0

Consider the following statement:

Less than the ability to use reason to escape mortality, Heidegger argued that what defines us is primarily the attempt and desire to escape it.

If we assume that the sentence means:

What defines us as human beings is primarily the attempt and desire to escape mortality and not so much the ability to use reason to escape it.

Do we need "less than" or "more than" in the original sentence?

Here is the paragraph where the above sentence appears:

This focus on the body by the early critics of modernity was to continue in the work of Martin Heidegger, before taking a decisively French turn and emerging as a defining feature of poststructuralist materialism. Despite containing comparatively little analysis of bodies as such, the principal thrust of Heideggerian philosophy was modernity’s refusal to acknowledge mortality, the simple fact that human being is Being-in-the-world, a being that dies and lives in overwhelming fear of death’s inevitability. Less than the ability to use reason to escape mortality, Heidegger argued that what defines us is primarily the attempt and desire to escape it.

Update:

My problem is that if one does not have any prior knowledge about what Heidegger actually meant, they would probably get exactly the opposite of what I mentioned above, that is:

What defines us as human beings is primarily the ability to use reason to escape mortality not so much as the attempt and desire to escape it.

  • Rather than would be a clearer signal to your readers. – KarlG Feb 8 '18 at 8:36
  • I may agree with you, but that's not my sentence. It comes from The Encyclopedia of Literary and Cultural Theory, Volume 2, under the entry Body. Page 509. I wonder if the writer has had a grammatical mistake there. – developer Feb 8 '18 at 9:02
  • Consider that "less than" means that the faculty being discussed is less impressive. – Hot Licks Feb 8 '18 at 13:19
  • @HotLicks But how does that answer my question? – developer Feb 8 '18 at 13:27
  • Did I post an answer??? – Hot Licks Feb 8 '18 at 13:29
1

Whether the reader should expect more than or less than at the beginning depends on how much further into the sentence one must read in order to parse it: just to the verb argued, to the adverb primarily, or to the very end, including the verb and its object. This is necessary because the reader initially has no idea what is more or less than the ability to use reason and has to wait for that relationship to be established.

Heidegger argued less reason than attempt/desire.

Less reason Heidegger argued primarily attempt/desire.

Heidegger argued attempt/desire more than reason.

That you can legitimately raise the question of whether less or more is appropriate is a strong hint the the sentence was poorly constructed. It is not a grammatical error, but a stylistic one that demands more analysis from the reader than any living author should expect.

  • Thanks for replying. Please read the update in my original post. – developer Feb 8 '18 at 13:29

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.