Home > Philosophy > Meaning And Interpretation Assignment Two – “Compare The Theories Of Meaning Of Three Philosophers Discussed In This Unit And Justify Why You Chose Those Three”. – Part 2.

Meaning And Interpretation Assignment Two – “Compare The Theories Of Meaning Of Three Philosophers Discussed In This Unit And Justify Why You Chose Those Three”. – Part 2.

Now that you have hopefully read part one, here is part two for your viewing pleasure:

Justification:  why I chose each philosopher

Now that I have examined and compared these interesting philosophers’ theories of meaning it might be time for me to now elaborate on why I chose these specific three – I’ll take each in turn. As Husserl is what could be called the father of phenomenological study his thought provides an interesting base from which to discuss Heidegger (even as we see Heidegger doesn’t necessarily agree with Husserl, perhaps I could say – there would be no Heidegger without Husserl). I enjoyed his attempts to define different senses of the objective, in that of (1) the disinterested scientific observer and more complicated a task was (2) to ground objectivity in subjective experience.  Husserl questions the a priori nature of the idealizing of mathematical structure over nature. The a priori is something ideal and general according to Husserl, it is the objectivity of this type of thought that he means to critique, as it is a structure within men, it is we who form it, and thus how can it be objective?  Libica Uckink, 2009 states that Husserl gets around this problem by separating between the “acts of judgement” or put another way “the subjectivity of thinking”, and the “content of judgment”:

Our acts of judgement are events in the world; they are causally determined and subjective. We can be wrong. Yet their content is objective, guaranteed by the formal laws of independent thinking.  (Ucnik, p. 59, Husserl’s Critique Of The Mathematization of Nature: From Philosophy of Arithmetic to The Crisis of European Sciences.” 2009)

Without this distinction, Ucnik states we would be reduced to relativism. To Husserl we are searching for an ultimate truth, in the sciences, in mathematics these “actual or still to be accomplished” branches of a single philosophy, which he calls “theoretical mankind”, and “philosophizing mankind”. One that overcomes finitude, limitedness and relativity that encompasses the world. To Husserl these questions and goals will guide us toward a new philosophy, which will cause new historical paths and lead to a new method of philosophical work, which one could say we see in his phenomenological project.

Heidegger is interesting to me because of his unique approach to the subject/object split – the discussion of Dasein in “Being and Time” (and subsequent commentaries on such) are, at least in my very small encounter with philosophical texts, one-of-a-kind. I wanted to learn, in my research preparation for this essay, as much as I could on Dasein, and what Heidegger was trying to convey in it (even if I couldn’t convey the full depth of such learning to this specific essay). His investigation into Dasein is a unique study of us, insofar as we come to terms with being, it is about the “being” of entities, and as Heidegger says “the meaning of being” which will pre-contextualize any further questions (say, those posed by Descartes and Kant). Dasein is what is possible, not an objectively present addition with the ability to do something, it is always what it can be, but how it is is its possibility.  This questioning of the tradition, of the presuppositions of that tradition – to move from the ontic, that is being, to the ontological, that is, an account for, as Colebrook states “the very possibility of being of how things become present” (Colebrook, p. 130, The Edinburgh Encyclopaedia of Modern Criticism and Theory, 2002) must have been a difficult thing to do, and to publish, especially when we consider that he was bucking the phenomenological works of Husserl (his mentor) too.

Wittgenstein’s thought, like Heidegger ‘s is so strange, his views from the Tractatus to the Philosophical Investigations change so much that his views become a critique of himself – as we see in the ostensive teaching of words argument. Although that original critique in the text is structured as a critique of Augustine, his views can be seen as looking through his earlier work (such as a picture theory of meaning, as well as ostensive teaching), to show us how that earlier thought does not follow. He then turns this critique into a broader discussion of language, and language-games – showing the complexity of language, and indeed meaning, run deeper than simply “word, and “object” such as in the example of Excalibur. We can point to the sword “Excalibur”, which consists of parts, and say “Excalibur has a sharp blade”, this makes sense – even if those parts are broken up. However under an ostensive teaching of words, if the sword is broken into pieces and no longer exists as “Excalibur” – the sentence “Excalibur has a sharp blade” no longer has any meaning. Wittgenstein would argue, however that it still does make sense, hence “there must always be something corresponding to the words of which it consists.” Wittgenstein states that we must not confuse the meaning of the name with the bearer of the name – for example, the bearer of the name in our example is Excalibur, to say that Excalibur is destroyed implies the bearer is destroyed, but not the meaning of the word. Wittgenstein would say that meaning of a word can be defined as “is its use in language”, whereas the meaning of a name is “sometimes explained by pointing to its bearer.” (Wittgenstein, p. 91-2, Philosophical Investigations, 1963)

It was interesting to compare Wittgenstein’s theories of language, and how meaning is located within the various plays of language-games to someone like Heidegger who expresses a more experiential or indeed existential theory, in which it is our encounter with objects and how they unconceal to us, that allows for meaning.


In this essay I have first defined some of the terms I was going to discuss, starting with Husserl, in that his primary text discusses how we come to experience the world, through horizons, and the existential. Heidegger’s Dasein was also defined, in that I stated what Dasein meant to Heidegger, and how meaning and being relate to it. I finally defined the ostensive teaching of words so that I could spend the rest of the essay discussing his views in relation to, and the broader theme of meaning in language. I then compared these three philosophers’ theories of meaning, contrasting their similarities and differences, which allowed me to come to understand the influences they might have had on each, but also to see how they had their own ideas on tradition, and the common philosophical puzzles. Finally I then explored why I found these theorists interesting, -while also attempting to elaborate and clarify their theories in a way I was unable to in the comparison section – this clarification served to further elaborate on my understanding of these theories


Colebrook, Claire. “Martin Heidegger (1889-1976).” The Edinburgh Encyclopaedia of Modern Criticism and Theory. Ed. Julian Wolfreys. Edinburgh: Edinburgh U P, 2002, 130

Heidegger, Martin. Being and Time. Trans Joan Stambaugh. Albany: SUNY Press. 1996, 134, 140

Husserl, Edmund. “Appendix V: Objectivity and the World of Experience.” Trans. David Carr. The Crisis of European Sciences and Transcendental Phenomenology: An Introduction to Phenomenological Philosophy. Evanston: Northwest University Press, 1970, 343, 344

Ucnik, Lubica. “Husserl’s Critique Of The Mathematization of Nature: From Philosophy of Arithmetic to The Crisis of European Sciences.” Far Eastern University Colloquium The Department of Humanities and Social Sciences Research Journal. Vol. 3. 2009, 59

Wittgenstein, Ludwig. “Selection. I” Trans, G. E. M. Anscombe. Philosophical Investigations. Second Ed. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1963, 83, 84, 89, 91-2

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