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Few more sophisticated or more divergent treatments of the relation between truth and the divine are to be found than those offered in the writings of Thomas Aquinas and Martin Heidegger. This paper traces the differing approaches of these two thinkers in order to attempt a partial elucidation of that relation. One motivation for this contrastive analysis is the conviction that recent treatments of Heidegger's readings of Aquinas have tended too hastily to deny the possibility of fruitful or substantive dialogue between them. In contrast to these accounts, I argue that Heidegger's three central criticisms of Aquinas’ conception of truth – that it posits a subject-oriented and representionalist theory of knowledge, an unwarranted intellectualism, and an ontotheological grounding of truth's objectivity – paradoxically expose vulnerable flanks in his own constructive account. The argument proceeds by way of: (i) an exposition of these three strands of Heidegger's critique, focusing inter alia on some overlooked lectures delivered during the composition of Sein und Zeit; and (ii) a critical assessment of those strands by reference to relevant passages in Aquinas’ writings on truth.
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Although the question of truth pervades Heidegger's entire corpus with constantly shifting and elusive inflections, Heidegger's explicit engagement with theological accounts of truth is more delimitable. Suggestively, the three references to Aquinas in Sein und Zeit (hereafter, SZ) include two citations drawn directly from Aquinas's De Veritate and a third illustrating the medieval identification of Being as a transcendental,3 an identification upon which Heidegger himself relies when emphasising the phenomenological intimacy of Being and truth.4 The present discussion attempts an excavation of some neglected texts drawn from two series of Marburg lectures that Heidegger delivered in the years leading immediately up to the publication of SZ, one containing a focused analysis of DV itself (hereafter, Rückgang)5 (1923–1924) and another that repeatedly alludes to DV (hereafter, Logik)6 (1925–1926). The light that these texts shed on Heidegger's treatment of truth in SZ has been neglected for too long.7 Penetrating and comprehensive accounts of Heidegger's views on truth exist elsewhere,8 so the purpose of this section is briefly to delineate the contours of Heidegger's conception of truth during this period9 in order to explain his specific hostility to the theological contribution to the traditional approaches.10
Heidegger's opening gambit is a polemical one. He insists that theories of truth based on a relation of correspondence between a proposition and that which it “mirrors” cannot sustain the weight that traditional – but especially high-scholastic – formulations require of them. In Logik, Heidegger observes that although propositional truth can consist in a mirroring relation between propositions and facts, often it can only do so because truth belongs to the nature of a thing. If one speaks of “true gold”, the truth of that statement is not intrinsic to its expression, but rather a function of the extent to which the thing itself corresponds to its idea:
‘When something is what it should be according to the idea of that thing only then can we say, for example, it is “true gold” and not … mere fool's gold.’11
To this formal structure Heidegger applies the labels of “correspondence” (Übereinstimmung) and – synonymously – of “adaequatio.”12 It this “theoretical-cognitive model” that he dismisses as paradigmatic of scholastic logic, ‘a form of sloth tailor-made for instructors [who] parrot the same old stock of unchanging shop-worn propositions, formulas, rules, and definitions … [it] is an outrage to real philosophising.’13 By contrast, he contends that the result of authentic philosophising shows that ‘Aristotle's logic … is quite different from the scholastic logic that likes to appeal to him.’14
Thus Heidegger's hostility to the high-scholastic account of truth15 – expressed still more trenchantly in the lecture hall than in print – is indisputable. What is especially striking about these passages is the move to re-instate Aristotle as the architect of a model of truth in which the function of a proposition (logos) is not to correspond with a thing but to uncover it (apophantikos).16 Leaving aside the merits of his highly contested interpretation of Aristotle,17 it is one that supplies the broad outlines of the approach to truth that Heidegger will advance in his major excursus on truth in SZ. Here too his approach is developed as much in opposition to Aquinas as it is inspired by the Stagirite, who – he claims again – identified the task of philosophising as ‘exhibiting something and letting it be seen with regard to the “truth.”’18 The extensive section devoted to questions of truth in SZ opens with an appeal to the long philosophical tradition of emphasising the equiprimordiality (Gleichursprünglichkeit) of Being and truth; and since Being and truth ‘necessarily go together,’ the task of understanding truth falls within the arena of fundamental ontology.19 But the phenomenological conjunction of Being and truth is subsequently destroyed by Aquinas's founding of truth in correspondence (adaequatio intellectus et rei), a move which perpetuates – and indeed crystallises – the Western tradition's mistaken assumption that Aristotle's primary definition of truth did not locate it in Being itself, but rather in the correspondence of the soul's “experiences” with “things.”20
It is not that Heidegger straightforwardly rejects what – as we shall see – he claims to be a theologically contaminated understanding of truth; what he denies is that the essence of truth should consist in an intellective relation that structurally excludes the apprehension of Being through truth. Instead, the question he insists must be raised is what makes such a relation possible in the first place.21 He illustrates the problem with the example of a man accurately asserting to another that a picture on the wall behind them is askew; on turning to face the picture, he argues that what is demonstrated is not a correspondence relation between perceiver and mental representation (Vorstellung) or picture (Bild) of the real thing, but rather one between the perceiver and the picture itself. Heidegger briefly sketches an account of the cognitive process underlying such a demonstration:
‘What one has in mind is the Real picture, and nothing else. Any Interpretation in which something else is here slipped in as what one supposedly has in mind in an assertion that merely represents, belies the phenomenal facts of the case as to that about which the assertion gets made.’22
Heidegger's antipathy towards representationalist theories cognition is unmistakable, and to that extent his criticisms of correspondence strikingly anticipate certain early complaints on this topic in analytic philosophy. In an influential article declaring that correspondentist theories should be sentenced not to ‘purification but elimination,’ Strawson objected to the idea that statements could pick out facts or states-of-affairs independently on the basis that the latter were capable of elucidation only by means of such statements. The theory could not, therefore, achieve the purchase on reality that had for so long accounted for its appeal over rival theories.23 This intriguing convergence across the continental divide should not of course be overplayed, not least because Strawson's own “performative” theory of truth – an important catalyst in the rise of deflationary theories of truth to their current position of ascendancy in Anglo-American philosophy – presupposes a much starker notion of truth than Heidegger countenances in SZ.24 Nevertheless, the parallel seems sufficiently close to suggest that if the critique of correspondence led the analytic tradition towards deflationism, it led Heidegger himself in an equally nihilist direction, since his conception of truth ultimately leads – as we shall see – to what amounts to reducing Being to truth.
Heidegger follows his exposition of the deficiencies of correspondentism with the famous claim that the truth of an assertion derives from nothing less than its ‘uncovering’ of entities as they are in themselves.25 Since they lie in an ontological state of uncoveredness (Entdeckheit), even these entities are ‘true’ only in a derivative sense. What is true in a primary sense is that which uncovers, namely Dasein.26 What makes this possible is the reciprocal relation of transparent disclosedness (Entschlossenheit) between Dasein and its world: ‘Dasein is in the truth.’27 The unifiying characteristic in the structure of Heidegger's account can therefore allegedly be captured by the etymology of the Greek word aletheia, which Heidegger believed embodied the idea of ‘manifestation-from-hiddenness.’28
Here one begins to see that given his attempts to move away from an understanding of truth determined by the ‘subjective’ assertions mirroring ‘objective’ reality towards a more ‘originary’ conception of truth as synonymous with Being, the indisputably central role that Heidegger assigns to Dasein is highly problematic. In the closing paragraphs of his excursus on truth in SZ, he lays the blame for this idealisation of the subject squarely on Christian thought:
‘[T]he jumbling together of Dasein's phenomenally grounded “ideality” with an idealised absolute subject, belong[s] to those residues of Christian theology within philosophical problematics which have not as yet been radically extruded.’29
Similarly, in Rückgang, Heidegger argues that because Aquinas conceives of the intellect as determining the correspondence relation, ‘knowledge and the being of the truth are transferred into the “subject.”’30 Yet it is difficult not to notice that the logic of his own account of truth as the uncoveredness of entities by means of Dasein's uncovering compels him to claim the following:
‘“There is” truth only in so far as Dasein is and so long as Dasein is … Newton's laws, the principle of contradiction, any truth whatsoever – these are true only as long as Dasein is. Before there was any Dasein, there was no truth; nor will there be any after Dasein is no more … That there are “eternal truths” will not be adequately proved until someone has succeeded in demonstrating that Dasein has been and will be for all eternity.’31
This passage is forcefully expressed, and the spectre of idealism – even solipsism – looms large. Although Heidegger vehemently denies that this construal of truth entails a return to the subject,32 there are other reasons to find the claim that Dasein is the transcendental condition for truth philosophically questionable. When rejecting the charge of subjectivism, for instance, he argues that entities would continue to exist in the absence of Dasein. Yet what implications does this have for Heidegger's earlier insistence on Dasein's indispensability to truth as the disclosure of Being to beings? However one settles the vexed question of Heidegger's understanding of Being, how could beings be without it? What these passages imply – as William Vallicella rightly notes in a much overlooked article33 – is that Heidegger seems to suggest that the relation between Being and beings is dependent on the process of manifestation. This in turn entails that a central claim in SZ – namely that the ontico-ontological connection between beings and Being is an indissoluble but lamentably forgotten connection – is mistaken: it is, it turns out, a purely contingent and extrinsic link.
According to Heidegger, Aquinas's third – and most egregious – contribution to correspondentist theories of truth consists in grounding correspondence in the metaphysics of creation. It is a form of doctrinal thinking, he claims, that extrapolates the correspondence relation to the divine level in such a way that truth comes to be a function of the divine plan of creation. Furthermore, the doctrine of creation entails that Aquinas's primary concept of truth ‘ultimately falls back on the relation of causare and causari in the sense of making by way of producing.’34 It may be the case that Aquinas understands truth as a mode of existence (modus essendi), but that existence is specified as created existence (esse creatum), and this is understood in turn as an object of the intellectus divinus.35 Thus we are led, claims Heidegger, to a consideration of how God's being is determined ‘as a causa efficiens, as ens creans.’36 Truth is a “product” of divine creation, just as the human intellect “produces” representations in abstractive cognition that purport to mirror reality in a manner that delivers objective truth.
Aquinas’ error exacerbates this misplaced emphasis on subjectivity by idealising the human subject and projecting it into what is (a fortiori) an ontic god, a purely conceptual entity introduced by metaphysics to underwrite truth's objectivity. Thus Heidegger implies that this approach to truth is caught in a vicious ontotheological circle: (1) a divine entity is illegitimately conceptualised as the efficient cause of created reality; (2) it is subsequently posited as the ground of the correspondence relation between created intellect and created entity; and (3) the alleged solidity of this relation in turn corroborates belief in divine power, thereby closing the circle.37 Heidegger insists that the circle must be broken by recognising that it is only Dasein that can stand ontologically ‘in the truth’ because truth ‘in the most primordial sense belongs to the basic constitution of Dasein.’38 It is here that one can begin to glimpse a spectral resemblance between (on the one hand) the “equiprimordial” unity of Being with Dasein's self-transcendence and (on the other) Aquinas's vision of the ineffably simple coincidence of the divine esse with the divine mind, in which all reality participates.39
The foregoing analysis goes some way to accounting for Heidegger's hostility towards theological speculations on truth. First, we have seen that he accuses Aquinas of according a mistaken priority to Aristotle's treatment of propositional truth and of overlooking the Stagirite's emphasis on the ‘apophantic’ character of propositions. The alleged mis-reading leads to a displacement by ‘logical’ truth of ‘ontological’ truth from its rightful position of primacy. Linked to this are certain mistaken representationalist assumptions that Heidegger diagnoses at the heart of correspondence theories. Second, we noted his contention that the intellectualism implicit in these theories sets up the subject in opposition to the world that inevitably triggers a withdrawal from it. Finally, we saw that Heidegger insists this illusory anthropocentric subjectivity metastasises into a theocentric subjectivity that serves to ground and “measure” the correspondence relation between ontic entities.
Heidegger exhibits a number of other misgivings that cannot be addressed here; but it is clear at least that if Aquinas's account cannot be defended against each of these three trenchant objections, one of the most sophisticated attempts in Christian thought to articulate the indispensability of God to a coherent theory of truth would be seriously undermined. It is to an outline of such a defence that I now turn.
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Heidegger's mis-reading of Aquinas's orchestration of the different components of his account of truth is especially evident in the implicit charge of representationalism he levels at Aquinas. As we have seen, Heidegger's hostility to adaequatio is rooted in his distaste for the mis-placed emphasis on the role of the intellect and the representationalist model of cognition with which he alleges it is structurally complicit.
This might strike a Thomist as a puzzling charge to level at Aquinas. It is true that some medievalists40 have attempted to paint Aquinas as a forerunner to the epistemology of British empiricism, which tended to conceive of sense-data reaching the senses exclusively in terms of efficient causation. Nevertheless, most contemporary accounts of Aquinas’ epistemology41 insist that central to his theory of truth is the cognitive assimilation by sense and intellect of the sensible and intelligible forms intrinsic to external objects by means of formal causation.42 What undergirds this assimilative process is not – as later versions of the correspondence theory would suppose – a shaky epistemological bridge between two otherwise distinct relata reliant solely on the dynamics of efficient causality. Rather it is a process that results in an ontological condition of absolute formal identity between knower and known. The same form inheres “naturally” through one mode of existence in the known (esse naturale) and “intentionally” through another mode of existence in the knower (esse intentionale).43 The species intelligibilis is not so much the object of cognition (id quod) as that by which (id quo) cognitive access to reality is made possible.
This is why adequation is symmetrical: truth resides in the conformity between mind and world; in the analytic idiom, each is a truth-bearer. It is also why formal identity can be understood – in the context of what one might term an analogia veritatis44 – as the dimmest apprehension of truth's pre-eminent existence in that perfect simplicity which for Aquinas marks the coincidence of divine intellect and divine being in the ineffable unity of Knower and Known as metaphysically ultimate.45 For only then does it make sense for Aquinas to imply that “epistemological” and “ontological” versions of truth can be collapsed by the claim that God is truth, and thereby to transcend the dialectical impasse between Heidegger and the “traditional” accounts he targets.46 What emerges, then, is that far from exacerbating the flaws inherent in correspondentism, it is only the theological underpinning of that approach that can offer some resolution to the otherwise puzzling ambiguities arising within secular debates over whether to construe truth as fundamentally semantic or ontological.47
As noted above, Heidegger traces a conceptual connection between Aquinas's alleged representationalism and the subjectivism that he claims arises from the latter's explicit location of truth in the divine mind. It is therefore especially striking when he then claims that congruence exists between Aquinas’ theological anthropology and his Daseinsanalytik on the basis of Aquinas's emphasis on the radical openness of human nature to the world.48 For Aquinas, observes Heidegger, conceives of the soul as something that can come together with (convenire) all things in a manner completely at odds with a ‘vicious subjectivising.’49 What he fails to notice, however, is that Aquinas's anthropology is axiomatic to his account of truth, for it is precisely this capacity of the soul which allows him to construe truth as a proportionate harmony (convenientia) between entities.50
Although Heidegger's far more critical claim that for Aquinas truth resides in the mind is correct, it is one that might easily mislead an unsuspecting reader without supplying more careful elucidation of this claim than he chooses to provide.51 More precisely, truth is primarily in the mind because it is at the intellectual stage of the cognitive movement delineated above where conformity between knower and known becomes possible and where truth therefore reaches its completion.52 But it is vital to note that by “conformity” Aquinas means the ability of a thing to bring about knowledge of itself in the intellect; as Wippel notes, this seems strongly to imply that his focus is resting on the truth of being itself.53 And this is of a piece with Aquinas's claim elsewhere that ‘truth and being do not differ essentially.’54
Indeed Aquinas’ account makes ample room for the guiding Heideggerian metaphor of manifestation, a metaphor that is – as Pieper observes – an unmistakably medieval one for truth.55 Given Heidegger's assumption that the doctrine of creation merely describes a kind of divine production, there is a certain irony in the fact that it is this doctrine that is indispensable to the construal of the truth as manifest being, a definition that Aquinas develops from Augustine and Hilary of Poitiers.56 Aquinas indeed forestalls Heidegger's charge by making it clear that his view of truth denies that created truth is efficiently caused by God, but insists rather that it is an exemplification of uncreated truth.57 Furthermore, Heidegger's caricature is barely comprehensible within Aquinas's analogical framework, which specifically forestalls a univocal conception of God as an ontic entity “measuring” the correspondence between its “products”.