Heidegger and the source of meaning

  • Charlotte Knowles


Sandra Lee Bartky criticises the account of meaning contained in Heidegger’s ontology in Being and Time. In her view, Heidegger must choose between the claim that meaning is received and the claim that it is created, but is unable to do so. This paper argues that Bartky’s criticism is misconceived, by showing that meaning, as Heidegger understands it, is necessarily both created and received. According to a number of influential commentators, the ultimate source of meaning is das Man – Heidegger’s con ception of the social world. This paper initially considers, but ultimately rejects, the view that the source of meaning, as Heidegger presents it, is social. Instead, this paper argues that meaning is rooted in what Heidegger calls ‘letting be’. Letting be articulates a distinctive relationship between the human being (Dasein) and entities. This relationship, it is argued, accommodates the notion of meaning as both received and created, by reconstituting these terms within a context that defines the human being as an interpreting entity, therefore showing that letting be should be understood as the ultimate source of meaning in Heidegger’s ontology.

South African Journal of Philosophy 2013, 32(4): 327–338

Author Biography

Charlotte Knowles
Department of Philosophy, Birkbeck College, Malet Street, London, WC1E 7HX, UK

eISSN: 0258-0136