report: German philosophy as cultural heritage

What is Historical Ontology?
Report on a Symposium in the University of Heidelberg, Feb. 16-17, 2018. by Eero Tarasti


Introductory notes

Some years ago the Finnish philosopher and docent at Universities of Heidelberg and Helsinki Jan-Ivar Lindén has founded a Center for historical ontology which obviously has its emphasis in Germany. The idea is certainly scientifically valuable, since in the humanities, which are mostly historical studies, there is also a tendency for a more ‘timeless’ reflection on the very foundations and principles of historical approach. The question is relevant not only inside the human sciences, which live in their historical processes, but also in the anthropological sense, thinking only why certain societies have a history and certain do not seem to have it. Or at least this is the question once pondered in the 1960s by Jean-Paul Sartre and Claude Lévi-Strauss. Some say it is an ‘archaic illusion’ to claim that the aboriginal cultures would not have a history. At least we apply to them our criteria when comparing to the not-yet-developed children in our societies, forgetting at the same time that they do the same to us, our ‘domesticated thought’ (pensée domestiquée vs pense sauvage).

However, we do not need to go so far in order to admit that relevant inquiries dealing with all problems of human mind in the philosophical sense are dealt with under such a title. Are our theories then ontological or only methodological, as the question was once about structuralism (see Umberto Eco 1968 a.o.). Yet, in the German philosophical tradition the historicity of phenomena is taken as granted, as we know in the school which calls itself hermeneutics. It is about understanding; the Finnish philosopher Georg Henrik v. Wright has discussed it in his treatise Explanation and Understanding. He has then summarized his basic idea about the difference between natural sciences and humanities as follows: natural sciences trie to explain things by looking at their causal origins, i.e. presuming that the causality by certain strict laws explains ultimately everything. Whereas humanities proceed in another direction i.e. understanding phenomena by their goals, intentions, aims wherefor they are striving, by their telos. That contains something essential also for the background of the ontology of history. i.e. whether it follows causal rules or whether it is a process towards unknown but reflected future. I have recently found this essential dichotomy already in the field of cultural studies. What is culture? For certain behaviourist anthropology it is simply any human conduct, regardless its values or intentions; any behaviour is as valuable in a culture (which makes education impossible); yet, there is another view of culture, namely as the goal, ideal to which mankind is striving via what we call cultivation, in German Bildung, and the Greek paideia (see the classical study by Jaeger).

These reasonings touch likewise the essence of historic thought, i.e. whether we can study history as purely temporal, causal processes or whether we try to understand them as ‘hermeneutic’ circles via human intentions.

In Germany philosophical discourse constitutes its own cultural heritage, we may say, and it has a centuries long history itself. It is admirable how German scholars have been able to maintain their conceptual networks and discourse intact from external influences. This is of course very much due to the language itself, much of the German terminology is almost untranslatable, one has to learn German in order to get into its intellectual debate. Even when some scholar coming from other context gets inspired by their philosophy, he/she is not necessarily so welcome. Kant, Hegel, Schelling, Heidegger is a German spiritual private property, others should not penetrate into it!

Yet, arriving at the Heidelberg symposium as a semiotician by basic education but strongly oriented in my own theories in recent twenty years towards what I call existential semiotics, I felt immediately so to say ‘at home’ in this intellectual environment. The problems namely which these hermeneutic philosophers discuss are very much the same we enter via semiotics, when it has a philosophical orientation. Therefore, I am tempted in what follows to comment this specially German philosophical cultural heritage both as outsider and perhaps a little insider.

Some may think that even to call that great philosophical tradition a ‘cultural heritage’ means underestimating it, diminishing its value as a universal thought. However, any science stems from the preunderstanding of the scholar, and his living world. The Heidelberg symposium took place in a university with a particular ‘genius loci’ since Hegel himself had lectured here and Hans Georg Gadamer had been teaching there. Some in the symposium still remembered him. Jan-Ivar Lindén, the organizer had selected the speakers not only from the German context but including as well scholars from the U.K., Canada, the US, France, Sweden and Finland. The speeches had been written in advance and shared as printed copies to the participants; this helped a lot in writing the comments and even preparing this report. It was also possible to meet younger philosophers from the University, writing theses about such fascinating topics as ‘Langeweile’ (by Paul Wagner; boredom in the Nietzschean sense).


The Congress itself

The first speaker was professor Emil Angehrn from Basel. His title was ‘Sinn und Geschichte. Reflexionen zur historischen Ontologie’ (Sense and History. Reflexions on historical ontology). He justly noted that the very title of the symposium contained a contradictio in adiecto, namely because ontology is the same as metaphysics, dealing with being as atemporal order of thought. Ontology is by its essence ahistorical, beyond any history. Yet, distinction between the knowing and its history is nothing absolute. Knowledge should apper as the knowledge of itself. As a model of such a thought we can take Hegel’s Phänomenologie des Geistes. In fact, the whole philosophy of Hegel is combination of historical and systematic thought with its all encompassing over-theory of spirit (Geist) There is much philosophy which is basicly historically conceived like in Heidegger’s case. However, the relation between systematic and historical is an acute problem (in the empirical field I would like to comment this: in musicology there seems to be no problem to talk about systematic and historical musicology, which still underlies all German music research). Prof. Angehrn wanted to approach the problem from a hermeneutic point of view which is not to his mind any abstract epistemic concept but a concept of understanding in its genuine grasp of the sense. Our relationship to the reality is not a theoretical registering, systematizing, declaring process but a procedure of understanding (This evokes me analogy with existential semiotics: we live in what we call ‘zemic’ world which is our reality, now question is: how do we understand it? What is the sense of the zemic?) So the notion of sense enters, namely sense not only as the normative goal of our action, as value of our life, but the sense of an utterance, meaning of a symbol (so in semiotic respect!). Sense is what we understand. So our problem becomes the relationship between sense and history.

The sense is essentially historic. So to explain the being and functioning of the sense includes also its historicity. What is the sense quality (Sinnhaftigkeit) of history? History of a past of the cultural world differs from nature in the sense that we have created it. It must include the phenomenon of the acting, suffering, engaging subject. Action can be portrayed also in a critical manner. For Niklas Luhman sense is the basic concept of sociology. Now the first thing here while dealing with history is to transcend it. Wilhelm Dilthey spoke of expressions of cultural historical world as objectivations of the life. For him the core structure is the triad: life – expression – understanding. Life is forced into expression and all understanding of cultural objects is at the end related to the life which manifests therein. So again comment: relating all to the zemic model is justified! Even music which is a quite abstract and absolute meaning form shouls be treated in this way. Yet, the expression of a signified provides already another dimension: it is a double issue – meaning, the forming, realisation of the life itself, on one hand, and the act of reflective self-assertion and self-understanding, on the other (what we call in our model as ‘suprazemic’ level or the Hegelian Wesen, essence). There is a tension between them i.e. the external nature of culture and its creative act, i.e. culture as ultiastely something strange. Comment: Georg Simmel spoke of culture as objectivied humanity. In any case history refers always back not only to the objective but also to the subjective.

The history is moving. To be historic means not only to belong to objectivation of life, to a process of becoming and vanishing. History shows how something new appears against the processuality of nature. History consists of events, reinterpretations, changes, revolutions on political and cultural life, which are metamorphoses of understanding spaces. History embodies creativity, creation ex nihil. One has to explain the intrinsic processuality of the sense. The mobility of history has its ground in the instability of the sense as such. The idea of a fixed sense has been rejected (by Derrida a.o). Sense is not a structure and formation but essentially a process, and history is included in this movement. So the sense is moving – perhaps inside the modes of the zemic i.e. from M1 to M 2 and further to S2 and S1 or viceversa.

Prof Angehrn dealt also with the irrationality and senselessness of history. Nevertheless, even its fragmentary, chaotic and disharmonic events should be narrativized in some way. Hegel points out the radical historicity of the spirit itself. The fact that history can recognized as rational is itself a historic product. The spirit manifests in the history, in the worldly reality, and so the world becomes reasonable. It is a certain type of reading of the history, Hegel says like later Marx. The senseful conceivability of history is itself a fact of history. So in our theory: the zemic character of the history is itself a zemic fact. Yet, what is spirit, Geist? Does it dwell at suprazemic level? Is it the essence?

In the terminativity of the subject lies the ground for the objective breaking of the sense. Man is self in what he does, what he wants, and what he means, but this is not quite transparent. Not only others are strange or alien to him, he is alien even to himself. What is expression here (ausdrücken)? Semioticians say that we can study only the expressed issues, ausgedrückte, what has been enunciated, (Jacques Fontanille). Only what has been uttered or expressed, exists. Yet, what we express is not always what we intend or mean to say. Like when we speak a foreign language. We say only what we can say, not what we want to say. The fact that man says, utters less thant what he means or intends is the basic fact of sense world. Hermeneutics shows, however, that this does not mean subjectivity in the negative sense. But without a relation to the subject the phenomenality of the real remains undefined.

Professor Arbogast Schmitt from Marburg, dealt with the theme: why the European philosophy started as a as a philosophy of being and not philosophy of mind? In fact, it was Christian Wolff who first spoke about the concept of the mind (Bewusstsein). How did the mind emerge as a critic argued Aristotle. The sensation is confusing and abstract, and this means that all is not differentiated, and put together as a simultotum. Being is always being of something. (Comment – Sartre said: Consciousness is always consciousness of something).

What is being in general? Being is already being-as-something. So the question is: what is being before that? Analogously one does not speak about mankind but about a special man. Aristotle distinguished arts of perception from the categories of understaning which are meaning (doxa), understanding (dianoia) and reason (nous). The one who means that something is what it is or what he says to see, to feel etc., does not notice that he applies there his understanding. Without understanding the sense, as Boethius said, we are incompetent evaluators, to whom even easily composed architecture or music is not reachable. When we speak here about being we do not mean the metaphysical being but the general aspect of every being, really existing creature.

Professor Jean Grondin had been student of Gadamer, and he spoke, coming from Montreal, about Les piliers herméneutiques de la pensée metaphysique face au defi de l’historicisme. Metaphysics is a living effort of human thought to understand the whole reality and its reasons. When it focuses on the real as a whole it takes an ontological avenue whereas when it ponders the principles of the real it becomes more theological. Here one would note the way Kant distinguishes between transcendent and transcendental. Yet, metaphysics is not according to Grondin a knowledge of something which is in the depth, behind the things. But where comes that tendency of certain philosophies to destroy or pass by the metaphysical thought? It has been in all cases motivated against a particular form of metaphysics.

The ontological pillar is, however, the following: the world is habited by some sense. The original sense is perhaps the order which can be seen (videre, qui se voit) – like in Foucault’s the Order of things I might add. Grondin is the author of a treatise Introduction à la metaphysique (Press Univ de Montreal 2004). Metaphysics is a discourse about the being. But is that order 1) created by ourselves or 2) does it exist by itself? That is the question which came to my mind. The reality is traversed by ideas and reason, whatsoever be our difficulties in understanding them. Augustinus said in his De origine: “….to follow the order of things (ordinem rerum) and keep there is proper to any being. But to see and reveal the universal order which presides in this world is difficult and rare.” Is the zemic vision such an order, I again ask here.

Grondin spoke then about the Greek notions of nous and logos by Anaxagoras, Herakleitos and Plato. Eidos is the form or appearance in which the thing appears to our attention.Tree is a tree because it has the form, eidos. Plato’s example is the beauty as eidos. Plato thinks that beauty is found first in the things themselves. But can we speak of virtual, actual and real beauty? The task of metaphysics is to show that the real does not limit into its sensible and individual occurrences. It manifests certain regularity. The real is rational because it is penetrated by ideas which we can see, think and admire. The only task of science (episteme) is to think about these ideas in themselves. The real has also disorder but it is only the lack of order, which is the general rule.

This idea of an order or sense of things is the first pillar of metaphysics as science. Yet, the catastrophe theories say that the real is rather characterized by absence of order. The purely irrartional real as such is impossible to think of and even unspeakable.

The second pillar says that the sense of the world refers to the ultimate principle. So that ultimate truth for which one aspires, is it the transcendental truth? The most essential message of prof. Grondin was, however, the idea of a compelling truth, verité contraignante, i.e. truth which is, exists beyond our comprenhension, but which obliges us to follow it.

Janet Coleman, professor from London, presented rhetorically her ideas on Reflections on the Self itself: in Antiquity, the Middle ages, and what happened next? She referred to classic authorities like Cicero, like on the question who is a good citizen. Thomas Aquinas based upon Aristotle and he said that we are closed to a meaningful whole that extends beyond our intellectual capacities. To grasp that whole simply passes through our self-motivated thinking. He said that there is universal language of thought prior to conventionally established language, God’s intention was that one lives the best human life and no one wants to live it or achieve it in solitude. People are interested in whether friendship is sustainable between all kinds of persons, whether bad men can be friends. Friendship is a necessary thing to human life. No particular individual can know his own particualr good, what might best benefit him, without having first considered himself to be a ‘man’. Excellence of character then is not customarily or conventionally defined. History does not have a story, rhetorics has. The difference between human beings and animals required not extirpation of impulses and emotions but the rechanneling moderation under reasoned principles (so sublimation?). Aristotle speaks of what each of us is; he has a theory if friendship, the Greek idea that the deepest kind of self realisation is possible only in interpersonal relationships. Aristotle speaks about perceiving which is universal perception of man, not of the man ‘Callias’. I could like to add here what Goethe said: Den Sinnen hast du dann zu trauen, kein falsches lassen sie dich schauen…wenn dein Verständnis dich wach erhält…. At the end Mrs Coleman refected upon what it is to be virtuous or recognazibly human. The Greeks and Romans had a consensus on that no man lives for himself. In the first instance one lives for his family and friends. But there is a trend towards the divine in man. Humans as humans were adviced to recognize some divine element in themselves, and in so doing they were obliged to participate in the realisation of the divine as aim in them.

One of the most exciting speeches of the whole was by professor Rudolf Bernet (Leuven) Der Zeitpunkt des Augenblickes. The paper had its startingpoint in the VIII book of Augustine’s Confessions: on Punctum ipsum temporis, quo aliud futures eram: so: The moment of time, in which I become something else. Certainly this sounds something rather existential as such, I would say. The temporal units of the objective time are same to everyone, but they are indifferent, unchanging, empty and senseless. Only by a special human behaviour they grow into something singular, unique, they become time instants or moments of one’s own life whether they be in the past, present or future. Heidegger says: they thank for their particular meaning for one’s own factual life. I call as instants (Augenblick) such time moments which adopt an extraordinary meaning in one’s life.

Such unic moments distinguish by the fact that they jump out of the ordinary and usual way of being. Such moments have been listed by Descartes, Husserl, Bergson and Thomas Mann. Proust and Freud will also help me. Especially regarding the past moments. Paulus and Heidegger include also extraordinary moments of the future, to which belong the instant of our own death.

At Descartes we find a moment when the self-experience becomes an instant to our mind. We humans’ realization of our own existence and the methodical unity of all sciences owe to God ‘s perfection and at a moment when all is perceived at the same time: totum simul, like a momentary illumination. The spirit ecomes in one moment conscious of its activity and existence. All that is temporal is incomplete, and illusory. Also the doubt about one’s own existence penetrates into man through the experience of temporal vanishing, of all ending Dasein. Cogito provides man with an instant of certainty of his own existence. This cartesian instance is not unique, individual but rather it can be repeated, it is credible and general. This does not prevent it from being absolute. What it is to think and to conceive emerges from Cogito. This phenomenological standpoint is indebted to metaphysical actuality. So what is involved is a radical abandonment of potentiality. i.e. sleeping force which waits for their actualisation. Yet, cogito is sovereign thanks to its splendid isolation. The cogito moments are interconnected only thanks to God’s continuous creativity. So here comes the idea of grace. Husserls has the idea of an enlarged instant. He calls the inner consciousness of time rather Urempfindung or Urimpression. This primal temporal impression is for him contrast to objective now moment, it is the proper original source of temporal awareness. In such a primal impression the instant adopts a new unique and exquisite self-affection. Otherwise than in Descartes the primal form of temporary awareness does not take pace from an act of self-position but from a passive and before-me becoming of consciousness. The formless and me-alien Hyle is an affection of the consciousness. Also Bergson connects the creative instant with a sensation, with a perception of pain or pleasure. The feeling of pain or pleasure breaks the natural process of one’s reflection, act and immediate reaction. The force of past instants is underlined by Begson, Augustinus, Proust and Freud. Augustinus states that his present loving search for Jesus is understandable only because he had earlier somehow met Jesus and kept in his mind the traces of this encounter. Proust’s madeleine is a typical example. The instants in which our own past unexpectedly return, with a force, are not always happy ones. They are traumatic sometimes.

Francoise Dastur from Paris spoke about Postcolonialism, subaltern studies and eurocentrisme in her reading of Dipesh Chakarabarty’s book Provincialiser l’Europe. In this book the Eastern origins of Europe are discussed. All the previous approaches started from the postulate of economic inferiority of Asia in relation to Europe. In the study by the aforementioned Indian scholar the author shows how nations from India and Africa have been doomed to a waiting room of imaginary history. History belonged only to Europe, not to them. But Europe is no longer the center of the world, its history does not constitute universal history. To provincialise Europe does not mean to throw away the tools of European thought, and it is not the same as any kind of postcolonial revanche. Foucault underlined that we have to valorize local knowledge, discontinuous is qualified, not legitime against unitary theoretical ideas, an historicism of the Europe. The intellectual tradition of Europe whose origin goes back to antiquity, is in fact an object fabricated rather recentlty by European history itself. To acquire a history meant to pass into the waiting room of ‘not yet’.

Gerhard Poppenberg dealt with the notions of topos and allotria in the topos research of Ernst Robert Curtius. Curtius’s monumental Europäische Litteratur und lateinishe Mittelatler (1948) was is startinpoint. Topos in the sense of Curtius is a literary concept a particular way to conceive the history of literary texts. In antiquity the topic is a part of logic and rhetorics. Topics is a general form of argumentation and presentation. Topos is a formal definition. Topos is a general form to be found regarding a special case. It is the place in which tension of the general and special takes place. In music topics is a common methodological tool. Mozart played with two conflicting superimposed topics like the tragical and the Turkish at the beginning of the A minor piano sonata, this comment came to my mind.

Svante Nordin had taken as his topics the counterfactuality of historic thought, the idea which I also had planned to launch in my own paper. What if Alexander the Great had lost the battle of Issos and Darius had won? What if the infant Jesus had been killed by Herodes? What if arch duke Frans Ferdinand’s car had not taken the wrong turn on June 28 1914? What if Hitler had been blown up at the Burgerbräukeller in November 1939? These are all counterfactual statements; so: what might have happened. Historian has to adopt in some sense the ontology of the persons whose actions he describes. Nelson Goodman said that all possible worlds lie within the actual one. Georg Henrik v. Wright argues that we cannot imagine a possible other route of events unless once in the history of mankind something similar woud not have happened. Yet, this would deny all creativity in our history making. Nordin dealt with choices in our lives referring to Sartre. Historical ontology to his mind must include every ontology. Counterfactuality is one of the most fundamental questions of historical ontology.

Nicolas de Warren from Leuven and Penn State Univ discussed Marcel Proust and the ontological rupture due to the outbreak of the 1st world war, as a kind of Götterdämmerung of this Wagnerian writer. What it means that a world comes to an end, he asked. What it means to witness such an event. What are involved are worlds in which we live. Forms of historical consciousness include moments in which history has become ontological. What is an historical event? Which kinds of events mark the history. For Proust it was the 1st world war which displayed the fragility of man by its violence. Yet, war did not produce the end of a certain world because that world had already ended. In Proust, people have become old at the end. Mme Verdurin marries a nobleman and enters upperclass. But now world ends at a second time. The 1st world war was an apocalypse, destruction of the nation itself. War was something supernatural, it meant undoing of the worlds i.e. spatial dislocation , temporal dislocation and dislocation of values.

Theory of sacrifice was combined with the homosexuality. The emotional bond of male fraternity had homoerotic vibrations. The relationship between Marcel and Saint-Loup is full of it. In the military men are called upon to love each other, to form into a band of brothers, and under extreme circumstances take care of each other. Foucault notices that in the 1st world war men lived together completely, on one top of another, and for them it was nothing at all insofar as death was present and finally the devotion to one another, and for them it was nothing at all. Then Mr. de Warren also analyzed paintings by Detaille idealizing the war in symbolic form, like in the painting Le rêve.

It is true that Proust portrayed the war as an outsider. He did not enter the troops as a voluntary, instead his closest friend the composer Reynaldo Hahn was in the front. Marcel did everything to prevent him attending the war. Its experiences are then reflected in Hahn’s songs written in that time. Proust stayed in Paris, and tells at the end of his novel how German Zeppelins approached and hovered in the air bombing Paris, as if they were Valkyries from Wagner’s opera (as known this idea was then repeated by Francis Coppola in his movie The Apocalypse about the Vietnam war, the Valkyren ride music is there diegetic i.e. put to sound by the pilots themselves when attacking a village). Proust did not directly describe the war, since he had not been there himself.

Peter König, professor from Heidelberg, dealt with Geschichte als Bewegung und Stillstand. This paper was perhaps one of the most central in the whole symposium gathering crucial points of the very concept of history in the philosophical sense. For the first, König noted that the concept of history by large is a historic phenomen itself starting in the 18th century. The modern notion of history has since then two aspects: 1) history as process or as progress, development or necessity, then it is the same as a general concept of movement, and 2) the subjective sense i.e. history as a field of action and deed, as freedom. History becomes producible, makeable. History becomes action. In existential semiotics we might ask whether the modes of being are acts of the subject or whether the ‘Z’ movement takes place automatically as a process among them (see Tarasti 2015). Beginning from this distinction one can speak of historicity in general and thematic terms: nature, man, nation, language, right, customs, concepts, spirit, reason, literature, art – they all have a history. History manifests as the limitless horizon of being. History does not consist only of the past, but also of future. Present is not only future of the past but also past of the future. Or history is all-encompassing category. Auerbach called it ‘ektropie’. It is then story of human spirit, human will acts – so it is unfolding of the freedom. All what happens beyond mankind has no history. This view was shared also by Nicolas Hartmann.

König had an historical overview of most important classic thinkers in these lines. Kant distinguised subjectively experienced time and objective thinglike time. He spoke about formal Anschauung der Zeit . Kant underlined that we need also the idea of space, the space as a line. The thinking subject thinks of himself as object and that is portrayed as a continuous sequence of time points, which were possible objective places where the ‘I think’ is. So time is seen as an image. This Kantian Ich denke, ‘I think’, is itself timeless as a transcendental category. For nature it is typical to have thinglike representation of time and similar points, which are not qualitatively different.

Another classic to whom König refers is Mikhail Bakhtin and his idea of chronotopos. Kantian philosophy can be continued in two avenues: as practical subjectivity whose result is a development history (Bildungsgeschichte) , this is the way of Fichte, Schiller and Hegel. The other way is to view time as a formal perception. It leads into images of time. König quotes Raymond Klibansky who speaks about historical dignity of a fact only when it evoked a certain significant image. So we have images like turning point history (say September 11 , we have order time and happening time and ultimately destiny time (Schicksalszeit). Bakhtin speaks of poetic density of time in space, in the novel. It consists of sudden instances which just happen to actors (something like in Thousand and one nights’ stories, I would add here). Protagonists only have to be in the right moment and place. Man is passive there. He is subordinated to the play of fate – something like in Jean Cocteau’s play Machine infernale again, I would interprete. Identity with oneself is the center.

Moereover, Dilthey distinguished the trace time (Spurzeit . Historical time is an image of expressive traces which refer to life. Time is not only a line but rather restless forthsetting of the presence, in which the present all the time becomes past. Time is experience of the hopes, wishes, expectations, fears of something in future. So in semiotic terms we could say; time has modalities (in philosophical and linguistic sense, see Greimas’s theory). Time with reality is experienced time. We may say that present is like sleeping future which awakens. So the life assumes its particular temporal structure. Yet, the present as such is never possible to be experienced. Present is the possibility to be withdrawn into past in our experience. Therefore for Dilthey the presence or life is characterized by an unresolvable paradox. Presence as such has no being, the merely present is never in our experience. Perhaps such event can happen only in symbolic forms of representation like in music (I would comment here). Experience evokes the meaningful instant (Augenblick). Here lies the tragedy of our life. It is closely linked with the enigma of our life (Lebensrätsel) and we can say like Ludwig II of Baviere: “I shall remain an eternal enigma to myself”. Moreover, König takes the idea of Zeitgeist as the collective experience where we remember the past. So in existential semiotics we might interprete this as follows: Moi1 = unconscious temporality, Moi2: cogito, I think, the Now, Soi2 : collective experience, Soi1: Zeitgeist.

The substance of the humanist historian is essentially meaningful, something to be expressed. Likewise in semiotics we can deal only with ‘utterance’ that which can be uttered (énoncé). Husserl distinguished between sign and expression (Zeichen und Ausdruck). The latter is the announcement of psychic experience, thought, feeling of a person, i.e it is a modal entity. To this class belong all manifestations of human culture, which carry meanings. In the utterance (énoncé) the life becomes objectivied. In history we deal with passed utterances. Spuren der Menschheit (I recall this expression by a Czech scholar Prof. Jaroslav Jiranek once in Italy, Cosenza, looking at the built historic environment). In fact, Dilthey is a kind of semiotician when he says that category of meaning is fundamental to the historial world. We can grasp only some traces of history and so we make a selection.

Very interesting were König’s reflections on autobiographies which foregournd the importanece of instances (Augenblick, this term cannot be well translated into English). There is what we call life experience. To the life experience belong also previous generations, general views, in the chain of individuals emerges the general life experience. In the regular repetition of single experiences emerges the series of expressions, and they adopt by time more and more convincing certainty. This certainty is not like in science but it manifests in manners, tradition, religion, art, philosophy. So we could not in fact find a better definition of what is a cultural heritage, I would comment here. This emphasis on collective experience does not mean that Dithey would ignore the role of an individual. But life is seen as a whole only in the final moment of death. Likewise we have to wait the end of history in order to gather all meaningful materials for man. This is of course a very Hegelian thought remembering his idea in Phenomenology of Spirit, which reaches the absolute only at the end. The sum of all significant moments and experiences is the whole of one’s life, and the basis of aurtobiography, background or the social entirety as well. In order to understand the meaning of our life we have to bring it into a contact with meanings of other lives. Then we ask: what the man has produced to the history of the whole? This means that all efforts to master individual life and put it to the center are, doomed to failure, to collapse and have a tragical character after all.

At the end König dealt also with Walter Benjamin and his idea of the ‘leap’ time (Sprungzeit) . He analyzed the German concepts of Ursprung and Entstehung. Ursprung referring to ur = primal , sprung = leap, i.e something sudden, whereas Entstehung evokes ‘stehen’ i.e. something standing and processual. Ursprung or origin is a historical category and it shows us history as a break and break lines in the continuous time line. For instance the birth of Jesus Christ is such a break in relation to which we have pre- and post-history.

Jan Ivar Lindén spoke about Modale Endlichkeit i.e modal finiteness . He reffered a.o. to Georg Henrik v. Wright when dealing with causality, certainly fundamental problem in all historic research. . Causal determinism signifies the negation of free will. Yet, it is not possible to think about causality without action. Hume and Kant were skeptical about causality.

Hume spoke about connection between reason and effect. As known, Hume denied the socalled ‘necessary connections in his an Essay concerning human understanding, I would add here. Identification is again one of the basic human needs. Heidegger orients towards future in his discourse. However, Lindén wanted to quote one of his authors. The understanding is the most perfect recognition which is us possible. We have to study the interior side of the reality (so the same as in my ‘zemic’, the ‘emic’ aspect). The ontological status of experience is then foregrounded and leads to modal being. History is only partly and rather little done. As little is history to be reduced to mere narrativity. Nevertheless, some historic events have certainly had traces of narrative nature. The Lissabon earthquake had its repercussions in the enlightenment as known because it made people question the benevolene of God. History also deals with alterity, Lindén clearly stated. Science can explain the world, but not itself. We come to the notions of bestimmbare or bestimmende Unendlichkeit – determinate or determining finitude.

In my own paper I presented first some ideas on the rationality of history on the basis of my studies in music history. I referred to Carl Dahlhaus who spoke about the narrativity of music history writing (Erzählbarkeit): Then I argued the modal logics and historic epistemology and particularly the problem of counterfactuality. This part included also ideas on historic research I general, and its relation to ontological theories of human nature without which no historical fact could be discovered. At the end and in the main part, I spoke about my teory of existential semiotics which is much indebted to German philosophy, particularly to Hegel, Jaspers and Heidegger. I presented my socalled ‘zemic’ model with its four modes of being beginning from its connection to the French structuralism and the Paris school of semiotics. Then, finally, I dealt with the issue of how to apply the zemic model to historical facts, on one hand, and to future on the other.


Grondin, Jean 2004. Introduction à la métaphysique. Montréa : Presses Universitaires de Montréal.

Tarasti, Eero 2000. Existential semiotics. Bloomington, Indianapolis: Indiana University Press

—- 2015 Seind und Schein. Explorations in Existential Semiotics. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter