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Guest Review: Logic: The Question of Truth
August 17, 2010 - 7:00am



Review by Okla Elliott

Logic: The Question of Truth. Translated by Thomas Sheehan. Indiana University Press, 2010. Cloth, $44.95.


In the course of the Winter Semester 1925-26, as the story goes, the dean of the philosophy faculty at Phillips-Universität in Marburg walked into Martin Heidegger’s office and said, “You must publish something now. Do you have an appropriate manuscript?”

Stanford University professor and Heidegger scholar Thomas Sheehan goes on to inform us in his introduction: “Within a few months he would. As soon as the course ended, Heidegger went off to his cottage in Todtauberg and started writing out Being and Time by hand. By the end of March he had finished much of Division One of the text, and by 20 April he and Husserl were reading page-proofs of those sections.”

But from which thinking did this masterwork of philosophy come? On which philosophical foundation did he build the work without which it is hard to imagine the existence of later work by such giants as Hannah Arendt, Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault, Hans-Georg Gadamer, Richard Rorty, and Jean-Paul Sartre? It is true that Heidegger had a nascent interest in the nature of Being (Sein) and beings (das Seiende) before his widely lauded lectures on logic and the nature of truth in the Winter Semester of 1925-26, but a careful reading of these lectures shows how his conception of truth and logic (in)formed his conception of Being.

The so-called “question of truth” and how/if the human mind grasps truth—and attempts to represent it—has been the subject of philosophical investigation since the ancient Greeks (and likely antedates even them). Two subjects have come to the fore in this discussion since the ancient Greeks as well: logic and language; and these are the starting point in Heidegger’s 1925-26 lectures. These lectures were published in 1976 in German under the title Logik: die Frage nach Wahrheit and have just appeared for the first time in English in this translation by Thomas Sheehan.

The book is in fact more than a translation, which would be important enough, given the embarrassing gap in Heidegger studies this thirty-year oversight has caused. It is also the first synthesis of the three main text sources for Heidegger’s lectures from this era—his own meticulously written out lectures, the transcript of his son’s stenographic recording of those lectures (whose additions allow us to know Heidegger’s digressions and divergences and which were later corrected in collaboration with Heidegger himself), and the notes taken by one of his famous former students, Helene Weiss, who was pursuing her doctorate at the time of the lectures and who later became a professor and Heidegger scholar in Britain. This tripartite synthesis of texts, along with meticulous use of other published texts—both by Heidegger and others—makes this not only the first compete appearance of Heidegger’s Logic in English, but the first complete appearance in any language.

When Heidegger undertook the work on his Logic, he knew what tradition he was entering into. Kant wrote his Logic and, as Hartman and Schwarz tell us in their introduction to their 1974 translation of it, Kant reread it “often twice a year, for over 40 years, from 1755 to 1796 in order to remind himself of his own methodology (and for seminars he frequently gave on the subject).” Hartman and Schwarz also tell us that “the importance of Kant’s Logic has never been fully appreciated. This is one of the reasons this work, published in 1800, is only now appearing in a complete English translation.”

I believe Heidegger’s Logic has been similarly underappreciated and that the first full version of it is only now appearing for similar reasons. But Kant was not the only German philosopher to write his logical methodology into a book. Leibniz, Hegel, and Husserl all wrote their own Logics as a springing-off point for their philosophical systems. Heidegger was positioning himself in the great tradition of German philosophy by writing his, and he knew what importance such an undertaking possessed.

In these lectures on logic, Heidegger makes use of (and often plays his ideas against) Kant, Husserl, and Aristotle to think through the notion of truth and logic, working toward the nature of ideal and empirical being (which sets the stage for his move to a discussion of Dasein and Being in his magnum opus Being and Time). He also puts before us the relationships of psychology and logic, science and logic, and language and logic. These lectures are interesting as a work unto themselves and should be treated with the respect they deserve as a major work, though they are doubly interesting to us because they directly preceded (both temporally and conceptually) Being and Time.

In the Bible, John 1:1 famously reads: “In the beginning, there was the Word”—and there has been much discussion over the translation of the word “logos” in this and other works. It can mean “spoken language,” “word,” “logic,” or “discourse,” depending on the context. According to the Christian cosmology, therefore, in the beginning (before Being came clearly into existence from chaos), there was the logos; and it was likewise with the philosophy of Martin Heidegger.

But how important is logic in Heidegger’s view? For him, it is the sine qua non of all truth—scientific and otherwise.

The basic structure of that whole [of the sciences] is the possible “truth” within which any research activity operates. In other words, the constitutive parts themselves are only necessary structural moments of theoretical truth. Thus they can be understood and are to be appropriated from out of the pre-understanding of theoretical truth and ultimately of truth in general. This means that clarity in scientific research is possible only by way of a philosophizing logic.

But it is not a static, “scholastic logic” he is after, but rather an authentically “philosophizing logic.” It is no surprise, therefore, that he would set out to redefine logic before he set himself to revolutionizing philosophy with Being and Time.

It is necessary to trace, as Heidegger does, the pre-Heidegerrian view of logic and truth before we move on to enumerating how Heidegger finds it wanting. We will end this portion of the essay with Heidegger’s notion of truth as aletheia, the term used by Aristotle and Plato for “truth” which means, according to Heidegger’s etymological interpretation, “un-covering” or “being-uncovered.” (There is some debate as to whether Heidegger’s etymology is correct, though most agree it is at least a possible etymology, and it seems more important that this is how Heidegger philosophizes truth.)

It would be simple enough to find quotes from Heidegger’s Logic that sound like a sort of early draft of passages from Being and Time, but the more important and productive endeavor would be to understand the fundamental shifts Heidegger made in logic and philosophy of language which undergird his later radical and almost incalculably influential shifts in ontology. Likely the most direct connection is Heidegger’s discussion of time in his Logic, to which he dedicates thirteen chapters, much of which feeds directly into his thinking in Being and Time. But what is more interesting here, I think, is how these chapters supplement Being and Time, which was planned as a work in two Parts with three Divisions per Part. What we have of that larger planned work is only Division One and Division Two of Part One, that is, only one third of the entire proposed project. Division One of Part Two was, according to Heidegger himself in the introduction to Being and Time, supposed to be on “Kant’s doctrine of schematism and time, as a preliminary stage in the problematic of temporality” and Division Three of Part Two was to be on “Aristotle’s essay on time, as providing a way of discriminating the phenomenal basis and limits of ancient ontology.” In effect, I would argue, the thirteen chapters Heidegger dedicates to time in his Logic can be seen as a sort of completion of his project in Being and Time, albeit an incomplete one.

By applying pressure to the meaning(s) of the Greek word and philosophical concept logos, Heidegger uncovered, as it were, a new way of understanding truth—aletheia, which means “uncovering”—and therefore a new way to conceive of the structure of the world and human consciousness’s place in it. This radical reorganizing of logic and truth made Being and Time. While a brief review is insufficient to uncover the ways Heidegger’s Logic influenced and laid the theoretical foundation much of his later work, especially Being and Time, I can say that with this new translation, such an investigation is possible for English speakers for the first time (and given that this is the most complete edition of the work in any language, it is important for non-English speakers as well). Reading his Logic as a supplement to Being and Time, even at times a stand-in in for certain missing sections from the proposed larger work, we might understand the real magnitude of the Logic and, hopefully, more fully understand Being and Time.

While Sheehan has done an excellent translation overall, he has perhaps failed readers in his lack of discursive footnotes. The generally agreed-upon standard English translation of Being and Time, by John MacQuarrie and Edward Robinson, has hundreds of footnotes which include original German quotes and explanations along with connections to other works by Heidegger and others whose works influenced him. Sheehan could have created a stronger book had he followed their model. That said, the glossary of German and English terms specific to Heidegger that Sheehan includes in the book is thorough and should prove very helpful to first-time readers of Heidegger, and it serves some of the same functions I am suggesting for the footnotes.

The other flaw is his translating “Dasein” as “human existence.” Dasein is a very specific term for Heidegger, which literally means “there-being” (sometimes rendered in English as “being-there”), but which actually means, in the Heideggerian usage, something like “the being-there-of-human-existence-as-opposed-to-human-consciousness/subjecthood.” The term is well-known among readers of Heidegger, so not only is Sheehan’s translation flawed, it is unnecessary, since I doubt there will be a large public readership of this book. Those who will read the book either already know the term or would be willing to look it up or would have it explained in the class for which they are reading the book. To his credit, Sheehan admits in his preface that his choice here will not please many people; and if I were forced at gunpoint to translate the term succinctly, I would go with “human existence” as well. My complaint is merely that there was no such gun and the term should have been left in German, perhaps, here again, with a footnote explaining it.

These ultimately minor complaints aside, this is an excellent book, a wonderful addition to Heidegger studies and 20th century philosophy. I recommend it highly for graduate courses in these and related fields and for all university library collections. It is readable, accurate, and I predict destined to become the definitive translation.


Okla Elliott's non-fiction, poetry, short fiction, and translations have appeared in A Public Space, Indiana Review, International Poetry Review, The Literary Review, The Los Angeles Review, and New Letters, among others. He is the author of two poetry chapbooks and is co-editor, with Kyle Minor, of The Other Chekhov.


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