On the Nature of the Clearing (2/5)

On the Nature of the Clearing (2/5)

II. Νοῦς-in-the-world

Before turning to De anima, one ought to situate what Aristotle says about mind within his general account of meaning. For νοῦς is only a part of the soul, albeit the most important. It is that “part (μορίον) of the soul by which it knows and deliberates.” The word μορίον suggests a prior whole to which νοῦς belongs. That whole is ψυχή, the primary actuality of an organic body potentially having life. The analysis of intelligibility will thus go astray if it analyzes νοῦς as a disembodied subject.

Indeed, one must circumscribe mind within an even broader context than the body. For Aristotle, νοῦς always already belongs to a world. This embeddedness is evident in Metaphysics Γ, where Aristotle refutes the skeptic by appealing to the intelligibility of everyday praxis (e.g. why does the skeptic walk to Megara rather than over a cliff). Aristotle thus affirms the veracity and temporal priority of circumspective intentionality. On the road to Megara, one does not think about each step as if following a rule. One simply negotiates the countless assignments within the environment (i.e. the road, the other travelers, the plants, one’s shoes, one’s walking stick, etc.) in a way that doesn’t require explicit, discursive thought.

Such circumspective navigation is the normal way of accessing the world and the meaning of intraworldly entities. Circumspection is, for both thinkers, a genuine form of know-how. Such know-how undermines the pretensions of hyperbolic skepticism. Exaggerated theoretical doubts are disingenuous because there simply are no skeptics in circumspective comportment. Why, then, are they tolerated ‘in theory’? Heidegger and Aristotle simply refer the theoretical skeptic back to the world that his language always already presupposes as well as the criteria he uses in that world to overcome his doubts. These criteria are often uninteresting (e.g. pulling the oar out of the water to see that it is, in fact, not bent), though somehow consistently forgotten by the skeptic.

In De Interpretatione, Aristotle gives an account of the worldliness of meaning. Since meaning is only possible from within the semantic triangle, language must be grounded in things themselves (τὰ πράγματα). The foundation of meaning on things has two parts. First, the intelligibility of language must be founded upon a pre-linguistic mode of understanding. The pre-linguistic character of this understanding is evident when one considers the conditions presupposed by translation. Consider the following sentences: ‘the snow is white;’ ‘la neige est blanche;’ ‘nix candida est;’ ‘Schnee ist weiß;’ and ‘χιών λευκή.’ Each λόγος somehow signifies and displays the same thing. The Englishman, Frenchman, Roman, German, and Greek all look to the color of the snow. The same meaning has been conveyed despite their linguistic differences. Each λόγος thus presupposes a certain pre-linguistic encounter (πάθος) with the things themselves (i.e. snow and whiteness). Declarative sentences always presume this prior level of intelligibility. Second, the pre-linguistic intelligibility of an encounter presupposes the self-sameness of things in the world (τὰ πράγματα). Snow must be something definite and one in order for me to intend it in the mind or signify it in language. Overall, discursive meaning in language is founded on a pre-linguistic realm of intelligibility, which, in turn, is founded on the identity of things.

The semantic triangle is thus an account of the conditions that make meaning possible—both in language and in praxis. It shows that meaning presupposes three points: πράγματα, πάθη, and λόγοι. If one substitutes ‘totalities of practical involvements’ for πράγματα (i.e. Being-in-the-world), ‘pre-linguistic understanding’ for πάθη (Being-in-the-world), and the communicability of that understanding for λόγος (Being-in-the-world), then it is not too much of a stretch to see the semantic triangle as an anticipation of Dasein. The triangle shows that the factum of meaning presupposes a world, a pre-linguistic understanding of that world, and the public character of that understanding.

Conor Stark
Conor Stark

Conor is a PhD student at the Catholic University of America (Washington, DC, US).

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Aristotle Intelligibility of Being Heidegger

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