Husserl and Heidegger on Modernity and the Perils of Sign Use
2. Signs of the Crisis
2.1. Modernity and the Crisis
2.2. Crisis: The Forgetfulness of Meaning
Mathematical science is a method which considers the world as if it were exclusively a manifold of measurable shapes; the ontological interpretation simply states that it is such manifold. Now the scientific problem is different from the philosophical problem: the first seeks intersubjectively exact knowledge about the world, the second hopes to determine the true nature of reality. But here the solution to the first problem is taken as the solution to the second and a hidden shift of meaning has occurred. All subsequent problems connected with the world–its scope, its beginning and end, man’s place in it and, above all, his knowledge of it–henceforth operates with this conception of reality as a presupposition. (p. 86)
3. Signs in the Crisis
4. Modernity and the “Essence” of Technology
4.1. The Forgetfulness of Being
We forget that already in the age of Greek philosophy a decisive characteristic of philosophy appears: the development of sciences within the field which philosophy opened up. The development of the sciences is at the same time their separation from philosophy and the establishment of their independence. This process belongs to the completion of philosophy. Its development is in full swing in all regions of beings. This development looks like the mere dissolution of philosophy, and is in truth its completion. (p. 57)
4.2. Gestell and Bestand: Modernity as the Age of “Machine Technology”
The earth now reveals itself as a coal mining district, the soil as a mineral deposit. The field that the peasant formerly cultivated and set in order [bestellte] appears differently than it did when to set in order still meant to take care of and to maintain. The work of the peasant does not challenge the soil of the field. In the sowing of the grain it places the seed in the keeping of the forces of growth and watches over its increase. But meanwhile even the cultivation of the field has come under the grip of another kind of setting-in-order, which sets upon [stellt] nature. It sets upon it in the sense of challenging it. Agriculture is now the mechanized food industry. Air is now set upon to yield nitrogen, the earth to yield ore, ore to yield uranium, for example; uranium is set upon to yield atomic energy, which can be released either for destruction or for peaceful use. (pp. 14,15)
The hydroelectric plant is not built into the Rhine River as was the old wooden bridge that joined bank with bank for hundreds of years. Rather the river is dammed up into the power plant. What the river is now, namely, a water power supplier, derives from out of the essence of the power station. (p. 16)
5. Heidegger on “Representations”
- where danger is, grows
- the saving power also
- (wo aber aber Gefahr ist, wächst
- Das Rettende auch)
Conflicts of Interest
Put briefly, Derrida would question whether it is ultimately possible to locate sense “outside” of semiotic structures. Instead, such a prospect may be endlessly deferred by further chains of signification.
While the English translations use “concealment”, the original German words have quite different connotations with respect to the manner and intent behind which something has become concealed: Husserl uses Verdeckung by  (pp. 52, 53ff), which suggests that something has been hidden and covered over. Heidegger’s term Verborgenheit [3,8] has connotations to something concealed in a secretive and mystical manner. Importantly, Verborgenheit—together with its negation Unverborgenheit—are crucial not just to a criticism of modernity, but also for Heidegger’s alternative conception of truth as “unconcealment” (see Section 4).
For in-depth accounts of Husserl’s conception of the crisis, see .
Husserl seems to be inspired by Herodotus’ and Aristotle’s claim of geometry as being borne out of the redistribution of arable land after the seasonal flooding of the Nile. Schemmel’s  detailed historical overview of the development of space is roughly similar to the general outline of Husserl’s account, but differs concerning the historical details.
Husserl’s characterization of geometry in Crisis are somewhat implicitly relying on his previous analyses of spatial constitution, e.g., . Taken together, the picture that emerges is the recognition of an increasing abstraction in several intermediary steps that ultimately culminates in the type of pure ideality that Husserl finds exemplified in geometry. What characterizes such an ideality is its independence from the concrete life world: a notion like ‘circle’ is not just a more abstract concept of ‘round’ but one that can only be imperfectly and approximately materially instantiated or represented.
The place of history in Husserl’s account is not just an empirical matter where a sequence of events leads to other events. Instead, history, and especially what Husserl calls the “historical a priori”  (pp. 372–374) takes on an integral and formative function in the transcendentality of the life world.
In line with one of the fundamental tenets of Husserlian phenomenology, the scientific process for finding truth is—just as the constitution of any intentional object—principally inexhaustible.
See  for a nuanced and critical discussion on whether Husserl manages to secure formal categories and uncover their ground in perceptual intentionality.
It should be noted that these late reflections comprise just a minor part of Husserl’s writing on language and semiotics. It is thereby a matter of controversy and discussion in the literature exactly what to make of them. Some interpretations proposed by for instance Merleau-Ponty, Derrida and Lawlor [24,34,35,37] take these late thoughts to serve as a substantial addition to and possibly even a self-critique of Husserl’s previous view on language whereas the opposite viewpoint is defended by for instance .
To indicate the so-called “ontological difference” between Being as such and beings, Heidegger relies on a distinction in German between the verb to be, Sein, and its present participle seiend. This is usually indicated in English translation with Being vs. being(s).
The forgetfulness of Being has some parallels to Husserl’s analysis of the crisis, but is clearly more radical in locating the oblivion already at the birth of Western philosophy. See  for insightful comparisons.
Heidegger’s explicit skepticism and ultimate rejection of an overly intellectualized attitude is often read as a critique of Husserlian phenomenology. Successfully or not, it could however also be seen as an attempt to continue delivering on the ambition of returning thinking to its source in the life world.
With respect specifically to “die Kehre” as an attempt of Heidegger to distance himself from national socialism, see .
In his interpretation, Heidegger relies on the etymology of the Ancient Greek word aletheia (ἀλήθεια) for truth, which can be analyzed as literally “not-hidden”.
https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/technology (accessed on 14 October 2022).
The terms Gestell and Bestand do not translate well into English. The standard translations “enframing” and “standing-reserve” do not preserve their derivation from the highly productive German verb stellen with meanings such as ‘to set in place’ or ‘to set upon’. Due to its fundamental importance in Heidegger’s analysis of the modern age, its morphological productivity and the associated lexical fields should be kept in mind in the following. One should especially be aware of stellen as expressing activities like ordering (both in the sense of requesting something and giving a directive), arranging, making available for instrumental use, and regulating.
In a sense, one could even argue that the space for contemporary political decision-making is fundamentally caught up in the logic of Gestell-Bestand. This is perhaps nowhere as apparent as in discussions of climate change where the proposed solutions seem more often than not to be of the same kind that led to the present state.
A note on the difficulties with key terms like ‘signs’ and ‘representation’, especially when these occur in translation: I use ‘sign’ as the general term for whatever conveys meaning as a structure of expression and content (as for instance ). Following standard translation, I use ‘representation’ for Heidegger’s Vorstellung, which point not just to signs but also to a particular objeticfying attitude towards their validity to capture things more truthfully than the things themselves (see below).
In discussing objectivity as being borne out of conceptions of importance for enframing, Heidegger draws attention to the fact that the German word for ‘object’—Gegenstand—has the same root as Bestand, cf. note 18 above.
- Husserl, E. The Crisis of European Sciences and Transcendental Phenomenology: An Introduction to Phenomenological Philosophy; Carr, D., Translator; Northwestern University Press: Evanston, IL, USA, 1970. [Google Scholar]
- Husserl, E. Origin of Geometry. In The Crisis of European Sciences and Transcendental Phenomenology: An Introduction to Phenomenological Philosophy; Northwestern University Press: Evanston, IL, USA, 1970; pp. 353–378. [Google Scholar]
- Heidegger, M. The Question Concerning Technology and Other Essays; Lovitt, W., Translator; Garland Publishing: New York, NY, USA, 1970. [Google Scholar]
- Buckley, R.P. Husserl, Heidegger and the Crisis of Philosophical Responsibility; Kluwer: Dortrecht, The Netherlands, 1992. [Google Scholar]
- Hopkins, B.C. Deformalization and phenomenon in Husserl and Heidegger. In Heidegger, Translation, and the Task of Thinking; Schalow, F., Ed.; Springer: Dordrecht, The Netherlands, 2011; pp. 49–69. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
- Brown, C.S.; Toadvine, T. Eco-Phenomenology: Back to the Earth Itself; SUNY Press: New York, NY, USA, 2003. [Google Scholar]
- Derrida, J. Of Grammatology; Chakravorty Spivak, G., Translator; John Hopkins University Press: Baltimore, London, UK, 1976. [Google Scholar]
- Heidegger, M. Poetry, Language, Thought; Harper & Row: New York, NY, USA, 1971. [Google Scholar]
- Husserl, E. Logical Investigations; Findlay, N.J., Translator; Routledge & Kegan Paul: London, UK, 1970. [Google Scholar]
- Husserl, E. Formal and Transcendental Logic; Cairns, D., Translator; Martinus Nijhoff: The Hague, The Netherlands, 1969. [Google Scholar]
- Videla, D. On the narratives of science: The critique of modernity in Husserl and Heidegger. Hum. Stud. 1994, 17, 189–202. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
- Carr, D. Intepreting Husserl; Martinus Nijhoff: Dortrecht, The Netherlands, 1987. [Google Scholar]
- Klein, J. Phenomenology and the History of Science. In Philosophical Essays in Memory of Edmund Husserl; Farber, M., Husserl, E., Eds.; Harvard University Press: Cambridge, MA, USA, 1940; pp. 143–163. [Google Scholar]
- Hopkins, B.C. The Origin of the Logic of Symbolic Mathematics: Edmund Husserl and Jacob Klein; Indiana University Press: Bloomington, IN, USA, 2011. [Google Scholar]
- Husserl, E. Ideas Pertaining to a Pure Phenomenology and to Phenomenological Philosophy—Second Book: Studies in the Phenomenology of Constitution; Kluwer: Dordrecht, The Netherlands, 1989. [Google Scholar]
- Husserl, E. Thing and space: Lectures of 1907; Rojcewicz, R., Translator; Kluwer: Dordrecht, The Netherlands, 1997. [Google Scholar]
- Husserl, E. Experience and Judgment; Churchhill, J.S.; Ameriks, K., Translators; Routledge & Kegan Paul: London, UK, 1973. [Google Scholar]
- Husserl, E.; Merleau-Ponty, M. Foundational investigations of the phenomenological origin of spatiality of nature: The originary ark, the Earth, does not move. In Husserl at the Limits of Phenomenology; Lawlor, L., Ed.; Northwestern University Press: Evanston, IL, USA, 2002; pp. 117–131. [Google Scholar]
- Hopkins, B.C. Klein and Derrida on the historicity of meaning and the meaning of historicity in Husserl’s Crisis-texts. J. Br. Soc. Phenomenol. 2005, 36, 179–187. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
- Espeland, W.N.; Stevens, M.L. Commensuration as social process. Annu. Rev. Sociol. 2003, 24, 313–343. [Google Scholar]
- Woelert, P. Materialisations of Space: Phenomenological-Archaeological Investigations Concerning the Relations between the Human Organism, Space and Technology. Unpublished. Ph.D. Thesis, University of South Wales, Caerleon, UK, 2001. [Google Scholar]
- Blomberg, J. Interpreting the concept of sedimentation in Husserl’s Origin of Geometry. Public J. Semiot. 2019, 9, 78–94. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
- Popper, K. The Logic of Scientific Discovery; Routledge: London, UK, 2002. [Google Scholar]
- Derrida, J. Edmund Husserl’s Origin of Geometry: An Introduction; Leavey, J.P., Jr., Translator; University of Nebraska Press: Lincoln, NE, USA, 1978. [Google Scholar]
- Heidegger, M. The end of philosophy and the task of thinking. In On Time and Being; Stambaugh, J., Translator; University of Chicago Press: Chicago, IL, USA, 1993; pp. 55–73. [Google Scholar]
- Heidegger, M. Being and Time; Macquarie, J.; Robinson, E.J., Translators; SCM Press: London, UK, 1962. [Google Scholar]
- Foucault, M. The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences; Sheridan, A., Translator; Routledge: London, UK, 2002. [Google Scholar]
- Pattison, G. The Later Heidegger; Routledge: London, UK, 2000. [Google Scholar]
- Crichton, C. Heidegger on Representation: The Danger Lurking in the a Priori. Topicos 2019, 56, 167–195. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
- Heidegger, M. On the Way to Language; Harper & Row: New York, NY, USA, 1971. [Google Scholar]
- Heidegger, M. What Is a Thing? Barton, W.B.; Deutsch, V., Translators; Gateway Editions: South Bend, IN, USA, 1967. [Google Scholar]
- Heidegger, M. The origin of the work of art. In Off the Beaten Track; Youn, J.; Haynes, K., Translators; Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, UK, 2002; pp. 1–56. [Google Scholar]
- Heidegger, M. The question of being. In Pathmarks; McNeill, W., Translator; Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, UK, 1998; pp. 291–322. [Google Scholar]
- Lawlor, L.; Merleau-Ponty, M. Verflechtung: The triple significance of Merleau-Ponty’s Course Notes on Husserl’s “The Origin of Geometry”. In Husserl at the Limits of Phenomenology; Lawlor, L., Ed.; Northwestern University Press: Evanston, IL, USA, 2002; pp. Ix–xxxvii. [Google Scholar]
- Lawlor, L. Derrida and Husserl. The Basic Problem of Phenomenology; Indiana University Press: Bloomington, IN, USA, 2002. [Google Scholar]
- Schemmel, M. Historical Epistemology of Space: From Primate Cognition to Spacetime Physics; Springer: Cham, Germany, 2016. [Google Scholar]
- Merleau-Ponty, M. Husserl at the Limits of Phenomenology; Lawlor, L., Ed.; Northwestern University Press: Evanston, IL, USA, 2002. [Google Scholar]
- Kellerer, S. Rewording the past: The postwar publication of a 1938 lecture by Martin Heidegger. Mod. Intellect. Hist. 2014, 11, 575–602. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
- De Saussure, F. Course in General Linguistics; Baskin, W., Translator; Columbia University Press: New York, NY, USA, 2011. [Google Scholar]
Publisher’s Note: MDPI stays neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.
© 2022 by the author. Licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland. This article is an open access article distributed under the terms and conditions of the Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) license (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/).
Blomberg, J. Husserl and Heidegger on Modernity and the Perils of Sign Use. Philosophies 2022, 7, 120. https://doi.org/10.3390/philosophies7060120
Blomberg J. Husserl and Heidegger on Modernity and the Perils of Sign Use. Philosophies. 2022; 7(6):120. https://doi.org/10.3390/philosophies7060120Chicago/Turabian Style
Blomberg, Johan. 2022. "Husserl and Heidegger on Modernity and the Perils of Sign Use" Philosophies 7, no. 6: 120. https://doi.org/10.3390/philosophies7060120