“Heidegger, Language, and Ecology”

Taylor, Charles. “Heidegger, Language, and Ecology.” In Philosophical Arguments. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1995.


I want to offer a reading of Heidegger’s views on language which places him within the context of the revolutionary change in the understanding of language and art that took place in the late eighteenth century in Germany. I believe this is the most fruitful context in which to set his writings on this topic.

The late Heidegger’s doctrine of language is strongly anti-subjectivist. He even inverts the usual relation in which language is seen as our tool, and speaks of language speaking, rather than human beings (“denn eigentlich spricht die Sprache“; GA 7: 194). This formulation is hardly transparent on first reading. But I think we can understand it if we first place Heidegger against the background of the tradition of thought about language which I have just invoked, and then try to define his originality in relation to this tradition. I want to call this line of thinking “expressive-constitutive.” It arises in the late eighteenth century in reaction to the mainline doctrine about language which develops within the confines of modern epistemology, the philosophy articulated in different ways by Hobbes, Locke, and Condillac. On this view, language is conceived as an instrument. The constitutive theory reacts against this, and Heidegger’s image of language “speaking” can be seen as a development out of this original reaction.