History and Philosophy of the Humanities : An Introduction 9789463724937, 9789048551682

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History and Philosophy of the Humanities : An Introduction
 9789463724937, 9789048551682

Table of contents :
Table of Contents
1. Introduction
1.1 The Tasks of the Philosophy of the Humanities
1.2 Knowledge and Truth
1.3 Interpretation and Perspective
1.4 Unity and Fragmentation
Part 1: Standard Images of Science
2. The Birth of the Modern Natural Sciences
2.1 The Scientific Revolution
2.1a Aristotle and the Medieval Sciences
2.1b Renaissance Humanism: Eloquence and Learning
2.1c The Rejection of Humanism and Aristotelian Science
2.1d What Was the Scientific Revolution?
2.2 Epistemology and Metaphysics of Classical Natural Science; Immanuel Kant’s ‘Copernican Turn’
3. Logical Empiricism and Critical Rationalism
3.1 Logical Empiricism: The Vienna Circle
3.1a Rudolf Carnap: The Logic of Science
3.1b The Analytic-Synthetic Distinction and Reductionism
3.2 The Vienna Circle and the Humanities
3.3 Karl Popper: The Logic of Refutation
3.3a Induction, Deduction, Demarcation
3.3b Testing Theories
3.3c Explanation, Prediction, and the Laws of History
4. Historicizing the Philosophy of Science
4.1 From Empiricism to Pragmatism
4.1a The Duhem-Quine Thesis
4.1b Willard Quine’s Meaning Holism
4.1c Wilfrid Sellars and the Myth of the Given
4.2 The Development of Scientific Knowledge According to Thomas Kuhn
4.3 Kuhn’s Philosophy of Science: Empiricism, Neo-Kantianism, or Pragmatism?
4.4 The ‘Anthropological Turn’
Part 2: The Rise of the Humanities
5. The Birth of the Modern Humanities
5.1 Michel Foucault’s Archaeology of the Human Sciences
5.2 Philosophical Backgrounds: Immanuel Kant and Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel
5.2a Kant: Subject and Object
5.2b Hegel: Geist and Historicity
5.3 Cultural-Historical Backgrounds
5.4 Institutional Transformations: Wilhelm von Humboldt’s University Reforms, Bildung, and Nationalism
5.5 Conclusion
6. Developing New Disciplines
6.1 Hegel’s Philosophical History
6.2 The Rise of Modern Philology
6.3 Historiography and Genealogy
6.3a Leopold von Ranke
6.3b Friedrich Nietzsche
6.4 The Emergence of Sociology and Its Rivalry with the Humanities
7. Between Hermeneutics and the Natural Sciences: In Search of a Method
7.1 Introduction
7.2 From Biblical Exegesis to General Method: Friedrich Schleiermacher and Wilhelm Dilthey
7.2a Schleiermacher and Hermeneutics
7.2b Dilthey and the Humanities
7.3 Psychoanalysis between Hermeneutics and Natural Science
7.4 Neo-Kantianism: Heinrich Rickert and Ernst Cassirer
7.4a Rickert
7.4b Cassirer
7.5 Understanding in the Social Sciences: Max Weber
7.6 Hermeneutics as an Ontological Process: Hans-Georg Gadamer
7.7 Conclusion
Part 3: Styles and Currents in the Humanities
8. Critical Theory
8.1 Karl Marx and Dialectics
8.2 Marxism, Language, and Literature: György Lukács, Valentin Voloshinov, Mikhail Bakhtin
8.3 Antonio Gramsci
8.4 The Frankfurt School
8.4a Walter Benjamin
8.4b Theodor Adorno
8.5 Jürgen Habermas
9. Positivism and Structuralism
9.1 Introduction
9.2 Émile Durkheim’s Sociology
9.2a Sociology of Religion and Sociology of Knowledge
9.3 Ferdinand de Saussure and General Linguistics
9.4 Noam Chomsky and the Cognitive Revolution
9.5 Structuralism in Literary Theory
9.6 Structuralism and Psychoanalysis: Jacques Lacan
9.7 Conclusion
10. The Practice Turn
10.1 Introduction
10.2 Words as Deeds: J.L. Austin and Ludwig Wittgenstein
10.2a Wittgenstein on Language Games
10.2b Austin’s Speech Act Theory
10.3 Michel Foucault’s Genealogy
10.4 Pierre Bourdieu’s Reflexive Sociology
10.4a The Notion of Habitus: Beyond Structure and Agency
10.4b Bourdieu’s Sociology of Culture: Fields and Capitals
Part 4: Modernity and Identity
11. Critique of Modernity
11.1 Introduction: Modernity, Postmodernity, and Postmodernism
11.2 Postmodernism, Poststructuralism, and the Philosophy of Difference: ‘French Theory’
11.2a Jacques Derrida: Deconstruction
11.2b Gilles Deleuze: The Philosophy of Difference
11.3 Thinkers on Postmodernity
11.3a Postmodernism and the Legitimation of the Humanities: Jean-François Lyotard
11.3b Richard Rorty’s Postmodern Bildung
11.4 Conclusion: Beyond (Western) Modernity
12. Gender, Sex, and Sexuality
12.1 Introduction
12.2 Gender and Gender Metaphors
12.3 Foucault and the History of Sexuality
12.4 Gender and Performativity: Judith Butler and Queer Theory
13. Postcolonialism
13.1 Introduction
13.1a Frantz Fanon
13.2 Postcolonialism and the Humanities: Edward Said and Martin Bernal
13.2a Said and Orientalism
13.2b Bernal and Classical Philology
13.3 The Subaltern Studies Group and Its Offshoots
13.4 Beyond Postcolonialism: Globalization and Global History
Further Reading
Index of Names
Index of Subjects

Citation preview

Michiel Leezenberg and Gerard de Vries

History and Philosophy of the Humanities An Introduction

History and Philosophy of the Humanities

History and Philosophy of the Humanities An introduction

Michiel Leezenberg and Gerard de Vries Translation by Michiel Leezenberg

Amsterdam University Press

Original publication: Michiel Leezenberg & Gerard de Vries, Wetenschapsfilosofie voor geesteswetenschappen, derde editie, Amsterdam University Press, 2017 © M. Leezenberg & G. de Vries / Amsterdam University Press B.V., Amsterdam 2017 Translated by Michiel Leezenberg

Cover illustration: Johannes Vermeer, De astronoom (1668) Musee du Louvre, R.F. 1983-28 Cover design: Coördesign, Leiden Lay-out: Crius Group, Hulshout isbn 978 94 6372 493 7 e-isbn 978 90 4855 168 2 (pdf) doi 10.5117/9789463724937 nur 730 © Michiel Leezenberg & Gerard de Vries / Amsterdam University Press B.V., Amsterdam 2019 Translation © M. Leezenberg All rights reserved. Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this book may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise) without the written permission of both the copyright owner and the author of the book. Every effort has been made to obtain permission to use all copyrighted illustrations reproduced in this book. Nonetheless, whosoever believes to have rights to this material is advised to contact the publisher.

Table of Contents

Preface 11 1 Introduction 15 1.1 The Tasks of the Philosophy of the Humanities 15 1.2 Knowledge and Truth 19 1.3 Interpretation and Perspective 23 1.4 Unity and Fragmentation 26 Summary 35

Part 1  Standard Images of Science 2 The Birth of the Modern Natural Sciences 39 2.1 The Scientific Revolution 39 2.1a Aristotle and the Medieval Sciences 42 2.1b Renaissance Humanism: Eloquence and Learning 46 2.1c The Rejection of Humanism and of Aristotelian Science 50 2.1d What Was the Scientific Revolution? 57 2.2 The Epistemology and Metaphysics of Classical Natural Science; Immanuel Kant’s ‘Copernican Turn’ 61 Summary 69 3 Logical Empiricism and Critical Rationalism 71 3.1 Logical Empiricism: The Vienna Circle 71 3.1a Rudolf Carnap: The Logic of Science 74 3.1b The Analytic-Synthetic Distinction and Reductionism 79 3.2 The Vienna Circle and the Humanities 84 3.3 Karl Popper: The Logic of Refutation 88 3.3a Induction, Deduction, Demarcation 90 3.3b Testing Theories 93 3.3c Explanation, Prediction, and the Laws of History 97 Summary 99

4 Historicizing the Philosophy of Science 101 4.1 From Empiricism to Pragmatism 101 103 4.1a The Duhem-Quine Thesis 4.1b Willard Quine’s Meaning Holism 105 111 4.1c Wilfrid Sellars and the Myth of the Given 4.2 The Development of Scientif ic Knowledge According to Thomas Kuhn 114 4.3 Kuhn’s Philosophy of Science: Empiricism, Neo-Kantianism, or Pragmatism? 121 4.4 The ‘Anthropological Turn’ 126 Summary 129

Part 2  The Rise of the Humanities 5 The Birth of the Modern Humanities 133 5.1 Michel Foucault’s Archaeology of the Human Sciences 133 5.2 Philosophical Backgrounds: Immanuel Kant and Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel 140 5.2a Kant: Subject and Object 141 5.2b Hegel: Geist and Historicity 143 5.3 Cultural-Historical Backgrounds 147 5.4 Institutional Transformations: Wilhelm von Humboldt’s University Reforms, Bildung, and Nationalism 152 5.5 Conclusion 155 Summary 156 6 Developing New Disciplines 159 6.1 Hegel’s Philosophical History 159 6.2 The Rise of Modern Philology 164 6.3 Historiography and Genealogy 169 6.3a Leopold von Ranke 169 6.3b Friedrich Nietzsche 172 6.4 The Emergence of Sociology and Its Rivalry with the Humanities 174 Summary 178

7 Between Hermeneutics and the Natural Sciences: In Search of a Method 179 7.1 Introduction 179 7.2 From Biblical Exegesis to General Method: Friedrich Schleiermacher and Wilhelm Dilthey 182 182 7.2a Schleiermacher and Hermeneutics 184 7.2b Dilthey and the Humanities 7.3 Psychoanalysis between Hermeneutics and Natural Science 186 7.4 Neo-Kantianism: Heinrich Rickert and Ernst Cassirer 191 7.4a Rickert 191 7.4b Cassirer 193 7.5 Understanding in the Social Sciences: Max Weber 196 7.6 Hermeneutics as an Ontological Process: Hans-Georg Gadamer200 7.7 Conclusion 204 Summary 205

Part 3  Styles and Currents in the Humanities 8 Critical Theory 209 8.1 Karl Marx and Dialectics 209 8.2 Marxism, Language, and Literature: György Lukács, Valentin Voloshinov, Mikhail Bakhtin 211 8.3 Antonio Gramsci 217 8.4 The Frankfurt School 221 8.4a Walter Benjamin 222 8.4b Theodor Adorno 226 8.5 Jürgen Habermas 231 Summary 235 9 Positivism and Structuralism 237 9.1 Introduction 237 9.2 Émile Durkheim’s Sociology 239 9.2a Sociology of Religion and Sociology of Knowledge 244 9.3 Ferdinand de Saussure and General Linguistics 247 9.4 Noam Chomsky and the Cognitive Revolution 253 9.5 Structuralism in Literary Theory 258 9.6 Structuralism and Psychoanalysis: Jacques Lacan 261 9.7 Conclusion 265 Summary 267

10 The Practice Turn 269 10.1 Introduction 269 10.2 Words as Deeds: J.L. Austin and Ludwig Wittgenstein 270 270 10.2a Wittgenstein on Language Games 10.2b Austin’s Speech Act Theory 272 10.3 Michel Foucault’s Genealogy 275 10.4 Pierre Bourdieu’s Reflexive Sociology 279 10.4a The Notion of Habitus: Beyond Structure and Agency 280 10.4b Bourdieu’s Sociology of Culture: Fields and Capitals 282 Summary 285

Part 4  Modernity and Identity 11 Critique of Modernity 289 11.1 Introduction: Modernity, Postmodernity, and Postmodernism  289 11.2 Postmodernism, Poststructuralism, and the Philosophy of Difference: ‘French Theory’ 293 11.2a Jacques Derrida: Deconstruction 294 11.2b Gilles Deleuze: The Philosophy of Difference 298 11.3 Thinkers on Postmodernity 302 11.3a Postmodernism and the Legitimation of the Humanities: Jean-François Lyotard 302 11.3b Richard Rorty’s Postmodern Bildung 304 11.4 Conclusion: Beyond (Western) Modernity 309 Summary 311 12 Gender, Sex, and Sexuality 313 12.1 Introduction 313 12.2 Gender and Gender Metaphors 318 12.3 Foucault and the History of Sexuality 321 12.4 Gender and Performativity: Judith Butler and Queer Theory 324 Summary 329

13 Postcolonialism 331 13.1 Introduction 331 331 13.1a Frantz Fanon 13.2 Postcolonialism and the Humanities: Edward Said and Martin Bernal 334 334 13.2a Said and Orientalism 336 13.2b Bernal and Classical Philology 13.3 The Subaltern Studies Group and Its Offshoots 337 13.4 Beyond Postcolonialism: Globalization and Global History 343 Summary 348 Further Reading


Glossary 359 Index of Names


Index of Subjects


Preface Philosophy of science textbooks tend to restrict their attention to the natural sciences, which allegedly represent what ‘real science’ is. In some other cases, the epistemological and methodological problems of the social sciences are dealt with as well. Textbooks that cater to the needs of students in the humanities, however, are few and far between. The present book aims to fill this lacuna. It provides humanities students with the necessary means to reflect on the character of their field of study as well as on the place of the humanities in the world of science at large and their position in contemporary society and culture. This book neither propagates a particular view on, or approach to, the humanities nor gives advice about how to conduct research. Rather, it discusses the development of the Western humanities and the diverging views that exist with regard to their tasks, character, and methods. These views – and with them the very distinction between the natural sciences, the social sciences, and the humanities – have taken different shapes in the course of history. By not only discussing general epistemological and discipline-specific methodological questions but also paying ample attention to the historical developments that have contributed to the development of the humanities, this book hopes to be of interest to scholars in the humanities (both current and future) as well as readers primarily interested in the natural and social sciences. The book consists of four parts. In Part One, we discuss humanism, the scientific revolution, and a number of standard views on science, including logical empiricism and critical rationalism. Several epistemological notions that are relevant for understanding the humanities are introduced, including Kant’s version of the subject-object scheme, the implications of the Duhem-Quine thesis, and the rejection of the so-called myth of the given. Finally, we discuss the historicization of the philosophical view of the sciences that occurred in the 1960s. In Part Two, we discuss the emergence of the modern humanities. For didactic reasons, we take the periodization of Foucault’s archaeology of the human sciences as guiding: it enables us to clarify the philosophical developments that made the very idea of the modern humanities or ‘human sciences’ possible; to discuss how the development of the humanities was encouraged by social and political factors such as the rise of bourgeois society, nationalism, and the European colonization of large parts of the world; and to show how and why the humanities received a distinct institutional


History and Philosophy of the Humanities

position within universities. After this, we discuss how the new disciplines distinguished themselves in terms of their character, object, or methods from the ones that had already been established. In Part Three, we present the main currents and styles of inquiry within the humanities that developed in the course of the twentieth century, together with their intellectual background: critical theory, structuralism and positivism, and the so-called practice turn that occurred after the Second World War. Two other influential currents – hermeneutics and neo-Kantianism – are already discussed in detail at the end of Part Two in the context of the questions that had emerged around 1900 concerning the character and methods of the humanities and the social sciences, in particular in the German-speaking academic world. Finally, Part Four discusses a number of issues that have set the tone of debates in the humanities in recent decades: critiques of modernity; postcolonialism; and debates concerning gender, sexuality, and identity. In Parts Two, Three, and Four, we also review relevant developments in the social sciences that have shaped debates concerning the character and methods of the humanities or that have supplied the terms in which specific themes (for example, modernity) have been – and continue to be – discussed. As a result of this structure, the focus of this book gradually shifts from general epistemological and methodological questions to topics specific to the humanities, and to substantial debates concerning present-day humanities research. Philosophically, the book follows two main lines. The first concerns the way in which the Kantian and Hegelian heritage deeply affected the humanities of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The second concerns the so-called linguistic turn brought about by a number of twentieth-century authors who – to some extent independently of each other– reformulated questions concerning knowledge and consciousness as questions concerning language, language use, and meaning. The linguistic turn is usually associated with logical empiricism and analytical philosophy, but a similar turn also occurred among authors in the German and French traditions. This book does not require prior philosophical knowledge. Inevitably, because of considerations of space and accessibility, some of the questions and answers discussed had to be presented in somewhat oversimplified terms. Professional philosophers may well deplore this. This textbook, however, does not aim to be a specialist philosophical exegesis but rather to present and clarify conceptual problems for a non-specialist audience. Finally, it should be noted that specific contemporary research programmes and controversial questions in the humanities are discussed purely as illustrations of abstract



or general themes in the philosophy of the humanities. To the extent that the authors have strong views concerning such questions and programmes, they have tried not to bother the reader with them: no philosophical or methodological parti pris should be read into these lines. For a number of years, Dutch-language versions of his book, originally written by Michiel Leezenberg and Gerard de Vries, have been in use in several universities in the Netherlands. This English-language edition, which apart from minor details is text-identical with the third (2017) Dutch edition, was prepared by Michiel Leezenberg. The translation was copy-edited by Gioia Marini. Sigmund Bruno Schilpzand played an important role as editorial assistant. Over the years, many colleagues and students who have used previous editions of this book in class have shared their experiences and made valuable suggestions for revisions. All of them are hereby thanked. Michiel Leezenberg Gerard de Vries Amsterdam, June 2019

1 Introduction 1.1

The Tasks of the Philosophy of the Humanities

The *humanities1 include disciplines as diverse as literary theory, history, art history, musicology, linguistics, film studies, religious studies, and philosophy. The German term for these disciplines, *Geisteswissenschaften, was coined in the nineteenth century. In the Anglo-Saxon world, many of these disciplines used to be referred to as moral sciences; nowadays, alongside the term humanities, terms like humane sciences and the broader liberal arts are also used. In France, they belong to what is generically known as the sciences humaines. In many universities, the disciplines gathered together under these labels are united organizationally within a single university section or *faculty. What, if anything, do these different disciplines have in common? Do they share some unity at the level of content; do they have a common core? Do they have a particular object or a particular method in common? Are they fruits from the same tree? At first sight, the differences seem to predominate. Academics working in the humanities conduct their work in a wide variety of settings such as university institutes, archives, museums, libraries, excavation sites, at home, and, increasingly, also on the internet and on social media. The topics they occupy themselves with diverge just as widely, as do the sources they refer to and the tools they employ. For many, it suffices to have a computer with a word processor, an internet browser, and perhaps a PowerPoint application at hand, and to have access to a good library, archives, or museum collections. Practitioners of other disciplines, however, will also need access to laboratories or to specialized software for their research. Researchers in the various humanities disciplines often maintain more professional contacts with colleagues in their own discipline living abroad than with the members of their own faculty working in other fields. They publish their work in separate journals, and their books appear with different publishers. Even the languages in which their work is published may differ: whereas in some disciplines, only publications in English will be taken seriously, other disciplines do not have this tacit or explicit demand. Likewise, funding agencies and professional organizations may differ widely across disciplines.

1 Key terms are marked with * in this book. They are explained on the spot and briefly defined in the glossary at the end of the book.


History and Philosophy of the Humanities

What, then, justifies the use of the single term humanities, humane sciences, or Geisteswissenschaften for all these diverging disciplines? How much similarity is there between them, and how much continuity in approach can one find within each of them? Some disciplines appear to radically change course every few decades. Where, then, should we locate their unity, and where their diversity? Do they constitute one common object of study on some abstract level – even if they study quite different topics? Do all of them perhaps pursue the same knowledge ideals? Or does one argue in these disciplines in the same way and can one speak of a characteristic ‘scientific method’ that distinguishes research in these fields from, say, art or journalism? Do the humanities differ from the natural and the social sciences in their approach, and if so, exactly what does this difference consist of? Do publications in these fields all have to meet the same criteria, or are there important differences between them? Can we speak of progress or growth of knowledge in the humanities in the same way as we do in other disciplines? The discipline that studies such questions with regard to the natural sciences is called the philosophy of science. It studies the approaches of various disciplines such as physics and biology, and in particular the ways in which practitioners of these fields formulate their arguments. Its counterpart, which studies the disciplines on which this book focusses, we will call the philosophy of the humanities. Philosophers of science have a double task. In the first place, they are expected to paint a picture of science that captures the particular character of scientific knowledge and scientific styles of reasoning. This should help us in justifying the *epistemological claims that are traditionally associated with scientific knowledge, such as the claim that such knowledge allows for a better approximation of the *truth – or that such knowledge is more objective, more certain, or more reliable – than opinions based on common sense, intuition, or hearsay, for example. Claims in the philosophy of science thus have a normative character and therefore should be assessed on the basis of their *philosophical adequacy. In the second place, philosophers of science are required to present an image of the sciences that, at least in outline, corresponds to what has historically been accepted as good scientific practice. On this point, the position of the philosopher of science differs from that of philosophers working in, say, ethics. Whereas the ethical norm ‘thou shalt not kill’ remains a meaningful statement even in a situation where nobody actually abides by it, a theory of scientific method that is not in any way related to the actual practice of acknowledged bona fide researchers from the past or the present can immediately be discarded. In other words, discussions in

Introduc tion


the philosophy of science should also meet a demand for *descriptive and/ or *historical adequacy. Among philosophers of science, opinions differ as to the further specification of both demands. There are also major differences with respect to the balance between both tasks. Roughly speaking, before 1970, most philosophers of science focused on the first task, and the history of science was used primarily as a source of illustrations. Since 1970, however, the tide has turned. Sketching a historically adequate picture of science has become the leading concern, and it is from this that the task of explicating the philosophical aspects of this picture is derived. The turning point can be linked to one name in particular, namely that of Thomas S. Kuhn, whose seminal book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962), more than any other work, triggered this shift in focus (see § 4.2). In other dimensions as well, shifts in interest have occurred. Traditionally, philosophers of science have focussed on the natural sciences and particularly on physics, which provided a model of what one should understand by ‘science’. In recent decades, however, alongside ‘pure’ sciences, ‘applied’ or practically oriented sciences like medicine and environmental sciences have gained increasing attention. Moreover, the very distinction between ‘pure’ and ‘applied’ sciences has lost relevance in many disciplines. Practical problems have become a major stimulus for the development of knowledge and have at times had important theoretical implications. Thus, the developmental model of science that presumes that we have to develop pure theories first and subsequently apply these to practical problems is no longer as self-evident as it used to be. As we will see, this holds even more strongly for the modern humanities. Nonetheless, the philosophy of science has retained both a descriptive and a normative task. Among the central topics it explores are the *styles of reasoning or *methods that play a role in scientific practice, and the question of which standards of correct argumentation are worth defending. In other words, a central topic is *methodology, that is, the study of the procedures for quality control in the production of knowledge that claims to be ‘scientific’. This implies directing one’s attention to diverging topics such as: – the tasks of scientific disciplines, their approach, their relations to their objects of inquiry, and their philosophical foundations and development; – the way in which control over scientif ic knowledge production is legitimized and organized, and the way in which it has been achieved; – the influence of societal and cultural developments on the growth of scientific knowledge and, conversely, the effects that various forms of scientific practice have on society and culture.


History and Philosophy of the Humanities

Behind these topics, more fundamental questions loom. For example, how can scientific knowledge be distinguished from other knowledge claims such as beliefs based on common sense? Can we only speak of ‘scientific knowledge’ when insights are explicitly captured in statements, or can there also be forms of legitimate knowledge that cannot be written down or even formulated such as practical know-how or intuitive insights? Or may we only speak of ‘scientific knowledge’ when statements are, or can be, ordered in a particular manner, into a system, or are formulated in a specific way, e.g. as testable statements? Should these statements have a solid foundation, and if so, what might count as such? What should we understand by ‘truth’, and is ‘seeking the truth’ the sole or primary goal of scientific practice? Should science be treated as a relatively autonomous sector of culture and society, or should we instead emphasize its interrelations and interactions with the arts, education, religion, the economy, politics, etc.? And should philosophers of science focus on knowledge, that is, on the products of scientific research, or instead concentrate their efforts on scientific practice and thus on the question of what practitioners of science are actually doing in the process of doing research? We may expect the philosophy of the humanities, like the philosophy of science, to meet the same two demands and to address tasks and topics similar to those mentioned above. And here too, we may expect differences of opinion with regard to the balance between the demands of philosophical and descriptive adequacy. Similar shifts like the ones that have occurred in the philosophy of science can be detected in the philosophy of the humanities too. For example, there is a growing interest in the rise of new disciplines, for example in disciplines that study film or popular culture rather than the *canon of established Great Works; in the role of practical applications in the formation of theories, e.g. in argumentation theory; and in the mutual relations between innovations in linguistics, the philosophy of language and logic, information theory, and artificial intelligence. Even on a meta-level, one may discern a shift in the attitude towards the achievements of the human sciences. For a long time, natural-scientific developments were welcomed as self-evidently true and as marking progress. Dissatisfied with the progress achieved in the humanities and social sciences, many philosophers then attempted to formulate recommendations and prescriptions for these fields on the basis of insights from the philosophy of science. Some schools, like *behaviorism in the social sciences and in linguistics, were developed in part under the influence of this methodological interference. However, this has by no means always proved the royal road to scientific success. In recent decades, philosophers have therefore become rather more modest on this point, abandoning philosophical advice for descriptive analysis.

Introduc tion


By now it may be clear that the themes discussed in the philosophy of science or the philosophy of the humanities are not entirely innocent or inconsequential. After all, scholars and scientists who fail to abide by the standards of a particular discipline will have difficulties getting their work published in major journals or with important publishing houses, and in applying for funding for further research, they will have trouble convincing sponsors that their research is worth investing in. That is not to say, however, that there is consensus among philosophers concerning the rules for doing serious research. As with any other living and lively discipline, both the philosophy of science and the philosophy of the humanities know different schools, tenacious controversies, and clusters of acknowledged problems for which diverging solutions have been sought and formulated. Put differently, one should not expect these disciplines to supply cookbooks one merely has to read in order to become a three-star chef in the scientific cuisine, or Michelin guides that tell one where to find the best meals being served. Their ambitions are rather more modest: like the philosophy of science, the philosophy of the humanities offers various conceptual tools and frameworks for seriously reflecting upon the origins and status of one’s own discipline, and for helping one in formulating one’s choice for a particular approach explicitly and in a more reasoned manner. Throughout this book, topics are discussed with a focus on the humanities. Part One discusses a number of general insights from the philosophy of science that have been developed on the basis of studying the natural sciences. Next, Part Two discusses the rise and development of the humanities in the nineteenth century. Part Three presents a number of dominant currents in the humanities that have emerged in the course of the twentieth century. And finally, Part Four explores a number of themes that are prominent in contemporary research in the humanities. Thus, as we go along, the focus of attention will shift from methodological debates to the philosophical backgrounds of the various forms of research in the contemporary humanities.


Knowledge and Truth

Ever since Greek antiquity, a fundamental distinction has been made between knowledge (*épistémè) and opinion (*doxa). Épistémè stands for timeless necessary truths, for insights into the reality behind deceptive appearances, and for answers to the question of why things are as they are; doxa, by contrast, stands for beliefs that are bound to a particular perspective and that are characteristic of a particular period, group, or


History and Philosophy of the Humanities

individual. Authors of classical antiquity argued that serious researchers should strive for épistémè; doxa is a matter for the uneducated masses or for talkative minds. The path to truth, however, is difficult, since deceptive appearances hinder the acquisition of knowledge. Those who aim for true knowledge should therefore take the measures necessary for liberating themselves from the received opinion and its delusions. That is, they must proceed rationally and methodically. As a result of developments in the seventeenth century that have become known as the *scientific revolution (see § 2.1), these ideas received a new formulation. ‘Scientific knowledge’ became associated with on the one hand mathematical methods and experimental techniques and, on the other, with insights into a reality that exists independently of the mind; that is, scientific knowledge is concerned with *objective reality, not with *subjective impressions. Science should thus tell us what the objective *facts are and what relations exist between different phenomena and events. Put differently, science should aim for statements that are true according to the definition of *truth formulated by Aristotle: ‘To say of what is that it is not, or of what is not that it is, is false, while to say of what is that it is, and of what is not that it is not, is true’.2 Put differently: scientific statements should correspond with the facts. Initially, a rather oversimplified view as to how to reach this goal predominated. By systematically collecting simple and evidently true statements and by combining these in a careful and correct manner into ever-larger, more complex wholes, it was believed that one would slowly but inevitably construct a well-founded edifice of knowledge. The evidently true statements would be acquired by deriving our knowledge from a pure source, and subsequently, this information had to be processed with impeccable means. By ‘pure source,’ the pioneers of the scientific revolution meant pure *sensory experience; hence, one speaks of *empirical science. This experience is to be acquired through controlled or controllable observations, or experiments, and should be systematically freed from subjective influences. One can eliminate such influences by observing a number of rules. The first requirement is that, in reporting one’s observations one avoids as much as possible any vagueness and/or ambiguity. Hence, researchers are required to report their sensory experience in a plain but detailed manner; accordingly, there is no place in science for rhetorical elegance or eloquence. Moreover, one’s findings should preferably be presented in a quantitative form. A second requirement is that the experience we are talking about can be *reproduced. This demand is motivated in the first place by a juridical 2 Aristotle, Metaphysics, book IV (1011b25).

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metaphor: one can only speak of a ‘fact’ if the event or phenomenon has been observed by several reliable witnesses. Moreover, this view is informed by the idea that truth is universal. If a factual statement is ‘true’, it is true for everybody and at all times and places. Researchers who claim to report ‘facts’ should therefore be prepared, so to speak, to let others watch over their shoulder. Hence, the manner in which experiences are acquired – that is, the research method employed – should be made explicit. Anyone should in principle be able to produce the same results: that is, under the conditions given, they must have the same sensory experience. Thus, science becomes a self-correcting process. If a researcher reports facts that cannot be observed by others, he has apparently been misled by illusions. Only what passes the test of collegial inspection and critique escapes the sphere of subjective beliefs and provides a basis for objective knowledge. Likewise, particular measures must be taken in the subsequent processing of the sensory experiences that form the basis of scientific knowledge. We will have to make sure that no untruths are introduced in the process. Put differently, we must ensure that we only draw true conclusions from true premisses. The ‘impeccable means’ suitable to this purpose are supplied in the first place by logic and mathematics, as these meet the relevant demands. Other measures have to be taken as well, however. For example, since scientific debates are supposed to increase the purity of argumentation, ad hominem arguments are out. After all, we should be concerned with the matter at hand, not with the persons involved. Therefore, scientific practice insists on rigour and the control of one’s emotions. Traces of the beliefs about natural science developed in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries can still be found in many contemporary disciplines, where separate courses are taught on ‘methods and techniques’ that pay explicit attention to measuring instruments, statistical data processing, and methodologically pure argumentation. Moreover, it has found an enduring expression in the specific style in which scientific articles are supposed to be written and in the manners of scientific communication. In other words, serious scientific practice presupposes a number of specific *norms and values. Whenever these norms and values are respected, we are told, we will be able to contribute to the growth of knowledge, that is, to the progressive mapping of the world. Once we possess a reliable map, we can subsequently use this map to find our bearings. A good map, after all, enables us to make predictions; it tells us where we will end up if we move in a particular direction. Thus, we can also employ such maps for determining how particular effects or phenomena can be brought about. The question of whether or not


History and Philosophy of the Humanities

these effects are desirable or whether the effects aimed for are worth the effort in view of the road to be taken, however, is a question that maps cannot answer for us. On this view, science can only inform us about the means for action but not about its aims. Put differently, scientific knowledge is *valuefree. Thus, the early twentieth-century philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein concludes: ‘We feel that even if all possible scientific questions be answered, the problems of life have still not been touched at all.’3 Although the humanities have to an important extent developed along their own lines, as we shall see, they too reflect the influence of these notions and ideals derived from the natural sciences. One example of this influence is Time on the Cross, a 1974 historical-economic inquiry into slavery on plantations in the southern United States by R.W. Fogel and S.L. Engerman. The publication of this book created quite a stir, since Fogel and Engerman’s findings were hard to reconcile with the conventional image of the slave economy. That image included the belief that slaves lived under extremely poor material conditions and that agricultural production based on slavery was economically not efficient. According to Fogel and Engerman, the facts showed something else: a model-based and statistical inquiry into the housing, alimentation, and health of slaves and the management of the plantations where they were employed revealed that the conventional image was incorrect. Although there were undoubtedly exceptions, they argued, slaves generally lived under better circumstances than is often thought. In the period immediately following the abolition of slavery, they were even better off than part of the white population. Likewise, they calculated that agriculture in the South was 35% more efficient than that of the Northern states, partly as a result of slave labour. Hence, Fogel and Engerman concluded, the conventional image of American slavery should be rejected as a myth, that is, as a survival of beliefs found in the ideological writings of proponents of the abolition of slavery, which cannot pass the test of scientific critique. Fogel and Engerman did not deny that there are good moral arguments against slavery, but the economic and sociological arguments adduced by abolitionists are invalid, they claimed. However, Fogel and Engerman not only had something to say to those who based their views on an ideological image of slavery; they also had a methodological lesson for historians. The latter should abandon their traditional literary forms and acquire the techniques required for processing extensive data sets in a serious – i.e. statistical and model-based – manner. 3

L. Wittgenstein, Tractatus logico-philosophicus (London 1922), 6.52 (emphasis added).

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The publication of Fogel and Engerman’s book was welcomed as a major scientific achievement. Given the book’s topic and tenets, it should not come as a surprise that the non-scientific press also paid ample attention to the book. ‘If a more important book about American history has been published in the last decade,’ a reviewer wrote in The New York Times, ‘I don’t know about it.’4 Two years later, however, the tide had turned completely. This change was caused neither by traditional historians nor by commentators who contested the book’s political implications. Rather, criticism came from colleagues who did have a command of the techniques to which Fogel and Engerman appealed. On closer inspection, various errors in their interpretation of data and in their statistical processing of data were detected, as well as numerous hidden – and debatable – assumptions. Thus, the attempt to avoid ideological bias and historical error by explicit methods and technological refinements merely appears to have led to a new kind of distortions and errors, one that is more difficult to trace by non-specialists. The ‘hard facts’ the authors claimed to have uncovered thus turned out to have been illusions. What lessons can or should we draw from this? That the kind of historiography based on natural-scientific methods proposed by Fogel and Engerman leads nowhere? Or that, on the contrary, the kind of historiography represented by Time on the Cross deserves support and further elaboration, since it shows that whenever authors claim to use accurate methods and achieve precise results, errors can be effectively exposed, whereas such criticism is impossible when only vague and non-quantitative statements are involved? Or that the ideals of objectivity, truth, and facts that guided Fogel and Engerman’s study have been shown to be overly naive? Or that proposing such methods for the historical sciences turns them into an issue for debate among experts, thus making it impossible for the public to check politically relevant conclusions? Or … As soon as we enter into debates about these types of questions, we are venturing into the territory of the philosophy of the humanities.


Interpretation and Perspective

A venerable tradition rooted in the natural sciences thus argues that the primary task of science is to find the truth. This allows us, in principle, to rate scientific statements according to the degree to which they approach 4 P. Passel (1974) ‘An Economic Analysis of that Peculiarly Economic Institution.’ New York Times Book Review (April 28): 4.


History and Philosophy of the Humanities

the truth. Scientific research thus automatically acquires the character of a competition over truth claims. If Fogel and Engerman are correct, others are mistaken; if Fogel and Engerman’s critics are right, the claims made by the authors of Time on the Cross do not correspond with the facts. After all, when a new statement cannot be logically reconciled with our earlier views, we face two options: either we decide that the new assertion is closer to the truth and that we should thus drop our earlier views; or we conclude that our earlier views approach the truth more closely, in which case we must reject the new claim. But does all academic work have this character? For much of the humanities, this appears not to be the case. In the humanities, it is not so much ‘truth’ that is sought after, but rather explications of the ‘meaning’ of texts, works of art, or cultural artefacts. This introduces rather different relations between rivalling claims. After all, a new interpretation of a novel need not contradict earlier ones: both may very well coexist alongside each other because they study the work under investigation from different *perspectives. Scholars giving a psychoanalytical interpretation of Hamlet need not fear that literary-historical, or a Marxist readings refute their understanding of Shakespeare’s play. Important developments in the humanities often do not consist of uncovering new facts, but of introducing new perspectives or new *techniques of interpretation that do not necessarily exclude or contradict existing interpretations. Whereas striving to discover the truth is an activity with a clear end goal – the Truth – interpretation is in principle a never-ending undertaking. When interpreting something, we are not concerned with recovering the uniquely correct hidden meaning of a literary work of art, for example, but rather with adding new meanings to already existing readings. At stake is not a competition over truth claims but instead a proliferation of interpretations. With this observation, however, the philosophically relevant questions are only beginning. For what should we understand by ‘interpretation’ and ‘meaning’? What role do the text, the author, and the reader play here, and what are the roles of the traditions and contexts in which a work is created and received? Is interpretation subjective, or can we also formulate objectively valid norms and standards? Are there interpretative perspectives we may reject as irrelevant? And under what circumstances can one speak of incorrect interpretations or over-interpretations of a work? And exactly what is the difference between a new scholarly interpretation of a work and a new artistic interpretation by an artist, say, that elaborates on themes and elements from the work of their predecessors? What do we hope to achieve with a novel interpretation in the first place?

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In Interpretation and Overinterpretation, Umberto Eco (1932-2016) – the author of The Name of the Rose (a novel in which the breaking of secret codes plays an important role) – objects to one specific interpretation of the work of the Italian poet Dante Alighieri (1265-1321) which argued that Dante was both a Freemason and a Rosicrucian. These are remarkable assertions indeed since as far as we know, the ideas of the Rosicrucians were only developed from the early seventeenth century on, and the first Freemasonic lodges were not established until the eighteenth century. This interpretation would thus shed new light not only on Dante’s works but also on the history of both societies. The author trying to achieve this remarkable feat, Gabriele Rossetti, claimed he had found sufficient evidence for his hypothesis in Dante’s texts. These texts, Rossetti argued, contain a number of symbols and references to practices specific to Freemasons and Rosicrucians. Thus, Rossetti found a symbol that he claimed harks back to a common predecessor of both Freemasons and Rosicrucians – a rose with a crucifix inside, underneath which a pelican is depicted feeding its young with the flesh it tears from its own chest. These different elements do indeed occur in Dante’s text. They never occur jointly, however, but are spread out over the text as a whole. In Rossetti’s view, Dante has hidden the symbol under consideration in his text, and only the initiates who have deciphered the secret code can find the connection between them, he argued. Subsequently, he went to great lengths to suggest that there is indeed an – indirect – connection between these different parts of the symbols involved. Eco is not convinced. We need not be surprised, he argues, to find roses, crucifixes, and the occasional pelican in Dante. In the Christian mystical tradition, all these symbols occur frequently. The auxiliary constructions suggested by Rossetti to show the connections between these elements, however, are rather shaky. Although Dante is known to be the first author to have emphasized that his poetry carries a non-literal meaning, we appear to have hit upon an interpretation that has gone astray, one that does violence to both text and author. In other words: a text is not interpreted here, but used or – to put it less diplomatically – abused. But what considerations can lead us to such a conclusion? What kind of arguments can support an acceptable interpretation? Does ‘intuitive plausibility’ provide sufficient ground for interpreting something? If the natural sciences were to employ intuition as a criterion, we would probably still believe that the sun revolves around a flat earth today. Is it then sufficient to refer to the author’s *intentions? In many cases, we do not know these intentions independently or only from or through the text; or


History and Philosophy of the Humanities

we would have to admit that a text may have meanings that had not been foreseen by its author. But if we reject certain interpretations as the product of ‘over-interpretation’, do we not implicitly presuppose that there is in fact such a thing as a correct or true but possibly hidden meaning obscured in a text, namely ‘What the Text Really Says’? But if we set out in search of this meaning, do we not risk falling into the same trap as Rossetti did? Is it really possible to strictly draw Eco’s distinction between interpreting, using, and abusing a text? Or should we also in this context follow the adage that the later Wittgenstein had formulated for the meaning of words: ‘the meaning of a word is its use in the language’?5 Is a good interpretation merely a redescription of a text that we can fruitfully use? Should we perhaps then conclude that Eco rejects Rossetti’s interpretation of Dante because he has no use for it? Or is such a conclusion too cynical? Here, too, it emerges that as soon we engage in such discussions, we venture into the territory of the philosophy of the humanities.


Unity and Fragmentation

If we return to the question of what binds the various humanities disciplines together in the face of their apparent diversity, it is tempting to answer this in terms of a common object of study, which differs from the objects of investigation of the natural and social sciences. The German term, Geisteswissenschaften, suggests the seemingly obvious answer: the humanities are all concerned with the products of the human mind (Geist). Put in somewhat less solemn terms, they study *culture, or aspects or parts of culture. Instead of ‘sciences of the mind’, we could then speak of ‘cultural studies’. There is much to be said for such a position, even though the term ‘cultural studies’ sounds odd or awkward for humanities disciplines like linguistics and philosophy, and perhaps even out of place to the ears of, say, theologians. Nonetheless, this answer is informative only if we can explain more precisely what we mean by ‘culture’ or ‘the mind.’ If, for the time being, we stick to the more or less everyday notion of culture as including literature, music, and the visual arts, then we may already note that traditionally, the humanities have tended to pay attention to only a specific part of culture. For a long time, scholarship focused on the *canon, or on what is usually called ‘high culture’ – that is, what are conceived as the greatest achievements in the arts, the art works produced 5

L. Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, § 43.

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for the nobility, and, later, the bourgeois elites in Western societies. In the humanities, scholarly interest in popular media like film, television, pop music, and non-literary fiction is relatively recent and still controversial. Not that long ago, scholars studying Donald Duck, Madonna, or The Lord of The Rings instead of Shakespeare, Michelangelo, or Der Ring des Nibelungen would have been openly accused by colleagues of searching for easy topics of investigation. Perhaps the works of the Bard and Wagner were too difficult for them? In academia, received opinion held for a long time that scholars should concern themselves with the highest peaks of human cultural achievement and not with vulgar trash. In order to distinguish themselves from these conventional and ‘old-fashioned’ humanities, researchers studying popular culture with the help of social-theoretical and philosophical concepts and techniques of analysis often chose *cultural studies rather than ‘humanities’ as a label for their field of study. Nonetheless, the curricula of the average history, musicology, or literature department speak volumes. The emphasis is on ‘high culture’ rather than on what is popular or fashionable. In spite of various theoretical frameworks that undermine or relativize the distinction between high and low culture, many humanities disciplines still show a marked preference for the higher, the complex, and the elitist. Ironically, this also holds for much work in the field of cultural studies, where insights into popular culture are often phrased in arcane, high-flying prose accessible only to the initiates. History as a discipline is, at least in part, an exception to this tendency. Although for a long time, attention was focused almost exclusively on the achievements of Great Men, more recent historians have studied the history of mass movements and of the everyday lives of the many who did not become king, general, or minister. Moreover, many historians do not (or not exclusively) publish their work in the form of articles but rather as books, which, moreover, have a narrative rather than an argumentative or analytical style. As a result, many of these studies are also accessible to a larger audience. A second way to identify the elements common to the different humanities disciplines would be to look for a specific and common method or approach. As we have seen already, however, this suggestion is problematic as well. Linguists employ very different techniques from historians and literary scholars, as becomes immediately clear from even a cursory inspection of their publications. The sources or materials for study are no less different. Where many linguists proceed from the intuitions of native language users, historians and others have to use archival materials. Even within individual disciplines, there may already be considerable variation. For example, if one


History and Philosophy of the Humanities

compares a philological and a deconstructivist analysis of, say, an English novel or a Greek tragedy, one will encounter fundamental differences from the very first page, concerning not only the question of what exactly should be studied but also the style of argumentation and the methods and norms for good research. What, then, constitutes the unity of the humanities? In order to be able to answer this question, we will have to look at the birth of these sciences. We will do so in more detail in Part Two below, where it will emerge that, although topics like history, language, and music had obviously also been studied in earlier times, the humanities as we know them today are of remarkably recent origin – they were not to emerge until the early nineteenth century, primarily in Western and Central Europe. The social sciences, including sociology and anthropology, emerged even later, towards the end of that century. The thesis that the humanities have a relatively recent and geographically specific origin may raise an immediate and obvious objection: haven’t products of the human mind or culture been studied since long before the Common Era and also outside Europe? For example, already in the fifth century BCE, the Indian linguist Pânini had formulated the grammatical rules of classical Sanskrit; the Chinese philosopher Confucius had already established a canon of classical Chinese poetry in the fourth century BCE; and among the ancient Greeks, Aristotle (384-322 BCE) had already carried out literature-theoretical research. If the latter’s discussion in the Poetics does not qualify as humanities research, then what does? And isn’t the Renaissance known precisely for its new, intensive interest in (classical) literature and the arts and for the rise of humanism, which put man at centre stage and propagated the historicizing study and critique of texts? Up to a point, all that is correct; but ancient Chinese, Indian, and Greek scholars and Renaissance humanists would probably have found the very idea of Geisteswissenschaften as bizarre as we do the ancient theory of humours. Aristotle had no distinct science of man, let alone of the human mind. And during the Renaissance, literature and the arts were objects of admiration rather than research. Individual works of art were not seen as expressions of a particular, national, or time-bound culture – in fact, the very concept of ‘culture’ in this modern sense was simply not available. In order for us to be able to speak of the humanities, Geisteswissenschaften, or cultural studies in the modern sense, we first need to make a strict and fundamental distinction between man and nature on the one hand, and between man and the supernatural on the other. But neither Aristotle nor the early humanists made such distinctions. For them, humans occupied at

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most a special place within the cosmos or within creation, but they did not display any radical discontinuity with it. In the classification of things, the difference between human and non-human things was no more important than that between living and inanimate matter, or between material and spiritual substances. All that was to change around 1800. Until the early nineteenth century, there was no distinct space for knowledge concerning man, mind, or culture in the ordering of knowledge, that is, in the classification of the sciences. Put differently, Aristotle had a completely different *classification of the sciences than the modern one, and the various humanities disciplines did not form a coherent unit within it. Aristotle divides the sciences into the *theoretical, the *practical, and the *poetic sciences. The theoretical sciences are concerned with pure knowledge or contemplation; the practical sciences with action; and the poetic sciences with the making (Greek: poièsis) of things, in particular of works of art. Moreover, Aristotle distinguishes the *organon, or auxiliary disciplines such as logic and rhetoric, which examine questions like the truth of statements, the validity of arguments, and the persuasive power of speech. In this classification, the modern-day humanities is not one united whole either in terms of method or object of study. Aristotle would have included part of modern-day philosophy and theology among the theoretical sciences; ethics, law, and political philosophy would have been part of the practical sciences; and literary theory, musicology, and art history would have belonged to the poetic sciences. He would probably have classified logic and parts of modern linguistics such as syntax, semantics, and argumentation theory as organon sciences, that is, as propaedeutic for, that is, an introduction to, the ‘real,’ or substantial, sciences. For Aristotle, history does not even qualify as a science at all because it deals with individual persons and events rather than general laws or patterns. Things become even more complicated with new, interdisciplinary fields such as film science and gender studies, which would have been even more difficult for Aristotle to classify, since in these fields the aspects of creating, acting, and contemplating are often difficult to pry apart. In the Middle Ages, the curriculum of higher education, comprising seven so-called ‘liberal arts’ (*artes liberales), did not have a clearly delineated subfield for the humanities either. It consisted of two parts, the propaedeutic *trivium and the *quadrivium. The former consisted of grammar, dialectic (applied logic, or what would nowadays be called ‘argumentation theory’), and rhetoric; and the latter consisted of music, arithmetic, geometry, and astronomy. Humanities disciplines such as philology and historiography thus had no distinct place in the Medieval curricula. Moreover, unlike today, music theory was seen as a branch of mathematics rather than the humanities.


History and Philosophy of the Humanities

Margarita Philosophica (1508): The stages of Medieval higher education

The thesis that the humanities did not arise until the early nineteenth century and specifically in Western Europe poses a second, more abstract problem as well. Why did those who studied literature, history, or the arts before the nineteenth century or elsewhere in the world not see that their activities had a unity that could be captured with the label humanities? Why were they blind to the topics that would be studied after the year 1800? Was this merely a matter of the short-sightedness of all the scholars living before 1800, or was man, as the central object of study for the humanities, simply not present yet? Can we perhaps say, as the French philosopher and historian Michel Foucault (1926-1984) did, that before 1800 there were humans but

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that ‘man’ did not yet exist? Could perhaps the birth of the humanities be paired with the realization – or should we say discovery or invention – of a new entity, identified as ‘man’, ‘human spirit’, ‘mind’, or ‘culture’, which only now could become the object of scientific investigation? This thesis is not as bizarre as it may seem at first sight. Indeed, there have been a number of philosophical, institutional, and societal developments that have made it possible for ‘man’ or ‘spirit’ to become the object of scientific knowledge. In that sense, we can say that before the nineteenth century, ‘man,’ ‘spirit’, and ‘culture’ as studied in the modern humanities did not exist. Before the nineteenth century, what we would nowadays call the humanities did not have a distinct place in the whole of knowledge. Around 1800, a kind of intellectual revolution occurred which in many respects is comparable to the (natural) scientific revolution that took place in the seventeenth century. We will describe this ‘humanities revolution’ in chapter 5. How can a profound change in (philosophical) thinking form the basis of the variety of disciplines we nowadays label the humanities? The answer to this question may be roughly formulated as follows: new philosophical frameworks and ideas made the humanities possible; societal developments made them desirable; and eventually, institutional changes made them real. They were realized in the university reforms introduced by the German philosopher, linguist, and government administrator Wilhelm von Humboldt (1767-1835), who set the task of the university as that of supplying future elites with *Bildung, that is, a broad intellectual formation that involved both factual knowledge and the capacity to judge and act. This was to be achieved by confronting the future elites with the brilliant cultural – canonical – achievements from the past. Proceeding from the thought that a nation-state has a shared culture that is worth passing on to new generations and should therefore be researched and taught, Von Humboldt realized both a humanist ideal and a political programme (see § 5.4 for more details). Put differently, the rise of the modern humanities was closely linked to the birth of the modern nation-state. Moreover, as we shall see, modern forms of humanities knowledge developed in close interaction with the European colonization of large parts of the world. For centuries, European universities had hardly changed in structure. They were commonly organized into four faculties: philosophy, medicine, law, and theology. They were primarily if not exclusively institutions for teaching, and research was conducted not in the universities but in *academies. In these academies, the most important ones of which were established already in the seventeenth century, scholars and scientists gathered who were amateurs in the true sense of the word. Scientific research, in other


History and Philosophy of the Humanities

words, was not yet a profession. Usually the members of academies did not have a teaching position in a university. Many of them had capital of their own, which liberated them from the necessity to work. Others were sponsored, often in the role of domestic teacher, by members of the courts or the nobility – and not uncommonly by female patrons – blessed with both extensive financial means and a broad and inquisitive mind. Many academies published their own proceedings. The Proceedings of the Royal Society in England is the most famous of these. All of this changed in the early nineteenth century when Von Humboldt introduced his university reforms. Alongside the ideal of Bildung, he introduced the principle of the unity of teaching and research: henceforth, the professors of the new university were expected to be researchers as well. The university also acquired academic freedom, that is, it was no longer financially dependent on rulers. These views became a source of inspiration for people far beyond the borders of the German-speaking areas, forming the basis of the reorganization of universities in both Europe and the United States. The principle of the unity of teaching and research had major consequences. For natural scientific research, laboratories were required; hence, the natural sciences broke away from the faculty of philosophy where they had hitherto been housed, residing in an autonomous faculty of science from the middle of the nineteenth century. The departure of the natural sciences from the faculty of philosophy also had major implications for the remaining disciplines. The natural sciences legitimated their autonomous position in the university by highlighting their distinct methods and objects of research. The disciplines remaining in the faculty of philosophy were therefore forced to look for a similar legitimation. Somewhat later, the *social sciences, including sociology, economics, and anthropology, also demanded a faculty of their own. The modern distinction between the natural sciences, the social sciences, and the humanities – nowadays considered self-evident – is in part a product of this institutional innovation. An important part of the discussions concerning the character, object, and method of the humanities, and later the social sciences, that emerged from the late nineteenth century on are partly the result of this. Even in philosophy, we find the traces of these developments: the methodological debates that led to the birth of the schools of *phenomenology and *analytical philosophy may be situated here as well. These schools may be seen as answers to the question of what the task of academic philosophy was after the natural-scientific disciplines had split off from the faculty of philosophy. In the twentieth century, scientific knowledge underwent a steady process of further fragmentation, especially after the Second World War, when

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the number of people occupying themselves professionally with scientific research increased exponentially. As a result of the increasing number of researchers, the number of publications also rose. In many disciplines, this number doubled every five to ten years. Nobody could claim to oversee the whole of scientific knowledge any longer. The same held for the humanities: publications in academic journals could only be appreciated, or even understood, by colleagues trained in the same specialism. Unity and overview were lost, and the humanities became both socially and cognitively fragmented. Whether we focus on the methods used, the way in which the object of research was characterized or constituted, the sources employed, or the style of argumentation, the ideal of exchanging knowledge and ideas – let alone achieving consensus – has progressively dwindled. This fragmentation of knowledge has become the topic of many worried discussions by concerned scholars. Often, it is depicted as a cultural shortcoming or even as an outright danger, and as proof of the failure of the vocation of the humanities. Over the past decades, debates have raged in each of the humanities disciplines on whether they have not neglect their ‘proper’ task. Have not the historical sciences degenerated into a finely subdivided system of specialisms, which are subdivided by period and region, producing an infinite amount of historical details but no longer capable of presenting a coherent overview? Is it really the main task of philosophers to write primarily for the roughly 100 colleagues who can understand and appreciate their technical philosophical publications? Does the public function of philosophy not cease to exist as a result? And has the increasing specialization in the literary and cultural disciplines not degenerated into an exaggerated focus on highly theoretical questions formulated in esoteric jargon, replacing attention for the works of culture themselves, that is, the novels, poetry, visual art, and music that are their original objects of interest? And hasn’t the exponential growth in the number of researchers in the field of the humanities, combined with the demand for university employees wanting to make a career out of publishing regularly, led to excessive interest in forms of culture that do not merit much attention? The style and tone of debates concerning these themes show that much more is at stake than the future of humanities research alone. Modern specialist humanities research is hard to square with the tasks originally formulated by Von Humboldt to supply Bildung. But is Bildung still a task for a university in a postcolonial, neo-liberal, and/or globalized world? Is the desire to distinguish between higher and lower culture which appears in many of these publications still defensible? What is the task of the humanities nowadays, if it is no longer to supply Bildung? These debates about the role


History and Philosophy of the Humanities

and place of specialisms in the humanities and the task of the university are informed by new cultural-political and economic assumptions. In short, the humanities do indeed form a very complex whole of approaches and topics. When it comes to philosophical questions concerning the value of work in the humanities, and hence questions of why it is worth the effort to conduct humanities research and become well-acquainted with its publications, we need not expect simple or straightforward answers. Philosophical questions concerning the humanities may be stimulated by other considerations as well. Sometimes the problems researchers face are so complex that only methodological innovations or more precise formulations of methodological criteria may offer a way out. In other cases, the confrontation of traditions that seem irreconcilable invites philosophical reflection. Moreover, the cultural and societal implications and responsibilities of the sciences invite philosophical reflection. Diverging answers are given to such questions, depending on the discipline in which they develop; in addition, national differences emerge. In England and the US, philosophy has traditionally taken a different course than in continental Europe. In different parts of Europe, the historical disciplines have taken diverging styles; likewise, the sociological tradition that developed in France is based on different principles than the German sociological tradition. And even within individual countries, different traditions and schools have emerged. Alongside qualitative considerations, quantitative factors may play a role. After the Second World War, in the United States, English language and literature started drawing larger numbers of students, and hence the number of employees in this discipline steadily increased, thus changing the organization of the field. More and more academic journals started to appear, ever larger conferences were held, and new forms of competition for theoretical innovation emerged. These developments have also had substantial intellectual consequences: according to some authors, the rapidly increasing focus on theory in the Anglo-Saxon humanities during this period should at least partly be explained by these quantitative developments: with increasing competition, scholars diversified their interests and proliferated theories. In order to get an overview of the landscape of these currents that exist alongside each other and sometimes intersect, it is useful to distinguish in a rough and preliminary way between the traditions that consider the ideal of all sciences to be the acquisition of true knowledge and those traditions that see the task of the humanities and the social sciences in terms of the proliferation of interpretations. The philosophical traditions that developed in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries supplied the instruments

Introduc tion


necessary for developing these two ideals of knowledge. Although we will soon discover that this binary division requires modification, for the time being it offers a structure that will be followed in the ensuing chapters. First, we present the notions concerning scientific knowledge that focus on truth and knowledge of the facts. Then we turn our attention to the currents that formulate humanities practice primarily in terms of producing interpretations. The philosophical frameworks underpinning these discussions will be introduced as we go along.

Summary – Both the philosophy of science and the philosophy of the humanities have a descriptive and a normative task: they describe which methods or styles of argument play a role in scientific practice, and they explore and justify the standards for good research. – In the classical empiricist view, science is characterized by the way it founds its knowledge on a ‘pure source’ (i.e. unprejudiced observation, sensory experience) and the way it processes the information from this source by ‘impeccable means’ (in particular, logical and mathematical methods). One question is whether this characterization is correct; another is whether, if it is correct for the natural sciences, it also applies to the humanities. – According to a widespread view, the natural sciences aim for explanations and for uniquely correct representations of facts, whereas the humanities aim for interpretations of cultural products. Whereas in the natural sciences, theories compete with each other and the acceptance of one theory implies the rejection of others, in the humanities, different interpretations may well coexist alongside each other. – In this view, the natural sciences and the human sciences have distinct knowledge ideals: the natural sciences aim to find the truth, while the humanities aim to generate or proliferate interpretations. – The classification of the sciences into the natural sciences, the social sciences, and the humanities that prevails today is of quite recent origin. Aristotle distinguished between theoretical, practical, and political sciences. In this classification, there was no room for objects, methods, or knowledge ideals specific to what today are called the humanities.

Part 1 Standard Images of Science


The Birth of the Modern Natural Sciences


The Scientific Revolution

The image of science that still holds sway in public debate is based on the classical natural sciences that arose in the seventeenth century during the so-called *scientific revolution. One is likely to encounter this image while reading about scientific research in newspapers or in high-school physics textbooks. Views that became influential later on, such as those of Popper or the Vienna Circle (see chapter 3), have only partly replaced it. According to the classical image, scientific insights are formulated as *theories and are based on experience or facts. Such theories contain laws that specify relations between measurable quantities (in other words: *empirical regularities). Moreover, they have a *universal character: they state that the relations formulated apply to all cases within a specific domain of phenomena. A good example of this is Boyle’s law, which is part of the theory of gases and can be found in any physics textbook. It states that for all gases (at a constant temperature), the pressure (p) and volume (V) of a given amount of gas are inversely proportional: p · V = constant.



5 Boyle’s law


History and Philosophy of the Humanities

According to the classical view of science, scientific theories are justified because – within the boundaries of precision one may expect – they agree with the facts. These facts have become known to us through systematic observations or *experiments. Such agreement is often specified in a chart or graph in which the values one expects on the basis of a theory are compared with one’s findings. Whoever holds a well-founded theory can subsequently use this theory to deduce *predictions about new facts. For example, we can deduce from Boyle’s law that when the volume of a given amount of gas decreases, its pressure will increase. When such predictions prove correct, the theory receives a new *confirmation. Especially when a theory expresses such relations in mathematical form, it is easy to formulate predictions. Hence, the classical view of science emphasizes the coupling of mathematical methods with experimental techniques or systematic observations. The insight that science should be pursued in this manner is attributed to the great seventeenth-century natural scientists such as Galileo Galilei (1564-1642), Isaac Newton (1642-1727), and Robert Boyle (1627-1691). According to the classical view, these and other scholars caused a revolution in our knowledge of nature. But what makes modern natural science so special? This question is often answered in rather grandiose terms. The scientific revolution, we are told, has freed humanity from superstition and religious dogmatism. We are also told that we owe the achievements of our industrial and technological society to the scientific revolution, and that science is rational, science is modern, and science is Western. Such answers, however, suggest that before the scientific revolution, people lived in a dark, irrational world in which people were trading indulgences and burning witches, rather than investigating nature in a dispassionate manner. This image is certainly false. Already in Greek antiquity, the great philosopher Aristotle had conducted extensive, systematic research in biology, physics, meteorology, and other fields. Another ancient tradition, which goes back to the Greek philosophers Pythagoras (570-495 BCE) and Plato (427-347 BCE), used mathematical principles and methods for the description and explanation of the perceived world. The most famous exemplar of this tradition is the astronomy developed by Ptolemy (c. 100-170 CE). Intensive and high-quality scientific research was conducted outside of Europe as well. In the Medieval Islamic world there was substantial scientific activity, which in part – but not entirely – derived from the tradition of Aristotle and Ptolemy and which allowed such subjects as logic, mathematics, astronomy, and medicine to flourish. China could boast of an

The Birth of the Modern Natur al Sciences


impressive scientific and technological tradition that had started well before the Christian era and had developed independently of Western science. Apparently, the revolutionary character of modern European natural science does not lie in either the use of mathematical techniques or systematic observation but rather in the specif ic combination of both. From the sixteenth century onward, experimental research was encouraged by the development of new instruments such as the telescope, the thermometer, and the vacuum pump; and from the seventeenth century onward, new mathematical techniques such as differential and integral calculus were developed. The rapid and widespread distribution of the new scientific knowledge was facilitated by the accessibility of printing technology and by the fact that authors including Galileo and Boyle no longer wrote exclusively in Latin but also in vernacular languages such as Italian and English. In this period, institutions were also founded in which new scientific knowledge was produced. In various countries, scientif ic societies or *academies were founded with the express purpose of acquiring and furthering experimental scientific knowledge. The most famous of these academies is undoubtedly the Royal Society, founded in England in 1662. In France, the Académie des sciences was founded in 1666 on the authority of Louis XIV. Similar societies also arose in various other Western European countries, and slightly later also in Eastern European countries, including Russia. These academies emphatically distinguished themselves from the *universities, which since the Middle Ages had been the most important institutes of higher learning in Europe. The members of the academies pursued scientific progress through cooperative research and by limiting themselves to discussions about matters of natural philosophy. They rejected the scholastic tradition of the universities, with its emphasis on theological debate and the study of ancient texts. In their opinion, such an approach could only lead to fruitless or even socially dangerous disagreements about sterile (theological) questions. The founding fathers of the new natural sciences rejected not only the Medieval Aristotelian sciences but also the humanist tradition of the Renaissance. They thought that rhetorical elegance would only distract attention from the facts. In their view, the mere study of ancient texts could not possibly lead to knowledge. This was not only a scientific but also a political choice. The defenders of the new science lived, after all, in a time of civil wars and violent religious disagreements. They feared that fierce public debates about metaphysical matters would lead to renewed unrest.



History and Philosophy of the Humanities

Aristotle and the Medieval Sciences

In order to gain a better understanding of the scientific revolution, we will first examine Medieval conceptions of science in which Aristotle’s works played a dominant role, before discussing Renaissance humanism. Aristotle had formulated an immense and coherent body of knowledge that covered virtually everything observable or thinkable. Until the nineteenth century, his groundbreaking work in logic was seen as impossible to improve upon. Aristotle had also conducted systematic research in metaphysics, physics, biology, political theory, and rhetoric, among other subjects. The results of these efforts were for the most part accepted, used, and transmitted to future generations by virtually all scientists and scholars up until the Renaissance. Aristotle also formulated a general theory of science in which no strict distinction was made between the natural sciences and the humanities, as mentioned above (§ 1.4). At the basis of this conception lies the *organon, that is, the auxiliary sciences that define the logical and conceptual principles and the styles of reasoning of the Aristotelian sciences. According to Aristotle, science formulates universal statements or sentences – for example, ‘human beings are mammals’ – which, through a process of *induction or generalization, are derived from individual observations. At the same time, however, scientific statements should also be organized *deductively – that is, in a logically binding or valid manner – into a coherent whole. It is only then, Aristotle argued, that a theory has explanatory power. Aristotle placed special demands on the principles upon which observation should be explained, and he insisted that these principles not only be better known than the observation itself but also be self-evident. In other words, unfamiliar phenomena should be explained in terms of principles that themselves are better known. For Aristotle, some of these self-evident first principles are: − all natural motion is directed towards a natural end point, at which the moving body will come at rest; − all forcible motion requires a continuous exercise or effort by the mover. For us, these principles are no longer self-evident. We will return to this point below. For Aristotle, however, they were sufficient to explain everyday observation – for example, the fact that a cart only continues to ride for as long as we keep on pushing or pulling it. Aristotelian science, in other words, is a systematization of the knowledge yielded by common sense and everyday observation. More precisely, statements about observations are deduced from indubitable first principles and

The Birth of the Modern Natur al Sciences


from definitions in a *logically valid way. Thus, we can achieve indubitable knowledge about nature. Science provides certainty, Aristotle proclaimed, as its conclusions are indubitable. Moreover, it is able to explain phenomena that are less immediately evident. For example, he gave a number of powerful logical, conceptual, and natural-philosophical arguments against the possibility of an empty space or vacuum. He also defended the view that the Earth stands in the middle of the cosmos. These arguments were likewise partly empirical, partly conceptual, and partly logical. For Aristotle, celestial bodies like the sun, the planets, and the stars move in a circular motion around the Earth, and these celestial bodies were moreover perfect, eternal, immortal, and indestructible. By contrast, the realm of the Earth and its inhabitants and phenomena – literally the sublunar sphere – was material, perishable, and imperfect. According to Aristotle, we know a thing if we know its *causes or *principles. Famously, Aristotle distinguished four types of causes. Take, for example, a marble statue representing the Greek god Zeus. The marble, that is, the matter from which the statue is made, is in one sense a cause of it, since the statue cannot exist without it. Aristotle called this the *material cause. The second cause, which he called the *formal cause, is the principle that makes the statue into what it is – in this case, a representation of Zeus. In the third place, the statue also requires a source that realizes or ‘actualizes’ it – in this case, of course, a sculptor. This is what Aristotle called the *efficient cause. Fourth and finally, every thing has an aim or *final cause for the sake of which it exists – in this case, for example, for the sake of expressing beauty. This example, it will be noted, is a work of art, but according to Aristotle, what we would call natural objects could be described in exactly the same terms. The material cause of a man, for example, is constituted by the physical elements of which his body consists, and his soul is what makes man into what he is – a living, speaking, and rational being – and thus his formal cause. The parents are the efficient cause of individual humans, and man’s final cause is the good life. Because of his emphasis on final causes, Aristotle may be said to have maintained a *teleological view of explanation: he explained observed objects and phenomena in terms of the aim (telos) they strive for. For him, all motion consisted of the realization or actualization of the moving object’s potential and in its striving toward a particular goal. For Aristotle, the term ‘motion’ stood for a qualitative change and not only for a displacement in physical space, like the modern concept. In this teleological perspective, the growth of the tree out of a chestnut or the development of a child into an adult are just as much examples of goal-directed change as the fall of an


History and Philosophy of the Humanities

apple from a tree towards the ground. The motion of the apple, Aristotle argued, aims at its natural resting point: a point as close as possible to the centre of the cosmos. This distinction between different kinds of causes enabled Aristotle to formulate a systematic critique of his predecessors. According to him, Democritus’s atomism, which reduces all phenomena to the movements of invisibly small particles or atoms, failed to provide full explanations, because atoms only represent the material and efficient causes of things and events. Aristotle also rejected the Pythagorean tradition, which, in reducing the observable world to abstract mathematical forms and relations, limits itself to formal causes. Thus, Aristotle rejected the Pythagorean-Platonic conception that ideal mathematical forms and relations are more real than the observable world of phenomena. Here, too, it appears that for Aristotle, scientific knowledge should not stray too far from everyday observation; hence, mathematical and experimental methods played no great role in his conception of science. Experiments cannot lead to general knowledge of nature, Aristotle contended, because they do not rest on the observation of nature but involve an artificial intervention, and hence a change, in nature. In other words, in experiments one observes not natural facts but artefacts. The Aristotelian sciences were complemented by the medical tradition, which went back to Galen (129-199CE), and by the astronomy and astrology of Ptolemy. This corpus of sciences was further developed both in Medieval Europe and in the classical Islamic world. From the eleventh century on, Arabic translations of Aristotle and other Greek scientists were translated into Latin, thus heralding the so-called High Middle Ages. They were seen as one single coherent body of knowledge that covered all areas of human experience. Galen’s doctrines proceeded from the four *humours in the body: blood, phlegm, black bile, and yellow bile. These humours corresponded not only to the elements of physical matter (that is, fire, water, earth, and air) but also to the dominant character types and diseases of humans. For example, a person in whom black bile (melaina kholè) predominates is melancholic, that is, in a sad state of mind, while someone with an excess of phlegm is phlegmatic, that is, slow-witted and insensitive, and so on. According to the Galenic tradition, both physical and mental health consisted of the balance between the different humours in the body. Diseases that were related to an excess of one of the humours could be cured by particular diets to restore the balance but also by working on the human soul with particular kinds of music, which appealed to one part of one’s character or one particular kind of humour. Hence, medicine and the medieval sciences

The Birth of the Modern Natur al Sciences


Ptolemy’s model with epicycle and equant

as a whole were not based on an absolute opposition between body and soul or between matter and mind. Both were determined by the same kinds of principles. The health of the soul corresponded to the balance of humours in the body, which in turn corresponded to the elements of matter. Thus, a human being was seen as a *microcosm, that is, a reflection or analogy of the *macrocosm, the order of the universe. Man took up no special position within this order but was governed by the same laws and principles as the natural world at large. Ptolemy’s astronomical model accepted the Aristotelian principle that the celestial bodies revolve in a circular motion around the earth. As this principle did not agree with the actually observed movements of celestial bodies, Ptolemy suggested that the planets not only move in a circle around the earth but also make a secondary circular motion. This second motion he called the *epicycle. Likewise, he suggested, we should describe celestial bodies as revolving not around the earth, that is, around the exact centre of the cosmos, but around a point slightly different from this centre; this is what he called the *equant. Ptolemy’s model required complex calculations, but its results corresponded fairly well with the observed positions of the celestial bodies.


History and Philosophy of the Humanities

Of course, the epicycle model was difficult to reconcile with Aristotelian cosmology and in particular with its conceptual and logical foundations; but as long as it did not pretend to be more than a convenient tool or instrument for predicting observations, nobody had any great problems with it. In other words, people maintained an *instrumentalist view of Ptolemy’s astronomy: his model was a useful instrument for practical purposes. There was no need to interpret the model *realistically, that is, as a physically and metaphysically correct description of the real motion of the planets. Ptolemy was also the author of one of the most widely used books of astrology of the Middle Ages, the so-called Tetrabiblos. Among the sciences, disciplines like alchemy and astrology had a problematic position, but for other reasons than we would think today. Nowadays, we see alchemy and astrology as *pseudosciences, or at best as precursors of modern chemistry and astronomy, respectively, that have not yet been emancipated from pre- or unscientific superstitions. In the Middle Ages, however, the objections against alchemy and astrology were of a different and primarily theological order: alchemists were criticized for their efforts to create gold out of base materials, which were seen as attempts to reproduce or imitate God’s creative powers. Likewise, the astrological view that the position of the stars and planets determined the character and behaviour of humans was put in doubt, particularly because by postulating secondary causes in the celestial sphere, it undermined divine omnipotence. 2.1b

Renaissance Humanism: Eloquence and Learning

Already before the scientific revolution, late or high Medieval learning confronted its first challenge in the form of *Renaissance humanism, a movement that prevailed from roughly the fourteenth century to the sixteenth century. More than the Aristotelian sciences and medieval scholasticism, this humanism is seen as the precursor of the modern humanities. Some of its features are equally relevant for the revolution in the natural sciences. Philosophically, the Renaissance marked the rediscovery and revaluation of Platonic and Neoplatonic traditions at the expense of Aristotelian philosophy, which had dominated scholasticism, but of particular cultural importance was the rediscovery of literary texts from classical antiquity. Initially, primarily Latin authors were studied during the Renaissance, first and foremost Cicero (106-43 BCE). Later on, interest grew in ancient Greek texts as well, not only for the original text of the New Testament – which had been written in koinè Greek – but increasingly also for classical Greek pagan authors. More than any other author of antiquity, Cicero came

The Birth of the Modern Natur al Sciences


to be seen as a grammatical, rhetorical (or stylistic), and philosophical model. His speeches embodied the syntactic rules of what has become known as ‘classical Latin,’, and literally became textbook examples of rhetorical elegance. As a philosopher, Cicero was admired for his Stoic beliefs, which elevated the importance of everyday life with respect to the hereafter. Undoubtedly, the pioneer of Renaissance humanism is Francesco Petrarca (1304-1374), the Italian poet who searched in the libraries of countless Western European monasteries for manuscripts of forgotten ancient works, and who tried to reconstruct the original texts from the manuscripts he found. He did not proceed very systematically, nor did he base himself on any explicit method, but the historical importance and influence of his undertaking can hardly be overestimated. Almost as important were Petrarca’s contemporaries Giovanni Boccaccio (1313-1375) and Poggio Bracciolini (1318-1459). Boccaccio has, of course, become famous as the author of the Decameron, but he also pioneered efforts to revive instruction in ancient Greek in his native city of Florence. Somewhat later, Bracciolini systematically searched throughout Europe for texts from antiquity that had not yet been recovered. A later generation of humanists, of which Lorenzo Valla (1406-1457) and Angelo Poliziano (1454-1494) are the most important representatives, proceeded in a more systematic fashion and eventually on the basis of more explicit methodological criteria. In doing so, they took an important step towards a more systematic knowledge or science of ancient texts. Valla, for example, wrote a Latin grammar that elevated Cicero’s style and syntax to an absolute model of Latinity. Until today, the language of Cicero and his contemporaries is seen as the purest and most beautiful form of Latin; it is primarily this classical Latin that is taught in high schools and universities. Valla also examined several documents that until then had been considered authentic – including the Donatio Constantini, according to which the fourth-century Roman Emperor Constantine had bequeathed the city of Rome and the Italian provinces to the church, and a correspondence between the Latin philosopher Seneca and the apostle Paul – and unmasked them as Medieval forgeries. He succeeded in doing so by applying a historicizing form of textual criticism, by means of which he could demonstrate, for example, that the Donatio contained terms that either did not yet exist in the fourth century or were used in different senses, and that the historical events it described did not correspond to each other or to what was known from other sources. Poliziano’s discovery that not all manuscript sources are equally important in determining the original text encouraged the development of a more systematic form of textual criticism. In his view, one should first determine


History and Philosophy of the Humanities

Desiderius Erasmus

which manuscript is the oldest and then establish the genealogical relation between the transmitted manuscripts. Once one knows which manuscripts are copied from an older source, one can discard such later and derivative sources in the reconstruction of the original text. Thus, the medieval principle of internal text coherence as a basis of textual criticism was replaced by a more historicizing approach. We should not, however, exaggerate the novel and systematic character of humanist philology, for methodological principles were hardly made explicit or applied systematically, and alongside historical textual criticism, Renaissance humanists often resorted to the allegorical kinds of interpretation that had been popular in the Middle Ages. The spread of humanism accelerated as a result of two important events that took place in the fifteenth century: the fall of Constantinople and the invention of printing with movable type. After the Ottoman conquest of the Eastern Roman capital Constantinople in 1453, many Greek Orthodox monks fled to Western Europe, bringing a large number of ancient Greek manuscripts with them. This influx led to a steadily increasing interest in and knowledge of the ancient Greek language and its literature. As a result of the technology of printing, it also became possible to make copies of ancient texts much more quickly and to make them accessible to a far wider public.

The Birth of the Modern Natur al Sciences


The first humanists had mostly been Italians; but in later generations, northern Europeans such as the Dutchman Desiderius Erasmus (14661546) played a leading role. One of the latter’s most important philological achievements was the first printed critical edition of the original Greek text of the New Testament in 1516. Until that time, the New Testament text that had been in general use was the so-called Vulgate, a fourth-century Latin translation by church father Hieronymus. For his edition, Erasmus proceeded from the older Greek text and adopted a more historicizing and critical approach to the Bible, which insisted that the Bible, just as any other text, should be studied in the original language and interpreted with the aid of logic and common sense. Erasmus’s edition also encouraged the Bible to be translated into vernacular languages – starting, of course, with Martin Luther’s famous and controversial 1522 rendering in a simple German that was close to the spoken language, and therefore accessible for the masses. Thus, humanists were not only popularizers of classical antiquity but also pioneers of the vernacular languages. In the Middle Ages, literary texts had mostly been written in Latin, and it was not until the tenth century that authors started using French, Spanish, and English for literary purposes. Renaissance authors including Petrarca and Boccaccio in Southern Europe and Erasmus in the Low Countries propagated the use of vernacular languages such as Italian and Dutch for literature and humanist learning. For several centuries, however, Latin would continue to have a dominant status as the language of liturgy and high culture. Humanism was less a scientific movement than a way of life, which included the literary glorification of pagan antiquity, eloquence as taught and practiced by classical authors such as Cicero and Quintilian, and courtly elegance. Petrarca and his contemporaries were mostly concerned with the search for ancient texts and did not develop systematic and rigorous methods to determine textual authenticity, nor were they concerned with establishing a science that had texts, antiquity, or man as its object of study. Put differently, in Renaissance humanism, man was an object of admiration rather than of knowledge. As Pico della Mirandola (1463-1494) wrote at the tender age of 23 in his 1486 Oration on the Dignity of Man: I have read in the ancient texts of the Arabians that when Abdallah the Saracen was questioned as to what on this world’s stage, so to speak, seemed to him most worthy of wonder, he replied that there is nothing to be seen more wonderful than man.6 6 Pico della Mirandola, Oration on the Dignity of Man, Ed. by F. Borghesi, M. Papio and M. Riva (Cambridge 2012), p. 109.


History and Philosophy of the Humanities

The idea of *humanitas or universal humanity, as formulated originally by Cicero, received a more emphatically *secular meaning during this period. The study of the liberal arts and of the pagan literature of antiquity was liberated from its role as a servant of theology. Whereas before, only God could be the object of praise, now man was praised as well, ever more often and ever more eloquently. The secularizing tendencies of the Renaissance show themselves not only in the reappraisal of the pagan classics and the non-polemical references to Arab and Islamic learning but also in the way the Bible was approached as a historically originated and transmitted document rather than a sacred text to be accepted as is. Likewise, the unmasking by humanists of supposedly ancient church documents amounted to a brazen challenge to religious claims to authority. In itself, the Renaissance in Italy and in Northern Europe was not a unique cultural historical phenomenon. In Indian, Chinese, and Islamic traditions, one may observe similar periodical rediscoveries and appraisals of the local classical literary heritage, which usually occur alongside renewed attention for the critical study of ancient texts and to more critical attitudes towards religious authority. In other words, philology in the generic sense of the scholarly study of ancient texts crops up in many traditions. However, what makes the European Renaissance special is primarily the novel use of the technology of printing. This technology not only increased the possibility of reproducing texts in large numbers and virtually flawlessly which had until then only been hypothetical; it also made texts from ancient literary civilizations available to a far larger public or market than before. Such a market, however, had to be created first: in Erasmus’s lifetime, very few people could read ancient Greek, and even fewer had the desire to buy books printed in that language. 2.1c

The Rejection of Humanism and of Aristotelian Science

Precisely because the medieval sciences constituted such a closely knit and coherent whole, it was difficult to reject individual parts of it. Thus, the belief that the earth stands at the centre of the universe and that the sun revolves around it was not merely an observation statement that could simply be replaced by the statement ‘the earth revolves around the sun’. It depended on all kinds of logical, conceptual, and cosmological principles concerning motion, the division of the cosmos into celestial and earthly spheres, and so on. Hence *geocentrism, that is, the belief that the earth is at the centre of the universe, was for various reasons a central pillar of these sciences. In the course of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, almost the entire Aristotelian edifice was torn down, but there was by no means consensus

The Birth of the Modern Natur al Sciences


concerning what should replace it. The first step in the demolition of the Aristotelian sciences was taken by the Polish astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus (1473-1543). In his seminal work, De revolutionibus orbium coelestium (‘The Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres’), he proposed to replace the Ptolemaic geocentric model of epicycles and equants with a simpler *heliocentric model, which placed the sun at the centre. Such a model, he argued, fits the observed motions of the celestial bodies more adequately. Copernicus was hardly aware of the enormous consequences this step would have. The preface to De revolutionibus, not written by Copernicus himself, still emphasized that it does not matter whether the planets do in fact revolve around the sun; what counts is that his model does justice to observations. Neither Ptolemy’s geocentrism nor the heliocentric model required a realist interpretation. For all practical purposes, both could be interpreted instrumentally. Soon, however, it would become clear that, alongside geocentrism, all kinds of other Aristotelian beliefs and concepts would come to be doubted. Heliocentrism thus stands at the centre of the so-called *Copernican revolution. The next big step came from the Italian Galileo Galilei. Proceeding from the belief that ‘the book of nature is written in the language of mathematics’, he distanced himself from Aristotle in two central respects. First, he argued that if one wants to acquire knowledge about nature one should start by mastering the language of mathematics. This means that one can no longer rely on everyday language, common sense, or ordinary sense perception or experience. For Galileo, a gap thus appeared between everyday experience and scientific knowledge. Second, this belief led to a strict separation between what Galileo called *primary and *secondary qualities. Primary qualities are those properties that are essential for physical objects – like extension, location, and ‘quantity of movement’. By contrast, secondary qualities like colour, flavour, and sound are not properties of the things themselves but illusions, as they only exist in the perception of the person observing these things. According to Galileo, the natural scientist has the sole task of describing primary qualities. Moreover, he rejected the Aristotelian notions of formal and final cause as legitimate elements of explanations. Physical objects, he argued, are described completely by their primary qualities, as they do not have an essence or a formal or final cause alongside these properties. This implies that a full explanation of physical events like the falling of a stone can be described and expressed in purely mathematical, that is to say quantitative, terms. Thus, Galileo replaced Aristotle’s teleological vision with a *mechanistic one: he considered nature as a machine, like a clock


History and Philosophy of the Humanities

moving according to a predetermined and fixed pattern. Later, Isaac Newton was to elaborate this mechanistic vision with his successful formulation of the laws of gravity. All these changes are so radical that one might speak of a so-called *Gestalt switch. In a Gestalt switch, one suddenly sees a figure in a new way, even though the visual data do not change. In watching the illustration below – the famous duck-rabbit figure from Gestalt psychology – some people will see a rabbit while others will see a duck. It is possible to switch from observing a duck at one moment to seeing a rabbit at another moment – but one never simultaneously observes a duck and a rabbit in the same figure. So, observing the same phenomena, for example watching a falling stone, Galileo and Aristotelian observers literally saw different things . Whereas Aristotelians observed in the motion of falling a *qualitative change of its place, a movement towards the stone’s natural endpoint close to earth, Galileo observed a purely *quantitative change in the position of the stone relative to the ground over time, a change he could formulate in mathematical terms. So, Galileo did not conduct a better or more precise observation, nor did he discover something that Aristotle had overlooked – rather, he thought differently about concepts like ‘physical object’, ‘place’, and ‘motion’. Where – so to speak – Aristotle had observed a duck, Galileo saw a rabbit. Galileo introduced a novel, non-Aristotelian *conceptual scheme (or conceptual frame) to describe the phenomena of moving bodies. Placing the same bundle of visual data in a new system of relations, he put on what the historian Butterfield called ‘a different kind of thinking-cap’.7 7

H. Butterfield, The Origins of Modern Science (London 1949), p. 1

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Just like Aristotle, Galileo believed that scientific knowledge should proceed from observation; but he acknowledged that our observations are imperfect and unreliable. Hence, he preferred a theory that is formulated in mathematical terms, which amounts to an *idealization of, or abstracting away from, these observations. His own theory did not fully correspond to all his observations, but he did not consider this a serious problem. Selfevidently, he argued, a theory should attempt to correspond as much as possible to observation, but in the final analysis, the mathematical model takes priority. Here, he showed himself to be an heir to the PythagoreanPlatonic tradition rather than a member of the Aristotelian school. Galileo’s public proclamation that the heliocentric theory is physically true soon got him in trouble. Cardinal Bellarmine (1542-1621) had informed him already in 1616 that the church had no problem with his use of Copernicus’s model as a mathematical tool or instrument. But the fact that this model fit observations better than Ptolemy’s did not justify the conclusion that it was also physically true, Bellarmine argued. After all, it was at odds not only with common sense but also with the principles of Aristotelian cosmology and church dogma. In 1633, Galileo had to stand trial in front of the Inquisition. Under pressure, Galileo gave up the realist interpretation of the heliocentric model. The writings in which he had proclaimed the realist interpretation were placed on the Index of Forbidden Books, a ban that would not be lifted by the Catholic Church until 1835. Another defender of novel scientific methods was Francis Bacon (15611626). He, too, rejected an important aspect of the Aristotelian conceptual scheme. If one wants to acquire knowledge, he wrote, one should not let oneself be blinded by the authority of others but should try to make unprejudiced observations for oneself. That is, one should liberate oneself from traditional presumptions, preconceptions, and prejudices (or what Bacon calls idols). According to Bacon, Aristotle and his followers had not done this sufficiently and hence had collected their knowledge in a disordered manner. A more systematic approach to acquiring knowledge, he argued, should proceed in a strictly inductive fashion on the basis of pure and controlled observation, and it should also involve the conducting of *experiments, that is, the creating of artificial circumstances in which one can observe properties of nature that are normally hidden. As he allegedly put it, one has to ‘twist a lion’s tail’ in order to know its true nature.8 Because of his conviction that, through a joint effort, man could move beyond Aristotelian tenets, Bacon 8 Quoted in T.S. Kuhn, The Essential Tension (Chicago 1977), p. 44. Later authors have contested the authenticity of this remark.


History and Philosophy of the Humanities

was one of the first to entertain the thought that scientific knowledge can and should be a collective activity that it can progress over time. The aim of such knowledge, he believed, was to regain control over nature, for to know nature is to have power over it. As a result of his fall from paradise, man had lost this power; he could retake it by acquiring scientific knowledge, which would enable us to improve the lot of our fellow human beings. Like Galileo, Bacon rejected Aristotle’s teleological worldview in favour of a mechanistic one, but he gave this view a different content than his Italian successor. He attached more importance to experimental techniques for the systematic gathering of observations and less to mathematical methods than Galileo. This approach was also followed by Robert Boyle, one of the most famous members of the Royal Society and the inventor of the gas law mentioned above. For scientists pursuing the acquisition of pure knowledge based on careful observation and experience, Boyle advised against turning to the books of authorities from antiquity, as theoretical knowledge only distorted and obstructed one’s observations. In his opinion, scientists should remain modest and not impose their own theories on others but rather look at ‘the facts themselves’. But what are those facts? Contrary to Aristotle, Boyle argued that natural facts could be revealed by conducting experiments, in which physical circumstances are carefully controlled. Moreover, such experiments should be conducted in the presence of a number of witnesses: more specifically, in the presence of the gentlemen united in the Royal Society, who, in his opinion, were less easily fooled than women and peasants. The reliability of the knowledge thus acquired was enhanced because it was produced in public. Thus, Boyle relied on the juridical metaphor already mentioned above, which implies that something is a fact only if it has been observed by several reliable witnesses. The most famous of these experiments is undoubtedly the one in which Boyle tried to show that a vacuum can exist in nature. Under normal circumstances, a vacuum does not exist on earth; but Boyle tried to demonstrate that it can be created artificially by pumping the air out of a glass bell jar. He readily admitted that one cannot conclude with certainty from this experiment that a vacuum can indeed exist in the jar; one could only make its existence plausible. Using instruments did not lead to certainty, either. Boyle acknowledged that only few reliable vacuum pumps were in existence and thus that the successful reproduction of the experiment could not be guaranteed. Moreover, Boyle claimed, it was better to avoid idle speculation about underlying causes. Boyle’s experimental way of gathering knowledge was fiercely attacked by his contemporary Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679), who was to become famous

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as the author of the political-philosophical treatise Leviathan. Like Boyle, Hobbes was a proponent of the mechanistic philosophy, which rejects large parts of ancient tradition as ‘fraud and filth’. But unlike his opponent, Hobbes shared Aristotle’s belief that scientific inquiry should strive for an indubitable knowledge of causes and should therefore not be founded on artificially created data. He saw the existence of Euclidean geometry as proof that this ideal can also be realized. For Hobbes, therefore, the experimental knowledge produced by Boyle in the Royal Society was not bona fide science, since it was at best plausible and not indubitable. Moreover, it did not give any causal explanation, and it was produced with the aid of unreliable instruments in circumstances that could not easily be repeated or checked. For the same reason, he also rejected the testimony of the members of the Royal Society. Whereas Boyle praised experimental knowledge as public and hence reliable, Hobbes considered such knowledge to be the artificial product of a closed community, the deeds and observations of which could not be checked. For Hobbes, the Royal Society was thus no better than a secret religious society whose cosmological and theological claims the outside world was expected to accept on faith. In the debate between Hobbes and Boyle that ensued, it was clear that there were fundamental disagreements about the new science. What should be considered a natural fact, and what can be rejected as merely an artefact? Whose testimony is reliable? What is public knowledge, and what is merely private opinion? In this debate, neither side could be said to be right from the start. Both sides claimed to strive to acquire scientific knowledge, but they disagreed on the question of what should count as scientific knowledge or as natural facts in the first place. According to two present-day historians of science, Steven Shapin and Simon Schaffer, Boyle eventually managed to present his artificially produced vacuum as a natural fact – or, so to speak, to make a natural fact out of an artefact – by using three kinds of instruments or techniques.9 First, he managed to convince his audience that the existence of a vacuum was not just based on human opinion but was proven by an instrument: ‘it is not me who says that a vacuum exists; it is the pump that says so’. Thus, he could represent the experiment’s success or failure in terms of the correct or incorrect functioning of things rather than the correct or incorrect opinions and observations of humans. Second, Boyle had a very specific style of reporting. He described the experience in a dry style stripped of all literary charm, which was supposed 9

Shapin, S. and S. Schaffer, Leviathan and the Air-Pump (Princeton 1985).


History and Philosophy of the Humanities

to give the reader the feeling of witnessing the ‘facts’ of the experiments for himself rather than reading an author’s vision or opinion. With his particular style of writing, Boyle thus tried to let things speak for themselves. Third, Boyle managed to persuade his audience that the existence of a vacuum did not rest on his individual observations and judgments but on the consensus of a community. Experimental knowledge, he argued, is public knowledge, which should be distinguished from the secret or esoteric knowledge of alchemists, for example, and from the arguments of individual philosophers. Thus, the role of witnesses in the production of experimental knowledge became crucial. Boyle eventually carried the day, but that did not alter the fact that Hobbes raised a number of valid points and that for a long time the victory of the experimental scientists was by no means a foregone conclusion. In short, the confrontation between Boyle and Hobbes was not simply one between on the one hand scientific truth and on the other irrational or philosophical error; it concerned broader questions about what valid scientific knowledge is, about what is a natural fact and what is an artefact, about who should be allowed to acquire and proclaim knowledge, and even about what the socially responsible practice of science amounts to. The new scientists rejected not only medieval scholasticism but also Renaissance humanism. With their emphasis on observation and on the sober description of facts, they consciously distanced themselves both from the more text-based philological methods and from the eloquence of their scholastic and humanist predecessors. True knowledge according to Bacon, René Descartes (1596-1650), and their contemporaries is not acquired by studying dusty old books. In their view, humanists studied books rather than nature. Moreover, they did so with methods that the new scientists believed were unclear and that led inevitably to disagreement. Bacon selfconfidently proclaimed that natural history should be weeded of its ‘fables, antiquities, quotations, idle controversies, philology and ornaments’.10 Instead of rhetorical eloquence, the scientists espoused a neutral and unadorned language style that was supposed to let things and facts speak for themselves. The image the new scientists presented of themselves and their predecessors was appealing if not persuasive in its simplicity, and it was reproduced by many a historian of this period. The exegesis of ancient texts and the authority of authors like Aristotle, they insisted, had to give way to observation, experiments, and mathematical techniques, and the rhetorical eloquence of the humanists had to be abandoned for literal language and 10 The Works of Francis Bacon, Vol 4 (London 1901), p. 299.

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hard facts. Descartes, Boyle, Benedictus de Spinoza (1632-1677), and John Locke (1632-1704) – who held in many other aspects quite divergent ideas – all argued that rhetoric only appeals to the passions and not to the intellect and therefore only leads us away from the truth, which is best formulated in unadorned and neutral language. Recent studies by Anthony Grafton and others, however, make clear that the new scientists were much more heavily influenced by scholasticism than they themselves acknowledged and that humanism continued to exert its influence for far longer than the prevailing image would have us believe. In that sense, it is not surprising that Spinoza, an enthusiastic advocate of Descartes and of the new science of nature, also occupied himself with humanistic and scholastic studies, such as historicizing Bible criticism and the grammar of ancient Hebrew. 2.1d

What Was the Scientific Revolution?

In the course of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, a number of groundbreaking innovations were introduced, but there is no consensus about their meaning and importance. Exactly what did the scientific revolution, which we nowadays take for granted as a self-evident historical rupture in early modern Europe, amount to? Did it indeed represent a radical rupture between the Ancients and the Moderns? Or was there a gradual process of evolution, one that displays a greater continuity with the Aristotelian past than some – clearly partisan – proponents of the new science would have us believe? Present-day historians of science are increasingly inclined to draw the latter conclusion. They point to continuities with pre-modern traditions and to the often fierce debates among the new scientists themselves about their findings and methods. In doing so, they have undermined the image of an abrupt, coherent, and unambiguous revolution that supposedly marked the beginning of early modern Europe. For one thing, the scientific revolution emphatically did not amount to a comprehensive conflict between scientific reason and the religious dogmas of the church, as many still believe. Many scientists, including the members of the Royal Society, tried to keep their scientific work strictly separated from religious matters in order to avoid any clashes with or within religious groups. Others, including Newton, in fact saw their work as supporting religious belief. Likewise, the famous conflict between Galileo and the Inquisition should not be seen in terms of a generic opposition between reason and religious revelation or between science and the Church, since Cardinal Bellarmine only objected to the realist interpretation of the heliocentric


History and Philosophy of the Humanities

model as a correct factual description of physical reality. The belief that there was a pervasive conflict during the seventeenth century between the science of nature and the dogmas of the church was actually formed in the second half of the nineteenth century, when such a conflict did indeed exist. The notion of the scientific revolution as a radical and unique worldhistorical event only started gaining currency around 1940, especially due to the work of the Russian-French historian of science Alexandre Koyré (1892-1964), who characterized the seventeenth-century changes as ‘the most profound revolution the mind has achieved or undergone since Greek antiquity.’ Koyré focused on Galileo’s mathematical ideal of natural science and emphasized that it implied a resolute rejection of the demands of observation and common sense that had taken a central place in Aristotle’s conception of science. He paid less attention to the inductive and experimental methods proclaimed by Bacon and Boyle and to those aspects of Galileo’s work that go back to older traditions. Koyré describes the scientif ic revolution as the creation ex nihilo of new ideals and doctrines and as a series of brilliant discoveries by heroic individuals such as Galileo. As such, he gives an *internalist account of these developments in that he treats scientific and other ideas as free-floating entities that are completely independent from the time, place, and circumstances in which they emerge. In doing so, he makes it virtually impossible to answer the question of why the scientific revolution, whatever it amounts to, occurred during this particular time and in this part of the world. For historians, such an unexplained and inexplicable event is, of course, rather unsatisfactory. Hence, almost simultaneously with Koyré’s work, the first *externalist accounts of the scientific revolution emerged that attempted to explain it on the basis of social and historical factors. One early exponent of such an externalist approach was the sociologist Edgar Zilsel (1891-1944), who suggested that the rise of the new, experimentally and instrumentally based quantitative thinking around 1600 was linked to the emancipation of the social class of craftsmen and artisans. Until then, he argued, theoretical knowledge had been the prerogative of the class of university professors and humanists, who scorned manual labour and technology. In this view, it was a social barrier rather than a scientific or a mental one that blocked the integration of mathematical and logical knowledge with the practical skills that were required for conducting experiments. It was the decline of feudalism and the rise of mercantile capitalism that levelled this barrier, Zilsel argued. In these new social circumstances, prejudice against manual labour weakened, and thus authors such as Galileo and Bacon encouraged their readers to get to work. They saw no shame in building

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instruments and conducting experiments that could get one’s hands and clothes dirty, and to do research jointly rather than individually. Zilsel died before he could develop his interesting but still oversimplified hypotheses. Undoubtedly, he presupposed an all-too-close connection between social class and specific ways of acting and thinking. But his ideas are one possible explanation of why the scientific revolution occurred precisely during this period and only in Europe rather than later, earlier, or elsewhere. They were therefore warmly welcomed by the famous sinologist Joseph Needham (1900-1995), author of the voluminous Science and Civilisation in China. This study, of which 27 bulky volumes have appeared, describes in great detail the scientific and technological inventions and discoveries made in China since antiquity. These include the magnetic compass, block printing, and the measurement of earthquakes. Impressive as these achievements are, however, they do not make the connection between experimental techniques and a mathematically formulated philosophy of nature. According to Needham, the answer to the question of why the scientific revolution (which he considers an unproblematic notion) occurred in Europe but not in China was rooted in sociology. He himself offered a few suggestions for an answer. Although China had a more elaborate experimental tradition than ancient Greece, experiments in China seem to have had a similarly low social and/or philosophical status, so that they could hardly be incorporated into any kind of systematic philosophical knowledge about nature. Moreover, in China it was the state that supported scientific inquiry, while in seventeenth-century Europe, science was developed by the various academies as a more independent, private enterprise. But Needham did acknowledge that we have yet to arrive at a full answer to this important question. Another line of revisionist historiography suggests that the scientific revolution may not have been as exclusively European an affair as has long been thought. Thus, it was recently discovered that Copernicus in all probability borrowed important parts of his model of planetary motion from medieval Islamic astronomists such as Nasîr al-Dîn al-Tûsî (1201-1274) and Ibn al-Shâtir (1304-1375). In particular, Copernicus’s formulation and proof of deriving a unilineal motion from a combination of circular ones shows remarkable similarities with the so-called ‘Tûsî couple’. No consensus has yet been reached, however, as to how Copernicus may have become familiar with this work or whether the influence of these Islamic scientists – whose work remained within the Ptolemaeic framework – was more than superficial. For a long time, debates about the scientific revolution were dominated by the confrontation between internalists and externalists. This confrontation


History and Philosophy of the Humanities

was further polarized against the backdrop of the Cold War. Internalists were generally ardent defenders of a liberal view of science as wholly independent from the outside world, whereas externalists often – but by no means always – favoured a Marxist view of the relation between science and society. More recent research into the history and sociology of science, however, cuts through this opposition of internalist and externalist explanations. It emphasizes that the development and transmission of scientif ic knowledge can itself be seen as a social process and, conversely, that the development of scientific knowledge shapes and changes the ‘external’ culture and society. In other words, the idea that scientif ic knowledge develops independently from social factors is itself the result of the view of a particular scientific – and social – research practice that emerged in the seventeenth century. And vice versa, one can hardly deny that scientific developments have deeply influenced society. If we acknowledge this mutual relation, the strict separation between the ‘internal’ development of scientific knowledge represented as non-social and the ‘external’ social and cultural factors presumed to be independently given loses much of its force, if not meaning. Shapin, the historian of science mentioned above, illustrates this claim using the debate between Hobbes and Boyle. He argues that there has never been a ‘scientific revolution’ at all, at least not in the sense of an abrupt, radical, and unambiguous revolution in scientific thinking. For a long time, disagreement prevailed about the character of the new science, for example between defenders of the more experimental approach and those of the more mathematical approach. Moreover, many scientists who have been categorized as revolutionary exhibited greater continuity with the past than they themselves acknowledged. The Dutch historian of science Eduard Jan Dijksterhuis also describes what he calls ‘the mechanization of man’s worldview’ as a protracted evolutionary process. Shapin emphasizes that the rhetoric of pure observation, which held any textual or other authority to be suspect, obscures the fact that it was only ancient texts that were rejected. After all, the bulk of the new science was based not on one’s own observations but on descriptions of observations made by others. Such testimonies were reliable, Boyle and others posited, provided they had been given by respectable witnesses such as the members of the Royal Society. These gentlemen were supposed to be serious, civilized, and prudent men who would not frivolously accept other people’s stories. In other words, the problematic of testimony and reliability, or of the authority of written and oral sources, remained a key question, but the practitioners of the new science represented it as a matter of lesser importance.

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In the second place, the oft-repeated claim that our senses are unreliable implies that only those who have been trained and drilled in making correct observations according to the new scientists can be reliable witnesses. That excludes not only women and people from lower social strata, it also presupposes that observers should first learn to make observations that are correct and reliable according to the new mechanistic philosophy. Thus, they have to be introduced into the community of mechanist and experimental philosophers, and that is a social process. If this is correct, the empiricist idea that scientific knowledge is based on pure – that is, unmediated – observation is an illusion. We will return to this point later. These two points illustrate the extent to which the production, spread, and legitimation of scientific knowledge is itself a social process. They also highlight how the new scientists’ rhetorical emphasis on pure observation and the rejection of traditional written sources of authority betrayed a very particular and controversial attitude to that social process. The prevailing ideal of scientific knowledge, which banishes societal and political issues from the scientific debate, is itself a product and a legitimation of what was at the time an entirely new social practice.


The Epistemology and Metaphysics of Classical Natural Science; Immanuel Kant’s ‘Copernican Turn’

Having dealt with a brief history of the rise of the modern natural sciences, we now turn to their philosophical interpretation. Exactly what the ‘scientific revolution’ amounts to is less clear than we may have thought initially; it is beyond dispute, however, that profound changes in the natural sciences took place in the course of these two centuries. Since the seventeenth century, the mathematical and experimental traditions within science have shaped the predominant view of what natural scientific knowledge is or should be. The experimental tradition along the lines of Bacon tries to gain insight into nature by creating artificial circumstances that do not occur in everyday life. The mathematical tradition of Galileo and Newton emphasizes that the book of nature is written neither in the classical Latin of religious learning nor in the vernacular but in the abstract language of mathematics. In spite of their differences, the mathematical tradition and the experimental tradition have one important trait in common: unlike the Aristotelian tradition, they are no longer based on a close link between scientific knowledge on the one hand and observation, everyday experience, and ordinary language on the other. This, however, raises a new question, namely how scientific knowledge can


History and Philosophy of the Humanities

or should be legitimized if neither common sense, nor everyday experience, nor our intuitions about what the world is like warrants it. Henceforth, scientific knowledge is justified by pointing to the special method that scientists are supposed to follow. Hence, the characteristics of this method became a focal point in discussions about science. Until well into the twentieth century, they were invariably presented along lines set out in the writings of Newton and Boyle. The key idea is that scientific knowledge is well-founded knowledge – an idea inspired primarily by mathematics, in particular Euclidean geometry, in which a whole system of true propositions is deduced from a small set of intuitively true, indubitable principles, known as *axioms. This is the ideal of well-founded knowledge that modern science strives for. While embracing this ideal, many scholars, especially in the experimental tradition, nevertheless emphasize that modesty is called for. After all, they argue, empirical science is founded on sense experience, not on evidently true or indubitable axioms. They acknowledge that sense experience can be misleading; all too often we are misled by our senses. But, they argue, this danger can be kept under control by systematically expanding and controlling experience. Instead of reaching definitive truths directly, science must therefore be developed following a cautious path of formulating *hypotheses, or conjectures, that are increasingly underpinned by evidence. This is not an unfortunate shortcoming, they self-consciously assert, but rather a sign of prudence, caution, and modesty. By ensuring that the source of our knowledge is pure and that the means by which the information is articulated are irreproachable, one can gradually build up a coherent whole of statements or propositions with an ever-higher degree of *confirmation, that is, with an ever higher probability that these statements are true. Ultimately, such a system of statements could claim to express true and well-founded knowledge. A long and venerable philosophical tradition known as *empiricism has devoted itself to developing and refining this line of thinking, which locates the foundation of knowledge in sensory experience. These developments in natural science in the seventeenth century not only led to a new perception of scientific knowledge and to a new way of justifying these knowledge claims, it also laid the foundation for the worldview and philosophical thought of the *Enlightenment. In the words of Koyré, this change in worldview can be described as: the disappearance […] of the conception of the world as a finite, closed, and hierarchically ordered whole […] and its replacement by an indefinite and even infinite universe which is bound together by the identity of its

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fundamental components and laws, and in which all components are placed at the same level of being.11

In the classical natural sciences, a number of concepts and distinctions were introduced that came to define Western culture over the following centuries and that were codified and refined by philosophers from the eighteenth century onward. These concepts and distinctions – such as the distinction between on the one hand the realm of nature, the body, and the material world and, on the other, the world of the human mind, reason, and consciousness – have over the centuries become part of our everyday intuitions. The first domain, we are told, concerns objective entities and causal relations; the second hinges on subjectivity, meanings, and reasons. In other words, in modern Europe, the *object that is known (that is, nature) and the knowing *subject (that is, mind or reason) end up in two philosophically separate domains, with philosophers speaking about these two domains in radically different languages. Several humanities approaches that we will be discussing in later chapters reflect the ambivalence between man as a perceptible and knowable object of knowledge, on the one hand, and man as a knowing and experiencing subject on the other. As we will see in chapters 5 and 6, the French philosopher Michel Foucault claimed that it was the distinction between subject and object that in part made the birth of the modern humanities possible at the start of the nineteenth century. An important part of modern philosophy is devoted to the further elaboration and defence of this so-called *subject-object scheme. In the writings of such scholars as Galileo and Boyle, the object of natural science is demarcated by the above-mentioned distinction between primary and secondary qualities. Primary qualities such as place, location, and extension jointly constitute a world that is absolute, objective, and mathematical in character. Secondary qualities, by contrast, are not part of nature but are human illusions. Thus, according to Galileo, they do not belong in scientific study. Natural science should concern itself with primary qualities only, that is, with the world that behaves according to mathematical laws. A new distinction was therefore introduced between the material world of nature and the subjective world of the human mind or spirit, a distinction that also appears in the famous opposition of body and mind in Descartes. Now, it becomes the task of *epistemology – that is, the theory of the justification of knowledge – and also of the philosophy of science to explain how the gap between matter and mind can be bridged. How is it 11 A. Koyré, From the Closed World to the Infinite Universe (Baltimore and London, 1968), p. 2.


History and Philosophy of the Humanities

possible for a knowing subject to form truthful representations of the world of the object? We have already encountered the first attempt to answer this question. If the knowing subject follows the proper scientific methods, that is, if it bases itself on controlled sensory experience and processes these experiences in an impeccable manner, it will eventually be able to form a truthful representation of objective reality. Towards the end of the eighteenth century, the German philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) realized that this answer is too simple. He argued that the epistemological legitimations of knowledge given by philosophers such as Descartes (1596-1650) and George Berkeley (1684-1753) lead to a form of *skepticism, or radical doubt, concerning the existence of the outside world. After all, if we only have access to the world via our senses and our mental representations, the subject cannot possibly determine whether these representations of the outside world are correct. This form of skepticism, however, was unacceptable to Kant. To answer this skepticism, Kant elaborated on the work of the British empiricist David Hume (1711-1776). The latter had argued that the concept of *causality, which is of fundamental importance to empirical natural science, cannot itself be founded in or justified by experience. Hume posited that we cannot perceive that the melting of a block of ice is caused by heating it. What we can observe is merely the repeated simultaneous occurrence of these two events. When people talk about causality, Hume concludes, they speak not of a logically justifiable concept but of a psychological human habit or custom to postulate a causal relation between two events if these constantly co-occur. Kant gave a different interpretation of this insight. What Hume considered a habit, Kant held to be founded on the use of the ‘pure *category’ of causality, which is not derived from experience but is contained in our thinking and which is imposed on, or constructs, our experience. Without the notion of a cause, he argued, it will never be possible to formulate a *judgment that has objective validity rather than merely expressing a subjective experience. According to Kant, this holds not only for causality but also for other fundamental notions such as space and time. We experience things as ordered in time and space and in terms of causal relations not because this ordering is imposed on us by nature, but because our consciousness uses the so-called *forms of intuition (Anschauungsformen) – of time and space and *categories such as causality – in order to be able to transform perceptions into objectively valid judgments. Thus, our knowledge has two equally necessary sources, Kant claimed: our sensibility (Sinnlichkeit) or receptivity – that is, the ability to passively

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receive sensory impressions – and our reason (Verstand) or ‘spontaneity’, that is, the ability to actively grasp the things given to our receptivity and to understand them in terms of *concepts. Empirical knowledge requires not only both abilities, he contended, but also the connection of our reason and our senses. Neither of these can yield knowledge by itself. As Kant succinctly and famously put it: ‘thoughts without content are empty, intuitions (Anschauungen) without concepts are blind’.12 We can only make our particular and subjective perceptions ‘reasonable’, that is, into bits of knowledge, by subsuming them under general concepts. Conversely, we make our concepts sensible by connecting them with the objects given in experience. Applying the concepts of our understanding (Verstand) to the impressions of sensory experience in our judgments is what Kant called the *schematism of understanding. Our knowledge of the world not only rests on our observations, it can only become full-fledged conceptual and objectively valid knowledge by the active intervention of our reason. Hence, we can only know things to the extent that we can perceive them in the forms of intuition of time and space originating in reason, that is to say as *phenomena. Strictly speaking, we cannot form any empirical knowledge of what things are in themselves. The thing in itself (*Ding an sich) can only be thought, not known. Thus, the knowing subject does not know the world of things in themselves but only what Kant called the *phenomenal world, that is, the world as it appears to our consciousness. If experiences were not ordered in a framework imposed by consciousness, he asserted, we would not be able to observe anything. Hence, experience and knowledge do not consist of the passive absorption of information from the outside world but involve an active judging – they require the active intervention of the knowing subject. Kant did not attempt to directly refute skeptical doubts about the validity of claims to objective knowledge. Rather, he assumed that generally or objectively valid knowledge exists and subsequently posed the question of how the object and the subject should be constituted in order to make such knowledge possible. In other words, he asked what conditions were required for the subject’s thinking and for the objects in question for us to obtain objectively valid knowledge. Kant’s solution thus lay in formulating a new kind of question, the socalled *transcendental question concerning the conditions for the possibility of knowledge. These were not simply empirical conditions or natural causes. For example, the presence of oxygen is a condition for life on earth, but 12 I. Kant, Kritik der reinen Vernunft (Riga, 1787), A51/B75.


History and Philosophy of the Humanities

Immanuel Kant

that does not yet make it a transcendental condition of possibility. Rather, transcendental conditions are what make objectively valid knowledge possible. Unlike natural causes, this relation has an irreducibly normative aspect. Furthermore, according to Kant, the transcendental conditions of knowledge are *a priori (that is to say, formal and abstracted away from – indeed, prior to – everything empirical); Kant conceived them therefore as universal and timeless. Later *neo-Kantian philosophers were to conceive these conditions as time-bound (cf. § 7.4).

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Similar to the *Copernican revolution in astronomy, which involved the claim that the sun does not revolve around the earth but the earth around the sun, Kant thus effected a second, epistemological ‘*Copernican turn’ which held that knowledge must not conform to the known object, but rather that, conversely, objects must conform to our (a priori) knowledge. We are able to construct a natural-scientific description of the world in terms of phenomena that occur in time and space and between which causal relations can be established, precisely because we use our reason. Acquiring knowledge is not a matter of passively registering things or facts but rather an activity in which the subject plays a constitutive role. For Kant, the subject is itself not empirical but *transcendental, for it is precisely what makes empirical knowledge possible. Thus, Kant did not formulate a speculative psychology; he did not pose an empirical question of how the human mind is actually constituted, but a normative question concerning the justification of objectively valid knowledge. Kant formulated this problem as the question of how *synthetic a priori judgments are possible, that is, of how we can possess scientific, objectively valid knowledge that cannot be deduced from experience but still adds something to what we already know. Mathematical and metaphysical statements express such knowledge, for this knowledge is true a priori, that is, prior and irreducible to experience and observation, unlike so-called *a posteriori knowledge, which follows from or comes after experience and which is expressed in empirical statements. Nevertheless, these statements provide ‘real’ knowledge, novel information, as they state what Kant called *synthetic, not *analytic, judgments. Analytic judgments – such as ‘a rose is a flower’ – are true by definition and thus add nothing to our knowledge. According to Kant, however, most mathematical statements – but also statements such as ‘every event has a cause’ – are not analytic but synthetic, since they enlarge or expand our knowledge. Hence, he argued, there exists a class of statements or judgments that are a priori and at the same time synthetic. Synthetic a priori judgments constitute the knowledge that is obtained on the basis of the categories and other (transcendental) notions. It is knowledge about the sensory or perceptible world, yet it is not derived from sensory experience. Examples of such judgments are the statements of Euclidian geometry, which lay down the structure of physical space, and Newtonian mechanics. The active intervention of the knowing subject, however, does not imply that scientific knowledge is ‘subjective’ in the sense of being individual and not generally valid, because Kant proceeded from the assumption that the role of the subject is universal. According to him, every reasonable subject


History and Philosophy of the Humanities

possesses the capacities that are involved in this process; indeed, they constitute the instrument of reason itself. On the basis of such universal notions, we can acquire or achieve indubitable knowledge of the sensory world. Moreover, Kant pointed out that, even though we can never know or observe things in themselves, we nonetheless have reason to think that they do exist. Although there is a clear component of human mental activity in knowledge, Kant was clearly concerned with knowledge of the world that exists outside the human mind. Next, these inquiries enabled Kant to answer the question of the limits of natural science, and more generally of (scientific or objectively valid) knowledge. What, if anything, can not be studied along the lines set out by Galileo, Newton, and Boyle? How can the deterministic Newtonian worldview of nature as behaving according to f ixed laws be united or reconciled with the idea that humans are free? ‘Two things fill the mind with ever new and increasing admiration and reverence, the more often and the more steadily one reflects upon them: the starry heavens above me and the moral law within me.’13 This comment opens the concluding section of Kant’s second major work, the Critique of Practical Reason and was to be his tomb inscription. Once Kant had explored the human capacity for knowledge of nature in the Critique of Pure Reason, and found an answer to the question of how knowledge of nature is possible, he was now in a position to answer the question of how the idea of nature as behaving according to fixed laws and constituting a predetermined and predictable universe can be reconciled with the idea of human beings having freedom. This freedom, he claimed, consists of the fact that beings who have reason can impose laws on themselves. Human beings need not be slaves of their passions and lower drives, for they have the capacity to let themselves be guided by reason, to act according to a rule, or, as Kant put it, to act according to a maxim of the will. In other words, as phenomena, human beings may be subordinated or subject to the laws of nature, but as beings in themselves, they are free and therefore responsible insofar as they follow the laws of their own reason. Insofar as they can posit the moral law for themselves, humans are free. Kant did not explicitly address questions concerning the empirical study of human conduct, as his primary interest was in ethics. Later commentators do not agree whether he left open the possibility of an empirical scientific study of human action and the human mind. We do know, however, that Kant 13 I. Kant, Critique of Practical Reason, tr. by M. Gregor (Cambridge, 2015), p. 129.

The Birth of the Modern Natur al Sciences


would have considered it impossible for such a study to be modelled on the natural sciences. If we want to investigate the mental activities of man as a thing in itself, that is, as a free and ethical being, we would therefore have to develop another kind of science than that produced by Galileo, Boyle, and Newton. It is here that we find the roots of the thought that there is room for another category of sciences next to the natural sciences, namely sciences that concern themselves with human action, human consciousness, and the products of the human mind. From the start of the nineteenth century and onwards, this was realized or institutionalized in the so-called humanities, or, in German, Geisteswissenschaften, and, later, in a segment of the social sciences. The transcendental conditions of possibility of knowledge set out by Kant are a priori, that is, purely formal and abstracted away from everything empirical. In part for this reason, Kant’s analyses left little if any space for language and culture as philosophically relevant phenomena. Indeed, he displayed a remarkable lack of philosophical interest in language. His undertaking can therefore be qualified as a *philosophy of consciousness, as it describes knowledge in terms of a direct and individual confrontation of the human mind or consciousness with the world, taking consciousness to be given, that is, as not mediated or constituted by something else, such as language. It is not at all clear whether and how there is any room in Kant’s thought for man to be mediated or shaped in any significant manner by language or culture either as a transcendental subject (that is, as a free and reasonable thing in itself) or as an empirical natural phenomenon. Later philosophers were to take a rather different view on these matters. The *linguistic turn they gave to Kant’s work was to have far-reaching consequences for the very architecture of the latter’s imposing philosophical edifice. These developments will be elaborated in more detail in later chapters. In the next chapter, we will encounter the first and most famous example of such a linguistic turn: the so-called logical empiricist answer to the challenges to the Kantian framework that emerged in the nineteenth century.

Summary – The Aristotelian sciences formed a coherent whole that included concepts, logical and metaphysical principles, and statements in different subdisciplines. They featured a teleological – that is, goal-oriented – notion of explanation and jointly constituted a conceptual framework or scheme, the individual parts of which were difficult to replace in isolation.


History and Philosophy of the Humanities

– The Renaissance humanists tried to recover the original versions of literary texts from antiquity. Their work valued rhetorical eloquence and contained secularizing tendencies, and the new technology of printing allowed their ideas to be spread widely and rapidly. – During the seventeenth-century ‘scientific revolution’, key aspects of Aristotelianism were rejected in favour of a new heliocentric and mechanistic worldview and a new, empiricist conception of scientific knowledge. Recent research has questioned the character, abruptness, and coherence of this alleged revolution. – Kant gave the classical formulation of the so-called subject-object scheme. He showed that empirical knowledge requires the active contribution of a transcendental subject. Kant thus effected a ‘Copernican turn in epistemology: where earlier philosophers saw knowledge as conforming to the known object, Kant put the knowing subject at the centre of the construction of knowledge.


Logical Empiricism and Critical Rationalism


Logical Empiricism: The Vienna Circle

In the first few decades of the twentieth century, the map of Europe went through radical changes. By the end of the First World War, the three great empires of Austria-Hungary of the Habsburgs, tsarist Russia, and the Ottoman dynasty had disappeared. They were replaced by a large number of new states, most of which were based on the nationalist idea of ‘one people, one state’. Because the borders between these new states were often drawn rather arbitrarily, and because almost all of them had a heterogeneous population, the seeds were sown for various new conflicts. The old societal order was in the process of disappearing, as the power of the older nobility and the church had been eroded or damaged beyond repair, and various radical reformist and revolutionary movements arose. In later chapters, we will return to this new nationalism and its importance for the humanities. But the natural sciences experienced equally radical changes at the turn of the twentieth century. As late as the end of the nineteenth century, people believed that man’s knowledge of theoretical physics was virtually complete, just as the fin de siècle Austro-Hungarian Empire seemed stable if not eternal. As a prospective physics student, Max Planck (1858-1947), the future pioneer of quantum mechanics, was advised to choose another discipline, for his teachers told him that nothing new was to be expected in physics anymore. This belief, however, soon turned out to be quite mistaken. The first decades of the twentieth century witnessed the emergence of relativity theory and quantum mechanics, both of which heralded a totally novel and unexpected kind of physical science. Also in other disciplines such as mathematics and logic, major progress was booked during this period. In logic what were arguably the most important new discoveries since Aristotle were made, especially with the development of so-called *predicate logic by Gottlob Frege (1848-1925), Bertrand Russell (1872-1970), and others. These radical innovations in the exact sciences constituted a major problem for the epistemological justification of scientific knowledge that Kant had provided more than a century earlier. As we have seen, Kant held that our empirical knowledge rests on an invariable, indubitable, and universal foundation of synthetic a priori judgments, among which he


History and Philosophy of the Humanities

included the theorems of Euclidian geometry and the laws of Newtonian mechanics. Now, however, it appeared that these seemingly universal and indubitable foundations could in fact be doubted or disputed after all. For example, so-called non-Euclidian geometry proceeded from definitions and axioms contradicting those of Euclidian geometry, yet it was formally correct and consistent. A few decades later, Einstein’s theory of relativity upset the very foundations of classical mechanics as developed by Newton. All of this raised questions about the epistemological status of Kant’s synthetic a priori statements and about how to account for the rapid growth and the successes of the exact sciences. The flourishing of the natural sciences, which engage in empirical investigation rather than abstract metaphysical speculation, gave some scholars the idea that philosophy should take science as its model. It was felt that philosophy should reflect on and learn from the rapid growth and progress in the sciences and perhaps even emulate the methods of science to similarly achieve progress. In the German-speaking area, the so-called neo-Kantians (see § 7.4) tried to retain the Kantian heritage by recasting it in more historicizing terms, thereby adapting it to the new developments. Others, such as the logical empiricists discussed in this chapter, proposed a radical rejection of Kant’s foundation of scientific knowledge. A major centre of this development was Vienna. Numerous outstanding natural scientists and artists were active here around the turn of the twentieth century. Likewise, many new scientific disciplines flourished such as, most famously, Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalysis (see § 7.3). In the years following the First World War, moreover, a philosophical and scientific movement developed here that laid the foundations of the philosophy of science that would dominate our thinking about science for a large part of the twentieth century. In 1929, Otto Neurath (1882-1945) baptized this movement the Vienna Circle: a name that he said was inspired by the Viennese waltz, Wiener Würstchen, ‘and other things on the pleasant side of life’ that Vienna had to offer. The movement was inspired by the works of the physicist and philosopher Ernst Mach (1838-1916), who enjoyed considerable stature not only in science and philosophy but also in the cultural life of his generation. The members of the Vienna Circle were strict empiricists. They therefore rejected the foundation that Kant had provided to knowledge (their main philosophical motivations for this rejection will be discussed below). What may have contributed is that in Austria, Kant’s philosophy was less dominant than elsewhere in the German-speaking world. In the conservative Austro-Hungarian Empire, where the Catholic Church had retained its

Logical Empiricism and Critical R ationalism


dominant influence also within the philosophy faculties, Kant’s extolling of reason and his enthusiasm for the French Revolution were rejected as a dangerous form of revolutionary and anticlerical radicalism. As a result, in Austro-Hungarian universities, Kant’s thought had never established the paramount position that it held in Germany. The backdrop to the philosophical and scientific activities of the Vienna Circle was the ‘Red Vienna’ of the interbellum, with all its societal and political tensions. The members of the Vienna Circle saw it as their societal duty to spread scientific knowledge among the working-class population. With this in mind, they established the ‘Ernst Mach Society’ in 1928, which organized popular scientific lectures for workers. Because of their activities in Volksaufklärung, that is, the spreading of Enlightenment ideals among the working-class population, they unmistakably took sides in the public debate against the forces and powers of metaphysics and theology, which were politically closely linked with the Church and with nationalist and anti-Semitic movements. The Vienna Circle was not a doctrinaire or closed community. The group was marked by its openness to criticism and by the common search for new solutions to philosophical problems, and its members had widely diverging philosophical and political views and opinions. The group’s core beliefs were not fixed and immutable dogmas; they were subject to constant refinement and revision in the light of discussion and criticism. The only common feature of the members was an anti-metaphysical attitude, which was inspired by two factors. First, they considered the apparent lack of progress in traditional philosophy, which stood in stark contrast to the rapid progress of the natural sciences, as an indication that something was fundamentally wrong with academic philosophy. Second, they saw the Catholic Church, a source of traditional metaphysical and theological truths, as a reactionary force that obstructed societal progress. The Circle’s most radical and most polemical anti-metaphysician was Neurath, who also took the most radical and revolutionary political position. In 1917, he published a study about the war economy that had developed in Germany during the First World War. This study described how the state had strengthened its control over industrial production, decreased consumption, and in order to increase production had mobilized new kinds of workers, in particular women. According to Neurath, these conditions had created new opportunities for the further emancipation of women and the working class. After the war, Neurath served as a minister of economic affairs in the ephemeral Bavarian Council Republic of 1919, where he participated in attempts to realize a socialist economy.


History and Philosophy of the Humanities

The intellectual leader of the Vienna Circle, Moritz Schlick (1882-1936), was of an entirely different caliber. In many respects, he was Neurath’s opposite. Schlick was a liberal from the upper bourgeoisie, and also philosophically, he was less radical than Neurath. Another member, Rudolf Carnap (1891-1970), who developed in great detail the epistemological ideas of the Vienna Circle, considered himself a ‘scientific humanist’. Although he sympathized with attempts to create a social-democratic or socialist society, he ultimately remained an apolitical thinker. As Carnap’s work has exercised the most enduring influence on the philosophy of science, we will now discuss some of its main features. 3.1a

Rudolf Carnap: The Logic of Science

Carnap and his colleagues in the Vienna Circle attempted to recover the logic of scientific knowledge. Their aim was not to give a psychological or historical description of scientists’ activities but to logically reconstruct the normative justification of the results of that work, that is, of established theories and hypotheses. The key question posed by logical empiricists is how we can account for both the success and the change or growth in scientific knowledge. Kant’s foundation of science was no longer adequate for this purpose, as it assumed that the laws of Aristotelian logic, Euclidean geometry, and Newtonian mechanics were a priori and hence not subject to change or improvement. In the course of the nineteenth and early twentieth century, this belief became untenable. One by one, these apparently immutable foundations of knowledge were undermined or rejected. The predicate logic developed by Gottlob Frege and Bertrand Russell marked a major step forward with respect to Aristotelian syllogistic logic; mathematicians such as Nikolai Lobachevsky (1792-1856) and Carl Friedrich Gauss (1777-1855) developed what came to be called non-Euclidean geometry; and Einstein’s (1879-1955) theory of relativity as well as Planck’s quantum mechanics dethroned Newton’s mechanics. The members of the Vienna Circle were especially impressed with the immense progress that logic had booked in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. This logic was so much stronger than its predecessor that it even carried the promise that mathematics might be reduced to it – or, to put it in Kantian terms, that the seemingly synthetic a priori statements of mathematics could in fact be shown to be analytic statements of logic. The new predicate logic also offered the means to judge the merits of scientific

Logical Empiricism and Critical R ationalism


The Looshaus at the Michaelerplatz in Vienna

and other languages. Before proceeding, therefore, we will first introduce and define some basic logical concepts. Logic investigates the structure of and relations between statements, sentences, or propositions; in particular, it studies the *validity of arguments or chains of reasoning. Logically speaking, all assertive statements (or *propositions) are either universal or singular. *Universal statements concern an entire class of entities. ‘All ravens are black’ is thus a universal statement. *Singular or *existential statements, by contrast, concern individual entities, as in the statement ‘there is at least one black raven’. We can clearly indicate the empirical circumstances in which assertive statements are true, that is, their *truth conditions. Thus, universal statements like ‘all ravens are black’ are true if all ravens are indeed black and not true if at least one non-black raven exists. Singular statements such as ‘there is at least one black raven’ are true if indeed at least one black raven exists, and not true if no raven is black or if there are no ravens at all. Alongside the different kinds of statements and their truth conditions, logic also explores the different possible relations between statements, especially in arguments. Two statements *contradict each other if they cannot be simultaneously true. Thus, ‘it is raining’ contradicts ‘it is not raining.’ Two statements that do not contradict each other are *consistent with each other. A statement is the *logical or *deductive consequence of one or more other statements (put differently, it is the logical *conclusion


History and Philosophy of the Humanities

from one or more *premisses, or if the premisses *entail a conclusion) if the premisses cannot be true without the conclusion being true as well. Thus, the statement ‘the streets become white’ logically or deductively follows from the premisses ‘if it snows, the streets become white’ and ‘it is snowing’. And finally, two statements are *logically equivalent when they are true in exactly the same circumstances. Thus, ‘all ravens are black’ and ‘no raven exists that is not black’ are logically equivalent, as both are false if at least one raven exists that is not black. Thus, it is not only the case that grammatically different statements (like ‘all ravens are black’ and ‘no raven exists that is not black’) may have the same logical structure, but also that apparently identical sentence constructions may differ in logical structure. By means of the *logical analysis of statements, such logical similarities and differences can be exposed. Carnap famously illustrated this in discussing a notorious statement of the German metaphysician Martin Heidegger (1889-1976): ‘Where do we seek the Nothing?’14 Superficially, this question seems to have the same logical structure as the question ‘Where do I seek the book?’, as both questions have the same grammatical or syntactic structure. However, Carnap contends that this impression rests on a misunderstanding. Both statements seem to assume or assert the existence of a particular thing (respectively the Nothing and the book), of which subsequently the location is asked. The ‘Nothing’, however, is precisely not an entity or thing that can have a location at all, but truly no thing. Thus, the statement ‘I want something’ has the logical form ‘there is a thing that I want’, but ‘I want nothing’ has the form ‘there exists no thing that I want’. According to Carnap, such a logical confusion is typical for metaphysical statements: they appear to be meaningful because they have the same grammatical form as meaningful everyday statements, but in reality they rest on a misunderstanding or misuse of the imperfect grammar of natural languages such as German or English and thus they are meaningless *pseudostatements. Carnap posits that one of the tasks of logic is the construction of an artificial logical or formal language with a fully precise and explicit grammar that rules out such misunderstandings or abuses. Inspired by the rapid progress in formal logic, mathematics, and the natural sciences, Carnap and the Vienna Circle’s other members promoted a scientific approach to philosophy that was meant to lead to a similar type of progress by eliminating unsolvable metaphysical debates. Their approach had two main features. First, they shared the empiricist principle that only 14 Rudolf Carnap (1932), ‘Überwindung der Metaphysik durch Logische Analyse der Sprache’, Erkenntnis, 2, 219-241.

Logical Empiricism and Critical R ationalism


perception or experience is a legitimate source of knowledge, rejecting all other presumed sources of knowledge such as intuition, self-analysis, or (oral or written) tradition. Second, they used the method of logical analysis to determine the exact meaning or empirical content of an arbitrary statement, or rather, to determine whether a statement had any meaning at all. Thus, inspired by Frege, Russell, and Ludwig Wittgenstein’s 1921 Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, they regarded formal logic as the method that could strictly demarcate what can be meaningfully expressed in language. In doing so, they effected an important change in philosophy, which has become known as the *linguistic turn. Instead of the foundation or justification of knowledge, this new philosophy studies or investigates the meaningfulness of statements. Carnap and his colleagues no longer posed the question of whether a particular philosopher or scientist is right or has correct knowledge, but rather whether his statements have any meaning. Just as Kant’s critical philosophy explored the boundaries of valid knowledge, the logical empiricists explored the limits of meaningful language. Using these technical tools, the logical empiricists tried to recover the logical structure of scientific knowledge, that is to say, they explored the logical relations between scientif ic statements. However, they did not pretend to be able to describe, let alone prescribe, how scientific discoveries are made in practice. After all, such discoveries may be influenced by all kinds of arbitrary or coincidental psychological and other factors. Thus, the fact that, as a famous story asserts, the German chemist Friedrich Kekulé (1829-1896) first saw the ring structure of the benzene molecule in a dream, is irrelevant to the question of whether his theory is correct. For the justification of knowledge, it is not the process of scientific discovery but the result that counts. The logical empiricists thus made a fundamental distinction between the descriptive *context of discovery, that is the factual process of the acquisition of scientific knowledge, and the normative *context of justification, that is, the logical or epistemological justification of that knowledge in hindsight. In addition to the logical analysis already mentioned above, the main instrument of the logical empiricist critique is their *verification criterion of meaning. According to this criterion, the meaning of a statement consists of the method of its verification: we know what a statement means when we can point to a method to decide whether it is true or false, for example, via an experiment or an observation. The meaning of a statement, thus viewed, consists of nothing more or less than its empirical truth conditions. According to Carnap and his colleagues, verifiability was a necessary and sufficient condition for qualifying a statement as empirically meaningful.


History and Philosophy of the Humanities

Metaphysical statements, they argued, are not empirically verifiable and thus meaningless. Soon, however, it appeared that the verification criterion in its original formulation was far too stringent. Scientific theories, for example, mainly consist of universal statements, which we call ‘laws of nature’, but such statements concern an infinite number of individual cases and thus can strictly speaking never be verified. The universal statement ‘all ducks have a beak’ concerns an infinite number of ducks, but we can only make a finite number of observations. No matter how many beaked ducks we have observed, we will never know for sure that indeed all ducks have a beak. For this reason, in the course of the 1930s, the strict verification criterion was replaced by the slightly weaker criterion of *confirmation, or the measure in which a theory is confirmed or strengthened by observation. The logical relation between individual observation statements and general or universal theoretical statements, however, is then no longer deductive or logically necessary but *inductive. A large number of true observation statements may make a universal statement plausible or probable but they do not logically or deductively entail it. Even from a very large number of true singular statements of the type ‘this is a duck with a beak’, the universal statement ‘all ducks have a beak’ does not deductively follow. In his later years, Carnap therefore maintained the view that the logic of the empirical sciences was not deductive but inductive and that philosophy therefore had to develop an inductive logic that could model the actual process of argumentation of the sciences. In his view, inductive arguments – that is, generalizations of universal statements from a limited number of singular statements – are nothing but reasoning in terms of the probability of statements. According to him, general statements or universal statements become more and more probable as they are confirmed by ever more observation statements. Suppose we check all ponds in the neighbourhood and check all ducks we find there for the possession of a beak: if all these ducks indeed appear to have a beak, then it becomes more plausible or probable that the universal statement ‘all ducks have a beak’ is true. Initially, the logical empiricists had doubts concerning the concept of truth that is presupposed by the verification criterion. Isn’t such a concept itself unverif iable and hence an inadmissible metaphysical notion? If, following philosophers such as Aristotle, we define or characterize truth as a ‘correspondence to the facts’, we seem to be smuggling metaphysical concepts back in. For what is a ‘fact’ exactly? And what kind of relation is this ‘correspondence’ between a thought (or a sentence, or a statement) and the outside world? Alongside these questions, other puzzles and paradoxes

Logical Empiricism and Critical R ationalism


around the concept of truth appeared. These doubts, however, were removed by the Polish logician Alfred Tarski (1901-1983), who developed a so-called *semantic concept of truth. On this account, truth is no longer seen as a mysterious metaphysical relation of ‘correspondence’ between thoughts and the world but a relatively down-to-earth *semantic property of sentences in a particular language. The earlier objections against Aristotle’s concept of truth thus disappeared. However, discussing the technical details of Tarski’s theory here would lead us too far afield. 3.1b

The Analytic-Synthetic Distinction and Reductionism

In addition to the verification criterion, logical empiricism has two main features. First, it makes a novel distinction between *analytic and *synthetic statements. As we already saw in § 2.2, analytic statements like ‘a rose is a flower’ are true by definition, that is, on the grounds of the meaning of the terms used, whereas synthetic statements such as ‘this rose is red’ are true on the basis of experience, observations, or extralinguistic facts. According to Carnap, analytic statements have nothing to do with the perceptible outside world. They are true or false on the basis of conventions or agreements, and hence we can choose them freely based on the practical question of which ones ‘work’ best in or for empirical theories. In this view, a theory change, or the growth of scientific knowledge, can occur not only by extending and making more precise our observations in confirming our statements but also by introducing a new language, that is, by introducing new concepts and choosing new analytic statements that have more practical success in the ordering, gathering, and predicting of empirical statements. For Carnap and other logical empiricists, the semantic notion of analyticity coincided with the epistemological notion of a priori knowledge. As a consequence, the need for a distinct class of synthetic a priori statements as formulated by Kant disappeared. In Kant’ philosophy, synthetic a priori statements provided an indubitable foundation for experiential or empirical knowledge. Carnap, however, rejected this idea. For Carnap, all synthetic or experiential statements as dubitable. He argued that the empirical sciences yielded no certainties about the perceptible outside world. Carnap approvingly quoted a famous remark by Albert Einstein: ‘so far as the theorems of mathematics are about reality, they are not certain; and so far as they are certain, they are not about reality’.15 In other words, to the extent that

15 R. Carnap, Introduction to the Philosophy of Science (New York, 1966), p. 183.


History and Philosophy of the Humanities

knowledge is a priori and thus indubitable, it cannot concern or relate to the empirical outside world, and vice versa. The logical empiricists thus argued that Kant’s synthetic a priori knowledge – that is, knowledge based on the indubitable and unchanging features of human reason but still applying to the outside world – is impossible, for this notion presupposes a distinction between the notions of analyticity and a priori knowledge. And in the light of the verification criterion, such a distinction is untenable, for this criterion precludes the meaning, and hence the knowledge content, of a statement from consisting of anything other than empirical truth conditions. Mathematical statements, for example, do not have empirical conditions of verification and thus do not yield knowledge concerning the empirical world – instead, they form part of a purely formal play. Inspired by the work of Frege and Russell, the logical empiricists believed for quite some time that mathematical statements – which Kant saw as synthetic a priori statements – may eventually be reduced to purely logical, that is, analytical, statements. Thus, Kant’s system, which proceeded from the question ‘how is synthetic a priori knowledge possible?’, is not so much rejected or refuted but ‘overcome’ by the logical empiricists, according to members of the Vienna Circle:16 The fundamental thesis of modern empiricism consists precisely in the possibility of the rejection of ‘synthetic judgments a priori’ […]. The scientific world conception knows only empirical statements about things of all kinds, and analytic statements of logic and mathematics.

A second central feature of classical logical empiricism is its emphasis on *reductionism, that is, the insistence that every meaningful and therefore empirical statement can be reduced or ‘translated’ into a statement about pure or direct observation. According to Carnap, we know the meaning of a term or expression when we know under what directly observable circumstances this term can be applied to an object. Thus, the meaning of the term temperature is determined by the way the variable denoted by this name is measured – that is, by reading of a thermometer. Thus, when we put a kettle with water on a fire, the empirical meaning of the statement ‘the temperature of the water is rising’ is ‘the reading of the thermometer that has been put into the water is rising’. The second statement, which explicates the conditions and circumstances of the application of the term 16 H. Hahn, O. Neurath, R. Carnap, Wissenschaftliche Weltauffassung – Der Wiener Kreis (Wien 1929).

Logical Empiricism and Critical R ationalism


temperature, is what Carnap called a *reduction statement. According to him, we should be able to reduce all scientific statements to statements about direct observation. More generally, all meaningful statements can thus be reduced or translated into a combination of purely analytic and purely synthetic or empirical statements, which can be tested, that is, directly confronted with experience. This holds not only for statements in physics, chemistry, or biology but also for those in psychology, for example. If psychology wants to qualify as a full-fledged science, Carnap argued, we should be able to indicate the exact circumstances of applicability of its concepts. In other words, we should be able to reduce a sentence such as ‘Tony Soprano is angry’ to a statement about observable entities that do not appeal to any inner and hence unverifiable notions such as emotions, visual impressions, etc. A reduction of this sentence can only contain physiological terms (for example, a rise in adrenaline level) or behavioural terms (becoming red in the face, raising one’s voice), even though neither of these observable phenomena can give us full certainty as to whether Soprano is indeed angry or not. For example, he can merely pretend to be angry or, conversely, he may be hiding his anger in self-control. According to Carnap, therefore, in contrast to the term ‘temperature’ which can be fully defined in terms of reading a thermometer, we cannot strictly define the concept of ‘anger’ in observable terms. But he believes that it can be reduced to observational terms, provided we can establish a procedure for using the term which specifies observable behaviour or physiological processes that would enable us to determine whether or not a person is angry. In this way, logical empiricism is closely related to *behaviourism, an approach in psychology that emerged around the same time and was especially influential in the United States. Behaviourist psychologists resolutely reject the use of terms such as soul, thought, consciousness, and so on in the sciences because these do not correspond to any observable entities or phenomena. They also do not consider introspection – that is, the observation of one’s own inner affects –a legitimate source of scientific psychological knowledge. When I say that my arm hurts or that I can hear a melody in my head, after all, nobody else can check whether this observation is correct. A truly scientific psychological theory, according to behaviourists and some logical empiricists, should be formulated rigorously in terms of observable behaviour only. With the aid of logical procedures such as giving a definition or a reduction statement, we can thus establish the empirical content of a scientific theory.


History and Philosophy of the Humanities

A stronger variant of this thesis of reductionism is that every meaningful statement can be analyzed and broken up into a purely theoretical and a purely empirical part – that is, a purely analytic and a purely synthetic part. Thus, logical empiricist reductionism amounts to another elaboration of the classical empiricist belief that pure observation is the source or foundation of all real knowledge. The reduction of a statement would then amount to its translation into a language of pure observation that is not shaped or distorted by theories or expectations, or into a language of pure, theoryindependent natural facts that can be characterized as *given, that is, as directly and naturally, or immediately (i.e. not mediated by a language or a theory) given to our senses. Initially, it might seem plausible to present a language of observable physical entities and facts as the ‘universal language’ of such reduction, and indeed, Carnap entertained this possibility for some time. This form of reductionism, which is also called *physicalism, takes the pure facts – or rather, the facts that can be described in the language of physics – as its basis. Another option, however, is *phenomenalism, which takes ‘pure’ or ‘elementary’ experiences as the basis out of which the whole of knowledge is constructed. The latter version is more purely, or strictly speaking, empiricist. The former sees the basis of knowledge as ‘positive facts’ and is accordingly often labelled *positivist, hence the approach of the Vienna Circle is also labelled ‘logical positivism’, alongside ‘logical empiricism’. Reductionism is sometimes presented as the enduring core of logical empiricism. In reality, however, in its extreme form it was adhered to only briefly and was the object of fierce discussion among the members of the Vienna Circle, both in its phenomenalist and in its physicalist guise. One problem for phenomenalism is that observations are ‘private property’, so to speak. My observations are strictly mine, and I do not have direct access to other people’s observations, but this makes it difficult to explain how *intersubjective or shared knowledge can exist. In its turn, strict physicalism ran into problems when the hope of reducing or describing all language in one and the same common language turned out to be too optimistic. The terminological diversity of the different disciplines was immense and obvious, and all attempts to do away with this variety encountered significant practical difficulties. Even the reduction of chemical statements to physical ones soon appeared to be far more complicated than people had initially expected. Shortly thereafter, more principled objections against the very possibility of reductionism were to be formulated as well (see § 4.1). The discussions about the possibility of reductionism suggest that the members of the Vienna Circle saw the ‘given’ of experience not as an

Logical Empiricism and Critical R ationalism


unproblematic starting point for constructing knowledge but rather as an endpoint of logical analysis. Indeed, Carnap himself described the ‘given’ as a ‘useful fiction’: for him, it was no more than a useful tool in the rational reconstruction of scientific knowledge. The ease with which Carnap repeatedly switched from a phenomenalist to a physicalist position already indicates that he did not see the question of an ‘observational basic language’ as essential and that the logical analysis of concepts and statements was more central to his undertaking. Later, he would even formulate a ‘principle of tolerance’ that explicitly and emphatically allows different languages in the sciences to exist alongside each other. The sole criterion for accepting a language is the question of whether it is convenient and successful in practice. Carnap’s pragmatic attitude also appears in his opinions concerning *realism and the concept of causality. Because of their empiricist attitude and because of the verification criterion, logical empiricists rejected realism with respect to theories, that is, the belief that a theory may describe the world or reality ‘as it is’. They believed that the statement that a correct theory not only corresponds to observations but describes the world itself correctly goes beyond our experience or observations and cannot be independently verified, for example, by making more observations. Hence, it does not add anything meaningful to the statements that are empirically verified or confirmed. Strict empiricists can therefore say no more than that a theory agrees with or corresponds to our observations. In their view, realism is not so much correct or incorrect as meaningless. In practice, however, Carnap made few objections against taking a realist stance in the sciences. Something similar applies to his views on the concept of causality. Hume had already argued that it is meaningless to say that two constantly co-occurring phenomena – for example, heating a block of ice and its melting – are causally related to each other. After all, we cannot independently observe a relation of cause between the heating and the melting (cf. § 2.2). The concept of cause or causality is therefore meaningless or empty from an empiricist perspective, but perhaps it can be of practical use in our everyday language or in the practice of scientific research. Here and elsewhere, Carnap anticipated some later forms of American *pragmatism (see chapter 4). Initially, empiricism offered high hopes for the logical empiricist project of a *unified science (Einheitswissenschaft), the term given to the attempt to develop one single and uniform language in which all specific subdisciplines could be expressed. It was especially Neurath who guided and shaped this project, part of which involved publishing an International Encyclopedia of Unified Science, of which several volumes were published from 1938 on. This encyclopedia, however, should not be seen as a megalomaniac


History and Philosophy of the Humanities

attempt to reduce all scientific statements to the language of physics. Its aim was practical and didactic, namely, to give a uniform and simplified characterization of the common logical structure and the specific empirical content of the statements of the different bona fide sciences, and thus to facilitate the exchange between the different disciplines in order to make possible scientific collaboration and meaningful discussion about common open questions. Moreover, especially for Neurath, this unified science had not only a philosophical or scientific but also a societal, not to say political, aim: the formulation of a general language of science, or as he called it a ‘universal jargon’, also served to spread knowledge and enlightenment among the population at large and thus to strengthen the population’s resilience against religious and nationalist mystifications. Hence, Neurath emphatically spoke about unified science as an encyclopedia rather than as a finished system. For him, an encyclopedia was a summary of the state of the art in science, which does not try to hide or disguise the gaps and uncertainties in our knowledge. To represent unified science as a finished and logically perfect system, he wrote, would give the misleading suggestion that our knowledge is already completed and can be ordered in strict, logically deductive terms. Such a view he called ‘pseudorationalist’. According to him, the sciences are collective undertakings, and scientific knowledge can only be improved as we go along. Scientists, he stated in an oft-quoted metaphor, are like sailors who must rebuild their ship on the open sea.


The Vienna Circle and the Humanities

The project of unified science may seem in retrospect to have been a naive dream. The increasingly rapid growth and degree of specialization of the sciences today make it almost impossible for most working scientists to meaningfully contribute to any area other than their own specialization. The prevalent belief at present seems to be that scientific progress inevitably involves specialization and a concomitant loss of the ability to communicate between specialists. At the start of the twentieth century, however, such a degree of specialization and such a strict demarcation between the different disciplines did not yet exist. Philosophers such as Schlick, Carnap, and the neo-Kantian Ernst Cassirer (see § 7.4b) had a thorough knowledge of the contemporary natural sciences, mathematics, and logic. Likewise, scientists such as Mach and Einstein participated as equals in more philosophical debates.

Logical Empiricism and Critical R ationalism


Given their aim of unifying the sciences, logical empiricists rejected the idea of a distinct domain or status for the humanities or Geisteswissenschaften with its own distinct objects and methods, as many of their contemporaries believed (see chapters 6, 7, and 8). For them, the very notion of Geisteswissenschaften implied an outdated if not reactionary metaphysics. Their anti-metaphysical attitude shaped, in particular, the logical empiricist rejection of theology as a science. Theological arguments, such as proofs of the existence of God, may seem like bona fide argumentations, they argued, but on closer inspection, they were logically invalid or constructed from meaningless pseudo-statements. Since real science, according to the verification criterion, can only contain *testable statements, and since theology concerns itself with supra-empirical matters, logical empiricists believed that theological speculation by definition could not produce any scientific knowledge. Logical empiricists were rather more optimistic concerning the social sciences. To the extent that these disciplines can be defined in empirically testable concepts and statements, they argued, the social sciences also fit into the programme of unified science. Thus, Neurath, himself a trained economist, occupied himself at length with the question of how economics and other social sciences could be formulated or reformulated in strictly empirical terms, that is, without any metaphysical additions. He acknowledged the difficulties of such an undertaking but maintained his belief in the possibility of formulating laws of society that were just as rigorously empiricist as the laws of nature. Another sympathizer of the Vienna Circle, Edgar Zilsel, even stated: ‘historical phenomena are hardly more difficult to predict than the weather, and certainly no more difficult to predict than earthquakes or the exploding of volcanoes’.17 According to him, it was certainly possible and definitely worth attempting to formulate general historical laws. This emphasis on laws reflects the logical empiricist belief that only general laws can yield genuine *explanations. They see the aim of scientific knowledge as involving the explanation of why something happens. Explanation, too, is formulated in terms of statements. The statement to be explained is usually called the *explanandum, whereas the explaining statement is called the *explanans. According to logical empiricists, explanation consists of ‘embedding’ the explanandum in an explanans, which should be in the form of a general law. The statement about the phenomenon to be explained is then deduced logically, from the universal law (in Greek: nomos). This view 17 E. Zilsel, The Sociological Origins of Modern Science (Dordrecht, 2003), p. 19.


History and Philosophy of the Humanities

of explanation is therefore also called the *deductive-nomological model of explanation. In historiography, it is also known as the *covering law model. In the historical and social sciences, where mathematical derivations or deductions rarely play any major role, the embedding of the explanandum in the explanans may remain implicit. For example, when a historian writes: ‘Because in 1848 the German population’s expectations concerning speedy economic recovery did not come true, the population rose in revolt’, he implicitly employs an explanatory schema that may be explicated as follows: Whenever expectations concerning economic recovery do not come true, people rise in revolt. The expectations in 1848 of the German population concerning economic recovery did not come true. In 1848, the German population rose in revolt.

It may appear pedantic to spell out the abovementioned statement in this manner. It does, however, clarify the aspects on which this statement may be tested or criticized. Is the general law correct? Was the German population indeed frustrated in its expectations in 1848? And did the bulk of the German population indeed rise in revolt in 1848? Logical empiricists deny that other legitimate forms of explanation than this form of embedding the explanandum in universal laws exist in either the natural, the social, or the human sciences. Thus, Carl Hempel argued that the so-called *verstehende (that is, interpretative or hermeneutic) method in historiography and sociology, which attempts to explain why people acted in a particular manner through empathy or by identifying with their mental state (see § 7.5), does not yield genuine explanations. In these disciplines, too, he sees the main aim as the formulation of general laws. An interpretative or verstehende method may serve as a means towards this end, but it cannot replace it. For the study of languages and cultural products or phenomena, the strict programme of the logical empiricists has not proved particularly fruitful. In linguistics (and to a lesser extent in psychology), behaviourism, which showed a clear Wahlverwandtschaft with logical empiricism, has been out of fashion since 1959. In that year, Noam Chomsky (b. 1928) published a detailed and highly critical review article of the book Verbal Behavior by the behaviourist psychologist B.F. Skinner (1904-1990). Chomsky argued that the methodological constraints that behaviourist and empiricist approaches

Logical Empiricism and Critical R ationalism


impose on linguistic theories are far too strict, thereby rendering those theories essentially incapable of characterizing the human linguistic capability. According to him, we should make stronger assumptions about the not directly observable structure of the human brain than behaviourists would allow for. Rather exceptionally, Chomsky’s review has become incomparably more widely known and influential than the book it discusses (cf. § 9.4). During the 1960s and 1970s, logical empiricist ideals were extremely popular in the social sciences. Sociologists, psychologists, and others tried to set up their research according to the demands of logical empiricism and spoke of the verification of hypotheses, of reduction, and so on. The standard courses in ‘methods and techniques’ in the social sciences, which even today are given in many a social-scientific faculty, have been strongly shaped by what is usually called the ‘standard view of science’. Here, however, one may observe the logical reconstructions of logical empiricists being used as a kind of recipe for setting up good research, in blithe ignorance of the fact that the latter had concerned themselves not with the acquisition but with the justification of knowledge. Erroneously, features of the context of justification came to be presented as requirements for the context of discovery. In principle, the attempt to meet logical empiricist demands and to maintain the verification criterion does not rule out that a rigorous empirical science of art and culture can be developed. Such sciences, however, will have to limit themselves to the empirically observable aspects of artworks, and will have to aim at formulating general laws concerning the arts or cultural production more generally. This implies that empirically meaningful statements about the aesthetic or moral value of artwork cannot be made. This logical empiricist parti pris should not be seen as a rejection of the arts themselves, however. Indeed, several members of the Vienna Circle maintained close contacts with modernist artists, especially architects such as Adolf Loos and the members of the Bauhaus movement. In modernist circles in central Europe, especially in cities such as Vienna, Berlin, and Prague, there existed a fruitful connection or collaboration during this age between the arts, philosophy, and the sciences. Moreover, this collaboration was often linked to a clear political stance. Carnap clearly expressed this affinity with modernist art when he wrote: The strict attitude informed by the sense of responsibility of the scientific researcher is also sought after as a basic attitude for the philosophical activist, while the attitude of the old-style philosopher looks more like that of the poet … We can see a close affinity of the attitude that lays at the basis of our philosophical work with the spiritual attitude which at present may be seen in entirely different areas of life: we find the same


History and Philosophy of the Humanities

attitude in the arts, especially in architecture and in the movements that make an effort towards the meaningful establishment of individual and collective life and education. We find the same attitude everywhere, the same style of thinking. This is the attitude which everywhere strives for clarity, yet acknowledges the never entirely transparent interweaving of life … it is directed towards the interconnection between humans, and at the same time towards the free development of the individual.18

Soon after, however, the political developments of the 1930s destroyed the optimism of the Vienna Circle. In 1933, Engelbert Dolfuss carried out a coup d’état in Austria and established a conservative clerical dictatorship, which marked a clear defeat for all the more progressive and enlightened forces in the country. In the following year, Dolfuss outlawed all trade unions and other social-democratic organizations, including the Ernst Mach Society, despite fierce protests by Schlick and others. In 1936, Schlick, the Vienna Circle’s leading figure, was killed by a former student. Two years later, in the 1938 Anschluss, Austria was annexed to Nazi Germany. Many of the Circle’s members did not wait for the situation to worsen and fled abroad, primarily to America. With Schlick’s death and the emigration of almost all its most important members, the role of the Vienna Circle in the public debate in the German language-area came to an abrupt end. In America, by contrast, its philosophical influence was to become all the bigger. This influence, however, was restricted to academic philosophy, since the societal and political conditions that had originally motivated the Circle in Austria were absent in its new setting. Instead, logical empiricism in the United States moved closer towards *pragmatism, the influential American philosophical current that only accepts philosophical concepts and distinctions to the extent that they help in solving concrete problems (see also chapter 4). More generally, American post-war *analytical philosophy would be unthinkable without logical empiricism, especially as formulated by Carnap.


Karl Popper: The Logic of Refutation

In 1934, Karl Popper‘s (1902-1994) Logik der Forschung was published in Vienna. Initially, the logical empiricists saw this book as an original, if somewhat polemical, contribution to the discussions of the Vienna Circle. They overlooked the fact, however, that in central aspects, Popper took a 18 R. Carnap, Der logische Aufbau der Welt (Berlin, 1928), p. XIX.

Logical Empiricism and Critical R ationalism


Karl Popper

completely different position. Outside the German language area, Popper’s work remained virtually unknown for a long time. It was only after the Second World War that Popper, who had meanwhile emigrated to New Zealand, started to make a name in the English-speaking world. Initially, this fame was primarily due to his social and political philosophical work in which he passionately defended the so-called ‘open society’ against all forms of totalitarianism. It was only during the 1950s, when Popper had established himself in England and when The Logic of Scientific Discovery, the English translation of Logik der Forschung, appeared, that he was also recognized as a major philosopher of science. From the 1960s on, his circle of followers was to expand steadily. Today, Popper ranks among the most important and influential philosophers of science of the twentieth century.


History and Philosophy of the Humanities

Popper rejected the linguistic turn – that is, the logical empiricist problematic of verification and the meaningfulness of statements – as a waste of time. For him, questions of meaning and meaningfulness were part of a futile and uninteresting debate about words. His own interests, by contrast, concerned theories of the world. Likewise, the logical empiricist verification criterion did not meet his approval. He saw it as failing to distinguish even universal natural laws – which, after all, cannot strictly be verified – from metaphysical statements and thus as overshooting its mark. Nonetheless, Popper shared the Vienna Circle’s belief that philosophy could benefit from a clarification of the logical structure of scientific knowledge and the way in which it develops. Thus, he too spoke of the ‘logic’ of the growth of scientific knowledge. This logic aims to analyse and justify the methods of the empirical sciences and hence constitutes a true *methodology of the sciences. 3.3a

Induction, Deduction, Demarcation

For Popper, the central problem in epistemology is that of the *growth of knowledge, that is, the question of how it is possible that our knowledge of the world can improve in the light of experience. He believed that this question could best be raised with regard to the growth of scientific knowledge, since the latter is, as he put it, ‘everyday knowledge writ large’ and all kinds of questions that remain unclear or invisible in everyday settings become apparent in the development of scientific knowledge. Popper presented the problem of the growth of knowledge as the eternal question of all philosophers since Plato. In reality, however, it is clearly set against the specifically modern background of the radical changes in the natural sciences of his own time and of the philosophical reactions to these changes such as logical empiricism and neo-Kantianism. According to Popper, the problem of the growth of knowledge is divided into two main questions: the question of the justification of induction (or what he calls *Hume’s problem), and the question of how scientific knowledge can be distinguished from non-scientific or pseudoscientific knowledge claims (that is, *Kant’s problem). Popper’s solution to Hume’s problem is as simple as it is radical: he argues that induction can be justified neither logically nor psychologically. Carnap had already acknowledged that universal statements such as ‘all ravens are black’ do not follow deductively from the observation of individual black ravens and that, at best, it can be made more probable but it cannot be derived or proven from them (cf. § 3.1a). As we have seen above, David Hume had already noted as much and had concluded

Logical Empiricism and Critical R ationalism


that induction, although not logically justifiable, is psychologically real, for human beings simply have the psychological habit of formulating general expectations concerning the future based on limited experience. Popper, however, rejected even this way of putting things. He argued that induction can no more be defended psychologically than logically. For him, all knowledge has a preliminary or hypothetical character, as it can at any moment in time turn out to be incorrect. Suppose that, throughout my life, I have seen nothing but white swans and therefore believe the statement ‘all swans are white’. No matter how strongly my belief that all swans are white may seem to be confirmed by earlier observations, according to Popper it always remains possible that it will be refuted by future observations. The very next swan I observe in the future may, after all, turn out to be black rather than white. For Popper, every theory is therefore a hypothesis or conjecture that may be refuted on the grounds of subsequent experience. Hence, in his view, the true logic of the growth of scientific knowledge is not inductive but deductive in character. This leads to a simple if radical solution to Hume’s problem (that is, the justification of induction). According to Popper, induction cannot be justified at all. In fact, it need not even be justified for the simple reason that it plays no role in the acquisition and growth of knowledge. Popper’s radical solution to Hume’s problem also stands at the basis of his answer to Kant’s problem. Given his rejection of the verification criterion for meaningfulness, he had to pose anew the question concerning *demarcation, that is, the distinction between scientific and non-scientific knowledge claims. Since induction cannot be justified, it cannot constitute the ‘method’ that distinguishes successful empirical sciences from metaphysical and other nonscientific statements or systems either. How, then, can these be distinguished? Unlike the logical empiricists, Popper refuses to reject metaphysical statements as unverifiable and therefore meaningless. He argues that speculative myths or metaphysical ideas, such as the cosmological myth that the universe arose from an ‘original substance’ like fire or water, or like Democritus’s conjecture that the entire visible world is composed of invisible particles or atoms, can certainly play a positive role in the sciences, for they can serve as the theories or hypotheses that we can subsequently put to tests. Similar to ‘real’ scientific universal statements, they are not strictly verifiable, but they are in principle *falsifiable. And this, Popper claims, is what characterizes science: scientific knowledge distinguishes itself not by empirical verifiability but on the contrary by falsifiability. A truly scientific theory is formulated in such a way that it can be rejected, or refuted, on the basis of experience and can be improved in the light of experience. And hence, because of this falsifiability, true scientific knowledge can also grow – one can learn from one’s errors.


History and Philosophy of the Humanities

The *demarcation criterion, according to Popper, involves the question whether or not a theory can be put to a test, that is, whether it is falsifiable or not. Genuine science systematically seeks circumstances and observations on the basis of which theories can be refuted, whereas pseudosciences such as astrology (and, according to Popper, psychoanalysis and Marxist social science as well) are formulated in such a way that they cannot be refuted on the basis of any observation. There will thus never be a reason for rejecting the theory, and hence, there will never be a reason to improve it. It is in this respect that pseudo-sciences differ from real or genuine sciences, Popper argues. In the latter, we can speak of the growth of knowledge. Genuine scientific knowledge is thus characterized by its *fallibility and by the fact that it systematically exposes itself to attempts at refutation. Put differently, science is characterized by its openness to criticism, that is, not by an inductive method of confirmation or verification, as the logical empiricists thought, but by a deductive method of *falsification. We do not test theories inductively by searching for individual confirmations but deductively by systematically examining whether, on the basis of observation or experiment, we should perhaps give up the theory. A test that in this way challenges a theory is what Popper called a *crucial test. A theory that has successfully survived such crucial tests, or explicit attempts at refutation, is in a certain sense strengthened. Popper, however, refused to characterize this strengthening as confirmation, as Carnap did, since confirmation, too, is an inductivist notion. Instead, Popper introduced the concept of the degree of *corroboration, or the degree to which a theory has thus far survived tests. The stronger these tests, the stronger its degree of corroboration. But even a theory that had been strongly corroborated in earlier crucial experiments may well be refuted in the very next test. Inductivists may object that this notion of corroboration is too strict. One would think that a theory that has survived several attempts at refutation could be maintained with more confidence even if it is not certain, or is at least more solid than other theories that have not yet been put to the test. Others will protest that the difference between deductive corroboration and inductive confirmation is not as great as Popper suggested. After all, both appear to boil down to the strengthening of a theory in the light of observations and experiments. Popper was not impressed by such protests, however. By presenting a theory as confirmed, he argued, we formulate an inductive expectation about its future success. Describing a theory as corroborated, by contrast, emphasizes that it has proven successful thus far but acknowledges that it remains a conjecture that we may have to give up in the light of coming tests.

Logical Empiricism and Critical R ationalism



Testing Theories

Popper’s ideas about the relation between theory and experience are equally at odds with those of the logical empiricists. He believed that theories precede experience rather than the other way around. Hence, he thought that pure observation was impossible. Each observation, he argued, is inevitably guided and coloured by our beliefs, expectations, and interests. When somebody commands us ‘observe!’, we will be at a loss as to what we are to observe, how we are supposed to do so, and why. Observations are therefore always observations in the light of a theory, a question, an expectation, or a problem. In rejecting the possibility of pure, unprejudiced experience, Popper showed himself to be a *rationalist rather than an empiricist. In his view, we proceed not from observations but from theories, that is, from conjectures or expectations that guide our observations. Hence, for Popper, knowledge is not founded on experience, let alone on ‘pure experience’, but it can be corrected in the light of experience. In other words, scientific knowledge is distinguished from dogmas or superstition not because it is based on better or purer observations, as empiricists hold, but because it invites criticism and the possibility for improvement as a matter of principle. Thus, science is marked by a critical – as distinct from a dogmatic – attitude. The origin of a theory may equally well be a mythological or metaphysical statement. What matters is that subsequently, regardless of their origins, such statements are critically put to the test. How exactly does this testing work? Popper emphasized that theories are not tested by ‘observations’ or ‘observation sentences’ but by *basic sentences. A basic sentence is a singular statement that can serve as a premisse in the empirical testing of a theory, which is a universal statement. The basic sentence may contradict a theory. In that case, it is a *potential falsifier of it. For example, the theory that all swans are white (A) excludes the existence of non-white swans. Thus, the basic sentence (B) serves as a potential falsifier of theory (A): (A) All swans are white. (B) There is at least one black swan. If we accept basic sentence (B), for example on the basis of our observing a black swan, then theory (A) is thereby falsified. If the potential falsifier (B) is accepted as true, after all, then universal statement (A), which contradicts it, cannot possibly be true as well. Thus, the theory is strictly deductively falsified by our accepting the singular basic sentence.


History and Philosophy of the Humanities

Unlike the observation sentences of the logical empiricists, basic sentences are not epistemologically primitive or more directly connected with observation or with the facts than any other theoretical statement – they are as much theory-laden as other statements. They can only be distinguished from theoretical or universal statements by their logical form: they are singular statements. Moreover, Popper held that accepting a basic sentence is a matter of decision or convention. The decision to accept the basic sentence ‘there is at least one black swan’ may be caused by our observing a black swan, but it cannot be logically be justified by it because logical relations – including the normative relation of justification – only hold between sentences, statements, or propositions and not between a statement and an observation. That relation, Popper argued, is psychological and therefore can play no role in a normative methodology of the sciences. In this respect, Popper’s position may be called *conventionalist. For him, basic sentences are not ‘statements that connect a theory with observation’ or ‘statements of pure observation’ but logically singular statements that may test a theory and that we may agree to accept for the time being. Hence, according to Popper, it is not observations but decisions that decide the fate of a theory. The decision, or convention, to accept the basic sentence ‘there is at least one black swan’ in the light of experience logically leads to the refutation of the theory that all swans are white. But surely, one may object, if falsification is no more than the convention to accept a basic sentence, nothing logically forces us to give up a theory? After all, one might equally well choose other conventions. In particular, one may add conventions that protect the theory against falsification. For example, one may add an auxiliary hypothesis that the black birds we just saw were not swans but constitute a distinct species, or one may yet reject the basic sentence ‘there is at least one black swan’, for example by declaring that the person who introduced it has mistaken a black goose for a swan. Thus, a conventionalist position like Popper’s risks making every theory immune to falsification in advance. Popper acknowledged that this is logically possible but argued that it should be avoided on the basis of a methodological rule that precludes this kind of *conventionalist stratagem. According to this rule, the scientist should not backtrack by introducing *ad hoc auxiliary hypotheses or by retrospectively disputing the basic sentences, thus trying to reconcile a theory with a potential falsifier that had already been accepted. In other words, one should state in advance under which circumstances one will regard one’s theory to be falsified, and one should identify the crucial test

Logical Empiricism and Critical R ationalism


for the theory in advance. If one is to introduce auxiliary hypotheses, these should not reduce the falsifiability of the theory. Popper’s philosophical views may be illustrated by the work of his hero, Albert Einstein. Popper himself once remarked that his view of science is in fact little more than a philosophical elaboration of Einstein’s attitude towards his theory of relativity. Other famous scientists such as Copernicus or Newton do not play any significant role in his work. This raises the question whether Popper’s approach, which primarily strives for philosophical adequacy, is actually sufficiently historically adequate. In the next chapter, it will indeed become apparent that, historically, matters are more complicated than Popper presents them, and that this fact also has methodological consequences. Einstein’s general theory of relativity implies a view of gravity radically different from the hitherto dominant theory that had been proposed by Newton. What was admirable in Popper’s eyes was that Einstein was able to make precise and unexpected predictions on the basis of this theory. For example, he predicted that light does not proceed in a direct line when near a massive object like the sun but is curved by the latter’s gravitational mass. In 1919, Arthur Eddington (1882-1944) undertook an expedition to the island of Principe near the African coast, where a full solar eclipse was to occur. Here, Einstein’s predictions could be put to the test. During the solar eclipse, the light of stars otherwise paled by the sunlight would be visible. If Einstein’s theory was correct, the light emitted by these stars would be deflected by the mass of the sun, with the effect that their position would be slightly different from the one observed at night. Einstein knew of Eddington’s expedition and declared that this would be a serious test of his theory. He also proclaimed that he would give up his theory if Eddington’s findings turned out not to agree with his predictions. Thus, Eddington’s mission constituted a crucial test of Einstein’s theory. The results of the expedition are well known: the apparent position of the stars observed by Eddington closely corresponded to what Einstein had predicted, and thus his theory passed the crucial test with flying colours and hence was corroborated by it. According to Popper, Einstein’s theory is a showcase example of good science. It strictly observes the methodological rule to ‘try to improve the empirical content of theories, critically test theories, and prefer the theory with the highest degree of corroboration’. This rule is more precise than a general principle to strive for simple or elegant theories with precise predictions because it clarifies what such simplicity, elegance, and precision amount to in methodological terms. In Popper’s view, precise theories are


History and Philosophy of the Humanities

worth pursuing because they are more testable than their rivals and because they have greater empirical content than less simple theories containing all kinds of ifs and buts. The recommendation to critically test a theory is intended as a precaution against conventionalist stratagems that try to reconcile an already accepted falsifier with a theory. That is, the *empirical content of the theory (or its *informational content) increases with the number of potential basic sentences it excludes, or – as Popper put it – as the class of its potential falsifiers becomes bigger. A theory with a greater predictive range than its rivals or a theory that allows for the deduction of more precise predictions has a larger set of potential falsifiers. For this reason, as long as it has not been falsified, we will prefer such a theory over competitors that have a more restricted reach or make less precise predictions. Basing himself on the notions of empirical content and the degree of corroboration of theories, Popper also tried to defend the thesis that, over time, theories increasingly approximate the truth. That is to say, we gradually come closer to a uniquely correct description of the world. He suggested that there are good reasons for believing that improving theories by systematically searching for refutations will in the long run have the effect that the truth is in fact approached. We will never be certain, however, that it has actually been reached. Popper captured this idea of the ever-closer approaching of the truth in his notion of *verisimilitude, that is, ‘similarity to the truth’. Its technical details need not detain us here, but it shows that Popper was ultimately a realist who believed that in our scientific theories, we strive for truth. Popper emphasized, however, that we can never be certain that a theory is definitely or finally true. After all, we have no way of verifying a theory, as we can only try to falsify it. When a theory has survived numerous crucial tests without being falsified, it will have a high degree of corroboration. But that by no means gives us the certainty that it will not be falsified in the future. Hence, Popper was a *fallibilist: he proceeded from the idea of the fundamental fallibility of all knowledge – including the fallibility of knowledge that has been accepted as true since time immemorial. For example, at the start of the twentieth century, Newtonian mechanics, which had been regarded as uncontroversial for centuries and which had been corroborated by countless observations, was refuted and replaced by Einstein’s theories. According to Popper, these developments should teach us a philosophical lesson: that we can never assume that we possess the truth. That is no reason, however, to end our search for it. Popper based his realism on Tarski’s theory of truth, which – unlike the logical empiricists – he saw as a justification of the metaphysical idea of truth as

Logical Empiricism and Critical R ationalism


corresponding to the facts. For him, the concept of truth was essentially more than merely a semantic notion. More generally, he had little if any affinity with the linguistic turn of the logical empiricists. As mentioned above, he saw philosophical questions concerning the meanings of sentences as pseudo-problems. In his view, genuine philosophical debate should concern itself with the world and with genuine problems rather than with words. 3.3c

Explanation, Prediction, and the Laws of History

Popper shared the logical empiricists’ doubts concerning the notion of causality. As explained above, empiricists believed it was meaningless to say that when two observable events constantly co-occur, such as the warming up and melting of a block of ice, one event causes the other. Popper had other reasons for his doubts, however. He thought that a general philosophical concept of causality is not so much meaningless as superfluous. He held that the principle of causality could be replaced by the methodological rule that we will not give up the search for general theories, and that we should not give up attempts to explain events ‘causally’. With the latter expression, Popper indicated a particular line of argumentation. Instead of understanding causal explanations in metaphysical terms, he conceived a ‘causal explanation’ as the logical deduction of a singular statement E from a general, or universal, statement T (that is, the theory or hypothesis) plus a singular statement IC that specifies the *initial conditions, that is to say, the circumstances that according to the theory lead to the event. Thus, we say that E is explained by T and IC, and that IC is the cause of the effect E. This model or scheme of explanation is therefore usually called the *hypothetico-deductive model, or scheme, of explanation. It is equal in structure to the deductive-nomological model of explanation as formulated by the logical empiricists in the tradition of the Vienna Circle and as discussed above (§ 3.2). Theory (hypothesis): Ice melts when the temperature rises above 0 degrees Celsius. Initial condition:

The temperature is 10 degrees Celsius.


The ice melts.

A causal explanation of the event has the same logical form as a *prediction of an event from a hypothesis and the specification of its initial conditions.


History and Philosophy of the Humanities

Thus we explain event E from T and IC when we could have predicted the occurrence of E on the grounds of T and IC. The hypothetico-deductive scheme of explaining and predicting is also used in the social sciences. For example, in his famous 1899 study, the French sociologist Émile Durkheim (1858-1917) explained the suicide rate in a given society and period by a theory with two variables: the degree of integration of individuals and the degree of regulation of social life, and the specific societal circumstances of that society and period (see also § 9.1 below). In this manner, Durkheim could explain, for example, the fact that major economic changes coincide with a rise in suicide rates. Whenever the economy changes, the regulation of social life decreases, as people are less certain about what is expected of them. The theory predicts that under those circumstances the suicide rates will rise, and conversely, that fact is explained by this theory. Economic change, in other words, is a cause for rising suicide rates. Popper emphatically denied that predictions about long-term social developments can be deduced from historical or sociological laws of development. Whereas astronomers can make reliable long-term predictions based on a physical theory – for example concerning the position of the planets through the decades – the course of human history, he argued, is co-determined by the growth of knowledge. That growth cannot be predicted. The reason for this is that our scientific knowledge is characterized by fallibility: we do not know whether the theories we adhere to today will have to be given up tomorrow. Hence, we cannot predict in advance in which direction our knowledge will grow. And since societal relations are partly determined by our knowledge, one is forced to conclude that the long-term prediction of societal developments is impossible. The belief that the historical sciences should strive to make long-term predictions was labelled *historicism by Popper. This belief, he argued, is defended especially by Marxists, who, basing themselves on Marx’s analysis of the dynamics of class relations, make long-term predictions concerning the development of capitalist society and the inevitable arrival of the socialist revolution (see also chapter 7). According to Popper, however, historicism rests on a fundamental misunderstanding. In The Poverty of Historicism (1957), he elaborated on his objections, which were of both an epistemological and social-philosophical/political-philosophical character. The epistemological objection is that a theory can never lead to predictions in isolation. Initial conditions always play a crucial role, and the available knowledge should be included in the initial conditions. This latter element, however, cannot be predicted for the reasons mentioned above: whenever

Logical Empiricism and Critical R ationalism


predictions are made without taking these initial conditions into account, we are not dealing with predictions but with *prophecies. For Popper, historicism was more than merely an academic misunderstanding, however. His political and social-philosophical objection was that it actually endangers human liberty. Those who believe in infallible laws of history, he argued, and who claim to be able to make long-term predictions based on such laws will, once in power, soon start developing totalitarian traits. For anyone who claims to know the future course of history on the basis of a historicist theory will probably not be inclined to take criticism into account and will likely silence people who have another future in mind for being ‘historically mistaken’ about society’s destiny. Hence, it comes as no surprise that The Poverty of Historicism was dedicated ‘in memory of the countless men and women of all creeds or nations or races who fell victim to the fascist and communist belief in Inexorable Laws of Historical Destiny’.19 If historians are neither able nor allowed to make use of the hypotheticodeductive scheme of explanation, then how should they explain the events and the actions of the people they write about? Popper suggest they should explicate what he calls the *logic of the situation, that is, make a model of what amounts to ‘rational action’ in a given culture, given the available knowledge and the current standards of rationality. Next, possible deviations from this rational course of action can be studied in more detail, as well as their unintended or unforeseen consequences. Popper’s proposal was used fruitfully by the art historian Ernst Gombrich (1909-2001), who was strongly influenced by Popper’s philosophy, in order to explain various developments in the visual arts. Elsewhere in the humanities, too, traces of Popper’s ideas of scientific method can still be found.

Summary – The logical empiricists tried to unravel the logic of scientific research, and they believed that induction plays a central role in this logic. They offered a critique of metaphysics by introducing the verification criterion of meaning, which locates the meaning of a statement in the method of its empirical verification. This criterion was later toned down and replaced by the concept of confirmation. – The logical empiricists distinguished the context of justification (the normative and logical justification of scientific knowledge claims) from 19 K.R. Popper, The Poverty of Historicism (London, 1957), p. vii.


– –

History and Philosophy of the Humanities

the context of discovery (the factual description of scientific research and discovery). They also made a rigid distinction between analytic (logical and mathematical) statements and synthetic or empirical statements. A central but controversial doctrine of the logical empiricists is reductionism, which tries to reduce all meaningful statements to a combination of analytic and purely observational statements. The Vienna Circle rejected the notion that the humanities have a distinct object or method. In their view, all theories should be strictly empirically testable. Popper rejected the logical-empiricist interpretation of science. He formulated a criterion of demarcation for distinguishing science from pseudoscience. Genuine scientific knowledge, he argued, does not look for confirmation by our observations but precisely for the refutation or falsification of hypotheses or conjectures, in so-called crucial tests. According to Popper, there is no such thing as pure observation. In his view, scientific knowledge does not differentiate itself through its origin but by the fact that it grows and because its growth is based on falsification rather than confirmation. Scientific theories are put to the test by so-called basic statements conventionally and provisionally held to be true. For Popper, a critical look at one’s own convictions is a necessity not only in science but also in politics. He rejected historicism or the belief that the course of history could be captured in laws and hence could also be predicted.


Historicizing the Philosophy of Science


From Empiricism to Pragmatism

Popper’s views on the growth and demarcation of scientific knowledge are attractive if not inspiring. His idea of science as a practice in which people consciously expose their work to criticism and in which they strive for truth without ever pretending to actually possess it has become a cherished ideal if not the self-image for many scholars in the natural and social sciences as well as in the humanities. Even more than the classical view or the logical empiricist model, Popper’s view has become a ‘standard view of science’. Various objections can be raised against Popper’s position, however, regarding both the philosophical and historical adequacy of his philosophy of science. The philosophical objections are based on what at first sight appears to be a rather esoteric doctrine that has come to be known as the *Duhem-Quine thesis. The most important criticism concerning the historical adequacy of Popper’s views was formulated by the American historian and philosopher of science Thomas S. Kuhn (1922-1996). As Kuhn’s insights can be seen to some extent as an elaboration of the Duhem-Quine thesis, both lines of criticism in fact point to the same shortcomings. The Duhem-Quine thesis has proved to be of monumental importance in intellectual history. If correct, it not only upsets Popper’s philosophy of science but also has much broader philosophical implications. It undermines not only the distinction between metaphysical and empirical scientific statements but also the distinctions between theory and observation and between logic and experience. The thesis ultimately comes out in favour of a more *pragmatist position, which only accepts such distinctions to the extent that they make a practical difference in our activities (scientific or otherwise). Clearly, a substantial number of fundamental presuppositions of mainstream Western philosophy are at stake here. For everyday scientific practice, these principled objections do not immediately have major repercussions. Theories with a wide empirical reach, a high degree of precision, and a simple structure remain preferable over theories lacking such qualities, and scientists who do not take criticism of their work seriously still risk placing themselves outside the scientific community. What is questioned in this critique of Popper’s philosophy of science is the interpretation of the results of scientific work. As we shall


History and Philosophy of the Humanities

see below, it also brings out aspects of the development of science that had been overlooked or ignored by Popper. If we are to believe Popper’s critics, science is an activity of a different kind than we had hitherto thought. Some of our basic intuitions, summarized in the so-called subject-object scheme which merges the epistemological and metaphysical aspects of classical natural science (cf. § 2.2), appear to be indefensible. Anyone seeking to understand what actually happens in the sciences will encounter major problems with the assumption that the world lies waiting to be discovered by researchers who follow scientific methods developed in the seventeenth century, as significant events in the development of science will remain unaccounted for. Science, Popper’s critics hold, is an amalgam of activities that only gradually acquires more structure as we go along and in which the object of research is partly constituted by those activities. As will become clear, all of this has far-reaching consequences. Not only does it have major implications for our views concerning the position of science in Western culture, it also implies a rather different perspective on the culture of modern societies, where the idea prevails that we can differentiate ourselves from other and earlier societies by our scientific rationality. Some of these implications are manifested in the work of philosophers such as Richard Rorty (see § 11.3b) and Bruno Latour (see § 11.4). Moreover, the Duhem-Quine thesis, and especially the further elaboration of this thesis by Kuhn, has led to a shift in the way science is viewed. It has contributed to the development of new historicizing and sociological perspectives on science. The epistemological view on science, which primarily focuses on questions about the justification of scientific results, has given way to anthropological and historical studies that investigate what scientists do when engaged in scientific research. In these studies, the work that is required to make the world knowable is emphasized – work that involves the use of instruments and techniques to prepare materials and manipulate conditions in laboratories, for example. Attention has shifted from ‘ready-made science’ to ‘science in action’ (cf. § 4.4). Here we will first discuss the philosophical dimensions and implications of the Duhem-Quine thesis. It implies, among other things, that individual statements do not unequivocally correspond to specific facts in the outside world. This idea leads to further questions concerning the relation between theory and experiment, including the question of how and when scientists can actually know whether an experiment is successful. Next, we will discuss Wilfrid Sellars’ attack on the ‘myth of the given’, which entails a further criticism of empiricist assumptions in our standard views of science.

Historicizing the Philosophy of Science


Together, the ideas of Duhem, Quine, and Sellars imply a shift away from empiricism towards pragmatism. This shift is also visible in the rather more famous historicizing work of Kuhn, with whom we close this chapter. 4.1a

The Duhem-Quine Thesis

The most important philosophical problem with Popper’s theory was already known before he had even formulated it. Already in 1906, Pierre Duhem (1861-1916), a French physicist, philosopher and historian of science, had pointed out a fundamental problem concerning the testing of scientific hypotheses. In the 1950s, the American logician and philosopher Willard Van Orman Quine (1908-2000) restated Duhem’s claim as a semantic and epistemological thesis. According to this *Duhem-Quine thesis, empirical hypotheses cannot be verified or falsified in isolation. If this thesis is correct, testing cannot play the crucial role that Popper assigns to it in his philosophy of science. In La théorie physique, son object et sa structure (1906), Duhem showed that there is no such thing as the simple observing and reporting of experimental findings. Just like Popper, he realized that observed phenomena should be seen and described in terms of a theory. Laws should be formulated in general or abstract terms and hence can be no more than approximations of our observations, according to Duhem. Duhem diverged from Popper, however, in arguing that the fundamental hypotheses of theories cannot as a matter of principle be tested in isolation. He opened his argument with an empiricist objection against the initially plausible belief that physical theories are concerned with the reality behind or beneath the observable phenomena. We cannot directly observe this underlying reality itself, however; we can only infer its existence and what we know about it from the concrete and specific observations we make. For example, in music, we only hear concrete sounds, which we then order in general and abstract notions such as pitch, timbre, octave, chord, etc. Such concepts or notions, however, describe sound as it is with respect to us, not as it is in itself. The reality underlying our observations is therefore not itself observed but rather represented in or by acoustic theory. Whereas our senses only register sounds, acoustic theory describes these in theoretical terms as the periodical vibrations of the air with a certain amplitude and frequency. This frequency and amplitude, however, we do not perceive as such when listening to music. What, then, legitimates a theory? All that a genuine empiricist can say, Duhem argued, is that a theory efficiently and economically represents and


History and Philosophy of the Humanities

orders empirical regularities. The only criterion by which one can appraise a theory is its agreement with observations and experimental results. One cannot observe whether a theory also corresponds to an underlying reality. Duhem did not so much deny that an objective outside world exists as stated that we can never be certain whether we correctly describe it. No matter how strongly a scientist may be convinced that his theory describes reality as it is, as a genuine empiricist he can never justify his theory in this way because reality transcends experience. For a strict empiricist like Duhem, realism is therefore a metaphysical doctrine if not an outright act of faith. Indeed, the claim that a theory describes reality cannot be justified by observation. This much we already knew from earlier empiricists, and rationalists like Popper would agree. Hence, according to Popper, we should improve theories by putting them to tests, and by suggesting new hypotheses if they fail these tests. Even though the resulting theory remains falsifiable, he argued, we have reasons to believe that along the way we will eventually approach the truth. Duhem, however, leaves us no such possibility, for he contended that there is another, more principled problem with experiments. For what exactly is a scientist doing when – for example – he is measuring the pressure of a gas while he increases its volume at a constant temperature? According to Popper, he is testing Boyle’s law which states that the pressure of a given quantity of a gas is inversely proportional to its volume. According to Duhem, however, an experiment puts not only a hypothesis to the test but also the various assumptions that the researcher has made, part of which are implicit if not unconscious. For example, he assumes that his instruments are functioning properly and that his techniques of measurement and even his mathematical methods are correct. When the experiment yields results that are at odds with his hypothesis, it may be that the hypothesis that is incorrect, but it may equally be that one of the other assumptions is false. Perhaps the measuring instruments do not quite do what the researcher expected them to do, or perhaps the calculus employed is not adequate. In other words, a test may show that something is wrong, but it does not yield a decisive answer as to where the error resides. At most, we can agree – that is, determine by *convention – where we can localize the error. Hence, the logic of testing a hypothesis appears not to be deductive or logically compelling after all. A ‘crucial experiment’ in natural science is impossible in principle. There is always room to adjust an auxiliary assumption or hypothesis to make the theory as a whole agree with or correspond to observation. As noted above, Popper acknowledged this conventionalist objection, but he argued it could be rectified by methodological measures. He points out that our auxiliary assumptions and hypotheses concerning our instruments

Historicizing the Philosophy of Science


are just as testable as our theories, albeit not in the same experiment in which the theory itself is put to the test. A scientist wanting to test a theory should proceed from the assumption that one’s instruments function in the accepted manner. When, after a negative test result, one suspects that the theory itself is correct and that the negative result should be blamed on the instruments, one has only one option: to think of a new test in which the assumptions about the functioning of one’s instruments are tested independently. For actual scientific practice, this approach may seem reasonable. Philosophically, however, Duhem was after bigger game. Popper’s methodological answer hides these more radical epistemological implications of Duhem’s thesis from view. For what is the philosophical consequence of the insight that researchers can never acquire certainty but at most agree as to what went wrong in a test? Such agreements are mere conventions that have no empirical content themselves. If the importance of conventions increases in the use of theories, it becomes increasingly difficult to defend the claim that scientific knowledge is more than a complex whole of conventions and that the knowledge produced in science corresponds to the facts. Popper had no adequate philosophical answer to this problem. Should we then conclude that the theoretical knowledge produced in science is merely conventional and that one may therefore replace such a system by other conventions at will? Conventionalism thus risks leading to *relativism, that is, it risks leaving no objective standards for measuring and comparing achievements in science. But doesn’t that imply that theory choice becomes merely a matter of taste? Duhem answered in the affirmative but pointed out that, in this case at least, ‘taste’ is not an individual or subjective matter. Alongside his theory and observational data, he argued, the researcher will have to defend his decisions by referring to the history of his discipline and by using his sense of scientific proportions. 4.1b

Willard Quine’s Meaning Holism

Quine gave an even more radical twist to Duhem’s thesis, reinterpreting it as a thesis in the philosophy of language. Whereas Duhem limited himself to experiments in the natural sciences, Quine converted Duhem’s thesis into a claim concerning the meaning – or as he called it, the *empirical content – of statements in general. Not only is it impossible to test a hypothesis in isolation, he argued, it is not even possible to say what that hypothesis by itself means or ‘is about’. In his view, empirical content cannot be localized statement by statement but only in a theory as a whole. Our statements about


History and Philosophy of the Humanities

the outside world, he famously stated, ‘face the tribunal of sense experience not individually but as a corporate body’.20 This thesis has far-reaching philosophical consequences. Since the scientific revolution, scientific knowledge has been seen as arising from the connection of mathematical methods and experimental results. Increasingly, it was also acknowledged that mathematical methods play a constructive role in this process. Hence, empiricists saw themselves faced with the question of how this interconnected whole of mathematical and empirical elements can be dissected; that is, how can we decide which part of a theory rests on the conventions embodied in the mathematical language in which it is formulated and which part refers to experience? In other words, which part of the theory is analytic and which part is synthetic? Which part is true on the basis of linguistic conventions, and which part is true on the basis of states of affairs in the world? As we have seen in § 3.1, the members of the Vienna Circle formulated this problem as the question of how meaningful statements can be reduced to a combination of purely analytic statements (that is, conventions we choose based on practical considerations) and purely synthetic statements (which may be interpreted either physicalistically or phenomenalistically). In this perspective, it must be possible to decompose every empirical statement into a purely analytic and a purely synthetic component. The merits of theories could then be judged in purely empirical terms by scrutinizing its synthetic component. A well-confirmed theory would be one with a substantial synthetic component. Quine, however, dealt a mortal blow to this ambition. He argued that the two assumptions underlying it – the belief in the *analytic-synthetic distinction and *reductionism – are untenable. Clearly, this thesis is at odds with our intuition, as it seems obvious that the truth of a statement depends on both the language used and on what is in fact the case in the world. Take the statement ‘Caesar was killed by Brutus’. If the factual circumstances had been different (for example, if Brutus had died in infancy), this statement would have been false. But it could also have been false if the word killed had had a different meaning, for example, ‘brought up’ instead of ‘put to death’. At first sight, it thus appears easy to distinguish the conventional and the synthetic components of any arbitrary statement. In scientific statements, however, it is much more difficult and according to Quine even impossible

20 W.V.O. Quine, ‘Two Dogmas of Empiricism,’ in From a Logical Point of View (Cambridge, MA, 1961), p. 41.

Historicizing the Philosophy of Science


W.V.O. Quine

in principle to draw this distinction in a systematic and philosophically tenable manner. Quine launched his attack on the distinction between ‘true on the basis of meaning’ and ‘true on the basis of fact’ in his famous 1951 article, ‘Two Dogmas of Empiricism’, in which he argued that no philosophically defensible notion of word meaning or sentence meaning exists that can support this distinction. We may be tempted to say that analytic statements such as ‘a bachelor is an unmarried man’ are true on the basis of conventions and are true by definition, or contain expressions that are synonymous. According to Quine, however, the notions of convention, definition, and synonymy are no less problematic than that of analyticity – worse, they are defined in terms of analyticity themselves and thus depend on precisely the notion they were meant to clarify. From these considerations, Quine drew the conclusion that the intuitively plausible distinction between analytic and synthetic cannot support the empiricist conceptualization of meaningful language use. Quine acknowledged that it is perfectly reasonable to want to distinguish the linguistic and the factual components of our statements, since the


History and Philosophy of the Humanities

truth of an individual statement clearly depends both on the facts and on language. But unfortunately, that does not mean that we can make a strict and principled distinction between the analytic and the synthetic parts of a statement. ‘[The idea] that such a distinction exists is an unempirical dogma of empiricists, a metaphysical article of faith’, he concluded.21 The second dogma Quine rejected is reductionism, that is, the belief that every meaningful statement can be reduced or translated into a statement about pure sense experience. In this form, reductionism does not play a major role in Carnap’s analyses (see § 3.2b). Quine’s criticisms, however, were primarily directed at the related reductionist thesis that each statement can be individually tested for its truth or falsity. Such a reduction to statements in isolation, he claimed, is impossible as a matter of principle. It is in this version that his argument has exerted wide influence. According to Quine, an empirical hypothesis is not merely an isolated statement but is derived from a theory, that is to say, it forms part of a coherent body of logically interdependent statements. When these statements are put to the test in an experiment, one cannot say with certainty whether a falsification refutes the hypothesis itself or rather another statement in the theory from which that hypothesis has been derived. It could even be the case that the other auxiliary assumptions or hypotheses – for example, the manner in which our measuring instruments function – are faulty. Quine derived this argument from Duhem, but he radicalized or generalized it to the philosophical thesis that empirical or factual content (or what we would call ‘meaning’) cannot be assigned on a sentence-by-sentence basis but is spread out, so to speak, over the theory as a whole. Thus, reductionism appears to be untenable: it is impossible to characterize individual statements as concerning or representing specific ‘facts’ or ‘pure observations’. Quine concluded that: The totality of our so-called knowledge or belief, from the most casual matters of geography and history to the profoundest laws of atomic physics and even pure mathematics or logic, is a man-made fabric which impinges on experience only along the edges […] [T]he total field is so under-determined by its boundary conditions, experience, that there is much latitude of choice as to what statements to reevaluate in the light of any singular contrary experience. […] If this view is right, it is misleading to speak of the empirical content of an individual statement. […] Furthermore it becomes folly to seek a boundary between synthetic statements, which 21 Ibid,. p. 37.

Historicizing the Philosophy of Science


hold contingently on experience, and analytic statements, which hold come what may. Any statement can be held true come what may, if we make drastic enough adjustments elsewhere in the system. […] Conversely, by the same token, no statement is immune to revision.22

Quine accepted the empiricist verification criterion, which claims that the meaning of a statement resides in the empirical testing of whether or not it is true. In the dogmatic empiricist perspective, analytic statements would then be those statements that are confirmed by all empirical circumstances and are thus not subject to any revision in the light of experience. According to Quine, however, no statement is immune to possible revision. In the light of experience, it may in some circumstances even be necessary to change mathematical or logical statements that we had held to be analytic and unchangeable. Moreover, Quine argued, theories essentially transcend our experience and are thus *underdetermined by the empirical evidence on which they rest; one can formulate different theories that are in agreement with the same observations. Conversely, statements supposed to express observations derive their meaning or content not from the facts or things themselves but from the interconnected network of statements that constitute a theory. Thus, Quine is a *meaning holist who holds that the empirical content or meaning of an individual statement does not consist of standing for a fact but derives from the whole of the connected statements of the theory it is a part of. One consequence of this thesis – which was not drawn by Quine himself but which does figure in the work of among others Kuhn – is that when a theory undergoes a radical change, the meanings of the terms it employs may change along with it, including the meanings of terms that seem to refer to observable things or events. Hence, we cannot be sure that our statements before and after a theory change still concern the same things or facts. In other words, radical theory change often comes with a change in *ontology, that is, in what according to the theory and its followers exists. This consequence is plainly counterintuitive. In everyday language, it seems obvious that words such as chair and table directly refer to the things they denote and that these words in a different language, such as Stuhl and Tisch in German, refer to the same things. Scientific theories, however, function in a different manner. They discuss observable matters in terms of an underlying interconnected network of theoretical terms such as force, 22 Ibid., pp. 42-43.


History and Philosophy of the Humanities

mass, and electron, which do not themselves refer to directly observable objects but derive their meaning or content from the theory within which they are defined. This also holds for theories in the social sciences and the humanities. For example, the concept of class has a different meaning in Marx’s theory of society than in Weber’s. In Chomsky’s generative grammar, language has a different meaning than in a sociolinguistic theory. Theories thus define their own terms and hence, in an important sense, create the kind of objects that they are about. Obviously, that does not mean that scientists can arbitrarily conjure up entities as if they were magicians who can change the world at will. What it does mean is that their *ontology – that is, the kinds of things they speak about – is determined by their theory and conceptual framework. Quine may be called a *naturalist: he saw epistemological questions concerning the justif ication of knowledge as part of (developmental) psychological research into the origin of knowledge. The classical logical empiricist attempts to reduce natural scientific knowledge to logical truths and pure observation statements may have failed, he argued, but that is no reason to give up epistemology as the inquiry into the foundations of our knowledge altogether. Such an inquiry, however, will have to take the form of an empirical psychological exploration of the human capacity for knowledge as a natural phenomenon. Thus, Quine distanced himself from Kant’s transcendental project, which takes knowledge to be something irreducibly normative. In Quine’s perspective, epistemological statements, and philosophical statements more generally, no longer occupy a privileged position as the ultimate conceptual analysis and normative justification of empirical scientific statements but become part of those sciences themselves. The holism of the Duhem-Quine thesis blurs the distinction between theoretical and empirical statements. Quine’s naturalism blurs the distinction between normative epistemology and descriptive psychology. A Popperian may have no major difficulties with this, since he sees observation as informed by our perspectives, theories, and expectations anyway. It would be more difficult, however, for a Popperian to accept the conclusion that it is futile to crucially test individual statements for the principled semantic and epistemological reason that empirical content cannot be unambiguously assigned to individual statements. An observation that is at odds with a theory may lead to the rejection of an empirical hypothesis, but possibly, one or more theoretical statements from which that hypothesis is derived may also have to be rejected. Perhaps, in the light of experience, even logical or mathematical principles believed to be not at all susceptible to change

Historicizing the Philosophy of Science


may have to be revised. According to Quine, no statements are immune to revision in the light of experience. In giving up the analytic-synthetic distinction and reductionism, therefore, the strict distinction between theoretical and observational statements and between logical principles and factual claims disappears, as does the difference between scientific language use and unverifiable metaphysical statements. Even statements that seem to have no empirical content may be refuted by experience, and conversely, even if a hypothesis seems to have a clear and concrete empirical content, it is in principle possible to maintain it in the face of empirical evidence to the contrary. Below, we will repeatedly encounter the consequences of this thesis. 4.1c

Wilfrid Sellars and the Myth of the Given

Quine’s position is still recognizably empiricist: despite his holism, he still believed that ultimately, our knowledge is not only caused by but also conceptually founded on experience. As he put it, it faces ‘the tribunal of sense experience’. Another assault on classical empiricist notions that was at least as radical in its implications as Quine’s rejection of the analyticsynthetic distinction and reductionism came from Wilfrid Sellars. In his 1956 Empiricism and the Philosophy of Mind, Sellars attacked what he calls the ‘myth of the given’. In general, this myth concerns the belief in a strict distinction between what is immediately given to the human mind and what is added by the mind and mediated by our concepts, judgments, or words. Epistemologically, this concerns the distinction between what in our experience is given to our senses directly and without any intermediary and what our cognitive apparatus adds to our experience. In other words, what is given is neither derived from other statements nor learned from other persons. Sellars specifically targeted the empiricist notion of *sense data, that is, bits of unconceptualized observational knowledge that are logically primitive and independent of each other and of other statements. They are, so to speak, the smallest building blocks out of which our general, conceptual knowledge is constructed. Thus, an empiricist would argue that my abstract or general concept of red is built up out of my observations, or sense data, of red things. In this view, sense data themselves are not yet conceptualized knowledge, but they mediate between such knowledge and the world, acting as the ultimate foundation or justification of the former. Sellars denied that sense data constitute the ultimate foundations or building blocks of our knowledge and therefore that statements about sense


History and Philosophy of the Humanities

data such as ‘this is red’ express the most basic form of knowledge. Obviously, he did not deny that observation plays an important role in the acquisition of knowledge; he merely denied that these observation statements take up a privileged position as its ultimate justification. This seems clearly at odds with the widespread idea that our visual faculty, by which we may observe objects and colours, is biologically determined and innate and hence not acquired. Sellars’ point, however, is not a biological one but a logical one. As knowledge claims, sense data statements are logically not primitive or primary, and hence our observational knowledge is mediated (that is, acquired and linguistic in character) after all. Thus, he gave an elaboration of Kant’s slogan ‘thoughts without content are empty, intuitions without concepts are blind’ in the terms of twentieth-century analytical philosophy of language (cf. § 2.2). The epistemological question posed by Sellars is how our sensory observations – which according to logical empiricists are not conceptualized themselves – can maintain any logical relation of justification with our knowledge, which is conceptual by definition. After all, it is in judgments that the observation of particular events is connected with general concepts. According to Sellars, the sensory stimulation of one’s retina by something red, for example, does not yet constitute observational or perceptual knowledge. Our sensings are, after all, purely causal stimuli, not judgments that may be correct or incorrect and from which other judgments can be logically derived. In other words, sensory stimuli can only stand in a factual or causal relation to our knowledge, not in a normative logical one of justification. As a state of knowing, the observation of something red is not immediate, primitive, or atomic but mediated by the language in which we make our statements. In this sense, it is acquired. Observational statements such as ‘this is red’ or ‘I see something red’ are logically speaking not primitive or atomic because they presuppose the concept of red. Sellars motivated this apparently counterintuitive position by giving a linguistic twist to Kant’s slogan that intuitions without concepts are blind. Having a concept ‘red’, he argued, is equal to being able to use the word ‘red’ correctly. In doing so, Sellars drew a more radical conclusion from the linguistic turn of the earlier logical empiricists: he explained internal mental states of knowledge or consciousness in terms of the public use of language rather than the other way around. As a result, statements about inner states such as ‘I see something red’ lose the privileged epistemological status they had enjoyed since Descartes and Locke. Sellars did not view knowledge in terms of individual (i.e., wholly subjective, immediate, non-mediated, or non-acquired experience) that is, as inner mental states that only I can

Historicizing the Philosophy of Science


have and that only I can evaluate, but in terms of the acquired and publicly judged use of language. Sellars gave another important argument for why states of knowing cannot be logically reduced to sensory observation. Unlike sensory stimuli, which may be described in purely causal and empirical or descriptive terms, states of knowing have an irreducibly normative aspect: one has or does not have stimuli, but states of knowing are correct or incorrect, or true or false: in characterizing an episode or a state as that of knowing, we are not giving an empirical description of that episode or state; we are placing it in a logical space of reasons, of justifying and being able to justify what one says.23

In other words, states of knowing are in an irreducibly normative *space of reasons, whereas sensory stimuli are in an irreducibly factual or descriptive *space of causes. Hence, according to Sellars, it is logically impossible to reduce normative notions such as ‘correct’, ‘invalid’, or ‘true’ to the purely causal level of sensory stimuli. Thus, his position may be characterized as *anti-naturalistic, in opposition to Quine’s naturalism. Like several of his predecessors, Sellars saw an unbridgeable gap between facts and norms. For him, however, this gap is of a logical rather than an ontological or epistemological character. Sellars’ rejection of the ‘myth of the given’ should not be confused or identified with Quine’s rejection of the dogmas of reductionism and the analytic-synthetic distinction. After all, Quine still held sensory experience to be the ultimate judge or foundation of our knowledge, albeit not for individual sentences but for the coherent whole of our knowledge. For Quine, the latter remained subject to the ‘tribunal of sense experience’ as the ultimate epistemic authority. Sellars rejected this privileged position of experience and in fact the very distinction between unconceptualized experience and conceptual knowledge. Thus, he arrived at a more consistent pragmatism concerning our statements. In Sellars’ view, (scientific) knowledge is not an inner mental episode but a public practice that is linguistic by definition and crucially involves the giving of and asking for reasons or justifications. Scientific knowledge is rational not because it has foundations but because it is a self-correcting undertaking that may put every statement up for discussion. In other words, 23 W. Sellars, ‘Empiricism and the Philosophy of Mind,’ § 36, in Science, Perception and Reality (London, 1963), p. 169.


History and Philosophy of the Humanities

he rejected the image of scientific knowledge as an edifice resting on a solid foundation of controlled observation, because it represents knowledge as static and does not take into account the dynamic and public processes – or, more precisely, social practices – of justifying and improving. Thus, Sellars also rejected the idea that knowledge originates in the confrontation of the individual mind with the outside world, an assumption that we may qualify as reflecting a philosophy of consciousness. Instead, he saw knowledge as a normative social practice of giving and asking for reasons. Later, the German philosopher Jürgen Habermas was to turn this idea into the cornerstone of his theory of communicative action (see § 8.5). Thus, Quine and Sellars were even more radical in their rejection of the Kantian heritage than their logical empiricist predecessors. The early logical empiricists rejected Kant’s notion of the synthetic a priori as a foundation of objectively valid empirical knowledge; Quine rejected the very distinction between analytic and synthetic; and Sellars rejected the Kantian distinction between concept and intuition. The most important underlying reason for their rejection is undoubtedly the linguistic turn they presuppose, as well as Quine and Sellars’ *pragmatism. As a result of the linguistic turn, distinctions that are essential to Kant’s undertaking – between analytic and synthetic and between concept and intuition – disappeared; hence the very architecture of Kant’s impressive theoretical edifice is undermined. As pragmatists, Quine and Sellars saw nothing metaphysically or epistemologically important corresponding to the distinctions between the analytic and the synthetic or between the given and the conceptualized. Moreover, the new emphasis on the validity and meaning of statements, as contrasted with the justification of knowledge, suggests that the very distinction between the natural sciences as observing facts and the humanities as unveiling meanings is less self-evident than had been assumed in the nineteenth century. We will discuss these and other implications below, especially in connection with the work of Thomas Kuhn (§ 4.3) and Richard Rorty (§ 11.3b).


The Development of Scientific Knowledge According to Thomas Kuhn

In the 1960s, two studies in the history and philosophy of science appeared that both pointed to important discontinuities in the development of the natural sciences and the ‘human sciences’ (in particular biology, philology, and political economy). The authors of these studies were the American

Historicizing the Philosophy of Science


Thomas S. Kuhn (1942-1996) and the Frenchman Michel Foucault (1926-1984). They argued that the existence of these discontinuities problematizes the simple idea of scientific progress. Historiographically, Kuhn and Foucault followed Alexandre Koyré’s lead, generalizing – and radicalizing – the latter’s idea of ‘the scientific revolution’ as a discontinuous development. Partly because of their indebtedness to Koyré, the historiographies of Kuhn and Foucault may be characterized as *neo-Kantian: both carried out empirical historical investigations into the conditions for the possibility of knowledge but emphasized that these conditions are historically variable rather than timeless aspects of a formal and universal pure reason. Philosophically, however, both Kuhn and Foucault carried out a linguistic turn of sorts. Especially in Kuhn’s opinion, the Duhem-Quine thesis supports a perspective on the historical development of scientific knowledge that contradicts Popper’s narrative of falsification and verisimilitude. Proceeding from a continental European rather than a logical empiricist or analyticalphilosophical background, Foucault carried out a similar linguistic turn and arrived at broadly comparable philosophical conclusions. In this chapter, we will discuss Kuhn’s views on the natural sciences, and in the next chapter we will discuss Foucault’s description of the birth of the modern human sciences. In his 1962 book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Kuhn argued on the basis of his earlier historical work that many of our ideas about the character and development of the sciences are mistaken and that philosophers had given a misleading image of what constitutes good science. According to Kuhn, the development of scientific knowledge not only consists of piecemeal, cumulative, linear growth towards the truth but also displays what he calls ‘revolutions’, that is, radical changes or discontinuities. He asserted that some of the greatest scientists in history have not acted according to the methodological prescriptions given by philosophers of science. Moreover, he argued that the choice between rival theories cannot be made on the basis of fixed methodological rules at all. At the time, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions was widely seen as a frontal attack against the philosophy of science and against the very idea that the development of science is controlled by anything like rational argument. An often-heard objection is that, with Kuhn, science becomes a pursuit guided and dominated by irrational historical and social processes rather than an eminently rational activity. It is alleged that Kuhn is a *relativist who gives up both the image of science as a search for objective truth and the ideal of scientific rationality and progress. Kuhn himself always dismissed


History and Philosophy of the Humanities

these criticisms, arguing that he did not aim to cast doubt on the value or validity of scientific knowledge but to gain better insight into its nature. In the opening paragraph of The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, he stated: History, if viewed as a repository for more than anecdote or chronology, could produce a decisive transformation in the image of science by which we are now possessed. That image has previously been drawn, even by scientists themselves […] in the textbooks from which each new scientific generation learns to practice its trade. […] This essay attempts to show that we have been misled by them in fundamental ways. Its aim is a sketch of the quite different concept of science that can emerge from the historical record of the research activity itself.24

Because Kuhn generally formulated his arguments in historical or psychological terms, it is not always easy to understand their philosophical backgrounds and implications. Explicating these philosophical dimensions, however, makes clear that Kuhn’s work marks nowhere near as radical a rupture with logical empiricism as might seem at first sight, for roughly speaking, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions is an extensive historiographic illustration of the Duhem-Quine thesis. This makes it more understandable that this book initially appeared as a volume of the International Encyclopedia of the Unified Science and that even as strict a logical empiricist as Carnap praised it. In the following paragraphs, we will proceed on the basis of one of Kuhn’s favourite examples: the Copernican revolution, in which the geocentric worldview of the Aristotelian and Ptolemaic tradition was replaced by a heliocentric one. Kuhn described the experience that led him to his later insights as an ‘enlightenment’ that occurred in 1947, when he was still a PhD student. He had started studying Aristotle’s Physics proceeding from a thorough knowledge of Newton’s physics and mechanics and from the question of how much of this mechanics could be found in Aristotle. Soon, he stumbled on so many statements that were so evidently incorrect that he had difficulty understanding how anybody could have ever taken Aristotle seriously as a physicist. How was it possible, he wondered, that Aristotle, who had a reputation of millennia and who had expressed such profound insights in other disciplines, had made such elementary mistakes in his mechanics? Had no one before Newton noticed all these patent absurdities?

24 T.S. Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (Chicago, 1970), p. 1.

Historicizing the Philosophy of Science


These questions and dilemmas, however, disappeared instantly once Kuhn realized that he had to read Aristotle in a different manner: not as a flawed precursor of classical mechanics but as an author who literally talked about other things. He realized that by ‘motion’, Aristotle had meant ‘change of quality’ in general rather than a quantitative change of position of a thing that otherwise remained the same, as Galileo and Newton meant. Moreover, Aristotle’s concept of motion involved goal-directed change and also included growth processes like the development of a child into an adult (cf. § 2.1). For Aristotle, the subject that was to become mechanics in the seventeenth century was still at best a special case that was not quite isolable. I did not become an Aristotelian physicist as a result, but I had to some extent learned to think like one … I still recognized difficulties in his physics, but they were not blatant and few of them could properly be characterized as mere mistakes.25

Kuhn characterized his sudden insight that Aristotle was talking about essentially different things than Newton as a *Gestalt switch. He now saw that Aristotle had written about motion as a more general qualitative change and not about quantitative movement in space. Just like somebody who had hitherto seen in the famous duck-rabbit picture a drawing of a rabbit, he suddenly realized he was looking at a drawing of a duck. This insight caused Kuhn to try to avoid *presentism or *Whig history in the history and philosophy of science. In nineteenth-century England, the ‘Whigs’ or liberals had seen their political opinions (which were in opposition to those of the conservative ‘Tories’) as the fruit of progress, which led them to describe the past as the slow but steady development towards their own beliefs. Whig history thus consists of the tendency to see the developments of the past as merely an imperfect preparation for the present. In the history of science, this attitude leads one to regard the theories of the past – such as alchemy, the doctrine of humours, or phlogiston theory – as irrational errors or as unscientific or premodern, rather than considering the status and merits that such doctrines had in their own age. This tendency to believe in linear progress is strengthened by the way in which science is usually taught. As authoritative descriptions of the state of the art in the various disciplines, textbooks in physics, chemistry, and other sciences do not describe the debates, controversies, and uncertainties surrounding research but only the results of research. For obvious 25 T.S. Kuhn, The Essential Tension (Chicago, 1977), p. xii.


History and Philosophy of the Humanities

didactic purposes, Kuhn argued, they present a grossly oversimplified image of how this state was reached. In referring to past beliefs only to the extent that they anticipated or contributed to present-day knowledge, they present contemporary theories as the best approximation yet of a reality that lays waiting to be discovered by brilliant individuals. In other words: they describe only the results of research and debate, that is, the finished theories, and neither the alternative views that were proposed nor the doubts, discussions, and debates of the past. Kuhn did not dispute the didactic usefulness of such textbooks but emphasized that they paint a rather misleading picture of the development of science. According to him, the growth of scientific knowledge involves not only steady accumulation, but also displays radical ruptures in which central elements of received scientific knowledge are rejected. He called these consecutive phases *normal science and *scientific revolutions, respectively. Initially, he limited himself to the ‘great’ revolutions as brought about by Copernicus, Einstein, and the development of modern quantum mechanics. In his later work, however, he was to acknowledge that smaller revolutions may also occur, leading to less radical or global changes. Normal science, Kuhn wrote, is characterized by a far-reaching consensus among the practitioners of a discipline. This consensus comprises not only the view of what constitutes correct theories but also what the legitimate or relevant questions are and what the proper concepts and methods for approaching them are. Obviously, there may be differences of opinion concerning particular theoretical proposals or experimental results, but even this disagreement presupposes a broader consensus as to how one should tackle such problems in the first place. Thus, normal science is governed by what Kuhn famously called a *paradigm. In the first instance, he meant by this term a ‘textbook example’ – that is, a model of good scientific practice that is offered to students of a discipline for exercise and imitation. We encounter these models in textbooks as illustrations of best scientific practices and as assignments at the end of chapters, where students are trained to develop the practical skills of working with these models. The students of a discipline acquire not only theoretical knowledge but also practical skills for dealing with research problems and techniques. In this sense, a paradigm is an exemplar or guiding case study: those who want to qualify as a bona fide scientist must have a practical command of such exemplars. By emphasizing the role of paradigms in this sense, Kuhn showed that studying science consists not only of learning explicit definitions and rules about what, for example, gravity is or how the second law of mechanics

Historicizing the Philosophy of Science


functions. It also involves an essential non-verbal practical component, which Kuhn called a *tacit dimension, involving the acquisition of the practical skills to apply definitions, laws, and rules and to carry out experiments in the generally accepted manner. The concept of a paradigm also has a second, broader meaning, however, and it is in this broader sense that it has become one of the most widely used – and abused – terms in the philosophy of science. A paradigm in the broad sense comprises the whole of theoretical and methodological concepts, convictions, and expectations – including metaphysical presuppositions and scientific values – maintained by a community of scientists in a particular discipline. Such shared assumptions are usually acquired implicitly by exercising and working with textbook examples. In this broader sense, the concept of paradigm approaches the notions of conceptual scheme or frame and worldview, but more specifically, it indicates a consensus of what constitutes science and especially good science. In this sense, it also approaches the coherent whole of implicit and explicit auxiliary assumptions or logically interrelated statements, which according to the Duhem-Quine thesis rules out the testing of individual hypotheses. In his later work, Kuhn distinguished these two senses of the term paradigm as an *exemplar and a *disciplinary matrix, respectively. In addition to being dominated by a paradigm, normal science has another main feature, according to Kuhn. Contrary to Popper, he argued that scientists working in normal science do not try to refute their theories; on the contrary, they try to elaborate and to refine them. The reason is simple: every theory is at odds with some observations and may fail to make precise predictions about others. As Kuhn put it, every theory knows *anomalies, that is, cases in which nature appears not to meet the expectations and rules that guide normal science. Since there is nothing better around, however, it is useless to give up one’s theory at the very first encounter of a problematic case or counterexample. Hence, normal science is not characterized by attempts at falsification, Kuhn argued, but by attempts to solve *puzzles. These are relatively small, concrete, and manageable problems that may be solved by the rules dictated by the governing paradigm. As a result of this puzzle-solving, normal science displays a steady accumulation of knowledge. When a scientist presents an experiment or observation that he sees as falsifying the theory, he himself is therefore more likely to be blamed than the theory or paradigm he uses. Because puzzles are by definition solvable, the scientist who is unable to solve such problems and who argues that some established theory is faulty is taken as seriously as a carpenter who blames his tools for his failures.


History and Philosophy of the Humanities

Anomalies may lead to new discoveries, Kuhn contended, which scientists will try to fit into the existing paradigm. It may happen, however, that such anomalies consistently resist all attempts at incorporation into existing theories or that new anomalies keep appearing. In such circumstances, a sense of *crisis may develop, that is, a widespread and uncomfortable feeling that something is seriously wrong with the existing paradigm. Kuhn argued that such a sense of crisis arose in Ptolemaic astronomy right before Copernicus. Since the Hellenistic age, people had steadily improved and elaborated that theory, and countless puzzles had been solved. New puzzles and anomalies, however, kept emerging, none of which could be solved with complete precision, let alone elegance. By the sixteenth century, the Ptolemaic paradigm had thus come to resemble an old house that had been continuously renovated and extended: in order to make room for ever new inhabitants, new rooms had been created and the building had been enlarged with whatever materials were available. Everything and everyone could still be accommodated but only with difficulty, and nobody really felt at home anymore. During such a crisis, Kuhn argued, the existing consensus about the method of puzzle-solving starts to break down, and the possibility of a *scientific revolution emerges. Such a scientif ic revolution, similar to a political one, involves a radical change in beliefs and institutions: the old paradigm is replaced by another one that is irreconcilable with it. Scientific revolutions, therefore, represent not linear growth or the accumulation of knowledge but destruction. Much of what had been seen as solid scientific knowledge is now rejected or brushed aside as false, nonsensical, or even incomprehensible. It is not only individual statements such as ‘the Sun revolves around the Earth’ or individual theories that must be replaced after a revolution, but also the very concepts in which theories are formulated and the standards, norms, and values by which serious scientific work is judged. Scientific revolutions involve changes in both senses of the term paradigm. And indeed, the Copernican revolution did have precisely this radical result. Kuhn repeatedly compared the effect of a scientific revolution to that of a Gestalt switch, a sudden reversal, causing us to see something else that we did not see before (compare § 2.1c). In reality, however, revolutions do not occur that quickly, as Kuhn’s own historical studies of the Copernican revolution and of the development of quantum mechanics make abundantly clear. Thus, Copernicus himself was not conscious of the far-reaching consequences of his simple change of model. Indeed, his De Revolutionibus Orbium Caelestium (1543) still has one foot in the Ptolemaic paradigm. The

Historicizing the Philosophy of Science


only changes Copernicus introduced here is swapping the locations of the Sun and the Earth and elaborating the mathematical consequences of this change. His arguments for his insistence that the motions of the celestial bodies are strictly circular are still strongly Aristotelian and scholastic in character. Soon, however, others started teasing out the radical cosmological and philosophical implications of his work. Because the Earth was no longer seen as the centre of the universe, the necessity of making a strict distinction between the sublunar sphere of generation and corruption and an immutable heavenly sphere disappeared. Aristotle’s finite cosmos, which was divided into distinct spheres, was replaced by an infinite and homogeneous universe; and where Aristotle had seen motion as something that arises from the inner nature of a moving object, the new physics came to see it as the consequence of a force that was applied to it from the outside. Towards the end of the seventeenth century, the Aristotelian universe – and by extension the Aristotelian conception of the sciences at large – had been replaced by the mechanistic universe of the new physics. However, we are still faced with the question of why this scientific revolution or paradigm shift occurred. It cannot simply be explained by appealing to the falsification or refutation of the older theory, or to the new theory corresponding better to observations. Copernicus’s system was conceptually not essentially simpler than its rival, nor did it match observation more closely. In fact, it marked a clear step back in predictive power compared to Ptolemy’s model, which, after all, had been elaborated and improved upon for centuries. Why, then, did the Copernican model eventually carry the day? Kuhn suggested that it did so primarily because it accounted for precisely those cases that had formed problems for the Ptolemaic system. In other words, a new paradigm will only gain the upper hand when it presents an elegant and promising solution to the anomalies of its rival.


Kuhn’s Philosophy of Science: Empiricism, NeoKantianism, or Pragmatism?

Kuhn’s image of the development of science as a sequence of periods of normal science and scientif ic revolutions is at odds with earlier beliefs about how the sciences function in practice. It is also at odds with Popper’s methodological ideas about how scientif ic knowledge should develop. According to Kuhn, falsif ication does not play the central role in the growth of scientific knowledge that Popper accords it. In periods of normal science, he argued, there is in principle a consensus as to what exactly


History and Philosophy of the Humanities

would qualify as a falsifying statement, but during such periods, the main preoccupation is precisely not with the critical testing of theories but rather with the solving of puzzles and the further elaborating and extending of theories. However, in times of scientific revolutions, a logically binding choice between rival paradigms is not possible either, for the simple reason that there is no consensus about which experiments are decisive. What in the old paradigm is merely conceived as an anomaly waiting to be solved – that is, as one of the many cases where the established theories still fail to fit observations seamlessly – will be perceived by the scholars who adhere to the new paradigm as a decisive reason for rejecting the old paradigm. Thus, the choice between paradigms can never be deductive or logically compelling. One can only decide to reject a paradigm on the basis of an observation or an experiment when one has already accepted another paradigm qualifying that particular observation or experiment as decisive. For that reason, Kuhn wrote: When paradigms enter, as they must, into a debate about paradigm choice, their role is necessarily circular. Each group uses its own paradigm in that paradigm’s defense.26

At most, one can say that the new paradigm is better able to account for the anomalies of its rival. But such an argument can never prove that an anomaly could not be solved within the old paradigm if only more effort had been put into it. One could object to this way of putting things by arguing that the facts or observations can give us decisive reasons for deciding which of two competing theories is the correct one or at least the more correct one. Don’t we just know by now that the Earth revolves around the Sun rather than the other way around, and can’t we simply see that with the aid of proper instruments? Unfortunately, things are not that simple. The belief in the possibility of choosing between theories based on ‘the facts’, ‘observation,’ or ‘experience’ presupposes the existence of a neutral language of pure facts or pure observations or unconceptualized experience. However, that possibility is precluded as a matter of principle by the Duhem-Quine thesis and in a different sense by Sellars’ rejection of the ‘myth of the given’. The meaning or empirical content of statements depends on the network of statements or concepts within which they function. When there is a change 26 Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions: p. 94.

Historicizing the Philosophy of Science


of paradigm – and hence of the conceptual frame – the meaning of terms and statements also change. People working in different paradigms are hence literally speaking about different things, because our perceptions are inevitably and irreducibly led by our theories. Competing paradigms appear to be logically irreconcilable. One cannot believe simultaneously with Copernicus that the Earth revolves around the Sun and with Ptolemy that the Sun revolves around the Earth. According to Kuhn, however, something more radical is happening here. Because the meaning of these statements is different, we cannot even compare them in neutral terms, for example as to the degrees to which their statements correspond to the facts. Their ontologies fail to correspond; that is, different paradigms imply different ideas about how and what the world is constructed of and hence also what qualifies as fact. An example may clarify this abstract thesis. Copernicans differ from Aristotelians not only because they think the Earth revolves around the Sun instead of the other way around. They also speak in a different language about celestial phenomena. In the Copernican paradigm, the term planet acquired a new meaning, namely ‘celestial body revolving around the sun’, which refers to other entities than the Aristotelian term because it now includes the Earth, but not the Moon. Ontologically and cosmologically, the Earth has gained a position similar to that of the other planets like Mars, Venus, and Jupiter. In Aristotelian cosmology, by contrast, that thought is literally nonsensical. For Aristotle, the Earth is a fundamentally different entity than all other celestial bodies. Whereas on Earth, growth and decay and change occur, the celestial bodies are eternal and unchanging. Hence, to Aristotelians, Copernicus’s thesis that ‘planets revolve around the Sun’ is not just factually false but nonsensical: it assembles together entities or objects under the name of ‘planet’, which for them belong to completely different categories. Hence, for them, this statement does not even state a possible fact. Copernicus’s thesis is simply absurd to the Aristotelian; it cannot be accorded any serious meaning. Hence, when we try to compare the merits of the Aristotelian and Copernican paradigm, we hit a fundamental barrier: there is no neutral framework into which we can translate and subsequently judge the statements that are made within the rivalling paradigms. This claim, which forms the consequence of the fundamental problems discussed above in the context of the Duhem-Quine thesis, has become famous as Kuhn’s thesis of *incommensurability. Following Quine, Kuhn argued that neutral statements about pure sense experience are an illusion. And, following Sellars to some extent, he also argues that the results of the operations and measurements


History and Philosophy of the Humanities

that a scientist undertakes are not ‘the given’ of experience but rather ‘the collected with difficulty’.27 The term ‘incommensurability’ has led to numerous misunderstandings. Many have concluded that Kuhn believed communication between defenders of rivalling theories to be completely impossible. Obviously, that is not the case. At most, Kuhn argued that there is a partial miscommunication or confusion of tongues, to the extent that conversation partners do not mutually recognize the fact that they use the same terms in different senses. If one does not realize that Aristotle meant something fundamentally different by terms such as light or motion than modern physicists, one will indeed quickly and wrongly conclude that he had it completely wrong with regard to physics. Kuhn’s incommensurability thesis does not imply, either, that two paradigms cannot be compared at all. They can be compared in various respects, only not in neutral terms of ‘verisimilitude’, ‘the facts’, or ‘pure or theory-free observation’. Every comparison is necessarily partial: from a Copernican perspective, Aristotelians are mistaken about the position of the Sun and the Earth; from the Aristotelian perspective, Copernicus and his followers falsely treat the Earth and the other planets as similar entities. Which error should count more heavily? The adherents of different paradigms will give different answers, for each paradigm maintains its own standards, norms, and values. There is no neutral position. Kuhn’s thesis has another far-reaching consequence. If consecutive paradigms are indeed incommensurable, we can no longer say that knowledge grows in a linear manner or increases cumulatively, or that our theories describe and explain reality in an ever-better manner or possess an ever-greater degree of, or similarity to, the truth. After all, it is a paradigm-dependent question what the standards that scientific theories should answer to are, what constitutes legitimate knowledge, and even what our theoretical terms mean in the first place. Initially, for example, Copernicus’s heliocentric model was no match in observational adequacy to Ptolemy’s model, but its defenders concluded from this that observational adequacy was not a very important criterion for choosing between the two models. Only within a paradigm can one unproblematically speak about the growth of knowledge, Kuhn concluded. Thus, the question of what terms such as planet, gravity, or language ‘really’ mean – that is, in isolation from any theory or paradigm – is meaningless. Because statements containing such terms may have different senses 27 Ibid., p. 126.

Historicizing the Philosophy of Science


in different paradigms, there cannot be any logical relations of consequence or any contradiction between them. Consequently, it becomes impossible to give a logically compelling reason for deciding which theory should be chosen, as Popper demanded. Kuhn attached crucial importance to the development of science, and it is for this reason that revolutions and the concomitant changes in meaning have a far greater cognitive and epistemological importance here than in the works of earlier authors. Whereas the later Carnap saw the choice between different languages, vocabularies, or paradigms as merely pragmatic and guided by the practical use of a language, Kuhn saw the change of language as an inevitable aspect of the growth of scientific knowledge and as an effect that should be accounted for in the justification of that knowledge too. Thus, new revolutionary developments in science may imply a change in the standards for good scientific research. As a result, Kuhn rendered the strict distinction that logical empiricists upheld between the context of justification and the context of discovery more problematic and historically variable, for in the course of the process of discovery, the norms for justifying theories can change as well. There is one other radical and counterintuitive consequence of this thesis. As we saw, for terms such as motion and planet, Aristotle and Copernicans referred to different entities – that is, they had different ontologies. This led Kuhn to the remarkable conclusion that, in a paradigm shift, it is not only theories about the world that change but in a sense also the very world itself in which we live. ‘The historian of science may be tempted to exclaim that when paradigms change, the world itself changes with them’, he wrote.28 This thesis – that the world changes along with a change in paradigm – sounds rather odd. Surely Kuhn does not seriously mean to say that if astronomers change their views, the Sun and the stars suddenly change place or that planets start following different orbits? There are deep reasons for this amazement. Kuhn’s comment undermines the very subject-object scheme that lies at the basis of the entire epistemology that has long shaped the philosophy of science and most of the sciences themselves. Kuhn’s arguments for taking this step were of a philosophical and a social-scientific character. Philosophically, he argued that for centuries the view had prevailed that theories were merely human interpretations of sensory observations that are given in Sellars’ sense – that is, they are fixed, neutral, immediate, identical for everybody, and not acquired. In Kuhn’s cautious and indeed hesitant rejection of this view, an echo may be heard of 28 Ibid., p. 111.


History and Philosophy of the Humanities

Sellars’ attack on ‘the myth of the given’ – that is, the belief in sense data as the neutral, non-linguistic, and non-conceptual foundation of our knowledge. Across paradigm shifts, however, even sense data themselves change, and hence scientists working in different paradigms literally see different things and ‘[i]n so far as their only recourse to [the] world is through what they see and do, we may want to say that after a revolution scientists are responding to a different world’.29 There is no neutral world, or neutral experience, that is ‘given’ to these different ways of viewing the world.


The ‘Anthropological Turn’

Kuhn’s historical and sociological arguments for why worlds change during scientific revolutions have become rather better known and more influential than their philosophical backgrounds. For a long time, philosophers of science have presented physics as the prototypical science. In doing so, they reproduced the epistemology that had been introduced by Galileo and Boyle. As we have seen above, this epistemology proceeded from the basic belief that there is a fundamental divide between on the one hand the knowing subject and on the other hand the object of knowledge, nature, or the world of facts, which is given to our senses. Parallel to this divide, a distinction was made between knowledge (which is formulated in a language and which is a human possession) and the world of facts that this knowledge is supposed to be about. In this view, science is supposed to bridge the gap between these two domains. Although formulated in a particular language (and hence localized on the ‘subject side’), scientific knowledge was claimed to have the unique character of correctly *representing the world of facts (the ‘object side’). Philosophers of science then faced the task of explaining the reasons for the claim that through science this gap can be bridged, that is, to describe how the outside world can be represented in scientific language. The traditional answer, as seen above, consists either in explaining the methods of representation or – in Popper’s formulation – in a theory that formulates the methods that can be used for rationally choosing between rival attempts at representing the facts. Kuhn emphasized that philosophers of science had for too long been misled by textbook versions of science, which present scientific developments as the discovery of objects and facts that are given independently 29 Ibid.

Historicizing the Philosophy of Science


and that, so to speak, only lay waiting to be discovered. This depiction of science, however, obscures the crucial roles of scientific work and of language in constituting the objects and facts observed by scientists. Here, Kuhn presented a second line of argumentation for his thesis that the world changes when paradigms change. In addition to the philosophical argument against a neutral observation language and against sense data that goes back to Quine and Sellars, Kuhn also based his argument on the empirical study of factual developments in science. He not only treated the development of scientific knowledge in purely epistemological terms, he also engaged in a historical *anthropology of science. He primarily studied what scientists in fact do and how their scientific life, which comprises both their language and the way they interact with and respond to the world, may change as a result of their actions. Elaborating this empirical argument in the epilogue to the second (1970) edition of The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Kuhn observed that the special features of scientific knowledge should be explained from the special character of the communities of scientists. After all, he argued, it is only within a scientific community that consensus concerning concepts, statements, and standards – that is, a paradigm – can be established and can be linked to a scientific practice (for example, the conducting of particular experiments). Here, however, a new question arises. Should we characterize such a community of scientists as a group held together by a paradigm, or should we conversely define a paradigm in terms of a community? Kuhn failed to give an unambiguous answer to this question. Many have concluded from such remarks that Kuhn tried to describe the development of science as a purely social process in which the birth and growth of paradigms and the occurrences of revolutions result exclusively from the interactions in and between groups of scientists. This implies that, alongside social processes within these scientific communities, external social factors could also play a role in determining the development of scientific knowledge. This would seem to open the way for an *externalist description of scientific development. Kuhn himself, however, never elaborated on these comments. Instead, in his later work, he tried to expound on the notion of incommensurability in neo-Kantian rather than pragmatist terms. In his later years, he called himself a ‘Kantian with moving categories’, claiming that there is only one world ‘in itself’ but a plurality of phenomenal worlds. In doing so, he appeared to be reverting towards an epistemology that his earlier work had explicitly questioned. Alongside his earlier pragmatist suggestions, his later work toned down the emphasis on social processes as Kuhn looked for


History and Philosophy of the Humanities

support for his views in cognitive psychology and analytical philosophy of language than in social science. But whatever Kuhn’s own intentions and development, the interpretation of his work that views scientific knowledge as the result of social processes has led to much fruitful research in the sociology and anthropology of science from the 1970s onwards. Such research focus less on what scientists say than on what they actually do; in the words of Bruno Latour (b. 1947), it studies ‘science in action’ rather than ‘ready-made science’. One path-breaking example of this approach – Shapin and Schaffer’s study of the debate between Hobbes and Boyle – has already been discussed in § 2.1. In the discipline known as ‘Science Studies’, not only classical episodes from the history of science are studied but increasingly also contemporary sciences such as biomedical research that have significant, often controversial repercussions for society. In the same way that anthropologists had earlier studied cultures on remote islands, scholars of Science Studies investigated the culture of modern science, which is no less alien. They described and analyzed the work performed in laboratories and the controversies that arise in, about, and around scientific developments. What they encountered was a much more unruly and more uncertain world than one would expect on the basis of more traditional ideas about science – a world, moreover, in which much of the effort is directed at developing the conditions and the instruments needed to create and observe phenomena that cannot be detected by our normal senses. Until now, however, studies investigating the social sciences or the humanities using similar anthropological techniques have been rather scarce. Kuhn’s description of scientific developments seems to be at odds with many of our intuitions, shaped by a centuries-long tradition that science is a uniquely rational undertaking. As a result, he has often been accused of being an irrationalist who reduces theory choice to irrational factors such as persuasive power or group coercion. Often, he is also alleged to be a relativist because he purportedly did not regard scientific values or even the notion of truth as ‘objective’ but made them paradigm-dependent. Finally, he is alleged to have rejected any idea of scientific progress, since he was not able to indicate what makes one theory or paradigm better than its competitors – even though we know that the Earth revolves around the Sun rather than vice versa and that modern medicine is more successful than the ancient theory of humours. Such objections are widespread and understandable, but they are not convincing. First, Kuhn only claimed that there are no logically compelling

Historicizing the Philosophy of Science


reasons for the choice between paradigms, not that no good reasons can be given at all. Second, Kuhn always considered himself a realist. He did believe that an ‘objective reality’ exists independently of our beliefs and concepts but conceded that, given the Duhem-Quine thesis, no neutral or uniquely correct description of that world is possible. Third, Kuhn declared that he himself firmly believed in scientific progress, but he did not describe such progress in terms of an ever-closer approximation towards a paradigm- (and hence language-) neutral Truth. Such a formulation is precluded by the fact that the meaning of theoretical terms, and thus the meaning of statements we hold true, changes over revolutions. Instead, according to Kuhn, scientific progress consists of the increasing ability to solve puzzles in normal science, that is, to find answers to open questions. The better a theory is, the greater the number of puzzles it can solve, also for questions that had not yet been formulated and concerning matters for which the theory had not been intended originally. In this sense, Kuhn did indeed believe that the natural sciences had progressed in the course of history.

Summary – According to Duhem, decisive or crucial tests are impossible because one cannot unambiguously say which part of a theory or its auxiliary assumptions and hypotheses is rejected or refuted in a falsifying experiment. – Quine radicalized Duhem’s thesis into a claim about the empirical content of sentences. He rejected the analytic-synthetic distinction and reductionism in favour of meaning holism. In his view, theoretical statements derive their empirical content not from correspondence to individual facts but from the theory as a whole. Quine thus rejected ‘pure observation’ and the possibility of a language of pure, theory-independent, observational facts with which a theory could be confronted. – Sellars rejected the ‘myth of the given’, that is, the distinction between what is given to our senses and what is added by the mind. He argued that having a concept is identical to being able to use a word correctly, and thus rendered observational knowledge an essentially linguistically mediated affair. In his perspective, knowledge involves not a confrontation of the individual mind with the outside world, mediated by the senses, but a public and irreducibly normative practice. – Kuhn rejected Popper’s idea of the growth of scientific knowledge, partly because it does not match findings in the history of science. Kuhn


History and Philosophy of the Humanities

distinguished periods of normal science and scientific revolutions. The latter occur after anomalies have accumulated and create a sense of crisis. – Normal science is characterized by a dominant paradigm, while in scientific revolutions, a paradigm is replaced. Paradigms determine the norms, standards, and even objects of research. – Paradigms are incommensurable: their merits cannot be compared in neutral terms. The notion of incommensurability was inspired to an important extent by the Duhem-Quine thesis. It renders the strict distinction between the context of justification and the context of discovery problematic. – Kuhn himself always rejected the accusation that he was a relativist who had renounced scientific rationality and objectivity altogether.

Part 2 The Rise of the Humanities


The Birth of the Modern Humanities


Michel Foucault’s Archaeology of the Human Sciences

Kuhn limited himself to the development of the natural sciences; he hesitated to use the concept of paradigm for the social sciences and the humanities. However, if one studies the different views concerning the various aspects of human life that have been formulated over the centuries, one may hit upon a phenomenon we have also encountered in Kuhn. Here, too, one can find the kind of discontinuous developments that Kuhn called ‘scientific revolutions’ whereby concepts, theories, and norms undergo deep and radical changes. Nor can one speak of a steady, linear accumulation of knowledge in the direction of, or a gradual approach towards, the ‘truth’. In other words, in the development of knowledge concerning man – that is, the broad field of the social and human sciences, and more specifically the humanities or Geisteswissenschaften – one could argue that discontinuities have occurred as well. Even more intriguingly, the very distinction between the natural sciences and the humanities, which we take for granted nowadays, appears to be of surprisingly recent origin. It was the French philosopher Michel Foucault who, independently from Kuhn, called attention to the discontinuous development of the sciences of man. In Les mots et les choses (1966, translated as The Order of Things (1971)), Foucault discussed the historical development of knowledge concerning questions that since the nineteenth century have been the concern of economics, biology, and linguistics. The ‘things’ these modern disciplines concern themselves with can be bundled together as labour, life, and language, respectively. These notions, however, could not be expressed in the theories that had been formulated between roughly 1600 and 1800, when the focus was on the analysis of wealth, natural history, and general grammar, respectively. The ideas from this ‘classical’ period, in turn, could not be formulated in the terms that were available during the Renaissance. One may thus observe two radical ruptures. According to Foucault, these ruptures were not primarily the consequence of the discovery of novel objects or phenomena about which new hypotheses might be formulated. Rather, they occurred as mutations in what he calls the ‘deep structure’ of knowledge. Before 1800, he claimed, it was impossible to formulate hypotheses concerning labour, life, or language as distinct entities or objects of knowledge for the simple reason that there was no room for them in the available conceptual frames.


History and Philosophy of the Humanities

Michel Foucault

In order to describe this deep structure, Foucault coined the term *épistémè, which refers to the foundations and ordering of knowledge as a whole during a particular period. He called his inquiry an *archaeology of scientific knowledge which, unlike intellectual history or the history of science, does not investigate individual authors, disciplines, or discoveries, but rather the changing conditions for the possibility of different forms of knowledge. Foucault’s thesis states that, no matter how different in subject matter and methods the disciplines of biology, economics, and linguistics may be, these different disciplines were all practiced within one and the same épistémè and therefore possess the same deep structure of knowledge. Foucault distinguished the epistémès of the Renaissance, the classical age, and the *modern age. Around 1600, and again around 1800, a radical and sweeping *epistemic rupture or mutation occurred, making possible entirely novel forms of knowledge such as modern historical-comparative linguistics and evolutionary biology, which in a way had been ‘unthinkable’ in earlier times. Just as an epistémè bears some remarkable similarities to what Kuhn calls a paradigm, Foucault’s notion of a mutation is roughly analogous to Kuhn’s idea of a scientific revolution. Although they developed their theses independently, both authors, it seems, derived their belief in scientific discontinuities primarily from Alexandre Koyré (see § 2.1d above). With

The Birth of the Modern Humanities


the aid of Kuhn, we could reformulate Foucault as arguing that when a new épistémè appears, scholars in the human sciences begin to work in a new world – a world in which new conceptual frames dominate, new elements or objects of knowledge appear, and a new order of things comes into existence. Apart from these affinities, however, there are also two important differences. For Kuhn, a paradigm shift occurs within a single discipline or subfield. According to Foucault, however, a change of épistémè occurs on a far broader plane and comes into view primarily through the comparative study of seemingly disparate fields of knowledge; it may even be found in literary and popular writings. Furthermore, Foucault’s time scale is far greater than Kuhn’s. Whereas Foucault distinguished only a very small number of sweeping epistemic mutations, Kuhn’s conception leaves room for smaller paradigmatic changes after shorter periods. Finally, while Foucault detected a rupture in biology that occurred at the start of the nineteenth century and that came to determine the beliefs concerning biological knowledge until the present, a study of this period from a Kuhnian perspective would probably conclude that towards the end of that century a Darwinist revolution occurred and that in the 1940s a new paradigm of molecular biology emerged due to the introduction of ideas derived from physics and chemistry. Scientific revolutions, that is, may also occur within one and the same épistémè. What, then, is the difference between the épistémès of the Renaissance, the period between 1600 and 1800 that Foucault labels the classical age, and the modern age after 1800? Each épistémè involves a particular idea of what knowledge amounts to, based on a number of principles accepted as self-evident concerning the way in which the world is seen as a coherent whole of entities. Such principles are, so to speak, analytic rather than synthetic: they function, Foucault argued, as a *historical a priori. Against Kant, Foucault argued that the a priori beliefs that serve as the foundations of our knowledge are not universal or timeless but historically variable. Coming from a completely different philosophical tradition, Foucault therefore arrived at a position that shows remarkable similarities to Quine’s idea that seemingly irrefutable logical and other principles may be subject to revision, and to Kuhn’s belief that in paradigm shifts even our most basic beliefs may change. We can investigate the character of the knowledge produced in a particular era especially well, Foucault suggested, by studying the way in which *signs and language are conceptualized during that period. In order to trace the differences between different épistémès, we should therefore focus on the different consecutive conceptions of order, signs, and language that are presupposed in the various sciences of these periods.


History and Philosophy of the Humanities

In the Renaissance, scholars ordered the world on the basis of similarities between things, Foucault argued. They did so proceeding from the assumption that the signs on the basis of which these similarities are known are located in the similarities themselves. That is, in the Renaissance épistémè, the system of the world has the same structure as the system of knowledge. For example, the knowledge that the plant aconite yielded a medicine that could be used for treating eye affections was seen as resting on the similarities between the features of the eye and the features of the seeds of this plant: the seeds of aconite are tiny dark globes set in white, skin-like coverings, the appearance of which is much like the eyelid covering the eye. Those seeking truth during the Renaissance, therefore, moved from sign to sign, not making any principled distinction between signs forming part of the world and signs formulated in a language. According to Foucault, this explains the – from our perspective – remarkable frivolity with which Renaissance scholars conflated what they witnessed themselves and what they learned from a possibly unreliable tradition. For example, when Renaissance authors wrote about different species of animals, they discussed not only the external, visible features of animals but also the role they play in mythology, without making any fundamental distinction between such spheres. Likewise, historical treatises from this period were characterized by the equal treatment of documented events and hearsay. Science, magic, and commentary were therefore treated equally during this period. In his writings, even Newton still tended to conflate elements we would today consider radically different – to the bewilderment of some of his later readers. Generally, ancient writings and the Bible were seen as no less reliable sources of knowledge than sense experience. For the study of language, these beliefs about signs had important consequences. In the Renaissance épistémè, language was a natural phenomenon. Moreover, because language presents itself primarily in the form of inscriptions in physical objects, written rather than spoken language was the main object of investigation. Early in the seventeenth century, a new, ‘classical’ épistémè emerged that differed in three respects from that of the Renaissance. First, signs were moved from the world to the human mind, which meant that signs no longer formed part of the world but belonged exclusively to the sphere of knowledge. Hence, no signs could exist that had not yet been discovered. During this period, one could only speak of signs where knowledge exists. Second, the function of signs changed: instead of marking similarities or affinities between things, they now served to assign places to things by distinguishing them. Signs, that is, became instruments of analysis in

The Birth of the Modern Humanities


marking the identities of and differences between things. Third, signs that had been conventionally created took primacy over natural signs. Ideally, however, the ordering of signs in a language corresponded to the taxonomy of things in the world. Thus, during the classical age, Foucault argued, a sign *represented a thing. The skeptical question of how we know that a sign stands for what it represents did not arise, since representation was believed to be itself represented in the sign. A map was a map of a particular region, and a painting was a portrait of a particular person, as anyone knew who knew the sign. Those who knew that this drawing was a map immediately also knew which area was represented, as this was written on the map. Hence, he added, no need was felt for a general theory of representation that answered skeptical questions concerning signs. In the classical conceptual system, there was simply no room for such skepticism. Within the classical épistémè, the acquisition of knowledge was geared to a general science of the order of things, in which signs – that is, linguistic representations – assign things a place in a system in which their identities and their differences with other entities are expressed. Thus, a table is the appropriate way of expressing this kind of knowledge. In other words, the knowledge of the classical era is formulated in terms of *taxonomies. During this period, what we would nowadays call ‘biology’ was exclusively natural history: it consisted of the careful determination, description, and ordering of plants and animals in a taxonomy of distinct species. In a possibly artificial ideal language, the taxonomy of words was believed to reflect exactly the hierarchical order of things. Likewise, unlike during the Renaissance, the classical study of language was not primarily directed at written language but at spoken words. Given the belief that language represents, the central problem now became how this representation occurred in spoken utterances that presented themselves as sequences of words. What system for word order could be established in different languages? For example, what was the proper place of verbs? Thus, what is called general grammar dealt with questions of how thought is represented in different languages and which language best reflects the logical order of our thoughts in its word order. Around 1800, another major shift occurred in beliefs about the order of things and about signs, once again radically changing the intellectual landscape. This ‘modern’ épistémè is less easily captured under one label than the preceding periods. One important change concerns the new role that time or history began to play. Whereas in the classical age, the identity of a thing and its differences with other things were determined by its place in the conceptual space represented in a table, a taxonomy, or in a taxonomic


History and Philosophy of the Humanities

system, in the modern period, the way in which things cohere or correlate with other things in time started to play this role. In other words, attention was now paid to the historical development of languages, for example, or animal species. The order of things was determined by the historical forces to which things are subjected. Hence, if we wanted to know what the essence of a thing is, we would ask about its past or its origin. Evolutionary biology, linguistics, and the new historical science of the nineteenth century thus study the different species of animals, the languages of the world, and the different nations from a developmental perspective. The new science of historical-comparative linguistics did this in part by exploring the relations of present-day vernaculars to languages of the past. Paired with this emphasis on development, a new preference for thinking about the order of things in terms of *organic structure appeared. Together with this novel conception of order, novel conceptions of signs emerged, replacing the classical idea of representation. That is not to say that representation stopped playing a role altogether, but merely that this role became limited and subordinate to pure, non-representational grammatical aspects such as inflection. It was no longer self-evident that a sign stood for what it represented: representation became linked to particular *transcendental conditions of possibility. Whereas in the classical era, the human mind was seen as transparent with respect to the whole of knowledge and to the signs that represent, the question of how knowledge is possible took centre stage in the modern period. Henceforth, knowledge was to be seen as part and product of the human mind. This belief, most starkly expressed in Kant’s philosophy, raised various new questions. In this period, the human mind acquired a character of its own, apart from knowledge, and thus acquired an ambiguous position: it became both the subject and a possible object of knowledge. Thus, room for a novel kind of ‘critical’ epistemology appeared that explored the limits of what can be known. Moreover, the question arose as to what else, in addition to knowledge, formed part of the human mind. The answers to these questions would open up entirely new fields of investigation. Nineteenth-century philosophy, with its attention to life, the (individual or collective) will, and history, is one expression of this (see § 7.1. below). The modern épistémè is expressed both in sciences such as biology, economics, and linguistics and in the philosophy of the nineteenth century. Foucault distinguished three currents in philosophy. The first kind of philosophy concerns the conditions that the subject has to meet to make knowledge possible. Kant’s philosophy is the f irst development of this current (cf. § 2.2 and 5.2a).

The Birth of the Modern Humanities


The second kind of philosophy focuses on the conditions that the object has to meet in order for it to become an object of representational knowledge. Life, labour, and language are thus not simply new objects of knowledge; instead, they constitute the conditions for the new form in which biology, economics, and linguistics respectively appear, according to Foucault. Biology explores living nature, which, more than in the past, was now seen as essentially different from the non-living world. Hence, one important part of nineteenth-century biology and medicine concerned the question of what exactly ‘life’ is. Economics began focussing on the homo economicus, the finite human who has to realize his existence in a world that is not made for him, doing so through labour. Likewise, linguistics shifted its attention away from representation to the formal aspects of grammar. Seen as an organic whole that develops historically, language moved from being a medium of representation to an object of investigation. As a result, the representation of things and thoughts, which in the classical age defined the central problems of research in general grammar, receded into the background. The third form of philosophy that appeared in the nineteenth century, according to Foucault, is *positivism, a current that avoids speculation and hence sees facts as the sole legitimate source of knowledge. In several respects, positivism seems to amount to a regression to the classical épistémè, but Foucault pointed out that the situation had changed. Unlike during the classical age, positivism is not a self-evident way of seeing things but a polemical and controversial position. The positivist does not deny that there is more in the world than facts but denies the possibility of saying anything scientifically or philosophically meaningful about these other things. The new sciences and the philosophy of the nineteenth century, finally, contain an image of man that had not been available during the classical age, which saw humans only as bearers of representations. This new object – ‘man’ – first appeared when Kant formulated a new question in his annual series of lectures: ‘What is man?’. As strange as it may seem, man has not been the timeless and unchanging object of the human sciences but a very recent invention. In 1966, Foucault believed that the épistémè that emerged around 1800 was about to end and that a new deep structure was emerging that no longer focused on the question concerning man but instead on the order of *discourse. ‘Man’ is therefore not only an entity with a historically precise beginning but also with an end. According to Foucault, man is not the timeless object of the human sciences but a specifically modern object of knowledge that was about to disappear with the impending demise of the modern épistémè. To quote the famous closing lines of The Order of Things, man was about to disappear ‘like a face drawn in sand at the edge


History and Philosophy of the Humanities

of the sea’.30 In many respects, *structuralism and so-called *postmodern philosophy were to constitute a further and controversial elaboration of these thoughts. We will return to both in chapters 9 and 11. At this point we may be tempted to ask why mutations or epistemic ruptures occurred at all. Foucault was not impressed with the obvious lines of explanation. According to him, neither the new insights of individual researchers nor the grand societal changes such as the rise of the nationstate, the French Revolution, or industrial capitalism could explain why the deep structure of knowledge changed in such a short time in so many disciplines. In this situation, he preferred not to search for an explanation but instead to focus on the mere observation that several epistemic ruptures occurred. One of these ruptures, the one that emerged around 1800, yielded ‘man’, an object of knowledge that is conceptually different both from nature and from the supernatural, for which life, labour, and language are central ordering principles, and which distinguishes itself from the order of empirical natural objects as a transcendental subject. Foucault believed it was this mutation that made possible the birth of the modern human sciences or the humanities. In the following paragraphs, we will describe this development in more detail. For the sake of convenience, we will maintain Foucault’s periodization. Even though Foucault’s views have been criticized on both philosophical and historiographical grounds, the notion of a radical epistemic rupture or mutation around 1800 is a useful tool for tracing the changes of this period, which were far-reaching indeed.


Philosophical Backgrounds: Immanuel Kant and Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel

Foucault offered an original perspective on the scientific revolution of the seventeenth century. In his view, this revolution was merely one aspect of a far broader epistemic mutation that occurred around 1600. Furthermore, his analysis suggests that another specifically human-scientific revolution took place around 1800. The idea of a ‘human-scientific’ or ‘humanities’ revolution is less current and even more problematic than of that a revolution in the natural sciences. Can one really speak of a sudden change, or are these changes perhaps more gradual than Foucault represented them? There are indications that, just as with the natural-scientific revolution (cf. § 2.1D), developments were indeed slower and more ambivalent than might seem 30 M. Foucault, The Order of Things (New York, 1994), p. 387

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at first glance. This ambivalence appears especially in the rivalries that developed in the course of the nineteenth century between the nascent branch of studies known as the humanities and the even younger category called the social sciences (see § 6.4). Below, we will describe a number of the internal (that is, conceptual) and external (cultural, economic, and social) factors that made possible the birth of the humanities and, to a lesser extent, the social sciences. As noted above, Foucault rejected the possibility of any such explanations of the mutation that has given us ‘man’. Neither internal factors, such as new scientific discoveries, nor external factors, such as economic change or social developments, could in his opinion give a satisfactory answer to the question of why this mutation occurred. Yet we can still call his own archaeological approach internalist in so far as it limits itself to the conceptual ‘substructure’ of scientific and other forms of knowledge. In this chapter, we will also devote attention to external factors. Soon, however, it will emerge that internal and external factors are not only inextricably intertwined but have also mutually shaped each other. In important respects, the modern world is the product of modern humanities knowledge as much as the other way around. 5.2a

Kant: Subject and Object

In order to trace the conceptual conditions for the birth of the humanities in the nineteenth century in more detail, we must now return to the work of Kant and his heirs, the philosophers of nineteenth-century German idealism. The following chapters will repeatedly return to this Kantian and idealist heritage, as it was Kant who first formulated the separation between man and the world (or nature) in terms that would become dominant for several later generations of scholars. Whereas Descartes still distinguished matter and soul in ontological terms – that is, as distinct substances – and characterised the mind in terms of representations, Kant made the cornerstone of modern philosophy the epistemological distinction between the transcendental knowing subject and the empirically known or knowable object. The transcendental subject with its categories and forms of intuition makes possible our very knowledge of the outside world, as the subject both constitutes and structures experience. This epistemology has far-reaching implications for the humanities, even if Kant himself did not systematically discuss human society or culture in detail. The duplicity or ambivalence between man as an empirical object and as a transcendental subject of empirical knowledge seems inevitable


History and Philosophy of the Humanities

as long as we maintain a Kantian conceptual scheme. As a result, man can no longer be unproblematically described as only subject or only object of knowledge. On the one hand, taking man as exclusively a subject makes empirical, objective knowledge about man principally problematic if not impossible. Conversely, one may try to describe man as purely an empirical object, but in doing so, one ignores all questions opened up by man as a transcendental subject. The most important of these questions is whether man can escape his own limitations, and if so, how. As we all know, man is far from perfect: he is characterized by contradictions, prejudice, superstition, and other bad habits that he seems unable to rid himself of. How, then, can such a flawed creature serve as the source of certainty and objective knowledge? Moreover, in the course of the nineteenth century, doubts concerning the Kantian picture multiplied. The terminology in which these doubts were expressed, however, remained largely shaped by the Kantian conceptual scheme. Seen from the perspective of Foucault’s work, this is not surprising. After all, the whole of nineteenth-century philosophy still moved within the épistémè that had been initially codified by Kant’s philosophy. In chapter 7, we will see that many authors in the German language area struggled with the question to what extent the human mind and its products may be grasped in natural-scientific terms and to what extent they require a distinct *hermeneutic or interpretative method that does more justice to ‘man the subject’. Kant treated man as a rationally thinking, judging, and acting subject. According to him, this transcendental subject as a source of knowledge and certainty was universal and timeless, that is, not bound to any particular historical era or culture. Clearly, Kant’s beliefs here reflect the *universalism and trust in reason that were characteristic of the Enlightenment. Early in the nineteenth century, the thinkers of Romanticism and the so-called *Counter-Enlightenment were to counter this rationalist universalism by attaching new importance to feelings, traditions, the local, and the particular. Also in the sciences, however, new discoveries suggested that the Kantian a priori truths were not universal or inevitable and hence could not play the foundational role that Kant had given them. As noted, Kant saw Euclidean geometry as a system of indubitable propositions about actual physical space that precede observation. Early in the nineteenth century, however, scholars developed so-called non-Euclidean geometry, which is just as consistent as Euclidean geometry, but cannot be reconciled with it. Such scientific developments threatened to degrade Kant’s seemingly rocksolid and universal foundations of empirical knowledge to mere arbitrary

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conventions. In § 3.1 above, we discussed the logical empiricists’ radical rejection of Kant’s foundation of knowledge. Below, we will also discuss a less radical revision, so-called *neo-Kantianism. 5.2b Hegel: Geist and Historicity It was primarily as a kind of complement or revision of Kant’s thought, one could argue, that the notion of *Geist or *spirit was introduced. This notion is the second philosophical cornerstone of the modern humanities, alongside the strict separation of subject and object and the notion of man contained therein. Virtually all nineteenth-century German thinkers of importance discussed this ambiguous and emotionally charged notion, but possibly the most influential formulation – and certainly the most important one for the humanities – was given by Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770-1831). Hegel was an *idealist. In the preface to his Phenomenology of Spirit (1807), he argued that Geist (i.e. the soul, mind, or spirit) is the sole reality, more real even than the world of physical objects. The notion of spirit, however, fulfills various functions for Hegel. Roughly speaking, spirit can be seen as an elaboration or extension of Kant’s notion of reason (Vernunft). Unlike Kantian reason, however, Hegel’s notion of Geist is not limited to knowledge, the will, and our faculty of judgment: it develops in a far broader form of cognitive, moral, and other self-realization, which emerges primarily in the cultural and social relations between people. The spirit that Hegel writes about, therefore, is not only individual consciousness but also includes its reified or objectified products such as philosophy, art, and religion. Although such things as Cartesian thought, Beethoven’s late string quartets, and Calvinism arose from the consciousness of particular individuals, they have an objective existence of their own. Hegel distinguished between subjective, objective, and absolute spirit. Roughly speaking, these correspond to individual human consciousness, which aims to make itself free and self-conscious through its own activity; social institutions of the law, morals, and collective morality (Sittlichkeit), i.e., family, civil society, and the state, in which the free will realizes itself; and the embodiment of the highest stages of spiritual self-realization in art, religion, and philosophy. It is tempting to associate these three stages with the individual human consciousness, the collective (e.g. national) consciousness, and cultural consciousness, respectively; but in Hegel, things are substantially more complicated than this. Usually, his notion of spirit is both an individual and a supra-individual entity. Unlike the divinity of


History and Philosophy of the Humanities

Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel

religious doctrine, however, it can be understood rationally. Moreover, Hegel repeatedly wrote about people’s spirit and national spirit or *Volksgeist: he believed this principle, which forms peoples or nations, was the result both of the activity of a world spirit in history and of human action that realizes the world spirit’s intentions. Notably absent in Hegel’s discussion of Volksgeist and world spirit, however, is any discussion of exactly how man and people, or individual and nation, were related to each other; nor did he pay any attention to the role that language plays in the shaping and defining of communication between humans and national identity. In this respect, Hegel’s work reflects, but does not analyse, the nationalism that emerged during the same period. Although Hegel paid more attention to language than Kant, he largely stayed within a framework dictated by a philosophy of consciousness. Thus, he did not grant language a systematic location as an aspect or moment of objective spirit.

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Hegel’s beliefs about the self-development of spirit originated in the Platonic idea that spiritual self-realization is the highest human achievement. Contemporaries such as Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860) and various later authors eagerly ridiculed Hegel’s ambitious abstractions, but Hegel’s tremendous cultural-historical importance and his enormous influence on entire generations of philosophers, writers, historians, conservative and progressive cultural critics, and revolutionary social scientists are undeniable. Much of twentieth-century German and French philosophy would literally be unthinkable without Hegel. Likewise, many generations of historians have consciously or unconsciously taken Hegel’s ideas on the philosophy of history as their starting point. Finally, Hegelian *dialectics had a constitutive influence on Karl Marx and thus, indirectly, on all scientists and politicians that elaborate on Marx’s ideas. Below, we will return to the philosophical-historical and dialectical aspects of Hegel’s work (see § 6.1 and 8.1). Here, however, we are primarily concerned with his idea of spirit. Despite its often vertiginous level of abstraction, Hegel’s philosophy is unmistakably an attempt to come to grips with the complex new realities of German society. Hegel considered the state as a realization of the general will, and more generally he saw systems of right and politics as forms of objective spirit. Unlike Kant, for whom reason was universal and timeless, Hegel emphatically presented spirit in a developmental perspective. In his view, spirit develops or realizes itself in the course of history in the direction of freedom. One central question that emerged from this doctrine is exactly how and when this freedom may be realized, and in what kind of state it is realized institutionally. According to Hegel himself, the modern constitutional state as it existed in England, for example, marked this endpoint. One of his most important followers, however, Karl Marx, together with the so-called Left Hegelians, maintained another view. According to Marx, major improvements – indeed revolutionary developments – were still lying in waiting for human societies. Here, we encounter a third conceptual cornerstone of the humanities: the dominant idea of radical *historicity, that is, the historical determination and variability of all that is human. In the modern épistémè, time became a central principle for the order of things. Languages, cultures, systems of law, and so on are not given once and for all but develop in the course of time. From around 1800, these ideas pervaded the thinking about man. The concept of historicity, however, can lead to confusion: it is not meant to suggest that no notion of history existed before the nineteenth century or that earlier authors had no historical awareness at all. Rather, all of a sudden, historical development acquired a new, central role in our thinking.


History and Philosophy of the Humanities

Until the Enlightenment, the course of history had been interpreted as the manifestation of an unchanging human nature. From the late eighteenth century onward, however, the belief that human nature or spirit is itself in essence historical and mutable began to take hold. Even though Hegel is not the only person or even the first to emphasize it, the idea of history as actually shaping man, and by extension all products of human culture such as language, art, and religion, emerges in the most explicit manner in Hegel. As he argued in Philosophy of History: World history represents the development of the spirit’s consciousness of its own freedom and the subsequent realisation of this freedom. […] Each step in the process, since it is different from all the others, has its own peculiar determinate principle. In history, such principles constitute the determinate characteristics of the spirit of a nation (Volksgeist), [which] expresses every aspect of the nation’s consciousness and will, and indeed of its entire reality; it is the common denominator of its religion, its political constitution, its ethical life, its system of justice, its customs, learning, art, and technical skill.31

Thus, for Hegel, the development of spirit is also reflected in artistic and scientific progress. Each phase or period in history has its own spirit of the age or *Zeitgeist – that is, a historically and geographically distinct form of consciousness. For example, Hegel believed that the ancient Egyptians lived in close relation to nature and therefore produced mixed human and animal forms, like the Sphinx, in their art. Likewise, he saw them as attaching great importance to vision and as being less inclined to employ abstract concepts, and hence as using a hieroglyphic script – the latter, he thought, could more directly express concrete experience. Leaving aside the question of the factual correctness of Hegel’s historical speculations, it becomes clear that his is a teleological vision of an inevitable course of history towards freedom. Nonetheless, he tries to explain each phase of world history in its own terms. For him, each people or era has a particular spirit, form of consciousness, or sensibility, and hence its own meaning and value. He combined this seemingly relativist view with a belief in a linear evolution of spirit towards ever-greater distinction and abstraction, and towards an ever-greater consciousness of freedom.

31 G.W.F. Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of World History: An Introduction. H.B. Nisbet (tr.) (Cambridge, 1975), p. 138.

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This idea of progress in history was a novel one and soon became the dominant way of thinking of this period. Later, Arthur Lovejoy (1873-1962) described how, more generally, the idea of progress and change from the late eighteenth century onward slowly started to penetrate a hitherto static image of creation. In his famous book The Great Chain of Being (1936), Lovejoy defined the figure of the great chain of being as one that runs vertically from the lowest lifeless matter via plants and animals towards man. Above man, one encounters the celestial bodies and angels, with God as the highest link. The figure of the great chain of being, which for centuries dominated Western thought, only knows a vertical dimension of cosmic hierarchy and no horizontal one of development or change in time. Around 1800, however, it was tilted by ninety degrees and became horizontal and dynamic, turning growth, evolution, and change into essential elements. History, in other words, took over the role of the hierarchical order.


Cultural-Historical Backgrounds

These three conceptual ingredients – the Kantian distinction between man as a transcendental subject and as an empirical or immanent object; the German idealist notion of spirit; and the belief that all cultural phenomena are essentially historical – are part of the explanation of the birth of the modern humanities in purely internalist, intellectual historical terms. To some extent, they may clarify why disciplines in the modern humanities such as historical-comparative linguistics, art history, and critical Bible exegesis only emerged early in the nineteenth century and were in a sense unthinkable before then. This ‘unthinkability’, however, should not be exaggerated. It was certainly possible for observations or statements to be made that were, so to speak, ahead of their time, but these were brushed aside as unimportant or did not fall on fertile soil. Speaking in Kuhnian terms: some observations simply did not fit into the paradigms of their times and thus were ignored as irrelevant and unimportant anomalies. An intellectual-historical explanation, however, may at best describe that and in what respects certain intellectual changes occurred, but it cannot explain why some ideas became popular at a particular moment in time. Why did notions such as spirit and history and the emphasis on the specific and changeable become such central concepts towards the end of the eighteenth century? Why did the need arise for the new kind of knowledge and for the new organization of knowledge involved in modern humanities disciplines such as history and philology? These changes were not made possible by


History and Philosophy of the Humanities

new scientific discoveries, new or improved observations, or more refined methods. Without pretending to give a complete explanation, we will now describe a number of external factors that encouraged and to some extent even necessitated the birth of the modern humanities. In cultural-historical terms, the birth of the modern humanities forms part of a broader intellectual and political reaction to the Enlightenment that has been called the *Counter-Enlightenment. This term, although contested, may serve as a useful collective label for all kinds of disparate intellectual, literary, and social movements that in one way or another rejected Enlightenment ideals. It is broader than notions such as ‘Romanticism’, which is generally restricted to the arts, or ‘nationalism’, which indicates an initially cultural social movement that soon acquired an openly political character. The Enlightenment thinkers, or philosophes, who were active primarily in France, believed that reason was the best weapon against intolerance and superstition. They also saw reason as the best counselor for realizing a happy life or for the improvement of society. This attitude implied a rejection of the traditional forces of the Church and the land-owning nobility, whose legitimacy was based not on reason but on power, tradition, and the insistence on blind obedience. In Prussia, Emperor Frederick the Great encouraged enlightened thinking in his domains, primarily in order to undermine the influence of the Church. He did not, however, tolerate criticism of his own absolute rule. Kant was a great admirer of the Prussian ruler, and the French writer and philosophe Voltaire, alongside many other Enlightenment thinkers, even travelled to Frederick’s Potsdam court near Berlin. Soon, however, Voltaire became disappointed with the emperor’s enlightened image, behind which stood an unadulterated absolutist ruler. Already in 1769, the German dramatist, philosopher, and critic Gotthold Ephraim Lessing criticized this ‘Berlin freedom’ of absolutism and strict censorship: It is restricted to the freedom to bring as many stupidities against religion onto the market as one likes; and a right-minded man should precisely be ashamed of openly eagerly using that freedom. But let someone in Berlin please try to write as freely about other matters … let someone in Berlin stand up to raise his voice for the rights of the subjects and against exploitation and despotism, as happens now even in France and Denmark; and you will soon experience which country is until today the most enslaved of Europe.32 32 Lessing, Letter to Friedrich Nicolai, 30 October 1769; emph. in original.

The Birth of the Modern Humanities


The 1789 French Revolution marked the culmination – and in a way also the end – of the Enlightenment. Many Enlightenment thinkers, including Kant, welcomed the revolution because it promised to bring an end to an outdated society based on the traditional powers of kings, Church, and nobility. Soon, however, the revolutionary élan escalated into a period of bloody terror, which allowed conservative critics to argue that the ideals of reason, freedom, and equality could only lead to social chaos and bloodshed, and ultimately self-destruction. At a very different level, and mainly in England and France, other doubts arose concerning modernity, with its ideals of rationality and progress, as introduced by the Enlightenment. In early nineteenth-century England, the Industrial Revolution had led to social changes that were at least as radical as the political revolution in France but which had not led to an improvement in the lives of the general population. The increase in employment offered by the factories encouraged a process of mass urbanisation. The new factory workers, however, led lives of unbearable poverty and misery in the slums of the big cities. Industrialization, in other words, did not spell betterment for the population at large as optimists had believed it would, but instead led to the formation of a new urban proletariat. The ambiguous consequences of progress, industrialization, and modernity were not discussed exclusively by conservative authors. Several thinkers who retained the basic assumptions of the Enlightenment – in particular the belief in the possibility of realizing freedom, equality, and progress by the public use of reason – also participated in the general debate on these problems. Among them were August Comte (1798-1857), the founder of *positivist social science, and Karl Marx (1818-1883). Both retained a belief in the power of reason to comprehend the novel circumstances and to change these where necessary. Both also saw a return to the traditional social order led by the nobility and the Church as undesirable if not impossible. In this respect, both were heirs of the Enlightenment. It is in part due to their efforts that the modern social sciences came into being. These sciences are in some respects pitted against the modern humanities, which are generally based on the more conservative ideas of the Counter-Enlightenment (compare § 6.4). Against the universalist Enlightenment idea of reason, adherents of the Counter-Enlightenment opposed the concept of *culture as bound to a particular time and place. This concept of culture had a political meaning, as it was linked to the rise of *nationalism, that is, the belief that a people as a cultural unity should also realize itself in a political entity, that is, a state. Traditions rejected by Enlightenment thinkers as backwards and superstitious were now revalued as the expressions of a people’s pure and


History and Philosophy of the Humanities

noble soul or spirit, or national culture. Counter-Enlightenment thinkers thus replaced Enlightenment universalism and the celebration of reason with a new importance attached to feelings and the imagination, which counted as the expression of a particular form of consciousness and spirit shaped by a specific environment and period. With the new belief that each nation had its own culture and language and should realize itself within its own nation-state, German Romantic intellectuals rejected both the traditional power of absolute rulers (which ruled over a plurality of peoples or – as in the German-language area – over only a fragment of a nation) and the revolutionary thought that all people are equal. As such, nationalism was a project of the urban and higher-educated middle classes of Europe, which rapidly emerged during this period as a new societal force. Its most ardent defenders could be found in the new universities that had opened in the early nineteenth century. The modern humanities represented peoples or nations as natural and self-evident collective entities rather than modern creations. The link between the modern humanities and nationalism was thus not accidental or contingent but internal or essential. Thenceforth, peoples or nations were considered a kind of natural category into which humanity was divided. A nation was defined as a people with a common language and culture. These views are factually incorrect, but they served less as scientific claims than as myths that appealed to the emotions of their audience. As the French historian Ernest Renan was to remark: ‘forgetting, and I would even say being mistaken about, history is an essential factor in the formation of a nation, and therefore the progress of historical research is often a threat to nationalism’.33 Until late in the nineteenth century, nationalist ideas had few followers among the bulk of the rural population, which hardly participated in ‘national culture’, if at all. These groups continued to see religion rather than language as the main means of identification – to the extent that they attached any major importance to collective identities at all. Nationalist movements contributed to the transformation of the concept of culture. From the nineteenth century onward, culture was no longer regarded as a developmental or educational ideal for a small elite but rather as something preserved in and transmitted by the timeless traditions of the illiterate rural population. Gradually, that is, ‘culture’ was transformed from a normative into a more descriptive concept, and from an elite ideal into a glorification of the common people. The Romantic interest in the uncultivated 33 E. Renan, ‘Qu’est-ce qu’un nation?’ [1882]. Oeuvres Complètes (Paris, 1947-61), vol. I, pp. 887-907.

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and traditional rural culture as the purest expression of a people’s spirit is clearly related to nineteenth-century efforts to form specifically national traditions and cultures. This idealization of the lower strata of the population was also reflected in the modern humanities, for example in the study of dialectology, but also in the activities of the Brothers Grimm, who started collecting the fairy tales and fables of the rural population. The Grimms explicitly presented these oral traditions as specifically German; moreover, they saw them as preserved in their purest form by illiterate women peasants. Their activities also found enthusiastic followers among other nations. The growth of the modern humanities, however, coincided not only with the emergence of various national projects but also with the colonial expansion of states such as England, France, Russia, and the Netherlands. It is not difficult to see how ideas about people’s spirit and progress came into play here: after all, if each people had its own level of civilization, and if there was a linear process of progress, then it could easily be argued that the more advanced peoples (by which the Europeans primarily meant themselves) had the right if not the duty to rule over ‘primitive’ or less-developed peoples, and thus to lead them on the path of progress. And, indeed, philosophers such as Hegel explicitly recognized this right. The humanities disciplines that study the languages and customs of these exotic and backward peoples could thus easily find a political application, in so far as they supported and scientifically legitimized colonial projects as civilizing missions or as what has been called the white man’s burden; that is, as the heavy responsibility that the white man took on to bring civilization, Christian morality, and modernity to other parts of the world. Even though a theory of races claiming to be a genuine science would not be developed until the second half of the nineteenth century, various disciplines in the humanities and social sciences such as anthropology, Indo-European linguistics, and Oriental studies undeniably played a role in the exercise and legitimation of colonial rule by European powers over evergreater parts of the world. As will become clear in chapter 13, postcolonial critics such as Edward Said (1935-2003) and Martin Bernal (1937-2013) have argued that parts of the humanities are inextricably linked to imperialism and to the colonial domination of the non-Western world. Said argued that the acquisition of academic knowledge, in particular concerning other peoples and cultures, is a way of exercising power, and that nineteenthcentury disciplines such as Oriental studies stood largely in the service of colonial domination in so far as they presented and represented dominated peoples as exotic, irrational, uncivilized, still living in traditions, passive, and ultimately predestined, so to speak, to be ruled by Western powers.



History and Philosophy of the Humanities

Institutional Transformations: Wilhelm von Humboldt’s University Reforms, Bildung, and Nationalism

Thus far, we have explored the conceptual foundations and the cultural historical backgrounds of the birth of the modern humanities. A third and no less important dimension is the institutional changes of higher education during this period, once again primarily in the German-language area. This institutional dimension shows even more clearly just how much internal and external factors mutually shape each other. At the start of the nineteenth century, Germany was not yet a political unity but only a ‘cultural nation’ (Kulturnation), that is, a nation united by its language and culture rather than by a state or ruler. Thanks to authors such as Goethe, Lessing, and Schiller; thinkers such as Kant and Hegel; and composers such as Beethoven and Schubert; Germany had from the late eighteenth century onward increasingly taken over France’s culturally dominant role. In socio-economic respects, however, the German-speaking states and statelets, most importantly Prussia, were lagging behind. The economy was still dominated by a more or less feudally organized agricultural sector, and Prussia and other German-speaking states had undergone neither a political revolution (as France had) nor an industrial revolution (as England had). The dramatic developments elsewhere in Europe, however, and Napoleon’s conquests made reforms inevitable in early nineteenth-century Prussia. In education and the sciences, these reforms were primarily the work of a single man, the multi-talented diplomat and scholar Wilhelm von Humboldt (1767-1835). Between 1808 and 1810, during his brief tenure as minister of science and education, Humboldt realized a number of radical changes in the structure of Prussian higher education. Other universities were to reproduce these changes, turning the idea of a ‘Humboldtian’ university into a model for much of nineteenth-century Europe and beyond. Because of his enormous power and influence, Humboldt was nicknamed the ‘Bildung dictator’. He also became famous as a scholar: he carried out ethnographic and linguistic research, for example, and explored to what extent human thinking is shaped and guided by the structure of the language we speak. Humboldt based the university of Berlin, which opened in 1809, on two principles: academic freedom and the unity of teaching and research. Nowadays, these principles may seem obvious, or perhaps by now outdated, but at the time, they were little short of revolutionary. With regard to academic freedom, Humboldt emphasized that universities should no longer be directly responsible to a ruler or a state and that universities

The Birth of the Modern Humanities


Wilhelm von Humboldt

should have their own governance rather than be subordinate to the state. He also believed that professors should be free to teach about topics they considered important. In addition, Humboldt proposed a new division of labour between universities and academies. Hitherto, universities had been considered institutions for teaching only, whereas research had been the prerogative of academies such as the Royal Society, the French Académie des sciences, and the Berlin Académie Royale des Sciences et Belles Lettres (Frederick the Great had quite consciously given the latter a French name, since French was the language of the royal court and the Enlightenment). Humboldt asserted that university professors could only be full-fledged scientists or scholars if they themselves conducted original research and also based their teaching on it. Furthermore, and famously, Humboldt argued that higher education should strive for *Bildung. This notion expresses both a humanist ideal and a political programme. The Bildung that Humboldt sought involved a broad realization of all human potential: not only knowledge but also


History and Philosophy of the Humanities

an ability to make moral and aesthetic judgments and to act justly. The ‘objective’ science taught at universities, therefore, should be complemented by a ‘subjective’ Bildung. Moreover, academic education had to be general rather than specialist: The understanding of the higher scientific institutions as the culmination at which everything comes together that happens directly for the moral formation of the nation, rests on the fact that the institutions are predetermined to elaborate science in the deepest and broadest sense of the word, and to offer mental and moral development (Bildung) as a non-intentional but automatically goal-directed prepared matter for its use. Hence, their essence inwardly consists in the connection of objective science and subjective Bildung, and outwardly in the connection of a completed school education with the beginning of independent study, or rather, in the realization of the transition from the one to the other.34

Hence, Humboldt continued, it was in the state’s own interest to guarantee the academic freedom within which individuals could optimally develop themselves in both specialist scientific research and general Bildung. Elsewhere he added: ‘only the science that stems from the inside and can be planted in the inner may also change one’s character; and state and humanity are not concerned with knowledge and speaking, but with character and action’. Bildung, that is, amounts to an organic unity of knowledge and character, of subjective and objective, of facts and norms, and of theory and action. The notion of Bildung was less Humboldt’s original creation than a synthesis of ideas and ideals of contemporary German authors and thinkers. Significantly, it was during the same period that the new literary genre of the Bildung novel emerged, of which Goethe’s 1796 Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre is the most famous example. Humboldt’s ideal of Bildung is *liberal in that it demands full independence from the state. Soon after, however, it was to be appropriated by the more conservative and nationalist forces of the Counter-Enlightenment. Nonetheless, the notion itself had unmistakably nationalist overtones, as Bildung targeted development in the service of the nation and rejected the revolutionary universalism of some Enlightenment thinkers. Thus, it had a much more clearly nationalist character than Renaissance humanism. Humboldt viewed ancient Greek civilization in 34 Wilhelm von Humboldt, ‘Zur Gründung der Universität Berlin,’ Gesammelte Schriften, Band X (Berlin, 1934), p. 279.

The Birth of the Modern Humanities


which the arts and natural philosophy had flourished as his great example, and he considered the Germans the ‘new Greeks’, that is, the great cultural nation of his time. And just as the ancient Greeks had defeated the Persian invading army, Humboldt believed that the modern Germans should also resist the French invasion led by Napoleon. For him, education in the classical languages was an integral part of national Bildung, for by learning ancient Greek and Latin, one could become a better, and educated, German. It was also during this time that historiography became an academic discipline. Against the background of the rise of nationalism, and within the new university structure that presented Bildung as a matter of national interest, it should come as no surprise that this new discipline focused on national history (see chapter 6). The Bildung advanced by Humboldt was to be cultivated in the curriculum of the so-called faculty of philosophy, the fourth faculty of the traditional university, which also included the faculties of theology, law, and medicine. In the first half of the nineteenth century, the natural sciences were still part of this faculty. After 1850, however, the rapid growth of the natural scientific knowledge, the increasing need to conduct research in wellequipped laboratories and the concomitant rapid increase in personnel, led to the formation of a distinct faculty of natural sciences in various German universities. The remaining disciplines of the old faculty of philosophy were relocated to a new faculty of Geisteswissenschaften, or humanities. The work of Wilhelm Dilthey, which will be discussed in chapter 7, may be seen as an attempt to legitimize the disciplines that had been moved to this new faculty by developing their own hermeneutic methods.

5.5 Conclusion Even more clearly than in the natural sciences, the development of the human and social sciences involved an interaction between internal (or conceptual) and external (or societal and cultural) factors. The ‘modern humanities revolution’ cannot be entirely explained by the emergence of new discoveries, concepts, ideas, or methods; it was also made possible, if not desirable, by societal and political factors such as the rise of modern bourgeois society, nationalism, and colonial expansion. Conversely, however, new academic ideas about spirit, culture, and Bildung contributed in some measure to the formation and development of present-day European and Western society and of the colonial world, partly as a result of their institutionalization in the university and the modern nation-state.


History and Philosophy of the Humanities

Until 1933, German universities were generally structured on the basis of Humboldt’s Bildung ideals. In that year, however, the National Socialists started imposing their own worldview and ideals on the German educational system. The Nazis radicalized nineteenth-century thinking about peoples or nations, race, and Geist, seeing Germany as a cultural nation with a unique spiritual mission that was being threatened from the outside by the crude materialism of both capitalist America and the communist Soviet Union, and from the inside by non-Aryan and other elements seen as polluting the moral values and racial purity of the German Aryan Master Race. The German sciences never fully recovered from this blow. Large numbers of scientists, many of them Jews, left Germany during the 1930s, and many others were murdered during the Second World War. According to some, the nineteenth-century humanities were even discredited for good because of the legacy of the National Socialist Party and because of the close links these disciplines had with nationalism and colonial domination. More generally, concepts such as spirit, people, culture, man, and nation have come to be so strongly linked to the Counter-Enlightenment, cultural nationalism, and other movements culminating in, or caricatured by, national socialism that doubts have been expressed about their continuing relevance, if not legitimacy. It was primarily postmodern and postcolonial authors who emphasized that these terms were not neutral analytical concepts but were themselves an integral and problematic part of the dramatic European history of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The consequences these authors attached to these political links will be discussed in chapter 12. The persistence of a divide between the humanities and the natural sciences was only partly undone by the emergence of new methods and frameworks after the Second World War. With the increasing use of social-scientific (and, subsequently, natural-scientific) methods, the strict methodological distinction between the natural and the human sciences gradually weakened. But institutionally, the division into the three faculties of the humanities, the social sciences, and the natural sciences remained solidly entrenched in almost all Western universities.

Summary − Foucault’s archaeology of the human sciences shows remarkable similarities with Kuhn’s view of the history of the natural sciences as discontinuous. It studies the historically variable conditions for the possibility of knowledge. Each age is characterized by a single épistémè.

The Birth of the Modern Humanities

− −


Two far-reaching and radical epistemic mutations or ruptures occurred around 1600 and 1800 that reorganized the entire order of knowledge. Around 1800, a ‘humanities revolution’ occurred that made it possible for ‘man’, or ‘spirit’, to become an object of research. This revolution had philosophical, cultural, historical, and institutional dimensions. Kant’s epistemology implies that man is simultaneously the transcendental subject and the empirical object of the human sciences. Hegel extended Kant’s notion of reason to that of Geist as a supra-individual entity that develops in the course of history. In cultural-historical terms, the humanities are linked to the CounterEnlightenment and to the emergence of nationalist thought. Nationalism and colonial domination accompanied the birth of various disciplines in the modern humanities such as philology, comparative linguistics, and orientalism. Institutionally, the emergence of new, autonomous academic disciplines in the humanities was made possible by university reforms. Wilhelm von Humboldt organized the new university of Berlin on the principles of academic freedom and the unity of teaching and research. His ideal of Bildung is broader than merely that of factual knowledge. Humboldt’s ideas about Bildung also left their traces in modern university systems elsewhere in the world.


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Hegel’s Philosophical History

As part of the ‘humanities revolution’, in the nineteenth century a professionalized academic historiography developed, , primarily in German-speaking areas. In this period a self-image of historical research emerged that has prevailed to this very day: it sees historiography as a discipline in which practitioners try to recover ‘hard historical facts’ on the basis of archival research while steering clear of interpretations, value judgments, figments of one’s own imagination, and vague or elusive and hence unscientific statements. Usually labelled *positivist, this view of historiography has a complex history of its own, however, and its claim to scientific status is less self-evidently valid than the appeal to hard facts suggests. In this chapter, we will discuss Hegel’s influential philosophical view of history; the rise of philology, or historicizing textual criticism, as a method or technique of the humanities at large; and the development of Leopold von Ranke’s famous views as well as Nietzsche’s radical critique concerning the factuality and scientific status of the historical sciences. Finally, we shall examine the emergence of sociology as a rival to both literature and the humanities. Nineteenth-century academic historiography maintains an ambivalent relation to Hegel. On the one hand, Hegel formulated a philosophy of history based on purely speculative arguments, which were rejected by those professional academic historians who based their scholarly claims on archival research and empirical facts. On the other hand, it was primarily Hegel who, more than any other, developed some of the essential notions adopted by the modern humanities such as the notion of Volksgeist, thinking in developmental terms, the distinction between history and prehistory, and the distinction between Europe and those parts and periods of the world seen as lacking a proper history. As discussed in chapter 5, Hegel’s first major work, the Phenomenology of Spirit (1807), proceeds from a critique of some central Kantian notions. Most importantly, Hegel historicized the transcendental subject, which for Kant was abstract and formal – without reducing the transcendental subject to a merely contingent or accidental notion however. Hegel rejected Kant’s dualism of the contingent and the necessary and between the receptivity of perception and the spontaneity of understanding (Verstand) − that is, between intuitions and concepts (cf. § 2.2, 4.1c). According to Hegel, Kant’s dualism leads to a philosophical dilemma when


History and Philosophy of the Humanities

man starts exploring his own actions and his past. One option is that the human mind hits upon the contingency of all that exists and everything he observes; but as a result, man as a knowing subject almost inevitably risks becoming tainted with contingency himself as well, together with all his judgments and conclusions. However, by chosing the other option and proceeding from the necessity of reason, the latter *sublates (aufheben) this contingency but thereby also destroys the plurality that marks the world. It then becomes reasonable to view human actions and the human past from this perspective as well, with the result that all contingency disappears. This precludes the very possibility that circumstances might force people to perform actions they would not choose of their own free will or that they in fact often act unreasonably. Thus, neither option is very attractive. Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit showed us a way out of this dilemma by demonstrating that the world as a whole is intelligible without its plurality and multiplicity having to be sacrificed to this understanding. What appeared to be an insolvable dilemma was now resolved in a developmental perspective. Hegel argued that the objective world was a product of spirit and that, for this reason, it is understandable. But spirit does not recognize its products at every moment and at each stage of its self-development and therefore it experiences its products as ‘alien’. As a result of the development of spirit, however, this is a temporary stage, since eventually spirit will recognize itself in what initially appeared as ‘alien’ and hence as a negation of its being spirit. Thus, the ‘alien’ is sublated by this second negation emerging and is thereby deprived of its alienness. As a result, the objective world does not lose its plurality – after all, it remains objective – but is revealed as a product of spirit itself. Thus, the intelligibility of the objective world is guaranteed in spite of its plurality. The Phenomenology of Spirit outlines the stages that in Hegel’s view are necessary in this *dialectical process of negation and sublation. Consciousness and its forms of knowledge develop from natural, ordinary, naïve (that is, unmediated) consciousness via self-consciousness, reason, spirit, and religion into absolute knowing. In the final stage, which Hegel identified with his own thought, there is no longer any difference between knowledge of the world and the world itself: the world has been understood in its reasonableness. The thinking that understands this reasonableness, that is, speculative science, no longer depends on anything outside itself that is merely given to the senses and thereby is no longer finite and unfree. In this final stage of thinking, man is therefore free and relieved of his finitude. Therefore, spirit is the ‘circle returning onto itself, which presupposes its beginning,

Developing New Disciplines


but only reaches it at the very end.’ Thus, Hegel is a *dialectical idealist: for him, the course of history exists in the dialectical development of spirit. The impact of these abstract considerations on many currents in the humanities and social sciences of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries can hardly be overestimated. Hegel’s readers learned from him how culture and society can be seen in terms of a development sustained by the continuous emergence of contradictions and their subsequent sublation at each level and during each period. Moreover, they also learned that eventually an endpoint will be reached in which all contradictions will have been resolved. At that point, the end of history will have been reached and freedom will have been realized. Finally, they learned that spirit has to do work in order to absorb into the concept what seemed to exist outside of itself. The relation between subject and object, in other words, is not constant but developing, and thereby becomes an object of thought itself. Hence, thinking, in its cognitive appropriation of a thing, should also understand its own relation to that thing. By thinking about society and culture, in other words, one becomes confronted with the problem of the *relation of theory and practice. All effort, however, is not in vain. Hegel’s work is guided by the consoling thought that struggle is not meaningless but will eventually lead to a noble purpose: the end of history, that is, the realization of freedom. Thus, according to Hegel, human history develops according to a fixed pattern in which clear stages can be distinguished. One famous phase in this dialectical vision of history is that of the ‘unhappy consciousness’, during which self-consciousness has recognized the objective world outside of itself but experiences it as not identical to itself and hence as ‘alien’. Hegel argued that this phase of development coincided with the historical period of late Roman antiquity and early Christianity. One other well-known example is the dialectic of master and slave. In this dialectic, the slave is initially not free, but the master is equally bound or constrained by the relation of repression, since his self-consciousness is dependent on the slave. The latter, however, has the advantage that he is working and can thus arrive at self-consciousness when he gains the insight that the world is his work and thus is not alienated from him. By contrast, the master, who does not work himself, remains dependent on his slave’s work. This situation can only be resolved or sublated when both mutually recognize each other as self-consciousness and when the difference between master and slave disappears, when both start considering each other as equals. For Hegel, this corresponds historically with relations in feudal Medieval society. Later, however, Marx redescribed this stage as the prototype of *class conflict, which he elevated to the motor of historical


History and Philosophy of the Humanities

change in general, up until the moment that all contradictions will have been resolved and a classless society is realized (see § 8.1). Hegel’s lecture courses on the philosophy of world history, taught in the last years of his life when he was a professor at the University of Berlin, clearly show how this view differed from that of the historians of his age. We cannot ‘learn from the past’ as we are often told to do, Hegel argued, for the circumstances of each era and each people are so specific and unrepeatable that decisions about the right course of political action can only be made by taking as one’s standard that particular population and that particular era. This does not, however, decrease the importance of what he called ‘philosophical history’, which regards the past from the general but concrete perspective of spirit and which leads peoples through world history. Hegel distinguished this philosophical history from more descriptive forms of historiography such as chronicles, which in his view merely provided a dull and lifeless enumeration of facts and thus missed the bigger picture. He also criticized the narrative historiography of by then newly emerging authors such as Leopold von Ranke who enlivened the picture of the past with striking details, but who in Hegel’s view – precisely because of the wealth of detail – failed to show the larger patterns sufficiently clearly. Hegel thus viewed world history as the necessary process of self-realization of universal spirit, that is, as the way in which spirit, proceeding exclusively from the thought – or concept – of its own freedom, realizes itself in thought along the developmental stages of (self-)consciousness and reason. Simultaneously, this self-realization is also a return from an earlier alienation, in which the world is experienced as knowable and rational but as standing outside spirit. Remarkably, and despite dealing with the concepts of world history and universal spirit, Hegel presumed peoples or nations to be self-evident units of analysis, thereby assuming the notion of a people’s spirit or Volksgeist as an unproblematic given. To the extent that he does not do so himself, he has been read in this way by many later authors. Thus, in Elements of the Philosophy of Right, he writes that: Each of the states, peoples and individuals engaged in this process of world spirit emerges with its own specific and determinate principle, which in their constitution finds its interpretation and realization.35

35 Hegel, Philosophy of Right, § 344.

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Hegel thus took peoples as specif ically national entities but also as the result of specif ically modern processes of political organization, in particular state formation. He believed that the nation was in itself an ethical substance, which may or may not acquire the form of a state. When that does not happen or when a specific state form lags behind in its development, such peoples or nations may and should be ruled by more advanced nations, which have already been organized as states. Hegel, in other words, explicitly condoned colonial rule. It would be too facile, however, to reject out of hand his thoughts as nationalist and ethnocentric, if not racist. A more interesting question is exactly how and why this view of peoples and nations as units of the historical process – and the belief in progress or modernization as an unambiguous and dialectical development primarily occurring in, or driven by, Europe – became dominant if not self-evident for so many, and why it still to some extent remains so today. Like many of his contemporaries, Hegel was convinced that not only primitive peoples lacking writing or state organization but also Oriental civilizations such as India and China did not know philosophy in the strict sense of the word. He admitted that we may find general thoughts about morals or the cosmos in ancient Chinese and Indian texts but, he added, those thoughts do not have the systematic form of pure thinking which in his view marked ‘real’ or ‘proper’ philosophy. Even more explicitly than Kant, Hegel thus characterized philosophy as Western by definition and also as academic rather than popular in character. This view reflected the newly professionalized status of academic philosophy in Germany. Kant’s critical philosophy and Hegel’s speculative thought were not only uniquely Western and uniquely modern, they also resisted popularization or simplification for a larger public and could only be taught in schools and universities. As a result of the nineteenth-century German university reforms discussed above, this elitist and ethnocentric view of philosophy also became institutionally entrenched. From this period onwards, practitioners of ‘popular philosophy’ such as Cicero and Herder gradually disappeared from the philosophical canon, and people started reading their works as literature rather than philosophy. Likewise, Oriental intellectual traditions came to be seen as the object of a philologically oriented study of language and religion and to be treated as traditions of ‘wisdom’ rather than as ‘real’ philosophy. To this day, academic programmes in language, religion, and philosophy show traces of this intellectual division of labour.



History and Philosophy of the Humanities

The Rise of Modern Philology

The nineteenth-century rise of academic historiography maintains a complex relation with Hegel’s doctrines on the philosophy of history. It is also closely connected to the development of Romantic nationalism and the development of *philology, or historicizing textual criticism, as the method or technique specific to a large part of the modern humanities. Even more than hermeneutics, which will be discussed in the next chapter, philology is seen as typical for the autonomous and professionalized humanities that arose in the nineteenth century. Philology has also been better able than hermeneutics to resist the emergence of new methods and conceptions. For a long time, philologists have argued – with some justification and success – that, in comparison to rival frameworks, they base themselves on the hard work of learning languages, on the detailed study of texts, and on facts rather than theories. In itself, philological textual criticism is not a radically novel method or technique. As described in chapter 2, the first attempts at discovering ‘true’ or ‘correct’ textual forms based on the critical study and comparison of manuscripts took place during the Renaissance. Modern philologists, however, see themselves as academicians rather than men of letters much more unambiguously than Renaissance humanists. In their writings, literary skill and rhetorical elegance are made subordinate to the recovery of hard textual facts. Moreover, modern philology has a far stronger historicist character, since it views not only words and texts but also the spirit expressed in them as historically changing. More than before, the recovery of the authentic words of an era has now become a prerequisite for the reconstruction of the spiritual life of bygone ages that may differ strongly from our own. Nineteenth-century philologists thus see language, literature, religion, laws, etc. as different aspects of one and the same Gemeingeist, or collective spirit. As the famous classical scholar Ulrich von Wilamowitz-Moellendorff stated as late as 1927: Classical philology is defined by its subject-matter: Graeco-Roman civilisation in its essence and in every facet of its existence. This civilisation is a unity, though we are unable to say precisely when it began or ended; and the task of scholarship is to bring that dead world to life by the power of science … Because the life we try to fathom is a single whole, our science too is a single whole. Its division into the separate disciplines of language and literature, archaeology, ancient history, epigraphy, numismatics and, latterly, papyrology, can be justified only as a concession to the limitations

Developing New Disciplines


of human capacity, and must not be allowed to stifle awareness of the whole, even in the specialist.36

Despite a distinctive dislike of theoretical and philosophical abstractions, modern philology thus presupposes a vision of a historically developing spirit and aims to develop a comprehensive overview in terms that unmistakably refer back to Hegel. Claims concerning the scientific character of modern philology rest primarily on the employment of a specific form of textual criticism called *stemmatology or the *stemmatic method. This method was developed in particular by Karl Lachmann (1793-1851), who tried to order the different manuscripts of the same ancient text in a family tree (stemma). It is based on the presupposition that writing errors in manuscripts are ‘hereditary’: if a manuscript contains a specific error, all copies of it will contain the same error, and if a later copy does not show this error, it is derived from another predecessor. In this way, it becomes possible to rank surviving manuscripts and to reconstruct an original text or *archetype. In the study of Classical and Medieval literature, the textual critical methods of modern philology thus amount to a search for an original text (Urtext), which is seen as the authentic formulation of the author himself, free from later errors and additions. Similar assumptions may be found in historical-comparative linguistics, which compares contemporary spoken vernaculars with the written variants of the past and explores how these have derived from a common ancestor (for example, Romance languages such as French, Spanish, Italian, and Romanian from Latin, or Slavic languages such as Polish, Russian, and Czech from Old Church Slavonic) and how these predecessors in turn derive from a common reconstructed original language, the *ProtoIndo-European language. Here, philologists search for the ‘purest’ dialect variants that are not contaminated by contact with other languages and are hence seen as providing the best basis for the reconstruction of a hypothetical origin. Likewise, in modern historiography, scholars search for the oldest and most authentic documents that are presumed not to be distorted by literary style or rhetorical embellishment and hence are seen to most closely approximate and most reliably describe the historical event itself.

36 Ulrich von Wilamowitz-Moellendorff, History of Classical Scholarship, transl. Alan Harris (London, 1982 [1927]), p. 1.


History and Philosophy of the Humanities

Philology thus involves the modern scientific study not only of texts but also of languages. The great pioneer of historical-comparative linguistics was Franz Bopp (1791-1867), who captured all his ideas concerning linguistic change in a comprehensive system and tried to reconstruct the sound changes from Proto-Indo-European (PIE) and Proto-Germanic and Gothic to modern German. One such pattern-like sound change is the fact that voiceless consonants in PIE become so-called fricatives in German (e.g., PIE *pods, German Fuss); and voiced-aspirated consonants become unaspirated in German (PIE *bhréthêr, German Bruder).37 This sound change has become known as Grimm’s Law, even though Jacob Grimm was not the f irst to formulate this pattern, and even though he himself did not believe this sound change was lawlike or without exceptions. A later generation of comparative linguists, the so-called *Neogrammarians or Junggrammatiker, were rather stricter in this respect. They insisted that linguistic changes occurred according to genuine laws that knew no real exceptions and hence that apparent exceptions required a separate explanation. The Neogrammarians marked an important development in historical-comparative linguistics but not a scientific revolution or paradigm shift. For the most part, their theories, concepts, and norms of scientific quality mirrored those of their ancestors. In this case, there were clear external factors that encouraged the intensive study not only of ‘national’ languages and their pedigree but also of exotic Oriental languages such as Sanskrit, in particular the formation of nation-states and the colonial expansion that occurred beginning in the late eighteenth century. Internal conceptual factors, however, also deserve our attention. According to one widespread belief, William Jones, a British colonial official in India, ‘discovered’ the close affinity of Sanskrit with European languages towards the end of the eighteenth century. This discovery, we are told, made him the founder of both *Orientalist philology and of Indo-European or Indo-Germanic comparative linguistics. In 1786, Jones famously wrote: The Sanskrit language, whatever be its antiquity, is of a wonderful structure; more perfect than the Greek, more copious than the Latin and more exquisitely refined than either; yet bearing to both of them a stronger affinity, both in the roots of verbs and in the forms of grammar than could possibly have been produced by accident; so strong indeed, 37 In this example, the asterisks mark reconstructed word forms that have not been attested in any actual historical source.

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that no philologer could examine all three without believing them to have sprung from some common source, which, perhaps, no longer exists.38

This makes it tempting to see Jones as a kind of Copernicus or Galileo, that is, as a prototypical scientific genius who changed science forever because of his innovative and exceptional observations of the linguistic equivalent of a new heavenly body, a continent, or a chemical element. This image is not quite correct, however, as the same observation of the similarities between Indian and European languages had already been made a full two centuries earlier. In 1583, the British Jesuit Thomas Stephens had noted how the languages of India and Iran resembled those of Europe: ‘many are the languages of these lands; their pronunciation is not unpleasant and their structure is similar to that of Greek and Latin.’39 Why, then, did it take more than 200 years for comparative Indo-European linguistics to emerge? Earlier explanations of the affinities between languages had been incidental and unsystematic. Generally, they had been restricted to similarities between individual words. Such explanations reflected the idea, typical for classical linguistic thought, that a language is a collection of words for language-independent concepts and thoughts. It was not until the end of the eighteenth century that the idea of a language as a complex inflectional system started gaining ground against the Enlightenment idea of language as a representation of the world, albeit a possibly imperfect one. Likewise, historical change had hitherto been seen more as an accident than as an essential feature of languages. Although various accounts of the ‘origin of language’ appeared in the eighteenth century, most of these were not written by grammarians or philologists, nor were they based on the empirical investigation of languages. Rather, they were based on purely speculative fictions about how and why mankind had ever come to achieve communication at all, in connection with the question of how human societies could come about. It was primarily philosophers, among them Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Johann Gottfried Herder, who wrote about these themes. Moreover, their philosophical speculations concerned the origin rather than the historical development of language. Thus we could conclude that, between Stephens in 1583 and Jones in 1786, a Gestalt switch has occurred, as both saw completely different things in Sanskrit: – a system of naming and an organically grown historical 38 William Jones, Third Anniversary Discourse, On the Hindus, 2 February 1786. 39 Letter to Richard Stephens, October 24, 1583, quoted in J. Muller, ‘Early Stages of Language Comparison from Sassetti to William Jones (1786).’ Kratylos 31 (1986), pp. 14-15.


History and Philosophy of the Humanities

inflectional structure, respectively. They almost literally lived, worked, and spoke in different worlds consisting of different objects. This conclusion becomes more plausible against the background of the Duhem-Quine thesis and of Kuhn and Foucault’s ideas described above. Concepts such as language, art, and religion therefore do not correspond to immutable natural kinds or categories of things because what a scientist means by such terms is inevitably and irreducibly shaped by his conceptual frame or by the paradigm or épistémè in which his work takes shape. In other words, nineteenth-century disciplines share a philological approach that is partly based on the image of the family tree and on the search for an origin or original text or language presumed to be pure, authentic, and not distorted by language contact or literary embellishment. Obviously, this presupposes that there is one single source or origin of all later variants. Later philologists have cast doubt on this presupposition. After all, it is also possible for a textual variant to be part of an ‘open tradition’ that cannot be reduced to any one text or to a single author, for example an oral tradition. In modern philology, we also find two other problematic presuppositions concerning authorship and nationality. First, the philological reconstruction of the original form or archetype of a literary text is linked to the modern notion of the author as an individual creative genius and as the juridical owner of the work who should therefore be protected against later changes and forgeries. However, in European antiquity and in the Middle Ages, and certainly in the case of oral traditions, such a Romantic and juridical notion of the author did not exist. Second, the nineteenth-century philologists presupposed the existence of peoples and nations, as constituted by language, as a given. The spirit they saw as expressed in a language, text, or tradition was seen as primarily a national spirit or Volksgeist. Significantly, Lachmann presented his reconstructed text of the middle-high German epic The Nibelungenlied as the German national epic, which he claimed had a status for the German nation similar to that of Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey for the ancient Greeks. This nationalist vision is not an unfortunate interference with or abuse of a scientific method that is in itself objective and politically neutral. Modern and more specifically Romantic nationalist notions and presuppositions of individual genius and collective spirit are an integral and inextricable part of modern textual critical philology. The philological interest in written language and literature presents itself as purely scientific and as purely factually oriented and thus as free from all philosophical speculation and theoretical reflection. Conversely, philosophers like Kant and Hegel showed remarkably little interest in the phenomenon of language. For Kant, language (and, more generally, culture)

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was important neither for man as a thing in itself (Ding an sich) nor for man as a natural phenomenon. Likewise, Hegel’s interest in language was at best marginal: he believed that language is neither a form of objective spirit such as the law, art, or religion, nor a constitutive dimension of individual consciousness or national spirit, for example. Hence, both authors may be characterized as adhering to a philosophy of consciousness: both took thought or consciousness to be given – that is, as not shaped by language or other mediating factors. In the nineteenth century, similar assumptions dominated the various disciplines and methods in the humanities, including philology. It was only in the twentieth century that a number of philosophers completed a linguistic turn comparable to that of the logical empiricists and began to argue that consciousness is formed within and by language or linguistic practice rather than the other way around, as we will see in chapters 8, 9, and 10. For a long time, philological approaches dominated the organization and practice of different disciplines in the humanities such as the study of language and history. And for much of that time, they more or less successfully resisted new theoretical frameworks, appealing to the sober factuality of their textual readings and reconstructions. As we saw, this claim to a scientific status rested on a number of substantial – and debatable – assumptions about origins, authorship, and authenticity. Especially after the Second World War, however, these presuppositions came under increasing scrutiny as a result of theoretical criticisms and political developments as well as technological innovations, for example the recent development of the digital humanities.


Historiography and Genealogy


Leopold von Ranke

Leopold von Ranke (1795-1886) is generally considered to be the father of academic or scientific historiography, which based itself on the critical use of primary sources rather than literary texts or a priori historical speculations and which abstained from making moral judgments about the past or giving advice concerning the future. Instead, it presented the historian as merely trying to recover Wie es eigentlich gewesen (how things really were), to use Ranke’s often-quoted and much misused phrase. Ranke was a pioneer of academic historiography not only in terms of method but also from an institutional point of view. In Berlin, he taught


History and Philosophy of the Humanities

an entire generation of historians, some of whom would come to rank among the most important of the nineteenth century, including Jacob Burckhardt and Heinrich von Sybel. Moreover, he was one of the first to spread his ideas and methods via *seminars, that is, in gatherings with a small number of advanced students, usually at home, where the participants critically discussed their own and others’ work. The seminar was a far more intensive and personal form of instruction than the university lecture. It also allowed Ranke to establish enduring contacts with the participants, which would strongly contribute to the formation of a ‘Ranke school’ in historiography. Unlike his predecessors, Ranke did not base his work on the stylistically elaborated narrative literary writings of earlier historians (that is, on what we would today call *secondary sources) but rather on non-literary sources such as archival documents, letters, memoirs, and eyewitness reports. Moreover, his method was critical concerning its sources in that he felt the historian should look for the original and correct, non-embellished description of historical facts in his sources that stands closest to the event itself, such as documents from state archives or eyewitness reports. It is only on the basis of such *primary texts, he argued, that we can gain direct and immediate access to the past. His tacit assumption was that such a direct and immediate link with the event itself also assured the factual accuracy of the report. That is, he proceeded from the same idea as philologists reconstructing literary texts: the closer we come to the origin, the more authentic and closer to the truth our sources are. Another feature of Ranke’s method is a clear preference for written sources over oral reports: ‘we can clearly know again only that part of life which has been preserved in writing,’ he stated. For contemporary history, however, he occasionally used oral sources. Thus, his 1829 history of the Serbian uprising against Ottoman rule was based primarily on testimony he had received from Serbian linguistic and literary pioneer Vuk Karadžić (1787-1864), a personal acquaintance of his. Because of this preference for written and especially political sources, Ranke’s historiography not only emphasized the conscious actions of political leaders at the expense of the lower strata of society and of social and structural economic factors, his trust in written sources also led to a bias in favour of the relatively small part of the population that could read and write. In the twentieth century, a historiographical approach known as *oral history would emerge that developed methods specifically designed to gain historical information from oral sources. This made it possible to recover the history of lower classes – who were more often than not illiterate – and

Developing New Disciplines


other repressed or marginalized population groups, and to mitigate the literate bias of nineteenth-century historiography. Ranke’s historiography is at times called positivist because of this quest for historical facts, yet he was not merely a hard-nosed searcher of empirical facts who abstained from theoretical speculation. His rejection of Hegel’s teleological vision was not simply based on skepticism concerning abstractions. ‘Each era stands immediately before God,’ he wrote; ‘its value resides not in what emerges from it later, but is enclosed in its own existence’.40 And whereas Hegel’s philosophy of history represents the self-realization of spirit as a necessary process of development that sacrifices the individual, Ranke saw what he called ‘the truth of individual consciousness,’ adding: ‘I believe in Him who was and will be, in the essentially immortal nature of man, in the Living God and in living man’. His objections against Hegel’s periodization of world history were thus theological as much as historiographical in character. Ranke closely resembled Hegel in one other respect. He, too, saw the state as a particular kind of individual and as the appearance of an originally divine idea in history rather than as a compromise of opposing forces or interests, or as founded on a social contract between individuals. In his view, each individual human being has the duty to be loyal to the state in which he lives and thus to realize the Idea of the state. Moreover, according to Ranke, the state can only exist and continue to exist to the extent that it expresses a spiritual principle, and on closer inspection, this principle turns out to be that of nationality. Accordingly, for Ranke all historiography is primarily and necessarily national history. In his view, individual states are concrete and living individuals that express or realize a nationality of their own rather than formal abstractions or historical contingencies. Moreover, like Hegel, he largely restricted himself to the history of Europe. ‘The nations that are characterized by an eternal standstill are a hopeless starting point for trying to recover the inner movement of universal history,’ he wrote, clearly echoing Hegel, in the preface to his posthumous World History (1881-1888). Thus, his view of world history was as nationalistic and as Eurocentric as Hegel’s. It does not simply rest on the positivist aim of recovering objective facts and omitting interpretations but was equally shaped by an ultimately religious view of life, formulated in the idealistic philosophical terms of nations, Ideas and ideals, and popular spirit, which – despite Ranke’s criticisms – owe much to Hegel’s idealism.

40 Leopold von Ranke, ‘On Progress in History,’ in Iggers & Von Moltke (eds.), The Theory and Practice of History, p. 53.



History and Philosophy of the Humanities

Friedrich Nietzsche

Perhaps the most radical nineteenth-century critic of the scientific pretensions of both philology and academic historiography was formulated by Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900). Initially, Nietzsche was poised for a glorious career as a classical philologist. In 1870, he became professor in Basel, and in 1872, he published The Birth of Tragedy, a brilliant study that contradicted the image – dominant since Winckelmann and Goethe – of ancient Greece as all light, joy, reason, and optimism. According to Nietzsche, the early Greek tragedies of Aeschylus and Sophocles are characterized by irrationalism and by an essential pessimism which sees life as a pool of misery, but nevertheless fully and unhesitatingly accepts or affirms it. This tragic view of life, he continued, disappeared in the more rationalist plays by Euripides and Socrates’ philosophical thinking, both of which he saw as essentially more optimistic. Immediately after its appearance, however, Nietzsche’s book became the target of a savage polemical attack written by the still young philologist Ulrich von Wilamowitz-Moellendorff, who castigated Nietzsche not only for all kinds of smaller and larger factual errors but especially for his replacing the rigorous critical study of sources, footnotes, and references by purple prose. In one stroke, this critique ended Nietzsche’s academic career as a philologist, and accordingly, his later writings were more philosophical in character, even if they remained inspired in part by philological questions and methods. In On the Use and Abuse of History for Life (1874), Nietzsche turned against the contemporary prejudice that historical awareness – or, as he calls it, historical Bildung – was a virtue. For him, an overdose of historical consciousness could be downright damaging to the life of an individual, a people, or a culture. His was thus an act of resistance by a philosophy of life against both speculative philosophy of history and philological historiographical knowledge. Whereas Ranke had rejected Hegel’s philosophical abstractions in the name of the concrete, living individual, Nietzsche argued that historical knowledge, which he saw as barren academic learning (Gelehrtheit), could equally harm life, which he believed should be instinctive and free from history. Nietzsche also rejected Hegel’s philosophy of history, which he viewed as ‘the most dangerous development in contemporary German education’. Hegel, he argued, gave the Germans the idea that they are the necessary end result of a ‘world process’ of the self-realizing Concept, thus providing them with a deep respect for the force of history, which was now seen as

Developing New Disciplines


sovereign over other spiritual forces like art and religion. Nietzsche fiercely contested this idol worship of the factual, which in his view merely led to the affirmation of, and submission to, ‘every existing power, whether it is government, public opinion, or numerical majority’. Nietzsche’s contestation of both positivist philological historiography and speculative philosophy of history was informed by a philosophy that promotes interpretations over facts. Moreover, it does not grant entities an original or authentic identity but sees them as acquiring an identity only as a result of the relations they engage in with others – just as, in a play or novel, the protagonists acquire an identity through their relations with the other characters and the events in which they engage. Nietzsche consistently generalized this belief: for him, the philosophical Subject or individual was not a given but rather a product of a whole of relations shaped by contingent events and relations. He even rejected Kant’s ‘thing in itself’ as nonsensical: ‘if I remove all the relationships, all the “properties”, all the “activities” of a thing, then the thing does not remain over.’41 Against the philological and philosophical forms of historiography he rejected, Nietzsche placed his own historicizing vision, which he called *genealogy. He dismissed both ‘monumental’ history, which reveres past examples of human greatness, and ‘antiquarian’ history, which tries to recover the factual details of life in the past. He called his own genealogical historiography ‘critical history’ which, unlike its rivals, stood in the service of life and also judged – and where necessary condemned – the past. He presented his own genealogy as an unmasking of past claims to greatness. High moral values, he argued, originated in a lowly instinctive drive, which he called the *will to power. In various works, he argued that humans (and, possibly, other living creatures) are driven by such a will to power rather than, for example, an instinct to survive. One example of this will is the resentment – that is, the imaginary or fantasized revenge of those without power against their rulers – which he claimed stands at the origin of Christianity. Controversially, he argued that Christianity – the religion proclaiming that virtue would be rewarded and evil punished in the hereafter – arose from a ‘slave morality’, which he saw as characterized by resentment. Nietzsche was too capricious a thinker to want to develop a systematic historical or philosophical methodology. To the extent that his genealogy amounted to a coherent view, however, it was non-dialectical and non-teleological (in a reaction against Hegel). Moreover, Nietzsche proclaimed a philosophy of life that dismissed historical knowledge as barren factual learning and as 41 F. Nietzsche, The Will to Power. W. Kaufmann (tr.) (New York 1967), p. 302.


History and Philosophy of the Humanities

a threat to life (in a reaction against Ranke). He refused to see the course of history as either divinely guided or rationally progressing towards freedom or self-realization. His view thus went against organicist models of development, which presume that later manifestations of phenomena are already enclosed or implied in origins. Nietzsche’s influence has been tremendous and perhaps even stronger in the arts and literature than in the humanities. Postwar French thinkers such as Deleuze, Derrida, and Foucault were subsequently to develop Nietzsche’s genealogy into a more emphatically anti-dialectical method of philosophical and historical analysis (see chapters 10 and 11).


The Emergence of Sociology and Its Rivalry with the Humanities

Towards the end of the nineteenth century, the foundations for a new science of society were laid in Europe and in the United States. Alongside its precursor Auguste Comte (1798-1857), who coined the term *sociology for the scientific study of society, its most important champions in Europe were the Frenchman Émile Durkheim and the German Max Weber (see paragraphs 7.4 and 9.2). In the United States, the first steps towards the institutionalization of sociology were taken with the establishment of the first department of sociology at the University of Chicago in 1892 and the first professional journal in 1895. This new science, however, entered an arena that had already been claimed in part by the humanities, which extended a skeptical welcome to the sociologists. Many humanities scholars were not impressed by the discoveries and insights the sociologists claimed to offer. Skeptics emerged not only in the already established humanities but also in the literary world. Witness, for example, Graham Greene’s way of introducing a character in Getting to Know the General: ‘She seemed at that first meeting a little pretentious and a would-be intellectual – she was studying sociology in the States, a subject which thrives on banalities and abstract jargon.’ Thus, the present-day mistrust regarding the use of social-scientific theory in the humanities and historians’ opposition to the influence of the social sciences stand in a long tradition. In France, commentators observed that, with sociology, the language of the factory entered the universities. In Germany, Thomas Mann wrote about what sociologists considered to be their territory: ‘the social is morally a very dubious field; one observes an odor of stables there’. 42 Conversely, sociologists often behaved in the 42 Thomas Mann, Betrachtungen eines Unpolitischen (Berlin, 1918), p. 252.

Developing New Disciplines


same manner as colonists did towards the natives they encountered upon arriving on a continent that was new and alien to them. At times they saw people working in literature and the humanities as a kind of savage: overly sensitive, alien, and unable to keep pace with modernity. To an important extent, the conflict between literary authors and humanities scholars on the one hand and sociologists on the other primarily concerned the question of who was to formulate the principles of education and morality in modern industrial societies. The German humanities had already claimed to be both the guardian of national culture and the road to Bildung. Modern industrial society and urbanization, however, introduced new problems which at the time were interpreted by German sociologists such as Weber and Ferdinand Tönnies as the loss of traditional Gemeinschaft and its replacement by a more anonymous and threatening Gesellschaft, and as a loss of moral standards, or anomie, by the Frenchman Durkheim. Sociologists claimed to have the answers to these new problems by providing a novel perspective on societal and political issues. The opposition to sociology increased as the discipline became more solidly entrenched institutionally. For example, Durkheim was opposed by Charles Péguy, who was not only a book trader, historian, and author but also the publisher of the Cahiers de la Quinzaine, in which he wrote: ‘sociologists believe that one has only to become a sociologist in order to understand society – as if it were sufficient to don a uniform in order to be brave’. In France, this conflict only abated when anti-sociologists and their opponents ended up in the same camp during the so-called Dreyfus Affair. Meanwhile, sociology began to establish itself at the Sorbonne, but even there, its position remained precarious. It is telling that today we can find statues of the literary author Victor Hugo and the natural scientist Louis Pasteur in the court of honour inside the university, while the statue of Auguste Comte stands in front of it, at the Place de la Sorbonne. In Germany, the lines were less clearly drawn. Max Weber (see § 8.4) found himself confronted by the circle of intellectuals around the poet Stefan George. As we will see, however, German sociology was firmly rooted in the tradition of the humanities that it shared with some of its critics. Hence, the battlelines were rather more erratic here than on the other side of the Rhine. In England, where the institutionalization of sociology within the university stagnated for a long time, the conflict with the humanities disciplines remained largely below the surface. In the Fabian Society, sociologists including the couple Sidney and Beatrice Webb encountered authors such as Bernard Shaw and H.G. Wells, whose utopian novels they welcomed as forms of sociological speculation. Here, too, however, we find explicit


History and Philosophy of the Humanities

skepticism concerning the achievements of sociologists. In Wells’ novels, for example, it is chemists and engineers rather than officials educated in the social sciences who call the shots. The rivalry between sociology and the world of literature and the humanities that emerged around the turn of the twentieth century cannot be reduced to an opposition between rationalists and romantics, for ‘rationality’ was a problem both for sociologists and for its opponents. In Thomas Mann’s works including Buddenbrooks and Death in Venice, we encounter in a literary form the same phenomenon that Max Weber characterized as rationalization and the ‘Protestant ethic’ (see paragraph 7.5 below). The similarities were so close that Mann was even forced to state explicitly that he had written Buddenbrooks before he had come to know the sociological works of Weber, Werner Sombart, and Ernst Troeltsch. In England, the arguments given by Matthew Arnold and F.R. Leavis for introducing English and literary criticism as university disciplines could just as easily have been used by sociologists in order to advance their own discipline. Thus, sociologists and men of letters were separated not so much by a different appreciation of rationality but rather by something both on a more abstract epistemological plane and on a more concrete political level. Especially in France, sociologists claimed they had the means to chart societies and thus were able to give well-founded judgments concerning the political problems of their age. When they used the term ‘society’, they had in mind a functionally ordered whole of social facts, or a social system with a structure of its own that cannot be identified with a particular state or nation and that can be only accessed by scientific means. This epistemological claim immediately led to a political conclusion, for only a sociologically trained elite, it implied, could properly interpret societal problems. Obviously, scholars in the humanities and literary authors perceived this conclusion as a threat and accordingly contested it. In doing so, they also contested sociology’s epistemological status. In the absence of evident successes, they argued, the sociologists’ claims that their scientific methods enabled them to note social facts hitherto ignored by others were not convincing. Moreover, sociology was politically suspect: anyone failing to state his loyalty to a particular nation and who spoke about ‘society’ outside of a particular national context was readily suspected of treason, especially in the runup to the First World War. Thus, Durkheim was forced to defend himself against the reproach that his methods betrayed a German background, patiently explaining that sociology was French in origin. German sociology, which took the separation of state and society as axiomatic, ran into similarly political objections. Against the ethos of a

Developing New Disciplines


science that strives for a form of knowledge shared by an international community of researchers, Stefan George opposed the aristocracy of the solitary man who knows better: ‘a knowledge that is equal for everybody is deceit,’ he wrote. The ideal of value-free science (cf. § 7.5) only betrays liberal politics, he objected. The ‘free-floating intellectual’ praised as a political and cultural mediator by sociologist Karl Mannheim was labelled a nihilist by the latter’s opponents. Instead of presenting a solution to the problems of European society, sociology was seen by its opponents as part of the problem. The changes occurring in the German intellectual landscape from the end of the eighteenth century, which provided fertile ground for the development of both the humanities and the social sciences, can be depicted by tracing the new meanings given to the term *culture. This term stems from the Latin cultura, which originally referred to the improvement or enrichment of agricultural crops. This original meaning can still be found in concepts such as ‘cultivation’ and ‘bacterial cultures’. In the second half of the eighteenth century, however, the term acquired a different meaning – that of spiritual improvement. Thus, the German philosopher Moses Mendelssohn (1729-1786) wrote in 1784: The terms Enlightenment, culture and Bildung are novel arrivals in our language. They only form part of written language. The great mass hardly understands them. 43

At that moment in time, these three terms could hardly be distinguished from each other. Soon, however, Kultur and Bildung in German become the opposites of Enlightenment (Aufklärung) and Civilization (the latter is not mentioned by Mendelssohn). Gradually, Kultur and Bildung became more highly valued than the other two and increasingly became a weapon in the ideological battle of the German bourgeois intelligentsia trying to distinguish themselves from the Francophone Prussian court. Against French civilisation, which was associated with outward pomp, ceremony, and superficiality, the German term Kultur appeared to express deeper or higher values and to refer to the world of study, books, and personal development. Until deep into the twentieth century, the opposition between culture and civilization was to retain a political dimension. Thus, Thomas Mann wrote in his 1918

43 Moses Mendelssohn, ‘Ueber die Frage: Was heisst aufklären?’ Berlinische Monatsschrift 4 (September 1784).


History and Philosophy of the Humanities

Reflections of an Unpolitical Man: ‘Germanness is culture, soul, freedom and art; and not civilization, society, literature or the right to vote’. 44 In short, just like the humanities, the modern social sciences emerged from a combination of conceptual innovation, societal needs, and the dynamics created by institutional change at the universities. The humanities are more closely linked to the nationalist Counter-Enlightenment and have a reputation for being politically more conservative, while the social sciences generally embrace Enlightenment universalism and are generally secularist and politically progressive. To some extent, these characteristics solidified when the humanities and social sciences became more firmly established and institutionalized. As we shall see, this is most dramatically apparent from the history of the German branches of these sciences.

Summary − Hegel developed an influential view of history as a dialectical and necessary or lawlike process of the development of spirit in the direction of freedom. Hegel’s view is an example of a philosophy of consciousness. Moreover, it is emphatically teleological and Eurocentric. − Modern philology, or historicizing textual criticism, constitutes the basis for historical comparative linguistics and academic historiography, among other disciplines. It is based on the critical historicizing study of textual sources. It aims to reconstruct original texts or languages, which are seen as the purest and most authentic forms of the objects under investigation. − Ranke tried to create a scientific historiography and rejected Hegel’s teleological views. His own views, however, were still based in part on philosophical and theological considerations. − Nietzsche rejected the idea that historical awareness was a virtue. His own genealogical view unmasked Christian morality in terms of resentment and a will to power. − From an early stage, a rivalry developed between sociology and the modern humanities. Both deal with similar and overlapping social, cultural, moral, and political problems of the modern world.

44 Mann, Betrachtungen eines Unpolitischen (Berlin, 1918), p. XXXIII.


Between Hermeneutics and the Natural Sciences: In Search of a Method

7.1 Introduction In the nineteenth century and the first half of the twentieth century, the humanities were continuously concerned with justifying their newly autonomous position with respect both to the natural sciences and to the social sciences. Institutionally, they tried to prove that they did indeed belong in a separate faculty, and philosophically, they struggled primarily with their Kantian heritage. As seen above, the latter’s subject-object scheme made it difficult if not impossible to know man as a subject in the same way as the objects of the physical and living natural world. Although humanities scholars greatly respected the natural sciences, many of them increasingly felt that these disciplines were not able to grasp what is essential to man. It is against this background that the *hermeneutic, or interpretative, humanities arose. Whereas the natural sciences try to observe and explain external phenomena, the modern humanities look at phenomena as the expression of inner meanings and values. The hermeneutic tradition, however, has a completely different view of meaning and interpretation than the logical empiricists discussed in chapter 2. Moreover, there was little if any consensus even within this tradition as to exactly how the natural sciences and human sciences differ and what they have in common. Another influential philosophical current of this period is neo-Kantianism, which phrases the distinction between the human sciences and the natural sciences as either involving different forms of concept formation or in terms of different symbol functions. The famous and controversial new science of psychoanalysis elaborates an uneasy compromise between interpretation and natural scientific observation. All of these approaches share a background in Kantian thought, which dominated nineteenth and early twentieth-century German philosophy and as such also informed various other disciplines. Interpretation is one of the most common everyday human activities, but at the same time also one of the most enigmatic. We regularly ask ourselves ‘what something means’, ‘what somebody means by that’, and the like, not only of linguistic utterances but also of various other kinds of action. Moreover, we not only refer to the meaning of actions but also the meaning of cultural products, such as artworks and artefacts, or the


History and Philosophy of the Humanities

meaning of particular elements in them, such as a figure of speech, a term, an ornament, or a phrase. But exactly what does it mean to ‘mean something’? How do we actually ascertain meanings? What should one do in order to interpret linguistic utterances, works of art, cultural customs, or artefacts? And in what ways can we distinguish good and inadequate interpretations? Let us first discuss some examples of interpretation in order to get a better idea of what it might consist of. In our everyday lives, the enormous variety of the uses of the term ‘meaning’ is immediately apparent. We say that the accumulation of dark grey clouds ‘means’ that it will probably start raining; we say that a red traffic sign with a horizontal white stripe means ‘forbidden to enter’; we say that hora est means ‘it is time’ but also, when uttered by a beadle, that the defense of a PhD dissertation in the Netherlands has come to an end. Whoever understands all of this immediately understands the signs of the weather, knows the traffic rules, has a command of elementary Latin, and is aware of an academic custom. In other cases, however, we will have to make an effort to ascertain a meaning, as happens when we want to know the meaning of an ancient work of art, for example, or the customs in an alien culture. We can ask ourselves what the meaning is of an allegorical image we encounter in a Renaissance painting or what the meaning of the titular character in Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s novel The Idiot is. Likewise, we can ask ourselves what the meaning of the kula is, a complex system of commerce in Trobriand Island culture. At first sight, ‘interpretation’ would appear to be the exclusive property of the humanities and the social sciences. Yet this impression is misleading. As was made clear by Duhem, Popper, Quine, and Kuhn, we encounter interpretation in the natural sciences as well, since empirical data are meaningful only in the light of a theory. And, as seen in Kuhn, a dispute about the meanings of central terms is even characteristic of periods of so-called revolutionary science. When we restrict our attention to the interpretation of linguistic and literary utterances, we might be tempted to think that it consists of recovering the thoughts or intentions that the speaker had in mind in uttering those words. For example, if we want to know what the meaning is of T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land – on first reading a rather obscure poem – then we should try to recover the author’s intention. To put it in more everyday terms in the form of a question: ‘What did the author mean to say?’ However, if we could still ask the author, he would probably answer: ‘Read my poem once again; I cannot express what I wanted to say more precisely than I did there.’

Be t ween Hermeneutics and the Natur al Sciences: In Search of a Method


For works composed or written in our own time and language, the idea that interpretation primarily concerns the discovery of the author’s intentions may still seem plausible, but in the case of a Greek tragedy or a Japanese Nô play, we need to do much more. Texts from remote places or periods presuppose various things as self-evident which to us may appear obscure, false, or nonsensical. In order to understand such texts, it is essential to retrieve their cultural background. In such cases, ‘interpreting’ also implies getting to know these backgrounds, without which the art form involved cannot be adequately understood. In explicating and making understandable such a background, the author’s intentions (in so far as there is any one person at the origin of this text) play at best a moderate role and, in many cases, none at all. The theory of the process of interpretation – including recovering and explicating the background of contexts that may make a text or work of art easier to understand – is called *hermeneutics. It discusses what humans do in the process of understanding or interpreting and what enables them to do so. Thus, it studies man as a knowing, interpreting, and meaning-giving subject rather than as an object of empirical investigation. This is the main difference between hermeneutics on the one hand and *semantics and *pragmatics, which are linguistic subdisciplines, on the other. The latter two also deal with ‘interpretation’ and ‘understanding’ but assume that the associated epistemological questions are answered in empiricist terms and therefore make an empirical and deductive study of the process of interpretation. Hermeneutics, by contrast, because of its German idealist framework, is strictly distinguished both from linguistics and from empirical cognitive psychology. The hermeneutic tradition originated in the early nineteenth century, when the first explicit views on the interpretative process were formulated. Foucault’s archaeological perspective makes it understandable why it took so long for philosophers to start to look at this problem. In the classical épistémè, representation and meaning did not form philosophical problems, as representation was seen as the represented in the sign itself. This began to change around 1800 (see § 5.1). Thereafter, signs were no longer seen as transparent representations of the order of things but as primarily expressing a local and historically variable spirit. Because of this historicity, signs lost their representative transparency, as a result of which the search for their correct interpretation became a demanding task, which, moreover, required historical consciousness. Initially, nineteenth-century hermeneutics was generally concerned with the interpretation – usually indicated with the German term *Verstehen – of


History and Philosophy of the Humanities

independent products of spirit such as literature and art, which are usually seen as possessing uniquely artistic features or qualities. If one can speak of laws in this domain, these are not psychological regularities describing the workings of the mind but aesthetic principles representing the artwork as unique and the artist as a creative genius.


From Biblical Exegesis to General Method: Friedrich Schleiermacher and Wilhelm Dilthey

In the course of the nineteenth century, hermeneutics gradually developed from a doctrine of verstehen into a method specific to the humanities. Two of the protagonists in this process were Friedrich Schleiermacher and Wilhelm Dilthey, both of whom clearly stand in the German idealist tradition sketched above in § 5.2. 7.2a

Schleiermacher and Hermeneutics

The term hermeneutics, in the sense of a general doctrine of exegesis – or explication – and interpretation, was coined by Friedrich Schleiermacher (1768-1834), a professor of theology at the newly opened University of Berlin and thus a close colleague of Hegel’s. Obviously, questions of understanding and interpreting had long been held to be important in areas such as biblical exegesis and classical philology, but Schleiermacher was the first to develop a general theory of interpretation. He aimed to transform theology into a serious and rigorous science. In his view, this required a strictly historicizing approach to the texts under scrutiny. In order to gain an adequate and scientific understanding of texts, he believed that we must locate them within the context of their times. Prior to Schleiermacher, texts had generally been seen as expressions of an unchanging human nature, for example in the long tradition of historical Biblical criticism represented by such scholars as Hugo Grotius and Baruch Spinoza. Just like Renaissance humanism, this tradition was historicizing in so far as it strove to free the original texts from later additions and interpretations. But, in line with the classical épistémè, it left no room for the belief that human thought might change so radically in the course of history as to render the interpreting of texts from the past a non-trivial task. Hence, it did not see any major obstacles to interpreting the Bible, for example, or classical Roman juridical texts. At the start of the nineteenth century, however, this began to change when a belief in the historicity of human consciousness

Be t ween Hermeneutics and the Natur al Sciences: In Search of a Method


gained currency. As a result, ‘interpreting’ became an undertaking whose success was not guaranteed beforehand, and hermeneutics emerged as a scientific thematic. Together with the notion of a historically determined and mutable spirit, the idea arose that a gap could exist between the spirit of the past and that of the present, and that this gap had to be bridged with the aid of hermeneutics. The aim of this general hermeneutics, according to Schleiermacher, is first and foremost to reconstruct or reproduce the author’s original thinking. Schleiermacher acknowledged that the meaning of a text does not only depend on its author’s intentions, and therefore he designed a systematic method of interpretation that also paid attention to the structure of a text and its relation to other texts. Alongside Biblical texts, he used primarily the writings of ancient pagan philosophers to illustrate his views. Schleiermacher distinguished the psychological understanding of a text from its grammatical interpretation. While a psychological understanding attempts to retrieve the text’s inner form or the author’s intentions, Schleiermacher’s grammatical understanding tries to determine the exterior form, that is, the exact linguistic structure and correct reading of the original text, by studying the variants of and writing errors in surviving manuscripts. He argued that the structure of a text and its relations to other texts are, to an important extent, independent of the author’s individual intentions and follow their own principles and laws. In other words, the text has an order of its own, which should not be sought inside the author’s head. The exegete or hermeneutician retrieves this order by determining the structure and context of a text. Hence, understanding not only involves reliving the thoughts and aims of the author but should also employ a rigorous (and, if one likes, ‘objective’) historical method that aims to recover structural features of both texts and contexts. A key element of this method is what Schleiermacher called the *hermeneutic circle. A work as a whole can only be understood on the basis of the interpretation of its individual elements, but conversely, the interpreting of an individual line of verse or paragraph also requires a holistic understanding of the work as a whole and of the cultural and societal circumstances in which the work was written. This process is circular in that, according to Schleiermacher, there is no way of breaking out of this circle: one cannot start with the elements without any idea of the sense and aim of the whole, and vice versa. Nonetheless, we can steadily improve our knowledge of both the whole and the parts in a process of continuous mutual refinement and elaboration. Thus, the circularity involved is not vicious but instead forms a kind of upward spiral. Moreover, this process of interpretation is in principle


History and Philosophy of the Humanities

infinite, since one can never say that the interpretation of a text has been definitively concluded. Schleiermacher’s hermeneutics is inextricably linked with Romanticism in the arts and in particular with the Romantic notion of the *genius that unconsciously and without any rational control creates Great Works. Thus, the hermeneutic method enables the philologist to acquire a knowledge of the work that its maker did not himself possess. The interpreter consciously repeats the creative process that the creative genius has completed unconsciously. The aim of interpretation is therefore to ‘understand a text better than the author himself’, as Schleiermacher put it. 7.2b

Dilthey and the Humanities

Schleiermacher’s hermeneutics was systematically elaborated upon by Wilhelm Dilthey (1833-1911), the first great methodologist of the humanities. According to Dilthey, the hermeneutic or interpretative method is what principally distinguishes the humanities from the natural sciences, as the latter follow an empirical or observational method. In doing so, Dilthey was reacting in part to the institutional changes that had occurred in the course of the nineteenth century at German universities. In the second half of that century, the natural sciences had left the philosophy faculty and had established itself in a new faculty. With this split, the need arose to distinguish whatever remained in the old faculty of philosophy (or was unified in a new faculty of the humanities) from the natural sciences. That is, Dilthey developed his ideas about the methodological difference between the natural sciences and the humanities only after this distinction had already been institutionally established. Philosophically, Dilthey was in effect responding to the empiricist belief, linked to the natural sciences, that scientific knowledge can only be based on sense perception. The problem with this, he wrote, is that we approach humans in a different way than lifeless things. We do not merely observe humans’ behaviour but also try to identify, or empathize, with their thoughts and motives. In other words, we not only observe external actions but always experience these also in terms of their inner drives. This process is made explicit in the method of verstehen and is what distinguishes the humanities from the natural sciences. Hence, according to Dilthey, the humanities do not strictly have a different object of study than natural sciences but rather distinguish themselves by their interpretative method. Thus, according to Dilthey, verstehen involves the unearthing of inner drives and motives by means of their exterior, observable expression in

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language, art, or action. For him, interpretation is thus a kind of experiencing in the sense of reliving (erleben), that is, of reconstructing a text and the situation in which it was written. As such, Dilthey’s method is closely linked to a more general ‘philosophy of life’ that sees man as a vital and organic whole driven by a vital force that cannot be explained in natural-scientific terms. Around 1900, this philosophy of life was quite popular, in part inspired by Nietzsche’s writings. Dilthey saw philosophy of life as a kind of synthesis of positivism and German idealism. While he strove for a strictly scientific formulation of the humanities, he also saw man as much more than a knowing being. A science of spirit, he argued, should not turn man into an abstract and disembodied Kantian knowing subject but should instead explore him in the concreteness and historical determinacy of his will, experience, and imagination. In short, the humanities should take as their object of study human life as a whole and arrange their methods accordingly. According to Dilthey, life is historical by definition and hence the process of verstehen itself is constrained by the historicity of the interpreting subject. Man, however, may try to escape these historical constraints precisely by studying other persons and eras, thereby acquiring a measure of ‘objective’ knowledge. By developing historical consciousness, man can thus escape his own historicity. For Dilthey, the notion of experiencing as reliving takes over the fundamental role of knowledge and reason. Thus, he presented his work as a ‘critique of historical reason’, which proceeds from Kant’s ahistorical critique of pure reason. Contrary to Kant, it sees human reason not as timeless and universal but as historically determined and changing. Moreover, he criticized Kant’s epistemological view of human reason as one-sided: Apart from a few beginnings (which were not scientifically developed) like those of Herder and Wilhelm von Humboldt, epistemology (that of the empiricists and of Kant) has, up till now, explained experience (Erfahrung) and cognition merely from the facts of apprehension [i.e., in purely epistemological terms]. No real blood flows in the veins of the knowing subject constructed by Locke, Hume, and Kant; it is only the diluted juice of reason, a mere process of thought … However, my historical and psychological studies of man as a whole led me to explain cognition and its concepts in terms of man in the plurality of his powers, as a willing, feeling, and imagining being. 45 45 Dilthey, Einleitung in die Geisteswissenschaften. Gesammelte Schriften, Band I (Stuttgart/ Göttingen, 1973 [1910]), p. XVIII.


History and Philosophy of the Humanities

Although he saw meaning as a purely individual mental notion, the later Dilthey advocated an unambiguously *anti-psychologistic approach, reacting against Schleiermacher’s view of interpretation as unveiling and explicating the genius’s unconscious inner states. Accordingly, Dilthey placed more emphasis on the exterior side of an artwork than his predecessor. Historical-comparative linguistics, the dominant linguistic theory of the nineteenth century, is based on philological rather than hermeneutic methods and hence takes an ambivalent position within Dilthey’s division of the branches of science. In its attempt to reconstruct *Proto-Indo-European from later languages, it sees language as the expression of a historically variable popular spirit. This aspect turns linguistics into a prototypically historicizing humanities discipline. Toward the end of the nineteenth century, however, the so-called Neogrammarians or *Jung­grammatiker, a group of German linguists, spread the belief that historical language change is a strictly lawlike and exceptionless process among linguists (cf. § 6.2). Henceforth, the historical development of language was formulated in terms of ‘sound laws’, and linguistics could present itself with considerable justification as a kind of natural science. It could boast of a number of real and solid results, and it allowed for a meaningful discussion concerning the question of whether a given sound law or historical reconstruction was correct. This model, however, left little if any room for an interpretative method, since sound laws are completely isolated from, or inaccessible to, the consciousness of the speakers of a language. To put it briefly and somewhat paradoxically: with its historicizing view of language as an expression of spirit, Neogrammarian historical-comparative linguistics is a prototypical humanities discipline, but simultaneously, given its emphasis on universal laws, it is closer to the natural sciences.


Psychoanalysis between Hermeneutics and Natural Science

The most famous and controversial attempt to uncover the secrets of the human soul or spirit with the aid of methods different from those of the natural sciences, however, was not a discipline of linguistics, or history, but psychoanalysis, as originally developed by Sigmund Freud (1856-1939). Freud was even more ambivalent than the Neogrammarians concerning the scientific status of his theories. On the one hand, he saw psychoanalysis as a natural-scientific ‘biology of the mind’, in part as a result of his own medical and physiological training. On the other hand, he also clearly

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Sigmund Freud

saw it as a hermeneutic undertaking in as far as it crucially involves the interpretation of the patient’s words and associations. The friction between these two aspects in part explains why psychoanalysis’s status as a science remains controversial. Initially, Freud’s work concerned clinical psychiatry. Having grown up in fin-de-siècle Vienna, a culturally flourishing but sexually repressive society, Freud developed the idea that bodily afflictions such as hysteria and neurosis may have a psychological cause rather than a physiological one and thus could not be cured with the aid of physical or physiological means such as surgery or medication. Instead, he proposed a so-called ‘talking cure’ (Redekur) in which patients, prototypically lying on a sofa in a semi-dark environment without being able to see their therapist, are encouraged to associate freely and without any obstructions with words that preoccupy them. Freud argued that such associations constitute signs of the patient’s hidden memories and repressed earlier experiences.


History and Philosophy of the Humanities

Thanks to his clinical experience treating psychiatric patients, Freud arrived at the revolutionary notion of the *unconscious, that is, the hidden drive of much of our actions. The unconscious cannot itself be observed, he claimed, but its workings and effects appear in all kinds of human behaviour, from jokes and slips of the tongue to obsessively repeated actions and neurotic habits. Freud’s first and possibly most famous idea was that our dreams are among the most important indications for the functioning of the unconscious, as they show us our unfulfilled desires. The most important of these unconscious desires are sexual in character. He notoriously claimed that even children have such sexual desires and that a proper insight into the development of the child’s drives and the ways this development can go wrong may help us in understanding and curing the neuroses of adults. The notion of infantile sexuality was revolutionary and highly controversial among Freud’s contemporaries. Psychic afflictions such as neuroses do not have a physiological cause, Freud wrote, but result from errors in the learning process that children pass through in the development of their libidinal life. Freud distinguished different stages in this development, proceeding from the assumption that sexual drives have no natural or ‘normal’ object but result from a complex developmental process involving various stages (the oral, anal, phallic, oedipal, and latency phase) during which all kinds of things can go wrong. From this perspective, neuroses were pathological forms of developmental stages which in themselves are normal phases of psychic growth, and they amount to a fixation on, or regression/ return to, one particular stage. They then lead to oral or anal fixations, for example, which repeat unconscious and repressed experiences from that phase. Psychotherapy may help the patient to ‘retrieve’ such experiences through chains of associations and thus to transform them into conscious memories. Freud presents many of his ideas on the basis of so-called case studies, that is, detailed narratives of the treatment of individual patients. One of the most famous of these describes little Hans, a five-year-old boy with a phobia for horses. Freud manages to reduce this phobia to an unconscious hatred for and fear of his father, who is seen by Hans as a rival in the quest for the love of his mother. This is the famous – or infamous – *Oedipus complex. In later writings, Freud developed a more dynamic view of the different parts and aspects of the human soul, in particular by distinguishing between the *id, the *ego, and the *superego. The id comprises the unconscious, biologically determined and ultimately irrational drives; the ego functions in a generally realistic, rational, and conscious manner but can nonetheless also be involved in the subconscious repression of the id’s drives. The relation

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between these two aspects or parts is dynamic: a newborn infant is primarily id but develops an ego when and because it becomes conscious of a world outside of itself. The superego, meanwhile, is an internalization of parental authority that suppresses or punishes the child’s oedipal drives, for example, and thus functions as a kind of conscience for the ego. This view that morality and conscience were based on the internalization of the repression of oedipal and other drives also dominated Freud’s views on culture and religion. All human culture and civilization, he wrote in The Future of an Illusion (1927) – that is, everything that distinguishes human existence from animal life – rests on the *repression of biologically determined drives or on the postponed gratification of desires and thus serves to protect humans against the forces of nature. According to him, religious representations – such as the belief in a singular and omnipotent God characteristic of Christian culture – also have such functions. The Jewish and Christian God is clearly a stern father figure. Freud saw these religions as illusions, that is, as unprovable convictions that project the idea of a protecting and punishing father onto a supreme being. Although Freud emphasized his respect for believers and for all the good that religions have brought historically, he also claimed that religions display similarities to neuroses in that they maintain childlike views and behavioural patterns concerning punishment, reward, and responsibility in adult humans. In his view, religions were therefore not merely illusions but positively harmful illusions to the extent that they block a mature and healthy feeling of responsibility and rational knowledge of the world. Just like his contemporaries Weber and Durkheim, Freud was convinced that scientific knowledge was in the process of pushing aside religion, and that this development was mostly positive. He, too, was a convinced *secularist. With his preference for empirical science over religious conviction, Freud thus stemmed from the Enlightenment tradition, which sees (scientific) reason as the best source of societal and moral authority, given that it submits to rational criticism. More specifically, he adhered to the Kantian belief that man is liberated by reason. This is ironic, given his own unmasking of man as largely shaped by unconscious and irrational drives, taking reason not as a transcendental given but as an achievement acquired through arduous struggle. Yet reason marked a victory over these biologically determined drives. Moreover, for Freud, achieving a conscious memory of and rational insight into repressed past experiences were fundamental to a cure, and thus reason also had a liberating capacity. Finally, Freud appears to have shared the Kantian belief that reason, as embodied in scientific knowledge, is universal and unchanging.


History and Philosophy of the Humanities

There have been more debates about the scientific status of psychoanalysis than about any other framework discussed in this book, with the possible exception of Marxism. Practical or clinical questions soon arose as to whether Freudian psychotherapy was effective as a psychiatric treatment of mental illness. In later decades, methodological doubts were added to these criticisms. These doubts were strengthened by psychoanalysis’ ambivalent position between hard clinical science and the interpretative humanities. As mentioned above (see § 3.3a), Popper and his followers considered the psychoanalytical way of dealing with observation statements a textbook example of how not to do science. According to Popper, explaining away seemingly falsifying observations on the basis of earlier clinical experience, as he claimed to have seen the psychoanalyst Alfred Adler do, is a prototypical ‘conventionalist stratagem’ that immunizes theories against refutation. If this criticism holds, psychoanalysis is unfalsifiable and hence, in Popper’s terms, a pseudo-science. Furthermore, objections have been raised against the central psychoanalytic notions of repression and the unconscious. In part, these may simply be seen as theoretical terms that help us to order, explain, or summarize observations. But the question remains whether theories that so clearly appeal to concepts interpreting irrational and contradictory impulses or drives still exclude any possible observation, as Popper required of testable theories. Moreover, diametrically opposed forms of behaviour may be explained or predicted from one and the same theory. Undoubtedly, Freud himself would have strongly objected to such criticisms, arguing that he had spent his entire career refining and reviewing his theories and concepts in the light of clinical observations or as the result of criticism by other psychiatrists. Despite these and other objections, Freudian psychoanalysis has remained popular among practicing psychiatrists but also among people working in the humanities and the public at large. In the words of Rorty (see § 11.3b), Freud told us a new and appealing story about ourselves that has left clear traces in science, art, and in everyday life. In the humanities, Freudian concepts can be, and have been, used in different ways. We may attempt to explain the motives of artists in psychoanalytic terms, as Freud himself did with Michelangelo, Dostoyevsky, and others, but we may also try to interpret the actions and statements of the characters in a movie or novel or the figures in a painting with the aid of Freudian concepts. Moreover, psychoanalytical ideas have penetrated not only the work of many people working in the humanities – ranging from the classical philologist E.R. Dodds and the historian Peter Gay to literary theorists including Shoshana Felman and cultural critics such as Slavoj

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Žižek – but also many cultural products that are studied in the humanities, from the novels of Italo Svevo and D.H. Lawrence to the movies of Woody Allen and TV shows like The Sopranos.


Neo-Kantianism: Heinrich Rickert and Ernst Cassirer

Even more than Dilthey, Nietzsche, and other philosophers of life, it is the so-called *neo-Kantians who dominated late nineteenth-century German academic philosophy. They extended Kant’s epistemology to the analysis of what we call ‘culture’ or ‘tradition’: the complex whole of beliefs, norms, values, and unconscious ways of behaving that appear so self-evident – to those who hold them – that they need no explanation or justification. Taking Kant’s idea that the subject is the transcendental foundation of knowledge, neo-Kantians argue along the lines of Dilthey that human consciousness is historically determined rather than timeless and universal, and thus that it may change character across periods and cultures. However, in contrast to Dilthey, they focus less on life and more on culture, and less on interpretation and more on concept formation. Although neo-Kantianism has largely disappeared as a philosophical current since the 1930s, its ideas live on in various other disciplines. 7.4a Rickert Heinrich Rickert (1863-1936) may be seen as Dilthey’s great rival in attempting to provide a general theoretical foundation for the humanities. He considered the latter’s notions of spirit, life, and experience too metaphysical and unscientific and his notion of understanding too subjective and psychologist to serve as methodological foundations for any scientific discipline. Hence, whereas Dilthey still considered life as a natural if inner notion, Rickert emphasized that culture is man’s essential feature. Distinguishing his views from those of Dilthey, Rickert talked about the *cultural sciences (Kulturwissenschaften) rather than the humanities (Geisteswissenschaften). According to him, these culturalsciences are characterized not by a distinct object (the inner, mental, or spiritual) or by a distinct method (that of understanding) but by a particular kind of *concept formation that is essentially different from that of the natural sciences. Unlike the concept of culture (taken as a complex whole of historically determined norms, values, and customs), Dilthey’s notion of life as a natural or biological concept does not imply a methodologically distinct field of scientific knowledge.


History and Philosophy of the Humanities

We might also say that, unlike life, culture by definition involves meanings and values. All culture, Rickert argued, arises from human actions, and as such, it is oriented towards meanings and values rather than towards the physical aspects or consequences of those actions. Values are not objects that exist and hence cannot be observed; rather, they have validity. According to Rickert, there is only one empirical reality, but this reality may be understood from several different perspectives. Our finite human intelligence can only grasp the infinite variety of what can be observed by strictly selecting from among our observations, that is, by forming concepts from particular perspectives. Rickert argued that there are two fundamentally distinct ways of concept formation: ‘the world becomes nature when we study it with an eye for the general; it becomes history when we observe it with our eye on the particular and individual’. That is, when we observe an object as natural, we do not associate it with any meaning or value; but when we observe it as a product of culture, we see it as value-laden by definition. If we try to imagine an artefact or cultural product such as a painting or a musical composition without such values, it loses everything that makes it into something cultural, it becomes a purely physical – and literally worthless – natural object: The distinctive central material of historical science, that is, meaningful cultural life, is historically represented in such a way that the values that endow it with meaning simultaneously yield the governing principles of concept formation with the help of which historiography appropriates its material. 46

In this perspective, the sciences of culture are no less scientific than the natural sciences but only distinct because of their aims and because of the kinds of concepts they employ. That is, they observe reality from the perspective of the individual, or particular, or even unique, case. Hence, they are what neo-Kantians call *idiographic sciences. By contrast, the natural sciences are *nomothetic in that they formulate universal laws that apply identically to all cases. Both kinds of sciences make generally valid claims, but these claims are of a different character. In other words, these two kinds of science focus on individual if not unique events and on general patterns, respectively.

46 Rickert, The Limits of Concept Formation in Historical Science, abridged edition, tran. Guy Oakes. (Cambridge, 1986), p. 145

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The *value orientation (Wertbeziehung) of cultural science is simultaneously a kind of hermeneutic orientation towards meaning. Understanding, however, is no longer the methodological starting point here – rather, it follows from a prior distinction between nature and culture as two strictly separate spheres, each of which is linked to a perspective that presupposes its own knowledge ideal and its own concept formation. For Rickert, the specific kinds of concept formation and the constituting of objects of research were thus two sides of one and the same process. It is values and interests, he believed, that give cultural materials their meaning. Thus, he wrote, the meaning of a unique event such as the French Revolution can only be understood by appealing to the ideal – or value – of freedom. Ordering an event or utterance under a value is therefore not the same as subsuming it under a general concept, as it also involves an engagement and a taking of sides. Rickert argued that each historical period must be understood in terms of its own values. In doing so, however, he risked falling into a *value relativism, that is, the belief that there are no universally valid moral or aesthetic values that transcend different periods and cultures. In order to accommodate this problem, Rickert formulated a philosophy of absolute values that was meant to allow for a timeless determination of the historical meaning of events, thus enabling him to write a universally and objectively valid history after all. According to Rickert, the values that are fundamental to the humanities are simultaneously objective and unreal. They do not exist in the way that physical objects exist and thus cannot be established empirically, but they are valid a priori and are not subjective. Initially, Rickert merely asserted that such values must exist, but later he also tried to identify and describe them. These attempts, however, met with little success or enthusiasm. Generally, it was the problematic status of values in Rickert’s thought that was regarded as one of the main philosophical causes of the demise of neo-Kantianism. By the time Rickert died in 1936, this philosophical school had already lost its dominant position in German academic philosophy, albeit for political reasons as much as for academic ones. Nonetheless, many of Rickert’s beliefs about the philosophy of science live on in Max Weber’s writings, which are of seminal importance to the social sciences even today (see § 7.5). 7.4b Cassirer A second prominent neo-Kantian is Ernst Cassirer (1874-1945). Whereas Rickert defined the concept of culture in terms of norms and values, Cassirer emphasized its symbolic aspects. And whereas Kant posed the question


History and Philosophy of the Humanities

of how indubitable knowledge is possible, Cassirer asked how meaning is possible. He formulated his answers to this question on the basis of a detailed general theory of *symbols. By symbols, Cassirer meant all empirically observable phenomena that function as signs of something else. The linguistic sign or word, of course, is the clearest example of a symbol in this sense, but according to Cassirer, every cultural expression – whether a language, myth, or religious ritual – may be seen as a coherent whole of symbols. In his view, symbols are omnipresent in human knowledge and action. This perspective implies a rejection of the empiricist idea that all knowledge is built on pure observation. For Cassirer, pure or theory-free observation is an illusion, since all observation and knowledge is inevitably filled with meaning. ‘Whatever is perceptual is meaningful’ (‘alles Sinnliche ist sinnhaft’), he repeatedly emphasized – that is, observation, which empiricists see as elementary, has an irreducibly symbolic dimension. This brought him closer to the doctrine that all perception is theory or interpretation-dependent, which in different versions was also presented by, among others, Popper, Quine, Kuhn, and Sellars. In another respect, too, Cassirer’s thinking showed similarities with Popper. Both attempted to adapt Kantian epistemology to the findings of contemporary scientific research that completely undermined Newtonian mechanics, such as non-Euclidean geometry, relativity theory, and quantum mechanics. These discoveries suggested that seemingly unchanging features of human reason were not the universal foundation of objective knowledge, as Kant had claimed. As seen above, Popper attempted to accommodate these objections with his critical rationalist position that all scientific knowledge may be criticized. Cassirer, by contrast, looked for a solution to the question of scientific progress in the historical development of the functions of human symbols. According to Kant, the possibility of experience was founded in reason. Cassirer, seeing man as primarily a symbolizing rather than a rational being, shifted this foundational role from reason to man’s symbolizing capacities. Building on Kant, he developed the idea of *symbolic forms that make it possible for humans to observe and know empirical objects. Language is the most obvious symbolic form, but other forms include myth, art, religion, and scientific knowledge. For Cassirer, each of these was a distinct and possibly irreducible way of understanding the world. The structure of a symbolic form, in other words, determines how we look at the world and what kinds of objects we perceive. This doctrine builds on Humboldt’s idea that the

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structure of language guides our thinking, but it is more general and not restricted to language. Furthermore, Cassirer took culturally variable symbolic forms rather than universal and unchanging forms of intuition as transcendental conditions of possibility for empirical knowledge of the outside world. Continuing in a Kantian vein, he argued that man constructs his different systems of symbols not in order to represent an already independently given reality with pre-existing facts and objects but rather to make the shaping or designing of reality possible in the first place: Language, myth, art, religion, science are the elements and the constitutive conditions of this higher form of society. They are the means by which the forms of social life… develop into [the] state of social consciousness.47

Unlike reason, this symbolizing capacity need not be organized systematically or rationally. Cassirer described this capacity by means of different symbolic forms such as language, religion, and scientific knowledge. He distinguished three functions of symbols: the expressive function, the representational or visualizing function, and the purely signifying function. Symbols with an expressive function express what lives inside man: the will, the emotions, etc. In their representational function, symbols depict the visible, empirically observable world of concrete objects. The purely signifying function, finally, is the most abstract one, as it constitutes an independent system of relations rather than a system of objects and their empirically observable properties. In primitive cultures, Cassirer claimed, the different symbol functions have not yet been differentiated. In this view, primitive man represents nature as living and as endowed with a will and thus conflates the expressive and representative functions of the symbols. By contrast, modern scientific knowledge, even though it rests on symbols just as much as myths or religions, is distinguished by the function of its symbols. According to Cassirer, science aims to remove the anthropomorphic or magical elements from systems of symbols and distinguishes aspects that in primitive mythical thinking are still seen as one single whole. In modern science, the signifying function of symbols has been isolated. Hence, modern science does not speak of empirically given objects but rather of objects as defined by their place in abstract systems of relations.

47 Cassirer, An Essay on Man (New Haven, 1944), p. 223.


History and Philosophy of the Humanities

The philosophy of symbolic forms thus yields a theory of the development of human culture. Functions that are initially not differentiated gradually become distinguished. The purely signifying function is a new step in the development of human culture, Cassirer argued. Furthermore, similar to Hegel and Comte, Cassirer believed that human culture follows a linear development running from ‘primitive’ to ‘modern’ cultures, with scientific knowledge as its highest stage yet, if not its final stage. For Cassirer, however, science was not the sole valid form of acquiring and reproducing knowledge, which, moreover, had to be strictly separated from pseudo-science. In the natural sciences, he contended, we find only one of the possible shapes of man’s symbolic capacities. Natural-scientific knowledge is thus only one part of a more general theory of symbolic forms, albeit its highest one. The philosophy of symbolic forms thus presents a comprehensive vision of progress in science and in the arts, which is not formulated in terms of the ‘growth of knowledge’ or ‘approximation of the truth’ but in terms of changing symbol functions. Viewed in this way, the strict distinction between the natural sciences and the humanities loses importance. Cassirer saw himself as an heir of Kant – more specifically, as one who tried to do more justice to language and culture.


Understanding in the Social Sciences: Max Weber

As argued above, the social sciences have a closer affinity to the Enlightenment tradition than the humanities, which in turn are more aligned with the Counter-Enlightenment. Nonetheless, the hermeneutic method has been employed in the social sciences as well, in particular in the influential work of the German sociologist Max Weber (1864-1920), who became famous with a number of influential studies in historical sociology and the sociology of religion. Weber is the founder of so-called interpretative or verstehende sociology, which formulates the task of that discipline as the ‘interpretative understanding and explaining of human action in its unfolding’. Weber’s methodological views were formulated in several lengthy essays compiled in his collected papers on methodology (Wissenschaftslehre) and are closely linked to Rickert’s beliefs on the distinction between different kinds of concept formation in the cultural sciences. According to Weber, the object of sociology is *social action, that is, ‘action in so far as it is directed towards others and is connected by the actor with a subjective meaning’. It is the sociologist’s task to understand this action and to explain its unfolding, and thus Weber reconstructed societal

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phenomena and constellations as enabling a particular kind of social action. He attempted to unearth the *subjective meaning (subjektiver Sinn) that the *actors themselves attached to their actions, without posing the question of whether this meaning was also ‘objectively’ valid, that is, valid for others. Yet Weber cannot be seen as simply an *idealist who only looked for explanations in terms of ideas or beliefs. In his opinion, actors need not have foreseen, wanted, or planned the course of societal development. Material – e.g., economic and technical – circumstances may play an important role. Hence, he was not surprised to find that an agrarian society produces different kinds of action than an industrial one. A ‘materialist’ view of history – obviously, Weber is alluding to Marx here – is granted its ‘trivial correctness’. For an explanation of societal developments in the West and of the specific form of social life in modern Europe, however, he argued that pointing out exclusively economic factors does not suffice: Frequently, ‘world images’ that have been created by ‘ideas’ have, like switchmen, determined the tracks along which action has been pushed by the dynamic of interest. 48

A characteristic feature of modern Western culture, Weber argued, is the phenomenon of *rationalism, by which he meant a worldview and forms of action in which calculability is the guiding principle. According to him, this rationalism is expressed not only in the modern natural sciences, the rational view of law and ethics, modern bureaucratic government, and the personality type of the ‘expert’ but also in classical Western music, which elaborates polyphony and counterpoint in a reasoned and systematic manner (Weber had Bach in mind here). Weber located the origin of this rationalism in the Protestantism that emerged in the sixteenth century, which in his opinion turned asceticism – hitherto exclusive to monastic life – into a general attitude towards life among the population at large. These novel Protestant theological attitudes gave a new subjective meaning to forms of action that in the economic sphere were to lead to frugality, long-term planning, a new credit system, and eventually to the (capitalist) accumulation of wealth. Weber did not see the task of retrieving the subjective meaning of social action in a naturalist sense. What the sociologist may write about action and the connected subjective meanings is not necessarily a faithful 48 H.H. Gerth & C. Wright Mills (tr.), From Max Weber: Essays in Sociology (London, 1948), p. 280.


History and Philosophy of the Humanities

representation of what occurred in the actor but a construction, he asserted. In other words, the sociologist forms so-called *ideal types – he emphasizes those aspects of human society that, ‘as a cultured man’, he considers valuable or important. An ideal type is thus a kind of *model of sociological or historical phenomena that abstracts away from accidental individual variations. Thus, ideal types cannot simply be refuted by observations that contradict them. They also clearly display the value-orientation of cultural science that was already emphasized by Rickert. Hence, sociologists will construe ideal types of a Medieval state or city but not of a Medieval dog. Weber saw no reason to counter the threat of relativism by formulating a general theory of values as Rickert had done. He realized that the researcher’s values could change over time, but unlike Rickert, he saw no need for transcendental and unchanging foundations. What interests the scientist of culture may subsequently appear in a different light: The light of great cultural problems moves on. Then science, too, prepares to change its standpoint and its analytical apparatus and to view the stream of events from the heights of thought. 49

This *value orientation, however, does not mean that the sociologist is free to mix his personal values with his scientific judgments. Weber insisted that the two should be kept strictly separated. Once he has taken up a position (determined by his values) that enables him to order the chaos of events constituted by history, the sociologist should draw conclusions that are valid for anybody with that particular point of view, ‘also for a Chinese’. Thus, the value-orientation of sociology does not, and should not, preclude its being *value-free. Weber was firmly convinced that science and politics should remain separate. Thus, Weber reproduced Rickert’s idea that the historicizing sciences should be oriented towards values, but he avoided Rickert’s dilemma between value relativism and value absolutism by demanding that science itself be value-free. To the extent that he treated them as part of a general theory of action, he regarded questions concerning values and meanings not as philosophical problems but as empirical questions. Values are not timeless or transcendental philosophical concepts but empirical and historically changing givens. Weber’s ideas concerning the role of understanding in the social sciences have been influential but controversial. To begin with, the central role that 49 E.A. Shils & H.A. Finch (tr.), The Methodology of the Social Sciences (Glencoe, 1949), p. 112.

Be t ween Hermeneutics and the Natur al Sciences: In Search of a Method


Max Weber

Weber granted subjective meanings in social-scientific explanations implies an important methodological constraint, for when the social actors’ actions are determined by their subjective meanings, the interpretative social scientific explanations are essentially no different from the meanings and values the actors themselves attach to their actions but are at best explications and systematisations of the latter. In other words, scientific explanations should, in essential respects, agree with actors’ *folk explanations. A second controversial point is that, according to sociologists and philosophers maintaining an empiricist view of science, Weber’s notion of understanding is tenable only as a *heuristic device, that is, as a preparation for a genuine explanation, which should eventually be formulated in terms of general laws and which should be tested in the same way as laws in the natural sciences (compare § 3.2). In this view, forming an image of the subjective meaning that actors attach to their actions is about as useful as drinking a cup of strong coffee: it may prepare our mind for a good idea or accelerate the formation of hypotheses, but it should not be confused with either of them. Hence, this view is also disparagingly referred to as the ‘cup of coffee theory of understanding’.


History and Philosophy of the Humanities

As a convinced neo-Kantian in the tradition of Rickert, Weber himself would undoubtedly have rejected this reconstruction in which understanding plays a merely heuristic role. Historical sociology, he would have argued, strives for an understanding of unique events and thus involves a fundamentally different kind of concept formation than the natural sciences and their striving for universal laws. Social sciences study a world full of meanings, that is, an already interpreted world. In addition to the interpretative problems with which the natural sciences are also confronted – witness the work of Popper, Kuhn, and Quine – the social sciences also appear to face a*double hermeneutic: they yield interpretations of interpretations.


Hermeneutics as an Ontological Process: Hans-Georg Gadamer

Today, hermeneutic approaches in the humanities generally no longer appeal to Dilthey or Rickert. Instead, if they do refer to the German tradition, they usually focus on Hans-Georg Gadamer (1900-2002). The latter’s main work, Truth and Method, appeared in 1960, but as the author himself remarked, its thematic and conceptual frame belong unmistakably to German interwar philosophy. It is wholly alien to post-war currents and fashions such as analytical philosophy of science and the 1960s social sciences, in which Marx and Freud dominated, and it emphatically, if not defiantly, positions itself among the nineteenth-century ‘humanist tradition of the Romantic humanities’. Despite its title, Truth and Method is not a treatise on the methodology of the humanities prescribing how one may arrive at correct, systematic, and well-founded interpretations but a philosophical discussion of the ontological status of the interpreting subject, the interpreted object, and the event or process of interpretation itself: The purpose of my investigation is not to offer a general theory of interpretation and a differential account of its methods […] but to discover what is common to all modes of understanding and to show that understanding is never a subjective relation to a given “object” but to the history of its effect [Wirkungsgeschichte]. In other words, understanding belongs to the being of what is understood.50 50 H.G. Gadamer, Truth and Method. J.C. Weinsheimer & D.G. Marshall (tr.) (London/New York, 2004 [1960]), p. xxviii; emph. added.

Be t ween Hermeneutics and the Natur al Sciences: In Search of a Method


For Gadamer, the prototypically hermeneutic or interpretative process is not the understanding of a sentence but the experience of a work of art. Hence, the ‘model science’ for his hermeneutics is aesthetics rather than linguistics. Understanding a text or a painting is in Gadamer’s perspective not a more or less conscious action by an interpreting subject but rather an experience or a reliving that may shape and reshape both the interpreter and what is interpreted. Thus, his hermeneutics gives a philosophical explication of the intuition that the experience of great art may profoundly affect who or what we are: watching Vermeer’s View of Delft, listening to Mozart’s Requiem, or reading Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov may so deeply move us that it turns us into different persons, either temporarily or not. We perceive the world in a different way than before, we feel moods or emotions we had not experienced before, or we may view and treat the people around us differently. Yet, at the same time, what we understand or experience is always situated in the historical moment in which we find ourselves, and the tradition that produces such artworks plays an irreducible role in it. Gadamer proceeded from the view that language is not simply a cultural phenomenon but makes man into what he is. From this, he drew the radical conclusion that language is not merely an instrument for the expression of thought but has a primarily ‘creative’ or ‘world-disclosing’ function. In language, that is, the world of things and facts that man can experience and understand is constituted; and since language also makes possible the thoughts that man has about the world as an object, the process of interpretation is essentially linguistic. Moreover, this process influences both interpreting subject and interpreted object. This mutual influencing happens most clearly when the object to be understood is also a human being. Thus, for Gadamer, dialogue – that is, communicating with the aim of mutual understanding – is the clearest model of the process of interpretation (Verstehen). In dialogue, the conversation partners try to understand each other’s utterances, and in achieving mutual understanding, both are constituted and changed. The knowledge ideal of Gadamer’s hermeneutic is emphatically not individual knowledge of the outside world but mutual understanding. For Gadamer, however, understanding a linguistic utterance is not only a conscious act, since it takes place against an implicit and unconscious background of presuppositions and actions seen as self-evident and natural. Every conscious understanding (Verständnis), that is, requires a background of unconscious *pre-understandings (*Vorverständnisse). Thus formulated, this may sound rather counterintuitive, since one might expect that the process of understanding precisely consists in trying to rid oneself of one’s


History and Philosophy of the Humanities

Hans-Georg Gadamer with his daughter Jutta

prejudices as much as possible. For Gadamer, however, unconscious assumptions play a positive, and indeed necessary, role. Gadamer thus presented a holistic theory of interpretation. For him, it is a process that does not occur word by word or sentence by sentence but requires an indefinite and partly hidden background of contexts, assumptions, and principles. For this background, he introduced the term *horizon, indicated elsewhere by terms such as ‘context’, ‘culture’, ‘tradition’, ‘lifeworld’, or ‘life form’. What is attractive in Gadamer’s concept is its clarification of one’s inevitable dependence on a background and its implication that, with any change in perspective or point of view, one’s horizon shifts rather than disappears. Thus, the horizon indicates that every perspective is essentially constrained and historically situated. Simultaneously, it makes clear that what constrains our perspective is not directly at hand. Rather, the horizon provides a framework within which things appear as near or close, or as large or small. In their activities, hermeneuticians will incessantly ask themselves whether the horizon of their questions is identical to the one supplied by tradition. Eventually, interpretation leads to a *melting of horizons, that is, the mutual merging and reconciliation of the different presuppositions involved. Gadamer emphasized, however, that the horizon provides a background

Be t ween Hermeneutics and the Natur al Sciences: In Search of a Method


not only for utterances but also for actions. This *practical holism should therefore be distinguished from Quine and Duhem’s *theoretical holism. On this point, and more generally, Gadamer was decisively influenced by the philosopher Martin Heidegger (1889-1976). Gadamer’s notion of a hermeneutic circle involves both continuously improving one’s interpretations and testing them by experience. The process of understanding runs between a historically determined object and an equally historically situated subject and implies an incessant modification of our prejudices and presuppositions. According to Gadamer, however, it is impossible to escape our own historicity completely, since each act of interpretation is by definition a form of embedding in the horizon of the interpreting subject. Hence, there is simply no way to achieve understanding without historically determined and changeable presuppositions. Accordingly, Gadamer criticized Dilthey for believing that one could escape historical relativism by cultivating historical awareness. Gadamer argued that we could adjust our pre-understandings and thus make our interpretations more selfconscious and less naive by critically reflecting on our own presuppositions, but we cannot wholly escape these pre-understandings. Thus, our interpretations are irreducibly historical, for inevitably, we project our own values and meanings onto whatever we interpret. Genuine historical understanding is thus simultaneously directed towards historically situating a text or artwork and towards the situation of one’s own historical understanding of it. This implies that one cannot even talk of an artwork in isolation from the different ways in which it has been understood before. In particular for classical works, these ever-changing interpretations constitute a tradition that new interpretations cannot ignore. Artwork, in other words, cannot be seen in isolation from what Gadamer calls the history of their effects or *Wirkungsgeschichte. Against this background, it may be clear that Gadamer did not – and indeed could not – formulate any timeless criteria for what constitutes a good interpretation, nor did he make any suggestions for the particular problems that different kinds of interpretation may encounter. For example, juridical and religious texts have very different applications, and these differences could also influence the way we interpret them. Thus, Gadamer’s work does not discuss the question of when an artwork may be called good or bad, nor when an interpretation is correct or incorrect. Instead, for him, hermeneutics is concerned with the question of how our world is disclosed or constituted in the interpretation of a work of art. Thus, Gadamer’s hermeneutics focuses on the experience of artwork rather than on their analysis.


History and Philosophy of the Humanities

7.7 Conclusion The hermeneutic approaches discussed above were characteristic of the humanities of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. They were to be rejected by some later frameworks, and no consensus has yet been reached concerning the role that a hermeneutic approach can or should play in the social and human sciences. In the eyes of contemporary readers, authors such as Dilthey and Rickert may seem rather outdated, and fierce objections have been raised against their work. Dilthey may be said to retain an outdated philosophy of life and to have become enmeshed in the contradictions of *historicism, Rickert may be accused of holding an untenable philosophy of values, and Cassirer may be criticized for his belief in linear progress and for his outdated distinction between primitive and modern cultures. Nowadays, Dilthey, Rickert, and Cassirer have largely been replaced by Nietzsche, Wittgenstein, and Foucault as canonical authors in philosophy and in the humanities at large. One may ask, however, whether this is entirely justified. Even if the former three are in any respect more clearly outdated than the latter, this does not diminish their historical importance or their influence on the humanities today. Thus, Weber’s verstehende sociology, which is still dominant today, is unthinkable without Rickert’s ideas on concept formation. Similarly, the influential art historian Erwin Panofsky based his work on Cassirer’s notion of symbolic forms. Even though all authors discussed in this chapter are part of the Kantian or neo-Kantian tradition, their methodological positions differ significantly. This becomes clear in particular with respect to their attitudes regarding the natural sciences. Dilthey regarded the natural and the human sciences as complementary with respect to each other. He shared the positivist objections against metaphysics but acknowledged the limitations of the empiricist view of knowledge. In his opinion, the humanities should be based on experience but in the sense of reliving rather than empirical observation. Rickert generalized this distinction by distinguishing two radically different processes of concept formation. Cassirer considered scientific knowledge (in the natural sciences specifically) to be a culmination of the human capability for forming and using symbols rather than a radical rupture with tradition or dogma. And Gadamer argued that understanding precedes all knowledge, including knowledge of nature. The hermeneutic tradition was shaped in part by the need for the humanities to distinguish themselves from the dominant view of science, which had been oriented towards the natural sciences. In Gadamer, this distancing even takes such proportions that he has repeatedly been accused of a

Be t ween Hermeneutics and the Natur al Sciences: In Search of a Method


fundamentally unscientific or anti-scientific attitude. Although he always rejected this reproach himself, Gadamer and his followers often expressed doubts about what they called *scientism, that is, the naive faith in the natural sciences as the sole source of legitimate knowledge. According to Gadamer, technological progress has not solved the problems of humanity but, on the contrary, has created all kinds of new problems. This claim can also be formulated differently: the progress of science and technology has not only led to material changes but has also, and inevitably, influenced the sphere of ideas, knowledge, and culture. We will return to this line of thinking in particular in our discussion about postmodernism (see chapter 11).

Summary − Schleiermacher was the first to outline a general hermeneutics, or theory of the understanding, interpretation, or explication of texts. He claimed that interpretation proceeds via a so-called hermeneutic circle and does not simply consist of unearthing the author’s intentions. According to Dilthey, this interpretative method is what distinguishes the humanities from the natural sciences. − Freudian psychoanalysis wavers between a natural-scientific and a hermeneutic approach to the human soul. Freud explained neuroses as errors in the development of childhood drives, which may be cured with the aid of the ‘talking cure’ of psychoanalysis. − Neo-Kantianism takes the Kantian a priori to be empirical and/or historically and culturally variable. Rickert argued that the cultural sciences were different from other sciences due to their distinct concept formation – he described them as idiographic rather than nomothetic like the natural sciences. Cassirer captured the development of the natural sciences in a broader theory of symbolic forms. − Weber introduced the notion of an ideal type as an auxiliary for interpretative social science. He believed that the social sciences themselves are – and should be – value-free. − Gadamer presented an ontological approach to interpretation. He did not present a methodology for ‘good interpretations’ or any concrete techniques of interpretation but instead treated the question of what interpretation does with both the interpreting subject and the interpreted object.

Part 3 Styles and Currents in the Humanities


Critical Theory


Karl Marx and Dialectics

The current in the humanities and the social sciences that has come to be known as ‘critical theory’ is based primarily on Karl Marx’s dialectical materialist critique of society. Behind his materialism, however, Hegel’s spirit looms large. Just as the nineteenth-century hermeneutic and neo-Kantian humanities struggled with the Kantian heritage, twentieth-century critical theory may be said to have struggled with Hegel. Not only did it proceed from the latter’s historicizing philosophy of consciousness, also and more specifically it elaborated its dialectics. None of Hegel’s students has been as influential as the philosopher, journalist, and revolutionary politician Karl Marx (1818-1883). His work played a decisive role in the development of the labour movement and communism. But Marx also has had considerable influence outside of politics: alongside Comte, Weber, and Durkheim, he was one of the pioneers of the social sciences, and his views resonate in many a twentieth-century philosopher. Marx’s view of human history follows Hegel’s dialectical pattern, but he interpreted its development in more down-to-earth terms than Hegel did. As he put it himself, he turned Hegel upside down. Marx believed that the true motor of history is not spirit in its development but human labour, and he couched the relevant dialectical contradictions in concrete historical rather than abstract philosophical terms. According to him, human history is driven by the contradictions between the working and the propertied classes. Unlike Hegel, Marx saw the stages of development not as abstract stages in the development of spirit but as socio-economic phases – or, as he calls them, *modes of production, that is, specific stages of economic relations such as feudalism and capitalism. What nineteenth-century philosophers associated with spirit – notions such as thought and culture – was referred to by Marx as the ideological *superstructure, which follows, or is determined by, the development of the base of material economic relations in society. Thus, Marx was a *dialectical materialist. He saw freedom, which Hegel linked to absolute spirit, as the result of the revolution achieved by a working class that has achieved consciousness. After this revolution, the realm of freedom will have finally overcome the realm of necessity and scarcity From Hegel’s dialectic, Marx learned to see that ‘Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already,


History and Philosophy of the Humanities

given and transmitted from the past.’51 In Marx, the dialectic has a dual function. First, it plays an epistemological and methodological role as the instrument that links the particular with the general and the concrete with the abstract. This enabled Marx to interpret specific historical events as part of a universal historical process and conversely to write about human history and its laws as realized in concrete struggles only. Second, the dialectic also has an ontological dimension. For Marx, it is not only an instrument to view history but is also characteristic of the historical process itself. Thus, it yields not only a methodology but also a teleology. Behind all struggle, conflict, and setbacks, one may discern an immanent and ever-closer goal, if only one looks carefully enough. Marx’s thought is also informed by an *organicist metaphor: in the historical process, a nucleus comes to fruition as the new society is born from the old one. Against Hegel, his close colleague Friedrich Engels (1820-1895) emphasized – even more strongly than Marx himself – that the dialectic is also a material and natural process that is not imposed as an idealist law of thinking on nature but on the contrary is precisely derived from nature. Once we see this, he wrote, ‘the dialectical laws that look so extremely mysterious in idealist philosophy at once become simple and clear as noonday’.52 A key feature of dialectics as formulated by Engels is that purely quantitative changes may change into qualitative ones. Thus, he argued, an increase or decrease in temperature will only quantitatively affect the state of water until one reaches the boiling or the freezing point, respectively, at which point the water also undergoes a qualitative change: it changes into steam or ice. A second dialectical regularity is that of the negation of the negation. Engels maintained that not only the human process of production but everything that exists in nature carries the seed of its own destruction or denial, which in its turn will be negated or sublated. For example, when a grain of corn germinates, it disappears as a grain (the negation), but the plant that grows from this germ produces new grains of corn in turn, thus negating the negation. Hence, Engels claimed, dialectics sees nature as dynamic and changing just as Darwin’s theory of evolution does, but more strongly than Darwin, it emphasizes the role of negation, contradiction, and struggle in this dynamic. At the same time, it suggests that specifically human and social processes of production are essentially natural and lawlike. Just like Marx, Engels was a teleological thinker to the extent that he, too, saw the 51 K. Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon. S. Padover (tr.), (Marx/Engels Internet Archive), ch. 1. 52 C. Dutt (tr.), Engels, Dialectics of Nature (London, 1940), ch. 2.

Critical Theory


dialectic as a lawlike and inevitable development towards a particular form of society. Marx thus gave social history a research programme with a strong heuristic. As such, the Marxist programme has yielded much of value, also for those who do not share Marx’s political views. One need not be a Marxist to be able to recognize the importance of societal contradictions and the difficult social and economic circumstances in which large parts of the population live and have lived. Marx’s dialectical method is more controversial, in particular because of the teleology it implies. As already mentioned, Popper argued that the Marxist belief that historians should formulate the laws of history and thus predict its course rests on a dangerous historicist misunderstanding (cf. § 3.2c). All too easily, it yields the dogmatic view that the course of history is already known and that practice should therefore be adapted to theory rather than the other way around. Anyone who fails to side in advance with the class that will eventually win – and more specifically, with those who present themselves as the vanguard or representatives of this class – risks being branded a stumbling block for human development who should be done away with. Thus, as anti-Marxist critics including Popper argue, all too many totalitarian dictatorships have been legitimized by an appeal to an allegedly scientific knowledge of the course of history.


Marxism, Language, and Literature: György Lukács, Valentin Voloshinov, Mikhail Bakhtin

Given the materialism emphatically stated by Marx and Engels, is there any meaningful role left for art and culture? Or are these merely the ideological reflections of more basic or more real economic processes, as some later orthodox Marxist thinkers believed? The latter would imply that the humanities, too, would lose their distinct and autonomous task and domain and be dissolved into the (political-economical) science of society. A number of influential Marxists or Marxism-inspired thinkers, however, rejected this way of putting things as reductionist and one-sided. They developed theories of culture that proceed – but increasingly distance themselves – from dialectics in both its materialist and its Hegelian idealist variety. The role of language, in particular, gradually emerged as a challenge for orthodox Marxism. As we will see, several thinkers in the critical tradition have brought about linguistic turns that are broadly comparable to those of logical empiricists, structuralists, and poststructuralists.


History and Philosophy of the Humanities

The first important author to develop a dialectical-materialist theory of culture was the Hungarian György Lukács (1885-1971), whose book The Theory of the Novel (1916) is one of the first serious studies of the novel, which had hitherto been seen as an inferior literary genre. Lukács argued that genres such as the epic and the novel are not only historically determined but also subject to a historical-philosophical dialectic. Homer’s ancient Greek epics, for example, emerged in a world that was still enclosed within itself and was simple and orderly. The modern novel, by contrast, expresses the ‘transcendental homelessness’ that is characteristic of modernity. It is the ‘epic of a godless world’, which has emerged in an era in which the hitherto enclosed and orderly totality of the world starts bursting at its seams. Classical epics do not describe an individual hero but the fate of an entire people, but in the modern novel, the contingent modern world interacts with a modern individual alienated from others and searching for meaning. Thus, Lukács contended, the difference between the epic and the novel is determined by historical conditions and their effects on consciousness, but these conditions are also reflected in the formal features of both genres. Thus, epics maintain a strict verse form, whereas the novel may employ various registers of prose. At age 33, Lukács converted to Marxism and reformulated these Hegelian historicizing ideas about the rise of the novel in more explicitly historical materialist terms. He became the fiercest critic of his own earlier, pre-Marxist work. Just like Dilthey’s writings, he argued, it was based on intuition rather than on method and had introduced arbitrary typologies and premature generalizations. He maintained, however, that The Theory of the Novel was among the first works to shift the humanities from a neo-Kantian to a Hegelian methodology. It did so by more consistently historicizing aesthetic categories than Dilthey had done and by analysing literary genres such as the drama, the epic, and the novel in correlation to particular historical eras. In later works such as The Historical Novel (1937), he linked the rise of the historical novel to concrete societal realities (read: class relations) such as the rise of bourgeois capitalist society in Western and Middle Europe. The French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars had given the population a new historical awareness, he argued, and it was in this climate that the historical novel could emerge – a genre that, despite appearances, was a progressive social force until the failed 1848 revolutions. Lukács posited that while the historical novels of authors such as Walter Scott and Honoré de Balzac may seem nostalgic and conservative because of their glorification of the aristocratic past, in reality they are revolutionary innovations because they imply a critique of bourgeois society. This is not to say that Lukács favoured literary innovation in itself. He rejected the formal experiments of literary modernists such as Franz Kafka

Critical Theory


and James Joyce as overly preoccupied with subjective individual consciousness rather than history. In his opinion, the realism of authors including Thomas Mann and Maxim Gorky gave a better insight into modernity and the hidden social and societal forces that shape individual consciousness. Lukács’s analyses curiously overlook the fact that the historical novel often glorifies a specifically national past. In other words, the historical novel also appears inextricably linked with Romantic nationalism. More generally, Marxists tend to reject nationalism as a surface phenomenon and as no more than a reprehensible element of bourgeois ideology. Lukács adhered to an orthodox dialectical materialism that sees human consciousness as determined by social existence rather than the other way around. Several early Soviet authors modified this view, particularly in the light of their studies of literary language. In the early years of the Soviet Union, Marxist dialectical orthodoxy did not yet dominate the humanities. Hence linguistics, literary theory, and folklore studies flourished, not to mention the arts themselves. Innovators, including Sergei Eisenstein in film, Vladimir Mayakovsky and Anna Achmatova in poetry, and Kasimir Malevitch in painting, still had substantial room for manoeuvre. In this relatively open intellectual climate, a radical discussion was conducted concerning the place of language within Marxist theory, primarily in the circle surrounding literary scholar Mikhail Bakhtin (1895-1975). The linguist V.N. Voloshinov (1895-1936) played a major role in this circle as well. Their works exercised significant influence not only on literary theory but also on the linguistic theories of the Russian Roman Jakobson (1896-1982) and the so-called Prague circle, and on later disciplines such as sociolinguistics and linguistic anthropology. In his treatise entitled Marxism and the Philosophy of Language (1929), Voloshinov emphasized that language and other signs are not simply part of an ideological superstructure. In the first place, he argued, linguistic signs are material objects with a specific function, just like tools such as hammers and sickles which may be transformed into ideological signs. This implies, however, that ideology and consciousness are not possible without signs: ‘consciousness can arise and become a viable factor only in the material embodiment of signs’.53 Put differently, consciousness is constituted verbally, and in its *materiality, the sign is the ideological phenomenon par excellence. Moreover, Voloshinov added, verbal communication is a form of material and physical interaction between individuals, which cannot be reduced to the 53 V.N. Volosinov, Marxism and the Philosophy of Language (Cambridge, MA, 1968), p. 11


History and Philosophy of the Humanities

mental terms of social psychology such as ‘collective soul’ or ‘people’s spirit’. Thus, Voloshinov not only replaced a Hegelian philosophy of consciousness with a philosophy of language, his linguistic turn also de-emphasized the strict distinction between material base and ideological superstructure and denied in so many words that the latter is mechanically caused by material factors. This led him to reject, for example, Marxist explanations of the rise in nineteenth-century Russian novels of the ‘superfluous man’ character – the idling landowner without a clear purpose in life, like Alexander Pushkin’s Yevgeni Onegin and Ivan Goncharov’s Oblomov – as resulting from the economic decay of the Russian landed aristocracy. Voloshinov dismissed as absurd the idea that the rise of such literary figures was directly caused by economic decay. Moreover, he argued, any such correlation does not say anything specific concerning the artistic function that the superfluous man may have in a particular novel. According to Voloshinov, linguistic signs have an irreducibly material and social character. Hence, ideology cannot possibly be reduced to the inner or the subjective by either individual or collective psychology but should instead be described in *semiotic terms of public or intersubjective signs. He described the social functioning of these signs in dialectical terms. A linguistic community, he wrote, consists of people from different social classes who may use the same signs for different ideological aims, so that words and their meanings themselves become arenas of class struggle. Expressions that are used by one group or class as terms of abuse may be given another, more positive meaning by other classes. In other words, signs are not only irreducibly material and intersubjective but also inherently dialectical. Voloshinov thus took a first step towards replacing the Hegelian and Marxist philosophy of consciousness with a perspective shaped by semiotics and the philosophy of language. This linguistic turn, however, retained an explicitly dialectical character. His close colleague Mikhail Bakhtin shared this linguistic reorientation but more emphatically distanced himself from Hegelian dialectics. Bakhtin focused on the aesthetics of the modern novel, which, he argued, is characterized by a plurality of styles and a diversity of voices. It may contain both the voice of an authoritative narrator and the voices of various persons introduced in direct speech. Bakhtin called this diversity of social styles of speaking (for example, vulgar and aristocratic uses of language, jargon, local rural dialects, slang, etc.) *heteroglossia, which according to him is an essential feature of the modern genre of the novel. In classical epic and lyric poetry, he continued, this plurality is reduced to a single dominant voice and style. A poetic style as opposed to a novelistic one is characterized by the unity of the linguistic system and by the unity

Critical Theory


of the poet’s individuality as reflected in his use of language. Hence, the categories of classical poetics cannot deal with the heteroglossic novel, and therefore a new stylistic or aesthetic theory should be developed, one that is specifically tailored to the novel. The aesthetics of the novel cannot be captured in either purely formal terms of syntax or style, for example, or in purely ideological terms that reduce formal properties to social factors such as class and class struggle. In a 1929 study on Dostoevsky, Bakhtin also used the term *polyphony alongside heteroglossia to indicate this plurality of voices, and in his later work, he also spoke of *dialogism. Polyphony, he argued, is a specific feature of Dostoevsky’s novels such as The Brothers Karamazov. The plurality of contradictory and clashing voices in that novel cannot be reduced to one single, dialectically developing and resolved conflict or narrative, or to one single coherent or *monological dominant voice of either the narrator inside the story or the author outside of it. Polyphony is not a function of the author’s intentions and therefore cannot be reduced to the latter’s class position, as Lukács would have argued. Dostoevsky’s characters speak less as characters invented and manipulated by the author than as autonomous and full-blooded subjects. And indeed, Dostoevsky himself maintained rather conservative religious and Russian-nationalist convictions but, according to Bakhtin, his novels are rather more progressive and subversive due to this polyphony. Implicitly, Bakhtin also appeared to reject Hegel’s dialectic here as monological. The dialectical development of spirit, he implied, reduces a polyphony of voices to a single coherent and dominant narrative. Bakhtin’s works, however, shows an ambivalence or development in the ideas of polyphony and heteroglossia. Initially, he saw them primarily as a specific feature of Dostoevsky’s novels that is absent from Tolstoy’s novels War and Peace and Anna Karenina. In the latter, he suggested, one voice of an omniscient and authoritative narrator dominates, turning Tolstoy into a *monological author. In his later works, however, Bakhtin argued that heteroglossia was a defining feature of the genre of the novel in general, which was first apparent in Dostoevsky’s work but in retrospect also appeared to be a crucial feature of other and earlier novels. In this view, the dialogical or polyphonic novel is a ‘new’ or ‘modern’ genre by definition. Yet elsewhere, Bakhtin suggested that even the works of pre-modern authors including Cervantes and Homer contain ‘novelistic’ elements, implying that the novel should no longer be seen as a modern and bourgeois genre but rather as a stylistic feature that is potentially present in literature at all times and places. Bakhtin also equivocated in his distinction between terms such as polyphony, heteroglossia, and dialogism. Seen as a linguistic phenomenon,


History and Philosophy of the Humanities

heteroglossia indicates the radical context-dependence of all language. Each linguistic utterance, Bakhtin suggested, is irreducibly linked to the social context in which it is uttered and/or interpreted. That means that linguistic utterances from the past (for example, classical literary texts) can receive ever-novel interpretations that cannot possibly have been foreseen or intended by the author (a suggestion that will also be elaborated in Derrida’s notion of *iterability, see chapter 11). It also means that the attempt by linguists to reduce this plurality to one single monolithic system or structure of language, shared by all speakers of that language, is illusory and indeed misguided. On this point, Bakhtin, like Voloshinov, emphatically rejected Ferdinand de Saussure’s structuralist linguistics (see § 9.3), which was starting to gain acceptance in the Soviet Union during this period. Unlike Lukács, Bakhtin did not see the novel as a specifically bourgeois genre. On the contrary, he saw traces of popular culture in it, that is, of the cultural expressions of the lower population strata, generally held in contempt as ‘vulgar’ by the elites and distinct from the latter’s ‘high culture’. Bakhtin shared an interest in popular culture or *folklore with a number of prominent Russian linguists and literary scholars of this period such as Roman Jakobson, Nikolai Trubetzkoy, and Vladimir Propp. He argued that literary works such as François Rabelais’s Gargantua et Pantagruel and Nikolai Gogol’s Dead Souls cannot be properly understood if we ignore their folkloric elements or aspects of folk culture. One central feature of this popular culture, he claimed, was grotesque popular humour in which the official high culture is parodied or ridiculed. In premodern and early modern Europe, folk humour could be found during special recurring events such as the ancient Roman Saturnalia, Medieval carnivals, and annual fairs. Bakhtin, however, also exposed *carnivalesque elements in high literature, in particular the modern novel. Thus, Bakhtin’s notions of dialogism and heteroglossia received a more emphatically political meaning. Usually, carnivals are seen as a way of releasing social tensions, as existing social relations are temporarily inverted and the people are briefly allowed to do all kinds of things that are normally disapproved of or forbidden so that they will submit again to existing laws, morals, and religion for the rest of the year. Thus, during the Roman Saturnalia, slaves were allowed to play the masters for one fixed day of the year, during which they were served by their masters. According to Bakhtin, however, carnivals have a more strongly subversive element because they challenge and undermine the normally undisputed authority of the elites and, with it, the fixed meanings and values of the *authoritative discourse of the official institutions. Authoritative discourse,

Critical Theory


like that of the Church or the worldly ruler, is a form of monological language use that demands a monopoly on valid norms, values, and meanings. In a carnival, however, this monological character is destroyed, in particular by the ridiculing of dominant discourse. For example, Rabelais ridiculed the Latin-language learning associated with Church power. Unlike the Romantic nationalists, Bakhtin thus saw popular culture as defying authoritative discourse and not as the expression of a people’s soul or natural character supposedly shared by a nation as a whole. However, in a clear allusion to Hegelian dialectics, Bakhtin contended that popular culture should not be seen as merely a negation of high culture: it not only negates but also simultaneously innovates and revives. Moreover, popular humour is not individual but collective: it is not merely negative in its satire but universal in its claims and ambivalent in its effects. Thus, popular culture challenges the monological pretensions of elite culture and authoritative discourse, as a result of which the carnivalesque acquires a subversive if not revolutionary character. The people’s laughter, Bakhtin concluded, is liberating. Bakhtin wrote his study of Rabelais during the 1930s, which not only was a time of dialectical materialism’s promotion to official Soviet ideology but also marked the high point of Stalin’s terror. It is tempting to see Bakhtin’s emphasis on the subversive laughter of the people and his cautious criticisms of Hegelian dialectic as a disguised critique of Stalinism, but neither Bakhtin’s political opinions nor his precise relation to the much more explicitly dialectical writings of his colleague Voloshinov have ever been clarified. Some authors even argue that Bakhtin had personally written a number of the texts published under Voloshinov’s name. Such claims, however, can be neither proved nor refuted. In any case, the preoccupation with literary language and folklore among these early Soviet authors reflects an awareness that language and signs deserve a more important place in the Hegelian and Marxist tradition and may even undermine its consciousness-philosophical architecture.


Antonio Gramsci

Few Marxist authors have been, and still are, as influential in the humanities as the Italian Antonio Gramsci (1891-1937). That his influence has persisted even after the 1989 collapse of the communism is in part due to the fact that Gramsci resolutely breaks with the economical reductionism and determinism of earlier Marxists, who considered the sphere of language,


History and Philosophy of the Humanities

culture, and ideas to be merely an ideological superstructure, completely determined by – and reducible to – the economic base. Gramsci’s main contributions to Marxist analyses of culture and language were his complex understanding of *hegemony, or cultural and ideological domination; of the experience of the subordinate or *subaltern classes; and of the role of intellectuals in public life. Gramsci was one of the founders of the Italian Communist Party (PCI) and of party publications such as l’Ordine nuovo and the daily L’Unità. After the fascists came to power, he was arrested in 1926 and condemned to twenty years of imprisonment. ‘We have to prevent this brain from functioning for the coming two decades,’ the prosecutor declared during the public trial, but the Italian authorities ultimately failed to do so. In prison, Gramsci started work on what would come to be known as the Prison Notebooks (Quaderni del Carcere). These contain notes and analyses ranging from theoretical discussions within Marxism and themes from Italian history to contemporary culture and politics. Gramsci spent many years in solitary confinement, and his health gradually deteriorated. In 1935, he was released on medical grounds and died shortly thereafter. The Prison Notebooks were never intended for publication. Fragmentary and searching, they do not form a continuous or systematic argument. But they do show Gramsci gradually developing, refining, and modifying his central concepts and ideas. The circumspect and at times allusive style of these writings were meant in part to evade censorship. Thus, Gramsci nowhere mentions Marx or Lenin by name and consistently refers to Marxism as ‘the philosophy of praxis’. More importantly, he nowhere presents strict or final definitions of key notions such as hegemony. One of the central questions he poses in these writings is why the socialist revolution, which orthodox Marxists had seen as inevitable, had failed to materialize in Italy, and how instead Mussolini’s National Fascist Party had been able to gain power. Intriguingly, Popper had raised almost exactly the same question concerning so-called ‘scientific socialism’ (cf. § 3.2c). But for Gramsci, this question reflected a bitter societal and personal reality, leading to an entirely different answer. Gramsci was skeptical about the Marxist belief in objective and inevitable historical laws because he accorded greater importance to the human will and to the power of ideas. He rejected historical determinism not only as a fatalist doctrine but also as factually incorrect. The 1917 Russian revolution, he argued, occurred before a fullfledged capitalist society had developed in Russia. He dismissed Engels’s materialism, which regards human history and the dialectics of nature as one continuous whole too.

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According to Gramsci, the main reason for the failure of the revolution in Italy was the fact that the Italian workers had not developed any revolutionary consciousness. Their thinking was still shaped by the values and beliefs – that is, the culture and ideology – of the bourgeoisie. Thus, Gramsci arrived at his famous notion of *hegemony, that is, cultural and ideological domination. This domination, he argued, is a crucial precondition for seizing and exercising political power. Unlike political domination, however, hegemony does not work through coercion but rather through consensus. Italian workers voluntarily accepted the bourgeois worldview and values, which gave a central place to the Italian nation and Catholic faith, instead of the emancipation of the working class and atheist doctrines of progress such as evolutionary theory or historical materialism. A successful working-class revolution, he argued, requires the working class to have succeeded in convincing other classes to adopt the working-class worldview and values. In other words, the revolution in Italy failed because the revolutionary ideology of the Italian workers had not become hegemonic among the population at large. Cultural hegemony is not only a condition for political domination; since it precedes the conquest of state power, it has to be established in society, rather than produced by the state. However, that does not preclude a state that is accepted by the population as legitimate from being culturally hegemonic. Unlike in France, Gramsci thought, the bourgeoisie had not managed to form a nation in Italy. Instead, Italian unification had in part been imposed from above by Cavour’s unitary state in what Gramsci called a *passive revolution and in part realized from below by Garibaldi’s mass movement. Gramsci used the term *subaltern to signify those societal classes or groups and cultural phenomena that are not hegemonic. Subaltern groups are not identical to farmers and workers or the proletariat in the economic sense. They are culturally subordinate and are negatively valued as backward, uncivilized, underdeveloped, or inferior. A simple example of the distinction between hegemonic and subaltern – and, in fact, the origin of Gramsci’s own distinction – is the difference between standard language and regional dialect, seen not only in modern Italy but in most modern nation-states. At the time of Italian unification in 1861, only a minute part of the Italian population spoke standard Italian (according to some estimates as little as 2.5%). The remainder of the population spoke a local dialect as its native tongue. These local dialects had a low status and generally did not have a written literature. In other words, they had a subaltern status with respect to the standard language. Standard Italian, by contrast, was diffused among the population at large via education, via written and printed journalistic and


History and Philosophy of the Humanities

literary texts – most famously Alessandro Manzoni’s novel The Betrothed (I Promessi Sposi) (1827/1842) – and later via media such as radio and television. To the extent that it was voluntarily accepted as the national language, it thus acquired hegemonic status. Unlike the French, however, the Italians had never had a genuinely national literature. The Betrothed, Gramsci claimed, was not read and appreciated by the people as the French classics were. Unlike bourgeois or liberal thinkers, Gramsci did not see the standard language as a medium of modernity nor the rural dialects as backward. And unlike Romantics like the brothers Grimm, he did not simply see dialects as the expression of a pure or authentic people’s spirit. The language and culture of standardized modern Italian, which are hegemonic with respect to the dialect of his native Sardinia, for example, were in his view closely linked to the modern industrialized society of Northern Italy, which exploited Sardinian miners, peasants, and others. Despite this attention to language, Gramsci’s Marxism does not complete a genuine linguistic turn comparable to those of the Vienna circle, French structuralism, or Bakhtin and Voloshinov. Even though he considered questions of language, signs, and meanings as primary with respect to questions of knowledge, experience, and consciousness, and even though he acknowledged the importance of the people’s language in the development of revolutionary consciousness among the working class, he did not arrive at the more radical thesis that language and signs are constitutive of, or primary with respect to, consciousness. Gramsci did mark an innovation with respect to classical Marxism, however, in so far as he rejected the strict dichotomies of economic base and cultural or ideological superstructure, and of theory and practice. Societal developments, he argued, do not arise in a blind, lawlike process but are achieved by and due to changing class consciousness, that is, due to changing knowledge. For this changing consciousness, moreover, organization is essential, and this is the work of intellectuals. Thus, *organic intellectuals, as Gramsci called them, are linked to the culture and aspirations of the proletariat and contribute to organizing and realizing their culture and thereby their aspirations. Politically, this implies a rejection of the privileged status of the Communist Party bureaucracy, which is neither elected nor legitimized by the working class. Epistemologically, it implies a different societal role and status for human-scientific or social-scientific knowledge. For Gramsci, Marxism involves not the scientific description of objective social realities but the expression of the revolutionary consciousness of the proletariat. In this perspective, scientific and philosophical knowledge amounts to the theoretical consciousness of historical development and thus form an integral part

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of these events rather than a reflection on them. This vision brings Gramsci’s position close to that of the *sociology of knowledge, which analyses scientific and other knowledge claims not in terms of validity or truth, but rather as being produced in, or related to, underlying societal processes. Since the 1960s, Gramsci’s ideas have become especially influential in and through British *cultural studies, led by among others Raymond Williams (1921-1988) and Stuart Hall (1932-2014). These scholars systematically studied what was called ‘popular culture’ – not so much the culture of the illiterate rural population as glorified by the Romantics but rather the working-class culture of subaltern population groups in industrialized cities. Various others, including postcolonial critics such as Edward Said and the so-called Subaltern Studies Group in India (see § 13.4) have been similarly shaped or inspired by Gramsci’s works.


The Frankfurt School

The so-called *Frankfurt School is among the most enduringly influential currents of the critical and dialectical tradition of the twentieth century. The name refers to a group of philosophers and social scientists who were united in the Institut für Sozialforschung (Institute for Social Research), originally established in Frankfurt and led by Max Horkheimer (1895-1973). Its members had diverse disciplinary backgrounds, as the institute’s research programme encouraged the integration of philosophy and empirical research in the social sciences and the humanities. Alongside philosophers, it also housed historians, economists, psychologists, sociologists, literary theorists, and art historians, including Theodor Adorno, Erich Fromm, Herbert Marcuse, Karl Wittfogel, and, more loosely, Walter Benjamin. Between 1932 and 1940, the institute’s Zeitschrift für Sozialforschung (Journal for Social Research) published numerous articles that had a major influence on the philosophy of culture and on social theory. The members of the institute were predominantly Jewish and were forced to flee Nazi Germany in 1933. After a period of wandering about, the institute was re-established in the United States. After the war, it returned to Frankfurt. Due to the discovery of this group of intellectuals by the 1960s student movement, they regained influence. Subsequently, the Frankfurt School’s legacy was upheld by among others Jürgen Habermas. Thus, the Frankfurt School developed into one of the most influential critical voices in post-war West-German society. The programme of the Frankfurt School is usually referred to by the term *critical theory, coined in 1937 by Horkheimer for theories at the intersection


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of social science and philosophy that maintain self-consciously a close relation to social practice. The term also echoes ideas derived from Hegel and Marx. Because of this dialectical background, critical theories have a complex methodological structure, since they have to fulfil three tasks simultaneously. First, a critical theory supplies interpretations of societal phenomena in a historical perspective. Researchers present their findings concerning contemporary phenomena in the light of the developments and societal contradictions that have shaped it. Second, a critical theory anticipates future societal change. Hence, it points out discrepancies between the factual functioning of social institutions and the values and ideals these institutions claim to embody. The gap between a society’s claims and its achievements justifies criticism, it is argued. Thus, critical theories have not only a cognitive but also a normative task. Third, a critical theory maintains an explicit relation to practice, knowing that it is not developed from an Archimedean or neutral point but from practical concerns. Hence, the theory tries to give a reflective explanation for its own emergence. Moreover, it may yield insights that can help particular social groups to engage in self-reflection. Herein lies the practical importance of a critical theory. It could also help to enable people to rid themselves of their tutelage which they themselves had helped to perpetuate. The third task of critical theories is thus to advance emancipation. Each of the abovementioned tasks is also taken up outside the tradition of critical theory. Thus, the history of societal phenomena is addressed in historical sociology; in political philosophy and ethics, we find normative treatises that justify social change; and the sociology of science likewise informs us about the origin of theories in societal developments and about the bearers of social change. It is not these separate elements, however, that make a critical theory into a particular edifice but rather their integration into a single coherent framework. To illustrate how such a framework works in practice, we now turn to two of critical theory’s best-known representatives in the humanities: Walter Benjamin and Theodor Adorno. After surveying both, we will briefly discuss Habermas’s language-philosophical reformulation of critical theory. 8.4a

Walter Benjamin

Walter Benjamin (1892-1940) started his intellectual existence – in his case, one can hardly speak of a ‘career’ – as a literary critic with a heavily mystically and religiously inspired view of language. Later in life, however, he became interested in the dialectical materialism of Marxists such as

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Bertolt Brecht. He was ambivalent with regard to the nineteenth-century belief in progress, proclaiming that ‘in the development of technology, [positivism] saw only the progress of natural science, not the concomitant retrogression of society’.54 The massacres of the First World War, he believed, had rendered all liberal optimism about scientific and technological progress illusory. Instead, war on a hitherto unknown scale had been made possible by technological innovation. During the early 1930s, fascism was already taking its toll, and it was clear to Benjamin and the other members of the Frankfurt School that the immediate future had little good to offer. How could one retain any faith in societal progress in these circumstances? On the run from the Nazis and disillusioned by years of setbacks and failures, Benjamin committed suicide in 1940. Benjamin gave an important impulse to dialectical materialist criticism of art and culture. He did not reduce artworks to mere *ideology (that is, to a mere reflection or legitimation of an economic base) or to expressions of the class position of their makers. Instead, he analysed how human perception and consciousness, as part of the superstructure, have been shaped by material – and especially technological – developments. Innovations such as cars, newspapers, radio, or movies had led to qualitative changes in our perception of time and space, he argued. Thus, he unambiguously positioned himself in the Hegelian tradition which sees consciousness as historically determined, and he rejected the naive empiricist belief in the existence of an unchanging ‘pure perception’. This belief also explains his interest in surrealist experiments with perception in the visual arts and in Marcel Proust’s literary exploration of involuntary memory – not to mention his own exercises in avant-garde prose and experiments with hallucinatory drugs. The most famous statement of Benjamin’s aesthetic beliefs is undoubtedly the essay The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, written under difficult circumstances in 1936 while Benjamin was living in Paris. He was fleeing the Nazis and did not even have the hundred francs he needed to renew his identity papers. In a letter to Horkheimer, he noted the irony of his financial difficulties, given that his work was politically relevant as never before. In the preface to his essay, he described this political relevance as follows: ‘the following concepts, here introduced into art theory for the first time, differ from more familiar ones in that they are quite useless for the purposes of fascism. They can, on the other hand, be used to formulate revolutionary demands in

54 W. Benjamin, Selected Writings, vol. 3 (Cambridge, MA, 2006), p. 266.


History and Philosophy of the Humanities

Walter Benjamin

the politics of art.’55 When Horkheimer published a French translation of the essay in the Zeitschrift für Sozialforschung, however, he deleted this preface. It was only to be printed in the German version, which did not appear until after the Second World War, long after Benjamin’s death in 1940. Benjamin consciously placed his essay against the background of rising Nazism. Despite the impression its title may give, The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction is not a conservative cultural criticism of the increasing influence of technological processes on the creation and perception of art. On the contrary, Benjamin considered the Romantic notions on which conservative critiques are based – such as ‘creative genius’ and ‘value for eternity’ – to be outdated, realizing all too well how these 55 W. Benjamin, The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction. J.A. Underwood (tr.) (London, 2008), pp. 2-3.

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notions could be abused for fascist purposes. In the Romantic view, a work of art is something unique and unrepeatable, as it is obviously impossible to paint an exact copy of the Mona Lisa or to play Bach’s Art of the Fugue twice in exactly the same manner. It is this unrepeatable character – or what Benjamin called the artwork’s *aura or its ‘here and now’ – that on romantic accounts gives the work of art its value. The emergence of technological means of reproduction such as photography, film, and the gramophone, however, allowed for artworks to be reproduced an arbitrary number of times in perfectly identical form. This reproducibility, Benjamin argued, destroys the work’s aura, but one should not feel sorry about this destruction, since it makes possible a radically different experience of art. Many nineteenth-century authors treat art as a secularized ritual that is aesthetic rather than religious in character and which involves the creation of new myths. The aura is an essential aspect of this quasi-religious view of art. In the bourgeois concept of *art for art’s sake, which gained ground during the nineteenth century, art therefore has no other or higher purpose than itself. According to Benjamin, it is exactly this bourgeois conception of art as a ritual that was challenged by new technologies. Technological reproduction, he argued, destroys the artwork’s aura and thereby its foundation in ritual, making a new foundation in politics possible. This new connection of art and technology changes the artist as well as the place of art, the audience, and also the character of the artwork itself. Hence, the art theoretician’s attention should shift away from the artwork itself to the space between the work and the audience, and it is in this intermediate space that the political potential sought by Benjamin can be found. According to Benjamin, it was precisely because of their technological reproducibility, and thanks to new techniques of editing and visualization, that new media such as film and gramophone records could lead to new ways of perceiving. Film is a popular art, he wrote, but thanks to technologically created effects, it could make the masses critical and progressive. Thus, even if the masses may have rejected Picasso’s avant-gardist paintings during the 1930s, at the same time they embraced the movies of Charlie Chaplin, who was politically and artistically just as innovative and progressive. The editing techniques of Chaplin’s movie Modern Times (1936), for example, make visible the dehumanizing effects of mass industrial production. In Benjamin’s view, the Nazi cult of the glorification and aestheticization of violence was no more than an extreme form of the bourgeois ideal of art for art’s sake, which sees the aesthetic experience as the highest achievement in a secularized world. He argued that communism responds to the fascist tendency to aestheticize politics by politicizing art.


History and Philosophy of the Humanities

Benjamin’s line of argument may seem somewhat outdated, but his approach implies a series of questions and ways of seeing that are still relevant today. It implies a critique of aesthetic approaches that restricts its attention to the work of art itself. Despite his interest in language and aesthetics, however, Benjamin emphatically remained within the tradition of the philosophy of consciousness, which sees language as merely a manifestation of our inner being. He was interested in the area between the production and consumption of art and in the question of how economic aspects of art production partly determine how the work of art constitutes or steers our perceptions – both subjects that remain timely to this very day. In our modern society, both elite culture and mass culture are more subjected to the laws of the capitalist market than ever before and are increasingly created via new media. Benjamin’s ideas live on primarily in literary and cultural theory but have also taken root elsewhere. Thus, Benedict Anderson (1936-2015), one of the most famous and important contemporary social-scientific scholars of nationalism, based his view of nations as *imagined communities on Benjamin’s work, in particular his idea that technology and the means of production may shape perception. Anderson argued that the modern nation is an ‘imagined community’ in so far as it is part of the population’s consciousness. But this imaginary of the nation is made possible by the technology of printing, which allows for the production of books and periodicals in the vernacular language, thereby helping to create this sense of community. Printing technology, however, functions within a market that is directed primarily toward the bourgeoisie, that is, within a capitalist mode of production. Hence, Anderson characterized this process in emphatically Marxist terms as *print capitalism. Put differently, print capitalism constitutes the material (that is, technological and economic) base, while the imagined community of the nation constitutes the ideal, or ideological, superstructure of national consciousness that is made possible by this base. 8.4b

Theodor Adorno

Theodor Adorno (1903-1969), whose work is in many respects closely related to Benjamin’s, was born and educated in Frankfurt, where he studied philosophy, psychology, musicology, and sociology. Subsequently, he studied composition with Arnold Schönberg’s pupil Alban Berg in Vienna. During the 1930s, he worked in Berlin and Frankurt, maintaining close contacts with such intellectuals as Horkheimer, Benjamin, and Brecht as well as

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the composer Kurt Weill. Due to his thorough theoretical knowledge of and practical experience with both composing and performing classical music, Adorno has remained an authority in musicology to this day. More generally, he made fundamental contributions to the development of a social and aesthetic theory that is both critical and materialist. The critical aspect of his work lies in his belief that social science is and should in the first place be a critique of existing societal relations. Its materialist aspect lies in his use of Marxist dialectical materialist notions of cultural and aesthetic theory. At the same time, however, Adorno’s roots were in German nineteenth-century bourgeois literary and musical culture. It is this combination that leads him to try to overcome the radical rupture in German civilization marked by the rise of Nazism. As his student Albrecht Wellmer put it: ‘Adorno made it possible in Germany once more to be intellectually, morally and aesthetically of the present, without hating Kant, Hegel, Bach, Beethoven, Goethe or Hölderlin’.56 Just like Benjamin, Adorno saw society in dialectical terms, that is, as an unstable field of irreconcilable contradictions in ideas and interests. Unlike classical Marxists, however, Adorno refused to see the proletariat as the proper subject of revolution. He argued that the experience of Nazi Germany and the Stalinist Soviet Union shows how easily the masses can be mobilized for purposes that do not serve their emancipation or real interests. Hence, the critical social and cultural theory he proposed is self-consciously as elitist as it is progressive, and Adorno saw himself as a member – if not the embodiment – of a counter-elite. The most famous statement of this elitist critical social theory is Dialectics of Enlightenment (1947), written together with Horkheimer. This work amounts to a radical critique of the Kantian ‘Enlightenment project’, that is, of the hope to improve the fate of humanity with the aid of reason and science. According to Adorno and Horkheimer, Nazi Germany was not a temporary or contingent deviation from an otherwise admirable Enlightenment project but an inevitable consequence of tendencies that were already implicit in that project itself. It is, after all, in modern industrial societies based on Enlightenment ideals that Kantian reason has been reduced to a purely instrumental way of thinking in the intellectual sphere; in the cultural sphere, increasing commercialization has undermined art; and in the societal sphere, human interests have been subordinated to economic considerations. Thus, despite its own intentions, the Enlightenment project 56 A. Wellmer, Endgames: The Irreconcilable Nature of Modernity. D. Midgley (tr.) (Cambridge, MA, 1998), p. 253.


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appears not to lead to freedom, progress, and emancipation but on the contrary to new forms of domination and barbarism, which may even escalate to totalitarianism. Hence, one should not identify scientific and technological progress with societal and cultural improvement. Adorno thus had a rather more negative opinion than Benjamin of the status, function, and potential of art in a modern industrial society based on capitalist relations of production. For Adorno, the technological products of mass culture were no more than sops, which do not in the least enable listeners to develop a critical consciousness. What he called the *culture industry offers mere entertainment, which reduces music to a mere commodity and offers the audience an escape from the routines of everyday life. Adorno emphatically distinguished the mass art of popular music or ‘light music’ (Unterhaltungsmusik) from the elitist art or ‘serious music’. Popular music appeals to what is already known and stimulates the passive, unthinking consumption of culture due to its stereotypical structure and content. Its ubiquitous broadcasting by technological media such as radio and gramophone records allows it to exclude any alternatives and to present itself as inevitable. In this respect, even music, that most abstract and least representational of all art forms, may be ideological. On the radio, in supermarkets, while being ‘on hold’ at telephonic help-desks, on electronic alarm clocks, or as ringtones, we can hear pop melodies or muzak versions of classical music everywhere. As mass art, Adorno argued, this music has an ideological function in its omnipresence, simplicity, and thoughtlessness: it both masks and reaffirms the existing social order and relations. Popular music sedates its audience by distracting its thoughts from its societal existence, thereby affirming and reproducing existing societal relations and disguising society’s wrongs rather than showing its contradictions and disharmonies. In its fetishistic attitude to light music as a commodity, the audience in turn undergoes a ‘regression’ in its listening, which is not a return to an undeveloped stage of music appreciation but a ‘forcibly retarded’ rejection of everything that is complex or ‘different’. Serious music, by contrast, demands the listener’s active involvement and cooperation. It encourages critical thinking and exposes the hidden tensions, conflicts, and contradictions in society, thus revealing the unpleasant social reality in all its contradictoriness and dissonance. For Adorno, the prototype of such deliberately unharmonious and non-ideological elite art is the avant-gardist twelve-tone or atonal music of Arnold Schönberg (1874-1951) and the so-called second Viennese school inspired by the latter. Thus, critical theory is linked to an extremely negative judgment concerning virtually all forms of cultural production and consumption of the present,

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Arnold Schönberg conducts one of his compositions in Vienna. (From Die Sonntagszeit, 7-4-1913)

and of many products from the past. Later generations were to find fault with Adorno for taking things to extremes, as in his attitude towards jazz, a genre nowadays generally seen as one of the most significant American art forms of the twentieth century. In the 1930s, jazz, which had originated in African-American circles, was dismissed in America as ‘brothel music’ but appreciated among the European *avant-garde in literature and visual art, among other reasons because it was seen as the artistic embodiment of the industrial era. Moreover, jazz had the reputation of being not only artistically but also politically progressive. Adorno, however, saw jazz music as a commercial imitation of primitive entertainment music posing as art music by introducing syncopated rhythmns and quasi-spontaneous improvisations. This rejection is all the more remarkable because it comes perilously close to the contemporaneous Nazi rejection of jazz as Negermusik, even if it was based on entirely different grounds. It would be unfair, however, to brush aside Adorno as merely a German elitist or mandarin, since he did not base his judgment on racial theories


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still popular in his days but on musicological and materialist considerations. Hence, Adorno’s modernism is an uneasy combination of nineteenth-century bourgeois German cultural conservatism and a dialectical materialist continuation of Enlightenment ideals. He realized that both the societal ideals of the Enlightenment and the aesthetic ideals of German nineteenthcentury Romanticism had been seriously discredited by Nazism, a realization that was most tersely expressed in his famous remark: ‘After Auschwitz, no poetry is possible anymore.’ For Adorno, the Nazi destruction of Jews, Roma, Jehovah’s Witnesses, homosexuals, and others amounted to the destruction of modernity and of everything that is human and optimistic about Enlightenment ideals. As we may expect from a practitioner of critical theory, Adorno’s work offers both scientific analyses and explicit normative evaluations. Thus, he has little use for Weber’s thesis of value-free science. For him, the social sciences should aim to show the contradictions in existing societies and hence, empirical inquiries should be inextricably linked to a normative vision of a radical alternative. These beliefs about the aim and function of the social sciences are diametrically opposed to those of Popper. Towards the end of the 1960s, Adorno and Popper even conducted a debate about these aims and functions, which came to be known as the Positivismusstreit (*positivism debate). This term, however, is somewhat confusing, since Adorno’s criticisms were not directed against the logical positivists but against Popper, who himself also rejected positivism and the empiricist idea that science proceeds from pure experience (see § 3.3). Thus, the clash between Adorno’s critical theory and Popper’s critical rationalism did not primarily concern the methods of the social sciences but rather their aims and, by extension, the societal role of science. Adorno and his followers criticized the restricted, apolitical attitude of ‘positivist’ (or, perhaps more appropriately called, liberal) views of science, which put scientific knowledge in the service of existing relations of power and production and refrained from thinking critically about its character or goal. This already shows that political opinions played an important role in this debate. According to Popper, however, the contemporary world, whatever its shortcomings, was the best that mankind had ever known. Adorno refused to pass such a positive and optimistic judgment, as he considered it incomprehensible that a society that had produced Auschwitz deserved such a compliment. Clearly, Adorno’s radical elitism was inspired by the horrors of the twentieth century. Apart from this historical background, however, the epistemological question remains whether this critical attitude may still be

Critical Theory


reconciled with a descriptively adequate approach to social realities. In other words, does Adorno’s sociology of music do justice to the numerous listeners who have not had the privilege of engaging in academic musicological study and lack the time, leisure, or background knowledge to subject the music they listen to or play to a thorough analysis? Hence, some critics see Adorno’s work as little more than a conservative cultural criticism posing as sociological analysis. Adorno was as pessimistic about the effects of technology and the culture industry on the consciousness of the masses as Benjamin was optimistic about the potential of technology to change the societal role of art. Despite their disagreements, both authors called attention to the role of technological, economic, and other material factors in the creation and consumption of culture, taking a principled position against Romantic and humanist views of art as the realm of individual consciousness or of creative genius. Nonetheless, Adorno revealed his roots in Romantiicsm with his belief that contemporary mass culture imposes a false consciousness on the listener whereas the performance of genuine works of art yields a moment of individual and non-social authenticity in which both the performer and the listener may be ‘themselves’. This moment embodies what Adorno called the ‘truth in music’. Authentic music, he argued, is as related to kitsch as truth is related to falsehood. The cultural and philosophical postmodernism that will be discussed in chapter 11 may be seen as rejecting this final hope of Adorno’s as illusory.


Jürgen Habermas

The rise to prominence of Jürgen Habermas (b. 1929) marked the emergence of a new postwar generation of the Frankfurt School. Whereas dialectical materialism had provided the framework for the critical theory of Horkheimer and the other members of the Frankfurt School who had started publishing already before the war, Habermas gradually turned away from this foundation after a sojourn in the United States, and in particular from 1981 on, when his two-volume study Theory of Communicative Action appeared. In this work, he provides a new framework for theories that should meet the three tasks of a critical theory mentioned above on the basis of the analytical philosophy of language of Wittgenstein, Austin, Searle, and Sellars rather than on dialectical materialist thought as inspired by Hegel and Marx. Habermas has three objections against dialectics. First, it is linked to an absolutist notion of truth that should be considered outdated now that,


History and Philosophy of the Humanities

due to Popper, it has become common practice to view scientific knowledge as fallible and provisional. Second, the normative justification given by dialectical critical theory no longer meets contemporary standards in this area. And third, the development of the Frankfurt School showed the practical difficulties that those who retain a dialectical framework run into. In the final phase of their development, Adorno and Horkheimer considered art to be the only arena in which the necessary societal change could be brought about, no longer leaving any role for social movements that could push for real change. In other words, critical theory fails in all of the three tasks it has set itself. With respect to all three tasks, Habermas’s diagnosis is the same: the reason for their shortcomings should be sought in the dialectical method and its philosophy of consciousness. From these criticisms, Habermas does not draw the conclusion that the very notion of a critical theory should be given up. On the contrary, he wants to retain it and tries to provide a new framework to replace the philosophy of consciousness and dialectics in which the abovementioned tasks can be fulfilled simultaneously. He believes he can provide such a framework with his theory of communicative action, which is a theory of action aimed at answering Georg Simmel’s Kantian question of how societies are possible at all. How is the community we know as ‘society’ constituted? How are the countless actions that humans perform every day mutually coordinated? Habermas initially distinguishes two types of mutual adjustment, or coordination, of actions. First, this coordination may be achieved through the mutual adjustment of the orientations of their actions (Handlungsorientierungen) of those involved. In this case, Habermas speaks of *communicative action. The relation of speaker and hearer yields a model for this kind of adjustment: by uttering a sentence, the speaker assumes a position in a world he shares with his hearer. For example, when he says ‘Ronald Reagan was a crook’, he is assuming that the hearer is familiar with this former movie star and U.S. president. According to Habermas, in communicative action, speakers seeking mutual understanding and agreement accept or assume the obligation to provide further explication of their claims when necessary and to revise what they have said in the light of criticism by the hearers. By contrast, actors who see themselves as free from such obligations treat their hearers as unfree or under tutelage and appear not to be oriented towards understanding and consensus but to have other effects in mind. Habermas argues that they use a second way of coordinating actions, namely by engaging in *strategic rather than communicative action: they seek to realize their individual aims, regardless of whether these are achieved at the expense of the aims and interests of others.

Critical Theory


Habermas characterizes communicative action as follows: anyone seeking to create or reach mutual understanding and agreement counterfactually presupposes an ‘ideal speech situation’ of power-free communication, in which all speakers can equally dispute the claims to truth, correctness, and veracity at stake in the speech acts that are exchanged. In the same vein as Wilfrid Sellars (see § 4.1c), Habermas thus describes communicative action as a practice of giving and asking for reasons. Speakers derive the persuasive force of what they say from the possibility that their claims are disputed, hence any consensus that emerges under such circumstances is by definition rational. Where the conditions of the ideal speech situation are not fulfilled, by contrast, persuasion must be achieved by other, non-rational means. Habermas does not say that communicative action is irreducibly linguistic but rather proposes to model relations between actors in general on those between speakers and hearers. In doing so, one will quickly discover that any communicative action can take place only against the background of an acknowledged consensus. For this background, Habermas uses the term *lifeworld, clearly alluding to Gadamer’s notion of a ‘horizon’ as that which implicitly stands at the basis of all understanding. The mutual coordination of actions may also be achieved in another manner, however. In strategic action, this coordination is not achieved via action orientations but rather through the effects of actions. The exemplary situation for this case is the market, in which all actors involved are geared toward realizing their own individual interests. Under the pressure of scarcity, buyers and sellers coordinate their actions according to the laws of supply and demand. In other words, the coordination of actions does not arise from rational consensus but rather on grounds of anonymous economic regularities – that is, it arises via *system mechanisms. Hence, societal life becomes possible because actions may be coordinated either via orientations with respect to the shared lifeworld or via system mechanisms. Every actual society, Habermas argues, involves a particular configuration of these two coordination principles. The distinction between the lifeworld and system mechanisms allows Habermas to distinguish three kinds of developments in society: either the lifeworld may change, or the system may change, or the relation between the lifeworld and the system may change. According to him, a proper understanding of the trajectory of modern Western society must consider each of these three developments. In the first place, the complexity of its system increases in the course of a society’s history: the coordination of actions through system mechanisms, that is, becomes increasingly complex. Second, the structure of the lifeworld becomes increasingly differentiated when


History and Philosophy of the Humanities

more and more domains of action (Handlungsbereiche) are opened up for rational discussion: that is, a rationalization of the lifeworld occurs. Whereas in preceding periods, consensus had been founded in largely sacral terms, it now becomes possible for agreement to emerge in and through secular communicative processes. Whereas in earlier times, citing the Scriptures may have served as a warrant, in a secular, individualistic society individuals are inclined to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to normative claims that are at stake in action themselves. Following Durkheim, Weber, and Marx, Habermas is thus a *secularist concerning modernity. The third development concerns the distance between the lifeworld and the system. Chains of actions become longer and increasingly complex, and as a consequence the orientations of our actions and their consequences grow further and further apart. As a result, the lifeworld and the system not only become differentiated and more complex themselves, but they also become increasingly disconnected. The differentiation of the lifeworld puts the mutual coordination of actions increasing at risk. Hence, in the lifeworld, so-called *media appear that are aimed at reducing these risks. Habermas distinguishes four kinds of media. Two of them – influence and value orientation – remain linked to consensus and the assent of those involved; the other two – money and power – become institutionalized in the economy and the state, respectively. Action that is coordinated through the latter two media is no longer oriented towards reaching consensus but towards strategic aspects, that is, towards the consequences of actions, namely the success of power and the use of money, respectively. Through the media of power and money, system mechanisms may thus penetrate the lifeworld. Habermas accordingly speaks of the *colonization of the lifeworld by the system, in which system mechanisms start constraining the coordination of communicative action. Some claims are no longer up for discussion; in this case, we can speak of *structural violence. The theory of communicative action enables Habermas to formulate a critique of Weber’s theory of rationalization. His critique is not based on the discovery of new facts; Habermas did not conduct new historical research himself. In part, he is inspired by Adorno’s vision of the Dialectic of Enlightenment, which is far more pessimistic concerning the process of rationalization than Weber had been. The theory of communicative action looks at familiar facts from another perspective and aims to show that what was a necessary development for Weber is in fact only one of many possible lines of development. The importance of this novel perspective thus lies in the fact that it enables Habermas to re-assess the process of rationalization in Western modernity.

Critical Theory


On the basis of his theory, Habermas criticizes the one-sided way in which rationalization had earlier been conceptualized and he reinterprets a number of negative consequences of this process. The loss of freedom, for example, which Weber saw as the inevitable consequence of rationalization, is seen by Habermas in a rather different light. For him, this loss is not a consequence of the rationalization of the lifeworld but rather an effect of the colonization of the lifeworld by the system. Unlike Weber, therefore, Habermas does not hold the emergence of one new type of action – that is, goal-rational action – responsible for all problems of modernity. Instead, his diagnosis lies at the level of the coordination of actions. The rationalization of the lifeworld has also made possible its mediatization, which has in its turn transformed into colonization of the lifeworld by the system. Through the media of money and power, system mechanics have penetrated both the public sphere and private life, thus interfering with the symbolic reproduction of the lifeworld. With Habermas, critical theory has established a solid position in the academic world. Nowadays, he is among the most widely quoted philosophical and social-scientific authors. The political importance of his work is no longer expressed by its relation with particular movements, which had always been an uneasy one in earlier critical theory; rather, it lies in his attempts to defend the secular project of Enlightenment, that is, an emancipation that should comprise both societal and scientific progress. During the 1980s, Habermas defended this project against postmodern skepticism in particular (cf. chapter 11). In more recent decades, he has defended the Western Enlightenment project against new forms of nationalism and xenophobia and has pleaded for a united Europe based on – and legitimized by – a European constitution. He has also reflected on what he calls the *postsecular society in which religious claims persist or arise in a secularized environment, providing new challenges and opportunities for a dialogue between the claims of reason and of faith. Habermas conducts much of these debates outside strictly academic circles. A large part of his later publications consists of contributions to German newspapers and periodicals.

Summary − Hegel described human history in terms of the dialectical development of spirit. Marx saw the dialectic of economic relations, or class struggle, as the motor of history.


History and Philosophy of the Humanities

− Lukács saw the modern novel as an ideological reflection of the rise of the bourgeoisie. Voloshinov argued that consciousness can arise only through language or signs, the latter being intersubjective and inherently dialectical in character. − According to Bakhtin, heteroglossia, or the plurality in styles and registers, is irreconcilable with any formalist linguistics. In his view, the modern novel is characterized by polyphony and therefore cannot be judged in the terminology of classical poetics. Some literary works are carnivalesque in so far as they express a subversive popular culture. − Gramsci distinguished cultural, linguistic, and/or ideological hegemony from political domination. He called non-hegemonic classes and cultural expressions subaltern. − In the face of Nazism, Benjamin and Adorno tried to maintain modernism, the avant-garde, and a belief in progress. Both applied Marx’s dialectical materialist notions to the study of cultural phenomena. Benjamin analysed the effects of technological media such as film on cultural production and on perception. According to Adorno, the capitalist culture industry reduces works of art to mere entertainment products. − The positivism debate between Adorno and Popper concerned the question of whether the social sciences should restrict themselves to the critical testing of their own hypotheses or should also criticize the social reality they study. According to Adorno, critical social theory should proceed from a vision, or ideal, of the right or just society. − Habermas reformulates critical theory in terms of a theory of communicative action. Such action, he argues, presupposes a common lifeworld, but the role of this lifeworld is increasingly being colonized by the system mechanisms of money and power.


Positivism and Structuralism

9.1 Introduction Positivism and structuralism are in many respects the direct opposite of the interpretative or hermeneutic approaches discussed in chapter 7, and they also reject the teleological philosophy of consciousness that characterized some of the dialectical approaches discussed in chapter 8. Instead, they proceed from the belief that the social and human sciences should follow the same approach as the natural sciences, and that conducting serious scientific research should hence be oriented towards observations that can be publicly checked or towards the formal features of the object being investigated. In this manner, they reject the idea that ‘subjective meanings’ deserve a special place in the humanities or social sciences. Scientists who believe that understanding is a useful tool are free to utilize it, on the condition that the hypotheses they have formed formed on the basis of understanding are tested in the manner that has proved its value in the natural sciences. For this reason, the sociologist Pierre Bourdieu was to call positivist and structuralist approaches *objectivist, as distinct from the *subjectivism of interpretative methods (cf. § 10.4). As remarked above, hermeneutic scholars do not accept this restricted and purely heuristic role for understanding. They point out that the humanities and social sciences study a reality that is already interpreted. Moreover, they see nothing enigmatic or unreliable in interpretation, as it is an activity that all humans continuously engage in, if not a central feature of the human condition. Positivists and structuralists are not impressed by such claims. They argue that important developments in the sciences have been achieved by explicitly abstracting away from everyday interpretations of phenomena, as Galileo already emphasized. Hence, the French sociologist Émile Durkheim (1858-1917) argued that scientifically controlled experience should be guiding for the social sciences rather than the concepts shaped outside of science and for needs entirely unscientific. Thus, scientists should free themselves from ‘those fallacious notions which hold sway over the mind of the ordinary person’.57 According to positivists, researchers in the humanities and social sciences enter an unknown world just as natural scientists do and must leave their everyday prejudices behind at the gates of science. 57 E. Durkheim, The Rules of Sociological Method. S. Lukes (tr.) (London, 1982), p. 29.


History and Philosophy of the Humanities

*Positivism emerged in the early nineteenth century. Its most important representative at that time was Auguste Comte (1798-1857). He argued that only empirical science can yield genuine knowledge and that knowledge claims based on tradition, metaphysics, or religious revelation are inferior. In the course of history, these different knowledge claims appeared in three consecutive stages: religion, metaphysics, and science. Self-consciously, Comte positioned himself and his scientific sociology as the final stage in this development. In a number of respects, positivism seems to relapse into what Foucault called the classical épistémè and hence into pre-Kantian philosophy, since it does not appear to see the representation of the world as a problem and since the limitations of knowledge do not form an explicit theme, in contrast to the modern épistémè. These appearances are deceptive, however. Positivists only see representation as unproblematic in so far as it is achieved by means of the right method, which in practice amounts to being accepted by people with the right scientific means and attitude – that is, by the scientific community. It is precisely for this reason, incidentally, that positivism has been important for the establishment and *professionalization of various other disciplines. Unlike men of letters, journalists, or scholarly amateurs, professional scientific researchers have the means available to appeal to objective facts, and for this reason, positivists claim, they possess a unique authority. Whereas positivists accept scientific representation based on experience as unproblematic, they are skeptical about non-scientific (for example, religious) representations, or even reject them as unreliable. For the structuralist and positivist human and social sciences, they argue, such representations are clearly not a source of knowledge, although they can form an object of research. As we will see below, Durkheim’s descriptions and explanations of religious and other non-scientific representations implicitly and explicitly appeal to a Kantian thematic: he posed the Kantian question of how such non-scientific representations are possible at all. Here, however, this question is phrased as an empirical matter rather than an epistemological inquiry into the justification of knowledge. The answer, as we shall see, is sought in terms of social structures. By *structuralism, we usually mean the current in anthropology and literary theory inspired by the Swiss linguist Ferdinand de Saussure (18571913), who described language as an autonomous structure. More generally, structuralism may be characterized as the belief that social phenomena can be explained in terms of structures or givens that stand outside the subject and may accordingly be called ‘objective.’ According to Saussure, language is

Positivism and Struc tur alism


such a structure, but also other social institutions such as religions, money, and nation-states may be and have been seen as structures. Hence, in this chapter, we will use the term ‘structuralism’ in a somewhat broader sense than is usually done. The notion of ‘structure’ acquired a prominent place in the social sciences only towards the end of the nineteenth century, when it was introduced by Durkheim in his 1895 treatise The Rules of Sociological Method. The concept’s earlier biological connotations are echoed in Durkheim’s discussion of not only social structures but also the ‘morphology’ and ‘anatomy’ of social facts. The structures referred to in structuralist social-scientific explanations are inaccessible to the will of individual actors and may even be inaccessible to individual consciousness. That is, the actors involved need not be aware of the forces exerted on them. Perhaps these influences cannot even be formulated in everyday terms. Indeed, many structuralists appear to engage in explanations that are completely independent from, if not radically at odds with, our everyday beliefs and intuitions. In this chapter, we will discuss a number of these counterintuitive explanations on the basis of Durkheim and Saussure’s work and subsequently review the most important features and implications of structuralism in anthropology and literary theory. We will not address the broader epistemological and methodological leanings of positivism in detail, since these are largely based on the practice of the nineteenth-century natural sciences that we already discussed in the chapters above. Just like classical empiricism, however, nineteenth-century positivist beliefs about how scientific knowledge is based on experience have increasingly appeared untenable in the light of twentieth-century philosophical developments.


Émile Durkheim’s Sociology

Émile Durkheim has contributed to the establishment of sociology as a distinct and autonomous discipline in several different ways. In addition to his work on sociological method already mentioned above, he also wrote a number of influential sociological analyses of suicide, primitive or totemic religion, and the division of labour in modern industrial societies. Furthermore, he trained numerous students in this new science and had a substantial influence on higher educational reforms in France. By establishing an academic journal of his own, L’Année sociologique, which started appearing in 1897, he could present and spread the ideas of his school. His doctrines have exercised a major influence not only on sociology


History and Philosophy of the Humanities

but also anthropology (Marcel Mauss, Claude Lévi-Strauss) and on the Annales school, an important current in French historiography (cf. § 13.5). For years, Durkheim’s books and L’Année sociologique were obligatory – and favourite – reading material for Annales school historians. Durkheim is an heir to French positivism. His years of study in Paris were primarily devoted to social and political philosophy, since at that time sociology did not yet exist as either an academic discipline or a university study. He developed an interest in Kantian epistemology and in Auguste Comte’s positivism. As noted earlier, the latter had argued that the scientific study of society should follow the methods of the natural sciences, and he had also claimed that a science with an object of its own can be relatively autonomous. Comte believed that he had laid the ultimate foundations for the scientific study of society, for which he coined the term sociology. Knowledge of this science, the highest in the hierarchy of sciences designed by Comte, would enable administrators to formulate successful social and political policies. Thus, according to Comte, sociology was better able than either religion or tradition to guide the development of modern society and to prevent or channel social unrest. Durkheim reproduced Comte’s theses that methods used in the natural sciences should provide the basis for the study of society and that such knowledge should also be applied in policymaking. Moreover, he learned from Comte that the domain of a science is relatively autonomous and that it is therefore incorrect to seek biological explanations, for example, for social phenomena. On this point, Durkheim even went beyond Comte, since he had to distinguish sociology not only from biology but also from a powerful new rival: psychology. Durkheim reproached his predecessor for giving *idealist – or, as he called them, ‘ideological’ – explanations of social facts, which risked reducing sociology to psychology. He was equally skeptical about Comte’s tripartite division of the stages in the development of knowledge and about his claim to have formulated the basic principles of sociology. ‘A science cannot live and develop when it is reduced to one single problem on which… a great mind has placed his seal,’ he wrote.58 Clearly, he believed that after Comte, there was still enough work to do. Durkheim formulated his own basic principles in The Rules of Sociological Method. His first and most fundamental methodological rule states: ‘social facts are things, and should be treated as things’.59 It is this rule that allowed Durkheim to treat sociology as an autonomous and independent discipline, 58 Ibid., p. 135. 59 Ibid., p. 29

Positivism and Struc tur alism


distinct from both biology and psychology. Moreover, this *realism with respect to *social facts helped him to present sociology as a rigorous science that proceeds not from subjective ideas but from ‘hard facts’. Durkheim emphasized, however, that he was presenting a methodological rule here, not an ontological doctrine: One does not need to philosophize about the nature [of social facts] or to discuss the analogies they present with phenomena of a lower order of existence. Suffice to say that they are the sole datum afforded the sociologist. A thing is in effect all that is given, all that is offered, or rather imposing itself upon our observation. To treat phenomena as things is to treat them as data, and this constitutes the starting point for science. Social phenomena unquestionably display this characteristic. […] Social phenomena must therefore be considered in themselves, detached from the conscious beings who form their own mental representations of them. They must be studied from the outside, as external things, because it is in this guise that they present themselves to us. […] Even if in the end social phenomena may not have all the features intrinsic to things, they must at first be treated as if they had.60

In other words, Durkheim’s sociology rests on the methodological choice to treat social facts as, in a sense, given. But what exactly are social facts? Durkheim was the first who posed, and tried to answer, this question. The existence of money, for example, is a social fact, just like the fact that in the Netherlands the vast majority of the population have Dutch as their mother tongue. According to Durkheim, such facts are as ‘objective’ as physical and biological facts, but they possess two particular features. First, social facts are external to, or independent of, the individual; and second, they possess a certain coercive force. The currency with which I pay and the language that I speak exist and function independently of my knowledge of them and of the use I make of them. If I decide to ignore them or to make my own language or money, I may expect different kinds of sanctions: I may be ignored, marginalized, or excluded by others who view me as incomprehensible or insane, or I may be imprisoned for being a counterfeiter. Moreover, social facts are distinguished from physical and biological phenomena such as breathing, which may not be discontinued with impunity, in that they consist of representations and actions – they involve conventional ways of doing, thinking, and believing. That is, they rest 60 Ibid., p. 36-37.


History and Philosophy of the Humanities

essentially on individual mental representations, even if they cannot be reduced to them, because they are in an important respect independent of individual consciousness. They are borne not by the individual but by the whole or at least a major part of a society. By contrast, psychological facts like emotions or thoughts exclusively exist in individual consciousness. Next, Durkheim generally defines ‘social facts’ as ‘any way of acting, whether fixed or not, capable of exerting over the individual an external constraint’, or ‘any way of acting which is general over the whole of a given society whilst having an existence of its own, independent of its individual manifestations’.61 The word that expresses this very special mode of being rather well, he added, is *institution; thus, sociology is also the science of institutions or institutional facts, and of their emergence and functioning. Although societies consist of individual persons, they can no more be reduced to them than the biological world can be reduced to chemistry. Even though a living cell ultimately consists of lifeless matter, Durkheim wrote, it nonetheless constitutes a reality of its own with its own features. The same holds for the social realm: it is a reality of its own, as social phenomena exist outside of the individual. This claim may mean one of two things: it can either mean that social phenomena stand outside of each individual in isolation or that they stand outside of all individuals taken together. Durkheim emphasized that he meant the former. Time and again, he denied turning societies into particular kinds of entities; he even wrote that ‘there is nothing in society that is not in the consciousness of individuals’. For the sociologist, however, this is of little importance. For each of the individuals he might like to consult, social reality is external. Thus, institutions cannot be clarified by introspection, and precisely for this reason, sociologists should treat social phenomena as things. Hence, Durkheim argued that sociologists should base their investigations on experience rather than on pre-scientifically formed concepts. Immediately after proclaiming this, however, he added that, since experience is subjective, the sociologist must look for objective representations of social phenomena. After all, in the natural sciences temperature is not measured by vague impressions but with the aid of instruments such as thermometers. Likewise, sociologists should look for objective representations of the phenomena they want to study. Consistent with his research project, Durkheim found the required objective representations in collective customs such as rules of law, popular sayings, and phenomena of social structure. These, he argued, ‘do not change by means of the different applications 61 Ibid., p. 27.

Positivism and Struc tur alism


made of them, form a solid object, a constant measure at the disposal of the observer, and… leave no room for subjective impressions and personal experiences. Even adding that, a rule of law is what it is, it cannot be observed in two different ways.’62 They are what Durkheim was later to call *collective representations, that is, states of collective consciousness, as distinct from individual consciousness. Collective representations are social: individuals find them in the country in which they were born and in the education they receive, both involuntarily. Because of the prestige they enjoy, these representations also have a coercive force. Further, collective representations function on two different levels, in Durkheim’s view. First, they are representations of social reality for the sociologist; and second, social reality is constituted by them. Durkheim was not put off by this ambivalence: as a positivist, he claimed that those who employ proper scientific methods can represent reality as it is. A 1897 study on suicide was to prove the fertility of Durkheim’s perspective. The topic was a hit. Basing himself on statistics, Durkheim showed that the way in which people think about suicide in everyday terms, namely as an extreme form of individual action, produces a distortion of actual facts. On closer inspection, each nation turns out to have its own suicide rate, which is relatively constant over time. Thus, Durkheim explicitly distanced himself from the commonsensical terms in which this topic is usually discussed. Likewise, he consciously ignored the motivations that suicidal individuals themselves provide for their actions. Instead, he used statistics. With great sophistication, he employed these in trying to explain differences in suicide rates, which he believed should be sought in the differing degrees of individuals’ social integration and of the regulation of social life in different countries. In principle, this explanation can be formulated in the form of a deductive-nomsological or hypothetical-deductive model, as is usual in the natural sciences (cf. § 3.3). Many social facts thus consist of more or less stable and conventionalized – that is, institutionalized – beliefs and actions, but there are also more ephemeral social facts that are not institutionally organized on a more permanent basis. Various kinds of collective action and social movements – including the celebration of sports or war victories, protest demonstrations, and in particular spontaneous events such as political revolts and soccer riots – are short-lived and more or less unorganized. They need not originate or endure in any one individual consciousness, and their course can hardly if at all be guided or controlled by individuals. Although individuals may 62 Ibid., p. 23-4.


History and Philosophy of the Humanities

have the illusion that they themselves have created an in-group feeling or collective behaviour, they are in fact guided by it, Durkheim argued, rather than guiding it. Hence, social facts and their coercive force on the individual may go hand in hand with a subjective feeling of individual liberty and autonomous action. Durkheim thus did not philosophically reject the idea of free will, he merely took the methodological position that individual factors and individual liberty are irrelevant for social-scientific explanations. 9.2a

Sociology of Religion and Sociology of Knowledge

These methodological choices and considerations allowed Durkheim to define sociology as an autonomous discipline with its own object of study and its own norms of what constitutes an adequate explanation. A brief discussion of Durkheim’s work on primitive religion may help to clarify these methods and may also help to uncover the Kantian assumptions that inform his work. At first blush, religion seems to be a moral, metaphysical, or individual psychological phenomenon rather than a social one. Religious beliefs and doctrines are concerned with the order and purpose of creation or the cosmos, the character of the creator or highest being, and the proper conduct of the individual striving for liberation or redemption. Yet, for Durkheim, worshipping the higher or the supernatural is not essential for religion as a social phenomenon – after all, some religions such as Buddhism have no notion of a divinity or creator in the first place. What is essential, he continued, is the fact that every religion strictly distinguishes between the sacred and the profane. The sacred or holy is a separate domain of things and one that should remain separate. When ordinary mortals do come into contact with sacred things, the latter risk becoming defiled and order must be restored, for example by performing a purification ritual. Examples of this are the Indian caste system with its ritual of untouchability and the treatment of cows as sacred animals by Hindus. Religion divides things into the sacred and the profane, and as such, it is a principle of classification. The strict subdivision of humans and objects is simultaneously a mental process of *categorization and a social process that subdivides humans into societal ‘classes’. Categories of thought are therefore not only cognitive ordering principles, they also contribute to maintaining social order because they assign all individuals a fixed position. Durkheim illustrated this idea by means of the totemistic religion of the Australian Aboriginals. He used this religion because he believed it was ‘the most primitive and simple religion which is actually known’ and accordingly

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shows the social origins of all religions most clearly.63 This view of socially ‘primitive’ forms of religion as also methodologically ‘elementary’ rests on a typically nineteenth-century belief in linear progress, a principle that has since proved to be debatable if not dubious. In addition to this evolutionary way of thinking, another relevant factor is the fact that Durkheim based his analyses exclusively on ethnographic materials that had already been collected and interpreted by others. He himself never set foot on Australian soil. Australian Aboriginal society, Durkheim writes, is divided into clans or groups whose members consider themselves to be a family not because they are biologically related but because they bear the same clan name. This name, however, also refers to a so-called totem: a particular species of plant or animal. Totemic animals are sacred and may not be killed or eaten by clan members; instead, they are ritually worshipped. Durkheim argued that this distinguishing and worshipping of specific totemic animals reflects the distinction of the clans associated with them; thus, the ordering of things reflects the ordering of people. As a result of sociological analysis, the classes of objects in nature distinguished by Aboriginals turn out to correspond precisely with the groups from which their own society is composed. Hence, Durkheim concluded, the mental categories with which the Aboriginals order the observable world do not have their origin in observation or, as Kant thought, in the a priori structure of human thought but in the structure of their society. According to Durkheim, the social function of religion does not consist of individual salvation but of maintaining social order – and with it, moral and cognitive order. Religious rituals and ceremonies serve to worship existing sacred objects as distinct from the everyday or the profane, and hence they affirm and reproduce both the cognitive and the social order. Through rituals, Durkheim concluded, society worships itself. In this view, primitive religion rests upon an illusion, and yet it plays an important constructive role in maintaining social order and cohesion. Modern industrial society is characterized by the loss of such traditional social binding forces, as religion can no longer fulfil its traditional social function. Thus, we will have to introduce other means of securing social cohesion and of overcoming the negative consequences of progress and modernization. According to Durkheim, sociology can make an important contribution to this effort.

63 E. Durkheim, The Elementaray Forms of the Religious Life. J.W. Swain (tr.) (New York, 1965), p. 1.


History and Philosophy of the Humanities

In his sociology of religion and knowledge, Durkheim thus gave a sociological twist to Kantian epistemology. In doing so, however, he also effected a change in Kant’s problematic. When Durkheim spoke of categories, he was talking both about the way of thinking, understanding, or perceiving and about the content of what is thought, understood, or perceived. Kant, however, maintained a strict distinction between the contents of the mind and the mind’s capacity to form such contents. Moreover, Kant’s problematic is philosophical – that, is, conceptual and normative – in character in that he was concerned with the question of how justified and objectively valid knowledge is possible. Durkheim, by contrast, proceeded sociologically and empirically. He presumed that the answer to the question of how scientific (that is, objectively valid) knowledge is possible is supplied by positivist doctrines. For beliefs other than those of scientific knowledge, however, we can pose the Kantian question: how are the various forms of religious belief possible? Durkheim found the answer to this question in a society’s social structure and in the social function of the beliefs under investigation. Thus, Durkheim treated scientific and non-scientific ways of thinking *asymmetrically. Obviously, he realized that scientif ic knowledge also requires social organization. He did not, however, account for the content of such knowledge in terms of social structure. For him, the latter was related only to the facts that were represented. The content of non-scientific forms of thinking, however, can, like religious belief, be explained in terms of social structure and function. Until the 1960s, Durkheim’s asymmetrical treatment of scientific and non-scientific beliefs remained largely uncontested. This changed, however, under the impact of Kuhn’s work and the critique of positivism it implied. Kuhn prompted sociologists of knowledge to start looking for sociological interpretations and explanations of the ways in which distinctions are made in the different sciences. In doing so, they drew a more radical conclusion from Durkheim’s views and proposed a *symmetrical treatment of scientific and non-scientific knowledge, as both should be equally investigated, they argued, in terms of social processes. Accordingly, sociological studies of various natural-scientific questions have appeared, such as Shapin and Schaffer’s book on the Hobbes-Boyle debate (cf. § 2.1). Incidentally, sociological studies of the humanities are much rarer. Such sociological explanations of the content of scientific knowledge are philosophically suspect, since they seem to confuse the normative epistemological justification of knowledge with the causal and empirical explanation of its origins. Sociologists of knowledge, in other words, are accused of confusing the context of discovery and the context of justification.

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These sociologists, however, are not impressed by such criticisms. With some justification, they point out that flourishing research programmes often rest on assumptions that are philosophically naïve or debatable. Moreover, Kuhn’s and others’ historicizing views of the development of science have undermined the strict and unchanging division between both contexts.


Ferdinand de Saussure and General Linguistics

Just as Durkheim was concerned with establishing sociology as an autonomous discipline, the linguist Ferdinand de Saussure tried to establish the foundations for an independent science of general linguistics that cannot be reduced to any other discipline. Initially, Saussure studied Indo-European linguistics in Leipzig, at that time a stronghold of the Neogrammarians. At the tender age of twenty-one, he published Mémoire sur le système primitif des voyelles dans les langues indo-européennes (1878), according to many one of the most important studies ever published in historical-comparative linguistics. In this work, he presented the so-called laryngeal theory, which explains the characteristics of a number of vowels in the Indo-European languages by positing that the Proto-Indo-European language must have had a number of particular phonemes – so-called laryngeals – that display features of both vowels and consonants. Several decades later, Saussure’s hypothesis was to receive empirical confirmation in a most spectacular way. In 1906, a number of vast archives with clay tablets from the second millennium BC were discovered in Bogazkale in present-day Turkey. Many of these cuneiform inscriptions, it appeared, were written in Hittite, which not only is an early Indo-European language but which also turned out to possess precisely the formal features – laryngeals – that Saussure had postulated for Proto-Indo-European. After this flying start, however, Saussure published very few studies. This silence was in part due to his increasing dissatisfaction or unease with the concepts and methods of contemporary linguistics. In 1894, he wrote to his colleague Antoine Meillet: For a long time I have been mainly concerned with the logical classification of linguistic facts, and with classifying the perspective from which we treat them; and I have become increasingly conscious of the enormous amount of work that is needed to show linguists what they are actually doing […] The complete inadequacy of existing terminology, and the necessity of reforming it and showing what kind of an object language is, spoil


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my pleasure in philology; but there is nothing I would be happier doing than not having to think about the character of language in general.64

Because of this dissatisfaction, Saussure wrote little and published nothing about his own ideas concerning general theoretical questions. During his final years, however, he did give a series of lectures on what he called *general linguistics at the University of Geneva. After his death, two colleagues elaborated and systematized the notes his students had taken of the lectures and compiled them in a book that appeared in 1916 with the title Course in General Linguistics. It is this text that has brought Saussure lasting fame that far exceeds the boundaries of linguistics. One could even argue that it established a new paradigm in linguistics. The doctrines that Saussure developed create a distinct object of research for linguistics, present the norms that observations must conform to in order to be scientifically relevant, and formulate the criteria for what counts as an adequate explanation of those observations. Moreover, it was soon to become a major influence on many – though by no means all – linguists. Course in General Linguistics opens by raising the question of what the object of linguistics is. This object, Saussure argued, is not simply given. It is not prior to any specific perspective on language but is constituted precisely by such a perspective. What kind of an object, then, should linguistics create in order to qualify as an autonomous discipline? The phenomena with which linguistic research is concerned vary strongly between speakers and over time. Moreover, they are also studied in various other disciplines such as acoustics, psychology, ethnography, and philology. From each of these perspectives, language seems an incoherent and chaotic collection of heterogeneous elements. In order to escape this chaos and to make language into a coherent and concrete object of research, the linguist should, according to Saussure, focus on the language system, or what he calls the *langue, and take this as the norm of all concrete manifestations of speech or language use, that is, utterances. In other words, the linguist should explicitly abstract away from individual variation and from developments over time and recover the structure that language forms at any given moment. The langue, or language system, is thus by definition independent from speech, or what Saussure called *parole. Nor can it be simply changed by individuals. Saussure appeared to waver between a purely methodological and a realist view of the notion of langue. It is not clear whether he considered this, 64 F. Saussure, Letter to Antoine Meillet, January 4, 1894.

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Ferdinand de Saussure

the ‘real and singular’ object of linguistics, an independently existing entity of which the linguist should discover the essence, or merely as a methodological auxiliary. Regardless of such questions, Saussure argued that the langue is a system of linguistic *signs. Such signs, he elaborated, have two sides or elements: the *signifier (signifiant) and the *signified (signifié). These two are as inseparable as the two sides of a sheet of paper. The signifier is the sound, or what Saussure called the ‘acoustic image’, while the signified is the mental concept linked to the sign. The signifier, however, is not a purely physical notion but a sound, as part of a language system. Acoustically, no two utterances of a word like cat are ever exactly alike: its pronunciation may show differences in pitch, velocity, etc., or the consonant c may be pronounced aspirated or unaspirated (i.e. with an accompanying ‘breath’) or somewhat further to the front or back of the throat. However, for the recognition of the sound of the English word cat – and hence, for the place of this word within the English language system – such variations are irrelevant. For other language systems, however, such differences do matter. Thus, in Georgian, it does make a difference in meaning whether or not one pronounces voiceless consonants like p, k, or t with or without aspiration, and in Arabic, the k


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and the q (which is pronounced further to the back of the throat than the k) yield different words (kalb = ‘dog’ and qalb = ‘heart’). Saussure primarily discussed the signs of spoken language, but written signs may be viewed in the same manner. Indeed, his description of how signs function was intended to serve as the basis for a more general theory of signs or, as he called it, *semiology or *semiotics, of which general linguistics is no more than a subdiscipline. Saussure himself gave only a rough sketch of what such a general theory of signs should look like, but after his death, various attempts were undertaken to elaborate a full semiotics. And, as we will see below, attempts have been made to introduce a structuralist method in such areas as ethnography and literary theory. These attempts, however, have not had a lasting influence. Nowadays, few if any linguists see their work as part of a more general semiology. Saussure’s generalization, that is, appears not to have been very fruitful, as human languages appear to possess a much more complex and articulate structure than other sign systems such as music, film, or painting as studied by semioticians. It should be clear by now that langue, which according to Saussure is the actual research object of the autonomous discipline of linguistics, is not a ready-made empirical given but must be construed or constituted by a number of methodological choices. These choices include abstracting away from phonetic variation, from individual speakers, and from historical change, but there are other choices we could also have made. Saussure did have one important argument, however, for defining langue the way he did, which is the *arbitrariness of the linguistic sign. Just like Durkheim’s social facts, languages as defined by Saussure exist on the basis of shared conventions even though they are autonomous with respect to individuals, who hence are not able to create or change languages at will. According to Saussure, language is radically distinct from other social institutions because of the arbitrary character of the linguistic sign: there is no natural, internal, or essential link between the sign and what it means. Aside from a few cases of onomatopoeia, like woof or cock-a-doodle-doo, words have an arbitrary and conventional link with what they signify. Thus, it is not necessary for the concept ‘dog’ to be expressed in English by the word dog. Instead, one might just as well have used any other word such as cam, köpek, or sag. This point may seem trivial, but it has far-reaching consequences. Without language, Saussure remarked, it is impossible to have clear, distinct, and constant ideas or concepts at all. Moreover, the idea that language is arbitrary and conventional holds for both sides of the linguistic sign, that is, for the concept as well as for the sound. We are tempted to think that words such

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as dog in English, köpek in Turkish, and sag in Persian are merely different acoustic expressions of the same, independently given concept of ‘dog’. But if languages really were mere systems of names for independently given concepts, translation should be much easier than it actually is. Different languages appear to order the world in different ways. Thus, the English word river corresponds to two French terms, fleuve and rivière, which refer to rivers that respectively do and do not flow into the sea; and the German word Fleisch corresponds to both flesh and meat in English. Obviously, we cannot say that any one of these expressions is the ‘correct’ or ‘real’ one that corresponds to the order of ‘things in themselves’. Moreover, both sounds and concepts change in the course of time: thus, English brave and Italian bravo nowadays express completely different concepts, although both derive from Ancient Greek barbaros. In the course of the centuries, therefore, not only the sound but also the meaning of this word has changed. In other words, there is no stable system of immutable concepts directly linked to things in themselves or givens that underlies the changing sounds of a language. This would imply that our concepts are just as arbitrary and conventional – and hence as changeable – as our sounds. As with the acoustic image, the meaning or concept also acquires its value only within a system of oppositions constituted by a language, for both the signifier and the signified are completely arbitrary. The existence of distinct concepts and reference to specific objects are only possible due to the existence of the language system as a whole. In Saussure, we thus find a meaning holism that shows some similarities with the Duhem-Quine thesis (see § 4.2a). Later, the poststructuralist Derrida would radicalize Saussure’s ideas (see § 11.2). The identity of the individual linguistic sign is thus not intrinsically given but emerges only due to its difference with other signs. Thus, the sign cat only functions in English because it stands in opposition to other expressions such as rat, mat, and dog. The sign does not have any substantial properties that make it into what it is but is only relationally defined by its formal differences with other signs. As Saussure famously put it, ‘a language is a form and not a substance’.65 Thus, it is no coincidence that Saussure nowhere spoke about *reference, that is, the object referred to by the sign, or the relation of referring, as a third aspect of the linguistic sign. We do not possess any conceptual or other means independently of language to give us direct access to things in themselves, he argued. On the contrary, our thinking is only made possible by the existence of the language system as a structure. Both at the level 65 F. Saussure, Course in General Linguistics. W. Baskin (tr.) (New York, 1966), p. 122; cf. p. 113.


History and Philosophy of the Humanities

of the signified and of the signifier, the distinctions made by a language give an essentially arbitrary ordering of the things in the outside world. Saussure emphasized that this ordering is not dictated or forced onto us by the world itself. A decidedly Kantian or transcendentalist strain in Saussure’s work appears here. The idea that language is merely a nomenclature or a system of names for independently given concepts and objects informs both seventeenth and eighteenth-century general grammar and the common sense of present-day ordinary language users. According to Saussure, however, this belief blocks every insight into the true nature of language. In this sense, he argued, the Neogrammarians made a significant breakthrough, for in ordering the results of comparison in strictly historical terms, they placed the facts in their ‘natural order’. Saussure wrote: ‘thanks to them, language is no longer looked upon as an organism that develops independently but as the product of the collective mind of linguistic groups.’66 Saussure’s use of the term ‘collective spirit’ suggests an affinity with both Durkheim’s collective conscience and with the German idealist concept of spirit. In terms of the latter, Saussure recognized that language is thoroughly historical, but he added that the Neogrammarians had not yet developed a strict method and hence could not arrive at the right conclusions concerning the essence of their object of research. Although historical change is essential to language because it is inextricably linked to the arbitrariness of the sign, it is not determined by the systematics of the language (langue) itself. All linguistic change, Saussure argued, arises in individual language use, that is, in parole, and hence processes of linguistic change fall outside the reach of linguistics proper, which is or should be concerned only with langue. Thus, Saussure strictly separated *diachrony as the domain of changing parole from *synchrony, the domain of the general and lawlike langue. Put differently, the language system studied in linguistics stands outside of – or is abstracted away from – time. Moreover, as that which makes possible the formation of clear and distinct ideas, language is a social fact existing independently of individual language users. Speaking in Kantian terms, it forms the condition for the possibility of thinking. Just like Durkheim, however, Saussure distinguished himself from Kant in that he did not derive these conditions for possibility from the structure of the human mind but located them in society. For Saussure, too, they are not strictly transcendental in the epistemological sense but rather phenomena that can be investigated empirically. 66 Ibid., p. 5.

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Just like the Neogrammarians, Saussure accepted the notion that language is essentially historical and always changing. Paradoxically, however, he argued that linguists should take this historicity seriously precisely by abstracting away from it and by analysing the language system at a strictly synchronic level as an arbitrary system of signs in relations of opposition. At the synchronic level, language is a coherent system that is independent of speakers and has its own laws as a langue; at the diachronic level, all kinds of extralinguistic factors start interfering. For Saussure, diachrony is the domain of individual variation and influences and of social and other extra-linguistic factors. Hence, it concerns not general laws as in the linguistics of langue but particular developments and events in which social, historical, and possibly even physical laws and principles may be involved. As an autonomous science, Saussure concluded, general linguistics is therefore strictly limited to the synchronic level.


Noam Chomsky and the Cognitive Revolution

After Saussure’s revolution, another paradigm shift occurred in linguistics after the Second World War: the rise of generative grammar (formerly also labelled ‘transformational-generative grammar’) as developed by the American Noam Chomsky (b. 1928) and his followers. Generative grammar may be labelled structuralist in so far as it explores grammatical structures that are not directly accessible to human consciousness. Unlike Saussure’s linguistics, however, it argues that these structures are not social facts but unconscious features of the human brain. Generative grammar thus clearly shows features of a new paradigm. In general linguistics, it has become an influential current and has become institutionalized in a distinct community, with its own professional journals and conferences. Moreover, it has paved the way for various so-called *cognitive approaches to language, music, media, and so on. In 1957, the then twenty-eight-year-old Chomsky published a booklet of less than 120 pages entitled Syntactic Structures. In it, he argued on purely formal grounds that traditional grammars cannot correctly describe the syntactic structure of human languages. Such grammars, he argued, are formulated as rules for rewriting, or parsing, a sentence, that is, for analysing it into its immediate constituents. Thus, the sentence (1) (1) The Queen reads a novel


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is rewritten as a noun phrase (NP), the Queen, expressing the grammatical subject, and a verbal phrase (VP), reads a novel, which in turn can be analysed as an inflected transitive verb (‘to read’) and another noun phrase, a novel, expressing the sentence’s grammatical object. Chomsky argues that, in formal terms, traditional grammar presupposed that the grammatical structure of sentences can be described with the aid of so-called rewriting rules, in this case: Sentence → NP + VP NP → T + N VP → Verb + NP T → the, a/an N → Queen, novel Verb → read

Next, Chomsky argues that grammars based on such rewriting rules cannot possibly capture the systematic connections that exist between active and passive sentences, for example, or between assertions and questions. He argues that one needs essentially more powerful syntactic rules for this, something he called transformational rules, which can move or remove parts of a sentence. In this perspective, the passive construction (2) (2) A novel is read by the Queen

is formed by a transformation that moves forward the grammatical object in the underlying active structure. The question (3) (3) What does the Queen read?

even involves a kind of reversal of the underlying structure: the grammatical object is removed, and the question-word what replacing it is placed in front of the verbal phrase, in which, moreover, an auxiliary verb do is inserted. Such operations, Chomsky argues, cannot be described with the aid of rewriting rules. In Aspects of the Theory of Syntax (1965), Chomsky elaborated his argument into an ambitious and philosophically motivated research programme for linguistics at large. He argued that the transformational-generative model is superior to other theories not only descriptively but also in explanatory terms. In doing so, he frontally attacked the behaviouristically inspired

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views of descriptive linguists such as Leonard Bloomfield (1887-1949), which until then had dominated American linguistics. Chomsky’s main thesis now is that all human languages can be described in terms of a relatively small number of rewriting rules and transformations, but the precise form and order of these rules vary from language to language. Generative grammar thus describes the linguistic knowledge possessed by every adult language user. According to Chomsky, this knowledge is no more than one possible realization of so-called Universal Grammar, that is, the innate linguistic capacity in humans, which in his view is the proper research object of linguistics. This Universal Grammar, he continues, should not be investigated by studying the actual language behaviour of language users, that is, their so-called *performance, but by uncovering their linguistic knowledge or *competence. We can do this by asking them to judge whether various sentences formed in their language by the researcher are grammatically correct or not. Chomsky gives a realist interpretation to his theoretical and explanatory notions. For him, the hypothesis of a Universal Grammar is not merely a convenient aid to describe the variety of human languages in terms of a small set of abstract notions but a statement about the structure of the human mind. Another philosophical dimension is Chomsky’s rationalism. Like Kant, he focusses attention on the mental structures that structure experience (in this case: hearing and learning a language) which cannot themselves be derived from experience. Unlike in Kant, however, these structures are not taken as transcendental and as recoverable only through philosophical reflection, nor are they social facts as in Durkheim and Saussure. For Chomsky, they form the proper object of empirical cognitive research. Thus, generative grammar clearly amounts to a paradigm in Kuhn’s broader sense. To begin with, it delimits its proper object: from now on, linguistics is to investigate syntax, or more precisely, Universal Grammar and the innate linguistic capacities of humans. Furthermore, it has its own method in so far as it captures the grammaticality judgments that form its data into quasi-formal or quasi-mathematical rules. In this context, Chomsky claims to have introduced ‘a Galilean style’ in linguistics. Finally, it has its own norms of descriptive and explanatory adequacy in that hypotheses should fit the postulated Universal Grammar. Unsurprisingly, this new paradigm met with resistance. Many established linguists were outraged by it, since it brushed aside much existing descriptive and comparative linguistics as theoretically irrelevant. Chomsky’s ideas, however, appealed to a new generation of linguists that arose out of the rapid growth in American universities in the 1960s. Other linguists contested


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the tenability and relevance of the distinction between competence and performance and the importance Chomsky attaches to the former. Shouldn’t actual language use rather than intuitive linguistic knowledge be the proper object of linguistic research? Likewise, isolating the language ability as an autonomous form of cognitive competence met with criticism. Critics claimed that it was only by restricting his attention to syntax that Chomsky could achieve precise results. Related topics such as *semantics and *pragmatics, let alone other cognitive capacities like spatial insight or visual perception, were dismissed as irrelevant. But did this precision not come at the price of an overhasty rejection of various important phenomena as theoretically irrelevant? How should one choose between a theory that covers a broad domain but yields relatively imprecise results and a theory that yields precision for a strictly delimited field? The ideas presented in Aspects of the Theory of Syntax formed a framework in which much of normal scientific research in linguistics was subsequently conducted. In time, however, anomalies started appearing. The generative capacity of the model turned out to be far too strong to produce of all and only human languages. For this reason, much of generative linguistics in the 1970s tried to constrain the number of possible transformations and the circumstances in which these could apply. Repeatedly, such anomalies have led to radical revisions. Thus, in 1981, Chomsky presented the so-called government and binding model, which no longer contains any rules at all but merely a number of modules or grammatical subsystems that only yield complete sentence structures in interaction. Barely a decade later, another radical revision followed. In the early 1990s, Chomsky introduced what he called the ‘minimalist programme’, which discards the very concept of a transformation, in defiance of major objections by prominent members of the generativist community. Thus, in a relatively short period, the theory of generative grammar has been radically revised several times. Despite these shifts, one can claim with considerable justification that Chomskian linguistics constitutes a paradigm in both the epistemological and the social sense of the word. After the publication of Syntactic Structures, linguists began doing different things: new styles of research gained currency, new criteria appeared for theoretical relevance, and new views emerged concerning which linguistic facts were decisive. Moreover, the generativists formed – and continue to form – an institutionalized scientific community. Finally, as said, Chomsky’s work has proved to be one of the main sources of inspiration for the development of cognitive approaches in linguistics and

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related disciplines. Chomsky himself argues that our syntactic linguistic capacity is autonomous not only with respect to linguistic meaning and language use but also with respect to our other cognitive capacities such as visual perception, hearing, and memory. On this last point, many later linguists have followed a different line. Partly basing themselves on insights from Gestalt psychology, they have explored grammatical constructions such as idioms, which cannot be interpreted in generative terms and cannot be analysed as having been built compositionally from the meanings of their parts. Thus, linguists such as Ronald Langacker (b. 1942) have argued that linguistic structure is motivated by more general cognitive processes. Hence, in his ‘cognitive grammar’ he draws far-reaching parallels between linguistic structure and visual perception, both of which he describes in terms of Gestalts. Even more famous is the so-called ‘cognitive semantics’ developed by George Lakoff and Mark Johnson. In 1981, these scholars argued that our everyday language use is shot through with visual and other metaphors for expressing abstract notions in concrete terms. Thus, we express our moods in terms of the *conceptual metaphor HAPPY IS UP and conceptualize our discussions in terms of the underlying metaphor ARGUMENT IS WAR. Lakoff and Johnson claim that such conceptual metaphors are not simply ‘ways of saying’, they betray the fact that we do in fact conceptualize moods and arguments in these terms. In other words, our cognition itself is structured metaphorically. In their view, metaphors are therefore not mere linguistic ornaments but reflections of fundamental cognitive processes. For a long time, cognitive approaches have focused on semantics, that is, on linguistic meaning. More recently, however, they have also spread to other linguistic subdisciplines such as phonology and morphology. Furthermore, cognitive perspectives have also made headway in disciplines such as film studies and musicology. The study of musical cognition, for example, has been developing rapidly. Philosophically, we may see these cognitive approaches as neo-Kantian – just like the generative grammar that pioneered them – in so far as they take the basic structures of our knowledge capacity as their object of empirical investigation. Thus, they roughly belong to the frameworks that have been characterized above as consciousness-philosophical – that is, they take inner mental processes of cognition as primary with respect to linguistic and public practices and either ignore or reject the linguistic and practice turns carried out by other authors. The question of who is correct, however, or of which view of the relation between mental states and linguistic practices is the best is meaningless, as these different approaches rest, after all, on methodological choices that imply radically different, and possibly incommensurable, questions and answers.



History and Philosophy of the Humanities

Structuralism in Literary Theory

During the 1950s and 1960s, Saussure’s theory of language – and with it the promise of a novel, rigorously scientific analysis of literature and other cultural domains – gained wider currency. Its structuralist approach inspired Claude Lévi-Strauss (1908-2009) in anthropology; Roland Barthes (1915-1980) in literary theory; and Jacques Lacan (1901-1981) in psychoanalysis. The early Foucault, too, was in many respects indebted to structuralism (see § 5.1), even though, in the preface to the 1971 English translation of The Order of Things, he emphatically asked his readers not to use this label for his own, rather more historicizing approach. In these decades, a wide variety of cultural phenomena is subjected to structural semiotic analysis. Saussure’s vision of semiotics, or semiology – that is, a general theory of signs – seems to be about to be fully realized. Remarkably, many of these analyses do not restrict themselves to the cultural canon. In addition to analysing the texts of established authors such as Balzac and Baudelaire, structuralists study film, advertisements, and other aspects of contemporary popular culture that had not traditionally been seen as belonging to the domain of the humanities. Structuralist students of literature propose an approach to literary and other texts that breaks with interpretative methods and completely subordinates the individual author’s thoughts and intentions to social structures that follow laws of their own. The self-confident iconoclasm of this approach abounds in provocative slogans about the ‘death of man’ (Foucault) or the ‘death of the author’ (Roland Barthes). Both slogans are indicative of the belief that a work of art can be understood without appealing to the consciousness or intentions of its maker, or more generally to a subject standing at the origin of an artwork and authoritatively giving it its meaning. Thus, Barthes wrote: A text is not a line of words releasing a single ‘theological’ meaning (the ‘message’ of the Author-God) but a multi-dimensional space in which a variety of writings (écritures), none of them original, blend and clash. The text is a tissue of quotations drawn from the innumerable centers of culture.67

Thus, Barthes and Foucault radically rejected the humanist tradition of the interpretative humanities, which sees Man – and in particular the 67 Roland Barthes, Image – Music – Text (London, 1977), p. 146.

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Author – as the ultimate source and authority of meaning. Man, Foucault argued in The Order of Things (see § 5.1) is only a recent invention, having emerged as recently as around 1800, together with the modern epistémè. Moreover, the Age of Man is about to finish, Foucault predicted. Barthes advanced a similar thesis, namely that the author is by no means an invariable given: The author is a modern figure, a product of our society in so far as, emerging from the Middle Ages with English empiricism, French rationalism and the personal faith of the Reformation, it discovered the prestige of the individual, or as it is more nobly put, the ‘human person’.68

With a semiotic approach, by contrast, a work of art such as a book or a painting is analysed as a system of signs. This approach, which sees every part of an artwork as a sign, goes far beyond the uncontroversial idea that artworks may employ isolated and more or less consciously inserted symbols. For example, seventeenth-century Dutch still life paintings often depict a half-peeled lemon as an allusion to the transience of life. Structuralist approaches, however, do not restrict themselves to such intentionally introduced symbols. They also try to recover signs and symbols of which the maker was not aware and which may not even have been known to him. Hence, structural analyses may also have a critical or unmasking function, as they may show how seemingly innocuous or neutral elements in a narrative or painting may reveal all kinds of things about their maker’s social or political position, ideology, etc. The clearest (and in many respects the most entertaining) example of semiotics as a form of cultural or social criticism is undoubtedly Barthes’ Mythologies (1957). In this collection of short essays, Barthes analysed the ‘myths’ of French everyday life of the 1950s, such as the Citroën DS, ‘typically French’ dishes such as the beef steak with French fries, Greta Garbo’s face, and sports. All these phenomena are analysed as sign systems or, as Barthes called it, as the ‘language of mass culture’. Barthes viewed a myth as a stereotype that represents a cultural phenomenon as natural. Thus, myths represent as natural and self-evident ways of doing and thinking that depend on particular social conventions and hence are contingent and arbitrary. Students of myths should analyse their functioning, and in doing so, they simultaneously unmask them as ideology. Barthes, in other words, turned semiotic analysis into a critique of bourgeois society. He linked a 68 Ibid., p. 142.


History and Philosophy of the Humanities

structuralist method (which is geared to explaining consensus and social integration) to a Marxist view of society. Other classical structural analyses focus on more strictly literary texts. They try to uncover the formal features of poems or novels and to explicate how these features function as integrated and coherent sign systems. One famous example of such an analysis is the meticulous dissection of Baudelaire’s poem ‘Les chats’ by Roman Jakobson and Claude Lévi-Strauss. They view this poem as constructed out of a large number of *equivalences and *oppositions at various levels of analysis. For example, rhyme, which involves two syllables at the end of verse lines with the same or similiar sound, may be seen as an equivalence at the phonological level. On the semantic level, oppositions may be formulated in terms of opposing concepts such as light/ dark, man/woman, and life/death. Such structural analyses give rise to two questions. The first is whether, if every new analysis may yield a novel interpretation, they can yield any such thing as ‘the’ or ‘a’ meaning in any more or less current sense of the word. On occasion, the structuralist approach has been jokingly referred to as a ‘lemon-squeezer technique’, as it allows us to press meanings out of a text that no longer bear any relation whatsoever to the author’s thoughts and intentions. This point immediately leads to a second question: can we pose any limits to structuralist interpretations? And is there any way of distinguishing between a ‘good’ and an ‘inadequate’ structural analysis? These questions echo Umberto Eco’s more general question (see § 1.3) of whether there are any limits to legitimate interpretation, and if so, where these limits lie. Structuralists themselves do not necessarily see it as a problem that a structural analysis allows us to extract meanings from a text that are independent of the author’s intentions. On the contrary, some proponents of the structuralist approach proudly proclaim that their method marks a radical break with the notion of meaning in the sense of what was meant by the author. Thus, they make a virtue of necessity. Instead of appealing to unverifiable notions such as the thoughts and intentions of an author, structuralist analyses are allegedly based on hard observational data. That is, they focus on aspects of texts that may be checked by others. In response to the second question, structuralists would assert that by abandoning the notion that the author’s intentions are the source of a text’s meaning, any and all restrictions on possible interpretations of a text’s meaning are lifted. According to Barthes, the *writing (écriture) – that is, the cultural or societal significance expressed by a text as distinct from its grammar or style – is indeed limitless. But this absence of limits has a

Positivism and Struc tur alism


positive side too. If a text allows for the uncovering and analysis of ever-new cultural elements and subsystems, the literary critic need not be afraid of ever running out of work. Thus, just like hermeneutic interpretation, structural analysis is never ‘finished’. Methodologically, structuralist slogans amount to the decision to study not the author’s intentions but the formal or structuring elements of the text itself. When reading a novel, a structuralist will therefore not see the same object as, say, a hermeneutician. The structuralist sees it not as encoding an ‘author’s message’ but as a system of signs reflecting a particular culture or society. In this sense, structuralism may be said to embody a paradigm in Kuhn’s sense. Structural analyses indeed create their own distinct objects of inquiry, their own relevant facts, and their own forms and norms of explanation.


Structuralism and Psychoanalysis: Jacques Lacan

Structuralist methods have left their traces not only on Barthes’s literary theory and Claude Levi-Strauss’s ethnography (which will not be discussed here) but also on psychology and psychiatry. Jacques Lacan (1901-1981) in particular gave a structuralist twist to psychoanalysis, which until that moment could be called a hermeneutic science (see § 7.3). He no longer aimed to expose the hidden secrets of the soul but took the unconscious as a langue, that is, as an autonomous system of signs that wholly escapes the control of the conscious self. His work has been important not only in clinical psychiatry but also in philosophy, literary criticism, film theory, and postcolonial theory. One of the reasons for this influence is undoubtedly the fact that Lacan combined his structuralist perspective with a strongly Hegelian narrative of alienation and dialectical development. This enabled him not only to interpret societal and cultural developments in terms of unconscious psychological drives but also conversely, and even more emphatically than Freud, to expose the social and political implications of psychological phenomena. Lacan reached intellectual maturity in Paris in the 1920s and 1930s, where he maintained intensive contacts with surrealist artists such as André Breton and Salvador Dalí and contributed to various surrealist publications. His most important work, however, lies in the field of psychoanalysis. One of his major early innovations is the notion of the mirror stage, according to which a child only develops a notion of selfhood by mirroring itself to another. Just as chameleons and other animals can assume the colours of


History and Philosophy of the Humanities

their environment, Lacan wrote, very young children identify with images outside of themselves – for example, their own mirror-image or the image of other children – in order to be able to form an ego or ‘I’. However, he continued in a Hegelian vein, because the idea of the ‘self’ or ‘ego’ thus originates outside or in others by definition, the ego rests on a fundamental alienation. This identification takes place in the realm of what Lacan called the *imaginary, whereby the ego is captive to an image, if not an imagination, that remains outside itself. Originally, the clinical notion of the imaginary was developed in connection with that of the mirror stage and was intended primarily to explain the development of what Freud called narcissism, that is, the potentially pathological erotic attraction to the ego. Lacan’s notion of the imaginary, however, acquired a rather broader theoretical significance, for it emphasized the fact that the ego in general is founded on what he called an ‘alienating identification’. Formulated in even more emphatically Hegelian terms is the relation of the imaginary to what Lacan called the *symbolic, that is, the whole of linguistic, cultural, and social networks, rules, and laws in which a child is caught from the moment of its birth. Although Lacan repeatedly changed his formulations over the years, he generally seemed to think that the imaginary is dominated by the symbolic, just as the slave is dominated by his master. Thus, the symbolic is not a developmental stage that chronologically follows the stage of the imaginary; rather, it maintains a dialectical relation of negation or sublation with it in so far as the imaginary is based on misrecognition. Moreover, unlike the imaginary, the symbolic does not lead to individual self-identification but to a mutual recognition of people as full-fledged and free subjects. Thus, according to Lacan, the conscious and rational subject emerges in a dialectical process that overcomes the imaginary misrecognition and can exist only in the linguistic order of the symbolic. But because the symbolic order produces ever-new meanings, the subject’s essence can never be definitely determined. Therefore, the subject is inherently indeterminate and characterized by unhappy consciousness as a matter of definition, not merely during a specific stage of its development. Further, Lacan distinguished the *real, or the symbolized reality, from the imaginary and the symbolic. He rejected, however, the idea that the real is in any respect primary with respect to either. From the moment children are born, he wrote, they live in a thoroughly symbolic world of language and laws, and hence, the real consists of an abstraction from the imaginary and the symbolic rather than forming a given. Even more than his distinction between the imaginary, symbolic, and the real, Lacan’s fame rests on the linguistic turn he gave to Freudian

Positivism and Struc tur alism


psychoanalysis starting in the 1950s. This turn is best summarized in his famous remark that the ‘unconscious is structured as a language’. Freud himself had already acknowledged the fact that words themselves may be symptoms, for they are the matter, so to speak, of his patients’ afflictions. Thus, the obsessions and feelings of guilt of one of his most famous patients, the so-called ‘Rat Man’, circle around associations of the word Ratte (rat), Spielratte (gambling addict), Raten (payment instalments), and heiraten (marrying). Even more than Freud, Lacan emphasized the importance and the linguistic character of such chains of associations, that is, of links between signifiers based on similarities in sound. In contrast to Saussure who regarded signifier and signified as inseparable, just like the two sides of a sheet of paper, Lacan argued that the link between the two aspects of the (linguistic) sign was neither direct nor unproblematic. Lacan not only gave a linguistic and structuralist twist to Freudian psychoanalysis with his attention to language and signs; he also formulated this twist in recognizably Hegelian terms. He emphasized, as noted, the element of alienation in language, for example in so far as our mother tongue is not strictly our own language but comes from the outside. He also stressed the negative aspects of our words, which not only express our desires but also distort those desires by introducing them into the symbolic order of language. Hence, language is not only bound to alienation and negativity, our speaking also involves an irreducible and irrevocable loss. Thus, Lacan also gave an interesting linguistic turn to Hegel’s dialectic. As we saw before, in the latter’s consciousness-philosophical undertaking language does not have a systematic or philosophically substantial place. In Lacan, however, the linguistic or symbolic order is constitutive of the irrevocably alienated, indeterminate, and unhappy subject. Lacan also provided a psychoanalytical explanation of Hegel’s notion of the struggle for recognition. Unlike Hegel, he interpreted desire not as an original drive or a primary given. The human desire for recognition, he argued, is also the desire for an imaginary identity. Thus, self-consciousness does not originate in a real social dialectical struggle – such as that between master and slave – but in a primarily imaginary process of identification, with desire being merely a consequence of this process of identification. Lacan’s vocabulary and problematic spawned many followers, especially in the study of literature. One famous example of Lacan’s reading of literary texts is his interpretation of Sophocles’ tragedy Antigone, in which Oedipus’s daughter Antigone tries to bury her brother Polynices after he has died in an attack on his native city of Thebes. This may seem a noble undertaking, but it defied the express commands of Thebes’ new ruler, her uncle Creon,


History and Philosophy of the Humanities

who has ordered the traitor Polynices to remain unburied. Antigone says that her wish to bury her brother is dictated by laws higher than those of the state. She does not fear capital punishment, she says, because: It is honourable for me to do this and die. I will lie with the one I love and loved by him – an outrage sacred to the gods.69

On the basis of this comment, Lacan argued that Antigone is driven neither by noble feelings nor by timeless laws but by desire, which resists reason as embodied by Creon – a desire, moreover, which has her brother Polynices as its object and as such is downright incestuous. Classical scholars, however, may object that Lacan represented Antigone’s desire too emphatically and too unambiguously as incestuous and Creon’s attitude too one-sidedly as reasonable. After all, the remainder of Sophocles’s play shows very clearly that the gods do not at all approve of Creon’s course of action and do not consider his leaving the dead unburied and putting the living below the ground as either reasonable or just. Despite these and other objections, Lacan’s influence on the contemporary study of film, literature, and other cultural forms has been immense. One of the best known contemporary Lacanians is the Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek (b. 1949), whose many influential publications apply Lacan’s central ideas to various developments in contemporary politics, economy, and (popular) culture. Whereas Freud can still be described as a hermeneutician (and partly as a Kantian), and Lacan had elaborated a structuralist and Hegelian dialectical form of psychoanalysis, Žižek subsequently gave the latter a Marxist twist. Combining Marxist social critique and Lacanian psychoanalysis, Žižek has developed a way of analysing that systematically generates unexpected – not to say wayward – readings of cultural phenomena. He effortlessly links serious and complex topics such as Hegelian dialectics, Marxist critique of ideology, the technical details of Lacan’s psychoanalysis, or the horrors of the war in former Yugoslavia with such seemingly frivolous or trivial themes as Mickey Mouse, pornographic movies, or the differences between French, German, and American toilet bowls. Žižek’s analyses of movies have become especially popular. In his view, film is the ultimate perverse artform, not because it shows us unreal persons and imaginary desires but because it teaches us how to desire. Film does not amount to a distraction or escape from the real outside world, he argues. On the contrary, it shows us precisely how the real is formed by the symbolic 69 Sophocles, Antigone, vs. 72-73, transl. B. Knox.

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and the imaginary. Žižek illustrates his view with readings of well-known films such as Hitchcock’s The Birds and the Wachowski brothers’ The Matrix. According to him, the central and banal question concerning The Birds is why all birds all of a sudden start to attack humans. He refuses, however, to interpret these attacks as an invasion by the (biological) real of the symbolic world of man. Rather, reality itself disintegrates as a result of this dramatic attack on the symbolic order. Instead, he points out the Oedipal relation between protaganist Mitch and his dominant mother, and he interprets the birds’ violence as a raw and incestuous energy and as an explosion of the motherly superego against Mitch’s girlfriend Melanie. Likewise, he rejects the seemingly obvious reading of The Matrix as unmasking our perceptual world as a systematic distortion. What is at stake here, Žižek argues, is not a simple opposition or struggle between reality and illusion, since the real itself is already structured by symbolic fictions. One remarkable feature of Žižek’s Lacanian analyses, incidentally, is the fact that the linguistic or semiotic dimension, which takes centre stage in Lacan, recedes into the background. Žižek pays far less attention than his predecessor did to language, signs, or systems of signs and talks much more about both consciousness and political economy.

9.7 Conclusion A substantial part of Durkheim and Saussure’s work consists of construing and isolating their objects of research in such a manner that they could justify the existence of sociology and linguistics, respectively, as autonomous disciplines. Thus, they form two clear examples of theories or paradigms that consciously create their own ontology, as described above, based on examples from the natural sciences, in more general terms (cf. § 4.2). Durkheim did so by presenting social facts as things. Saussure followed Durkheim to the extent that he explicitly described the langue or language system as a ‘social fact’ but otherwise emphasized that linguistic facts could not be reduced to sociological or socio-psychological factors. Likewise, Chomsky’s generative grammar isolates syntactic structure as its object of research, separate from semantic, pragmatic, or cognitive factors. The main risk of structuralist approaches is that they reduce human action to no more than an *epiphenomenon of underlying structures unmasked by the scholar. For example, Durkheim has been criticized for overly depicting social facts as primitive, uninterpreted natural givens. In reality, however, social facts are saturated with meaning, as the British sociologist Anthony


History and Philosophy of the Humanities

Giddens (b. 1938) argues. Hence, in a sense, we cannot avoid some kind of hermeneutic perspective. For example, in employing suicide statistics in support of his theoretical views in his study of suicide, Durkheim took for granted the various judgments and interpretations underlying the gathering of data for such statistics. When, for example, should a death be qualified as ‘suicide’? Medical doctors and juridical (and, in Durkheim’s time, religious) authorities who collected these data did so on the basis of various criteria that go unnoticed by positivist sociologists, for the latter literally presuppose such data as given. But do these criteria themselves not involve various societal and cultural relations and norms? For example, why is the action of a soldier who faces certain death when storming enemy positions qualified as a ‘heroic deed’ rather than an ‘attempt at suicide’? His death will certainly not appear in suicide statistics. Hence, Giddens concludes, the social sciences are faced with a double hermeneutic, since they concern themselves with interpreting societal data that are themselves already the results of societal interpretations. In literary theory, too, structuralist or semiotic approaches have been attacked from hermeneutic positions. Here as well, objections have been raised against the pretence of being able to analyse a work of art without having to rely on ‘subjective’ or ‘unscientific’ interpretations. Hermeneuticians argue that isolating the elements of signification in itself already requires substantial interpretation. Perhaps, however, it is precisely for ignoring this fundamental hermeneutic fact and in treating linguistic structure as a meaningless and natural given that linguistics has booked its most significant progress. Saussure and Chomsky suggest that linguistics can only advance by focusing on structure and by ignoring the motivations and intentions that play a role in language use. This, however, leaves open the question of why this methodological decision has led to substantial and relatively uncontroversial successes in linguistics, while similar successes in other disciplines inspired by structuralist linguistics have not materialized. Why, in other words, have these new paradigms not led to the puzzle-solving characteristics of normal science in ethnography and literary theory, for example? Is it because language is qualitatively different from other cultural phenomena that can be analysed as systems of signs, or could it perhaps be because structuralist paradigms are still insufficiently specific in determining the question of which puzzles are worth solving? In the social sciences, the general confrontation between methods that favour structures and approaches that explain actions in terms of human consciousness has come to be known as the *structure-agency debate. Just

Positivism and Struc tur alism


like the question of whether language is primarily a cognitive or a social phenomenon, this debate primarily concerns a methodological question. Anyone will readily admit that social action involves both structural factors and actors’ intentions and that our language has both structural and intentional dimensions. The relevant question is therefore not which of these two poles is the ‘real’ or ‘uniquely correct one’ but rather which perspective is most fertile in yielding explanations. There is a wide spectrum of views on these matters, including the view that this question can never be answered at all. Another problem is that in structuralist approaches, the question of how structures emerge or are constructed at all is not considered, with the concomitant risk that practitioners start mistaking their methodological choices for ontological realities. Thus, it was a methodological choice to abstract social facts and language systems from individual consciousness and to represent them as being governed exclusively by sociological and linguistic causes, respectively. It is tempting to subsequently identify these methodological constructions with empirical realities. The question, however, remains: if individual intentions or contents of consciousness, social and cultural factors, and historical change have been so systematically excluded from the definition of structuralist humanities and social sciences, how can we reintegrate them when trying to explain how structures are formed and how they change?

Summary − Durkheim tried to establish sociology as a rigorous and autonomous empirical science by basing it on social facts, which cannot be reduced to psychological or biological facts, for example. According to Durkheim, sociological explanations may well be at odds with what members of the society under scrutiny themselves believe. − Saussure laid the foundations of general linguistics by strictly distinguishing the language system (langue) from language use (parole) and synchrony from diachrony. Linguistics as an autonomous science is devoted to the synchronic study of language. According to Saussure, the linguistic sign consists of a signifier and a signified, and the relation between these two is arbitrary and conventional. − The structuralist theory of signs, or semiology, has inspired literary theory, cultural anthropology, and other disciplines. It allows us to view any realm of culture as a sign system, which follows laws that escape individual consciousness or intentions.


History and Philosophy of the Humanities

− The methodological debate between hermeneutical and structuralist approaches amounts to what is called the structure-agency debate in the social sciences. − Generative grammar as formulated by Chomsky and his followers analyses language in terms of structures that are not directly accessible to consciousness. Unlike Saussure, however, Chomsky locates these structures in the human brain. This paradigm has inspired so-called cognitive approaches. − Structuralist approaches to literary theory present structural analyses that wholly sidestep the author’s intentions. − Lacan presented a structuralist and Hegelian reformulation of psychoanalysis, arguing that the unconscious is structured like a language. He made a distinction between the imaginary, the symbolic, and the real, and he claimed that the relation between these three is dialectical.

10 The Practice Turn 10.1 Introduction From the 1970s, attention in a number of disciplines in the humanities and social sciences has gradually shifted from institutions, systems, and structures and from languages and sign systems towards *practices, that is, towards everyday ways of doing things that are limited in time and space. Methodologically, this *practice turn amounted to a reaction to on the one hand structuralism and positivism, both of which were modelled on the natural sciences, and on the other hand hermeneutics and its foundations in the philosophy of consciousness. Thus, it amounted to a rejection of the idea that concrete cultural phenomena or practices such as speaking sentences or making music are either the more-or-less correct execution of an already given, independent system of rules or the expression of an inner mental state, image, or intention. Philosophically, the practice turn builds on the linguistic turn of logical empiricism. Post-war analytical philosophers including Ludwig Wittgenstein and J.L. Austin primarily criticized both the logical empiricist belief that only descriptive or assertive language use was meaningful and the consciousnessphilosophical assumption that linguistic behaviour should be explained in terms of mental states like intentions or beliefs. French representatives of practice theory such as Foucault and Bourdieu elaborated on these analytical philosophical ideas but paid more attention to the role of power in social action than their Anglo-Saxon counterparts. As a first approximation, we may say that most linguistic practices have the following properties. First, they are public or intersubjective in so far as they usually require several actors or players. Second, they are normative in so far as they can be executed correctly or incorrectly. And third, they often if not always involve various forms of power or authority. Moreover, practices are produced neither by structures standing outside of the subject nor by the conscious and explicit intentions of actors. Rather, we may think of them conversely as creating structures and as the context in which individual acts acquire form and meaning. Put in musical terms: social and cultural action may be seen not as the execution of a script or score, which is supposed to be given in advance, but rather as an improvisation or a jam session. This shift in attention leads to a number of important changes in research questions.



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Words as Deeds: J.L. Austin and Ludwig Wittgenstein

10.2a Wittgenstein on Language Games In his posthumously published Philosophical Investigations (1953), Austrianborn philosopher of language Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951) rejected the view expounded in his early work, the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, that only descriptive or assertive statements with empirical truth conditions are meaningful – a belief that had been adopted by the Vienna Circle. Moreover, he dismissed the view that languages consist of sets of abstract grammatical rules in the heads of individual speakers and that the meaning of words consists primarily of the mental images or representations that language users associate with those words. According to the later Wittgenstein, the meaning of words consists of the way in which we use them. Such specific and everyday forms of use Wittgenstein called *language games, thus emphasizing the practical character of language and language use. Our words, he argued, are not simply labels for naming antecedently given things in the world but rather instruments with which we can do all sorts of things: describe, command, make jokes, pray, act, etc. Wittgenstein’s doctrine of meaning-as-use clashes with the commonsensical view held by philosophies of the subject or of consciousness that suggests that the meaning of words is something in our heads, for example a mental image, a concept, or a state of knowledge. He attacked this assumption by means of his famous *private language argument. Wittgenstein argued that we cannot coherently formulate the idea that speakers may privately possess a language for referring to experiences only accessible to themselves. The fact that another speaker uses a word in the same way as I do – for example, labelling the colour of grass as ‘green’ – cannot be explained from both of us having the same rules in our heads. After all, it cannot be excluded that in his private language, one speaker would subsequently call an object ‘red’ which another would call ‘green’. Thus, their using the same language cannot be explained from the fact of their having the same grammatical rules in their heads. Instead, Wittgenstein continued, the relation between inner state and outward behaviour should be seen the other way around. Thus, we should not say that somebody speaks a particular language because he is in a particular mental state, but we conversely ascribe a particular mental state to him because he uses that language correctly – that is to say that he correctly follows the (public) grammatical rules for using colour terms, for example. Thus, saying that the speaker speaks the language is not a factual

The Pr ac tice Turn


but a normative statement, by which we refer to a public norm. If a speaker suddenly starts using the term ‘red’ for naming the colour of an object that we call ‘green,’ he is said to be mistaken. Hence, other language users will be able to correct him. On the basis of this argument, Wittgenstein concluded that, as a matter of principle, language use cannot rest on private mental states or contents. Put differently, the rules of a language are public; one should therefore not confuse believing that one is following a rule with actually following a rule. And hence, ‘following a rule’ is a practice. And to believe one is following a rule is not following a rule. Hence it is not possible to obey a rule ‘privately’: otherwise thinking one was following a rule would be the same thing as following it.70

Of course, the fact that our public behaviour cannot be explained in terms of mental states does not rule out that we can talk about such states, but it does imply that mental states now lose the leading epistemological role they had played since Descartes and Locke. Thus, the later Wittgenstein marks an important shift in twentieth-century philosophy. Also in other disciplines, his influence has been immense. For example, from the 1960s, his work, together with Austin’s speech act theory, inspired the development of *pragmatics, that is, the empirical linguistic inquiry into the use – as distinct from the grammar and meaning – of language. But what exactly are these practices that Wittgenstein so emphatically called our attention to? What are the defining features of language games? One would think that the different ways of using a language have something in common, and that these common features constitute the essence of language usage and by extension of language itself. Wittgenstein, however, denied the existence of such an essence. With language games, he argued, it is just as it is with the concept of game more generally: there is no one feature, or set of features, that all games and only games have in common and that thus captures the essence of games. Some games are played to be won, others are not; some games are played in teams, others by two players, and yet others alone; some games are fully captured in rules, whereas others, like Monopoly or Mahjong, are partly governed by luck or chance. The most that one can say, Wittgenstein continued, is that between all these different games, there is a *family resemblance: a set of overlapping greater and smaller similarities instead of a clearly delimited whole of features 70 L. Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, § 202.


History and Philosophy of the Humanities

shared by all games. By analogy, one can conclude that language does not have an essence either. Wittgenstein’s rejection of necessary and sufficient common features is typical for the *anti-essentialist strain in later practice approaches, which no longer seek essential features or origins of cultural phenomena but instead emphasize their everyday, contingent, and changing character. 10.2b Austin’s Speech Act Theory No less radical in its implications than the later Wittgenstein’s work is the *speech act theory developed by Oxford philosopher J.L. Austin (1911-1960). Austin opened a 1955 lecture series that was posthumously published as How to Do Things with Words (1962) with a subtle criticism of the logical empiricist verification criterion of meaning. According to this criterion, utterances without empirical verification conditions are ‘pseudo-statements’ that may be correctly formed grammatically but do not describe possible facts and are therefore neither true nor false but meaningless. This implies that, strictly speaking, only descriptive language use with clear empirical conditions of verification is meaningful. Austin, however, called our attention to a class of statements that seem to be factual descriptions but really are not, and yet, he argued, they are not meaningless. Examples of such statements are: I baptize this ship the Lady Gaga. I hereby declare you legally married. I bet you ten dollars that the LA Lakers will win tomorrow’s game.

On closer inspection, such statements appear not to be descriptions of facts at all and therefore cannot be called true or false – yet they are meaningful. In uttering them, Austin argued, we are not describing a state of affairs but performing a particular kind of action. Austin called such statements *performatives. Usually, performative utterances like declaring, promising, and baptizing are formulated in the first-person singular; they can also be recognized because a phrase like ‘hereby’ can be attached to them. Usually, they also concern ritualized actions such as baptizing or marrying which are carried out in specific institutional settings like town halls or churches. They seem like a kind of magic spell by which we can create facts purely by pronouncing them. This magical potential, however, also has its limits. For example, one cannot fry an egg by saying ‘I hereby fry an egg’. Thus, it appears that with the aid of performative statements, one can only create social or institutional facts, not physical or natural ones.

The Pr ac tice Turn


The existence of performatives makes clear that describing facts is only one of the many things we can meaningfully do with language. With our words, we can also express opinions or feelings, ask questions, give commands, make promises or bets, conclude contracts, etc. In other words, assertions are but one particular kind of speech act among many. Thus, Austin’s critique does not so much aim to reject the verification criterion as to show its limited reach. Austin next introduced the idea that speech acts have *felicity conditions, as a generalization of the notion of truth conditions for descriptive statements. For example, one cannot felicitously promise something outside one’s powers, something that is already the case, or something that lies in the past. Thus, one can never felicitously utter the following sentences: *I promise you that it is raining tomorrow. *I promise that two and two equals four. *I promise you I came yesterday.

Speech act theory thus implies a generalization of the empiricist view of language and meaning in which the notion of truth conditions is to be replaced by a more general one of felicity conditions. This theory, however, also has more radical implications. Generally, language use is thus no longer characterized in terms of knowledge but in terms of action, that is, in terms of practices. In this view, descriptive statements are no longer the prototype, let alone the sole meaningful form, of language use but just one class of speech acts among others. In other words, the distinction between descriptive and performative statements is not merely a complement to the verification criterion. Instead, it constitutes the first move in a much more radical programme, namely the development of a general theory of speech acts. Next, Austin further refined his analysis by distinguishing three types, or aspects, of speech act: *locutionary, *illocutionary, and *perlocutionary acts. The locutionary act is the act of uttering particular words. The illocutionary act is the action conventionally performed in or by pronouncing those words. Thus, saying ‘Please hand me the salt’ conventionally expresses the illocutionary act of a request or command. In order to indicate this conventionally determined capacity of the imperative mode for expressing commands, Austin also calls this the ‘illocutionary force’ of a speech act. The perlocutionary act, finally, is the effect that uttering the words may have on the hearer – in this case, the fact that the addressee does indeed give the speaker the salt. The perlocutionary act is not conventionally linked to the utterance of words; it is, so to say, the hearer’s work. Elsewhere, Austin


History and Philosophy of the Humanities

described this not as the perlocutionary act but rather the perlocutionary effect a speech act may have on its audience. Austin rejected the idea that speech acts are merely the external signs of more fundamental mental acts or intentions. Thus, like Wittgenstein and Sellars, he rejected a consciousness-philosophical view of language use. It may be tempting to think that speech acts like promising or swearing are characterized by the *intentions with which the speaker utters them but, according to Austin, these intentions are not decisive for the action carried out. He illustrates this with a famous quote from Euripides’ tragedy Hippolytus: when the protagonist of that play is caught having committed perjury, he defends himself by saying that he had not meant his oath with the words: It is my tongue that spoke an oath, not my heart.71 Austin rejected this line of defence as not only immoral but also contrary to common sense. The words we speak, he emphasized, impose obligations on us, regardless of the inner mental state we may have while uttering them. In other words, it is irrelevant whether the speaker was sincere or not in swearing an oath or making a promise – the fact that he has publicly done so imposes the obligation on him to keep his word and to make good on his promise. Our words are our bond, Austin wrote. Likewise, when a promise has been made in bad faith, it is not thereby rendered vacuous. Thus Austin, too, emphasized the priority of public language use with respect to inner mental states. There is one particular kind of non-serious language use, however, in which words do lose their binding force, and that is on a theatre stage and in other circumstances in which the speaker pretends to speak and to act. An utterance such as ‘I am the king’ or ‘I condemn you to death’ is not felicitous when spoken by an actor in a play or a movie or written in a poem. According to Austin, these utterances are parasitic with respect to normal – that is, serious and literally meant – language use. Speech act theory has had an immense influence not only in philosophy but also in other humanities disciplines. In the 1970s and 1980s, there were extensive debates in literary theory about whether literary genres such as poems and novels should be seen as particular kinds of speech acts, and if so, what their felicity conditions are. Likewise, Habermas bases his theory of communicative action (see § 8.5) not only on Sellars’ view of knowledge in terms of giving and asking for reasons but also on Austin’s notion of speech acts and the associated felicity conditions. Thus, his theory may 71 Euripides, Hippolytus, v. 612.

The Pr ac tice Turn


also be seen as associated with the practice turn, even though Habermas generally restricts himself to one very specific practice, that of rational argumentation. And, as we shall see, during the 1990s, American philosopher Judith Butler popularized the view that gender identities are also constituted performatively, a view that would become one of the pillars of so-called *queer theory (see § 12.4). The practice turn implies that we should view knowledge in terms of irreducibly normative public or social practices rather than in terms of a confrontation of an individual mind or spirit with the external world, and that such practices are logically prior to the contents of individual consciousness. Let us now look at several other prominent representatives of the practice turn who in part elaborated on Wittgenstein and Austin: the French social theorists Michel Foucault and Pierre Bourdieu. Both zoomed in on an important aspect of social practices that is absent in their analytical-philosophical predecessors: the factor of power.


Michel Foucault’s Genealogy

One of the most influential approaches in the humanities today was formulated by Michel Foucault in his later work. As noted above, his archaeological study The Order of Things described the conditions for the possibility of the birth of the modern human sciences and the simultaneous birth of Man as both subject and object of that knowledge (see § 5.1). Already in that early study, he employed linguistic or language-philosophical insights for dethroning the subject as the transcendental foundation and basis of all empirical knowledge. In his later archaeological work, especially in the Archaeology of Knowledge (1969), he completed this linguistic turn. Partly employing notions developed by analytical philosophers, he no longer saw the human sciences as fields of knowledge but as systems of statements, which he called *discursive formations. He argued that by focusing attention not on the statements themselves but on the knowledge, ideas, or beliefs expressed in statements, one risks surreptitiously smuggling back in the subject as prior to these statements and once more reducing any perceived discursive discontinuities to a continuous narrative of the development of spirit or consciousness. To this critique of subject-philosophical or consciousness-philosophical assumptions, Foucault added a critique of the units of analysis that are traditionally employed in the history of knowledge and ideas. In part, this methodological reflection on units and periodizations was inspired by the


History and Philosophy of the Humanities

work of the Annales school, in particular Fernand Braudel’s history of the longue durée. We speak of authors, oeuvres, genres, and disciplines as if they were self-evident entities, and we divide history into seemingly self-evident periods such as prehistory, antiquity, the Middle Ages, and the Modern Age, but such entities and periods, Foucault argued, are not simply given or objectively present in the world prior to our attempts to capture them in theories. On the contrary, they are the result of implicit theories, all of which presuppose a transcendental subject. Thus, according to Foucault, terms such as author and oeuvre do not refer to self-evidently given individuals and entities but are specific and implicitly subject-philosophical ways of ordering or grouping discursive formations. The units of analysis in the study of discursive formations, however, should rest not on such implicit philosophical assumptions but on explicit methodological choices and decisions. In his archaeological period, Foucault completed a linguistic turn in the historicizing study of the humanities or human sciences, shifting attention from knowledge to discursive formations. Subsequently, in his *genealogical phase, he completed a practice turn that built on the former. He did so especially in Discipline and Punish (1975), which explores the dramatic changes in the French prison system around 1800. Until that time, suspects were routinely tortured in order to extract confessions, and convicted criminals were generally subjected to horrendous and publicly executed punishments, for example quartering, burning, hanging, or decapitation. Around 1800, however, these humiliating public corporeal punishments were abruptly replaced by ways of punishing in which individuals were no longer hurt or mutilated but instead locked up in separate spaces and isolated from their surroundings. The aim of such punishment methods was to reform or re-educate criminals into law-abiding citizens and productive elements of society. We are tempted to see this development in terms of moral progress. In today’s civilized world, which we usually implicitly or expressly identify with the modern Western world, we no longer punish criminals by having them undergo horrendous and publicly inflicted corporal punishments, and as a result we see ourselves as having become more civilized. Foucault rejected this view: in the modern world, he claimed, new technologies of power have been developed for punishing people, and these technologies are much more efficient and successful than the classical ways of punishing. They render it simply unnecessary to publicly humiliate, torture, or execute criminals. This new form of power emerges not only in the modern prison system but also in modern education, in medical and psychiatric care, and in the army.

The Pr ac tice Turn


Foucault labelled it *discipline. Unlike classical power, disciplinary power is not the work of a sovereign ruler or state that promulgates laws that the subjects are supposed to obey. Unlike the sovereign power of a state or ruler, which is expressed in terms of laws and transgressions, discipline functions in terms of the opposition between the normal and the pathological. In other words, it involves a distinct kind of *normativity. It is exercised in various locations that are less directly beholden to sovereign state power such as prisons, military barracks, schools, hospitals, and psychiatric wards. Moreover, it is focussed not primarily on torturing the body but on improving the soul. Further, discipline is an individualizing power in that it explores to what extent an individual diverges from a norm of bodily or mental health or normality, in a process of continuous observation and reporting of its behaviour. In its ideal form, and abstracted away from all resistance, disciplinary power is simultaneously all-seeing and invisible as power, precisely because it is directed towards the individual’s well-being. Thus, discipline crucially involves individualizing forms of knowledge. This insight enabled Foucault to give a new explanation for the birth of the modern human sciences, one that goes far beyond his earlier archaeological enquiries. In particular, disciplines such as criminology, psychiatry, and medicine arose simultaneously and in interconnection with modern technologies of power, he contended, as they supplied the individualizing knowledge of normal and pathological behaviour that was required for the successful exercise of individualizing disciplinary power. It was here that Foucault completed a practice turn in so far as he no longer spoke of the human sciences in terms of knowledge or discursive formations but in terms of *discursive practices, which – together with non-discursive practices such as punishing or (re-)educating – are always and irreducibly linked to different forms of power. According to Foucault, practices are not the result of a subject that is acting intentionally, let alone one that is transcendental – rather, he forcefully argued that the modern subject – that is, the autonomous, rational, secular, economically productive, and sexually reproductive subject – is precisely the product of disciplinary and other practices of power. Thus, Foucault’s analysis of the modern human sciences is *genealogical in that it systematically relates the historical emergence of knowledge to new power practices. Clearly, Foucault is elaborating on Nietzsche’s work here, but he subjects not morality but scientific knowledge to a genealogical analysis. In order to emphasize the internal and indissoluble, albeit historically variable link between knowledge and power, he occasionally wrote these two words conjointly as *pouvoir-savoir (power-knowledge). Neither of these, he emphasized, is logically prior or paramount with respect to the


History and Philosophy of the Humanities

other. For him, scientific knowledge could no more be reduced to social power than the other way around. Foucault’s approach is explicitly *antihumanist to the extent that it rejects humanist views of modernization in terms of moral progress or of a civilizing process. Moreover, Foucault dismissed the humanist idea of an absolute and irreducible human freedom and dignity that escapes, or should escape, every relation of power. This is, of course, a rather provocative view. After all, we tend to see hospitals and schools as institutions where people are helped, improved, and/or cured, rather than as arenas where power is exercised and contested. By analysing such institutions for human well-being in terms of disciplinary power, Foucault’s antihumanism makes visible those relations of power that have become almost invisible precisely because of their everyday character. It is precisely here that he sees the task of philosophy: The role of philosophy is not to uncover what is hidden, but to make visible what is visible; that is, to render evident what is so close, so immediate, and so intimately connected with us that we no longer perceive it. Whereas the role of science is to uncover what we do not see, it is the task of philosophy to make us see what we see.72

Foucault shared the analytical philosophers’ concern with everyday practices. He himself acknowledged this indebtedness, for example when he spoke of ‘power games’ in a clear echo of Wittgenstein’s ‘language games’. Otherwise, however, his practice turn primarily positions itself with respect to French phenomenology and to the positivist and structuralist social sciences. Thus, whereas Durkheim’s analyses were formulated in terms of enduring institutions and depicted societies as stable, integrated, and peaceful, Foucault’s analyses in terms of practices exposed the conflicts and power relations that occur in all societies. Foucault also distanced himself from Marxist views of power and conflict. Unlike positivists, Marxists do emphasize the conflicts and forms of dominance in any society, but they characterize the beliefs, knowledge, and culture of the dominant class in terms of ideology, that is, as a distortion of objective social realities. Marxists, in other words, see ideology as by definition false and power as by definition repressive. Foucault countered this view by arguing that power may be positive and productive as well as negative, distorting, and repressive. Discipline produces human-scientific 72 M. Foucault, ‘La philosophie analytique de la politique’, Dits et écrits III, p. 540-1 (emph. added).

The Pr ac tice Turn


knowledge, that is, scientific truth rather than ideological falsehood. At the same time, it also produces ‘normal’ people, that is, individuals who are bodily and mentally healthy, philosophically rational and autonomous, economically productive, and sexually reproductive. According to Foucault, the free individual, or what Kant called the ‘autonomous subject’, is itself constituted by disciplinary power relations. With his attention for discursive practices, Foucault also emphatically rejected Derrida’s deconstructivism, which will be discussed in more detail in § 11.2a. The latter’s claim that there is nothing outside of text, Foucault argued, amounts to a reduction of practices to texts. Thus, Derrida stood in a long tradition of philosophical – and, in the final analysis, philological – textual commentary that reduces the event character of practices to the study of anonymous texts and in doing so skirts the question of exactly how subjects are related to practices: are they the origin of practices or are they instead shaped and transformed by them? Foucault asserted that Derrida’s method relieves readers of the responsibility to look beyond the words in the text (or the words suppressed or concealed by the text). It also gives them an unlimited sovereignty over the text, allowing them to assign it meanings that fall wholly outside the consciousness and the authority of those who have produced those texts. This is a typically philosophical way of proceeding, he concluded, which ignores the study of individual historical events and of historically specific forms of knowledge in the name of a philosophical critique posing as universal. And indeed, Foucault’s own historicizing practice analyses stand miles apart from Derrida’s largely ahistorical text readings. In this respect, the practice turn not only led to new problematics but also uncovered entirely new fields of research. In § 12.3, we will encounter one famous example of this: the history of sexuality.


Pierre Bourdieu’s Reflexive Sociology

The work of the French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu (1930-2002) can, in a sense, be seen as the great rival to German critical theory. Just like Adorno, Bourdieu strove to create a general sociology of culture. And just like Habermas, he attempted to formulate a general theory of action. Moreover, because of his political and social engagement, his work may also be seen as a form of ‘critical theory’, for Bourdieu practiced sociology with the aim of formulating social critique. In Bourdieu we also find the thesis that self-reflection is part and parcel of such a sociology. His influences, however, should not be


History and Philosophy of the Humanities

sought exclusively in the tradition of Hegel and Marx but also in French structuralism, Weber’s interpretative sociology, and in the writings of Austin and the later Wittgenstein. Like the latter two, he also completed a practice turn. Far more than the members of the Frankfurt School, Bourdieu also conducted empirical research, for example in the agrarian societies of the Béarn, his native region, and with the Kabylian Berbers in Algeria, as well as in the cultural world of Parisian high society. 10.4a The Notion of Habitus: Beyond Structure and Agency Bourdieu’s most important theoretical contribution to the structure-agency debate is undoubtedly his theory of action in which the notion of *habitus is central. He applied this theory of action to various subsections of the cultural realm such as language, education (primarily higher education), and the arts. Most importantly, his work shows how such seemingly individual, disinterested, and societally neutral phenomena as aesthetic appreciation, good taste, or literary activity may systematically contribute to the maintenance of societal inequality. According to Bourdieu, the structure-agency debate in the social sciences – or, as he called it, the methodological debate between subjectivists and objectivists – rests on a misleading opposition. Subjectivists, he argued, will explain social action in terms of the interpretations given by the social actors themselves, and hence their explanations can in a sense not be at odds with the latter’s self-explications (cf. § 7.5). Objectivists (or structuralists), by contrast, explain actions from objective underlying structures outside the actor’s consciousness, which implies that scholars have a kind of privileged access to the underlying social reality, an access the actors themselves do not have (cf. § 9.2). Bourdieu resolved this seemingly irreconcilable opposition not by seeking a golden mean but by pointing out a common shortcoming of both approaches. Actual action, he argued, is shaped both by subjective considerations and objective factors such as class, age, and sex. This action, however, is of another character than most social scientists think, for it is not determined by ‘theoretical knowledge’ – that is, by conscious and intentional considerations and decisions – but rather by what he calls a *practical logic, which is not fully explicit, systematic, or goal-directed. Social scientists, however, tend to retrospectively project back their own theoretical explanations onto the practical action of the actors they have observed, thus reducing the latter’s actions to a kind of theory and representing them as something essentially other than they really are.

The Pr ac tice Turn


Pierre Bourdieu

Social action, Bourdieu argues, is in reality not driven by conscious mental states or abstract theoretical structures but by an unconscious or semiconscious set of acquired values and dispositions to behave in particular ways. For example, upper-class Englishmen know that one should eat with fork and knife, holding the knife in the right hand and the fork in the left, and holding both in a specific way. They also know that one should not mash one’s food, and so on. All such practical knowledge is clearly acquired but not consciously applied during meals. For the actors involved, it has become ‘second nature’ which – hardly consciously, almost automatically, and seemingly self-evidently – shapes and steers their actions. This collection of bodily dispositions to particular behaviour, or the system of unconscious practical principles generating or producing particular actions, is what Bourdieu called the *habitus. The habitus is not an underlying structure but a system that produces actions directed towards concrete, if at times unconscious, aims. Nor is the


History and Philosophy of the Humanities

habitus a system of conscious rules or values: it makes particular forms of actions like observing table manners during meals seem self-evident, but it does not enforce ‘correct’ action. Thus, the notion of habitus bears some resemblance to Chomsky’s notion of universal grammar (UG), which likewise consists of a set of generative principles (see § 9.4). Unlike UG, however, habitus is not innate but acquired. Bourdieu’s more radical thesis is that it is not only the actors under investigation that have a habitus but also the social scientists themselves. From this observation, he did not draw the relativist conclusion that ‘objective knowledge’ is impossible given that nobody can escape one’s own historicity. On the contrary, it led him to the conclusion that a scientific description of social reality should also explicitly and systematically analyse or, as he called it, objectify, the scientist’s social position. Bourdieu thus emphatically took a realist position with respect to scientific knowledge of the social world. For him, the objectification of the scientist’s place is an essential aspect of universally valid scientific knowledge. Adequate knowledge should be reflexive, he argued. With these claims, Bourdieu took a clear stance in the French intellectual debate of his time, which had moved back and forth between Saussure and Levi-Strauss’s structuralism, Marxism, Sartre’s individualist and humanistoriented existentialism, and Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenology. He paid less attention to contemporaneous developments elsewhere and thus only commented in passing on the Frankfurt School-style sociology of culture. Just like Habermas, however, Bourdieu objected to positivist social science. Both philosophers gave their theories a critical and emancipatory function without giving up claims to universal validity. 10.4b Bourdieu’s Sociology of Culture: Fields and Capitals Alongside habitus, the notion of *field forms the second major concept in Bourdieu’s work. According to him, science, the economy, religion, and art each form distinct fields, each of which follows its own logic or principles and each of which has its own interests, goals, and values, or as Bourdieu called it, its own form of *capital. Common opinion holds that science and art do not aim to make a financial profit but rather strive for truth and beauty, respectively. Anyone wanting to be recognized as a bona fide scientist or artist is therefore supposed to act in an economically disinterested manner, that is, out of pure love for science and the arts. Bourdieu attacked this belief, arguing that although scientists and artists are not generally driven by economic interests or a

The Pr ac tice Turn


wish to become rich, they do strive for what he calls *symbolic capital, that is, for the scarce good specific to their field. It is such interests, rather than economic considerations, that in his view determine how a field functions. Scientists strive for a monopoly on pronouncing the truth, whereas artists strive for excellence in representing or expressing beauty. The symbolic capital of both f ields, Bourdieu continued, cannot be reduced to economic capital. In both fields, it is even seen as a matter of professional honour not to be driven or tempted by economic profit. There are, however, quite a few exceptions to be found to this claim. For example, artists such as Salvador Dalí (1904-1989) and Jeff Koons (b. 1955) openly proclaimed their interest in money. With such blatantly economically driven behaviour, artists may transgress the boundaries of their respective fields, but generally, they can do so successfully only after having established themselves as authorities in their fields. Moreover, the behaviour of both these artists also contained a large dose of irony and camp. Bourdieu claimed that fields emerge historically and develop as a result of the actions of individual actors or groups. In this respect, they should be methodologically distinguished from structures and social facts, which are supposedly entirely autonomous with respect to individual actors (see § 9.2 and 9.3). Thus, during the nineteenth century, the autonomous field of literature, and more generally art, emerged. It was during this time that artists started considering it a matter of artistic integrity not to work for money but solely for the sake of art itself. In doing so, they wanted to emphasize the autonomy of the artistic field with respect to the economic field as well as the artist’s autonomy with respect to the nobility and the higher bourgeoisie, which had hitherto been the most important patrons of the arts and artists. The striving for social autonomy found expression in the aesthetic principle of *art for art’s sake (l’art pour l’art). Nineteenth-century artists thus started to see art and the aesthetic experience as their highest ideal, which even stood above ethical or political principles, thus distinguishing themselves from bourgeois morality. It was during this time that the type of artist known as bohémien emerged. One of the most important harbingers of these new artistic ideals in literature was the French novelist Gustave Flaubert (1821-1880), to whom Bourdieu devoted his voluminous 1992 The Rules of Art: Genesis and Structure of the Literary Field. Bourdieu’s analysis of fields that each have their own capital and their own competitive relations may be seen as a continuation or generalization of Marx’s analyses in terms of capital, accumulation, and class struggle, but it may equally be seen as a reaction against the Marxist temptation to reduce the cultural superstructure to the economic base or substructure, that is,


History and Philosophy of the Humanities

to explain all fields in terms of the principles, goals, and interests of one field: economics. Thus, for example, it excludes the naive Marxist belief that each artistic expression may simply be explained from the class position of its maker. Such an economic reduction, Bourdieu argued, wrongly tries to represent the features particular to the artistic field as no more than the expression of purely economic interests. All this may seem like an attempt to unmask artists – who in the bourgeois humanist view should be driven only by their strictly individual impulses and are expected to reject any thought of f inancial gain – as a kind of calculating homo economicus who are only out to maximize their – financial or any other kind of – profit. Such a view, however, overlooks the fact that the habitus that structures social action has an important unconscious component, according to Bourdieu. Social action, including the making and experiencing of art, is not driven by a goal-conscious calculation of the line of action that will maximize profit in the given field but by the mutual influencing of the actors’ habitus and the field in which they act. Bourdieu’s work implies a somewhat surprising perspective on the aims of the humanities. As mentioned repeatedly in the preceding chapters, the humanities are supposed to concern themselves primarily with expressions of higher culture and to pursue Bildung. Bourdieu, however, interpreted this Bildung as a form of *cultural capital. The members of the upper, higher-educated classes are not only richer in economic terms, they also have acquired more cultural capital than people from a working-class environment. This allows them to distinguish themselves from the lower classes both aesthetically and socially. Thus, *distinction or ‘good taste’ – that is, the capacity for aesthetic appreciation – is also an instrument by which the members of the upper classes distinguish themselves socially, Bourdieu argued in his famous 1979 book Distinction. In this book, incidentally, Bourdieu also criticized Adorno’s belief that mass culture can be distinguished from elite culture by passive listening (cf. § 8.4b). The distinction and cultivation of elite culture support precisely the reproduction of existing class relationships, according to Bourdieu. The seemingly disinterested humanist ideal of Bildung thus contributes to the maintenance of social inequality in the field of culture. Exposing and describing such mechanisms is in itself already an act of critical science that can contribute to the emancipation of subordinated or marginalized population groups. In Bourdieu’s view, the task of the humanities consisted of exposing relations of power and bringing to light the reproduction of social inequality in the social fields of literature, the arts, and communication – that is, in spheres that are usually seen as free of power and economic interests.

The Pr ac tice Turn


Summary − Wittgenstein emphasized the importance of linguistic practices or language games. In his view, the meaning of a sentence primarily consists of its use and not of any mental states associated with that use. − Austin rejected the logical empiricist verification criterion as too heavily oriented towards assertive or descriptive language use. According to him, we can perform all kinds of speech acts with language. Performative language use itself creates the facts it purports to describe. − Foucault’s genealogy sees scientific knowledge as both shaped by and constitutive of relations of power. Foucault emphatically advocated analysing power and knowledge in terms of practices rather than structures, institutions, or ideas. − Bourdieu criticized both objectivist and subjectivist approaches in the humanities and social sciences for neglecting the social position of the scholar. His own notion of ‘practical logic’ postulates the habitus, i.e., an underlying generative principle at the basis of all social action. − Bourdieu’s sociology of art and culture introduces the notion of fields, that is, relatively autonomous realms of social action that have their own laws and their own capital.

Part 4 Modernity and Identity


Critique of Modernity


Introduction: Modernity, Postmodernity, and Postmodernism

In the following three chapters, we will discuss a number of topics that have thus far remained largely implicit. Much humanities research makes substantial but often tacit assumptions about *modernity, about relations between men and women, and about the relation of Europe or the West to the rest of the world. When these assumptions are made explicit, they can also be subjected to a more systematic critique, as is done in a number of contemporary currents in the humanities. The scientif ic revolution and the Enlightenment are widely seen as specifically modern and uniquely European achievements. Max Weber summarized these ideas in his thesis that, ‘as we like to believe’, Western *rationalism embodies a worldview and a number of forms of social action that, even though they have emerged in a restricted period in time and in a relatively small number of countries, have a universal application and significance. He sees this worldview and these forms of action as manifested in such things as the modern natural sciences, modern jurisprudence, bureaucracy, capitalism, and in the personality of the professional, who has learned to separate work-related and personal matters. He also sees Western classical music, characterized by systematic counterpoint as developed by Johann Sebastian Bach and later composers, as a specifically modern and uniquely Western form of rationalized music (cf. § 7.5). Furthermore, Weber and others also consider *secularization – that is, the disappearance of religious convictions from public and/or private life and the receding of the societal power of the Church – to be an equally logically and inevitable consequence of this ongoing rationalization in the Western world. The idea of a specifically European or Western modernity is present in virtually all authors and currents discussed above. Hence, they may be called *modernist in so far as they implicitly or explicitly accept this idea, whatever their doubts and reservations. Despite their acknowledgement of the horrors of the twentieth century, they continue to cherish the thought that scientific, cultural, and societal progress is at least possible and that science and art play an important role in its realization. Many of them, moreover, are staunch *secularists who not only are convinced that there is a factual process of secularization but also normatively welcome this process. Whatever the darker sides of a disenchanted worldview and of


History and Philosophy of the Humanities

modern anomie, they argue, the weakening of the public role of the Church and religion is on balance a positive development. From around the 1970s, however, this optimistic belief in progress began to weaken. A new generation of literary authors including Thomas Pynchon and Salman Rushdie, minimalist composers such as Steve Reich and Philip Glass, and visual artists such as Andy Warhol and Jeff Koons rejected the demanding, inaccessible, and consciously elitist art of their modernist predecessors and sought their inspiration in popular culture. Likewise, during the 1970s, the belief in economic progress was undermined when Western European countries experienced a protracted period of high unemployment, stagnating growth, and persistent inflation. Renewed attention to environmental problems also suggested that there were limits to economic growth. The 1980s then marked the rise of new *neoliberal economic policies championed by President Ronald Reagan in the United States and Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in the United Kingdom. As a result of these policies, various societal realms that had hitherto been seen as public goods and at least in part as the responsibility of the state – such as social housing, public transportation, and later also education and health care – were privatized and became subjected to market mechanisms. Politically, this period coincided with the heyday of the Cold War, that is, the confrontation between the liberal and capitalist West and the communist East Bloc led by the Soviet Union. For a number of years after the Second World War, many progressive intellectuals in Western Europe had cherished hopes for the development of communism, but this optimism was dealt a heavy blow in 1973 with the publication of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago, which described in detail the horrors of Stalinism. Likewise, the idea of class struggle started to lose its dominant position in progressive circles. Gradually, other societal divides began attracting more attention, giving rise to new forms of *identity politics – that is, activism on behalf of specific groups – such as feminism, the gay liberation movement, and ethnic movements. Finally, toward the end of the twentieth century, religion began – against all secularist expectations – to acquire new political relevance if not new revolutionary fervor, as witnessed by the rise of Marxist-inspired ‘liberation theology’ in South America and even more dramatically by the 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran. After the 1989 fall of the Berlin Wall and the rapid disappearance of communism virtually worldwide as a major political force, religion started to play a much more important – not to say entirely novel – political role, as evidenced by the rise of political Islam in the Middle East, Hindu nationalism in India, neo-Confucianism in China, and the revival of the Orthodox Church in Eastern Europe.

Critique of Modernit y


All these developments weakened the faith in modernity and the hitherto unquestioned self-evidence of progress (albeit a particular view of progress). These doubts are captured in the term *postmodernism. This is the general term for a broad span of developments in the arts, architecture, science, and politics that began in the 1980s and that, roughly speaking, represented a reaction against the achievements, ideals, and pretentions of modernity and *modernism. A common trait in all of them is the rejection of the modernist belief in artistic, scientific, and societal progress. In politics, postmodern actors reject both liberal and communist universalism and mobilize on behalf of particular or localized interest groups or on behalf of oppressed minorities, traditions, or peoples. In cultural-historical terms, postmodernism may therefore be associated with the emergence of a number of new social movements such as feminism and gay liberation. Postmodern artists cast doubt on the belief in artistic progress and thus on the possibility of an artistic avant-garde, but also on the very distinction between elite art and mass culture or between genuine art and kitsch. In architecture, too, postmodernism rapidly gained ground. Characteristic elements of postmodernist art are irony, quotation, allusions, and the playful use of older forms without pretending to be able to form a new unity or synthesis out of them. Postmodern artists often explicitly appeal to existing traditions and show rather less of an urge to reject or transform the tradition than modernist artists such as Picasso, Mondriaan, or Schönberg. Declaring that the ideal of progress is irrelevant is thus paired with a decreasing urge to be original, provocative, or scandalous. When their work is provocative, it is generally the result of the sexually explicit contents of their work. Examples are popular musicians such as Madonna (b. 1958) and (The Artist Formerly Known As) Prince (1958-2016), visual artists such as Jeff Koons, and film directors such as Quentin Tarantino. Accordingly, the main aesthetic objection to postmodern art forms is that they are vulgar, sensationalist, or overly market-oriented instead of being elitist, difficult, or incomprehensible, as modernist art was often said to be. Concerning the sciences, postmodernists cast doubt on notions such as objectivity and universal validity and disregard established ideas of value-free science by proposing research that explicitly takes into account the particular and possibly divergent perspectives and interests of minority groups. In part, this position may be seen as an aspect or consequence of their changing institutional context. Inevitably, increasing specialization in the various disciplines – each with their own terminology or jargon, and each having their own methodological standards and, possibly, paradigms – has led to the fragmentation of academic knowledge. As a result, we have


History and Philosophy of the Humanities

witnessed the gradual undermining of the classical knowledge ideal, which carried the expectation that scientific knowledge would eventually form one coherent whole. For postmodernists, science has lost its privileged position as the guardian of truth, rationality, and objectivity. In the heat of this discussion, postmodernist ideas are all too often reduced to slogans such as ‘there is no objective reality’, ‘there is nothing outside of text’, or ‘there is nothing beyond conflicting points of view, representations and interpretations’. The humanities, too, which are solidly rooted in the conceptual and institutional achievements of the nineteenth century, experienced in the late twentieth century an increasing undermining of the ideal of objective and universally valid truth as a result of both heady new doctrines and the progressive specialization and fragmentation of academic knowledge. Thus, postmodern historians reject the idea that objective historiography is possible and instead encourage the proliferation of a plurality of historical narratives. From this plurality, they argue, no single coherent, consistent, or authoritative overarching narrative can be constructed. But also the humanities ideal of humanist and/or national Bildung was increasingly questioned as a result of this internal fragmentation and these external developments. Hasn’t the ideal of Bildung, if not the entire architecture of philosophical concepts and distinctions upon which it rests, been rendered hopelessly outdated by the dramatic if not catastrophic social, political, intellectual, and technological developments of the twentieth century? Postmodernists emphasize the fragmented and heterogeneous character of contemporary culture, science, and society. They deny that these heterogeneous elements can be harmonized with each other, or that there is any single goal or endpoint toward which they are all converging, or that there is any one point or perspective from which we can formulate a coherent normative judgment of them all. Instead, they place increasing emphasis on the local, the fragmentary, and the contingent. As a result, postmodernism is a rather pluriform movement, and it is primarily its critics that see it as a unified whole. In particular, the rejection of the belief in progress meets with fierce criticism by those who ask how we can take seriously a current that gives up any hope or ambition of doing things better than its predecessors. Accordingly, in some circles, ‘postmodern’ has primarily become a term of abuse. In the sections below, we will first discuss Derrida and Gilles Deleuze – two scholars that have often been labelled ‘postmodern’ – before turning to Jean-François Lyotard and Richard Rorty, two thinkers who have

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reflected on what has been called the ‘postmodern condition’. In the final two chapters, we will examine even more radical forms of critique from feminist and postcolonial angles, where the argument is that the humanist ideals of the humanities too easily speak of humanity at large. Seen from the perspective of women and colonized peoples, such ideals come to be seen in a rather different light.


Postmodernism, Poststructuralism, and the Philosophy of Difference: ‘French Theory’

The generation of French thinkers who gained fame from the late 1960s inside and outside of France – including Michel Foucault, Roland Barthes, Jacques Derrida, Gilles Deleuze, and Jean-François Lyotard – is usually labelled with such imprecise terms as ‘postmodernism’ or ‘poststructuralism’. In terms of content, these thinkers have little in common. At most, one could say that they all reject both Hegelian dialectics (which had been dominant among the previous generation of French thinkers) and the philosophy of consciousness underlying both dialectics and phenomenology, turning instead to Nietzsche’s genealogy and/or Saussure’s structuralism. But even a shift to the philosophy of language and an anti-dialectical attitude are not equally present in all of these authors, let alone in the same form. What they do have in common is that they became especially influential in America from the late 1960s onwards, albeit not so much among philosophers as primarily in literature departments and in cultural studies. This common history of reception justifies the term ‘French theory’ that is sometimes used for these authors. Undoubtedly, the anti-dialectical attitude of this generation of French thinkers should also be interpreted in political terms as a critique of the dominance in progressive circles of the French Communist Party (PCF), which had uncritically followed the official Soviet line concerning international political developments such as the 1956 Hungarian revolt and had maintained an almost conservative position loyal to the French government in domestic political issues including the 1968 student revolts. This political dimension did not survive the move across the Atlantic Ocean. In America, ‘French theory’ is usually studied in isolation from its philosophical and political backgrounds in postwar Europe and is usually taken as a new radical instrument for the emancipation of oppressed or marginalized racial, ethnic, and sexual minorities. Below, we will discuss Derrida and Deleuze, two scholars often labelled – or branded – ‘postmodern’. We have


History and Philosophy of the Humanities

already discussed Foucault and Barthes as well as Lacan, who in a sense also belongs in this group of theorists. 11.2a

Jacques Derrida: Deconstruction

Jacques Derrida (1930-2004) gave up all belief in (philosophical) progress: he was pessimistic about the possibility and even desirability of replacing the problematic concepts of the Western philosophical tradition with something better. The seemingly paradoxical conclusion of Derrida’s approach to texts, which is commonly known as *deconstruction, is that this tradition is both untenable and inescapable. Deconstruction proceeds from existing ways of thinking and does not pretend to be able to transcend or improve upon them but involves a distinct way of reading the texts in which these ideas and concepts are expressed. According to Derrida, the concept pairs with which we think – for example: signifier/signified, speech/writing, literal/figurative, but also man/woman, etc. – form oppositions that are not neutral but imply hierarchical orderings. For example, writing is generally seen as based on and derived from an originally spoken language, figurative language is seen as derived from literal language use, etc. Likewise, the signifier is usually seen as no more than a means to a higher end, which is the idea expressed, that is, the signified. Deconstruction does not simply invert such hierarchies. Derrida did not argue that the hitherto repressed or derivative side really is, or should be, dominant; that existing hierarchies should simply be inverted; or that what seems derivative really is the origin. Instead, his way of reading only shows how problematic and indeed untenable such oppositions are (this is the element of destruction in deconstruction). But simultaneously, it acknowledges that we cannot think without such problematic oppositional pairs of concepts, and thus in the same gesture, so to speak, it once more reconstructs the criticized concepts (hence deconstruction). It is in this context that Derrida’s notorious slogan ‘il n’y a pas de hors-texte’ (‘there is nothing outside of the text’) should be seen. Taken outside of its context, this statement sounds downright nonsensical, so one may suspect that Derrida meant something else by it. Its precise character becomes clearer against its philosophical and especially epistemological background: Reading cannot legitimately transcend the text towards something other than that text, for example towards a referent (a metaphysical, historical, or psycho-biographical reality) or to a signified (signifié) outside the text of which the content finds a place outside language, that is, outside writing in general. These methodological concerns […] are closely connected to

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my earlier general comments as regards the absence of the reference or of the transcendental signified. There is nothing outside of the text.73

Derrida’s mention of a ‘transcendental signified’ suggests that he was alluding to Saussure’s Kantian belief that the language system is a transcendental condition for the possibility of thought (see § 9.3). Elsewhere in his writings, this link becomes more explicit. As already discussed, Saussure considered the language system a coherent whole: the identity of individual signs (for example cat as distinguished from that, rat, mat, etc.) does not emerge as a result of any property or attribute inherent in that sign itself but only as a result of the difference of this sound, cat, with other sounds in that language. Derrida draws the radical and paradoxical conclusion of this argument. In Saussure’s view, the linguistic sign is one united and inseparable whole of signifier and signified, that is, of acoustic image and mental concept. If, however, the sound is arbitrary and conventional and only derives its identity from oppositions with other sounds, then, according to Derrida, the same should hold for the reverse side of the sign, that is, the concept as well. We have no independent access to the referent or the thing itself on the basis of which we can identify a concept. Nor can consciousness play the foundational role for knowledge and meaning since, according to Saussure, thinking and consciousness are precisely made possible by a transcendental system of linguistic signs. This implies, for Derrida and other poststructuralist thinkers, that the subject, which had been postulated by Kant as the transcendental basis of knowledge and meaning, is constituted by linguistic signs and as such is itself fragmented and divided; hence, it is unable to warrant a stable meaning. Derrida did not argue that there is no such thing as ‘meaning’ but rather that the meaning of a text is not ruled or controlled – and hence cannot be explained – by the ideas or intentions (that is, the conscious thought contents) of the speaker or author. Derrida’s commentary on Austin’s speech act theory is similar in its tenets. He argued that Austin’s notion of performative speech, which may create the very fact it seems to be describing (as in ‘I baptize this ship the Lady Gaga’), marks a step forward with respect to earlier theories that see communication as the linguistic expression of contents that themselves exist outside of, and prior to, language. However, according to Derrida, in the final analysis Austin also relapsed into the belief that the speaker’s intentions play an essential role in communication, in particular in distinguishing between 73 J. Derrida, Of Grammatology (Baltimore, 1976), p. 158.


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felicitous and infelicitous and serious and non-serious speech acts. Thus, Austin argued that in non-serious speech acts such as making a promise on a theatre stage, speakers cannot be held responsible for the words they speak: the actor who promises to marry his co-actor during a performance is not held to his word once the curtain has fallen. In this sense, non-serious language is parasitic on normal language use, in which speakers do have such a responsibility for their words. According to Derrida, however, the possibility of linguistic signs to be repeated or quoted in other contexts in which the speaker’s intentions are no longer valid is not an exceptional or parasitic case but, on the contrary, precisely the positive and internal condition of the possibility of language. Every linguistic sign, he argued, may be radically taken out of its context and thus acquire meanings that had not been foreseen, let alone intended, by the speaker. Because of this repeatability, or *iterability, linguistic signs are radically context-dependent and radically independent of speaker’s intentions. Both in his discussion of Saussure’s theory of signs and in his criticism of Austin’s speech act theory, Derrida thus rejected the consciousness-philosophical assumption that human consciousness is primary with respect to linguistic signs and can dominate or control them. In American literary-theoretical circles, Derrida’s deconstructionist undertaking gained fame under the slogan of the ‘free play of the signifier’. This slogan is correct in so far as deconstruction does not primarily look at meanings or concepts, that is, signifieds – that is, it focusses on the play of signs in a text rather than on the speaker’s or author’s intentions. That does not necessarily imply, however, that it gives up all ideas of, and standards for, a correct interpretation. Rather, it argues that there is an indefinite number of possible readings and that these are not constrained or governed by the speaker’s intentions or consciousness. The general tenor of Derrida’s writings may in some respects be compared to that of analytical philosophy in so far as here, too, a linguistic turn is completed that replaces traditional metaphysical and epistemological questions or concerns with questions concerning signs and meaning. Derrida’s style, however, is very different from that of analytic philosophers. Moreover, he was far more radical in his rejection of the philosophy of consciousness. He not only dismissed the belief that human intentions may control or constrain the interpretation of signs, he also problematized the pairs of concepts associated with this belief. Likewise, he replaced the thought that the development of the human spirit is dialectical, in the sense of teleological and lawlike, by a new emphasis on the radically contingent and undecidable character of the linguistic sign. Hence, Derrida’s work amounts

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to a language-philosophical critique of both French phenomenology and Hegelian dialectics. Derrida’s approach, which unmasks seemingly neutral oppositions as hierarchical without aiming to radically replace or reject them, gained currency not only in academia. It was also embraced as a new theoretical foundation for various emancipatory but non-revolutionary movements that represented oppressed groups such as women and ethnic minorities. Thus, Derrida’s work shows clear similarities to – or serves as an inspiration for – the work of feminist philosophers including Luce Irigaray, who argues that patriarchal mechanisms have dominated the feminine in Western philosophy since Plato. Irigaray emphasizes the role of the seemingly neutral if not philosophically irrelevant distinction between man and woman in the history of Western thought. According to her, Kant’s knowing subject is, contrary to what Dilthey and others may have asserted, not an anemic abstraction but clearly a masculine being. As we shall see below, postcolonial studies have also made great use of Derrida’s work. Deconstruction shows how problematic it is to think in such seemingly self-evident pairs of opposites, but it does not pretend to be able to supply new or better pairs. Derrida recognized that, in a sense, we cannot think without such oppositions, even if on closer inspection they appear to yield all kinds of tensions and contradictions. Thus, his thought was not guided by a modernist idea of progress or emancipation. His resistance against attempts to see deconstruction as a new ‘method’ of reading and interpreting should also be seen in this light. Especially in America, an influential deconstructionist approach to literature and other texts developed in Derrida’s wake. This approach elaborated on Derrida’s claims that there is ‘nothing outside of the text’ and that texts are the domain of the ‘free play of the signifier’. Out of context and thus reduced to slogans, these tenets risk being misunderstood by both proponents and opponents. Methodologically, however, they imply that deconstructionists do not treat literary texts as referring to a reality outside of the text or as expressing an author’s consciousness but rather as creating their own literary world and as referring primarily to other texts. That view also implies a revaluation of the text as a structured whole of signifiers, with respect to the author as the ultimate authority concerning expressed intentions and ideas, or signifieds. As such, it led to the development of a broad new academic field that is usually referred to as *cultural analysis. This is not a paradigm in Kuhn’s sense but rather a collection of more or less like-minded approaches to literary and other texts and to cultural phenomena more generally.



History and Philosophy of the Humanities

Gilles Deleuze: The Philosophy of Difference

Even more than Derrida, Gilles Deleuze (1925-1995) qualifies as the prototypical postmodern ‘philosopher of difference’ who – in particular in his study Difference and Repetition (1968) – gave up thinking about, and in terms of, fixed identities in favour of difference and change. Inspired by Nietzsche, he thus shifted philosophical attention from being to becoming. His thinking was also clearly anti-essentialist, since it did not proceed from fixed identities of e.g. gender, sexual orientation, nationality, or religion. Because of this emphasis on the absence of fixed identities, Deleuze’s thought is also called *nomadic. Deleuze has had considerable influence in the humanities, in particular in film and media studies, but his impact also extends to practicing artists, architects, and others. In part, this enthusiastic reception is easy to understand. Deleuze thought of philosophy not as a discipline of critical reflection on knowledge, morals, or beauty, but rather as a creative activity on an equal footing with, although functioning differently than, art and science. For him, philosophy is concerned with generating concepts. Unlike in the sciences, it does not presuppose entities, and unlike the arts, it does not presuppose experience, but it explores the constitution of both objects and experiences. Politically speaking, Deleuze’s nomadic differential thinking, which resists any form of institutionalized power, has anarchist tendencies. But although he emphatically presented his work as an oppositional ‘counter-philosophy’, it may yet gain in depth when placed against the specific philosophical tradition from which it departs. Deleuze’s fundamental notion is that of *difference. Usually, difference is seen as a relation between two antecedently and independently given entities, the identity of which is determined beforehand. Deleuze, however, reverted this way of seeing things: he contended that difference is both logically and metaphysically prior to identity. No two things, he argued, are ever completely identical, and the identity of each thing is determined by its difference with other individual specimens of the same kind or genus. Thus, a specific cat acquires its individual identity only to the extent that it differs from other members of the species cat. But, Deleuze continued, our notions for grasping identity such as kinds, categories, and similarities not only presuppose a prior difference, they are not even able to grasp difference in itself. Our general concepts are mere tools for heading our different experiences under a common denominator, or for reducing them to a single genus. In other words, they help to reduce the plurality of experience to the unity of thought.

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Kant had argued that the general concepts with which we think systematically transcend experience. Deleuze suggested conversely that the pure experience of difference exceeds our existing concepts and forces new ways of thinking on us. Philosophy, he argued, has direct access to things only in so far as it claims to be able to grasp the thing in itself in its identity – that is, in its difference with everything that it is not. Difference in itself, however, cannot be grasped by this conceptual thinking, since that thinking precisely imposes unifying and identity-forming concepts on its plurality of observations or perceptions, and it is directed towards identities rather than differences. Strictly speaking, there is thus no concept of pure difference or difference in itself. Rather, it is what Kant would call an idea and what Deleuze himself referred to as the virtual. This virtual difference forms the immanent and genetic condition for real experience, which should be distinguished from the transcendental conditions of possible knowledge of which Kant spoke. Deleuze was less inspired in his thinking by structuralist linguistics or analytical philosophy than Foucault and Derrida. Instead, he primarily referred back to the philosophical tradition of Hume, Spinoza, Kant, and especially Nietzsche. Although in his influential two-volume Cinema, he presented an emphatically semiotic perspective on film as consisting of images and signs, he appealed not to Saussure’s semiology but to the theory of signs of the American pragmatist C.S. Peirce. Hence, Deleuze never called himself ‘postmodern’ or ‘poststructuralist’. Usually he characterized his own position as ‘transcendental empiricism’, which suggests both a continuation and critique of Kant’s critical philosophy. His empiricism leans on Hume’s in so far as it explains abstract concepts in terms of experience or observation, but he went beyond Hume by not presuming the knowing subject as given but rather seeing it as formed by underlying processes. His thinking is ‘transcendental’ to the extent that it explores the conditions under which a thing emerges, but unlike Kant, he regarded these conditions not as general, abstract, and constitutive but as specific, real, and genetic. Deleuze’s philosophy of difference also amounts to a rejection of Hegelian dialectics. Differences are no dialectical oppositions, that is, relations characterized by negativity; instead, they are positive and affirmative. Hence, Deleuze also rejected the idea of the dialectical development of history as necessary and lawlike in character and emphasized the radical contingency of everything that exists. In this respect, Nietzsche was his great example. Deleuze considered the latter’s genealogy to be the completion of Kant’s critical project because it subjects not only dogmatic thinking but also true knowledge to critique and accounts for that knowledge in genetic rather


History and Philosophy of the Humanities

than transcendental terms. He added that Nietzsche regarded the will to power as a *principle of difference, that is, as that which produces individual identities from differences. The philosophical tradition rejected by Deleuze amounts to thinking in terms of identities, which seeks first principles or hierarchical systems aimed at reducing the plurality of experience to the unity of sovereign reason. Kant’s critical philosophy, too, is a form of ‘identity’ philosophy in that it speaks of the synthesis of intuitions and concepts (which amounts to subsuming the plurality of experience under a unitary conceptual denominator), an operation it sees as the work of a unitary and transcendental subject. Kant’s theory of experience thus presupposes the subject and only considers the a priori conditions of possible experiential knowledge. Real experiential knowledge, by contrast, also comprises an a posteriori element, that is, that which is given to the knowing subject (or, more specifically, to the latter’s senses). Deleuze, by contrast, did not see either transcendental subject or empirical object, either sense data or reason, as given. Thus, in his own Nietzschean manner, he attacks the ‘myth of the given’. This way of thinking is called ‘nomadic,’ because it gives up the search for unity, identity, and founding principles. According to Deleuze, philosophical quests for a fixed foundation of knowledge – such as Kant’s postulating a transcendental subject or Descartes’ argument that the ego exists because it thinks – are but so many attempts at smuggling identity into the irreducible plurality of experiences. This metaphysical and epistemological background clarifies much of Deleuze’s influential studies of film and other art forms. His writings on art do not fall into the category of art criticism that applies existing concepts to artwork. Rather, he conversely developed new philosophical concepts on the basis of the experience of art. As said, Deleuze argued against Kant that reason does not transcend experience because it is the other way around: experience, and in particular the experience of art, transcends our concepts. Looked at from this perspective, art gives signals that take us beyond our perceptual habits and produces perceptions we cannot subsume under the concepts we have already formed. Thus, in his two volumes on cinema (1983-1985), Deleuze developed philosophical ideas about movement and time based on the medium of film. Technically speaking, he argued, film images consist of rapid sequences of photographic images. We experience them not as a sequence of stills, however, but as a *movement-image (image-mouvement). In part, this notion is inspired by the distinction that French film critic André Bazin made between the photographic image, which tries to give us the object itself emancipated from time, and the movie image, which captures objectivity

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in time. Thus, Deleuze concluded, film does not represent merely an object but also its duration, as movement is a translation of time to space. We also experience movement in the everyday world surrounding us, of course, but with the technical means of the shot and of editing, film may puncture or transgress our perceptual habits. Furthermore, Deleuze distinguished different kinds of shots that can lead to different kinds of images and thus different kinds of signs: the close-up amounts to what he called an *affection-image. In Sergei Eisenstein’s words, the close-up is not an image among others but yields an affective reading of the movie as a whole. Next, Deleuze distinguished between what he called *perception-images, which derive from medium shots, and *action images, that is, long-distance shots or long shots. The combination of these three kinds of images is what we call editing, and the domination of one kind of image indicates the character of the movie as a whole. Moreover, editing may have an ideological dimension, which led Deleuze to distinguish the ‘dialectical’ editing of the cinematographically and politically revolutionary Soviet director Eisenstein from the ‘organic’ technique of editing he saw as dominating American films. Among film critics and theoreticians, Deleuze’s writings have acquired enormous influence. Because of his emphatic use of Peirce’s semiotics and because of his attempt to take movement-images as signs, Deleuze also performed a particular kind of linguistic or semiotic turn in film studies that takes us far beyond the philosophy of consciousness, in particular in its Hegelian dialectical incarnation. Some influential film theoreticians including Robert Stam have expressed their doubts about the practical applicability of Deleuze’s brilliant but idiosyncratic readings. Others, by contrast, have enthusiastically used the concepts generated by Deleuze, taking advantage of the fact that, since they are not rigorously defined or ordered, they are even more flexible in actual use. Together with the psychiatrist Félix Guattari (1930-1992), Deleuze also wrote a number of path-breaking studies linking Lacanian psychoanalysis to a Marxist critique of capitalism. Unlike traditional Marxists and Freudians, they did not try to reduce either social relations to family relations or, conversely, individual neuroses to mere superstructural or ideological epiphenomena of the capitalist relations of production. Instead, they postulated a uniform process of *desiring-production, which is active both in individual souls and in the societal world and which forms an equivalent of sorts to Nietzsche’s will to power. Desiring-production is not so much confronted with a reality given in advance – rather, it is precisely desire that produces what Lacan called ‘the real’.


History and Philosophy of the Humanities

The schizophrenic individual arises when this process is no longer directed towards nature and society but only towards the individual body. In this view, schizophrenia is not the mental illness of an individual unable to enter into confrontation with reality but rather a quest in the unconscious – that is, a process that is not merely individual but simultaneously also social and natural.


Thinkers on Postmodernity


Postmodernism and the Legitimation of the Humanities: JeanFrançois Lyotard

Jean-François Lyotard (1924-1998) was a key figure in the postmodernism debate. In The Postmodern Condition (1979), he questioned the contemporary social and political status, and in particular the justification, of scientific knowledge. He originally thought of this book as an occasional piece and as a sociological stocktaking rather than a philosophical analysis of recent developments in science, politics, and art. More than any other single work, however, it is this book that was responsible for the spread of the postmodernism debate, which had hitherto been restricted to architecture and literary theory, into a broader intellectual debate about postwar culture and society. In The Differend (1983), Lyotard gave a more systematic and rather more demanding philosophical reformulation of these ideas. The Postmodern Condition is primarily a sociological analysis of the state of knowledge in contemporary Western societies. According to Lyotard, the ‘postmodern condition’ in which the sciences find themselves involves the *end of grand narratives or ideologies, that is, the end to the belief in progress and emancipation for humanity with the aid of reason. Borrowing Adorno and Horkheimer’s line of argument, Lyotard claimed that this modernity was destroyed by Auschwitz, as the large-scale premeditated and organized murder of human beings that took place under the Nazis has rendered impossible the legitimation of modernity in terms of universal progress. Likewise, the ‘grand narrative’ of Marxism has been undermined, if not refuted, by postwar history, in particular by the excesses of Stalinism. Lyotard himself, however, did not advocate a nihilist rejection of grand narratives. Instead, he investigated how scientific knowledge functions in the postmodern societal and political constellation. According to Lyotard, scientific knowledge may be seen as a body of statements, that is, as a *discourse. This discourse, however, requires a legitimation or justification, or, put differently, an answer to the question of why we should

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spend time and money on acquiring this knowledge. Lyotard called such a legitimation a *metanarrative, a metadiscourse, or a ‘grand narrative’, which is a system of statements that dictates from above, so to speak, what the utility or meaning of scientific statements is. He distinguished two such metanarratives: one linked to the Enlightenment and the other to Bildung nationalism. The Enlightenment narrative justifies scientific knowledge as serving the liberation or emancipation of humanity at large. In the Bildung narrative, by contrast, speculative knowledge is an aspect of the self-realization of spirit and, as such, is its own legitimation. Since spirit is conceived as historically and culturally specific, however, this knowledge contributes to the spiritual and moral development of a particular people, nation, or state. According to Lyotard, all familiar political currents, including liberalism, Marxism, and even national socialism, legitimate scientific knowledge in terms of one of these two grand narratives. What is characteristic of the postmodern condition, however, is the fact that these narratives have lost their credibility as a legitimation of science, not only as a result of the violent political excesses of Nazism and Stalinism, but also because of the technological development of the new media of computing and mass communication. These have radically changed the structure and transmission of scientific knowledge. The rise of information and communication technology has led to a redefinition of knowledge in terms of ‘units of information’ that are measurable and quantifiable and hence may be traded. Hence, ‘knowledge as information’ is not only a target of science, but also of industry and telecommunication. Thus, the dimensions of the postmodern condition of knowledge are not only epistemological but also political and economic: The scenario of the computerization of the most developed societies allows us to spotlight – though with the risk of excessive magnification – certain aspects of the transformation of knowledge and its effects on public power and civil institutions – effects it would be difficult to perceive from other perspectives.74

In other words, in the postmodern condition as described by Lyotard, the complex interaction between scientific knowledge, politics, and economic and social processes is brought up for discussion. We tend to view these domains as strictly separate, but in practice it appears increasingly difficult to tell them apart. Science has important societal and economic consequences, 74 Jean-François Lyotard, The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge. (tr. G. Bennington and B. Massumi) (Manchester, 1986), p. 7


History and Philosophy of the Humanities

in particular through technology. And conversely, the content and organization of the sciences (in particular the division into distinct disciplines, with the concomitant fragmentation of knowledge and knowledge ideals) is largely the result of societal developments and political choices. According to Lyotard, this condition undermines the grand narrative that science is a source of progress and emancipation because of its alleged ability to escape societal and cultural constraints due to its rational methods. As we saw in particular in chapters 2 and 5, however, the interconnectedness of science, economy, and politics is by no means new and even less unique or specific to the present-day ‘postmodern condition’. What is novel, however, is the acceptance of and reflection on this sociological phenomenon by philosophers such as Lyotard. 11.3b

Richard Rorty’s Postmodern Bildung

Another influential critic of the modernist belief in scientific progress as the steady approximation of the truth is the American philosopher Richard Rorty, who derived his arguments mainly from American pragmatism rather than from Nietzsche or from Saussure’s theory of signs. The philosophical core of Rorty’s view is stated in Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature (1979), in which Rorty elaborated both on Quine’s rejection of the two empiricist dogmas, the analytic-synthetic distinction and reductionism, and Sellars’ rejection of the ‘myth of the given’, that is, of the alleged distinction between what is given to our senses and what is added by our minds (cf. § 4.1). The combination of these two rejections led Rorty to give up the idea that there is any particular class of statements, whether sense-data statements or analytic or synthetic a priori statements, that has an epistemologically fundamental, foundational, or privileged status. Following Sellars, he argued that knowledge is not an edifice that rests on any such foundations but rather an irreducibly normative social practice of justifying statements. For Rorty, the combination of Sellars’ and Quine’s criticisms sets off a far more general rejection of various conceptual distinctions that jointly provided the basic structure of the modern philosophical tradition. He radically questioned the status of distinctions between the ‘thing in itself’ and the phenomenon, between accident and essence, between body and soul, and, as we will see, between the natural sciences and the humanities. In his view, nothing metaphysically or epistemologically important corresponds to such distinctions, nor do they have any practical usefulness. He also generalized Kuhn’s thesis of the incommensurability of scientific paradigms. According to Rorty, not only the natural sciences but also philosophy is

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governed by paradigms. Hence, he sees the history of philosophy not as a narrative of gradual progress and refinement but rather as a story of radical revolutions and incommensurable theories. Since Descartes, Rorty argued, Western philosophy has been shaped and guided not by any particular concept or belief but rather by an underlying image, or metaphor, of the human mind as a mirror of the world. Among other things, this image leads to the belief that knowledge consists of correct mental pictures, or *representations, of the outside world. As a result, philosophy has been charged with the task of figuring out how the validity or correctness of these mental representations may be proven. Hence, epistemology, which had been given its classical formulation in Kant’s writings, became the central subdiscipline of philosophy. Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature presents a detailed argument for combatting the view of thought in terms of representation and for giving up this epistemological paradigm, not in favour of some other epistemological paradigm that supposedly approaches the truth more closely or describes reality more correctly, but order to to replace them by a pragmatist account. *Pragmatism is an originally American philosophical current which originated in the works of C.S. Peirce, William James, and John Dewey, who argued that concepts and conceptual distinctions may only be retained to the extent that they make a noticeable difference for practical purposes. Hence, according to Rorty, the task of philosophy is not theoretical (for example, providing a foundation for knowledge claims) but practical. Philosophers, he maintained, should contribute to public debates concerning practical matters; they should also try to understand other traditions from within their own tradition and to rejuvenate their traditions by inventing new images or metaphors. That may sound like a humanist undertaking with universalist aspirations, but this impression is not entirely correct, as we will see below. Rorty was not engaged in building a philosophical system, and he was even less concerned with recommending a specific philosophical set of tools and concepts that will open the door to philosophical insights. He realized, however, that he has to deal with the fact that the public debates in which philosophers should engage have in part been framed and discussed in terms that have already received a particular connotation in the philosophical and scientific tradition. Hence, he argued for what he calls an ‘ironic attitude’. Just like his conversation partners, he continued to use the philosophical vocabulary, but he emphasized that it cannot provide the foundations for which it was brought into being. For Rorty, philosophical concepts and distinctions are mere instruments that should be judged exclusively in terms of their practical role in public debates. Many long-held philosophical


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notions or convictions then turn out to be of little use and hence, he argued, it is better to give them up. In other words, Rorty continues to play the game of traditional philosophy, but for him the stakes are different from those of his predecessors. For Rorty, the pragmatist main contribution to discussions consists of redescribing what others claim to have found. Those who claim to have formulated a theoretical foundation for correct action would be told by Rorty that they have given an interesting summary of current political and ethical ideas. In Rorty’s perspective, the natural sciences consist of an extension of our language that is tailor-made to yield precisely formulated predictions, but we should give up the pretense that it charts the underlying structure of reality. Thus, Rorty regarded new scientific theories as metaphors, that is, as extensions of hitherto current ways of speaking. In his view, the appearance and gradual acceptance of these theories cannot be explained by the discovery of new aspects of reality; the processes involved have a cultural and societal rather than a metaphysical character. Thus, the rise of a new paradigm in the natural sciences may be compared to the emergence of a new current in the arts or the establishment of a new literary style. This also holds for the humanities and social sciences. For Rorty, Freud was not a scientist who uncovered hitherto unknown mechanisms of an obscure entity, the unconscious. Instead, he reads Freud as an author who has formulated a new and interesting narrative about humans. Hence, he compared Freud’s position in intellectual history to that of important literary innovators. What we call ‘science’ is thus no more than the group of statements that in our community enjoy the highest prestige or are otherwise favoured. Rorty’s argument leads to a particular view of the role of philosophy and the humanities, implying that they should not aim to create or attain more truth or a better approximation of ‘the truth’. Rather, he argues, they should help us in becoming better humans, that is, to become more open to the ideas, experiences, and sufferings of others. Thus, through Gadamer, Rorty’s notion of *edification comes surprisingly close to Humboldt’s notion of Bildung. Indeed, Rorty explicitly acknowledged as much: Gadamer [substitutes] the notion of Bildung (education, self-formation) for that of “knowledge” as the goal of thinking […] Since “education” sounds a bit too flat, and Bildung a bit too foreign, I shall use “edification” to stand for this project of finding new, better, more interesting, more fruitful ways of speaking.75 75 R. Rorty, Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature (Princeton 1980, 2nd ed.), p. 359-360.

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So, is Rorty’s pragmatism simply a reproduction of the German idealistic knowledge ideal of the humanities as formulated initially by Humboldt and elaborated by Gadamer into a hermeneutic extreme? Not really, since he regarded the classical notions of Bildung and Geisteswissenschaften as inextricably intertwined with the epistemological and metaphysical tradition he rejected. In his own view, there simply is no essential or substantial difference between the natural sciences and the humanities, for what we call ‘science’ is no more than the body of statements that enjoy the highest prestige in our community or are favoured in some other sense. Thus, Rorty denied that any meaningful distinction can be made between the natural sciences and the humanities in terms of their object (lifeless nature and the value- or meaning-laden human spirit, respectively) or method (the empirical-explanatory and the interpretative method, respectively). The distinction between these paradigms, he claimed, is contingent and variable and does not rest on any solid philosophical foundations: Contemporary science (which already seems so hopeless for explaining acupuncture, the migration of butterflies, and so on) may soon come to seem as badly off as Aristotle’s hylomorphism. The [crucial dividing line] is not the line between the human and the nonhuman but between that portion of the field of inquiry where we feel rather uncertain that we have the right vocabulary at hand and that portion where we feel rather certain that we do. This does, at the moment, roughly coincide with the distinction between the fields of the Geistes- and the Naturwissenschaften. But this coincidence may be mere coincidence.76

Rorty reached these conclusions after a long, arduous, and fascinating path through technical debates in analytical philosophy. Once he had reached this point, however, his further thoughts were at times somewhat disappointing, since it allowed him to brush aside various philosophical questions as either uninteresting or meaningless. Nonetheless, his work has exercised a positive intellectual and cultural function, as it has emphasized how problematic, and ultimately futile, the seemingly self-evident appeal to such oppositions as subjective/objective, interpretation/use, and nature/spirit can be. Thus, Rorty stands at the end of an epistemological tradition that was initiated by Descartes and found its culmination in Kant. In Rorty’s view, the image of knowledge as a correct representation of the outside world and the concomitant oppositions between mind and matter, subject and object, and 76 Rorty, Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature, p. 351-352.


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the natural sciences and the humanities have become simply superfluous. Academic disciplines should no longer aim at truth and objectivity but at a postmodern form of Bildung; philosophy should not strive for ‘objectivity’ but for ‘solidarity’. In rejecting the view of knowledge as representation, Rorty also gave a new twist to the notion of hermeneutics, which he saw as involving the effort to understand an incommensurable set of statements from one’s own perspective, horizon, or paradigm. People living and working in the same paradigm do not need hermeneutics, since they agree on what their terms refer to and on which of their statements are true. In dealing with people from other paradigms or traditions, however, we cannot appeal to a shared ‘objective reality’, to neutral facts, or to pure observation, the existence of which had already been denied by Kuhn’s incommensurability thesis. The only path still open here is to initiate discussion – which will undoubtedly be difficult at first – with other traditions, starting from one’s own tradition. In doing so, one’s tradition will be gradually extended and renewed because of this interaction, one’s horizon will be broadened. In the light of Kuhn’s findings, we should think of philosophy as hermeneutics rather than epistemology, Rorty concluded. That is, we should give up the search for indubitable knowledge and correct representations of the outside world in favour of striving for mutual understanding, in what Rorty referred to as *edifying conversation. Thus for Rorty, philosophy should have as its goal not the foundation of knowledge claims but a meeting of minds. It would seem logical that such an edifying conversation between devotees of different paradigms should be directed in particular towards conversation partners from different cultures. This is not, however, what Rorty himself primarily had in mind. He showed little interest in a conversation with representatives of radically different value systems. Indeed, on closer inspection, he appeared remarkably ethnocentric: ‘philosophers’ moral concern,’ he wrote in the very last sentence of Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature, ‘should be with continuing the conversation of the West’.77 Likewise, after the September 11th assaults against the World Trade Center in New York in 2001, he argued that the Western conversation with the Islamic world should not consist of a mutual expansion or exchanging of horizons but rather of patiently explaining why the Western world really is better. Thus, Rorty’s postmodernism or pragmatism appears to have definite boundaries. He himself, however, explicitly defended this ethnocentrism by arguing that we cannot just ignore our own historical and cultural context, since each 77 Rorty, Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature, p. 394.

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conversation, including conservations with others, should inevitably start from this point. It is less self-evident, however, that it should also end there.


Conclusion: Beyond (Western) Modernity

Rorty made explicit a point that has thus far in this book remained largely implicit: to a greater or lesser extent, virtually all the authors discussed above are *ethnocentric or *Eurocentric in that they assume that modernity, whatever its features and problems may be, is a specifically, if not uniquely, European or Western phenomenon. In recent decades, such assumptions have increasingly come under attack, in particular by researchers with a non-European background. Some of these criticisms – in particular from among practitioners of postcolonial studies and, later, global history – will be discussed in chapter 13. We conclude this chapter with an overview of two scholars who thematize the ethnocentrism of current notions of modernity from the inside, so to speak. The Israeli sociologist Shmuel Eisenstadt (1923-2010) argued that we are increasingly confronted with what he calls *multiple modernities. The hitherto widespread notion that modernization implies Westernization has been unmasked as an illusion. Eisenstadt characterized modernity as a cultural programme or project that was initiated during the Enlightenment and that rejected the traditional powers of religion and absolutist rulers. This modern project included a radically novel idea of man as free and autonomous and an equally radically novel idea of political order as legitimized by popular sovereignty. From the start, however, there was a tension between the societal and political pluralism of this project and the universalist – or, as Eisenstadt called it, ‘totalist’ – claims of modern reason. An even more paradoxical aspect of modernity is the universalization of the – particularist – project of the nation-state, which in the course of the twentieth century became the dominant form of political organization across the globe. In the 1950s, the expectation among Western scholars and postcolonial political elites alike was that in all nation-states, modernization would lead to more homogeneous societies (the so-called ‘melting pot’ hypothesis) as well as to equality between men and women and to secularization. At the end of the twentieth century, however, the experience of various countries has disproved the expectation that modernization would simply amount to the adoption of Western values, practices, and institutions and to the disappearance of internal differences. Increasingly, various new forms of social protest, religious fundamentalism, and ethnic or regional consciousness are now contesting the nation-state’s legitimacy. These forces are only seemingly


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traditional, Eisenstadt argued, for in reality, they embody alternative visions of the cultural programme of modernity. Hence, modernity is no longer uniform, universal, or hegemonic but has become plural and permanently contested. Obviously, that leaves unanswered the question of whether this multiple and contested modernity still implies any intellectual or normative standards that can give us support, and if so, what these are. Eisenstadt also seemed to maintain the assumption that modernity was in the first instance a purely European affair and that other modernities have emerged only in reaction to this European project. Nowadays, this assumption, too, has increasingly come under attack (see § 13.5). Second, French anthropologist and philosopher Bruno Latour rejected the notions of both modernity and postmodernity. In his much-discussed 1993 essay, We Have Never Been Modern, he argued that, unlike what we would like to believe, we Westerners are simply *amodern. In doing so, he rejected the idea that modernity is marked by a unique kind of rationality. As received opinion has it, the premodern and/or non-Western world is characterized by magic and superstition, both of which amount to a confusion or mixing of the realms of nature and society. To give a simple and slightly ethnocentric example, among premodern or ‘primitive’ peoples, the magical belief holds that one may provoke a natural phenomenon by performing a rain dance or cure a disease by pronouncing a spell or ritual formula. Latour called such mixtures of nature and culture *hybrids. We modern Westerners, our self-image tells us, have left the primitive confusion of such hybrids behind us. The *modern constitution would accordingly amount to the strict separation, or *purification, of the realms of nature, politics, or society, and language or discourse. One is ‘modern’ if one has learned to carefully distinguish between facts and values, between means and goals, and between man and nature. According to Latour, however, while the modern constitution may present these domains as strictly separated, it produces and proliferates new hybrids itself. Thus, for example, the gap in the ozone layer, climate change, genetic modification, and the AIDS virus are simultaneously and irreducibly natural phenomena, societal and political problems, and discursively constituted notions. The conviction that only premodern and non-Western peoples confuse nature, culture, and language thus appears untenable, for we, too, inevitably live in a world of hybrids. In fact, precisely as a result of the development of science and technology, the number of hybrids has increased exponentially. Thus, Latour argues, the modern constitution is a myth that paradoxically makes possible the increasing proliferation of hybrids even as it denies their existence and even their possibility. Whereas

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modern existence is dominated by hybrids and whereas numerous political questions concerning such hybrids present themselves, ranging from climate change to ethical questions concerning genetic manipulation, the modern discourse of purification itself blocks the very formulation of such questions. From this observation, Latour drew a radical philosophical conclusion. Whereas in modern philosophy epistemology has priority over ontology, he himself developed a philosophy in which ontology takes the lead. Whereas the philosophical tradition concerned itself with the question of how knowledge about reality comes about and indeed is made possible, Latour zoomed in on the question of how knowledge may arise in reality and how it contributes to the shaping of reality. With his approach, science thus becomes a *mode of existence that emerged in the modern period and that is ontologically rather than epistemologically (that is, a specific attitude, state of mind, or rationality) distinct from other modes such as religion, politics, or law. Within each of these modes of existence, specific forms of existence are created. This philosophical starting point enabled Latour to develop an ‘anthropology of the moderns’ in which modernity itself – and in particular the modern scientific and technological world – is described with the aid of the empirical ethnographic techniques that Western anthropologists had developed for the study of ‘premodern’ or ‘primitive’ non-Western cultures. Just as earlier anthropologists had studied life among peoples in remote regions such as the Pacific Ocean, Latour studied life in modern laboratories in order to show how, within the mode of existence we call ‘science’, hybrid entities are produced that are both real and constructed. Later, he also conducted research in the Conseil d’État, the highest French juridical organ, in order to clarify how what we call ‘law’ is produced in the judicial process. Eisenstadt and Latour had relatively little to say about the role of the humanities in the world of multiple modernities and/or modern hybrids. Two other aspects of modernity, however, have attracted considerable attention from humanities scholars – namely gender and postcolonial relations; conversely, the role of the humanities in constituting these aspects has been studied as well. The final two chapters of this book delve into these themes.

Summary − Derrida described the Western metaphysical tradition as both untenable and inescapable. His deconstructionist thought emphasizes the contingency of linguistic signs against the dialectical and teleological philosophy of consciousness of many of his predecessors.


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− Deleuze developed a philosophy of difference, which gives up fixed essences and identities. He developed his idea in part on the basis of his interest in film. − Postmodernism is both a social-cultural phenomenon and an intellectual current. It involves a principled doubt about the possibility of scientific, political, societal, and artistic progress; a rejection of the distinction between mass and elite culture; and an emphasis on the constitutive role that signs, or ‘representations’, play in our knowledge. Epistemologically, postmodernism may be seen as a radical critique of reason with respect to reason’s own presuppositions. − Lyotard regarded the ‘postmodern condition’ as a sociological phenomenon in which knowledge had disintegrated into irreconcilable sub-areas. He argued that the overarching grand narratives or metanarratives – such as the liberal belief in progress and the Marxist ideal of the classless society – can no longer serve as a general legitimation of knowledge. − Proceeding from Quine and Sellars, Rorty’s postmodern pragmatism rejected the Kantian view of knowledge as representation and the entire epistemological and metaphysical tradition that has developed from it. His knowledge ideal is not that of approximating the truth but one of edifying conversation. − Eisenstadt and Latour rejected the prevailing notion of modernity as ethnocentric. Eisenstadt introduced the notion of ‘multiple modernities’, and Latour claimed that we have never been modern in the first place. In Latour’s view, the ‘modern constitution’ simultaneously purifies nature, politics, and discourse as separate domains and creates new hybrids of these three.

12 Gender, Sex, and Sexuality 12.1 Introduction Feminist critiques of the universal validity claims of the sciences proceed from the simple fact that, over the centuries, scientific research has mostly been conducted by men. Even today, the majority of academic university staff and academy members are male. This holds in particular, but not exclusively, for the natural sciences and for the higher scientific functions. Such facts are widely known. But are they also relevant for discussions in the philosophy of science? Do they affect the content of scientif ic knowledge or the ways in which the sciences are practised and taught? Feminist philosophers of science answer both questions in the affirmative. In doing so, they seem to be turning against not only widely held beliefs concerning science but also against common sense. At first sight, after all, it seems absurd to argue that, for example, the laws of gravity or the hermeneutic process of understanding are specifically masculine. Real scientific knowledge, one could retort, is universal, controlled, and free of ideological distortions concerning gender, race, or class, and to the extent that it is not, it is simply not good science. According to this line of defence, *sexism or *androcentrism may be a deplorable or objectionable trait of the practitioners of science but not of the content of scientific knowledge itself. Or, to speak in terms of classical empiricist philosophy of science, matters of sexism and the oppression of women may well form part of the context of discovery, but they are irrelevant for the context of justification. Feminist philosophers of science arguing against this line of defence form part of the academic movement of women’s studies, which was made possible in part by the second feminist wave of the 1960s and 1970s. The first feminist wave had been confined to demanding universal suffrage and other civil rights for women. In the 1960s, in part due to the improved access of women to higher education, these demands were supplemented with demands for equal rights in education and employment. Under the influence of feminist activism, many universities then established departments of women’s studies. Initially, these departments were strongly politicized, but increasingly they became focused on more strictly academic research. In other words, the institutionalization of women’s studies in universities and the gradual detachment from more informal and activist women’s organizations also brought steady changes to the academic field.


History and Philosophy of the Humanities

Gradually, women’s studies have broadened their territory. In particular, increasing attention has been paid to what in the Anglo-Saxon literature is referred to as *gender. Gender should be strictly distinguished from biological sex: it is not a natural-scientific fact but instead concerns the social and cultural meanings that differences in sex have had at different times and places and the ways in which such differences are expressed and have left their traces in scientific and other practices. Hence, nowadays, one generally speaks of gender studies. For a long time, gender-theoretic research focused primarily on the gender aspects of extra-scientific phenomena and practices and less on the sciences themselves. Examples of such early research are studies in the representation and imagination of gender identity in contemporary mass culture. The American singer and actress Madonna is an obvious example. She has been labelled post-feminist, since she generally does not express any politically feminist ideas, but neither does she accept conventional gender roles. Instead, and indeed like various other contemporary artists, she assumes an ambivalent and ambiguous sexual identity. For example, her video ‘Material Girl’ (1984) is a parody of the famous singing and dancing scene from ‘Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend’ performed by Marilyn Monroe in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, but it breaks both with the conventions of Hollywood films and with traditional gender roles. Madonna combines voluptuous seductiveness with an assertive and almost aggressively independent way of acting. If one subsequently turns to the original film parodied by Madonna, incidentally, one would discover that this is more refined than common wisdom has it. The archetypes of the ‘dumb blonde’ and ‘black witch’ (played by Monroe and Jane Russell, respectively) are rendered in such a way that they are simultaneously ridiculed. Some further covert feminism may also be suspected when Dorothy (played by Russell) summarizes the economic position of men as their ‘vital statistics’ – a characterization hitherto reserved for the bodily measures of women. Thus, gender studies no longer exclusively – and perhaps not even primarily – study the ways in which women are and have been oppressed but also increasingly examine the ways in which both male and female gender identities and symbolisms are created. Hence, the term ‘women’s studies’ in a sense only covers half of what is studied in gender research. Such research is not exclusively focused on the gender identities and gender norms of women but also tries to explain how feminine and masculine gender identities are formed jointly and generally in opposition to each other. This emphasis on the culture-bound notion of gender distinguishes present-day feminist research into the sciences from earlier forms, which

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had focused on male domination in and through the sciences. Such research, obviously, is important enough in its own right. The American philosopher of science Sandra Harding (b. 1935) distinguishes three variants of such research: 1) enquiries into the female scientists (whom she calls ‘women worthies’) whose work has unjustly been forgotten; 2) enquiries into specifically female contributions to the sciences that have been ignored or suppressed; and 3) enquiries into the ways in which scientific knowledge is used for the domination or oppression of women. All these forms of critique of the sciences, however, have two limitations. First, they presuppose a more or less constant oppression, usually labelled *patriarchate in feminist circles, instead of exploring specif ically how domination is achieved and reproduced in different times and places. As a result, they risk falling into a form of victim thinking and relapsing into representations of women as the eternally weak, powerless, and passive objects of an equally timeless male oppression. Second, such critiques leave open the abovementioned route of escape for defenders of ‘scientific objectivity’, who can now argue that such examples of oppression are simply irrelevant to science itself. The fact that relatively few famous scientific discoveries have been made by women or that even today relatively few female scientists are active, or that scientific knowledge has been abused for the oppression of women and others can be shrugged off as a deplorable but historically contingent phenomenon. Eventually, such aspects are rejected as irrelevant for scientific knowledge. It is not important, it is argued, who has made a specific discovery but only what has been discovered and whether the claims made can withstand criticism or attempts at refutation. This rejection of feminist analyses, however, presumes an image of science that has already been rendered increasingly problematic in the course of chapters 3 and 4 above. Thus, in The Science Question in Feminism (1986), Harding applied a number of developments in the philosophy of science to feminist themes, emphasizing that feminist critiques of science should not restrict themselves to the three kinds of research mentioned above. A more important and radical task, she argued, is theorizing the concept of gender, that is, systematically exploring the effects of gender identities and gendered behaviour – such as the representation of emotions and reason as typically feminine and masculine respectively – on actual scientific practice. At first sight, such a radical critique may seem far-fetched, but it gains in plausibility against the background of a number of the developments in the philosophy of science described above. Two of these have been especially important for the formulation of a feminist critique of science: first, the genealogical critique of forms of domination that may be hidden in seemingly


History and Philosophy of the Humanities

neutral domains, as was made possible by such thinkers as Foucault and Bourdieu; and second, the pragmatist line in American philosophical thinking running from Quine and Sellars to Kuhn and Rorty. The main tenets of French-inspired critiques should by now be clear to the reader. Initially, we may be tempted to explain the authoritative position of the sciences based on its privileged access to and correct representation of reality, but French thinkers have rendered the very idea of ‘access to an extra-linguistic reality’ deeply problematic. Moreover, they have pointed out the ability of linguistic means – generally referred to as discourses, narratives, or representations – to constitute, in a certain sense, their own realities. What is true and what is false, what are the objects we talk about, etc. are to an important extent constituted by such linguistic means. In other words, they are not given independently of a discourse but are internal to it. This perspective allows us to study the whole of scientific statements as a discourse or narrative and to explore how discursive tactics such as *gender metaphors – that is, characterizing phenomena as ‘typically masculine’ or ‘feminine’ – contribute to the exclusion or marginalization of elements represented as feminine. Below, we will discuss several such gender metaphors. The second source of inspiration for a radical feminist critique is the development of American empiricism since the Duhem-Quine thesis. If we accept the thesis that crucial tests are impossible – and hence that it is unworkable to adhere to and reject theories on the basis of strict and unchanging methodological principles – the suspicion arises that choices between theories are apparently made on other grounds. Kuhn claimed that the processes in which such decisions are made have a social character. This view opens the way to the study of scientific development as a social activity conducted by specific, and mainly male, social groups and of the role played in it by beliefs and ideologies concerning nature and culture, concerning valid and invalid knowledge claims, and concerning the relation between men and women – in short, that group’s ‘worldview’. And finally, Rorty’s rejection of the image of science as representation gives us a reason for seeking another explanation for the dominance of scientific knowledge and for the dominant role of men in the acquisition and spread of such knowledge other than the conventional appeal to a privileged access to and uniquely correct interpretation of the world that science is supposed to yield. Contemporary gender studies are not, or are no longer, marked by any one generally accepted method and even less by any one societal aim. They share this fragmentation with postmodern scientific currents in general. This situation leads to a number of problems and risks that are even more

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apparent and more urgent in the case of gender studies than elsewhere. In the first place, the increasing emphasis on the notion of gender in terms of representation and symbolization has led to a relative decline in focus on the concrete social practices and institutions in which such representations and symbolizations are formed and reproduced. In part, gender studies have moved from the social to the humane sciences. Nowadays, they belong to literary and cultural theory, film and television sciences, and philosophy as much as to sociology. With this shift in emphasis from social practices of oppression to symbolic processes of representation, the links with the wider social women’s movement have weakened to some extent. This is, of course, a problem encountered by any form of scientific practice that has its roots and legitimation in a social movement or in social activism. In part, this shift also reflects a broader opposition that is difficult to avoid entirely between social engagement on the one hand, and on the other, academic institutionalization, professionalization, and respectability. A second problem is the question of why gender should be such a uniquely important social factor. After all, for a long time, science has not only been exclusively the work of men; for the most part, it has also been carried out by white males from the European and Northern-American upper and middle classes. Why, then, should we exclusively pay attention to gender relations or at least pay more attention to those relations than to other social variables such as class, race, or ethnicity, of which we might equally well argue that they have shaped the development of scientific knowledge? Several answers to this question have been given. For example, Evelyn Fox Keller (b. 1936) acknowledges that the notion of gender in the exploration of science is restricted to a small part of Western culture. But it is precisely because modern science is culturally and socially bound so strongly to the white, Eurocentric upper classes that we can focus without any great risk on the analysis of gender phenomena in the latter and leave the social variables of class and race out of our consideration. By contrast, other authors, including Sandra Harding, systematically link feminist critiques with ideas and insights from *postcolonial critiques of science that argue that Western science has in part developed as a result of the European voyages of discovery and as a result of the slavery and colonial domination that followed in their wake. A third problem, specific to the philosophy of science, is the fact that the postmodern approach of many gender theoreticians seems difficult to square with their belief that studies that do not take gender relations into account are incomplete or incorrect. Many feminist critics accept the French-inspired critique that notions such as truth and objective validity are


History and Philosophy of the Humanities

internal to or constituted by the whole of scientific statements. Moreover, many of them share beliefs such as Rorty’s that knowledge – including scientific knowledge – should not be seen as a correct representation of the outside world. But how can we then still argue that it is only by theorizing the concept of gender that we can come to an adequate description or representation of factual scientific practice, for example, as some feminist critics seem to do? Here, too, different reactions are possible. Some, like Sandra Harding, give up the classical ideal of knowledge as the correct representation of the outside world in favour of a pragmatist idea of knowledge as defended by Rorty. Thus, Harding does not argue that feminist descriptions of scientific practice are more adequate or correct than others but merely that they have a greater practical use in so far as they contribute to the emancipation of women and other oppressed groups. Others appeal to the work of scholars such as Kuhn and Habermas, arguing that scientific knowledge is in the final analysis not legitimized by a ‘correspondence to the facts’ but by its acceptance by the community of scientists. If only women and other minorities sufficiently participate in that community, and practise science from their own particular interests and concerns, it is argued, feminist and other ideas will increasingly become part of legitimate – that is, ‘true’ – scientific knowledge.


Gender and Gender Metaphors

The concept of gender is informed by the idea that in different periods and in different places, people have thought in very different ways about the relation between the masculine and the feminine. One of the achievements of gender studies is thus the insight into how deep these historical differences and changes have been and how such historically variable ideas have shaped both quotidian and scientific practices. Thus, Evelyn Fox Keller has argued that the development of modern science cannot be adequately understood without paying attention to the role of so-called *gender metaphors – i.e., the representation or imagination of phenomena and things as ‘typically’ masculine or feminine – in shaping the aims and values of the new mechanist natural philosophy. One example with which she illustrates this thesis is her analysis of how such metaphors have shaped the debate between early modern adherents of mechanistic and hermetic philosophies concerning witchcraft. Without paying attention to the role of gender metaphors and ideologies of gender in science, she

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maintains, one can hardly understand why the supposedly ‘rational’ spirit of the new science took the phenomenon of witchcraft so seriously. In the mid-seventeenth century, *hermeticism, which saw the material world as permeated by the divine spirit, was the biggest rival to mechanistic philosophy. The most important hermetic science was alchemy, which strove for the purification of the human soul. The alchemist desire to make gold out of base metals was a symbolic expression of this process of spiritual purification. The alchemists had a clearly gendered and occasionally explicitly sexual imagery regarding the links between matter and spirit: they imagined scientific knowledge in terms of a mystical and in part sexual unification and as the amalgamation of elements represented as masculine and feminine. The mechanistic philosophers’ imagery, by contrast, was one of a strict separation between male and female principles and of the domination of the female by the male. Remarkably, the academic institutionalization of the new mechanistic science virtually coincided with a period of intensive persecution of witches. Thus, in 1667, one of the most prominent members of the Royal Society, Joseph Glanvill, published a treatise against witchcraft, Some Philosophical Considerations Touching Witchcraft and Witches, which gained considerable popularity. In this book, Glanvill did not argue, as a present-day reader might expect, that witchcraft is all nonsense and superstition. On the contrary, he accepted that the existence of a domain of spirits and demons had been proved by the statements of ‘thousands of eye- and ear-witnesses, and those not of the easily deceivable vulgar onely, but of wise and grave discerners’.78 According to the alchemists, the magical spiritual forces of witches were an expression of the miracles God can work in the material world and of the interpenetration of the spiritual and material domains. The mechanistic philosophers, however, shared the more conservative view that witchcraft was the work of the Devil. Already in 1486, the influential Malleus Maleficarum (Witches’ Hammer), a treatise on the existence of witchcraft, included the following statement: ‘All witchcraft comes from carnal lust, which is in women insatiable… Wherefore for the sake of their lusts [women] consort with devils’.79 From this perspective, the seventeenth-century witch hunts may be seen as expressing a fear of female sexuality. The mechanists, however, did not seek the complete eradication of spiritual phenomena. After all, completely 78 Glanvill, Some Philosophical Considerations Touching the Being of Witches and Witchcraft (London, 1667), p. 5. 79 Quoted in Evelyn Fox Keller, Reflections on Gender and Science (New Haven, 1985), p. 60.


History and Philosophy of the Humanities

denying these could lead to atheism, which they saw as societally even more dangerous. Rather, they held that both spiritual and feminine forces should be strictly dominated. Even in the field of knowledge, they felt, ‘feminine’ principles should be strictly separated from and subordinated to the ‘masculine’ principles of the new science: one should seek domination instead of unification, and experimental, rather than spiritual knowledge. Glanvill and others, in other words, did not combat alchemy in the name of ‘truth’ or ‘scientific rationality’ as opposed to superstition and irrationality but in terms of the question of what kinds of knowledge are risky from a societal point of view and what kinds encourage social stability. Seen in this light, it is by no means a coincidence that the members of the Royal Society explicitly stated their preference for a ‘masculine science’ in which features represented as typically masculine, such as reason and unprejudiced observation, took centre stage and from which passions, emotions, and intuitions as found in the hermetic tradition were resolutely banished as being ‘feminine’. Nor is it a coincidence that they saw the domination of nature, conceived as being feminine, as the main aim of science and that the way this goal was to be reached consisted of the civilized and self-possessed conversation between the gentlemen of the Royal Society. Likewise, religious differences of opinion were out of bounds here. With her analysis, Fox Keller did not intend to encourage a return to the more mystical and perhaps ‘women-friendlier’ views of science of the hermetic tradition. She merely aimed to show that the struggle between hermetic and mechanistic philosophies was driven by factors very different from what we might think today, and that nowadays seemingly self-evident ideals of science were the result of a societal, political, and religious debate in which ideas about feminine and masculine features played a key role. More recent developments in both the natural sciences and the humanities have also been studied from the perspective of gender metaphors. Thus, feminist theoretician Donna Haraway (b. 1944) has described how culturally specific prejudices concerning the relation between men and women and associated notions of family, mother-child relations, and love have informed research into primates. When societal views concerning gender change, she argues, this change is reflected in the way biologists and other primate scholars write about anthropoid apes. Other studies have pointed out similar stereotypes in which scientists working in biology or medicine have conceptualized processes of reproduction in which the man’s semen is invariably represented as ‘active’, ‘powerful’, and ‘able to move’, as a result of which it is able to penetrate the woman’s ovum, where it ‘deposes’ its genes and ‘sets development in motion’. The ovum, by contrast,

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is represented as passive; it is held that the ovum does not displace itself but is ‘transported’ by the Fallopian tubes, where it passively waits until it is fertilized by the semen. Thus, according to Haraway and others, currently dominant stereotypes concerning men and women are reflected in technical scientific literature as well.


Foucault and the History of Sexuality

In 1976, Michel Foucault published La volonté de savoir (The Will to Knowledge), the first volume in a multi-volume series on the history of sexuality. In this book, Foucault turned against the received wisdom of that time, criticizing both the Freudian idea that bourgeois society rests on the repression of sexual desires and the Marxist view that bourgeois Victorian morality, in all its prudishness, homophobia, and fear of female sexuality, had repressed talking about – let alone practicing – sexuality. According to this ‘repressive hypothesis’, our repressed sexual desires were liberated only by psychoanalysis and the post-war sexual revolution. Foucault rejected this picture. In the first place, he argued, during the nineteenth century, sexuality was not silenced. On the contrary, by means of various new sciences such as modern medicine and psychiatry, people were in fact forced to speak about their sexual desires and acts. Genealogically, these modern sciences may therefore be seen as power practices, since they force individuals to speak the truth about themselves. Hence, one cannot simply say that during the Victorian age, speaking about sex was forbidden or repressed across the board, for in some spaces, such speaking was actually encouraged. In the second place, according to Foucault, the power involved in these new forms of knowledge is not repressive or negative but productive, as it is supposed to produce physically and mentally healthy people. Hence, deviant and non-reproductive forms of sexuality such as homosexual contacts, masturbation, or frigidity are represented in these sciences as pathological or abnormal. Here, too, a modern, non-sovereign form of power is involved, which is articulated in terms of the normal and the pathological (cf. § 10.3). Modern human sciences such as medicine and psychiatry have not only labelled modern man as either sexually healthy or pathological, they have also produced the new notion of *sexuality, which brought together hitherto strictly separated areas of human experience. Thus, in 1870, the concept of ‘homosexuality’ was introduced. This concept involved both the outward sexual behaviour between persons of the same sex and the inner same-sex


History and Philosophy of the Humanities

desire, or love, which was initially represented as pathological. Whereas premodern sources speak of sexuality in terms of behaviour that may transgress either human or divine laws and commands, modern scientists speak of sexuality as a psychological and physiological condition or as both a bodily and mental identity. Thus, according to Foucault, during the nineteenth century, a specifically modern and uniquely Western science of sexuality or scientia sexualis was developed. In other societies and traditions and in earlier historical periods, theoretical works on sexuality had been written, but these did not concern a science of sexuality but rather an ‘art of pleasure’ or ars erotica, in which knowledge concerning sexuality was formulated not in terms of sin, perversion, or health, but primarily in terms of pleasure. The most famous example of such a premodern ars erotica is undoubtedly the ancient Indian Kama Sutra, but comparable works also existed among the ancient Greeks, in ancient China, and in the medieval Islamic world. Incidentally, later researchers have criticized Foucault for introducing an overly schematic and partly *Orientalist opposition between identities and behaviour, between modern and premodern, and between East and West (cf. § 13.3). In short, for Foucault, sexuality was not a natural given but a social practice. As such, it is saturated with meanings and power relations, and it is inherently historically variable. Sexuality, in other words, has a history. The modern sciences that concern themselves with sexuality, Foucault argued, amount to a continuation of medieval Christian rituals of confession. And just like those rituals, they are linked to a disciplining and individualizing form of power, which is to expose the truth concerning the individual. These sciences of sexuality are modern, however, because they are not expressed in terms of sin or transgression of the law (not only in the sense of a sovereign or lawgiving power but also in the Lacanian sense of the symbolic order) but in the modern scientific terms of healthy and pathological. Thus, Foucault’s genealogical approach radically rejects the notion of repression, which forms a cornerstone of psychoanalysis. Some readers have concluded that in doing so, Foucault has undermined if not destroyed the entire Freudian – and, by extension, Lacanian – edifice. That may be overstating the case, but the influence and – to use a sexual image – fertility of Foucault’s genealogical approach have proved immense. Since then, the historicizing study of sexuality in different traditions has developed into a separate field of study, with its own journals and conferences. In his later writings, in particular in volumes 2 and 3 of The History of Sexuality, Foucault shifted his attention from the genealogical study of power to the ethical study of the self, and from practices of power-knowledge

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over others to practices of knowledge and government of the self. He did so primarily through an inquiry into the sexual practices of Greek and Roman antiquity. Among the ancient Greeks, same-sex practices and pederasty were generally accepted. More generally, and unlike in later Christian and (early) modern Europe, sexuality was not a domain of absolute taboos, commands, or laws. However, that did not mean, as some nineteenth-century minds liked to believe, that a completely free and unconstrained sexual morality ruled. Rather, sexuality was a domain in which individuals (mostly male) could shape themselves in and through their actions into free, honourable, and respectable citizens. In other words, during this period, sexuality was not a domain of laws and taboos but of what Foucault called *technologies of the self. For example, citizens, or free adult males, could – and were expected to – prove their masculinity by performing an active and penetrating role in all their sexual encounters and by showing self-restraint in controlling their sexual behaviour (as they did, for example, with their eating and drinking habits). A man who did not control his own passions or who played a passive sexual role was not only seen as unmanly but was also considered unfit for offices of government. A man who could not govern himself, it was argued, would not be able to govern his city either. Hence, freedom and citizenship were not inalienable rights during this period but rather the results of concrete actions, and individuals could acquire but also lose these privileges or achievements. What is remarkable about Foucault’s later writings about practices of the self is the fact that, unlike in his earlier works, Foucault was concerned primarily with Greek and Latin antiquity rather than with the modern period, that he searched for continuities (for example, between pagan ancient Greece and early Christianity) rather than discontinuities, and that he no longer wrote about anonymous and invisible practices of power but about the ways in which individuals could shape themselves. In doing so, he did not try to restore the leading role that he had taken away from the subject in his earlier archaeological and genealogical writings. On the contrary, his analyses show how individuals can form themselves into free, autonomous, responsible, and respectable subjects in and through their self-practices. Here, too, that is, the subject is not an antecedently given source of actions but rather the result, or product, of practices through which individuals may exercise power over themselves by learning to control their impulses and desires. Foucault’s historical analyses may be criticized on various points. For example, he pays too much attention to free male citizens and not enough


History and Philosophy of the Humanities

to women and slaves, as a result of which he represents ancient Greek sexuality too onesidedly as a purely voluntary and nonconflictual cultivation of pleasure. Nonetheless, his inquiries into ancient sexual practices have given an enormous impulse to the study of antiquity, and his view that individuals may form themselves into subjects in and through their practices has proved to be a source of inspiration for the later development of gay and lesbian studies as well as for queer theory as formulated by Judith Butler and others.


Gender and Performativity: Judith Butler and Queer Theory

One of the most influential new views on gender identity was formulated by the American theoretician Judith Butler (b. 1956), one of the pioneers of so-called *queer theory. Her work has gained substantial influence not only in gender studies but also in literary and cultural theory and in political theory. What is especially innovative about her work is the way in which she applies insights from analytical philosophy – in particular concepts from speech act theory – to ideas on subjectivity and identity (in particular, gender identity) inspired by Hegel and contemporary French theoreticians. Butler opens her book Gender Trouble (1990) with a critique of tacit heterosexual assumptions in existing feminist theorizing. She does so with a critique of the distinction, assumed by feminists and others, between sex as biologically given and gender as socially constructed (see § 12.2). She also denaturalizes the seemingly natural given of biological sex. In her view, feminists also remain captives of the assumption that men and women are naturally – that is, as a biological given – heterosexual. Against this assumption, she mobilizes Foucault’s archaeological insight that concepts such as ‘nature’ and hence what is ‘natural’ are also discursively constituted and historically variable. Thus, biological sex, too, is a theory-dependent and discursively constituted category rather than a pre-discursive, natural given: Gender is not to culture as sex is to nature; gender is also the discursive/ cultural means by which ‘sexed nature’ or ‘a natural sex’ is produced and established as ‘prediscursive’, prior to culture, a politically neutral surface on which culture acts.80 80 J. Butler, Gender Trouble, (London 1990), p. 10; emph. in original.

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Contemporary biology therefore does not simply describe natural facts but also contains tacit normative assumptions, in particular the belief that people, as biological beings, are normally heterosexual. This heterosexual normativity, Butler continues, does not function in biology alone but at various levels. By representing other forms of sexuality, in particular homosexuality, as ‘abnormal’, it encourages their marginalization and oppression. Butler describes the functioning of this normative heterosexuality, or as she calls it *heterosexual matrix, in great detail. Feminist activists may undermine social norms regarding gender while simultaneously leaving intact the heterosexual matrix, for example when they tacitly or explicitly assume that humans are biologically, hence naturally, heterosexual. She likewise finds fault with the psychoanalytical theories of Freud and Lacan for proceeding from an assumed normative heterosexuality. Thus, although Freud acknowledges the fact that children do not have an ambiguous or natural object of desire, he still presumes a ‘normal’ course of development that is supposed to conclude in a genital and reproductive adult heterosexuality. Next, Butler argues that gender identities are *performative, that is, they are constituted in and by our actions. Gender, she writes, is not a natural given, but neither is it simply a cultural meaning or interpretation of such givens. Instead, it is an embodied practice under existing norms. Put differently, gender is not something we have by nature but something that is constituted performatively in and by repeated actions, for example by behaving or not behaving as a ‘real’ man or woman is supposed to, according to our environment. Thus, according to Butler, gender identity is not a secret truth or hidden essence of the inner or psyche, which may be revealed by the interpretative work of psychoanalysis. Such an interpretation would presuppose a subject that, independently of and prior to our behaviours, already possesses such an identity as given. Building upon the practice theoreticians discussed above (see chapter 10), Butler argues that the subject in possession of a gender identity, with its sexual desires and intentions, is not the source but the result of a sequence of sexual practices which in time are naturalized into unconscious bodily positions and dispositions, that is, what Bourdieu would call a habitus (compare § 10.4a). Following Foucault, Butler describes her undertaking as ‘genealogical’. She explores categories such as sex, gender, and desire not as the origins or causes of sexual behaviour but rather as power effects arising from institutions, practices, and forms of language usage. Just like Foucault, she argues that power may be productive, but the historicizing dimension of Foucault’s analyses recedes into the background in her own writings.


History and Philosophy of the Humanities

Judith Butler

The clearest and most famous example of this performative dimension of gender is drag or travesty. A man dressed up as a woman, or a woman dressed up as a man is not merely an external manifestation derived from a – supposedly inner and prior – ‘reality’ of gender, Butler argues, as there is no inner experience that is given independently of and prior to such embodied and partly linguistic behaviour. On the contrary, what drag shows is precisely the fact that our bodily experience is constituted by normative categories such as man and woman and that we may reproduce and affirm but also imitate, parody, and/or subvert such norms in our behaviour. Thus, drag also undermines the very notion of gender in that it renders the question of what the ‘real’ identity (man or woman) is of the person dressed up impossible to answer. Thus, Butler systematically problematizes the relation between sex, gender, and sexuality. She shows that this relation is not a simple causal or natural one. In principle, gender identities are independent of sexual desires and practices. That is, the fact that some people engage in drag says nothing about the character or direction of their sexual desires. Obviously, Butler’s idea of the performativity of gender, for example in drag, does not amount to the suggestion that individuals are entirely free and without constraints in constituting gender identities or that a single sexual act immediately establishes such an identity. On the contrary, she emphasizes precisely the problematic relation that performative gender

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behaviour has with respect to the existing norms under which it is produced and the crucial role played by repetition or iteration in the formation, reproduction, and possible subversion of such identities and norms. Norms of gender and sexuality, she argues, are not simply given; they only function to the extent that they are presupposed and reproduced in our behaviour. Thus, performative gender behaviour is not an isolated act but rather a ritual that achieves its naturalized and embodied effects in and by repetition. It is also in and by such repetition, or iteration, that norms may be produced, reproduced, or – as we know since Derrida – subverted. According to Butler, Austin’s own example of performing a marriage service by speaking words like ‘I hereby declare you legally married as man and woman’ is not only an example of how we may performatively constitute what we describe in our speech acts but also a prototypical case of making societal ties heterosexual by performatively and ritually sacralizing them. Next, Butler poses the question of exactly where the power resides that makes such performative acts successful or felicitous. She argues that this power is not located in a subject or consciousness that stands outside or above the speech act and hence can control or govern its meaning. The effect of authoritative language use, she argues, is not achieved either by the speaker’s intentions (in this case, the intentions of the town official pronouncing the marriage formula) or by any authority those speakers possess in advance. Rather, it is precisely by quoting, and thus iterating, the law that the authority of both the speaker and of the words spoken is performatively established and confirmed. In other words, following Derrida, Butler argues that performative action is effective not as a result of either speakers’ intentions, linguistic conventions, or power relations given in advance but primarily due to the repeatability or iterability of signs (compare § 11.2a). Norms concerning sexuality and gender, she argues, also function in this manner, that is, through iteration. In later work, Butler also applied her insights into the performativity of gender identity – and the precarious power effects it involves – to the phenomenon of hate speech. Using slurs or terms of abuse in order to refer to racial, ethnic, sexual, or religious minorities, for example, does not simply involve the legitimate exercise of free speech in describing facts or expressing opinions, as the perpetrators of hate speech often argue in their defence. Speech act theory can help us to see that our words may have rather more far-reaching effects and may create various (social) realities in that they may hurt or humiliate the addressee, they may incite third parties to hatred or discrimination, etc. But such effects, Butler adds, can never unambiguously be foreseen or controlled by speakers. Moreover, the iterability of words


History and Philosophy of the Humanities

problematizes the strict distinction between their illocutionary force, which is conventionally determined or intended by the speaker, and their perlocutionary effect on the hearer, as conceived by Austin. Words can therefore not be identif ied unambiguously with deeds, Butler argues, and this renders problematic any attempt to regulate hate speech and the freedom of speech by law. Hence, Butler resists the understandable attempt to protect the rights of minorities by strengthening existing laws concerning hate speech. Such laws, she argues, merely serve to strengthen state power, and with it the state’s ability to constrain the rights of other minorities. Here, she is alluding primarily to the notorious ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy in the United States army from the 1990s, which took the statement ‘I am gay’ as in itself an act of homosexuality, which was accordingly made punishable for American soldiers. Butler also emphasizes the hypocrisy of the appeal to free speech in the case of hate speech, which inverts the relation between victims and perpetrators. Take the notorious example of placing a burning cross in the front yard of an African-American family by Ku Klux Klan members in the southern United States. Traditionally, that sign counts as a call for a lynching, but by representing it as the expression of an opinion, perpetrators represent the victims who ask for prosecution as the real perpetrators and themselves as the victims of state censorship. Butler’s analysis of hate speech as performative and working through iteration implies an innovative perspective on censorship. In her view, censorship is not a repressive form of power that forbids specific words or statements but rather a productive power practice that tries to form specific personalities or subjects by regulating speaking as action. Thus, with regard to the ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy in the American army, it was believed that by outlawing that linguistic action in the army, the United States could also keep homosexuals out of the army as persons. These and other cases suggest that Butler’s work is relevant not only for an audience of colleagues, as some critics who have reproached her have argued. Although her style is often demanding, Butler exposes seemingly self-evident and as such unrecognized forms of discursive and other violence, which may touch upon the deepest aspects of someone’s public or private life. The very fact that people have a gender identity, she argues, is a result of continuous processes of heterosexual framing and subjection, which are carried out in a series of ritual performative actions, literally from the very moment a child is born and the wet nurse declares whether it is a girl or a boy.

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Summary − Feminist approaches to science maintain an ambivalent relation to postmodernism. They argue that the traditional image of science is strongly androcentric. Initially, the main focus of attention within women’s studies was demonstrating the oppression of women in and by scientific knowledge. Later, the theoretization of the concept of gender in the sciences took centre stage. − Foucault argued that the concept of ‘sexuality’ is a specifically modern notion that combines inner desire and outer behaviour and is coupled with new forms of knowledge and power that classify people in terms of ‘normal’ and ‘pathological’. − According to Judith Butler, gender identities are neither biologically given nor socially constructed but performatively constituted. In later years, Butler extended these ideas about the performativity of gender to other kinds of identity and applied them to the phenomenon of hate speech.

13 Postcolonialism 13.1 Introduction One recently influential second line of radical criticism of the status and legitimation of the modern humanities can be found in the writings of so-called *postcolonial critics. Like ‘postmodernism,’ ‘postcolonialism’ is an ambivalent term. The word was initially used to indicate the political constellation in the world after the Second World War in which virtually all former colonies had achieved independence but in which various colonial and quasi-colonial relations continued to exist or to have their effects, like the use of English or French as an official language or the continuing economic, linguistic, or cultural dependence on the former colonial motherland. But postcolonialism also refers to a theoretical framework that systematically takes into account the fact of colonial domination and its enduring effects when studying political, social-economic, or cultural developments and relations in the contemporary world. For the humanities, postcolonialism implies a very different perspective on familiar topics. First, it emphatically presents Western civilization as merely one among many classical traditions worldwide. As a result, it unmasks the *ethnocentrism hidden in both Renaissance humanism and the modern humanities as well as their implicit *universalism, which presents the particulars of classical and modern Western civilization as valid and valuable for all mankind. Postcolonial scholars argue that this attitude wrongly ignores, marginalizes, or dismisses other traditions as uncivilized or unimportant. Second, and more radically, postcolonial theoreticians argue that the humanist ideas of Western civilization acquire a very different content and meaning in colonial settings. Some even argue that colonial domination and the concomitant racism are integral, if not essential, aspects of European humanism. Hence, postcolonial approaches offer not only a novel view of the canonical concepts, ideals, and works of European civilization but also a radical critique of various hidden assumptions in the humanities as they have developed in modern Europe. 13.1a

Frantz Fanon

One of the pioneers of postcolonial criticism was Frantz Fanon (1925-1961). Born on the Caribbean island of Martinique which was at the time still


History and Philosophy of the Humanities

a French colony, Fanon was educated in France as a medical doctor and psychiatrist. He spent his final years in Algeria, where he actively supported the war for independence against France. Fanon’s most famous work, The Wretched of the Earth (1961), concerns the consequences of colonial relations, in particular during the always difficult and often violent process of decolonization in which colonies gain independence from their colonial rulers. In this book, Fanon focused on the decolonization of Africa, in particular the brutal Algerian war of independence, which at the time of his writing was still ongoing and would not end until 1962. His argument concerning colonialism and decolonization, however, is more generally valid. Colonialism, he argued, rests on a *Manichaean division of the world in which an absolute distinction is made between white colonial rulers, represented as civilized and moral, and colonized populations, represented as wild and uncivilized. Thus, colonized population groups are often represented as uncultured ‘primitive peoples’ and as inherently lazy, evil, and/or violent. By thus presenting colonized peoples as not fully human, colonial rule deprives a large part of humanity of both its pre-colonial culture and its human dignity, especially when it is exercised in the name of modern humanist ideals of civilization and progress. In other words, in a colonial setting, Western humanism acquires an inhuman form. Hence, for Fanon, resistance against colonial rule also implies a rejection of the humanist values that legitimize this rule. He added, however, that this resistance cannot be mounted in the name of any pre-colonial, ‘authentic’ culture, precisely because this culture has been destroyed by and through colonial domination. Although Fanon wrote in emphatically dialectical terms, he strictly distinguished colonial relations from Hegel’s dialectic of master and slave. In part, his motivation to do so was undoubtedly strengthened by the fact that Hegel, in his philosophy of right, had explicitly approved of the colonial domination of less developed peoples (see § 6.1). Against Hegel, Fanon argued that colonial relations do not rest on a mutual desire for recognition. The white master does not want the recognition of the black slave but only his labour, and conversely, the colonial slave cannot liberate himself through this labour. Instead, he continues to orient himself towards his master because he wants to become just like him, for example, by internalizing his language and civilizational ideals. Thus, he becomes alienated because of his own attempts to assimilate into European culture. As a result, even the emancipation of black slaves is the result not of their own action and struggle, Fanon argued, but merely of the seemingly generous but in reality paternalistic words of the master saying ‘you are free’. Thus, not even the



formal emancipation or liberation of the black slave will lead to the latter’s recognition. Despite these criticisms, Fanon remained caught in a Hegelian and phenomenological philosophy of consciousness in that he referred to the dialectical process of the colonized population acquiring consciousness. This consciousness, he added, is in the first place national, and thus Fanon’s reflections also imply an interesting perspective on nationalism. Postcolonial national consciousness, he claimed, was not the immediate result of an anticolonial mass mobilization but merely an ‘empty shell’. Unlike Europe, the Third World has no dominant bourgeoisie and hence, according to Fanon, nationalism cannot become the dominant ideology. Nor should it become dominant, he continued, for the national independence that is the intended aim of the process of decolonization should not imitate European models. In other words, by ‘national consciousness’, Fanon meant something different from nationalism because the former is directed towards the future and towards universal human values rather than towards cultural or folkloric particularities from the past. After independence, he asserted, defensive, anti-colonial nationalism must soon yield to another ideology. The anti-colonial struggle should be directed towards developing a new humanism and thus towards creating new humans, neither of which are hindered or distorted by the crimes that European humanism had lapsed into in colonial circumstances. One of the most controversial aspects of The Wretched of the Earth is Fanon’s discussion of violence. He argued that colonial rule is itself a form of violence because it robs colonized peoples of their dignity and humanity, destroys their past, and oppresses their national culture. Moreover, it can only be maintained by violence: colonial rule is not legitimated by elections or by education in which it turns its subjects into citizens, but only by the repression exercised by the police and the military. Since colonists will never voluntarily give up their power, possessions, and colonized lands, colonial rule can only be brought to an end by means of violence: At the level of the individual, violence is a cleansing force. It liberates the native of his inferiority complex, and of his despair and inaction; it liberates him of fear and rehabilitates his self-respect.81 Because of such passages, large parts of the first print run of Fanon’s book were confiscated by the French authorities. At the same time, the French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre praised Fanon’s book precisely because of its open propagation of revolutionary anti-colonial violence. 81 F. Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth (Harmondsworth, 1967), p. 74.


History and Philosophy of the Humanities

The Wretched of the Earth is not an academic book. One of Fanon’s main motives was rage, according to one biographer, and one can clearly notice this in Fanon’s writing style. For many of his opinions he gave few if any arguments, and often the book is carried more by its compelling tone than by a meticulous analysis. Nonetheless, it was an enormous inspiration for several generations of academics and activists. Fanon’s work is important because it implies a radical critique of the values of Western humanism and because it invites us to see the classical cultural products of Western civilization in a different light, namely that of the colonial domination of non-Western peoples. It is along these lines that his work has been continued by later postcolonial scholars.


Postcolonialism and the Humanities: Edward Said and Martin Bernal


Said and Orientalism

A second pioneer of postcolonial studies who showed a much more ambivalent attitude towards humanist ideals than Fanon was the Palestinian-born literary theorist Edward Said (1935-2003). In his famous 1978 book Orientalism, Said argued that the Western philological study of the Orient (and more specifically the philological study of Arab-Islamic civilization) is not neutral or objective descriptive scholarship but has served to support and even justify Western colonial or imperialist rule over the non-Western world. Basing himself on an extensive discussion of the work of a number of pre-eminent Orientalists from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, Said maintained that Orientalism reduces the complex social and cultural realities of the Arab-Islamic world to – or represents these as – a text, which can only be correctly read and interpreted by the philologically trained Western scholar. Moreover, he argued, Orientalism represents its object of research, the Orient, as fundamentally and irreducibly different from the West. It describes the Islamic Orient as sensual and thus as sexually depraved, as drenched in religion, and as culturally and scientifically decadent, stagnant, and unable to modernize by its own powers. Thus, in all these respects, the homo orientalis, or Oriental man inhabiting these lands, is represented as the absolute opposite of modern Western man, who sees himself as enlightened, secularized, progressive, and endowed with a strict religious and sexual morality and hence as truly masculine. For this reason, the latter believes he has not only the right but even the duty to rule over Eastern peoples,



to educate them and to introduce them to Western modernity. Hence, Orientalism is not merely in the service of Western imperialist projects, it simultaneously helps to legitimize them as noble civilizing missions. Said’s critique of modern philological Orientalism is radical, but it rests on an ambivalent appreciation of the philological and humanist methods of historicizing textual criticism. At some points, his argument appears to amount to the wholesale rejection of the philological method that reduces cultures to texts. Elsewhere, however, he appears to see Orientalism as merely a bad or politically dubious kind of philology. Not only does he sing the virtually uncritical praise of nineteenth-century philologists such as Erich Auerbach, his own methods and ideals may also be called traditionally philological and humanist. Thus, Said was far less dismissive of the humanist Western civilizational ideal than Fanon, even though he was otherwise clearly inspired by the latter, for example in his own view of Orientalism as a colonial science or ideology, which in a Manichaean manner splits the world into two geographically and morally opposite parts. In part, Said elaborated on Foucault’s genealogical analyses, which relate modern human-scientific knowledge to disciplinary power, but more unambiguously than the latter, he treated it primarily as a function of the colonial or imperialist power of states. And unlike Foucault, he analysed Orientalism in Marxist terms as an ideology that distorts social realities rather than genealogically as a form of knowledge that constitutes scientific truths and particular kinds of subjects. Moreover, he was less interested than Foucault in the historical variability of human scientific knowledge. Whereas Foucault emphasized and explored the specifically modern character of the philological methods of contemporary Orientalism, Said saw the first expression of an essentially unchanging Orientalist division of the world into a civilized West and a barbaric East already in ancient Greek authors such as the tragic poet Aeschylus and the historian Herodotus. With this suggestion, however, Said himself risked relapsing into the very representations of an age-old or even timeless opposition between East and West that his book Orientalism was intended to counter. Moreover, Said has been reproached for making things too easy for himself by restricting his analysis of connections between Orientalism and imperialism to acknowledged imperialist overseas powers such as France and England in the nineteenth century and the United States in the twentieth. The narrative of the relation between Orientalist knowledge and imperialist state power, however, is already much more complicated in the case of Russia. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Russia grew into a full-blown imperialist empire, but in crucial respects, it continued – or


History and Philosophy of the Humanities

one could say started – to consider itself as Oriental or Asiatic, in particular because of its orthodox spirituality and its pagan folkloric traditions. As such, it saw itself as strictly distinct from the modern West and from the Enlightenment ideals of rationalism and secularism. Even more problematic for Said’s argument is the development of Orientalism in Germany (or perhaps more correctly, Prussia). In the nineteenth century, Orientalism flourished there, and German Orientalists were among the most prominent in the world, but for most of the nineteenth century, German rulers had no colonial possessions whatsoever. It was not until 1884 that the newly unified Prussia started acquiring its own colonies, and in Africa rather than in the Orient. Said never formulated a convincing answer to such criticisms, even though his central theses clearly should be nuanced or modified in the light of German and Russian Orientalism. Despite such shortcomings, however, Orientalism has been a source of inspiration for research in and concerning the humanities, also regarding other parts of the non-Western world such as India and China. In particular, it has led to the exploration of the *representation of the Orient. One of the most remarkable discoveries of this research is the insight that dominant (and gendered) images or representations may change quickly and radically. For example, whereas in the nineteenth century, the Islamic world was represented as sensual, mystical, mysterious, and passive and hence as typically female, today the media and public debate are dominated by the stereotypical image of politicized Islam as precisely the opposite: sexually repressive, law-oriented, aggressive, and/or prototypically masculine. 13.2b Bernal and Classical Philology Said’s critique was largely restricted to the relatively marginal discipline of Orientalism, but a similar postcolonial critique has also been expressed concerning another, indeed prototypical, discipline of the modern humanities: classical philology. Famously, Martin Bernal argued in Black Athena (1987) that the modern philological image that arose in the nineteenth century of classical Greek civilization as the origin of modern Western culture and democracy has unmistakably racist traits. The formation of this image, he claimed, involved the transformation of the ancient Greeks into a racially pure, white, European, and Aryan Herrenvolk that had allegedly developed itself all by its own powers into an advanced civilization out of its erstwhile primitive barbarism and that had justifiably exercised a cultural dominance over other ancient peoples. According to Bernal, this image of a



racially and culturally pure Greek and Indo-European civilization required the systematic downplaying – indeed, the purging – of the Egyptian and Phoenician (or, as Bernal called them, ‘Afro-Asiatic’) contributions to Greek culture, even though ancient Greek authors had explicitly acknowledged these influences. Books by authors such as Said and Bernal are obviously both scientifically and societally rather controversial. Both authors were castigated for having damaged the reputation of highly respected scholars, for their rather reductive presentation of scientific knowledge as mere ideology or as the mere legitimation of ruling powers, and for having given a one-sided, distorted, or outdated image of the modern humanities, ancient history, and the non-Western world. Such criticisms, however, unveil an important feature of the modern humanities. The systematic link of part of the humanities with the development of nationalism and with colonialism may help us appreciate the fact that scientific theories and concepts do not develop in a societal and political vacuum. In other words, the development and institutionalization of academic knowledge is not isolated from societal preoccupations and interests. This holds for the social sciences and the humanities as much as for the natural sciences – and perhaps even more so. Conversely, such knowledge may help to articulate and thus to shape society itself. Thus, the modern nation-state is to an important extent the product of work in the humanities.


The Subaltern Studies Group and Its Offshoots

A third influential current in postcolonial theorizing is the so-called Subaltern Studies Group, which has been active in Calcutta since the early 1980s. Initially, this group focused on the social and economic history of modern India, but soon their work was also to become a source of inspiration for postcolonial studies concerned with other parts of the world and with literature, the visual arts, film, and other forms of cultural expression as well. Originally, the group owed much to Gramsci’s analysis of hegemony and subalternity, but later, poststructuralist authors including Derrida and Lacan were to become dominant. The initial historiographical aim of the group was primarily to counter the elitist bias in the historiography of British colonial rule in India and of the resistance against it. Thus, Ranajit Guha (b. 1923), one of the group’s initial members, argues that the conventional image of the Indian struggle for independence as a confrontation between the British colonial rulers and


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the nationalist Indian National Congress – led by figures such as Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948) and Jawaharlal Nehru (1889-1964) – pays insufficient attention to the specific experience and activities of subaltern groups such as peasants and untouchables. Guha rejects the widespread image of these groups as backward, that is, as premodern, dominated by religion (or, even worse, superstition), lacking political consciousness, and only mobilized to action by the leadership of modernized, secular higher classes. According to Guha, subaltern groups did in fact possess an autonomous domain of political action, which was not merely derived from elite politics. On the contrary, he argues, it was precisely the failure of the Indian bourgeois leadership to acquire hegemony over the subaltern classes that formed the central problem of colonial and postcolonial India. The leaders of the Indian National Congress failed to mobilize the population as a whole and to act on the basis of the consensus of subaltern groups. Accordingly, postcolonial India has not managed to form a nation. Instead, it is kept together through coercion by the state rather than through consensus in society. Another member of the Subaltern Studies Group, Partha Chatterjee (b. 1945), elaborates this critique of Indian nationalism as a non-hegemonic ideology, generalizing it into a distinct critique of modernity. In a famous study of nationalism in British colonial India, Chatterjee criticizes both liberal, conservative, and Marxist views of Third-World nationalism. According to him, all of these presuppose the same idea of modernity as founded on scientific rationality and as specifically European – that is, the very notion of modernity that had also been used to justify British colonial rule over an India represented as unenlightened, pre-modern, and irrational. Earlier Gramscian historians of British colonial India had argued that modernist nationalist Indian elites were a product of the English educational system and hence did not constitute ‘organic intellectuals’ in Gramsci’s sense, but Chatterjee describes how even the way of thinking of anti-British Indian leaders was shaped by colonial categories. Indian nationalists such as Gandhi, for example, rejected the colonialist idea that the Indian population was underdeveloped and backward, arguing that it was this backwardness that justified British colonial domination. But in their criticism of British domination, they reproduced the very notions of ‘modernity’ and ‘rationality’ on which this domination was based. The initial members of the Subaltern Studies Group were informed primarily by Gramsci’s writings, but later authors, in particular Gayatri Spivak (b. 1942), effected an important methodological change by introducing poststructuralist ideas into this approach. Inspired by Lacan and Derrida, Spivak complemented the Marxist and Gramscian theoretical vocabulary



with a poststructuralist critique of the subject and consciousness. Moreover, she gave questions of gender a far more central place than the members of the group had done hitherto. The affinity of subaltern studies with authors such as Derrida and Lacan was not immediately obvious, since both of these authors’ writings are solidly anchored in the works of such known Eurocentric philosophers as Hegel and Heidegger. The theoretical shift to poststructural methods and concepts also implied a shift away from questions of society and political economy – such as class or caste relations and the struggle of landless peasants – towards themes that lie more in the linguistic and literary (and, more generally, cultural) realm. Spivak and other scholars including Homi Bhabha (b. 1949) have become popular primarily in comparative literature, in cultural studies, and in film and television studies. With the aid of poststructuralist concepts, Spivak problematized the notions of subaltern consciousness and agency or subjectivity that are presupposed in earlier subaltern studies. Thus, scholars such as Guha still presume that through archival research, we have access to the consciousness of subaltern groups (whether these are peasants or workers, women or untouchables) and that it is possible to let these subaltern groups speak ‘for themselves’, that is, represent themselves. According to Spivak, earlier subaltern studies therefore remained captive to the evolutionist or teleological perspective presupposed in the ultimately Hegelian narrative of the dialectical development of subaltern political consciousness. She wanted to replace this Hegelian narrative of acquiring consciousness with a more Derrida-inspired reading, which analyses such societal developments in terms of non-teleological changes in sign systems. Spivak’s criticism thus stands in the tradition of Western antihumanists and anti-Hegelians such as Foucault, Barthes, and Deleuze, but in a famous 1988 article ‘Can the Subaltern Speak?’, she castigated these thinkers in turn for ignoring colonial relations. As thematized by them, the subject is a specifically Western and masculine subject, and as a result, they fail to pay attention to the imperialist construction of the colonial subject as Other. For example, when Foucault and Deleuze discussed ‘the struggle’ of ‘the working class’, they neglected the international division of labour that is characteristic of neo-imperialism, as a result of which the interests and even the agencies of workers in the mother country and those in the colony could not be identified unproblematically. Spivak illustrated her argument that subaltern subjects could not unproblematically speak or act in their own name by discussing the notorious practice among Hindus of widow burning (sati), usually rendered in English


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as suttee. For the British rulers, this practice was a prime example of the kinds of barbarian religious practices that should be brought to an end by the modern British civilizing mission. In this perspective, colonial rule was supposed to protect Indian women against Indian men. The Indian patriarchal tradition, by contrast, valued the ritual self-immolation of widows positively as a noble act of loyalty and self-sacrifice, which protected the honour and purity of both family and nation. Spivak argued that the consciousness of Indian subaltern women is partly shaped by the sign systems of both British colonial liberalism and Indian religious patriarchy, and hence it becomes impossible as a matter of principle to separate their own authentic subjectivity or consciousness from such formative influences. Thus, the subaltern subject is not an autonomous, authentic, or self-conscious actor but an effect of colonial and other mechanisms of power. In other words, the subaltern are shaped by hegemonic sign systems and hence cannot speak as subaltern. The equally influential work of Homi Bhabha, nowadays a professor at Harvard, shows a similar turn towards poststructuralist literary criticism. Bhabha shares Spivak’s argument that the subaltern subject is not an autonomous or homogeneous entity, but he extends this line of argument to include the dominant or hegemonic subject. Elaborating on Fanon, he argues that colonial relations are not only characterized by alienation, as already noted by Hegel in the analysis of the relation between master and slave, but also by a deeper psychological uncertainty. Here, he is clearly inspired by Lacan’s variety of psychoanalysis (cf. § 9.6) and by Derrida’s notion of iterability (cf. § 11.2a). Hegemony, he argues, requires repetition (or iteration) and alterity in order to be effective: an idea or ideology can only become hegemonic by being repeated and reaffirmed against alternatives represented and rejected as ‘Other’. But precisely as a result of this iteration, a potential for resignification or subversion of hegemonic meanings inevitably emerges. Unlike earlier theoreticians, and like Derrida and Butler, Bhabha thus argues against the belief that a subject or consciousness stands at the basis of, or can dominate, possible meanings, for the speaking subject, he concludes in a Lacanian vein, is itself split. This vision also shapes Bhabha’s notion of *hybridity, that is, the blending of divergent and possibly contradictory traditions that according to Bhabha is characteristic of postcolonial cultural relations. The most famous – and Bhabha’s favourite – example of this hybridity may be found in Salman Rushdie’s 1988 novel The Satanic Verses, in which the two Indian protagonists undergo a Kafkaesque metamorphosis into an angel and a devil.



This metamorphosis is primarily intended as an allegory of how Indian migrants in England become hybrid beings whose languages and traditions are increasingly mixed, whose religious certainties are undermined, and whose very humanity becomes increasingly disputed. Although The Satanic Verses was primarily a commentary on racism and xenophobia in 1980s England, it has hardly been read as such. Instead, it has been seen – and both praised and condemned – as a polemical critique of Islam. In the course of the novel, one of the protagonists, Djibreel Farishta, gradually loses the Islamic faith of his ancestors, and the dreams he has during this process describe the emergence of an imaginary religion in which numerous elements of Islam are easily recognizable. It was primarily these dream sequences, often formulated in provocative terms, that were considered by many practicing Muslims in both England and the Islamic world to be an insult to Islam and its prophet Muhammad. In various places, protest demonstrations were held, and in February 1989, the Iranian leader Ayatollah Khomeini pronounced a fatwa or juridical opinion on the book in which he condemned Rushdie to death. Obviously, it was a cruel irony for Rushdie – and by extension for Bhabha – that in international politics, this supposed hymn to hybridity actually led to a strengthening of identities and of the representation of cultural differences as irreconcilable. This divergence between literary hybridity and identity politics leads to a more fundamental theoretical question: if national and other identities are indeed as hybrid and as unstable as Bhabha and Rushdie believe, why is it so easy to mobilize subaltern population groups to defend them? Is the seemingly enduring appeal of such beliefs in identity merely a matter of verbal or physical violence or of some other magical identity-imposing potential of globalized capitalism? The answer is not immediately clear. Here and elsewhere, one notices the fact that literary-theoretical analyses such as those of Spivak and Bhabha are not complemented by a concrete study of the economic and political dimensions of labour migration and globalization. As a result, more orthodox Marxist literary critics such as Terry Eagleton (b. 1943) argue – with some justification – that in their focus on cultural and symbolic factors, postcolonial critics largely overlook concrete economic relations and developments. The oft-repeated emphasis on ambiguity, hybridity, and indeterminacy, they add, pushes any concrete programme for political action and for the improvement of concrete social shortcomings into the background. Eagleton has a point. It is indeed the case that the culture-critical comments of later postcolonial scholars are generally not accompanied by


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political-economical analyses, even if there seems to be every reason to do so. Instead, they tend to remain stuck in generic claims about the international or multi-national division of labour or about either the hybridizing or the identity-shaping ‘logic’ of capitalism. Similar reproaches may also be heard from orthodox Marxists towards later critics who have made a linguistic or cultural turn. Behind such polemics, however, the more general theoretical question looms of whether we can accommodate a linguistic turn and the rise of identity politics in political-economic analyses, and if so, how. Two other recently influential postcolonial approaches – *intersectionality and *decoloniality – are equally contested. Adherents of the notion of intersectionality, a term coined by the law professor Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw (b. 1959), argue that race, gender, sexual orientation, and class position are not separable or isolated aspects of one’s identity but jointly function in systemic forms of oppression and marginalization. Methodologically, this does not amount to the relatively trivial claim that social identities have multiple dimensions or components but rather consists of a proposal to study these dimensions as jointly arising in interaction with each other, in order to explore systemic forms of injustice and power relations at work within identities. In practice, intersectional thinkers, activists, and ideas have served as a corrective to so-called ‘white feminism’, arguing that the outlook and interests of white, Western, and often middle-class feminists are not necessarily the same as – nor necessarily serve as a model for – those of women with other backgrounds. But these differences do not preclude the need for and possibility of mutual solidarity and the formation of alliances to counter oppression. Critics have objected that th notion of intersectionality – introduced as a metaphor to serve social activism rather than as an academic or analytical concept – lacks a proper definition and explanatory power. In particular, they argue that economic class is not just one intersection or identity among others. By focusing on identity rather than income equality, they argue, intersectionalists risk overlooking if not ultimately serving neoliberal agendas. The notion of decoloniality, introduced by Argentine-born Walter Mignolo (b. 1941), originates in and focusses on the Latin-American experience rather than India, Africa, or the Orient, but it claims to be relevant for the latter as well. Mignolo argues that from the Renaissance until today, Western civilization has been marked by an underlying logic of coloniality in that the humanist ideals of ‘civilization’ or ‘civilizing’ are necessarily founded in imperial and overseas rule. The colonial logic is not necessarily overcome in the historical process of decolonization. Mignolo thus argues for what he calls ‘epistemic disobedience’ or ‘epistemic de-linking,’ which consists of



countering the assumption that Western modes and categories of thought are universal and trying to expose and undo the colonial matrix, or legacy, in subordinated or subaltern ways of thinking. This can be done, for example, by systematically studying the colonization of language, of memories, and of space of indigenous peoples, or the ‘darker side’ – that is, the colonial logic or dimension – of European civilization since the Renaissance. One may ask whether Mignolo’s notion of a ‘colonial matrix of power’ created by Western imperial countries does justice to the experience of other empires, in particular Russia and China. Likewise, the relation of these civilizational processes to questions of political economy remains unexplored. According to Mignolo, both liberal capitalism and Marxism are products of Western civilization, but it remains to be seen whether his programme can develop a detailed critique of, let alone an alternative to, the modern and possibly colonial concept of the ‘economy’. In short, it is too early to tell whether these approaches, however popular they are at present, will prove to be fertile and enduring analytical frameworks in the longer run.


Beyond Postcolonialism: Globalization and Global History

In the early twenty-first century, postcolonial theory – with its shift from liberal, Marxist, and consciousness-philosophical approaches to signoriented and/or poststructuralist perspectives – is giving way to theories about *globalization, the key term – or, according to some, the word now in vogue. Initially, this term referred to the seemingly unstoppable worldwide spread of free-market capitalism after the 1989 fall of the communist East Bloc; more recently, it has also increasingly been used to interpret cultural phenomena. Not everyone is happy with the popularity of this term, however. The Africanist and historian Frederick Cooper (b. 1947), for example, expresses his doubts about the concept of globalization, which he believes is too unclear and too diffuse in meaning to serve any analytical purpose. Cooper does not deny that the contemporary world economy has qualitatively novel features, but he doubts whether these features are best captured under the heading of ‘globalization’. Both proponents and opponents of globalization, he argues, proceed from the unquestioned assumption that they are dealing with a single, unitary and unambiguous phenomenon in the first place. The present-day enthusiasm for this concept is comparable to the popularity of the notion of ‘modernization’ in the 1950s and 1960s. Cooper argues that both notions smack of Whig History, and both risk depicting a


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historically specific and contested development with very specific actors as an anonymous, inevitable, and natural process. Cooper goes further to dispute the idea that globalization is something specific or unique to the present, claiming that its uncritical use betrays a lack of historical depth. This is not simply to say, however, that ‘globalization belongs to all ages’. Also in the premodern and early modern periods, there were various forms of transregional and transcontinental economic ties such as colonization and the transatlantic slave trade, but by labelling these phenomena as early forms of globalization, one risks extending the meaning of that term so far that it loses virtually all substance. Moreover, the idea of a worldwide and integrated market of economic goods and information flows – portrayed, moreover, as homogeneous and inevitable – downplays or ignores the limits of such connections, the forms of power that sustain them, and – perhaps most importantly – the limitations of such powers. Cooper adds that the nation-state has at no point in history been the sole point of reference. In premodern and early modern discussions, too, phenomena such as empire, universal humanity, civilization, and diaspora already played a role. In short, precisely because contemporary developments are still in a period of change and because they occur so quickly and capriciously, no generally accepted vocabulary for its analysis has yet materialized. And given the controversial character of these processes, it also does not seem likely that such a vocabulary will be developed anytime soon. From the perspective of the humanities, in particular historiography, we may be able to develop a critical vocabulary that prevents us from being blinded by the latest fads, that is, one that takes also long-term tendencies into account. Hence, we will conclude this chapter with a brief discussion of some of the most prominent attempts to interpret globalized modernity, all of which distance themselves from the postcolonial and globalization perspectives discussed above. As already discussed above, both Durkheim and Weber exhibited a distinct ambivalence towards modernization, which in their opinion yields both gains and losses. Some of Weber’s later followers were rather more straightforward and unambiguous in their evaluations, including the American sociologist Talcott Parsons (1902-1979), who was one of the key figures in the development of *modernization theory, a framework that became popular in the United States after the Second World War. Modernization theorists distinguish ‘modern’ societies such as the United States, which have a liberal and secular political system and a free-market economy, and are supposed to be rationally ordered and nationally integrated, from



‘traditional’ societies that do not (yet) have these features. In this view, modernization simply consists of appropriating Western, or more specifically American, ideals. Deviations from this American model are interpreted negatively as ‘stagnation’ or ‘underdevelopment’. Clearly, modernization theory was formulated against the backdrop of the Cold War. The main theoretical objection to it is that it represents both ‘traditional’ and ‘modern’ societies as self-enclosed wholes and does not sufficiently take into account the possible contacts and exchanges between societies. After all, such exchanges have always occurred. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the most important contact was, of course, the colonization of large parts of the world by a small number of European states (and, later, the United States and Japan), and the politicaleconomic phenomenon of *imperialism, that is, the project of acquiring overseas territories that could function both as a source of cheap raw goods and labour and as a market for the finished industrial products from the mother countries. The most important theories that do take into account such transnational relations are *world systems theory, as developed by the economist Emmanuel Wallerstein (b. 1930), and the broadly comparable *dependency theory, which was developed in particular by South American theoreticians. Wallerstein argues that we should take not the nation-state as our unit of analysis but rather the interlocking whole of the world economy. According to him, from the sixteenth century on, a global monetary economy developed that was also characterized by an international division of labour. In his analysis, the economically more advanced and subsequently industrialized Western European states constitute the *centre of the world economy, while the non-Western areas based on agricultural economies and the extracting of raw goods form the *periphery. In a further refinement, the relatively slowly industrialized economies of Eastern Europe are characterized as the *semiperiphery. The relation between centre and periphery is asymmetrical: it is shaped and reproduced by specifically capitalist economic relations. Similarly, proponents of dependency theory argue that the underdevelopment of Third World countries is not a question of the stagnation of traditional societies or of the deviation from a Western model, but a result from imperialist countries’ efforts to expand and protect their home markets and to ensure that Third World countries stay both economically and politically dependent on the capitalist West. Both world systems theory and dependency theory consider the modernization of Third World countries in terms of their becoming embedded in the capitalist world economy. Compared with modernization theory,


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these theories have the advantage of focussing far more systematically on transnational relations and worldwide processes, but they have shortcomings of their own. To begin with, they are formulated in purely macroeconomic terms, thereby ignoring the question of how cultural processes or ideological developments fit into these analyses. Second – and this point partly follows from the preceding – world systems theory and dependency theory pay little attention to specific local developments or to local agency, as investigated in ethnographic studies. Although they do not represent non-Western societies as ‘traditional’ or ‘stagnant’, they do tend to view these societies as merely the passive victims of worldwide economic processes. Despite their own intentions, these theories thus risk remaining captive to the ethnocentric assumption that modernization originated in Europe and that worldwide capitalism is the ultimate cause, if not the sole true actor, of this process. One alternative in this respect is presented by the recent rise of *world history and/or *global history. These frameworks, which have been steadily gaining ground since the 1980s, reject the assumption of the nation-state as the frame of reference by pointing out historical processes that are hardly if at all constrained by national boundaries. At the same time, they dismiss the ethnocentric idea that globalization is a specifically modern phenomenon and that it amounts to the spread of Western ideas and institutions. This is not to concede the banal point that long-distance connections have always existed; rather, it redirects attention to historically specific and contingent forms of such contacts. In this context, Indian-born historian Sanjay Subrahmanyam (b. 1961) also speaks of *connected history, which does not simply strive for an increase in scale, nor does it proclaim the mere merging of existing national histories. Instead, it questions the very way in which we break up history into the histories of nations such as England or the Netherlands or the histories of ‘cultural areas’ such as Europe and Asia. It aims to make visible once again the historically variable interconnections that have been obscured or marginalized by politically or methodologically nationalist assumptions in historiography. The most famous precursor of this way of writing history is undoubtedly the French historian and member of the Annales school Fernand Braudel (1902-1985) who, in a classical study of the Mediterranean, aimed to write a ‘total history’ that acknowledged, alongside the political history of unique events and individual rulers, the underlying continuities and larger-scale developments, or as he called it, a history of the *longue durée. The best-known contemporary example of global history is perhaps The Birth of the Modern World: 1780-1914 (2004) by C.A. Bayly. According to Bayly (1945-2015), across the globe one may observe all kinds of connections



and interconnected social and political processes of modernization that cannot be reduced to either capitalist domination or imperialist hegemony and that occurred long before the start of what is usually called the economic and cultural globalization after the Second World War. Already by the nineteenth century, he argued, various worldwide uniformities had emerged, including the capitalist world economy already mentioned above; the modern political organizational form of the nation-state; mutually commensurable and comparable ’world religions’ such as Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism; national languages with codified and mutually comparable grammars and stylistic registers; and even new styles of clothing. Bayly argued that these worldwide and increasingly converging patterns are not developments that have occurred independently in different parts of the world, nor are they simply the result of European dominance or of an all-penetrating and all-determining capitalist world economy. Instead, they have mutually and causally influenced each other. He characterized Europe’s economic dominance during the nineteenth century as historically contingent and relatively ephemeral, for in earlier periods, the centre of the world economy was located in Asia. However, Bayly refused to see the economy as the sole driving force behind all these processes. In his opinion, the major political and intellectual developments of the nineteenth century do not simply reflect the growth of industrial capital, and economic, political, and ideological developments do not always occur synchronically. Just like Wallerstein, Bayly clearly built on the historiography of the longue durée as practiced by Braudel and other members of the Annales school. But according to Bayly, we should not only take longer periods of time into consideration but also proceed on a larger geographical scale. In doing so, he also rejected the national, or nationalist, perspectives that have been dominating much of historiography since the nineteenth century. All local or national history, he wrote, should be studied as global history. Unlike both modernization theoreticians and their Marxist-inspired rivals, Bayly did not proceed from the assumption that the modern world originated in Europe and spread from there toward the rest of the world. He stressed the virtually simultaneous appearance of modern ideas and practices in different places and also emphasized the agency of local actors. Moreover, unlike postcolonial theoreticians, he did not proceed from a normative and a priori assumption that the world would have been better off if European institutions of colonial domination and scientific rationality had not been dominant. This point is not so much moral but analytical. On closer inspection, what we had thought of as a clearly delimited national history


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turns out to have been partly shaped by transnational contacts including missionary activity, colonial domination, and other worldwide processes. Obviously, such forms of global history have not remained without criticism. Postcolonial theorists such as Chatterjee have come down on Bayly for whitewashing or downplaying the qualitative and often downright destructive changes that resulted from colonial rule. A more principled objection is that the methods and delimitations of global historiography are not yet clear and that, for the time being, it does not provide a genuinely explanatory framework. Thus, one may argue that Bayly does little more than observe that similar developments occurred in different places and fails to provide a convincing narrative of why these developments occurred simultaneously. Another line of criticism is that worldwide historiography is still insufficiently explicit and principled concerning questions of space and geography. Exactly what are its units of analysis? And doesn’t the emphasis on the macro level come at the expense of attention to individual actors? One possible answer to the latter question is so-called *global microhistory, which explores the lives of individual actors against a transnational background. But this is certainly not the ultimate, let alone sole possible, way of writing such histories. Such criticisms show that none of the currents discussed in this chapter – or in this book as a whole – has the final word. Time and again, new concepts and methods are developed. At present, it seems that novel developments in and concerning new media, digital technologies, and contacts with the social and natural sciences may lead the humanities to yet another phase of innovation. But here, as elsewhere, it is impossible to make predictions with any confidence.

Summary − Postcolonial critics argue that seemingly universal or neutral Western values and ideals appear in a rather different light against the background of colonial domination. Fanon rejected the universalist pretensions of humanism, which have had inhuman consequences in colonial settings. − Edward Said argued that modern Western philological orientalism has long served as both an instrument and a legitimation of colonial domination. His work adopted an ambivalent position towards the humanist philology on which modern Orientalism bases itself.



− Bernal argued that not only Orientalism but also classical philology, especially as developed in nineteenth-century Germany, has inherently racist features. − The members of the Subaltern Studies Group apply Gramscian notions of hegemony and subalternity to the realities of colonial and post-colonial India. Their emphasis on subaltern agency and consciousness is radically questioned by Spivak and Bhabha, who have a background in the work of Derrida and Lacan rather than in Marx and Gramsci. − Recently, global history has become an influential way of trying to escape the confines of the nation-state and national historiography and to give more historical depth to the currently fashionable notion of globalization. − Bayly introduced an interactional global history, according to which various aspects of modernity simultaneously emerged in different parts of the world rather than having been simply exported or diffused from Europe. Subrahmanyam’s concept of ‘connected history’ systematically questions the assumptions and limitations of national and nationalist historiography.

Further Reading

This brief bibliographical overview does not list the works consulted while writing this book but merely provides some suggestions for those who would like to know more about the various topics treated. 1 Introduction We are not aware of the existence of any other English-language textbooks on the history and philosophy of the humanities. Introductory textbooks used in teaching the history and philosophy of science tend to focus on the natural sciences; some of them also discuss more technical questions (such as causality, probability, and Bayesian theories of confirmation) than we do in the present work. For a classical introduction to the topic, see Alan Chalmers, What is This Thing Called Science (3rd ed., Maidenhead, 1999). A more historicizing overview is John Losee, A Historical Introduction to the Philosophy of Science (4th ed., Oxford, 2002). A monumental and extremely detailed overview of the intellectual history of the natural sciences is A.C. Crombie, Styles of Scientific Thinking in the European Tradition (London, 1994). An excellent study, somewhat more technical than the abovementioned works, is Ian Hacking, Representing and Intervening (Cambridge, 1983). The Philosophy of Social Science (Cambridge, 1994) by Martin Hollis is devoted entirely and exclusively to the social sciences. 2 The Birth of the Modern Natural Sciences Many historical overviews of the sciences and of the humanities limit themselves to developments in Europe, but increasing attention is being given for what happened in other parts of the world. For a historical overview of the humanities since antiquity that is not restricted to the European tradition, see Rens Bod, A New History of the Humanities (Oxford, 2013). For a recent overview of the study of languages, texts, and literatures in the Indian subcontinent immediately prior to the British conquest, see Sheldon Pollock (ed.), Forms of Knowledge in Early Modern Asia: Explorations in the Intellectual History of India and Tibet, 1500-1800 (Durham/London, 2011). For a more comprehensive comparative overview of philological traditions, see Sheldon Pollock, Ben Elman, and Ku-ming Kevin Chang (eds.) World Philology (Cambridge MA, 2015). An excellent overview of the modern Western sciences in China that also pays attention to the revival of textual criticism in the early modern period is Ben Elman’s A Cultural History of Modern Science in China (Cambridge,


History and Philosophy of the Humanities

2006). Since 2015, this field has had its own specialist journal, History of Humanities. Some of the philosophical questions addressed in the present book are also discussed in specialist journals such as The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science and History of the Human Sciences/Histoire des sciences humaines. The literature on the scientific revolution is extensive. A solid if somewhat dated introduction is Richard S. Westfall’s The Construction of Modern Science (Cambridge, 1977). The Cultural Meaning of the Scientific Revolution (New York, 1988) by Margaret C. Jacob discusses exactly what its title announces. A more recent revisionist overview of the literature on the scientific revolution is The Scientific Revolution (Chicago, 1996) by Steve Shapin. Few authors have done as much to undermine the longstanding view that the scientific revolution brought an end to humanism as Anthony Grafton. See, among others, Defenders of the Text: The Tradition of Scholarship in an Age of Science, 1450-1800 (Cambridge MA, 1991) and From Humanism to Humanities: Education and the Liberal Arts in Fifteenth- and Sixteenth-Century Europe (London, 1986), written jointly with Lisa Jardine. A recent comparative study of the scientific revolution is Toby Huff’s Intellectual Curiosity and the Scientific Revolution: A Global Perspective (Cambridge, 2010); see also Floris Cohen’s detailed study How Modern Science Came into the World (Amsterdam, 2010). Paul Guyer’s entry on Immanuel Kant in the Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy (London, 1999) provides a convenient first introduction. For more detailed discussions, see Paul Guyer (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Kant (Cambridge, 1992). The currently canonical translation of Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason and other writings has appeared in The Cambridge edition of the works of Immanuel Kant (Cambridge, 1998). Sebastian Gardner’s Kant and the Critique of Pure Reason (London, 1999) forms a useful introductory guide to this demanding work. A shorter and relatively accessible specimen of Kant’s sophisticated style of reasoning is his Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics, translated by Gary Hatfield (Cambridge, 1997). 3 Logical Empiricism and Critical Rationalism For a classic but by now outdated study of the Vienna Circle, see Victor Kraft, The Vienna Circle: The Origin of Neo-Positivism, A Chapter in the History of Recent Philosophy (New York, 1953). Rudolf Carnap’s Introduction to the Philosophy of Science (New York, 1966) – originally entitled Philosophical Foundations of Physics – provides an admirably clear overview of a logical empiricist philosophy of the natural sciences and of Carnap’s own later views, whichis still well worth reading today. Philosophy of Natural Science

Further Reading


(Englewood Cliffs, 1966) by Carl Hempel likewise presents a solid introduction to the logical empiricist approach. For a recent revisionist study of the historical and philosophical significance of the Vienna Circle, see Reconsidering Logical Positivism (Cambridge, 1999) by Michael Friedman. Bryan Magee’s Popper (London, 1973) presents an accessible introduction to Karl Popper’s work. For a selection of the latter’s own writings, see David Miller (ed.), A Pocket Popper (London, 1983). Popper’s autobiography, Unended Quest (London, 1976), presents an interesting narrative of his philosophical backgrounds and development. In The Poverty of Historicism (London, 1961), Popper discusses problems specific to the historical and social sciences and presents his rejection of historicism. On the epistemology of the historical sciences, see, e.g., The Pursuit of History: Aims, Methods, and New Directions in the Study of History (6th ed., London, 2015) by John Tosh. 4 Historicizing the Philosophy of Science Willard Quine’s classic, ‘Two Dogmas of Empiricism,’ has been reprinted in From a Logical Point of View (New York, 1963) and anthologized numerous times. It demands careful and repeated reading and only comes into its own against the background of Carnap’s work. Wilfrid Sellars’ rich but demanding Empiricism and the Philosophy of Mind has been reprinted with an even more unfathomable commentary by Robert Brandom (Cambridge MA, 1997). Knowledge, Mind, and the Given (Indianapolis, 2000) by Willem DeVries is a rather more accessible text edition with commentary. Thomas Kuhn’s classic, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, appeared with an important new afterword in 1970, and with a foreword by Ian Hacking in its 50th anniversary edition (Chicago, 2012). See also Kuhn’s essays collected in The Essential Tension (Chicago, 1977) and The Road Since Structure (Chicago, 1999). For an excellent if at times somewhat dry philosophical reconstruction of Kuhn’s writings, see Paul Hoyningen-Huene, Reconstructing Scientifijic Revolutions – Thomas S. Kuhn’s Philosophy of Science (Chicago, 1993). 5 The Birth of the Modern Humanities Michel Foucault’s The Order of Things (London, 2002) is brilliant but often rather obscure in its literary eloquence. In Michel Foucault’s Archaeology of Scientific Reason (Cambridge, 1989), Gary Gutting offers a solid discussion of Foucault’s archaeological method and its philosophical antecedents. For an anthology of Wilhelm von Humboldt’s writings, see Marianne Cowan (ed.), Humanist Without Portfolio (Detroit, 1963).


History and Philosophy of the Humanities

Historical overviews of the humanities at large are few and far between. Rens Bod’s A New History of the Humanities, already mentioned above, emphasizes the continuities between the premodern and the modern humanities and depicts a cumulative growth of knowledge. On the history of the early modern and modern humanities, see three recent volumes of conference proceedings: R. Bod, J. Maat, and T. Weststeijn (eds.), The Making of the Humanities Vol. 1: The Humanities in Early Modern Europe (Amsterdam, 2010), Volume 2: From Early Modern to Modern Disciplines (Amsterdam, 2012), and Volume 3: The Modern Humanities (Amsterdam, 2014). On the connections between the modern humanities and the rise of nationalism, see, among others, Joep Leerssen’s National Thought in Europe: A Cultural History (Amsterdam, 2006). For a highly readable account of the rise of modern social science and its relation with the humanities and the natural sciences, see Between Literature and Science: The Rise of Sociology (Cambridge, 1988) by Wolf Lepenies. 6 Developing New Disciplines Those wishing to learn more about Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel could do worse than start with Walter Kaufmann. Hegel: A Reinterpretation (New York, 1965), which is rather old but very accessible, and highly critical of Popper’s influential reading of Hegel as paving the way for totalitarianism. A more demanding but influential study is Charles Taylor’s Hegel (Cambridge, 1975). For an English translation of one of Hegel’s more accessible works, see H.B. Nisbet (translation), Lectures on the Philosophy of World History: Introduction (Cambridge, 1975). An entertaining overview of (classical) philology across the ages is L.D. Reynolds and N.G. Wilson, Scribes and Scholars: A Guide to the Transmission of Greek and Latin Literature (3rd ed., Oxford, 1991). A rather more critical history may be found in Bernard Cerquiglini’s In Praise of the Variant: A Critical History of Philology (Baltimore, 1999), which is short and thoughtprovoking, even if it has in part been rendered outdated by the rise of novel computational techniques. See also James Turner’s Philology: The Forgotten Origins of the Humanities (Princeton, 2014). For the development of the language sciences, see R.H. Robins, A Short History of Linguistics (4th ed., London, 1997). An English-language anthology that includes part of Leopold von Ranke’s more theoretical writings is Georg Iggers and Konrad von Moltke (eds.), The Theory and Practice of History (Indianapolis, 1973). Friedrich Nietzsche’s writings are available in several good translations, including his more philological The Birth of Tragedy and his more essayistic Untimely Meditations. For a solid

Further Reading


first introduction to Nietzsche, Walter Kaufmann’s Nietzsche: Philosopher, Psychologist, Antichrist (4th ed., Princeton, 1975), which was also crucial in rehabilitating Nietzsche’s works in the postwar English-language arena, can hardly be surpassed. Alexander Nehamas’ Nietzsche: Life as Literature (Cambridge, 1985) gives an impressive systematic interpretation. Between Hermeneutics and the Natural Sciences: In Search of a Method For a brief and accessible overview of the hermeneutic tradition, see Jens Zimmermann, Hermeneutics: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford, 2015). Wilhelm Dilthey can best be approached through The Formation of the Historical World in the Humanities (Princeton, 2002). A brief and accessible work by Ernst Cassirer is The Logic of the Humanities (New Haven, 1960). For a collection of Max Weber’s methodological treatises, see his Methodology of Social Science (Glencoe IL, 1949). See also Reinhard Bendix’s classic, Max Weber: An Intellectual Portrait (Garden City NY, 1962). On psychoanalysis, read Sigmund Freud’s oft-reprinted classic General Introduction to Psychoanalysis (New York, 1920) translated by Stanley Hall, or one of his numerous, suspenseful case histories on such patients as Little Hans, the Rat Man, the Wolf Man, and Anna O. For English translations, see the various volumes in The Penguin Freud Library. 7

8 Critical Theory Peter Singer’s Marx: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford, 2000) presents a brief but thorough introduction to Karl Marx’s ideas. The most accessible inroad to Mikhail Bakhtin’s writings is the editor’s introduction to his The Dialogic Imagination, Four Essays (Austin/London, 1981). A very influential English-language anthology of Antonio Gramsci’s prison writings is Quentin Hoare and Geoffrey Nowell-Smith (eds.), Selections from the Prison Notebooks (New York, 1971); see also David Forgacs (ed.), Selections from Cultural Writings (Cambridge MA, 1991) or the complete English-language edition of The Prison Notebooks (New York, 2007), translated by Joseph A. Buttigieg. Rolf Wiggershaus’ The Frankfurt School: Its History, Theories, and Political Significance (Cambridge, 1995) provides an exhaustive overview of the School’s development and impact. Theodor W. Adorno’s Introduction to the Sociology of Music (New York, 1976) provides a first introduction to a vast and occasionally impenetrable oeuvre. See also Adorno’s Philosophy of Modern Music (London/New York, 2007). On Jürgen Habermas, see, for example, Thomas McCarthy’s The Critical Theory of Jurgen Habermas (London, 1978).


History and Philosophy of the Humanities

9 Positivism and Structuralism Émile Durkheim’s Rules of Sociological Method (London, 1982) and Ferdinand de Saussure’s Course in General Linguistics (New York, 1966) are still well worth reading. For intellectual biographies of both pioneers, see Steven Lukes, Emile Durkheim (London, 1973) and John Joseph, Saussure (Oxford, 2012). François Dosse’s two-volume History of Structuralism (Minneapolis, 1998) provides an extensive overview of the development of French structuralist thought. A detailed critical overview of different currents in structuralist literary theory is presented in Jonathan Culler, Structuralist Poetics (London, 1975); see also Culler’s Saussure (London, 1976). For an introduction to Noam Chomsky’s generative grammar in its different incarnations, see, for example, Vivian Cook and Mark Newson, Chomsky’s Universal Grammar: An Introduction (2nd ed., Oxford, 1996). On cognitive linguistics, see William Croft and D. Alan Cruse, Cognitive Linguistics (Cambridge, 2004). For a first taste of cognitive approaches to music, see Henkjan Honing’s Musical Cognition: A Science of Listening (London/New York, 2013). Jacques Lacan’s Ecrits: A Selection (New York, 1977) is a notoriously impenetrable work. The seminars Lacan taught in Paris between 1963 and 1981, some of which have been published in English, are rather easier to digest. For a comic-book introduction to Lacan, see Darian Leader and Judy Groves, Introducing Lacan (London, 2000). A convenient primer of Slavoj Žižek is Sarah Kay’s Žižek: A Critical Introduction (Cambridge, 2003). 10 The Practice Turn The William James Lectures on speech acts by J.L. Austin have been posthumously published as How to Do Things with Words (2nd ed., Oxford, 1975). Ludwig Wittgenstein’s Philosophical lnvestigations/Philosophische Untersuchungen have been published in a posthumous bilingual edition (Oxford, 1953). Foucault’s later works are rather more accessible than his earlier, archaeological studies. See in particular Discipline and Punish (New York 1977) and the three-volume The History of Sexuality (New York, 1978-1986). For a methodologically inspired study of genealogy, see Rudi Visker, Genealogy as Critique (London, 1995). Pierre Bourdieu’s style is deliberately complex and inaccessible. On the one hand, it is intended to avoid overhasty and oversimplified renderings of his ideas; on the other, it signifies that he forms part of a French-language academic market that places demands of its own on intellectual production. Most directly relevant for the humanities are perhaps Distinction: A Social

Further Reading


Critique About the Judgment of Taste (London, 1984) and The Rules of Art: Genesis and Structure of the Literary Field (Cambridge, 1996). For a collection of short and relatively accessible essays, see The Field of Cultural Production (New York, 1993). 11 Critique of Modernity Modern French Philosophy (Cambridge, 1979) by Vincent Descombes presents a clear, concise, and critical overview of postwar French thought. For an introduction to Jacques Derrida’s influential but often misunderstood thinking, see Christopher Norris, Derrida (London, 1987) and Jonathan Culler, On Deconstruction (London, 1983). For an accessible introduction to some of Gilles Deleuze’s central notions, see Charles Stivale (ed.), Gilles Deleuze: Key Concepts (2nd ed., Montreal, 2011). On postmodernism as a cultural phenomenon, see David Harvey, The Condition of Postmodernity (Oxford, 1989). For Jean-François Lyotard’s influential ideas, see The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge (Manchester, 1986). Richard Rorty’s lengthy Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature (Princeton, 1979) often gets bogged down in the technical details of 1970s analytical philosophy. A more user-friendly overview for non-philosophical readers is his later Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity (Cambridge, 1989). Bruno Latour’s most accessible discussion of modernity is We Have Never Been Modern (Cambridge MA, 1993). For an introduction to his work as a whole, see Gerard de Vries, Bruno Latour (Cambridge, 2016). 12 Gender, Sex, and Sexuality For a statement that is by now considered classical, see Sandra Harding, The Science Question in Feminism (Ithaca NY, 1986). Evelyn Fox Keller’s views on the scientific revolution may be found in her Reflections on Gender and Science (New Haven, 1985). Foucault’s The Will to Knowledge (New York, 1978) remains the best and most provocative introduction to the history of sexuality. Judith Butler’s best-known book, Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity (new edition, New York/London, 1999) remains a demanding exercise. Her later Excitable Speech: A Politics of the Performative (London, 1997) focuses on hate speech. 13 Postcolonialism For an introductory overview, see Leela Gandhi’s Postcolonial Theory: A Critical Introduction (Edinburgh, 1998). Edward Said’s Orientalism has gone through many editions. For Martin Bernal’s argument, see especially his Black Athena, volume 1, The Fabrication of Ancient Greece, 1785-1985 (London,


History and Philosophy of the Humanities

1987). For the Subaltern Studies Group, see Ranajit Guha (ed.), A Subaltern Studies Reader (Minneapolis, 1997). An already widely influential if not classical text on decoloniality is Walter Mignolo’s The Darker Side of Western Modernity: Global Futures, Decolonial Options (Durham/London, 2011). Fernand Braudel’s masterpiece The Mediterranean (London, 1975) remains worth reading, even if it is problematic or outdated in various places. Frederick Cooper’s critique of ‘globalization’, ‘identity’, and several other key concepts in the present-day humanities is included in his Colonialism in Question: Theory, Knowledge, History (Berkeley, 2005). C.A. Bayly’s most important book is The Birth of the Modern World 1780-1914: Global Connections and Comparisons (Oxford, 2004). For an introduction to Sanjay Subrahmanyam’s numerous writings, see Courtly Encounters: Translating Courtliness and Violence in Early Modern Eurasia (Cambridge MA, 2012) or the accessible collection of essays, Is Indian Civilization a Myth? (Delhi, 2013).

Glossary a posteriori Knowledge based on experience. a priori Knowledge preceding experience. academy Union of scientific researchers. action-image Deleuze’s term for a long-shot in cinema. actor Socially acting person. ad hoc change The retrospective adapting of a theory to experience, as a result of which it becomes less informative. affection-image In Deleuze, the close-up moving image, which yields an affective reading of a film. amodern Latour’s term for emphasizing that we have ‘never been modern’, rejecting both modernity and postmodernism and, by implication, the idea of the ‘premodern’. analytic Statement that is true or false on the basis of the meanings of the words it contains; e.g. ‘This rose is a flower.’; cf. synthetic. analytic-synthetic distinction The distinction between statements that are true on the basis of meaning and those that are true on the basis of facts. Quine rejects this distinction. analytical philosophy Anglo-Saxon current that reduces philosophical questions to matters of meaning and language use. androcentrism An ideology that represents specifically masculine phenomena as universally human. anomaly An unsolvable problem for scientists working in a paradigm. Anschauungsform In Kant, the fundamental forms of time and space with which our understanding (Verstand) can transform intuitions into generally valid judgments. anthropology of science The study of what scientists actually do, as distinct from what philosophers and scientists say they do (see also science in action). anti-essentialism Rejection of the view that cultural phenomena possess essences, that is, fixed or unchanging defining features. antihumanism In Foucault, the rejection of the humanist assumption of man as being in the final instance free, and of the view of history as a linear process of progress and emancipation towards freedom. antinaturalism In Sellars, the belief that states of knowing are irreducibly normative and cannot be reduced to purely causal or physical events. anti-psychologism The rejection of explanations in terms of mental or psychological terms.


History and Philosophy of the Humanities

arbitrariness The fact that a linguistic sign has an arbitrary and conventional relation with what it signifies. archaeology of scientific knowledge In Foucault, the inquiry into the deep structures of knowledge. archetype The original version of a text determined or reconstructed by philological research. art for art’s sake See l’art pour l’art. artes liberales The seven liberal arts that civilized persons were supposed to master in the Middle Ages, consisting of the trivium and the quadrivium. asymmetry In Durkheim, the fact that scientific knowledge is not explained in the same sociological way as non- or pre-scientific knowledge. aura In Benjamin, the ‘here and now’ of an artwork, or that which makes it irreplaceable and unrepeatable. authoritative discourse In Bakhtin, monological language use that claims a monopoly on valid values, norms, and meanings. avant-garde A group of interbellum artists who systematically rejected or transgressed existing artistic conventions. axiom A self-evident or indubitable starting point; in mathematics, a thesis that cannot be derived from other statements. basic sentence A singular statement for testing a theory. behaviourism A current in the social sciences that only accepts explanations in terms of publicly observable behaviour and not in terms of mental states or motives. Bildung In Humboldt, the broad intellectual formation that covers not only factual knowledge but also the capacity to judge and to act. canon Standard list of what are seen as the great works in cultural history. capital In Bourdieu, the scarce good that is the object of competition within a field. carnivalesque In Bakhtin, an expression of popular culture that imitates, parodies, and/or ridicules official culture and that has a potentially revolutionary character because of its liberating and subversive humour. categorization The mental and social process of ordering people and things into distinct groups. category In Kant, a pure concept of the understanding, not derived from experience, which enables us to form judgments. causality A relation of cause and effect between things or events. causes (principles) In Aristotle, the underlying aspects that yield complete knowledge of a thing. centre In Wallerstein, the industrialized protagonist of the capitalist world economy



civilization Modern notion of an urban, rational, and humane society. class struggle In Marx, the irreducible political conflict between different social classes, which is the motor of history. classical age In Foucault, the period between 1600 and 1800 that was dominated by the épistémè of representation, order, and taxonomy. classical physics The physical theory that emerged in the seventeenth century; usually seen as resulting from the combination of experiments and mathematical methods. classification of the sciences The ordering of the different disciplines by object and/or method. Today we distinguish between the natural sciences, the social sciences, and the humanities. Aristotle distinguished between theoretical, practical, and poetic sciences. cognitive, cognitivist The current that postulates mental structures and processes as explanatory notions and that views the human mind as an information-processing machine. collective representation In Durkheim, a state or representation of a group or society as a whole, which cannot be reduced to individual psychological states. colonization In Habermas, the penetration of system elements into the lifeworld. communicative action In Habermas, the type of social action that is oriented towards mutual understanding and consensus. competence In Chomsky, the language capacity as distinct from performance or actual linguistic behaviour. concept Mental representation; in Kant, the general and normative notions by which our understanding forms judgments out of the particulars given to experience. concept formation Developing concepts on the basis of specific observations or experiences. conceptual frame/scheme The whole of interconnected concepts with which we think. conceptual metaphor Understanding one cognitive domain (e.g. argument) in terms of another (e.g. war). conclusion Statement that follows logically from other statements (premisses). confirmation The affirmation of a theory via observation. connected history Historiographic approach that thematizes transnational connections. consistency Property of statements of not contradicting each other. context of discovery The actual process of the acquisition of scientific knowledge.


History and Philosophy of the Humanities

context of justification The logical or epistemological justif ication of scientific claims to knowledge. contradiction Two statements that cannot be simultaneously true, e.g., ‘It is raining’ and ‘It is not raining’. convention Agreement; for example a decision to retain part of a theory as non-testable. conventionalism The belief that important choices in science are the result of agreements or conventions. conventionalist stratagem Reinterpreting a basic statement of observation so that it is no longer at odds with a theory. Copernican revolution In sixteenth-century astronomy, the radically novel thought that Earth revolves around the Sun rather than the other way around. Copernican turn Kant’s shift in epistemology proclaiming that knowledge must not conform to objects, but that, conversely, objects must conform to our (a priori) knowledge. corroboration The degree to which a theory has hitherto successfully survived attempts at refutation. Counter-Enlightenment Cultural and political movement that emphasizes feelings, traditions, and cultures, as opposed to the Enlightenment championing of universalist reason. covering-law model The view that the explanation of a phenomenon involves its embedding in a general law. crisis In Kuhn, the predominant feeling that something is fundamentally wrong with an existing paradigm. critical theory See Frankfurt School. crucial test A test that can decide the fate of a theory or hypothesis. cultural analysis The contemporary current in the humanities that emphasizes representations in cultural processes and products. cultural capital In Bourdieu, a form of symbolic capital by which people may distinguish themselves in the cultural realm. cultural sciences The neo-Kantian conception of the study of culture as idiographic and value-oriented; to be distinguished from (Gramscianinspired) cultural studies. cultural studies The contemporary current in the social sciences that focusses on popular, or working-class, culture in urban and/or industrialized societies. culture Descriptively, the whole of customs and habits of a people in a given time and place; normatively, the highest artistic and moral achievements or expressions of a people or era.



culture industry In Adorno, the capitalist production of art as no more than escapist entertainment. decolonializality In Mignolo, the attempt to counter the logic of coloniality underlying Western civilization and to develop epistemic alternatives. deconstruction A way of reading texts that exposes their hidden conceptual assumptions, characterizing these as untenable but inevitable. deduction Logically valid or logically binding derivation of one statement from another. From ‘All swans are white’, it logically or deductively follows that ‘This swan is white’; cf. induction. deductive-nomological model of explanation The view that it must be possible to derive the description of a phenomenon deductively from a general law; cf. covering law model. degree of confirmation The degree to which a theory or statement is strengthened or supported by empirical observations. demarcation In Popper, the dividing line between scientific and pseudoscientific theories. demarcation criterion In Popper, the view that science distinguishes itself from pseudo-science in that its knowledge grows through attempts at falsification. demarcation problem The question of how scientific knowledge is distinguished from other claims to knowledge. dependency theory Macro-economic approach that explains poverty and underdevelopment in the ‘periphery’ as resulting from a dependency on goods from the industrialized ‘centre’ due to capitalist relations. Desiring-production In Deleuze & Guattari, the principle or force that appropriates what is other than or outside the self, active both in society and in the individual psyche; cf. Nietzsche’s will to power. diachrony The domain of historical development or change; cf. synchrony. dialectics The view that takes developments as the unstable and changeable result of opposite forces through a process of negation and of the sublation of contradictions. dialectical idealism The view that history develops according to the dialectical development of spirit, which is primary with respect to matter. dialectical materialism The view that society evolves according to the dialectical development of material (and in particular economic) contradictions. dialogism In Bakhtin, the irreducible plurality and context-dependence of (novelistic) language or discourse. difference In Deleuze, the virtual, non-conceptual principle that logically and metaphysically precedes identity and the categories based on it.


History and Philosophy of the Humanities

difference, principle of In Deleuze, that which produces individual identities from differences. Ding an Sich The ‘thing in itself’, not as it is known or perceived by the knowing subject. disciplinary matrix The whole of partly implicit beliefs, assumptions, and norms of a community of researchers. discipline A field of study that is characterized by its own canon of insights, approaches, and results; in Foucault, the normalizing and individualizing power that does not function in terms of laws, transgression, and sovereignty but in terms of knowledge and of the normal and the abnormal. discourse Interconnected and structured whole of statements. discursive formation In Foucault, a system of statements that is not ordered or governed by an underlying or transcendental subject. discursive practice In Foucault, ‘knowledge’ studied in terms of statements made, i.e. in terms of practices informed by power. distinction A form of cultural capital; the ability to distinguish oneself societally by one’s ‘good taste’ in cultural and aesthetic matters. double hermeneutics For Giddens, the feature that the social sciences are concerned with the interpretation of social data that are themselves the result of interpretations. doxa In ancient Greek, opinion as distinct from true knowledge; cf. épistémè. Duhem-Quine thesis The thesis that a crucial experiment in Popper’s sense is impossible, since one does not know exactly which part of one’s theory or assumptions is refuted. edification Intellectual and moral formation, or Bildung; for Rorty, edification rather than truth should be the aim of philosophy and the sciences. edifying conversation ‘Educational discussion’; for Rorty, the aim of work in the humanities, in particular philosophy. efficient cause In Aristotle, the cause that actualizes an object’s potential. ego (Ich) In Freud, the self-conscious, rational, and realist part of the soul. empirical content The degree of informativeness of a theory; in Quine, roughly the empirical ‘meaning’ of a sentence or theory. empirical regularity The observable continuous co-occurrence of phenomena: ‘Everything that is a swan is also white’. empirical science Field of knowledge that concerns itself with the description and explanation of sensory experience. empiricism The philosophical current that argues that observation is the ultimate source and justification of knowledge. end of grand narratives For Lyotard, the decay of comprehensive ideologies.



Enlightenment A cultural movement or period in the eighteenth century in which the ideals of reason, progress, and equality gained prominence. entailment Logical consequence. entertainment music (Unterhaltungsmusik) In Adorno, the ideologically laden popular music produced by the culture industry. epicycle In Ptolemy, the additional circular motion that heavenly bodies make along their circular motion around Earth. epiphenomenon Side-effect without causal explanatory power of its own. épistémè In Ancient Greek, true knowledge, as distinguished from opinion (cf. doxa); in Foucault, the deep structure of knowledge. epistemic rupture / mutation In Foucault, the discontinuity between different épistémès. epistemology A subdiscipline in the field of philosophy that explores what knowledge is and how knowledge claims may be justified. equant The position next to Earth around which, according to Ptolemy, the planets circle. equivalence The similarity or identity of e.g. logical or semantic aspects of two signs. ethnocentrism The belief that one’s own beliefs, practices, and/or traditions are the only correct ones and should be universally valid. Eurocentrism The belief that the beliefs, practices, and/or traditions of Western Europe (or more generally the Western world) are the only correct ones and should be universally valid. exemplar In Kuhn, a textbook example of good scientific practice. existential statement A statement concerning whether or not a particular object exists or concerning its particular properties: ‘There exists at least one black swan’. experience For empiricists, sensory observation; for Dilthey, the renewed experiencing, through understanding, of the creation of a work of art. experiment An artificial intervention in nature, as a result of which we can observe phenomena that would otherwise remain hidden. explanandum That which should be explained. explanans Statement or theory that yields an explanation. explanation Answer to the question why something is what it is. externalism The view that scientif ic knowledge is shaped by external societal, cultural, or historical factors. fact That which makes a statement true. faculty An organizational unit within the university in which disciplines with similar disciplinary backgrounds are united. In epistemology: mental capacity.


History and Philosophy of the Humanities

fallibilism The belief in the fundamental fallibility of all knowledge. fallibility The view that all scientific statements have a hypothetical and provisory character and may thus eventually be refuted. falsifiability The possibility of falsifying or refuting a theory in the light of experience. falsification Refutation. The statement ‘All swans are white’ is falsified by accepting the observation statement that there is a black swan. falsification criterion Popper’s view that genuine science can be distinguished from pseudoscience by the fact that its theories are formulated in such a way that they can be falsified. family resemblance In Wittgenstein, the idea that concepts like game do not have a definition with necessary and sufficient conditions but only display a diffuse set of overlapping features. felicity conditions Conditions under which a speech act counts as felicitous or successful; generalization of truth conditions. field In Bourdieu, a specific and autonomous domain of social action, e.g., art or religion, which has its own principles, goals, and capital. final cause In Aristotle, the goal towards which a thing moves by virtue of its nature. folk explanation Theory that social actors themselves have about their words or actions. folklore Tales and other cultural expressions of the common and often illiterate people. form of intuition See Anschauungsform. formal cause In Aristotle, the ‘form’ or essence of a thing; that which makes it what it is. Frankfurt School (Frankfurter Schule) The current that assigns the social sciences an essentially social-critical function; hence this current is also called ‘critical theory’. fusion of horizons The process of reconciling the backgrounds of interpreting subject and interpreted object. Geisteswissenschaften See humanities gender The whole of cultural meanings given in a specific time and place to biological sex. gender metaphor Characterizing or imagining things and phenomena as ‘typically’ masculine or feminine. genealogy Non-teleological and non-dialectical form of historical analysis that analyses social phenomena in terms of power practices. general linguistics The autonomous discipline that describes and explains linguistic facts in their own terms.



genius In the Romantic view, the artist whose unique creative activity is not rationally explicable. geocentrism The view that Earth stands at the centre of the cosmos. Gestalt switch Suddenly observing the same thing ‘with different eyes’; for example, one may see in one and the same drawing alternatively a duck or a rabbit. given That which is immediately given to the senses; (object of) ‘pure [i.e., non-conceptualized] observation’. global history Historiographical approach that systematically transcends national and regional boundaries. global microhistory Historical approach that explores individual lives against a transnational background. globalization The post-war worldwide spread of capitalist economic production; more generally also the cultural dimension of this process. growth of knowledge The view that scientific knowledge is always subject to change and improvement. habitus The whole of acquired inclinations or dispositions to particular forms of behaviour that generates social action. hegemony ‘Prestige’; cultural and/or ideological dominance over the different groups or classes in society; cf. subaltern. heliocentrism The view that the sun stands at the centre of the cosmos. hermeneutic circle The continuing interaction between the interpretation of the whole on the basis of the interpretation of its parts and vice versa. hermeneutics General and systematic theory of interpreting or understanding texts and other cultural forms of expression. hermeticism Early modern esoteric tradition that sought the purification of the soul and conceived of knowledge as a union of male and female. heteroglossia The irreducible diversity of socially determined styles and registers of speaking, which according to Bakhtin is typical of the novelistic genre. heterosexual matrix In Butler, the tacit normative assumptions that represent heterosexuality as normal or natural. heuristic Aid in finding scientific truths and explanations. historical a priori In Foucault, the historically changing self-evident truths at the basis of all knowledge. historical adequacy The criterion demanding that a philosophical view of science is in agreement with our historical knowledge about the actual practice of researchers recognized as good scientists. historical materialism The view that the course of history is determined by material and, in particular, economic factors.


History and Philosophy of the Humanities

historicism For Popper, the belief that the course of history has fixed laws and can hence be predicted; for Dilthey, the view that human consciousness is finite and historically determined. historicity Being historically determined or changing, for example with regard to human spirit or reason. holism The view that a larger whole cannot be explained in full in terms of its elements. See also meaning holism. horizon The background or context of actions and presuppositions that are indispensable for understanding. humanism A movement during the European Renaissance that elevated pagan literary antiquity with respect to the Bible and that pursued a secular ideal of humanitas or humanity. Later also a secular confessional current that defended human liberty against religious dogmas and authoritarian governments. humanitas Civilizational ideal in antiquity and the Renaissance; in Cicero, the education (in particular, the study of literature) necessary for leading a decent public and private life. humanities The disciplines that occupy themselves with the independent products of the human spirit, including linguistics and literary theory, history, art history, etc. Also called the sciences humaines, humane sciences, or moral sciences and Geisteswissenschaften. Hume’s problem The question concerning the justification of induction; cf. problem of induction. hybridity The incessant and irreversible blending and mixture of elements from different traditions and cultures, especially in modern, globalized urban societies. hybrids In Latour, that which is seen in the modern constitution as a mixture of nature, culture, and discourse, and which can therefore not be adequately analysed within that constitution, although their number increases explosively. hypothesis Conjecture. hypothetico-deductive scheme of explanation The view that the explanandum should follow deductively from a general law or hypothesis (and initial conditions). id (Es) In Freud, that part of the soul that comprises irrational, biologically determined drives. ideal type Non-empirical model of empirical phenomena that abstracts away from individual variations.



idealism The philosophical current that views consciousness as more fundamental than matter; methodologically, the explanation of social facts in terms of ‘ideas’ like mental states or religious doctrines. idealization An abstracting away from the particulars of observed individual objects or phenomena. identity politics Political activism defending the interests of specific groups such as feminists, the gay movement, and ethnic minorities. ideology In Marx and later critical theory, the whole of ideas and beliefs that justifies, masks, and/or distorts existing social realities; more generally, the informal and historically variable system of current beliefs concerning the world. idiographic The approach and concept formation in terms of the individual and the unique; cf. nomothetic. illocutionary The act that is conventionally expressed by pronouncing particular words. imaginary, the In Lacan, the realm from which the ego emerges out of an alienated identification with an image outside of itself. imagined community In Anderson, the kind of national consciousness that only became possible because of printing; see also print capitalism. imperialism Modern attempt to acquire or dominate overseas territories as sources of raw goods and/or markets for a capitalist industrial economy. incommensurability Epistemologically, the impossibility of comparing two paradigms in a neutral and paradigm-independent manner; sociologically, the miscommunication between scientists from different paradigms because they unknowingly employ the same terms in different senses. induction, inductive Generalization on the basis of a limited number of observations; not a logically binding form of argument. induction, problem of The question of whether and how inductive arguments may be justified. informational content The degree of empirical content of a theory. initial conditions Statements about the initial circumstances that function as a premisse in a prediction or explanation. institution In Durkheim, a relatively stable and enduring social fact. instrumentalism The view that sees scientific theories as merely useful instruments for making observations and predictions and does not pose the question of whether they are true or correctly describe the world; cf. realism. intention The aims a speaker has in making an utterance or performing an action.


History and Philosophy of the Humanities

intentionality The capacity of our mental states to be directed towards things in the outside world or to be ‘about’ the outside world. interdisciplinary approach Research that integrates the methods and insights of different disciplines. internalism The view that scientific knowledge develops according to its own inner logic and independently of social factors. interpretative technique A perspective or a way of interpreting literary texts, for example, psychoanalysis and deconstruction can yield different kinds of interpretations of the same material. intersectionality The idea that different identities of e.g. race, gender, and sexuality are not isolated but function jointly in overlapping systems of oppression and marginalization. intersubjective Enjoying the concurrence of different researchers. iterability In Derrida, the radical dependence of a speech utterance on the particular context of utterance, which cannot be governed by the speaker’s intentions. judgment In Kant, the connection of concepts and intuition that constitutes objectively valid knowledge. Junggrammatiker or Neogrammarians A group of nineteenth-century German linguists who emphasized the exceptionless and lawlike character of historical language change. Kant’s problem In Popper, the question concerning the demarcation between scientific and pseudoscientific knowledge claims. language game In Wittgenstein, the belief that language is a concrete and limited practice rather than an abstract or formal system of rules. langue The language system as a social fact; cf. parole l’art pour l’art (art for art’s sake) The nineteenth-century view that art – or more generally, aesthetic experience – serves no higher purpose than itself. law Universal statement of the form ‘All cases that have property A also have property B’, which also establishes a causal nexus. liberal In Humboldt, the view that universities and individuals should be free from state interference as much as possible. lifeworld In Habermas, the shared and commonly accepted background of communicative action. linguistic turn In philosophy, the shift in attention from the justification of judgments to the meaningfulness of statements. locutionary The act of uttering a sentence. logic of the situation A model of what constitutes rational action in a specific culture and state of knowledge.



logical analysis Uncovering of the logical (as opposed to the grammatical) structure of a sentence. logical consequence Statement the truth of which is forced by the truth of the premisses in the argument. logically equivalent The property of statements of being true or false under exactly the same circumstances. logically valid Binding or deductively valid argument; when the premisses are true, the conclusion must be true as well. For example, from ‘All men are mortal’ and ‘Socrates is a man’, it deductively follows that ‘Socrates is mortal’. macrocosm Creation at large, mirroring man as a microcosm. Manichaeism A way of seeing things that divides the world into two strictly separated domains, e.g. of good and evil. Marxism A social-scientific and political current that analyses the course of history as the dialectical development of economic relations. material cause In Aristotle, the matter of which a thing consists. materiality The material, non-ideal aspect of a cultural phenomenon. meaning holism In Quine and Kuhn, the idea that theoretical sentences derive their content or meaning not from the ‘facts’ or the ‘things themselves’ but from the theory as a whole; cf. reductionism. mechanicism, mechanistic view The belief that all movement is strictly mechanical and lawlike and does not pursue an aim or telos. media In Habermas, the means of warranting the coordination of action in a differentiated lifeworld. melting of horizons In Gadamer, the fusion of background assumptions in the process of understanding. metanarrative In Lyotard, a discourse (e.g., that of the Enlightenment) that serves to justify or legitimize another discourse, for example that of science. metaphysics Statement or theory that essentially goes beyond what can be empirically observed. method The way of acquiring and extending scientific knowledge. methodology The whole of norms of what constitutes good science; the ‘quality control of scientific production’. microcosm Man as mirroring the cosmos at large, or macrocosm. mirror stage In Lacan, the developmental stage in which an identity is formed by mirroring someone else. mode of existence In Latour, the notion to set off science from religion, politics, and law by claiming that science does not just amount to knowledge about a given reality, but arises in, and contributes to the shaping of, the world, and thus introduces new beings.


History and Philosophy of the Humanities

mode of production Stage of economic relations between the different people involved in the production process; e.g., feudalism, capitalism. model The simplified representation of an empirical fact or object that tries to capture its essential aspects. modern age In Foucault, the period since 1800 in which man appears in the épistémè. modernism In the arts and sciences, the current that sees itself as a cultural avant-garde that self-consciously aims to break with the past; in politics and society, the belief in progress, secularization, and/or emancipation. modernity The coherent whole of beliefs as to what characterizes a modern society or culture. modernization theory The social-scientific paradigm that accounts for the development of Third-World countries in terms of a universal pattern of progress, taking the Western (liberal, capitalist, and/or secular) experience as a model. monological In Bakhtin, language use that belongs to or aims at one overarching narrative or system of values and meanings. movement-image (image-mouvement) In Deleuze, the irreducibly temporal cinematic image that translates time into space and cannot be reduced to a sequence of still images. multidisciplinary Research approach that makes use of the methods and insights of different disciplines. multiple modernities In Eisenstadt, the view that modernization should not be identified with Westernization. nationalism The idea that the people or nation (as a cultural unity) must coincide with the state (as a political unity). naturalism In Quine, the belief that the knowing subject is a natural being and that epistemological questions can be translated into or reduced to empirical questions in (developmental) psychology. Neogrammarians See Junggrammatiker. neo-Kantianism The nineteenth-century and early twentieth-century current that regarded the Kantian subject not as universal and unchanging but as historically and/or culturally determined. neoliberalism The contemporary doctrine that views the common good – such as culture, care, or education – as economic goods that are better governed by market mechanisms than by state intervention. nomadic In Deleuze, a difference-oriented way of thinking that rejects fixed essences and does not attempt to reduce phenomena to authoritative concepts.



nomothetic Approach and concept formation in terms of general laws; cf. idiographic. normal science In Kuhn, the periods during which scientists work within a given paradigm without questioning its foundations. normativity The historically variable property of e.g. sentences, knowledge states, and/or practices of being normative (i.e., ‘correct’ or not), rather than purely factual or causally produced. norms The standards for what good scientific research should involve. object ‘Thing’; that which is known. objective Concerning the things or facts themselves; cf. subjective. objectivism Explanation in terms of objective givens. Oedipus complex Pathological attachment to the mother and hatred against the father. ontology Theory concerning what exists and how it exists; in Quine and after, the kind of objects a theory deals with. opposition A difference in sound or meaning between two signs. oral history Historiography on the basis of oral rather than written sources. organic intellectual In Gramsci, an intellectual who is linked to the culture and aspirations of the proletariat. organicism The representation of cultural, societal, or historical phenomena or processes in terms of living organisms. organon In Aristotle, the auxiliary logical sciences, which precede the substantial sciences. Orientalism In Said, the thesis that the Western philological study of the Orient does not constitute neutral or objective descriptive science but supports and justifies Western colonial or imperialist domination of the non-Western world. paradigm In Kuhn, in the strict sense an exemplar or textbook example of good scientific practice in a given discipline; in a broader sense the disciplinary matrix, i.e. the whole of beliefs, assumptions, and norms concerning scientific research with which a community of scientists works. parole Individual language use or linguistic behaviour; cf. langue. passive revolution In Gramsci, a revolution imposed from above, in particular by the state. patriarchate Male domination. people’s spirit See Volksgeist. perception-image Deleuze’s term for medium shots in films. performance In Chomsky, actual language use, as opposed to competence, or linguistic knowledge.


History and Philosophy of the Humanities

performative An utterance or action that creates what it seems to describe or represent. periphery In Wallerstein, the non-industrialized, non-Western parts of the world economy perlocutionary The effect the speech act has on the hearer. perspective The starting point or position from which an interpretation is formed. phenomena Things as they appear to our senses, not as they are in themselves. phenomenal world The world as it appears to one’s consciousness; cf. Ding an Sich. phenomenalism The reduction of all meaningful statements to statements about pure observation or elementary experience. phenomenology The philosophical current that focusses not on the question of how something exists but on the question of how it appears to consciousness. philosophical adequacy The criterion that demands that a theory about science is in agreement with philosophical (e.g. epistemological) ideas and beliefs. philosophy of consciousness The philosophical view that takes consciousness as primary and not mediated by language or social processes. philology The historical and critical reconstruction of languages and texts, and the attempt to recover the cultural life of an era as a whole on the basis of these reconstructions. physicalism The reduction of all meaningful statement to statements about pure observable facts. poetic sciences In Aristotle, the sciences that concern the making (Gr. poiein) of things, like poetics. polyphony The irreducible plurality of voices and styles in specific novels. positivism In the social sciences, the belief that only the empirical sciences can yield valid knowledge or serve as the basis for a successful social order; in historiography, the view that the historian should only recover historical facts and should abstain from interpretations and value judgments. positivism debate Dispute concerning the character and scientific task of the social sciences. postcolonialism The approach that explores the influence of Western voyages of discovery, colonial domination, and slavery on the development of central aspects of modern Western and non-Western experience.



postmodernism A cultural, scientific, and/or political current that disputes the values and ideals of modernity or modernism such as progress, universal validity, and originality. postsecularism In Habermas, the continued existence of religious groups and religiously motivated political demands in a secularized environment. poststructuralism A current inspired by Saussure that places signs above or outside human consciousness. potential falsifier A basic statement that logically contradicts a theory. pouvoir-savoir See power-knowledge. power-knowledge (pouvoir-savoir): In Foucault, the internal and indissoluble albeit historically variable interconnection between knowledge and power. practical holism The view that the understanding of individual statements or actions presupposes a whole, or horizon, of actions. practical logic In Bourdieu, the nonsystematic, partially unconscious reasoning that stands at the basis of action. practical sciences In Aristotle, the sciences that are concerned with action, like ethics and political theory. practice Temporally and spatially delimited way of doing things. practice turn The turn within the social sciences and the humanities to take practices as the primary object of inquiry rather than structures or actor’s intentions. pragmatics A branch of linguistics: the theory of language use. pragmatism The philosophical current that seeks explanations in terms of actual or desired actions rather than epistemic states; rejects any idea of specific classes of privileged statements (e.g. religious, logical, or observational), and accepts abstract terms only in so far as they have practical use. predicate logic Logical theory that analyses the internal logical structure of statements. prediction A theory-based statement about expected future observations. premisse The first step in an argument, out of which a conclusion follows logically. presentism The tendency to view the past as merely an imperfect preparation of the present, which is seen as self-evidently superior. primary qualities Properties that are essential for physical objects, like place and extension. primary texts The non-literary sources such as archival documents, letters, and eyewitness reports that according to Ranke should constitute the historian’s ultimate source material.


History and Philosophy of the Humanities

principle of difference In Deleuze, the principle that produces identities out of differences, like Nietzsche’s will to power. principles See causes. print capitalism In Anderson, the technological and economic basis of national imagination and national consciousness. private language argument Wittgenstein’s argument that the meaning of words should be accounted for not in terms of mental entities but in terms of publicly controllable use. professionalization The process in which a field of science turns into an acknowledged and institutionally anchored activity. prophecy A pseudoscientific prediction that does not state initial conditions. proposition An assertion or statement expressed in a sentence. Proto-Indo-European According to historical-comparative linguistics, the hypothetical ‘original language’ from which all existing Indo-European languages like English, Dutch, Latin, and Sanskrit developed. pseudoscience For Popper, a system of knowledge that claims scientific status but does not meet the falsification criterion (e.g. astrology or Marxism). pseudo-statement A statement that seems meaningful but does not have any empirical truth conditions. psychologism The attempt to account for facts in the humanities in terms of inner mental or psychological properties and states. public sphere Popular (as distinct from specialist or professional) environment in which matters of culture, science, society, and politics are debated. purification In Latour, the way in which, in the modern constitution, hybrids are dissected into natural, societal, and discursive components. puzzles In Kuhn, the relatively concrete problems that can be solved according to the rules of an existing paradigm. quadrivium The four advanced sciences of the Middle Ages: music, geometry, arithmetic, astronomy. queer theory A poststructuralist approach to sexuality that rejects the belief in essences of gender and sexuality and that emphasizes the normativity of concepts and the performativity of practices. rationalism The belief that the human mind does not derive its knowledge passively from observation but itself plays an active role in forming knowledge; in Weber, the rationalized worldview and forms of social action specific to Western modernity. rationalization In Weber, the developmental process in which the legitimacy of actions increasingly is based on rational considerations; the ever-more bureaucratic, efficient, and anonymous organization of societal life.



ready-made science In Latour, the generally accepted end result of scientific research after the resolution of controversies; cf. science in action. real, the In Lacan, the realm of nonsymbolized reality. realism The belief that a correct theory describes the world as it is; cf. instrumentalism. receptivity In Kant, the passive capacity to receive sense impressions. reduction statement Translation of another statement that explicates the latter’s empirical truth conditions. reductionism The belief that a theory can be completely translated or reduced to other kinds of statements, e.g., concerning pure, theoryindependent experience. reference Either the indicating of an object by a sign or the object thus indicated. reflexivity In Bourdieu, the demand that social sciences should also analyse or ‘objectify’ the social position of the researcher. relativism The belief that truth, rationality, etc. are not absolute or objective but relative to e.g. a culture, perspective or paradigm. Renaissance humanism Intellectual movement working on the recovery and reconstruction of classical (and in particular pagan) texts. representation In epistemology, mental image by the knowing subject of extra-mental reality; in Foucault, the figure of knowledge characteristic to the classical épistémè; in postmodern and postcolonial authors, the socially dominant way in which particular individuals, groups or phenomena are seen. repression In Freud, the preventing of a drive, desire, or memory from reaching the ego’s consciousness. reproducibility The demand that an observation or experiment be repeatable for it to be recognized as a basis of knowledge. revolution In Kuhn, a period of radical scientific change in which one paradigm is replaced by another. rule Principle that states the correct use of a word. schematism In Kant, the application of the concepts of the understanding to our intuitions in a judgment. science in action What scientists actually do in their research, as distinct from what is retrospectively presented as ready-made science. scientific revolution Period of rapid and radical scientific change in the early seventeenth century in which the classical image of science, and of knowledge at large, emerged. In the early nineteenth century, one may speak of a ‘humanities revolution’. In Kuhn: paradigm shift.


History and Philosophy of the Humanities

scientism The belief that science is the sole source of knowledge and societal well-being. secondary qualities Properties that do not belong to things themselves but only appear in the mind of those who observe them, e.g., colour and flavour. secondary sources In Von Ranke, the later texts that themselves already involve a literary elaboration of historical source material. secular Worldly, non-religious. secularism The normative belief that church and state should be separated, or that religion should be restricted to the private realm. secularization The factual process of the decreasing public and/or private role of religious belief and/or clerical power. semantic concept of truth Tarski’s characterization of truth in purely semantic and language-dependent notions of word meaning, which have no metaphysical implications. semantics Branch of linguistics; theory of meaning. seminar Small-scale didactic gathering for colleagues and advanced students. semiology General theory of signs. semiotics See semiology. semi-periphery Partially modernized and industrialized parts of the world economy. sense data In modern empiricism, the logically primitive and non-conceptual observations as given to our senses; epistemological atoms or building blocks. sense experience Direct observation by the human sensory organs as a source of knowledge. sex Biological distinction between man and woman. sexism Ideology that represents women as unimportant or inferior. sexuality Modern scientific concept, which incorporates both outward sexual behavior and inner desire. sign Physically observable object that indicates or expresses something else. signified ‘Meaning;’ the conceptual aspect or side of the linguistic sign. signifier ‘That which means.’ Sound aspect of the linguistic sign. singular statement Statement about a particular object. skepticism Philosophical current that argues that nothing can be known with certainty; in its most radical variant doubting even the existence of the world outside of us. social action In Weber, action with a subjective meaning and directed towards someone else.



social constructivism Social-scientific current that tries to unmask seemingly natural, autonomous and/or power-free cultural phenomena like science as produced by social relations in which power plays an important role. social fact In Durkheim, the observable social phenomena that constitute the sociologist’s raw materials. social sciences Disciplines like sociology, economics, and anthropology, originally modelled on the natural sciences rather than the humanities; can be positivist or interpretive. sociology The science of society. sociology of knowledge Sociological approach that analyses scientif ic knowledge as a social phenomenon. space of causes Factual or descriptive realm of causation and natural laws. space of reasons Normative domain or realm of justification. speech act theory Approach that analyses the use of language in terms of the actions we can perform with our utterances, like asserting, promising, asking, etc. spirit In Hegel, the individual or collective human consciousness or its products; amounts to a broadening of Kant’s reason; develops in history. spirit of the age The form of consciousness that is specific to a particular period of history. spontaneity In Kant, the mind’s capacity of forming representations. stemmatology/stemmatic method Philological approach that tries to order the manuscripts of a text in the form of a pedigree. strategic action In Habermas, the type of social action that is directed towards the realization of one’s own individual aims. structural violence In Habermas, the restriction of communicative action by system mechanisms. structuralism Approach that attempts to explain social and other phenomena from objective givens lying outside the subject. structure Ordered whole of elements that only acquire their value or identity within the whole. structure-agency debate Dispute concerning the question of whether objective structures or mental states are more fundamental in socialscientific explanations. style of argumentation Method or way of conducting scientific research and of accounting for its results. subaltern Repressed or oppressed culturally or ideologically; subordinate and/or considered inferior; non-hegemonic.


History and Philosophy of the Humanities

subject The human mind as bearer of knowledge of the empirical world; cf. object. subject-object scheme The idea that knowledge consists of a relation of depiction or representation between a knowing subject and a known object. subjective Concerning the knowledge or opinions of the knowing subject; cf. objective. subjective meaning In Weber, the meaning or value a social actor attaches to a fact or action, regardless of its actual or ‘objective’ validity or correctness. subjectivism Explanation in terms of subjective mental states. sublation (Aufhebung) ‘lifting up’ and/or ‘cancelling’; in Hegel, the resolution, reconciliation, or overcoming of a contradictory or conflictual earlier developmental stage. substructure In Marx, the whole of material (and specifically economic) relations that determine the cultural or ideological superstructure. superego (Über-Ich) In Freud, the internalized parental authority, which functions as the ego’s conscience; cf. id, ego. superstructure In Marxist analyses, the whole of cultural or ideological facts that is determined by the material economic base or substructure. symbol, sign Object that represents or refers to another. symbolic capital ‘Prestige’ or ‘authority;’ the scarce good that governs a symbolic field like art or religion and determines how it functions. symbolic form In Cassirer, a symbolic domain (e.g., language, myth, or science) that makes possible the knowledge and meaning of specific symbols . symbolic, the In Lacan, the whole of linguistic and social rules and laws that the child is exposed to from the moment of birth. symmetry The view that scientific and non-scientific knowledge should be explained in the same social-scientific manner. synchrony Level of analysis which abstracts away from historical or diachronic change. syntax Branch of linguistics; theory of the grammatically correct connection of words in sentences. synthetic Statement that is true or untrue on the basis of facts, e.g. ‘this flower is red;’ cf. analytical. synthetic a priori judgment Judgment that does not rest on experience, yet expresses new knowledge. system mechanism In Habermas, the mechanism that realizes the coordination of social actions via the effect of those actions; e.g., the capitalist market; cf. lifeworld. systematic observation The regular and controlled conducting of observations.



tacit dimension or tacit knowledge Non-propositional knowledge, practical skill, required for correctly practising a science. tautology A statement that is true in all circumstances. taxonomy Hierarchically ordered representation in classes, which should mirror the order of things themselves. technologies of the self In Foucault, the ways in which individuals can make themselves into subjects. teleological explanation Explanation of a thing or process in terms of its function or of the aim towards which it is directed. testability The requirement that a scientif ic theory make precise and refutable predictions about which observations may be expected. theoretical holism The view that meaning or empirical content cannot be assigned on a sentence-by-sentence basis but is spread over a theory as a whole. theoretical sciences In Aristotle, those sciences that are concerned with pure knowledge or contemplation, like metaphysics and mathematics. theory Collection of universal statements expressing empirical regularities or laws. theory and practice, relation of In critical theory, the problematic and variable (dialectical) relation between scientific knowledge and social reality. transcendental That which makes possible empirical knowledge; in Kant, the knowing subject is transcendental, not empirical. transcendental conditions of possibility In Kant, the a priori epistemological conditions that make empirical knowledge possible. trivium The three propaedeutic sciences of the Medieval artes liberales: grammar, dialectic, rhetoric. truth In the classical view, a correspondence between a statement and a fact; modern authors tend to see truth as a purely semantic property of statements (see semantic concept of truth). truth conditions Empirical conditions on the basis of which it can be established whether or not a statement is true. unconscious In Freud, the hidden drives of our actions, which are not directly accessible to our consciousness. underdetermination of theories The fact that general theories always express more than can be justified by a limited number of observations, and that two conflicting theories can agree with the same empirical evidence. unified science The logical empiricist project of expressing the different disciplines in a mutually understandable language or jargon. universal knowledge Knowledge of lawlike generalities, as opposed to particular individuals, objects, or events.


History and Philosophy of the Humanities

universal statement Statement about an entire group or class of entities, e.g., ‘All swans are white’. universalism The view that e.g. truth or reason is not bound to any particular time, place, or culture but is universally valid or applicable. university Institute of higher education. valid Logically binding. value orientation The inevitable focus on norms and values of the social and cultural sciences. value relativism The belief that values are always bound to particular times, places, and/or cultures. value-free The idea that scientific knowledge should be restricted to purely factual claims and does not and should not contain moral or other values; nor should such values be deducible from it. verification criterion of meaning The notion that a statement’s meaning is completely captured in its empirical truth conditions. verisimilitude The degree to which a theory approximates the truth. verstehen Interpreting; explaining an outward phenomenon in terms of inner meanings and values. Volksgeist In Hegel, the collective identity of a nation as a specific principle of the evolution of the world spirit, which follows its own course of development. Vorverständnisse Unconscious pre-understanding at the basis of conscious knowledge and action. Whig history See presentism. will to power In Nietzsche, the instinctive drive underlying human actions and morality. Wirkungsgeschichte History of the effects of an artwork or other cultural product. world history Historiographic approach that sees the world as an interconnected whole. world religion Modern notion of commensurable religious traditions with a dominant status and/or universal moral claims. world systems theory Macro-economic approach that explains the emergence of the modern capitalist world in terms of a rich and industrialized centre, a poor semi-industrialized semiperiphery, and a poor agrarian periphery. writing (écriture) In Barthes, the relation between a text and society; a function of language between grammar and style. Zeitgeist In Hegel, spirit’s stage of development at a particular moment in history.

Index of Names

Adler, A. 190 Adorno, T.W. § 8.4b, 221-222, 226-232, 234, 236, 279, 284, 302 Aeschylus 172, 335 Akhmatova, A. 213 Allen, W. 191 Anderson, B. 226 Antigone 263-264 Aristotle § 2.1a, 20, 28-29, 35, 40, 42-44, 51-56, 58, 71, 78-79, 116-117, 121, 123-125, 307 Arnold, M. 176 Auerbach, E. 335 Austin, J.L. § 10.2b, 231, 269-275, 280, 285, 295-296, 327-328 Bach, J.S. 197, 225, 227, 289 Bacon, F. 53-54, 56, 58, 61 Bakhtin, M. § 8.2, 211, 213-217, 220, 236 Balzac, H. de 212, 258 Barthes, R. 258-260, 293-294, 339 Baudelaire, C. 258, 260 Bayly, C.A. 346-349 Bazin, A. 300 Beethoven, L. van 143, 152, 227 Bellarmine, Cardinal 53, 57 Benjamin, W. § 8.4a, 221-228, 231, 236 Berg, A. 226 Berkeley, G. 64 Bernal, M. § 13.2b, 151, 334, 336-337, 349 Bhabha, H. 339-341, 349 Bloomfield, L. 255 Boccaccio, G. 47, 49 Bopp, F. 166 Bourdieu, P. § 10.4, 237, 269, 275, 279-285, 316, 325 Boyle, R. 39-41, 54-58, 60, 62-63, 68-69, 104, 126, 128, 246 Bracciolini, P. 47 Braudel, F. 276, 346-347 Brecht, B. 223, 226 Butler, J. § 12.4, 275, 324-329, 340 Carnap, R. § 3.1a, 74, 76-84, 87-88, 90, 92, 116, 125 Cassirer, E. § 7.4b, 84, 191, 193-196, 204-205 Cervantes 215 Chaplin, C. 225 Chatterjee, P. 338, 348 Chomsky, N.A. § 9.4, 86, 253-257, 266, 268 Cicero 46-47, 49-50, 163 Comte, A. 149, 174-175, 196, 209, 238, 240 Confucius 28 Cooper, F. 343-344 Copernicus, N. 51, 53, 59, 95, 118, 120-121, 123-124, 167

Dalí, S. 261, 283 Dante Alighieri 25-26 Deleuze, G. § 11.2b, 174, 292-293, 298-301, 312, 339, 357 Democritus 44, 91 Derrida, J. § 11.2a, 174, 251, 279, 292-299, 311, 327, 337-340, 349 Descartes, R. 56-57, 63-64, 112, 141, 271, 300, 305, 307 Descombes, V. 357 Dewey, J. 305 Dijksterhuis, E.J. 60 Dilthey, W. § 7.2b, 155, 182, 184-186, 191, 200, 203-205, 212, 297 Dodds, E.R. 190 Dolfuss, E. 88 Dostoyevsky, F. 180, 190, 201 Duhem, P. § 4.1a, 11, 101-105, 108, 110, 115-116, 119, 122-123, 129-130, 168, 180, 251, 316 Durkheim, E. § 9.2, 98, 174-176, 189, 209, 234, 237-247, 250, 252, 255, 265-267, 278, 344 Eagleton, T. 341 Eco, U. 25-26 Eddington, A. 95 Einstein, A. 72, 74, 79, 84, 95-96, 118 Eisenstein, S. 213, 301 Eliot, T.S. 180 Engels, F. 210-211, 218 Engerman, S.L. 22-24 Erasmus, D. 48-50 Euripides 172, 274 Fanon, F. § 13.1a 331-335, 340, 348 Felman, S. 190 Flaubert, G. 283 Fogel, R.W. 22-24 Foucault, M. § 5.1, § 10.3, § 12.3, 11, 30, 63, 115, 133-142, 156, 168, 174, 181, 204, 238, 258-259, 269, 275-279, 285, 293-294, 299, 316, 321-325, 329, 335, 339 Fox Keller, E. 317-320 Frederick the Great 148, 153 Frege, G. 71, 74, 77, 80 Freud, S. 186-190, 200, 205, 261-264, 306, 325 Fromm, E. 221 Gadamer, H.-G. § 7.6, 200-205, 306-307 Galen 44 Galilei, G. 40-41, 51-54, 57-58, 61, 63, 68-69, 117, 126, 167, 237 Gandhi, M. 338 Garbo, G. 259 Gauss, C.F. 74 Gay, P. 190


History and Philosophy of the Humanities

George, S. 175, 177 Giddens, A. 266 Glanvill, J. 319-320 Glass, Ph. 290 Goethe, J.W. von 152, 154, 172, 227 Gombrich, E. 99 Goncharov, I. 214 Gorky, M. 213 Grafton, A. 57 Gramsci, A. § 8.3, 217-221, 236, 337-338, 349 Greene, G. 174 Grimm, J. 151, 166, 220 Grimm, W. 151, 220 Grotius, H. 182 Guattari, F. 301 Guha, R. 337-339 Habermas, J. § 8.5, 114, 221, 231-236, 274-275, 279, 282, 318 Hall, S. 221 Haraway, D. 320-321 Harding, S. 315, 317-318 Hegel, G.W.F. § 5.2b, § 6.1, 140, 143-146, 151-152, 157, 159-165, 168-169, 171-173, 178, 182, 196, 209-210, 215, 222, 227, 231, 235, 263, 280, 324, 332, 339-340 Heidegger, M. 76, 203, 339 Hempel, C.G. 86 Herder, J.G. 163, 167, 185 Herodotus 335 Hitchcock, A. 265 Hobbes, Th. 54-56, 60, 128, 246 Hölderlin, F. 227 Homer 168, 212, 215 Horkheimer, M. 221, 223-224, 226-227, 231-232, 302 Hugo, V. 175 Humboldt, W. von § 5.4, 31-33, 152-157, 185, 194, 306-307 Hume, D. 64, 83, 90, 185, 299 Ibn al-Shâtir 59 Irigaray, L. 297 Jakobson, F.R. 213, 216, 260 James, W. 305 Johnson, M. 257 Jones, W. 166-167 Joyce, J. 213 Kafka, F. 212 Kant, I. § 2.2, § 5.2a, 11, 61, 64-74, 77, 79-80, 90-91, 110, 112, 114, 135, 138-145, 148-149, 152, 157, 159, 163, 168, 173, 185, 191, 193-194, 196, 227, 245-246, 252, 255, 279, 295, 297, 299-300, 305, 307 Karadžić , V. 170 Kekulé, A. 77 Khomeini, R. 341 Koons, J. 283, 290-291

Koyré, A. 58, 62, 115, 134 Kuhn, T.S. § 4.2, § 4.3, 17, 101-103, 109, 114-130, 133-135, 156, 168, 180, 194, 200, 246-247, 255, 261, 297, 304, 308, 316, 318 Lacan, J. § 9.6, 258, 261-265, 268, 294, 301, 325, 337-340, 349 Lachmann, K. 165, 168 Lakoff, G. 257 Langacker, R. 257 Latour, B. 102, 128, 310-312 Leavis, F.R. 176 Lenin, V.I. 218 Lessing, G.E. 148, 152 Lévi-Strauss, C. 240, 258, 260-261, 282 Lobachevsky, N. 74 Locke, J. 57, 112, 185, 271 Loos, A. 87 Lovejoy, A.O. 147 Lukács, G. § 8.2, 211-213, 215-216, 236 Luther, M. 49 Lyotard, J.-F. § 11.3a, 292-293, 302-304, 312 Mach, E. 72-73, 84, 88 Madonna 27, 291, 314 Mann, Th. 174, 176-177, 213 Mannheim, K. 177 Manzoni, A. 220 Marcuse, H. 221 Marx, K. § 8.1, 98, 110, 145, 149, 161, 197, 200, 209-211, 218, 222, 231, 234-236, 280, 283, 349 Mauss, M. 240 Meillet, A. 247 Mendelssohn, M. 177 Michelangelo 27, 190 Mignolo, W. 342-343 Mirandola, P. della 49 Mondriaan, P. 291 Monroe, M. 314 Mozart, W.A. 201 Needham, J. 59 Nehru, J. 338 Neurath, O. 72-74, 83-85 Newton, I. 40, 52, 57, 61-62, 68-69, 72, 95, 116-117, 136 Nicolai, F. 148 Nietzsche, F. § 6.3b, 159, 172-174, 178, 185, 191, 204, 277, 293, 298-301, 304 Oedipus 188, 263 Pânini 28 Panofsky, E. 204 Parsons, T. 344 Pasteur, L. 175 Péguy, C. 175 Peirce, C.S. 299, 301, 305 Petrarca, F. 47, 49 Picasso, P. 225, 291


Index of Names

Planck, M. 71, 74 Plato 40, 90, 297 Poliziano, A. 47 Pollock, Sh. 351 Popper, K.R. § 3.3, 39, 88-105, 115, 119, 121, 125-126, 129, 180, 190, 194, 200, 211, 218, 230, 232, 236 Prince (The Artist Formerly Known As) 291 Propp, V. 216 Proust, M. 223 Ptolemy 40, 44-46, 51, 53, 121, 123-124 Pushkin, A. 214 Pynchon, Th. 290 Pythagoras 40 Quine, W.V.O. § 4.1a, § 4.1b, 11, 101-103, 105-111, 113-116, 119, 122-123, 127, 129-130, 135, 168, 180, 194, 200, 203, 251, 304, 312, 316 Quintilian 49 Rabelais, F. 216-217 Ranke, L. von § 6.3a, 159, 162, 169-172, 174, 178 Reagan, R. 232, 290 Reich, S. 290 Renan, E. 150 Rickert, H. § 7.4a, 191-193, 196, 198, 200, 204-205 Rorty, R. § 11.3b, 102, 114, 190, 292, 304-309, 312, 316, 318 Rossetti, G. 25-26 Rousseau, J.-J. 167 Rushdie, S. 290, 340-341 Russell, B. 71, 74, 77, 80 Russell, J. 314 Said, E. § 13.2a, 151, 221, 334-337, 348 Sartre, J.-P. 282, 333 Saussure, F. de § 9.3, 216, 238-239, 247-253, 255, 258, 263, 265-268, 282, 293, 295-296, 299, 304 Schaffer, S. 55, 128, 246 Schleiermacher, F. § 7.2a, 182-184, 205 Schlick, M. 74, 84, 88 Schönberg, A. 226, 228-229, 291 Schopenhauer, A. 145 Schubert, F. 152 Scott, W. 212 Searle, J. 231 Sellars, W. § 4.1c, 102-103, 111-114, 122-123, 125-127, 129, 194, 231, 233, 274, 304, 312, 316

Seneca 47 Shakespeare, W. 24, 27 Shapin, S. 55, 60, 128, 246 Shaw, B. 175 Simmel, G. 232 Skinner, B.F. 86 Solzhenitsyn, A. 290 Sombart, W. 176 Sophocles 172, 263-264 Spinoza, B. de 57, 182, 299 Spivak, G. 338-341, 349 Stalin, J. 217 Stam, R. 301 Stephens, Th. 167 Subrahmanyam, S. 346, 349 Svevo, I. 191 Tarski, A. 79, 96 Thatcher, M. 290 Tolstoy, L. 215 Troeltsch, E. 176 Trubetzkoy, N. 216 al-Tûsî, N. 59 Valla, L. 47 Vermeer, J. 201 Voloshinov, V. § 8.2, 211, 213-214, 216-217, 220, 236 Voltaire, F.M.A.L. 148 Wachowski, L. & L. 265 Wallerstein, E. 345, 347 Warhol, A. 290 Webb, B. 175 Webb, S. 175 Weber, M. § 7.5, 110, 174-176, 189, 193, 196-200, 204-205, 209, 230, 234-235, 280, 289, 344 Weill, K. 227 Wellmer, A. 227 Wells, H.G. 175, 176 Wilamowitz-Moellendorff, U. von 164-165, 172 Williams, R. 221 Williams Crenshaw, K. 342 Winckelmann, J.J. 172 Wittfogel, K. 221 Wittgenstein, L. § 10.2a, 22, 26, 77, 204, 231, 269-272, 274-275, 278, 280, 285 Zilsel, E. 58-59, 85 Žižek, S. 191, 264, 265

Index of Subjects

a posteriori 67, 300 a priori 66-67, 69, 71-72, 74, 79-80, 114, 135, 142, 169, 193, 205, 245, 300, 304, 347 historical – 135 academic freedom 32, 152, 154, 157 academy 31-32, 41, 59, 153; cf. Royal Society; university vs academy act illocutionary – 273, 328 locutionary – 273 perlocutionary – 273-274, 328 action communicative – (Habermas) § 8.5, 114, 274 social – (Weber) 196-200, 289 strategic – 232-234 action-image (Deleuze) 301 ad hoc hypothesis see hypothesis, ad hoc – affection-image (Deleuze) 301 amodern (Latour) 310 analytic-synthetic distinction § 3.1b, 79, 106, 111, 113, 129, 304 analytical philosophy 12, 32, 88, 112, 128, 200, 231, 269, 275, 296, 299, 307, 324 androcentrism 313 Annales school 240, 276, 346-347 anomaly 119-122, 130, 147, 256 anti-essentialism 272, 298 antihumanism 278, 339 antimetaphysical attitude 73, 85 antinaturalism 113 anti-psychologism 186 anthropology 28, 32, 151, 238-240, 258, 267 linguistic – 213 of the moderns 311 of science 127-128 arbitrariness of the linguistic sign 250, 252, 267 archaeology (Foucault) § 5.1, 11, 141, 156, 181, 275-277, 323-324 artes liberales 29 Aufklärung see Enlightenment aura 225 author, ‘death of the –’ 258 avant-garde 223, 229, 236, 291 base (Marx) 209, 214, 218, 220, 226, 283; cf. superstructure basic sentence 93-94 – vs observation statement 50, 78, 110, 112, 190 behaviorism 18 Bildung § 5.4, § 11.3b, 31-33, 172, 175, 177, 284, 292, 303 Nietzsche’s critique of – 159, 172 Boyle’s law 39-40, 104

Boyle-Hobbes debate 60, 128, 246 canon 18, 26, 28, 163, 258 capital (Bourdieu) cultural – 284 symbolic – 283 capitalism 58, 98, 140, 209, 226, 289, 301, 341-343, 346 carnival 216-217 carnivalesque (Bakhtin) 216-217, 236 categories (Kant) 64, 67, 127, 141, 245-246 causality 64, 83, 97 in Aristotle 43-44 in Carnap 83 in Hume 64 in Kant 64 in Popper 97 centre (world-systems theory) 345 Classical Age (Foucault) § 5.1 cognition § 9.4, 185 collective representation 243 colonialism 332, 337; cf. postcolonialism colonization of the lifeworld 234-235 communicative action see action: communicative – competence vs performance 255-256 concept 27, 43, 51-52, 63-65, 69, 75, 78-79, 81, 83, 85, 88, 92, 97, 99, 103, 110-112, 114, 116-120, 122, 127, 129, 133, 145-147, 149-150, 155-156, 159, 161-162, 166-167, 177, 185, 190-193, 202, 218, 223, 225, 237, 239, 242, 247, 249-252, 256, 260, 270-271, 282, 292, 294-296, 298-301, 305, 315, 318, 321, 324, 329, 331, 337, 339, 342-343, 348-349 concept formation 179, 191-193, 196, 200, 204-205 in natural and cultural sciences 191, 200 conceptual frame/scheme 19, 52-53, 69, 110, 119, 123, 133, 135, 142, 168, 200 conceptual metaphor 257 confirmation 40, 78, 92, 99-100, 247 degree of – 62, 92 consciousness, philosophy of – 69, 114, 144, 169, 178, 209, 214, 226, 232, 237, 269, 293, 296, 301, 311, 333 context of discovery 77, 87, 100, 125, 130, 246, 313 context of justification 77, 87, 99, 125, 130, 246, 313 contradiction, contradictory 125, 142, 161-162, 190, 204, 209-211, 215, 222, 227-228, 230, 297, 340 conventionalism 105 conventionalist stratagem 94, 96, 190 corroboration 92 degree of – 92, 95-96


History and Philosophy of the Humanities

Counter-Enlightenment 142, 148-150, 154, 156-157, 178, 196 crisis (Kuhn) 120, 130 critical theory Ch. 8 passim, 279 tasks of a – 222, 231 crucial test § 4.1a, 92, 94-96, 100, 129, 316 cultural analysis 297 cultural studies 26-28, 221, 293, 339 culture industry 228, 231, 236 culture sciences § 7.4a decoloniality 342 deconstruction § 11.2a deduction § 3.3a, 86, 96-97 demarcation criterion 92, 100 demarcation problem (Popper) 90-91 dependency theory 345-346 diachrony 252-253, 267 dialect vs standard language 165, 219-220 dialectic 145, 160-161, 211-212, 214-215, 217-218, 227, 231-232, 234-235, 263-264, 293, 297, 299, 332 Habermas’ objections against – 231 in Hegel § 6.1 in Marx and Engels § 8.1 – of master and slave 161, 263, 332 dialectical idealism 161, 210-211 dialectical materialism 213, 217, 222, 231 dialogism (Bakhtin) 215-216 dialogue (Gadamer) 201 difference (Deleuze) § 11.2b Ding an sich (thing in itself) 65, 69, 169, 173, 299, 304 disciplinary matrix see paradigm discipline (Foucault) 276-278 discourse 139, 216, 302, 310-312, 316 authoritative – 216-217 discursive formation 275-277 discursive practice 277, 279 distinction (Bourdieu) 284 print capitalism 226 Duhem-Quine thesis § 4.1a, 11, 101-102, 110, 115-116, 119, 122-123, 129-130, 168, 251, 316 edification, edifying conversation 308, 312 ego (Ich) 188-189, 262, 300 empirical content see meaning: empirical content; theory: empirical content empiricism § 4.1, § 4.3, 62, 80, 83, 239, 259, 299, 316 logical – § 3.1, 11-12, 86-88, 90, 116, 269 transcendental – (Deleuze) 299-300 end of grand narratives 302 Enlightenment 62, 73, 84, 116, 142, 146, 148-150, 153-154, 156-157, 167, 177-178, 189, 196, 227, 235, 289, 303, 309, 336 dialectic of – (Horkheimer, Adorno) 227, 230, 234 epicycle 45-46, 51 epiphenomenon 265

epistémè (Foucault) 134-139, 142, 145, 156, 168, 181, 238, 259 epistémè vs doxa 19-20 epistemic rupture/mutation 134-135, 140-141, 157 epistemology § 2.2, 90, 110, 125-127, 138, 141, 157, 185, 191, 194, 240, 246, 305, 308, 311 equant 45, 51 ethnocentrism/eurocentrism 308-309, 331 evolution 57, 146-147, 210 exemplar see paradigm experience 20-21, 35, 39, 44, 51, 54-55, 61-62, 64-65, 67, 77, 79, 81-83, 101, 104, 106, 108-113, 116, 122-124, 126, 136, 141, 146, 148, 160-161, 184-185, 187-191, 194, 201, 203-204, 218, 220, 225, 227, 230, 237-239, 242-243, 255, 270, 283, 298-301, 306, 309, 321, 326, 338, 342, 343; cf. sense data Popper’s notion of – 90-91, 93-94 sense – 20-21, 35, 62, 64-65, 67, 113 experiment 20, 40, 44, 53-56, 58-59, 77, 92, 102, 104-105, 108, 119, 122, 127, 129, 212, 223 explanandum 85-86, 97 explanans 85-86 explanation § 3.3c, 35, 40, 43-44, 51, 55, 59-60, 69, 85-86, 140-141, 147-148, 166-167, 191, 197, 199, 214, 222, 238-240, 243-244, 246, 248, 261, 263, 267, 277, 280, 316 covering law-model of – 86 deductive-nomological model of – 86, 97 hypothetico-deductive model of – 97-99 in Aristotle 42-43 relation to prediction § 3.3c externalism/externalist 58, 60, 141, 147; cf. internalism faculty (university) 15, 32, 87, 155, 179, 184 fallibilism 96, 98 falsifiability of scientific knowledge 91 falsification 92, 94, 100, 108, 115, 119, 121 falsifier, potential 93-94, 96 family resemblance 271 felicity conditions 273-274 field (Bourdieu) § 10.4b film 225, 264 folklore 213, 216-217 form of intuition (Anschauungsform) 64-65, 141, 195 Frankfurt School (Frankfurter Schule) § 8.4, 231-232, 280, 282; cf. critical theory ‘French theory’ § 11.2 Geist see spirit Gemeinschaft vs Gesellschaft 175 gender § 12.2 gender metaphor § 12.2, 316, 318, 320 gender studies 29, 314, 316-318, 324 genealogy Foucault’s – § 10.3, 285 Nietzsche’s – § 6.3b, 293, 299


Index of Subjec ts

generative grammar § 9.4 genius, Romantic notion of – 184 geocentrism 50-51, 116 Gestalt switch 52, 117, 120, 167 given 69, 82, 124-125, 160, 162, 168-169, 173, 186, 189, 195, 210, 241-242, 248, 250-251, 259, 262263, 266, 269-270, 276, 299, 316, 322-327, 329 myth of the – § 4.1c, 11, 102, 111, 113, 122, 126, 129, 300, 304 globalization § 13.4, 341, 349 growth of knowledge 16, 21, 90-92, 98, 124, 196 habitus § 10.4a hegemony (Gramsci) 218-219, 236, 337-338, 340, 347, 349 heliocentrism 51, 53, 57, 70, 116, 124 hermeneutic circle 183, 203, 205 hermeneutics Ch. 7 passim, 12, 86, 142, 155, 164, 209, 237, 261, 264, 266, 268-269, 307-308, 313 double – 200, 266 heteroglossia 214-216, 236 historical a priori 135 historical materialism 219 historicism 98-100, 164, 204, 211 historicity § 5.2b, 181-182, 185, 203, 253, 282 historiography § 6.3, 23, 29, 59, 86, 115, 155, 159, 162, 164-165, 178, 192, 240, 292, 337, 344, 346-349 positivist – § 6.1-6.3 history global – § 13.4, 309 philosophical – (Hegel) § 6.1 world – (Hegel, Von Ranke) § 6.1, § 6.3a horizon (Gadamer) 202-203, 233 melting of –s 202 humane sciences 15-16, 317 humanism § 2.1b, § 2.1c, 11, 28, 42, 154, 182, 278, 331-334, 348; cf. Renaissance humanism humanities, birth of the – Ch. 5 humanities, philosophy of the 16, 18-19, 26, 35 ‘humanities revolution’ Ch. 5, 31, 140, 155, 157, 159 hybridity (Bhabha) 340-341 hybrids (Latour) 311 hypothesis 25, 91, 94, 97, 104-105, 108, 110-111, 247, 255, 309, 321 Id (Es) 188 ideal speech situation 233 ideal type 198, 205 idealism (philosophical) 141, 171, 185 identity politics 290, 341-342 idiographic sciences 192 il n’y a pas de hors-texte 294 illocutionary act see act, illocutionary – illocutionary force 273, 328 imaginary, the – (Lacan) § 9.6 imagined community (Anderson) 226 incommensurability 123-124, 127, 130, 304, 308

induction § 3.3a, 42, 53, 99 inductive logic (Carnap) 78 initial conditions 97-99 institution § 5.4, 11, 31, 41, 120, 143, 216, 222, 239, 242, 250, 269, 278, 285, 303, 309, 317, 325, 346-347 – vs practice 309, 317 intellectual, organic – 220, 338 intention 25, 128, 144, 180-181, 183, 205, 215, 227, 258, 260-261, 266-269, 274, 295-297, 325, 327, 346 internalism/internalist 58-60, 141, 147; cf. externalism interpreting see verstehen – vs overinterpreting 25 – vs truth seeking § 1.3 intersectionality 342 intuition (Anschauung) 16, 25, 27, 62-65, 77, 102, 106, 112, 114, 128, 141, 159, 195, 201, 212, 239, 300, 320 ironic attitude (Rorty) 305 iterability 216, 296, 327, 340 Junggrammatiker see neogrammarians l’art pour l’art 283 language game § 10.2a, 278, 285 langue (language system) 247-253, 261, 265, 267, 295 laryngeal theory 247 laws – of history § 3.3c, 211 scientific – 72, 78, 85-86, 90, 186, 199-200, 253 life, philosophy of – 172-173, 185, 204 life world 202, 233-236 linguistic turn 12, 69, 77, 90, 97, 112, 114-115, 169, 211, 214, 220, 262-263, 269, 275-276, 296, 342 linguistics § 6.2, § 9.3, § 9.4 general – § 9.3, 267 historical-comparative – § 6.2, 134, 138, 147, 186, 247 literary theory § 9.5, 15, 29, 213, 221, 238-239, 250, 261, 266-268, 274, 302 locutionary act see act, locutionary – logic of the situation 99 logical analysis 76-77, 83 logical (deductive) consequence 75 logical empiricism see empiricism, logical – logical positivism see logical empiricism, Vienna Circle logical validity 29, 42-43, 75 logically equivalent 76 manichaeism 332, 335 meaning see Carnap, Cassirer, Derrida, Dilthey, Saussure, hermeneutics, speech act theory, verification criterion, understanding (verstehen)


History and Philosophy of the Humanities

– as empirical content (Quine) 105, 108-111, 129 change of – (Kuhn) 129 subjective – (Weber) 205 meaning holism § 4.1b, 129, 203, 251 mechanistic world view 51-52, 54-55, 61, 70, 121, 318-320 metanarrative 303, 312 methodology § 3.3, 17, 90, 94, 173, 196, 200, 205, 210, 212 microcosm/macrocosm 45 mode of existence (Latour) 311 Modern Age (Foucault) § 5.1 modern constitution (Latour) 310, 312 modernism 230, 236, 291 modernity Ch. 4, Ch. 11, 12, 149, 151, 175, 212-213, 220, 230, 234-235, 335, 338 modernization theory 344-345 movement-image (image-mouvement) (Deleuze) 300-301 multiple modernities 309, 311-312 myth of the given see given, myth of the – nationalism § 5.4, 11, 71, 144, 148-150, 164, 213, 226, 235, 290, 303, 333, 337-338 third-world – 338 – vs national consciousness 143, 226, 333 naturalism 110, 113 neogrammarians (Junggrammatiker) 166, 186, 247, 252-253 neo-Kantianism § 7.4 neoliberalism 290, 342 nomadic (Deleuze) 298, 300 nomothetic sciences 192, 205 normal science (Kuhn) 118-119, 121, 129, 130, 270 and puzzle solving 119-120, 266 objectivism 237, 280, 285 Oedipus complex 188 ontology 109-110, 123, 125, 265, 311 oral history 170 organon 29, 42 oriental studies 151, 334ff orientalism § 13.2a, 157, 166, 322, 336, 348-349 paradigm § 4.2-4.4, 133-135, 147, 166, 168, 248, 253, 255-256, 261, 265-266, 268, 291, 297, 304-308 as disciplinary matrix 119 as exemplar 118-119 parole (language use) 248, 252, 267 people’s spirit (Volksgeist) see spirit, people’s – perception image (Deleuze) 301 performative 272-273, 285, 295, 325-328 performativity (Butler) § 12.4 periphery (world systems theory) 345 perlocutionary act see act, perlocutionary – perlocutionary effect 274, 328 phenomenal world 65, 127 phenomenalism 82

phenomenology 32, 278, 282, 293, 297 philology § 6.2, § 13.2b, 29, 48, 50, 56, 114, 147, 157, 159, 169, 172, 178, 182, 248, 335, 348-349 philosophy of the humanities 16-19, 23, 26, 35 philosophy of science historical adequacy, criterion of – 17 philosophical adequacy, criterion of – 16 tasks 17 physicalism 82 polyphony (Bakhtin) 215, 236 positivism § 9-9.1, 12, 82, 139, 185, 223, 230, 236, 240, 246, 269 positivism debate 230, 236 postcolonialism Ch. 13, 12 postmodern condition § 11.1-11.2, § 11.3a, 312 postmodernism § 11.1-11.3, 312, 329, 331 poststructuralism § 11.2 power-knowledge (pouvoir-savoir) 277, 322 practical logic (Bourdieu) 280, 285 practice turn Ch. 10 pragmatics 181, 256, 271 pragmatism § 4.1, 4.3, 83, 88, 304-305, 307-308, 312 prediction vs prophecy 99 presentism 117 private language argument § 10.2a professionalization 159, 163-164, 238, 317 prophecy see prediction vs prophecy proposition 62, 75, 94, 142 Proto-Indo-European (PIE) 165-166, 186, 247 pseudo-science 92, 190, 196 psychoanalysis § 7.3, § 9.6, 72, 92, 179, 205, 258, 268, 301, 321-322, 325, 340 purification (Latour) 310-311 qualities, primary vs secondary – 51, 63 queer theory § 12.4, 275, 324 racism 163, 331, 336, 341, 349 rationalism 11, 197, 255, 259, 289, 336 critical – § 3, 230 rationalization (Weber) 176, 234-235, 289 reductionism § 3.1b, § 4.1a-b, 100, 106, 108, 111, 113, 129, 217, 304 economical – 217 real, the – (Lacan) § 9.6 relativism 105, 115, 128, 130, 146, 198, 203, 282 value – 193, 198 reliving/experiencing (erleben) 183, 185, 201, 204 Renaissance § 2.1b, 28, 41-42, 50, 133-137, 164, 180, 342-343 Renaissance humanism § 2.1b, 56, 154, 182, 331 revolution, scientific see scientific revolution Romanticism 142, 148, 184, 230 Royal Society 32, 41, 54-55, 57, 60, 153, 319-320 science Aristotelian – § 2.1a, § 2.1c, 41, 46, 57, 69, 121 classifications of the –s 29, 35

Index of Subjec ts

critique of feminist – § 12.1-12.2, 293 postcolonial – § 13.1-13.2 – in action (Latour) § 4.4, 102, 128 – in China 28, 59 Islamic – 40, 44, 59 Medieval – § 2.1a poetic – (Aristotle) 29 practical – (Aristotle) 29, 35 pure vs applied – 17 ready-made – (Latour) 102, 128 theoretical – (Aristotle) 28, 29 – vs religion 189 science studies 128; cf. anthropology of science, sociology of science scientific revolution, the (16th-17 th century) § 2.1, 20, 31, 61, 70, 116, 121, 140 scientific revolutions (Kuhn) § 4.2-4.3, 127, 133-135 scientism 205 secularism 336 post– 235 secularization 289, 309 semantics 29, 181, 256-257 cognitive – 257 semiology/semiotics 214, 250, 258-259, 267, 299, 301 semiperiphery (world systems theory) 345 sense data 111-112, 126-127, 304 sexuality § 12.3, 12, 188, 279, 319, 325; cf. critique of science, feminist in Butler 326-328 in Foucault § 12.3, 329 in Freud 188 signified (signifié) 249, 251-252, 263, 267, 294-297 signifier (signifiant) 249, 251-252, 263, 267, 294-297 free play of the – 296-297 singular/existential statement 75, 78, 93-94, 97, 108, 189, 249; cf. basic sentence skepticism 64, 137, 171, 176, 235 social action (Weber) 196-197, 289 social fact (Bourdieu) 283 social fact (Durkheim) 176, 239-244, 250, 252, 255, 265, 267 social sciences, birth of – § 6.4 sociology § 6.4, § 9.2, § 10.4, 28, 32, 59, 86, 159, 196, 198, 204, 222, 226, 265, 267, 317; cf. Bourdieu, Comte, Durkheim, Weber – of knowledge § 9.2a, 221 – of music § 8.4b, 238, 289 – of religion § 9.2a – of science 60, 128, 200, 218, 222, 238, 247; cf. anthropology of science, science studies reflexive – § 10.4 verstehende – § 7.5 speech act § 10.2b, 235, 300, 331

391 speech act theory § 10.2b, 271, 295-296, 324, 327 spirit (Geist) § 5.2b, 26, 31, 63, 146, 150-151, 155-157, 160-162, 164-165, 168-169, 171, 178, 181-183, 185-186, 191, 209, 214-215, 220, 235, 252, 275, 296, 303, 307, 319 – of the age (Zeitgeist) 146 – people’s (Volksgeist) 144, 146, 159, 162, 168 stemmatology (stemmatic method) 165 structural violence 234 structuralism Ch. 9, 12, 140, 220, 269, 280, 282, 293 post– see poststructuralism structure-agency debate 266, 268, 280 subaltern 218-219, 221, 236, 349 Subaltern Studies Group § 13.3, 224, 349 subject, transcendental – 69-70, 140-142, 147, 157, 159, 276-277, 300 subjectivism 237 subject-object scheme 11, 63, 70, 102, 125, 179 superego (Über-ich) 188-189, 265 superstructure 209, 213-214, 218, 220, 223, 226, 283 symbol § 7.4b, 25, 179, 194-196, 204, 259 symbolic forms § 7.4b, 204-205 symbolic, the – (Lacan) § 9.6, 322 synchrony 252, 267 synthetic a priori judgment 67, 71 system mechanisms (Habermas) 233-234, 236 tacit dimension 119 teleology 210-211 theology 29, 31, 50, 73, 85, 155, 182, 290 theory – as hypothesis 91, 97, 104-105, 108, 110-111 empirical content of – 81, 95-96, 105, 129 informational content of – 96 instrumentalist interpretation of –s 46 realist interpretation of –s 255, 51, 53, 57, 255 relation with practice 161 testing of –s § 3.3b, § 4.1, 119, 122, 236 underdetermination of – by observation 109 theory of communicative action § 8.5, 114, 274 transcendental 65-67, 69-70, 110, 138, 189, 191, 195, 198, 212, 252, 255, 275, 295, 299-300 – subject see subject, transcendental truth § 1.2, 16, 18, 23-24, 29, 35, 56-57, 62, 73, 78-79, 96-97, 101, 104, 106, 108, 110, 115, 124, 128-129, 133, 136, 142, 170-171, 196, 221, 231, 233, 270, 279, 282-283, 292, 304-306, 308, 312, 317, 320-322, 325, 335 Aristotle’s definition of – 20 correspondence theory of – 78-79 semantic concept of – 79 truth conditions 75, 77, 80, 270, 273

392  unconscious (Freud, Lacan) 188-190, 261, 263, 268, 302, 306 unified science (Einheitswissenschaft) 83-85 universal statements/laws 42, 75, 78, 85-86, 90-91, 93-94, 97, 186, 192, 200 universalism 142, 150, 154, 178, 291, 331 university 15, 31-34, 58, 155, 157, 170, 175-176, 240, 313 Humboldtian – § 5.4 – reforms § 5.4, 31, 157, 163 – vs academy 32, 153 value orientation 193, 198, 234 value-free 177, 198, 205, 230, 291 verification criterion of meaning 77-80, 83, 85, 87, 90-91, 99, 109, 272-273, 285

History and Philosophy of the Humanities

verisimilitude 96, 115, 124 verstehen (interpreting) 86, 181-182, 184-185, 196, 201, 204 Vienna Circle (Wiener Kreis) § 3.1-3.2, 39, 88, 90, 97, 100, 106, 220, 270 Volksgeist see people’s spirit Vorverständnis (pre-understanding) 201, 203 Whig history see presentism Wiener Kreis see Vienna Circle will to power 173, 178, 300-301 Wirkungsgeschichte (history of effect) 200, 203 women’s studies 313-314, 329 world systems theory 345-346