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Is Heidegger a conceptualist?
I don't think Heidegger is a conceptualist.Since,Heidegger believes,Being finds itself in a "world" already interpreted in someway and its  grasp over its "world" is not something empirically given primordially Being is said to be interpretation all the way down.The modalities(What and How of the world) of our grasp over our world precedes any semantic conceptualization of such graspings.Hence
the basic or core purchase that we have of our world can not come in to total clarity with regard to their nature:whether they are conceptual or non conceptual.They,it seems,are more like practical know how(Verstehen) rather than conceptual know that.    

Is Heidegger a conceptualist?
First, I don't know what a conceptualist is. It is an ambiguous label; one I don't hear too often. Next, I concur somewhat with your assessment. The world is already interpreted in some way prior to any active conceptualization of it. However, the question should be: Does Heidegger have the ability to suggest what the origin of discursivity is? This might be a problem for anyone with a phenomenological orientation since phenomenology construes the world as pregnant with meaning already. A hermeneutic phenomenology might suggest alongside Putnam and other semantic externalists that meaning arises out of the causal interaction with the world, and we could read Heidegger coming very close to Wittgenstein and company. 
If it were Husserl, we could say that the origin of meaning is found within the meaning-constitutionality of consciousness. Yet, Heidegger is not that simple. 

Is Heidegger a conceptualist?

'World' for Merleau-Ponty, and for that matter Heidegger, is not the planet Earth but a common sphere of activity or interest. The mental universe through which our cultural, physical, social conditioning and environment creates our unique perspective.

We are born into a cultural world and so our ideas are not confined to theoretical constructs, they are manifest in the objects that have been shaped for communal use in the shared world. The prime or first cultural object, and the one by which all the rest exist, is the human body, and it is this body which goes out and shapes the world for the world, into a sort of intersubjective utility which tells us that the body is structurally significant and as such should release us from these abstract self-contained theories. The body was/is a structural facticity, an obvious formative thing that affects our experience, and is thus affective in the way it shapes us, our world, and our language. Therefore we can say that the first cultural object must be the meeting of body and earth.<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" />


Both Merleau-Ponty and Heidegger see our engagement with our environment as inseparable, since the 'human being is always reaching out beyond itself: its very being consists in aiming at what it is not yet. In its very givenness there is a striving towards its own possibility of achievement: in its necessity, freedom. ... it is a projection in and of and with the world.'[1]


Merleau-Ponty’s point is that it is very difficult to understand and grasp the ‘I perceive’. We cannot break down or decompose a perception, to make it a collection of sensations since the whole is prior to the parts and this whole is not an ideal whole. Merleau-Ponty’s meaning is not of the conceptual order, since if it were a concept it would have to be recognised within the sphere of the sense data. In other words, the concept would need to recognised, or be placed, between (in space or time), in an intermediate position, within that data that was being experienced by the perceiver.


‘If it were a concept, the question would be necessary for me to interpose between the concept and the sense data certain intermediaries, and then other intermediaries between these intermediaries and so on. It is necessary that meaning and signs the form and matter of perception, be related from the beginning and that, as we say, the matter of perception be “pregnant with its form.”’


[1] Grene, M.    Heidegger pp 23/4

[2] Merleau-Ponty.    The Primacy of Perception pp15

Is Heidegger a conceptualist?

As Ed says, your use of the word "conceptualism" stands in need of some further clarification. I take it that the term is presently being used by different philosophers to mean quite different things.

Let me take a stab at it anyway. I understand conceptualism to be a substantive philosophical position. I associate it with what I would call the Pittsburgh school of philosophy - originating with the work of Wilfrid Sellars and spearheaded today by John McDowell.

The basic conceptualist thesis, as I understand it, is that the content of our perceptual experience is always already conceptual [1]. On this account, to be a non-conceptualist would be to fall into the "myth of the given." According to the myth, perceptual experience is a two stage process: first, some raw, unconceptualized content is given to us passively (say, sense-data) and then we engage in an active process of conceptualizing that given element as such and such (say, as a hammer). According to the myth, what is given to our perceptual experience is not directly "hammer" but something more minimal; some unformed, unshaped content which we subsequently conceptualize as a hammer. So first there is some bare presence (given) and then we conceptualize it as a hammer. This is the myth of the given. Against this myth, the conceptualist argues that in our perceptual experience we directly perceive hammers. There is no bare presence that is given to us prior to our conceptualization. Our conceptual capacities are always already in play in perceptual experience.

If this is the sort of thing that you mean by conceptualism, then, yes, Heidegger's philosophy is certainly quite consonant with this line of thought. I already tried to allude to this in my choice of example (hammer). For Heidegger, the ready-to-hand is prior to the present-at-hand. That is to say that the hammer-hood of the hammer is more primordial than its bare presence-at-hand. Presence-at-hand is a category that is parasitic on the ready-to-hand. We do not first see a bare presence which we later take to be a hammer. We always already see it as a hammer. This can easily be read as Heidegger's own argument against the myth of the given.

Heidegger's philosophy certainly has a lot of affinities with the philosophy of Sellars and McDowell. For more on this topic of these affinities, please refer to the work of the late John Haugeland. He was an important figure in the Pittsburgh school of philosophy and a brilliant scholar of Heidegger.

Another great way to explore these topics is to look into the recent debate between John McDowell and Hubert Dreyfus. This debate took place around 2006-07 over a series of five or six papers. [2] Hubert Dreyfus is another brilliant scholar of Heidegger (he was in fact Haugeland's teacher). He tries to mount a Heideggerian argument against the recent conceptualist philosophy advanced by John McDowell. McDowell argues against him and claims that there is nothing in his conceptualist thesis that conflicts with Heidegger's philosophy.

One last thing I want to point out is that you seem to understand the term "conceptualism" in a completely different way than the use I have just made of it. You are associating conceptual knowledge with "know that" as opposed to "know how." I'm not sure what you mean there. All I can say is that what Heidegger treats as ready to hand, McDowell / Sellars would treat as conceptualized.


[1] Conceptualism is usually understood to be a position in the philosophy of perception. However, I do suspect that it can be generalized to all areas of philosophy. C.f. "Varieties of Skepticism," by James Conant in Wittgenstein and Skepticism, edited by Denis McManus, Routledge Press, 2004. Link

[2] I can't say with certainty what all the papers were, but some that I remember:
"The Myth of the Mental" (Dreyfus)      
"What Myth?" (McDowell)
"The Return of the Myth of the Mental" (Dreyfus)

Is Heidegger a conceptualist?
Reply to Ed Hackett
Disregarding all that other stuff, what do you make then of the distinction between verstehen and auslegen in SZ?

Is Heidegger a conceptualist?
Ed,Iggi and Nikhil,

What a pleasure I have had reading your comments.Let me admit that my use of the word conceptualism is certainly vague.But the vagueness was partly intentional to make headway in to the famous Dreyfus-McDowell debate.But I am so put off by their use of jargons,typical of analytic philosophy, that I was expecting that this random shot would provoke a guy like Nikhil to give us a synoptic view of the debate.

Firstly,I mistakenly took conceptualism to be the thesis that our stance towards objects around us is primarily that of a reflective gaze as opposed to the Heideggerian idea that use we make of the objects precedes any cognitive stance we take at those objects.So Heidegger,according to me, is not a conceptualist.Obiviously, this is not the sense in which the word conceptualism has been used in the Dreyfus-McDowell debate.

Secondly,Nikhil finds my distinction know how and know that to be equally vague.Actually this is a distinction I wanted to make between know how and know what.The former is more akin to the German word Verstehen both in letter and spirit.The word stands for finding ones way in to a situation or event or in other words understanding a situation.Heidegger means something same when he uses the word Understanding.But this primordial Understanding or know how can not solely be reduced to ready-to-hand.Of course Heidegger admits and Nikhil would also agree that the ready-to-hand is also  invested with knowledge(sight or circumspection Heidegger would say)of a different kind.In this sense Heidegger would be a conceptualist the way both Sellers and McDowell are.However this is not the end:for Heideegger the ready-to-hand before it becomes real it has to be possible because Dasein itself is a possibility-a 'thrown' possibility.Ready-to-hand is possible in the background of an apprehension which Dasein is by virtue of its being-in-the world.This apprehension cannot come into a state of perfect clarity:whether they are conceptual or nonconceptual.

And finally I need to appreciate both Ed and Iggi fo their lucid elucidations bringing Putnam and Ponty to bear on the problem 

Is Heidegger a conceptualist?
My pleasure... we rarely get to enter into dialogue these days with like minded people. The thanks should be mine. Many thanks Iggi

Is Heidegger a conceptualist?

The ready [Zuhandene], the extant [Vorhande] and Dasein differ in the following ways.
Dasein can have no constituents that are fragments [pieces, Stücke] and no constituents that could possibly be perfectly like [gleich] constituents of anything else, including other Dasein.
As equipment a ready entity cannot be perfectly like any other equipment.

Spatiality makes impossible that it be used in exactly the same way. Any ready entity can however have extant in it abstract parts (moments) that could be perfectly like abstract parts of some other equipment. (Whether such perfect likeness can be detected, established factually is not relevant.)

An extant entity may very well be related to other extant entities as  perfectly like counterparts. (Whether there are in fact any other entity is perfectly like it in fact is again irrelevant.)
When something such as a hammer is being used, its utility for hammering is given as are some of the traits that are extant in it, including some without which it would not serve for this purpose. Moreover, the using of the hammer is in usual cases an occurrence that is familiar in kind; it is a sequence similar to already familiar sequences. These states of affairs are all co-given and co- understood, including the universals whose understanding is entailed and included in understanding the hammer through explicating its utility.

Through Husserl's work Heidegger was well acquainted with ways of conceiving the given whereof those seem quite ignorant who take seriously the notion that givenness is mythical. It appears that conceptualists and the several brilliant scholars of Heidegger referred to in this thread are among this lot. Heidegger was not.

Moreover, Heidegger probably noticed, as those folk seemingly did not, that Husserl's account of temporality entails thoroughgoing continuity of now occurring with earlier intuitive consciousness so that earlier phases of Dasein's existence are not less given than the now occurring ones are.

It is very strange to suggest that being a hammer comes first and is then followed parasitically by the traits that enable the entity to function as a hammer. I should like to know where in Heidegger's account anything of this sort is said or even suggested. The account given by Nikhil seems even to require that "hammer-hood" be an innate concept: in order to use anything as a hammer it must "always already" be understood to be a hammer. How would the use of hammers ever have come to be instituted?

Is Heidegger a conceptualist?
"Firstly,I mistakenly took conceptualism to be the thesis that our stance towards objects around us is primarily that of a reflective gaze as opposed to the Heideggerian idea that use we make of the objects precedes any cognitive stance we take at those objects.So Heidegger,according to me, is not a conceptualist.Obiviously, this is not the sense in which the word conceptualism has been used in the Dreyfus-McDowell debate."

One immediate comment I want to make here is that your use of the term conceptualism is not completely out of sync with the role that it plays in the Dreyfus-McDowell debate. Your use of the term, is actually in harmony with one side of the debate; namely, Hubert Dreyfus' side of the debate. I think that Dreyfus understands conceptualism in the same way that you have tried to present it here - as "the thesis that our stance towards objects around us is primarily that of a reflective gaze." But I think this is indicative of a misunderstanding on Dreyfus' part. This misunderstanding is precisely what McDowell tries to clarify throughout their debate.

If we understand conceptualism in the way Dreyfus understands it or in the way that you have presented it, then it should be pretty clear why Dreyfus would want to refute such a thesis. If our stance towards objects is primarily that of a reflective gaze that would mean that objects are primarily present-at-hand. But Heidegger wants to show us that presence-at-hand is only a derivative mode of being founded on the ready-to-hand. Therefore our stance towards objects cannot primarily be that of a reflective gaze.

But this does not mean that our primary stance towards objects cannot be primarily that of a conceptualized gaze. McDowell's thesis, I want to say, is that our gaze is always already conceptualized. This applies both to our reflective, as well as our un-reflective gazes - they are both bring our conceptual capacities into play.

Is Heidegger a conceptualist?
Reply to Robert Jordan
"It is very strange to suggest that being a hammer comes first and is then followed parasitically by the traits that enable the entity to function as a hammer. I should like to know where in Heidegger's account anything of this sort is said or even suggested. The account given by Nikhil seems even to require that "hammer-hood" be an innate concept: in order to use anything as a hammer it must "always already" be understood to be a hammer. How would the use of hammers ever have come to be instituted?"

The thing that follows parasitically is the hammer's presence-at-hand. (This is obviously a term of art for Heidegger and I'm not sure if it can be analyzed as "traits that enable the entity to function as a hammer.") Maybe we can say something like the "objecthood" of the hammer is what is parasitic. In that case I am saying that it is first a hammer and then an object. It only becomes an "object" rather than a hammer in some degenerate cases (like when it breaks).

Is Heidegger a conceptualist?
I have loved reading this conversation too. However, I still want to bring us back to a question I asked since it is at the core of this debate. If you recall, I asked:  Does Heidegger have the ability to suggest what the origin of discursivity is? This might be a problem for anyone with a phenomenological orientation since phenomenology construes the world as pregnant with meaning already and only wishes to describe the world as it is given. Phenomenology as a whole does not provide a metaphysical analysis as to why the world is meaningful. We might get some answers out of the conceptuality with the ontological "hints" of Husserl's noemata or categorial intuition, but there is nothing like this in Heidegger (though I think the relation between Heidegger's love of Husserl's 6th Meditation might prove useful for the questions we are asking). This is why Hubert Dreyfus and the McDowell debate matter. Dreyfus is picking up on the silence of Heidegger's distinction between ready-at-hand and present-at-hand that bear on the silence of phenomenology on what meaning is. In a way, I think that phenomenology actively avoids this type of question since phenomenology is an anti-metaphysical program.

I want to be clear, however, in what exactly I mean by the metaphysical analysis of meaning. In analytic philosophy of language, the central question facing these philosophers was how is it that basic propositions have meaning. Some tried to reduce the structure of language to simpler elements. Others saw meaning in the power of basic terms to refer. Yet, it was not only in propositions that they sought what is meaning, but this also forms the basis of what metaphysics became: philosophy of mind. How is it that thoughts or whatever we take consciousness to be have meaning? This is also why I brought in Putnam from before. Thus, the problem of meaning in these two forms invokes a metaphysical type of inquiry, but it is a metaphysics assisted, if you will, by the tools of neuroscience, cognitive linguistics and evolutionary paradigms just to name a few.

As phenomenologists, we are just starting to understand that classical phenomenology cannot be silent on its relation to these problems, but we are at a loss to suggest when we must cease in our silence at the same time. So much of the call to assist in these inquiries gravitates closely to the very natural attitude that we reject to the point that we pick up Heidegger's anti-scientism all too easily and I think the limits of phenomenology are understated by its enthusiasts (I am certainly no exception to this rule).

Is Heidegger a conceptualist?
Reply to Robert Jordan
Well I think Heidegger nowhere wants to, "establish the priority of handiness of things over their objective presence.After introducing the contrast between these two sorts of being( a tool's being and that of an object of observation and/or theory),Heidegger is coy on this question of priority....The coyness is deliberate since the point of his analysis of a tool's sort of being is not to establish it as an independent category of being but to underscore the efficacious absence of the world as what makes the tool (and its inconspicuousness possible)."

This quotation is from Daniel Dahlstrom's article,"Heidegger's Heritage"(FN 27)   

Is Heidegger a conceptualist?

I am going to try and offer another approach to the original question: Is Heidegger a Conceptualist?
The notion of Conceptualism is historically located in the Medieval debate about universals, which stems from attempts to interpret Aristotle (particularly Porphyry's interpretation of Aristotle) and his antiPlatonic line on categories (and forms).  As opposed to Realism which refers to things, Conceptualism refers to our understanding of things.  The alternative approach to both is Nominalism - we are just talking about words or flatus vocis ("puffs of air") as Roscelin and Abelard claimed.
Heidegger does not involve himself in any of this debate as far as I can recall.  His many references to "basic concepts" (Grundbegriffe) need to be understood in terms of his rejection of the realism / idealism debate; Heidegger saw what he was doing as, "... neither on this side nor on the far side of idealism and realism, nor is it either one of the two positions.  Instead it stands wholly outside of an orientation to them and their ways of formulating questions (History of the Concept of Time, p.167)."  So, Heidegger was seeking to, "preserve the force of the most elemental words (Being and Time, p.220)."
What Heidegger was after was a closeness to actual scientific exploration as Aristotle conducted it and from which philosophers have distanced themselves ever since (without realising it).  He even called his own early phenomenology "primordial science."
What is interesting is that Heidegger interprets Aristotle as having this same methodology - hermeneutic phenomenology.

Is Heidegger a conceptualist?
I wish to associate myself with the comment of M. Bini.  Heidegger is a faithful follower of Husserl, particularly in his early work.  Ex,perience from that perspective is mainly the fulfillment of intntionality, hence the intimacy of knowledge and the obliteration of duality.  I commend M. Bini on his comments, and add that Heidegger has freed himself from the manifold dualities that characterize modern thought since Descartes, distinctions that are not in Ancient Philosophy, and which have made of modern philosophy one big, sterile and futile merry-go-round. 
Hence the sigh or relief from those thus liberated. 

Is Heidegger a conceptualist?

Your reasoning is excellent. From your careful deliberation, I can see the hard work you've done in this area. But I still have some different opinions on this issue, which I'd like to communicate with you here. 
First of all, I appreciate your demarcation of conceptualism and the commonly known example of hammer in Heidegger's philosophy. The point here I want to argue is that, since you concentrated on the contemporary debates which concerning Heidegger's thoughts, you have not considered very seriously about the inner links between Husserl's phenomenology and Heidegger's ontology.
Husserl once mentioned in his Logical Investigations (Logisch Untersuchungen), truths are what they are irrespective of whether humans grasp them at all. The truths exist in "being in itself" (An-sich-sein), this concept, later which is famous in Sartre's Being and Nothingness. To speak more clearly, these truths are formed in those ideal unities. Husserl's idealities refer to numbers, logical entities, pure meanings etc. Husserl insists that ideal objectivities are given through essential seeing/ essence inspection (Wesenserschauung). So far, it seems that Husserl is someone like a conceptualist as such you mentioned. But the key point is that he didn't proceed his phenomenological research in a naive manner but worked it out in a complex structure, which could not be named as simple stages (one or two or more). The given of hammer itself through essential seeing can be simply viewed as one stage, however, this one stage is not a strictly sensed "stage", which we cannot generalize into a kind of psychic act for Husserl rejects using Brentanian descriptive psychology in his later works.

Heidegger, of course, has undertaken so much from his teacher. To a large extent, Heidegger further apply Husserl's phenomenology into his own ontology, although this sort of application more or less breaks Husserl's original stance. From Husserl's Wesenserschauung to Heidegger's Sagen, we can not only see the correlation between the former and latter but read out the great gap as well. Both of these two philosophers want to reveal the secret of the truth(s) in their heart, but they act out in different theoretical world. If we trace Husserl's thoughts back to Logisch and explore Heidegger's meditation towards Dichtung, we will find out that "being" in these two relevant theories refers to the same but performs quite differently. Heidegger's  "being"  more and more tends to Laozi's Tao, that we can see very clearly in his later works, also in his Being and Time we can dig out some proofs. In this sense, a kind of eastern living realization replaces the commonly acknowledged perceptual experience in Heidegger's philosophy that the former is both metaphysical and practical and the latter is philosophical and psychological.

Surely, the above argument is quite general but I think it can represent my basic ideas concerning this topic.

Is Heidegger a conceptualist?
I would like to add to the latest comment that of course Heidegger was influenenced by his teacher, Husserl.  For example, Husserl initiaited the idea of the first sensation of space is "near Nd far.'  Ortega y Gaset followed him in this.  Heidegger did likewise, call ing things of immediate or practical interest to Dasein "zuhande" and things in the background "vorhande."  This is in his early work, Sein und Zeit.
But later he freedhimself slowly from Husserl's grasp, and the terminology is entirely hiw own.  HIs goal was always the same: to free philosophy from the dead hand of metaphysics, which I think was either impossible or very close to impossible.  Aristotle said philosophy begins in wonder.  Heidegger Hwanted to inspire wonder at the end of "investigations." 

Is Heidegger a conceptualist?
Hi Bijaya, 
In case you're still working on this, I've written a short article on just this question. 

I cite some passages which look to be at odds with Dreyfus' reading of Heidegger in his debate with McDowell and argue that of the two philosophers, Heidegger is closer to McDowell than Dreyfus.



Is Heidegger a conceptualist?

If we mean conceptualist here as someone who views the function of concept as that which represents in its final unquestionable form what a thing is, then Heidegger is not a conceptualist. We can better appraise the matter in question in terms of Heidegger's distinction between ready-to-hand and presence-at-hand. The former is foreclosed to human access, in that we can only objectify it through conceptual formation, through bringing it into the light of reason, hence, the use of concepts that is not without some use of force. But Heidegger alerts his reader about presence-at-hand whose function in Western philosophy has always been to overshadow what cannot be represented by means of rendering things to their visibility. The ultimate direction of Western philosophy is toward the presencing of things. What Western philosophy has been used to ignore is that absence guarantees presence. In Graham Harman's description an 'invisible armada of entities sustain our conception of reality', hence, the crucial import of ready-to-hand which forms the taken for granted background of our conceptual formation.In the final analysis concepts only point toward what withdraws, a persistent motif of Heidegger's essay On the Essence of Truth. 

Is Heidegger a conceptualist?
Reply to Lianghua Zhou
Zhou 's ideas provoked some thoughts in my mind. Without referring to anyone's opinion I have some proposition to make. The discourse is about 'conceptualism'. The blunt question here is 'what is the difference between conceptualism and objectiveism' as 'concept is no possible to conceive without object'. Concept is a minimization or reduction of object in arbitrary way by the 'perceiver'. I was in a country stricken terribly hunger and stravation. A poor mother with two children on pavement was just died, the young one still feeding on her dead mother. The municipality wagon removed the dead body leaving two children on the pavement. What is death? What is poverty? and What is having no food to eat which causes death? For wagon dirver the 'death body is a trash or rubbish to remove'. For me 'the dead body is death of unknown person' and 'for the daughter loss of every thing'. The 'death in all sense is an object to be interepreted and misconcieve or coencive at one's convinience'. When you apply reason then it becomes 'argment' and emotion it is inexplicable event. The deathbody after it was removed had no meaning for spectators.
Conceptualism as such does not exist independently. It is a 'disstortion of object' and thus a misrepresentaion of object.

Is Heidegger a conceptualist?

In philosophy the grappling of  opposing approaches , one making knowledge more tangible and intelligible , thus accessible to all, and the other mystifying knowledge and eventually creating a state of confusion –‘Knowledge exists-, Knowledge does not exists’— is a perennial problem both in Western and Oriental philosophy.  Heidegger, too, has been remained controversial for making his discourse encompassing from phenomenology to theology.  But his opposition to positivism has arbitrarily  been  picked up by many as important one and for that account he is denominated as a conceptualist. His emphasis that language is the vehicle through which question  of being can be unfolded does not make him a ‘conceptualist’ rather a mystical sceptic—if language was not there the universe would not have been there too. This is a problem in some section of orientalism also, the Vedanta Hinduism in particular, which says ‘all what you perceive or say is nothing but your ignorance—avidya’.<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" />