While Reading Matthew Ratcliffe’s “Feelings of Being” I came across this interesting passage about a criticism of Martin Hiedegger’s use of the word “nothing” by Rudolf Carnap. Below is a brief paraphrase of Ratcliffe’s passage and short observation about the practical questions and insights hidden in the passage.
The German philosopher Martin Heidegger wrote often about “nothing.” And by “nothing” Heidegger meant “something,” or the very real experience of a lack in our felt sense of the world. Nothing is a kind of felt experience prior to actually voicing the word “not.” The word “not” is something less than the more originary, felt, sense of absence upon which it is based. “Nothing” is a kind of something, no less a reality because it may only be felt, or experienced.
The classical definition in philosophy of “nothing,” however, prior to Heidegger’s meaning of the word meant something like: “it is not the case that entities of some kind occupy some place.” To say “it is not” is to offer a proposition. But a voiced proposition is not a felt sense of nothing.
Philosopher’s trained in logic attacked Heidegger on the grounds that his meaning of “nothing” as a kind of “something” flies in the face of logic. One such philosopher, Rudolf Carnap, argues that Hiedegger’s meaning of “nothing” makes sense to some extent only because the reader associates the word with its everyday uses, thus “giving the text a feeling of meaning.”
Carnap thus accuses Heidegger of “kindling feelings in the reader, of the kind that a musician or artist might hope to evoke…”
Perhaps music is the purest means of expression of the basic attitude because it is entirely free from any reference to objects. The harmonious feeling or attitude, which the metaphysician tries to express in a monistic system, is more clearly expressed in the music of Mozart…metaphysicians are musicians without musical ability.
Those are Carnap’s words cited in Ratcliffe’s book on page 58.
If I’m Heidegger, I’m thrilled with this criticism. It’s interesting that from the cold perspective of logical philosophy, music, poetry, or performance, is seen as mere “feeling kindling.” As if feelings are nothing. It’s as if feeling are not seriously understood as THE CENTRAL driver of much of choice, action, and behavior. At the core of every one of our purposes from the most mundane to the most profound, whether it be to grab a snack, or work late daily so as to be recognized for a promotion, or apologize to a friend, or convert to Judaism, is the hope of pursuing a feeling, an experience.
There is a real kind of suspicion of feelings and emotional life in U.S. academic culture. If a person is richly expressive in idiosyncratic ways, or deeply emotional ways, or different ways, people are less likely to appreciate these avant-guard expressions as meaningful and serious but as mere “poetry,” as the kindling of feelings or the expression of feelings kindled. Interestingly, the same kind of attack of suspicion has been charged against those who suffer mental illness. In a book about the limits of language to capture personal mental suffering the author writes:
[The]…writing of schizophrenics can only be seen as a-rhetorical, simply data: the test, the record of symptoms…At best, it is seen as music, as poetry, as some personal expression that has no bearing outside of itself, no transactional currency…If people think you are crazy [or have been in the past], they don’t listen to you. (Prendergast, 2001 pp.202-203)
A person who may be suffering likewise is somehow robbed of having their words not taken seriously, as if they were so how unable to enjoy the normal meanings in words. In the book The Body In Pain, the author says as much when she writes:
When one speaks about ‘one’s own physical pain’ and about ‘another person’s physical pain,’ one might almost appear to be speaking about two wholly distinct orders of events…For the person in pain, so incontestably and unnegotiably present is it that ‘having pain’ may come to be thought of as the most vibrant example of what it means to ‘have certainty,’ while for the other person it is so elusive that ‘hearing about pain’ may exist as the primary model of what it means ‘to have doubt.’…whatever pain achieves, it achieves in part through its unsharability, and it ensures this unsharability through its resistance to language…physical pain does not simply resist language but actively destroys it, bringing about an immediate reversion to a state anterior to language, to sounds and cries a human being makes before language is learned…It [pain] resists objectification in language.
The thing is people who suffer can and do use language to express their suffering and often only through the “music” of metaphor. Today book shelves are filled with autobiographies about people suffering mental illness, and terminal illness. Often they express themselves only through metaphorical ways. But just because it is in fact a “metaphor,” does not mean that it is not “real” or is somehow only a “test-record” of symptoms. The FEELING is its expression.
Likewise with the critique of Heidegger’s use of the word “nothing.” The “feelings kindled” as everyday use of the word meets against his idosyncratic use ARE its expression, its very real and meaningful expression. Unlike the logical philosophers who are content with building arguments with words, we can be attuned to feelings as meaningful in themselves.