Home > Book Review, Philosophy > Notes On Heidegger: “Being and Time” – Understanding and Interpretation.

Notes On Heidegger: “Being and Time” – Understanding and Interpretation.

For our other posts on Heidegger see here, here and here.

Understanding and Interpretation

Heidegger calls the development of understanding “interpretation”, here Heidegger uses particularly Heidegarrian sounding language

In interpretation understanding appropriates what it has understood in an understanding way. In interpretation understanding does not become something different, but rather itself. (Heidegger, p. 139, Being and Time, 1996)

But Heidegger is simply explaining how these structures intertwine, and co-mingle to create Dasein, he continues to state that interpretation is existentially based in understanding, and projects developed possibilities in understanding. Heidegger states that the process of understanding, what  is disclosed, viz. the world, the “being of taking care of what is at hand” learns to understand the relevance of what can be, and what is encountered through circumspection. What is disclosed in understanding, is “always already” accessible such a way states Heidegger, that in it’s “as what” can be instantly delineated. But what is the “as” in this instance? This constitutes “the structure of explicitness” of what it is being understood, or rather, it constitutes the interpretation. (p. 140) To elaborate Heidegger compares the simple act of seeing things nearest to us to interpretation, he states that seeing contains the “structure of interpretation”, but without the “as” which requires orientation we will fail to understand. In this case then the “as” becomes “the a priori existential constitution of understanding.” (Heidegger, p. 140, Being and Time, 1996) Heidegger cautions us however, that interpretation does not simply “throw a “significance” over what is nakedly objectively present”, what is encountered in the world “always already” contains relevance, a disclosure (if we remember from our “truth” blog, disclosure means the total context in which understanding opens up, grasping the entire mode of being-in-the-world), which is made explicit by interpretation.

Interpretation to Heidegger is something which is never presuppositionless, it is essentially grounded in “fore-having, fore-sight, and for-conception”, there are questions that need to be asked from here however:

How is the structure of the “as” which belongs to what is interpreted as such related to the fore-structure? This phenomenon is obviously not dissolved “into” pieces. But is a primordial analytic o be ruled out? Should we accept such phenomena as “finalities”? Then the question would remain, why? Or do the fore-structure of understanding and the as-structure of interpretation show an existential-ontological connection with the phenomenon of project? And does this phenomenon refer back to a primordial constitution of being of Da-sein? (Heidegger, p. 141, Being and Time, 1996)

Before Heidegger can even answer these questions, he states that what he has written so far has not been adequate enough to even precipitate answers to such, he asks if what is visible in for-structure of understanding “and qua the as-structure of interpretation does not itself already represent a unitary phenomenon” used in many philosophical problems. To set the scene for the answer of these questions Heidegger must delve into meaning and Dasein’s so-called “inner beings”. Heidegger states that the projecting of understanding allows for the disclosure of being in their possibility, and moreover that the character of possibility in all instances corresponds to the kind of “being of the beings understood.”  (p. 141) Innerwordly beings though are projected toward a total significance (the world), generally, when we come to understand them with Dasein we can say that we have come to say they have meaning, but Heidegger reminds us that what has been understood is not really meaning, but beings, or being.

Meaning is that wherein the intelligibility of something maintains itself. What can be articulated in disclosure that understands we call meaning. The concept of meaning includes the formal framework of what necessarily belongs to what interpretation that understands articulates. Meaning structured by fore-having, fore-sight, and fore-conception, is upon which of the project in terms of the project in terms of which something becomes conception, is the upon which of the project in terms of which something intelligible as something. (Heidegger, p. 142, Being and Time, 1996)

Heidegger states that as understanding and interpretation are the existential structures of being of the “there”, we must understand meaning as the “formal existential framework of the disclosedness belong to understanding.” (p. 142) It is an existential of Dasein not a property added to it, and the meaning that Dasein “has” is disclosed in the being-in-the-world which can be fulfilled through “beings discoverable in it. Thus only Dasein can be meaningful or meaningless.” (p. 142) In the existential-ontological sense of meaning discussed herein, Heidegger says that Dasein then is understood as unmeaningful, which is not a value judgement but rather an “ontological determination”. Our discussion of meaning then is about questioning being itself, at least insofar as it is contained within the being of Dasein.

The meaning of being can never be contrasted with beings or with being as the supporting “ground” of beings because “ground” is only accessible as meaning, even if meaning itself is an abyss of meaninglessness. (Heidegger, p. 142, Being and Time, 1996)

In moving back toward interpretation Heidegger says that as discolsedness of the there, understanding always concerns the whole of being-in-the-world, that in every understanding of the world, existence is too understood. Interpretation operates within fore-structure and if it is to contribute to understanding it must already have understood what is to be interpreted. This is true with scientific cognition, which Heidegger states demands the rigor of “giving reasons”, but in order to avoid presupposing what it must find, we must ask how does interpretation always already operate within what is understood, how can it produce scientific knowledge without being circular? This Heidegger states is to misunderstand understanding though, “from the ground up”:

It is not a matter of assimilating understanding and interpretation to a particular ideal of knowledge which is itself only a degeneration of understanding which has strayed in the legitimate grasping what is objectively present in its essential unintelligibility. The fulfillment of the fundamental conditions of possible interpretation rather lies in not mistaking interpretation beforehand with regard to the essential conditions of it being done. What is decisive is not to get out of the circle, but to get in it the right way. (Heidegger, p. 143, Being and Time, 1996)

To Heidegger the circle of understanding is not in fact a circle in which any random kind of knowledge operates, it is instead the expression of the existential fore-structure of Dasein itself. To Heidegger a “positive possibility” of primordial knowledge is hidden within it which is only grasped when interpretation has understood that its goal is to not let fore-having, fore-sight, and fore-conception “be given to it by chance ideas and popular conceptions, but to guarantee the scientific theme by developing these in terms of the things themselves.” (p. 143) Thus the circle in understanding becomes:

the structure of meaning, and this phenomenon is rooted in the existential constitution of Dasein, in interpretive understanding. Beings which, as being-in-the-world,  are concerned about their being itself have an ontological structure of the circle. However, if we note that the “circle” belongs ontologically to a kind of being of objective presence (subsistence) we shall in general have to avoid characterizing something like Dasein ontologically with this phenomenon.(Heidegger, p. 143-144, Being and Time, 1996)

In our next post on Heidegger we will be discussing Statement as a Derivative Mode of Interpretation, but first we might like to start some work on Wittgenstein.


Heidegger, M. (1996). Being and Time. Trans Joan Stambaugh. Albany: SUNY Press. Pp. 139, 140, 141, 142, 142, 143, 143-144.

Categories: Book Review, Philosophy
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