43 Heiddeger, Martin. History of the Concept of Time. Tran. Theodore Kisiel. Bloomington,
Indiana: Indiana University Press, 1985, p. 261.
60


discoveredness are connected with being and its possibility for meaning and the
meaning of being as such. Heidegger writes:
There is verbal expressionlanguageonly insofar as there is considering,
and such a consideration of something as something is possible only insofar as
there is interpreting; interpretation in turn is only insofar as there is
understanding, and understanding is only insofar as Da-sein has the structure of
being as discoveredness, which means that Da-sein itself is defined as being-in-
the-world. . Language is nothing but a distinctive possibility of the very
being of Da-sein.44
It is also the case that language is understood as being possible only because
there is discourse as a part of being-there-with. It is through the operations of
language that the other can share with Da-sein, and vice versa, the meanings of the
beings, which it is in the world with. Speaking about innerworldly things at hand is
possible in the first place because being-in-the-world presumes a being-there-with, and
the Da-sein of the other can be experienced as though it were mine, or appropriated as
my own. The pre-understanding and fore-knowledge of the worldliness of the world
establishes the possibility of communication. Through communication the other can
make known to me the being, as handiness or as objective presence, of an object
unknown to me except through a pre-understanding which is the basis of the
communication in the first place.
It is in the possibility of language as the conveyor of meaning to the world as
such that there arises something like the possibility of a sort of inter-subjectivity that
44 Ibid., p. 261.
61


we might be able to apply to the concept of history. First, discourse (from which the
possibility of language arises) is discourse about something.45 In being about
something discourse presupposes an understanding of the world that the participants in
the discourse have in common. Discourse presupposes a being-there-with being-in-
the-world. This much we have already spoken about; but important here also is that in
the possibilities of discourse there is a worldliness held in common (the possibilities of
the they) wherein objects are understood in relation to their handiness and
functionality. Participants in discourse come to a common understanding (things
become being-for-them in their respective Da-seins). They understand them as they
understand them in a way common to one another. Because language makes things
understandable to the they, there are also understandable to me because I may either
appropriate the they or allow the they to control my understandings in everydayness.
In this way, through language and discourse I can make available to the anonymous
other the interpretations of worldliness held by my Da-sein, and I may understand how
the Da-sein of the other interprets its own worldliness.
45 Discourse here is to be understood as nothing more than talking about things as things. Language
is a kind of discourse dependant on a complex system of rules specifically developed for the purpose
of conveying specific meanings to others who know the language.
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Temporality
I mentioned earlier that discovery in Heidegger is akin to platonic recollection
of innate ideas because discovery depends on foreknowledge and pre-understanding. I
also said that this possibility is based on the structure of Da-sein, which precedes itself.
It is time and the temporality of Da-sein that makes possible and intelligible this
structure. Heidegger concludes the History of the Concept of Time saying, "[Time] is
that which makes possible the being-ahead-of-itself-in-already-being-involved-in, that
is which makes possible the being of care."46 This notion of temporality is going to be
especially important for this essay because it is going to truly allow Da-sein to get into
the past and into history. Da-sein is structured such that the historian will already have
a kind of understanding about the past even before he engages the study of it.
Historical study will inform itself about its subject as it engages that subject. There is
a similarity between temporally oriented Da-sein and the hermeneutic circle; however,
for Heidegger time it not a part of any techniqueit is a part of the fundamental
structure of Da-sein.
Temporality means that all questions of the world and of the being of beings
are entangled in a temporal matrix and understood by virtue of this matrix in Da-sein.
An object doesn't simply exist in the present to be perceived in present consciousness.
This is primarily because there is no such thing as present consciousness.47 The past is
46 Ibid., p. 319-320.
47 By present consciousness I mean consciousness in a Humean sensea sort of constant awareness of
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bound up with and entangled in the present and the future. Similarly, the future is
bound up with and entangled in the past and the present; and likewise, since there is no
such thing as present consciousness, the present is bound up with and entangled with
the past and the future.
Heidegger sees the structure of Da-sein as "Ahead-of-itself-already-being-in (a
world) as being-together-with (beings encountered in the world)."48 And from this
fundamental structure of Da-sein as the being of care he draws out three attributes of
temporality. "Being-ahead-of-oneself is grounded in the future. Already-being-in . .
makes known having-been. Being-together-with ... is made possible in making
present."49 By being-ahead-of-oneself, Heidegger is not speaking with regard to the
traditional concept of time. Rather he is referring to a moving towards of Da-sein that
is wrapped up in its being as care. People have projects and ideas about themselves
that they are in a constant state of motion towards. We are people who are constantly
becoming; we are goal oriented, so to speak. We operate with an anticipatory
consciousness that is already and always in the future. We are constantly becoming
who we are, and at the same time are never quite who we are. We are always
wrapped up in our ideas of ourselves and constantly in flux. By saying being-ahead-
of-oneself and moving toward, Heidegger refers to the role of the future in our lives.
the now that is only connected to the past and future through reflection and inferences about the
similarity of temporally disconnected events.
48 Heidegger, Martin. Being and Time. Tran. Joan Stambaugh. New York: State University of New
York Press, 1996, p. 300.
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Ultimately this is tied into the authenticity of our projects and being-towards-death,
but that is not relevant to our purposes here. For this essay, it is enough to understand
that the fiitural element of being-ahead-of-oneself is the anticipation of bills due and
bills paid, it is the worry about the weather and the thinking through to the end.
However, it is equally the thinking through to the end of getting a degree and the
thinking through to the end of lunch. It is our anticipation of our projects and their
effect on our being-in-the-world. This is true of small projects and large projects. We
are constantly in the state of becoming who and what we are and to the seeing through
to the end of things.
Already-being-in refers to our throwness into the world and into the contexts
of the they. More simply put, we find ourselves already in a world that is not of our
making. The world we are being-in manifests itself before us. We do not make or
create reality; we operate within it. It is already there and precedes us. However, this
is not as simplistic as it at first seems. Because we are not to understand the
temporality of Da-sein in the ordinary way that time is understood (or the vulgar
concept of time as Heidegger calls it), we can't understand the already-being-in in the
way that we might understand being bom into a world that preceded you. If this were
the case Heidegger would not have called it already-being-in, he might have rather
called it a having-come-into. What is peculiar to the construct of the analytic of Da- 49
49 Ibid., p. 301.
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sein is that it doesn't come into the world, rather is has a world, and innerworldly
things at hand stand in relation to the world that Da-sein has. The world is that which
Da-sein is in. So to say that Da-sein is already-being-in, is akin to saying that Da-sein
is equipped with the world and worldliness before it is in the world. This is why
understanding is based in discoverednessyou can't invent the new when you are
already-being-in; you can discover what you already had in your being-in. And it is the
already-being-in that is going to change the epistemological character of historical data
in Heideggerian ontology.
The being-together-with gives rise to the temporal element of presentness in
Da-sein. However this needs to be understood more in the terms of a making present
than a having of things in the now. Here we do not necessarily mean the being-
together-with of Mitda-sein, although that is not excluded either, but rather the being-
together-with of things objectively present at hand. The temporal action of making
something present is analogous to the making present of spatial de-distancing of Da-
sein, where something is made present by an action more in the order of being brought
into consciousness than of being brought before the subject. In other words, objects
with a closer spatial proximity might be further distanced from Da-sein than those with
less proximity. The building across the street might be de-distanced and spatially
closer to my Da-sein than the ground directly under my feet. Similarly, were I driving
to Kansas City it might be made present by Da-sein de-distancing, and therefore more
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present even than Hays City, which I would drive through on my way there. Through
de-distancing, Da-sein makes present that which is actually farther away more strongly
than that which is physically closer. In this example Hays City is not present for Da-
sein in the same way that Kansas City is.
This is similar to how being-there-with operates within the temporal structure
of Da-sein. When Da-sein is there-with things at hand, Da-sein makes present those
things. Furthermore, the fundamental reason that things at hand are present at all is
because Da-sein is there with them. It is through Da-sein that present objects at hand
are given any sort of temporal identity. Da-sein brings them into the present by
dealing with them and caring for them as present things. They are present before Da-
sein, and Da-sein cares for them is relation to and in accordance with this presentness.
Things are present because they are being dealt with in this way by Da-sein.
Heidegger adds to the being-there-with an attitude of falling-prey to the
present. All this really means is a acceptance of things present as those things present
and at hand. It means to take a proper attitude of caring for them as such things. But
it is important to understand that things are not present themselves; Da-sein must take
an attitude of care towards them (some sort of handiness must arise in addition to their
objective presence). It is rather that they are present in and through Da-sein, because
it is in Da-sein that they are understood as the things that they are (i.e. a sort of
handiness is grasped for them). When we fall prey to the present, we accept the
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present reality of things objectively present at hand, and work with them in accordance
with their present meaning. For example, I might fall prey to a speed bump while
driving my car. In this moment when the speed bump is for me most objectively
present at hand, I encounter a present handiness of the speed bump as an obstruction
for my carone that I must treat with care to avoid causing damage to my car.
Insofar as I am falling-prey to the objective presence at hand of the speed bump in this
way I am falling-prey and being-there-with; however, when I reason forward to the
goal of the speed bump in promoting the safety of the neighborhood, I can see the
being-toward of the speed bump, and in this way I am being-ahead-of-itself, and when
I reason toward what I know of speed bumps and the whys and wherefores of their
existence and how they came about, I am in the already-being-in.
The three temporal attitudes of Da-sein are overlapping and entangled with one
another. It is interesting to notice that since there is always an element of the being-
there-with in Da-sein, that even thinking about the past itself is something that is made
present and is treated circumspectly as something that is present. Furthermore,
thinking about the past is also entangled with the being-toward and being-ahead-of-
itself of the future directedness of Da-sein. The temporal structure of Da-sein gives us
a schema for building an idea of historical consciousness that is automatically relevant
to present concern and present concern about the future. This must be the case,
because if it were not, then history could not be understood as something at hand.
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And if history and historical things are not understood as things at hand, then they can
not have any sort of reality at all, which is clearly not the case.
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CHAPTER IV
INTER-SUBJECTIVE HISTORY AS
RELAVANT DISCOURSE
Heidegger in the analytic of Da-sein has given an underlying structure with
which we can achieve our goal of a relevant inter-subjective history. This is achieved
through linking the Heideggerian concepts of Mitda-sein and temporality. Remember
that the being-there-with-an-other and the Mitda-sein provide a basis for access to
other minds in the present. They do so because the understanding of the other is
necessary for understanding the ontology of the object as handiness and for-which and
in-order-to. The basis of the knowledge of other minds lies in the throwness into the
they of Da-sein. Da-sein is thrown into a public world and exists in that world with
others. It is through the application of language that thoughts, ideas, and
understanding can be transferred from person to person. This is so because each of us
is thrown into the they and can understand the world in accordance with its precepts
and categories. It is perhaps important to mention here that Heidegger speaks of the
they in primarily negative terms in Being and Time, and sees it as an obstruction to
authenticity, because the they is merely experienced and accepted by Da-sein too
often, and Da-sein doesnt appropriate the world in the manner proper to genuine
authenticity. However, the question of authenticity isnt important to this discourse,
70


and here we are concerned with the they and its function as the foundation of the
public understanding of Da-sein.
The terminology of the they can also be understood as the anyone and it is
sometimes translated as such. It may be easier to understand its public character if we
understand the role of the anyone in our lives as that which gives articulation to events
that we experience. Of course, for our experiences to be genuine and authentic, they
must be internalized in a way that they are not by the anyone; however, that is not the
concern of this essay. We are not exploring authenticity. We are exploring how we
can have a real contact with other minds in order to overcome the transcendental
problem of history. Da-sein's relationship to the they or the anyone is one of
throwness or falling. Da-sein falls into the anyones articulation and understanding of
the world. It is the pre-giveness and pre-understanding that we have of our own
worldliness. It is also the structure of the anyone that others have as a primordial
everydayness for their Da-seins. Things that are understood by anyone are accessible
to my understanding because I have a primordial understanding of the anyone's
understanding of being. It is important to clarify that the anyone arises from the
being-with-another and the Mitda-sein. We must remember that the Da-sein of others
is co-original with my own, and I understand in a primordial way that the being of
others is similar to my own. The they arises out of these relationships between Da-
seins. It is the set of generic understandings that are used for communication. When
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Heidegger speaks of living inauthentically, he does not mean to attack the necessity of
the they, he merely means to illustrate the loss of a more genuine selfhood that can
result from uncritically accepting the definitions of self imposed by the abstract
generalizing other. The concept of the they, however, is what allows for the real
possibility for communication. The they provides the accessible horizon at which
different minds can meet in order to come to common understanding about things.
The they is also going to change and adapt according to the community of
individuals represented in it and according to the participants involved with a
particular anyone in a given discourse. This is to say nothing more than the horizon of
understanding is flexible in accordance with different circumstances. However, at all
times the content of the they is what might be understood in common between the
participants of a discourse; otherwise it could not be anyone. Now it is important to
note here that I am beginning to stray away from the strict Heideggerian concept of
the they. I cautioned earlier that a lot of Heidegger's discussion of the they speaks of it
as an impediment to authenticity, and he speaks of the larger they of the culture at
large, which individuals live in, and he speaks of how the prejudices of the they can
alienate and estrange people. What I am speaking of here is smaller than the concept
of the they that is found in Being and Time. What I speak of is the they only insofar as
the they provides a basis for discourse and communication. I am speaking of the they
as the horizon of understanding in communication between persons. The they makes
72


possible the hermeneutic interpretation of an other's communication because the other
can put into the language of common understanding some content to be understood.
The other meets my horizon of understanding with her communications.
The horizon defined by the they, as I mentioned above, is a flexible one.50 Just
as I might modify my communication so as to make understandable my thoughts and
internal states to a particular other by shaping my communication in a way that
conforms to and is within the horizon of the anybody we share in common (for
example, I might translate into Spanish for an non-English-speaking Spanish speaker),
I might also endeavor to stretch my own horizon to achieve better understanding of a
particular other. This is achieved through doing hermeneutic work. However, an
expansion of the horizon will always be in some way preceded by the presence of the
they between the communicants, because it is the they in the first place that makes
possible the horizon of understanding. We must remember that the they is grounded in
the ontology of objects and their handiness and objective presence. So to widen ones
own horizon of understanding is to come to understand the ontology of an object more
fully in its handiness, which is determinate. The fact that the hermeneutic work of
discourse takes place at both ends of discourse (historical actors intend for their
expression to be understood in some context) makes this theory incredibly useful for
the historian.
50 Flexibility of the they may seem to bring an element of relativity of communication to this
discourse that is too dependent on the individual subjectivity of Da-seins. However, we must
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Heidegger makes a lot of the notion that understanding and discourse are
always about understanding something as something, and discoursing about something
is discoursing about it as something. Of course this makes sense considering the
primacy of handiness in the ontology of objects. What else would understanding the
handiness of an object be other than understanding it as something? I mention this
here to illustrate how closely linked communication and understanding are to otology.
It is useful in the approach to historical documents to understand them and speak of
them as somethings. The reason this is useful is because we are often not presented
with the historical documents we would like. We need to find a way to make the ones
that we have useful. Because we know that the things apparent in the documents we
have were spoken of and understood in the context of things as things, we know that
we can use these documents to construct pieces of the understandings of the
intelligences who constructed these documents insofar as they understood the world in
its worldliness. In other words, the structure of discourse as such can lead to a
hermeneutical reconstruction of historical theys.5' But the claim in this paragraph gets
us ahead of our discussion.
remember that the foundation and the ground of the they is the determinate ontology of handiness.
51 The historical they is not something that Heidegger talks about, but I dont believe it is too foreign
to his ontology. Over the course of time the kinds of objects found in the world change. The most
obvious example of this is technological progress, but different objects also arise out of changing
languages, political systems and social organizations. As the kind of object found in the world
change there develop different sorts of in-order-tos and for-whiches and projects hooked up with the
handiness of these changing objects. The changing objects of possible circumspect care is going to
give rise to different theys, because people will always be in a position to understand the handiness of
objects in their own environments.
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In order to begin a reconstruction of a historical they, there must first be some
sort horizon of understanding between the historian and her documents; but I have
already said the they must precede the horizon and provide its ground, so we have a
case of the they preceding itself, and this seems impossible. In attempting to get
around the transcendental problem of knowledge of other minds to establishing the
ground of communication I did so in the context of the being-there-with-an-other and
the Mitda-sein, and these things are present things, they are before me (although
others are not at hand). It is rather easier to see how the they is shared between me
and those in my community. The question is one of in what way the they is established
as a common ground between the living and the dead. This is the difficulty of history.
They answer lays in the temporality of Da-sein and especially in the already-being-in of
Da-sein.
Previously, I mentioned that the already-being-in of Da-sein is rooted in its
throwness into the they. However, in the preceding paragraph I spoke of how
communication is grounded in the being there with and a making present of the other,
and I talked about how the making present of the other is accomplished through our
common participation in the they. But here I am reiterating that throwness into the
they reveals our already-being-in, which has the temporal orientation of pastness in the
analytic of Da-sein. This may seem like a contradiction, but recall that I did assert that
the they is the ground of the possibility of the horizon of understanding and precedes
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the event of understanding itself as its ground. So there is no contradiction, but there
may be a confusion of the temporal elements of Da-sein as they are entangled in one
another.
The already-being-in of Da-sein provides the initial ground for a hermeneutical
approach to the study of the past. The already-being-in of Da-sein is the presupposed
anybody necessary for an approach to documents. It provides a ground from which
the pre-understanding and fore-knowledge can bring about discoveries from a text.
Because in the already-being-in the being-in refers to being-in-the-world, and the
documents the historian considers are in the world, and in some sense the authors of
those documents were also in this same world, there is a fundamental ground for
understanding between the historian and her documents. She already grasps them with
a handiness, and that handiness has a for-which and an in-order-to that points her in
the direction of what she wanted to know about the past. It is the throwness of Da-
sein that allows documents to be understood as documents in the first place, and not
simply as sheaves of paper. This also holds true for documents that do not have a
textual nature. A hammer might be investigated and understood as a document, but
this changes its handiness as a hammer (this can be easily seen I the work of
archaeology, where primitive tools find their handiness in their being as documents and
not in their being as tools).
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The ability of the modem historian to interpret objects according to their
handiness as documents, and not always according to the handiness that was
manifested by them in their historical theys, may raise the question of the extent to
which the objects of the past could be overly subjectivized in their interpretation by
historians. However, we are protected from relativism here by the determiniteness of
handiness itself. If we look to modem objects, we see that they too can be viewed
with an eye toward their handiness as documents. A Spanish/English newspaper might
be used as an interpretive tool to arrive at an understanding of the Spanish language
just as the rosetta stone was used to arrive at an understanding of Egyptian
hieroglyphics, but neither could ever be used or understood in a way that was alien to
their underlying ontology because of the determinate character of their handiness.
At first, this initial ground for the understanding of historical documents may
seem like a far cry from any sort of inter-subjectivity. However, it must be
remembered that the historian can do a lot to expand the horizon of understanding
between the author or creator of the document at hand and herself. Through
hermeneutic work the historian can discover and map out the language used in the
documents at hand (the work done by archeologists with the roestta stone in
reconstructing the language of Egyptian hieroglyphics is a perfect example of this). In
most cases, the historical person has created documents, be they textual or otherwise,
in order to be understood. Especially in the case of text we can be certain that they
77


were rendered in accordance with an anybody of sorts, and the historian can do a lot
to re-create the suppositions of that anybody. But let us remember that the approach
of understanding does not simply move from the Da-sein of the historian into the past.
The past also moves forward with a dynamism of its own. This dynamism is rooted in
the fact that the world already contains the sum of its past, and history lies within the
world awaiting discovery. And this discovery can and must be inter-subjective
because it arises out of the they, whose language we will always, at least implicitly,
understand.
Furthermore, the historian makes the past present through being-together-with
the documents and the making present of discourse. While the historian has a
fundamental access to documents through being thrown into the world with them, and
can use hermeneutical understanding as to re-construct historical theys, it will not be
possible to construct historical theys as they were then. This is because of the
temporality of Da-sein as being-in-the-world. Da-sein engaged in historical inquiry de-
distances the past and makes the subject at hand present. In being engaged with the
past, Da-sein is there with it. But this needs to be understood more in terms of Da-
sein making the past present for itself, and this further can be understood as making
the past (or any subject at hand) relevant to the present. We also know that because
Da-sein is being-ahead-of-itself that things present at hand are understood in terms of
the future of Da-sein.
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Because doing history necessitates a making present of the past and directing it
towards the future, history will always be relevant discourse. This is true because of
history's kind of inter-subjectivity. The historical comes forward into the present
concerns and future directedness of the historian. The past makes its way in to the
present through coming to a horizon of understanding with the historian. Because of
this, the content of the past is going to acquire the stamp of the historian's concern.
She will of necessity understand what she is given by her documents by the light of her
current they. The future oriented concerns of the historian will also have an impact on
what she choose to study about the past. She will look toward illuminating stories in
history that have a greater relevance for her life and her generation. The stories she
finds will provide us with a history that we can truly learn from as we proceed into the
future, because it will be with this future in mind that she will delve into history in
search of knowledge.
Furthermore, in the writing of history the historian needs to render her
narrative in accordance with modem norms. Her audience will stand in a different
relation to her and her narrative than she stood in relation to the documents that she
studied. The relationship between modem reader and modem text is one of greater
casualness and requires less work. The reader of a modem history is expecting that
the hermeneutic work of expanding the present horizon into the past in order to gain
access to those minds has been done. They anticipate that the historian has rendered
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what was once inaccessible to them accessible. They anticipate that the historian will
have made their discourse relevant as something which speaks to the present situation.
In short, the reader of a modem history expects that the historian will make the history
present for them, and in so doing, render it according to their concerns. In this way, in
the minds of both professional and amateur historians, as well as simple readers of
histories, history beings to float around in time. While it is rooted and remains a
concern of the past, it is used to illuminate present concerns. People draw lessons
from their historical knowledge and apply them to their current circumstances. They
also use history to give themselves better understanding and definition of where they
came from and how they got there. They see history as a light shining from the past,
through the present and into the future. They come to understand that the past truly
flows into the future trough the consciousness of Da-seins and the determinate
ontology of objects understood in their handiness. This is another way in which
history is inter-subjective. We understand essentially similar things about the past as
each other when we speak of it, and it is also in this way that it might be relevant.
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Final Thoughts
All of this being said, are things any simpler than when we began? What might
be said now about the case of Sally Hemings and Thomas Jefferson? It might be said
that the knowledge of her existence and her role changes everything and yet it might
also be said that what was previously understood about Jefferson is still mostly true.
Historians who have explored the subjectivity of Jefferson surely get him mostly right,
at least insofar as he wanted to be understood. Since Jefferson is approached through
his writings, both public and private, we are somewhat limited in our access to his
subjectivity. He wrote to a particular horizon and had the meaning he wanted to
convey clear in his mind, at least in his most influential writing. Through hermeneutic
technique, the historian can squeeze out a little more subjective content, but not so
much that an overly relativized account becomes a danger. It seems clear that
Jefferson intended his legacy to be his ideas, and this legacy is not in doubt. In regards
to the national conscience it may be a different story. The case of Hemings shows us a
Jefferson who was cocky, unapologetic and self-assured, one who could speak of
great principles and talk as though his actions were justified even when they clearly
were not. Hemings gives us a legacy in Jefferson of the man of big ideas and
monuments who failed. But since the monuments are still there, and will be there, and
since the handiness of Jeffersonianism is too entangled in the being-ahead-of-itself of
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the they, chances are that Jefferson's legacy will still remain a large part of the
American conscience.
Looking to our present and future concerns we might view Jefferson as an
institution that is too big and too important to fail, and this might be a modem lesson
of this episode for the American conscience. In fact we can seen this very kind of
conscience operating in the America today. In the past year America has seen hedge-
fund bailouts, the impeachment of the president, and the war with Yugoslavia. In the
first instance we had the Fed protecting the interest rates and capital returns of
innocent depositors, in the second instance we had a philandering president proud to
defend the constitution, and in the third we saw the efficacy of fighting terrorism with
terrorism. Perhaps these are fitting analogies to the author of the Declaration of
Independence fathering illegitimate children. In each of these cases we see American
institutions fail in their supposed righteousness, but continue in their work in spite of
themselves. In each of these instances we see America left with a less than perfect
institution that is still embraced because we could not function well without them.
However, these sexual improprieties resist us a little in our attempt to
understand them too much in accordance with our own subjectivity. Jefferson didnt
free Sally Hemings, but he brought her to France with him when he was ambassador,
and she could have asserted her freedom there. He also didnt free her upon her death,
but his legitimate daughter gave her a house to live in and provided for her because as
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a freed slave she would have been forced to leave Virginia. We also know that the
descendants of Sally Hemings have a long history of being treated well by the
Jefferson family, and we also know that not all of Hemings children were Jeffersons
offspring. Maybe an inter-subjective and relevant history of Jefferson can still give us
a man of great ideas who was also a man of his times. And maybe we can come to
understand that he may still have been a good man in his historical they (after all, the
affair started after the death of his wife).
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WORKS CITED
Carr, Edward Hallett. What is History? New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1963.
Comte, Aguste. Course on Positive Philosophy. Excerpted in Theories of History.
Ed. Patrick Gardner. New York: The Free Press, 1959.
Dilthey, Wilhelm. Fragments for a Peotics. Selected Works: Volume V: Poetry and
Experience. Ed. Rudolf Makkreel and Frithjof Rodi. Princeton: Princeton
University Press, 1997.
Dilthey, Wilhelm. Introduction to the Human Sciences. Selected Works: Volume I.
Ed. Rudolf Makkreel and Frithjof Rodi. Princeton: Princeton University
Press, 1989.
Dilthey Wilhelm. "The Understanding of Other Persons and Their Life Expressions".
Theories of History. Ed. Patrick Gardiner. New York: The Free Press, 1959.
Heidegger, Martin. Being and Time. Tran. Joan Stambaugh. New York: State
University of New York Press, 1996..
Heiddeger, Martin. History of the Concept of Time. Tran. Theodore Kisiel.
Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press, 1985.
Hodges, H. A. Wilhelm Dilthey; An Introduction. 1944. New York: Howard
Fertig, 1969.
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Palmer, Richard E. Hermeneutics: Interpretation Theory in Schleiermacher, Dilthey,
Heidegger, and Gadamer. Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1969.
Ranke, Leopold von. Histories of the Latin and Germanic Nations from 1494 to
1514. Excerpted in The Varieties of History: From Voltaire to the Present.
Ed. Fritz Stem. New York: Vintage Books, 1973.
Shakespeare, William. As You Like It. Act II, scene vi.
Schleiermacher, Friedrich. Hermeneutics and Criticism. Excerpted in The
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