Whitehead and Peirce’s Synchronicity with Hegel’s Capital Error. Thought of the Day 97.0


The focus on experience ensures that Whitehead’s metaphysics is grounded. Otherwise the narrowness of approach would only culminate in sterile measurement. This becomes especially evident with regard to the science of history. Whitehead gives a lucid example of such ‘sterile measurement’ lacking the immediacy of experience.

Consider, for example, the scientific notion of measurement. Can we elucidate the turmoil of Europe by weighing its dictators, its prime ministers, and its editors of newspapers? The idea is absurd, although some relevant information might be obtained. (Alfred North Whitehead – Modes of Thought)

The wealth of experience leaves us with the problem of how to cope with it. Selection of data is required. This selection is done by a value judgment – the judgment of importance. Although Whitehead opposes the dichotomy of the two notions ‘importance’ and ‘matter of fact’, it is still necessary to distinguish grades and types of importance, which enables us to structure our experience, to focus it. This is very similar to hermeneutical theories in Schleiermacher, Gadamer and Habermas: the horizon of understanding structures the data. Therefore, we not only need judgment but the process of concrescence implicitly requires an aim. Whitehead explains that

By this term ‘aim’ is meant the exclusion of the boundless wealth of alternative potentiality and the inclusion of that definite factor of novelty which constitutes the selected way of entertaining those data in that process of unification.

The other idea that underlies experience is “matter of fact.”

There are two contrasted ideas which seem inevitably to underlie all width of experience, one of them is the notion of importance, the sense of importance, the presupposition of importance. The other is the notion of matter of fact. There is no escape from sheer matter of fact. It is the basis of importance; and importance is important because of the inescapable character of matter of fact.

By stressing the “alien character” of feeling that enters into the privately felt feeling of an occasion, Whitehead is able to distinguish the responsive and the supplemental stages of concrescence. The responsive stage being a purely receptive phase, the latter integrating the former ‘alien elements’ into a unity of feeling. The alien factor in the experiencing subjects saves Whitehead’s concept from being pure Spirit (Geist) in a Hegelian sense. There are more similarities between Hegelian thinking and Whitehead’s thought than his own comments on Hegel may suggest. But, his major criticism could probably be stated with Peirce, who wrote that

The capital error of Hegel which permeates his whole system in every part of it is that he almost altogether ignores the Outward clash. (The Essential Peirce 1)

Whitehead refers to that clash as matter of fact. Although, even there, one has to keep in mind that matter-of-fact is an abstraction. 

Matter of fact is an abstraction, arrived at by confining thought to purely formal relations which then masquerade as the final reality. This is why science, in its perfection, relapses into the study of differential equations. The concrete world has slipped through the meshes of the scientific net.

Whitehead clearly keeps the notion of prehension in his late writings as developed in Process and Reality. Just to give one example, 

I have, in my recent writings, used the word ‘prehension’ to express this process of appropriation. Also I have termed each individual act of immediate self-enjoyment an ‘occasion of experience’. I hold that these unities of existence, these occasions of experience, are the really real things which in their collective unity compose the evolving universe, ever plunging into the creative advance. 

Process needs an aim in Process and Reality as much as in Modes of Thought:

We must add yet another character to our description of life. This missing characteristic is ‘aim’. By this term ‘aim’ is meant the exclusion of the boundless wealth of alternative potentiality, and the inclusion of that definite factor of novelty which constitutes the selected way of entertaining those data in that process of unification. The aim is at that complex of feeling which is the enjoyment of those data in that way. ‘That way of enjoyment’ is selected from the boundless wealth of alternatives. It has been aimed at for actualization in that process.

Textual Temporality. Note Quote.


Time is essentially a self-opening and an expanding into the world. Heidegger says that it is, therefore, difficult to go any further here by comparisons. The interpretation of Dasein as temporality in a universal ontological way is an undecidable question which remains “completely unclear” to him. Time as a philosophical problem is a kind of question which no one knows how to raise because of its inseparability from our nature. As Gadamer notes, we can say what time is in virtue of a self-evident preconception of what is, for what is present is always understood by that preconception. Insofar as it makes no claim to provide a valid universality, philosophical discussion is not a systematic determination of time, i.e., one which requires going back beyond time (in its connection with other categories).

In his doctrine of the productivity of the hermeneutical circle in temporal being, Heidegger develops the primacy of futurity for possible recollection and retention of what is already presented by history. History is present to us only in the light of futurity. In Gadamer’s interpretation, it is rather our prejudices that necessarily constitute our being. His view that prejudices are biases in our openness to the world does not signify the character of prejudices which in turn themselves are regarded as an a priori text in the terms already assumed. Based upon this, prejudices in this sense are not empty, but rather carry a significance which refers to being. Thus we can say that prejudices are our openness to the being-in-the-world. That is, being destined to different openness, we face the reference of our hermeneutical attributions. Therefore, the historicity of the temporal being is anything except what is past.

Clearly, the past is not some occurrence, not some incident in my Dasein, but its past; it is not some ‘what’ about Dasein, some event that happens to Dasein and alters it. This past is not a ‘what,’ but a ‘how,’ indeed it is the authentic ‘how’ (wie) of any temporal being. The past brings all ‘what,’ all taking care of and making plans, back into the ‘how’ which is the basic stand of a historical investigation.

Rather than encountering a past-oriented object, hermeneutical experience is a concern towards the text (or texts) which has been presented to us. Understanding is not possible merely because our part of interpretation is realized only when a “text” is read as a fulfillment of all the requirements of the tradition.

For Gadamer and Ricoeur the past as a text always changes its meaning in relation to the ever-developing world of texts; so it seems that the future is recognized as textual or the textual character of the future. In this sense the text itself is not tradition, but expectation. Upon this text the hermeneutical difference essentially can be extended. Consequently, philosophy is no history of hermeneutical events, but philosophical question evokes the historicity of our thinking and knowing. It is not by accident that Hegel, who tried to write the history of philosophy, raised history itself to the state of absolute mind.

What matters in the question concerning time is attaining an answer in terms in which the different ways of being temporal become comprehensible. What matters is allowing a possible connection between that which is in time and authentic temporality to become visible from the very beginning. However, the problem behind this theory still remains even after long exposure of the Heideggerian interpretation of whether Being-in-the-world can result from temporal being or vice versa. After the more hermeneutical investigation, it seems that Being-in-the-world must be comprehensive only through Being-in-time.

But, in The Concept of Time, Heidegger has already taken into consideration the broader grasp of the text by considering Being as the origin of the hermeneutics of time. If human Being is in time in a distinctive sense, so that we can read from it what time is, then this Dasein must be characterized by the fundamental determinations of its Being. Indeed, then being temporal, correctly understood, would be the fundamental assertion of Dasein with respect to its Being.

As a result, only the interpretation of being as its reference by way of temporality can make clear why and how this feature of being earlier, of apriority, pertains to being. The a priori character of being as the origin of temporalization calls for a specific kind of approach to being-a-priori whose basic components constitute a phenomenology which is hermeneutical.

Heidegger notes that with regard to Dasein, self-understanding reopens the possibility for a theory of time that is not self-enclosed. Dasein comes back to that which it is and takes over as the being that it is. In coming back to itself, it brings everything that it is back again into its own most peculiar chosen can-be. It makes it clear that, although ontologically the text is closest to each and any of its interpretations in its own event, ontically it is closest to itself. But it must be remembered that this phenomenology does not determine completely references of the text by characterizing the temporalization of the text. Through phenomenological research regarding the text, in hermeneutics we are informed only of how the text gets exhibited and unveiled.

Conjuncted: Gadamer’s Dasein


There is a temporal continuity in Dasein. This is required for the revelation of a work of art through interpretation, both as understanding which already was, and as the way in which understanding was. Understanding is possible only in the temporal revision of one’s standpoint through the mutual relations of author and interpreter which allow the subject-matter to emerge. Here, the prejudices held by the interpreter play an important part in opening an horizon of possible questions.

Subsequent understanding that is superior to the original production, does depend on the conscious realization, historical or not, that places the interpreter on the same level as the author (as Schleiermacher pointed out). But even more, it denotes and depends upon an inseparable difference between the interpreter and the text and this precisely in the temporal field provided by historical distance.

It may be argued that the historian tries to curb this historical distance by getting beyond the temporal text in order to force it to yield information that it does not intend and of itself is unable to give. With regard to the particular text in application, this would seem to be the case. For example, what makes the true historian is an understanding of the significance of what he finds. Thus, the testimony of history is like that given before a court. In the German language, and based on this reason, the same word is used for both in general, Zeugnis (testimony; witness).

Referring to Gadamer’s position, we can see that it is in view of the historical distance that understanding must reconcile itself with itself and that one recognize oneself in the other being. The body of this argument becomes completely firm through the idea of historical Bildung, since, for example, to have a theoretical stance is, as such, already alienation; namely, dealing with something that is not immediate, but is other, belonging to memory and to thought. Moreover, theoretical Bildung leads beyond what man knows and experiences immediately. It consists in learning to affirm what is different from oneself and to find universal viewpoints from which one can grasp the thing as “the objective thing in its freedom,” without selfish interest. This indicates that an aesthetic discovery of a thing is conditioned primarily on assuming the thing where it is no longer, i.e., from a distance.

In this connection, we can extend critically Gadamer’s concept of the dynamism of distanciation from the object of understanding which is bounded by the frame of effective consciousness. This is based on the fact that in spite of the general contrast between belonging and alienating distance, the consciousness of effective history itself contains an element of distance. The history of effects, for Ricoeur, contains what occurs under the condition of historical distance. Whether this is either the nearness of the remote or efficacy at a distance, there is a paradox in otherness, a tension between proximity and distance which is essential to historical consciousness.

The possibility of effective historical consciousness is grounded in the possibility of any specific present understanding of being futural; in contrast, the first principle of hermeneutics is the Being of Dasein, which is historicity (Geschichtlichkeit) itself. In Gadamer’s view, Dasein’s temporality, which is the basis for its historicity, grounds the tradition. The last sections of Being and Time claimed to indicate that the embodiment of temporality can be found in Dasein’s historicality. As a result of this, the tradition is circularly grounded in Dasein’s temporality, while also surpassing its borders in order to be provided by a hermeneutical reference in distance.

We must study the root of this dilemma in so far as it is related to the sense of time. This is presupposed by historical consciousness, which in turn is preceded essentially by temporality. This inherent enigma in the hermeneutics of Dasein’s time led Heidegger to distinguish between authenticity and inauthenticity in our relation to time. The current concept of time can never totally fulfill the hermeneutical requirements. Ricoeur considered that time can be understood only if grasped within its limit, namely, eternity, but because eternity escapes the totalization and closure of any particular time, it remains inscrutable.

On the other hand, a text can be seen as temporal with regard to historical consciousness since it speaks only in the present. The text cannot be made present totally within an historical moment fully present-to-itself. It is in its a venir that the presence of the text transpires, which can be thematized as revenir (or) return.

Based on this aspect, each word is absolutely complete in itself, yet, because of its temporality, its meaning is realized only in its historical application. Nevertheless, historical interpretation can serve as a means to understand a given and present text even when, from another perspective, it sees the text simply as a source which is part of the totality of an historical tradition.

For Heidegger, the past character of time, i.e., the ‘pastness’ (passétité) belongs to a world which no longer exists, while a world is always world for a Dasein. It is clear that the past would remain closed off from any present were present Dasein not itself to be historical. Dasein, however, is in itself historical insofar as it is a possibility of interpreting. In being futural Dasein is its past, which comes back to it in the ‘how’. This is the ontological question of a thing in contrast to the question of the ‘what.’ The manner of its coming back is, among other processes, conscience. This makes clear why only the ‘how’ can be repeated. According to Ricoeur, history presents a past that has been as if it were present, as a function of poetic imagination. On the other hand, fictive narration imitates history in that it presents events as if they had happened, i.e., as if they occurred in the past. This intersection between history and fiction constitutes human time (le temps humain) whence an historical consciousness develops, where time can be understood as a singular totality.

Since the text can be viewed temporally, interpretation, as the work of art, is temporal and the best model for hermeneutical understanding is the one most adequate to the experience of time. Nevertheless, against Ricoeur, Gadamer found the identity of understanding not to be fixed in eternity. Instead, it is the continuity of our becoming-other in every response and in every application of pre-understanding that we have of ourselves in new and unpredictable situations. On this issue, it can be asked whether there is a way to reconcile Gadamer and Ricoeur on the issue of hermeneutical temporality.

The authentic source in the eternal return to Being can be discovered in Heidegger’s position: the eternal repetition of that which is known as that which is unknown, the familiar as the unfamiliar. The eternal return introduces difference which is disruptive to our conceptions of temporal movement. However, identity and difference must be destabilised in favor of the performance of a new concept of hermeneutics. In this a temporal event requires that one cross over to another hermeneutics of time that cannot be thought restricted only in temporalization since it is beyond when one begins. This concept is called by Heidegger the nearness of what lies after.

In addition, understanding is to be taken not as reconstruction, but as mediation in so far as it conveys the past into the present. Even when we grasp the past “in itself,” understanding remains essentially a mediation or translation of past meaning into the present situation. As Gadamer states, understanding itself is not to be thought of so much as an action of subjectivity, but rather as the entering into an event of transmission in which past and present are constantly mediated. This requires not detaching temporality from the ontological preconception of the present-at-hand, but trying to distinguish that from the simple horizon phenomenon of temporal consciousness. The event of hermeneutics never takes place if understanding is considered to be defined in the arena of the temporalization of time in the past in itself. 

Gadamer sees one of the most fundamental experiences of time as that of discontinuity or becoming-other. This stands in contrast to the “flowing” nature of time. According to Gadamer, there are at least three “epochal” experiences that introduce temporal discontinuity into our self-understanding: first, the experience of old age; second, the transition from one generation to another; and finally, the “absolute epoch” or the new age occasioned by the advent of Christianity, where history is understood in a new sense. 

The Greek understanding of history as deviation from the order of things was changed in medieval philosophy to accept that there is no recognizable order within history except temporality itself. (Nonetheless, the absolute epoch is not to be taken merely as similar to a Christian understanding of time, which would result in a technological conception of time in terms of which the future is unable to be planned or controlled.) The new in temporality comes to be as the old is recalled in dissolution. In recollection, the dissolution of the old becomes provocative, i.e., an opening of possibilities for the new. The dissolution of the old is not a non-temporal characteristic of temporalization.

Of Phenomenology, Noumenology and Appearances. Note Quote.

Heidegger’s project in Being and Time does not itself escape completely the problematic of transcendental reflection. The idea of fundamental ontology and its foundation in Dasein, which is concerned “with being” and the analysis of Dasein, at first seemed simply to mark a new dimension within transcendental phenomenology. But under the title of a hermeneutics of facticity, Heidegger objected to Husserl’s eidetic phenomenology that a hermeneutic phenomenology must contain also the theory of facticity, which is not in itself an eidos, Husserl’s phenomenology which consistently holds to the central idea of proto-I cannot be accepted without reservation in interpretation theory in particular that this eidos belong only to the eidetic sphere of universal essences. Phenomenology should be based ontologically on the facticity of the Dasein, and this existence cannot be derived from anything else.

Nevertheless, Heidegger’s complete reversal of reflection and its redirection of it toward “Being”, i.e, the turn or kehre, still is not so much an alteration of his point of view as the indirect result of his critique of Husserl’s concept of transcendental reflection, which had not yet become fully effective in Being and Time. Gadamer, however, would incorporate Husserl’s ideal of an eidetic ontology somewhat “alongside” transcendental constitutional research. Here, the philosophical justification lies ultimately in the completion of the transcendental reduction, which can come only at a higher level of direct access of the individual to the object. Thus there is a question of how our awareness of essences remains subordinated to transcendental phenomenology, but this does not rule out the possibility of turning transcendental phenomenology into an essence-oriented mundane science.

Heidegger does not follow Husserl from eidetic to transcendental phenomenology, but stays with the interpretation of phenomena in relation to their essences. As ‘hermeneutic’, his phenomenology still proceeds from a given Dasein in order to determine the meaning of existence, but now it takes the form of a fundamental ontology. By his careful discussion of the etymology of the words “phenomenon” and “Logos” he shows that “phenomenology” must be taken as letting that which shows itself be seen from itself, and in the very way in it which shows itself from itself. The more genuinely a methodological concept is worked out and the more comprehensively it determines the principles on which a science is to be conducted, the more deeply and primordially it is rooted in terms of the things themselves; whereas if understanding is restricted to the things themselves only so far as they correspond to those judgments considered “first in themselves”, then the things themselves cannot be addressed beyond particular judgements regarding events.

The doctrine of the thing-in-itself entails the possibility of a continuous transition from one aspect of a thing to another, which alone makes possible a unified matrix of experience. Husserl’s idea of the thing-in-itself, as Gadamer introduces it, must be understood in terms of the hermeneutic progress of our knowledge. In other words, in the hermeneutical context the maxim to the thing itself signifies to the text itself. Phenomenology here means grasping the text in such a way that every interpretation about the text must be considered first as directly exhibiting the text and then as demonstrating it with regard to other texts.

Heidegger called this “descriptive phenomenology” which is fundamentally tautological. He explains that phenomenon in Greek first signifies that which looks like something, or secondly that which is semblant or a semblance (das scheinbare, der Schein). He sees both these expressions as structurally interconnected, and having nothing to do with what is called an “appearance” or mere “appearance”. Based on the ordinary conception of phenomenon, the definition of “appearance” as referring to can be regarded also as characterizing the phenomenological concern for the text in itself and for itself. Only through referring to the text in itself can we have a real phenomenology based on appearance. This theory, however, requires a broad meaning of appearance including what does the referring as well as the noumenon.

Heidegger explains that what does the referring must show itself in itself. Further, the appearance “of something” does not mean showing-itself, but that the thing itself announces itself through something which does show itself. Thus, Heidegger urges that what appears does not show itself and anything which fails to show itself can never seem. On the other hand, while appearing is never a showing-itself in the sense of phenomenon, it is preconditioned by something showing-itself (through which the thing announces itself). This showing itself is not appearing itself, but makes the appearing possible. Appearing then is an announcing-itself (das sich-melden) through something that shows itself.

Also, a phenomenon cannot be represented by the word “appearance” if it alludes to that wherein something appears without itself being an appearance. That wherein something appears means that wherein something announces itself without showing itself, in other words without being itself an “appearance” (appearance signifying the showing itself which belongs essentially to that “wherein” something announces itself). Based upon this argument, phenomena are never appearances. This, however, does not deny the fact that every appearance is dependent on phenomena.