Academic journal article Philosophy Today

Heidegger on the Experiment

Academic journal article Philosophy Today

Heidegger on the Experiment

Article excerpt

Heidegger's analysis of the experiment in the 1930s is a pivotal moment for his later critique of the modern epoch. In order to show this, I will draw primarily on the Beitrage and "The Age of the World Picture," but where helpful I will look elsewhere, to explicate Heidegger's analysis of observation as a setting up of the real. I will then trace the implications ofthis analysis to the question of the mathematical representation of nature in the experiment. I thus hope to shed new light on Heidegger's critique of representational thinking, to draw particular attention to the role of the scientific method and quantification in that thinking, and to expose the problem of realism as one Heidegger shares with contemporary analytic philosophers of science.

Since Heidegger's work on experimentation is spread over many texts, spanning 40 years of his thought, tracing its development is less than simple. Accordingly, I have divided the analysis into two parts. The first explicates how experimentation is violent in Heidegger's view. It begins by laying out his understanding, worked out from 1916 to 1938, of the difference between ancient and modern science. Then I look specifically at his interpretation of violence in the history of science to argue that observation in modern science is inherently violent in his view. I conclude this section by setting Heidegger's thinking against Ian Hacking's work on the problem of realism to show how for Heidegger the worry goes deeper than the analytic concern that theoretical entities may be fictitious. Heidegger holds that physics gets at the real, but that in doing so it encroaches upon nature by confining it reductively as object. He suggests that the experiment sets up and entraps nature by mastering it in calculation.

In the second part, I explore the question of representation. First, I extend the account of calculation by looking at representation in exact science. I show how in Heidegger's view, exactitude secures certainty by representing objects as quantifiable. Finally, by analyzing the world as picture, I argue that for Heidegger the concealment of being in the modern epoch is forgotten in the experimental reduction of the real to quantitative representation. Accordingly, I show that it is Heidegger's consideration of the experiment that is pivotal to his claim that the modern epoch is determined by science. And hence I arguethat his critique of the experimental method is the basis for the critique of the modern epoch Heidegger undertakes in his later years.

Experiment and Violence

Heidegger holds that the modern experiment is not a passive observation of nature, but rather a setting up of the real that encroaches upon nature by confining it within the parameters of scientific objectivity. Unlike ancient science, phenomenological in the sense that it looks to the thing under inquiry to show itself, modern science entraps the thing as object in the experiment. That contrast between ancient and modern observational method is thus an appropriate starting-point for analysis of modern scientific method. To understand, however, in what sense this method is violent, one must first have a sense of what Heidegger means by violence. Only then can Heidegger's approach to the problem of realism be set against an analytic account to show that his insight is in raising the issue of calculation.

Ancient Versus Modern Science

Heidegger began thinking through the difference between ancient and modern science as early as 1916 in Der Zeitbegriff in der Geschichtswissenschaft. Here he noted that in ancient natural philosophy, Aristotle "searched for the metaphysical essence and hidden causes arising in immediate actuality."' This is the sense in which Aristotle is an empiricist. He generalizes on the basis of observations, and therefore his account of natural phenomena begins with experience. Indeed, Heidegger repeats this claim about Aristotle's method some 20 years later, in "The Age of the World Picture," when he argues that it was Aristotle who first understood what empeiria (experientia) means in the investigation of nature. …

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