Philosophical Hermeneutics Reinterpreted: Dialogues with Existentialism, Pragmatism, Critical Theory and Postmodernism 9781472547262, 9781441116383, 9781472512567

In this important new study, Paul Fairfield examines a number of issues of central importance to philosophical hermeneut

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Philosophical Hermeneutics Reinterpreted: Dialogues with Existentialism, Pragmatism, Critical Theory and Postmodernism
 9781472547262, 9781441116383, 9781472512567

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Contents

Introduction: Hermeneutical Engagements

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Part I. Existentialism7 1. Perspectivism: Friedrich Nietzsche 9 2. Reason as Boundless Communication: Karl Jaspers 27 3. The Thou and the Mass: Gabriel Marcel 44 Part II. Pragmatism61 4. Truth After Correspondence: William James 63 5. The Theory of Inquiry: John Dewey 81 6. Practice, Theory and Anti-Theory: Richard Rorty 99 Part III. Critical Theory117 7. Interpretation and Criticism: Max Horkheimer 119 8. Deliberative Politics: Jürgen Habermas 136 9. Discourse Ethics: Karl-Otto Apel 154 Part IV. Postmodernism171 10. Genealogy and Suspicious Interpretation: Michel Foucault 173 11. Radical Hermeneutics: John Caputo 194 12. Unprincipled Judgements: Jean-François Lyotard 211 Notes231 Bibliography251 Index259

For Gwyneth Fairfield

Chapter 1

Perspectivism Friedrich Nietzsche That interpretation occurs from a finite perspective – one that reveals the interpretive object in a particular aspect while also constituting the being of that object – is not a discovery of twentieth-century hermeneutics. Gadamer traced the idea in primitive form to Chladenius and, before him, Leibniz, although it would be much later that the hermeneutical implications of the concept of perspective, derived from optics, would become clear.1 They would be clarified, of course, in the writings of the great hermeneutical philosophers of the twentieth century, above all by Heidegger and Gadamer. Before both, however, was a figure whose writings on interpretation and perspective are of unmistakable importance even while his relation to philosophical hermeneutics is rather difficult to place: Friedrich Nietzsche. Gadamer’s own account of the history of hermeneutics in Truth and Method does not omit Nietzsche, yet references to his works are rather fewer than one might expect in a story that prominently includes the names of Schleiermacher, Ranke, Droysen, Dilthey, Husserl, Count York and, of course, Heidegger. More recently, Gianni Vattimo has argued persuasively not only that Nietzsche was indeed a hermeneutical thinker but that ‘the only possible way of placing Nietzsche in the history of modern philosophy is to consider him as belonging to the “school” of ontological hermeneutics.’ Vattimo’s point is one with which I fully concur, in spite of the fact, as he also writes, that ‘neither Gadamer . . . nor Heidegger himself in his courses on Nietzsche appears to consider Nietzsche as a “hermeneutic” thinker.’2 In spite of Heidegger’s profound indebtedness to Nietzsche, he would speak of him as a metaphysical, not hermeneutical, philosopher. Heidegger’s controversial interpretation is not one that I propose to take up here. Instead I shall pursue a line of questioning regarding Nietzsche as a hermeneuticist, as a philosopher not only of existence but, inseparable from this, of interpretation, perspectivism, genealogy and historicity. That Nietzsche was an important forerunner of existentialism and postmodernism is well known, yet his connection with hermeneutics may need to be shown. Let us briefly recall, then, some of the hypotheses that

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Nietzsche would share with the hermeneutics of Heidegger and Gadamer in particular, beginning with the critique of Enlightenment epistemology and the quest for ahistorical certainty on which it embarked. Nietzsche’s critiques effectively undermined ahistorical thinking in general along with the notion of objectivity and the faith in dichotomies on which so much Enlightenment thought relied. Nietzsche effectively diagnosed many of the excesses and naiveties of the rationalists and empiricists, the idealists and positivists, and so on, raising new questions about the nature and limits of a knowledge now centred on the concept of interpretation. To know is to interpret one’s object in a manner that is contingent at once on history and language, on values and the requirements of a certain kind of life, and on point of view. Knowing the world is not to be thought of on the model of unconditioned subjectivity encountering an uninterpreted reality, as an objective beholding of what is there, or a mirroring relation made possible by some method or other. What has being for us has always already been schematized and revealed in ways that reflect our historical heritage. Interpretation belongs to experience in general and from the outset, interpretations that are value- and theory-laden, partial, interested, incomplete and uncertain. All of this Nietzsche very ably brought to our attention. He impressed on us the need to overcome the false antitheses that had brought philosophy by the nineteenth century to a dead end and to replace these with ways of thinking that are dialectical, experimental, perspectival, phenomenological and rhetorical, which partake of the Dionysian no less than the Apollonian, and of mythos as much as logos. If philosophy is an interpretive art then it ought to be unabashedly so, a gay science of free-spirited questioning and provocations, of ‘dangerous maybes’ and Dionysian excess.3 The hermeneutics of Heidegger and Gadamer would certainly be less ‘gay’ than what issued from Nietzsche’s pen, yet here as well a new commitment to overcoming binary oppositions, the quest for foundations, and two and a half millennia of metaphysics through a project of rigorous phenomenological interpretation would replace the hackneyed oppositions of rationalism and empiricism, realism and antirealism, and so on. Other common themes include the finitude and linguisticality of interpretation, the notion of ‘horizon’ (referring, as Gadamer put it, to ‘the way in which thought is tied to its finite determinacy, and the way one’s range of vision is gradually expanded’), the susceptibility of interpretation to distortion (due in no small measure to the workings of language), the inadequacy of the correspondence theory of truth and what Gadamer called ‘the dominant epistemological methodologism,’ the impossibility of

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‘unprejudiced scholarship’ and of ‘disregarding ourselves’ in research, an accent on the limits and interpretive nature of science and a critique of the modern idolatry of it, the non-distinction between what is and its mode(s) of presentation to us, the phenomenological inseparability of being and awareness, and some others.4 For Nietzsche, no less than Heidegger and Gadamer, all being is interpreted being, and while the details of this hypothesis would differ in important ways, one might say in the case of each figure that the basic condition of knowing is that of a simultaneous not-knowing, of a play of light, shadow and darkness that in no instance leads to unmediated or total disclosure. But of the numerous hypotheses that twentieth-century hermeneutics shares with Nietzsche, none is of more consequence than the concept of perspective itself. Nietzsche’s insight in short was that knowing invariably occurs from a finite point of view. This applies to scientific and philosophical knowledge no less than to the various other ways of knowing the world, and it is not a condition from which any technique of reflection could ever deliver us. This hypothesis would shape the basic problematics of both existential phenomenology and philosophical hermeneutics, and indeed several other currents of contemporary continental thought, confirming Nietzsche’s status as the first philosopher of the twentieth century. This was no minor insight, and while the basic concept preceded him, it was Nietzsche who radicalized the point and identified several of its more important implications. It is important that we recall Nietzsche’s argument before asking some questions about its present relevance for hermeneutics. Well prior to Heidegger, it was Nietzsche who first placed the concepts of interpretation and perspective in the centre of philosophy, displacing models of knowing subjectivity that had their roots in the seventeenth century. Through a series of sceptical arguments he brought to an end the dream of philosophy beholding the universe as a god might, from an absolutely unconditioned point of view or indeed from no point of view. Nietzsche’s ‘death of god’ signified the death of ahistorical, nonperspectival thinking, the death of the absolute in all its forms, and the realization of human finitude. All apparent certainties are products of historical and linguistic mediation. A ‘self-evident truth’ is a proposition that fits without resistance into an existing historical schematism and on which many other propositions depend. Its self-evident appearance is a consequence of historical forgetfulness and is in every case illusory. Being is not external to consciousness, nor the reverse. What we perceive and know of the world is the particular aspect that a finite point of view renders visible, not the

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totality. The very concept of totality or being in itself is unintelligible, since apart from subjectivity it is quite literally unthinkable. Knowing an object, for Nietzsche, means relating it to the interpreter, viewing it under a particular aspect and in relation to an existing framework of language and concepts. It involves in every case viewing the object from a perspective that constitutes the being of the object. Nietzsche’s way of putting this is that ‘we possess the concept “being,” “thing,” only as a relational concept.’5 Being in itself is an idle notion. What has being for us is never historically unconditioned, a simple matter of the way things are. Instead, the way things are is the mode in which they manifest themselves to the occupants of a particular standpoint. Perspective, as Nietzsche would express it, is ‘the basic condition of all life’, including all knowing.6 ‘The perspective therefore decides the character of the “appearance”’ – and where the antithesis of appearance and reality is abolished.7 As Nietzsche famously stated in On the Genealogy of Morals, ‘Henceforth, my dear philosophers, let us be on guard against the dangerous old conceptual fiction that posited a “pure, will-less, painless, timeless knowing subject”; let us guard against the snares of such contradictory concepts as “pure reason”, “absolute spirituality”, “knowledge in itself”; these always demand that we should think of an eye that is completely unthinkable, an eye turned in no particular direction, in which the active and interpreting forces, through which alone seeing becomes seeing something, are supposed to be lacking; these always demand of the eye an absurdity and a nonsense. There is only a perspective seeing, only a perspective “knowing”; and the more affects we allow to speak about one thing, the more eyes, different eyes, we can use to observe one thing, the more complete will our “concept” of this thing, our “objectivity”, be. But to eliminate the will altogether, to suspend each and every affect, supposing we were capable of this – what would that mean but to castrate the intellect?’8 He would formulate the same point in the notes to The Will to Power as follows: ‘Against positivism, which halts at phenomena – “There are only facts” – I would say: No, facts is precisely what there is not, only interpretations. We cannot establish any fact “in itself”: perhaps it is folly to want to do such a thing. . . . In so far as the word “knowledge” has any meaning, the world is knowable; but it is interpretable otherwise, it has no meaning behind it, but countless meanings: “Perspectivism.”’9 What passes for facts are low-level interpretations that are not presently contested, on which we rely for pragmatic purposes, and on which many less rudimentary propositions likewise depend. What Nietzsche rejected are not facts in this sense but facts ‘in themselves’ and indeed anything that is ‘in itself’,

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whether it be things, being, truth or knowledge. The ‘in itself’ would be knowable only by a god – the same god that the philosophers to whom Nietzsche placed himself in opposition had long aspired to be. Perspectivism thus anticipates what Heidegger would term the as-structure of interpretation. To know, understand or perceive something is always to perceive it as this or that kind of thing, as belonging to a particular category of being and thus never to behold it sub specie aeternitatis. A perception that is aperspectival and apart from the as-structure of interpretation would be a perception from a place that is no-place. What a thing is for us – not merely how it appears but how it is, the manner in which it is manifest to us – is contingent on perspective in the sense of either a language, worldview, disciplinary vocabulary, set of beliefs, values, affects or will to power. The optical metaphor of perspective refers to any and all of these and probably some other things besides. No cognitive or other perspective on any object gives us a privileged view of it, but an aspect only. An historical event, for instance, may be interpreted from the point of view of politics or economics, sociology or religion, psychology or morality, or any number of viewpoints and vocabularies, each of which opens up a dimension of meaning while closing off others. Each raises particular questions while dismissing others as irrelevant, yet none gives us a uniquely and supremely authoritative knowledge of that event, or one that could encompass everything that can be known of it. The same can be said of any interpretive object; in being known, it is revealed to us in a particular and limited aspect. As Alexander Nehamas puts it, ‘Perspectivism implies that in order to engage in any activity we must necessarily occupy ourselves with a selection of material and exclude much from our consideration. It does not imply that we see or know an appearance of the world instead of that world itself. . . . What is seen is simply the world itself . . . from that perspective.’10 This basic hypothesis would, of course, be appropriated by philosophical hermeneutics, albeit with considerable qualification. While abandoning the perspectivist label and infrequently citing Nietzsche by name, Gadamer would repeat in Truth and Method that ‘we never succeed in seeing anything but an ever more extended aspect, a “view” of the world. Those views of the world are not relative in the sense that one could oppose them to the “world in itself”, as if the right view from some possible position outside the human, linguistic world could discover it in its being-in-itself. No one doubts that the world can exist without man and perhaps will do so. . . . The multiplicity of . . . worldviews does not involve any relativization of the “world”. Rather, what the world is is not different from the views in which

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it presents itself. The relationship is the same in the perception of things. Seen phenomenologically, the “thing-in-itself” is, as Husserl has shown, nothing but the continuity with which the various perceptual perspectives on objects shade into one another.’ Citing Husserl and Heidegger rather than Nietzsche, Gadamer ‘repeatedly emphasized’ that ‘there is no possible consciousness . . . in which any traditionary “subject matter” would appear in the light of eternity. Every appropriation of tradition . . . is the experience of an “aspect” of the thing itself.’11 This point is of fundamental hermeneutical importance and expressions of it appear throughout Gadamer’s writings as well as the wider literature of post-Heideggerian hermeneutics. What would carry less influence there is Nietzsche’s decided emphasis on the falsification of consciousness, a theme that Nietzsche regarded as essential to his perspectivism. The falsity of which he often wrote concerns the habit of interpretation becoming dogmatic and mistaking the particular aspect that comes into view with the object in its totality. Interpretation arranges, orders, forms, evaluates, simplifies, and so constitutes its object. In doing so it ‘participates in Being’, as Jean Granier puts it, while being ‘neither the cause, principle, nor measure of reality.’ ‘Each appearance’, as this scholar also points out, ‘is an apparition – that is, a real manifestation – and there is nothing to look for beyond these manifestations. To be is to appear – not in the sense that appearing is the equivalent of Being, but in that every apparition is a revelation of Being.’ A good interpretation is faithful to its object while also involving what Granier calls ‘some creative initiative on the part of the interpreter.’ A common tendency of thought is to overlook this initiative or deny it outright, thus regarding our perspectival categories as categories of the object in itself. We thus conjure up the absolute, in spite of its utter unthinkability – unthinkable since, in the same author’s words, ‘knowledge is a relation, and since an absolute would cease to be absolute if it sustained a relation to an other being outside itself.’12 Yet posit the ‘in itself’ and identify it with the aspect that a contingent mode of access makes visible is both commonplace and the essence of falsification. Knowing, Nietzsche would always insist, involves simplifying our object; in every case it involves an imposition of stability and a call to order, an appropriation that captures the dimension of the thing that serves us. It is a fundamentally interested and artificial arrangement that comes into view, one that includes no small element of ‘forcing, adjusting, abbreviating, omitting, padding, investing, falsifying, and whatever else is of the essence of interpreting.’13 When Nietzsche spoke of interpretation his language would always accent the element of illusion and distortion, and where this means not that we have failed to ‘get it right’ in the sense of accurately

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representing being in itself, but that we have compressed the manifold into an expedient classification. The order of the world is illusory in the sense that it is a consequence of centuries of arrangement, unification and simplification according to ‘a scheme that we cannot throw off’ by reason of its practical utility. Language, for instance, imposes a certain arrangement on experience, as does logic, science and common sense. ‘The naiveté was to take an anthropocentric idiosyncracy as the measure of things, as the rule for determining “real” and “unreal”: in short, to make absolute something conditioned.’14 The categories of thought, Nietzsche held, ‘are interpreted into things’; they are impositions and projections that suit those occupying a particular standpoint, and impositions that we do not regard as such.15 Our concepts neither simply take in what is there nor partake of the a priori or transcendental. Concepts and values likewise are never more than perspectival and expedient falsifications in this sense, and where there is no possibility of them being ‘true’ in the sense of corresponding to objective states of affairs. Whether it be categories of a philosophical, scientific or moral nature, all such concepts constitute a ‘thoroughly artificial, suitably constructed and suitably falsified world.’16 It belongs to the very essence of knowledge that it serves life or a particular form of it; it is a condition of the knower’s existence. Every interpretive framework furthers the interests of its adherents and makes it possible to ‘“know” (or believe or imagine) just as much as may be useful in the interests of the human herd, the species.’17 Modern epistemology had entirely overlooked not only the perspectival but the self-serving dimension of knowledge, insisting that if only we bring our thought into conformity with the correct method, then all interests and all subjectivity can be overcome. That this is a naïve illusion is a point on which Nietzsche would continually dwell. Disinterest, objectivity and detachment were regular targets of his scepticism, of which the following texts are representative: ‘We have projected the conditions of our preservation as predicates of being in general. Because we have to be stable in our beliefs if we are to prosper, we have made the “real” world a world not of change and becoming, but one of being.’18 ‘The falseness of a judgement is for us not necessarily an objection to a judgement; in this respect our new language may sound strangest. The question is to what extent it is life-promoting, life-preserving, species-preserving, perhaps even species-cultivating.’19 Finally, ‘The inventive force that invented categories laboured in the service of our needs, namely of our need for security, for quick understanding on the basis of signs and sounds, for means of abbreviation: “substance”, “subject”, “object”, “being”, “becoming” have

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nothing to do with metaphysical truths.’20 Passages of this kind are found throughout Nietzsche’s writings, and what they continually bring to our attention is the error, as common as it is profound, of projecting what are essentially conditions necessary for the promotion of our practical interests onto being itself. Science no less than religion exists ‘to suit us’, as a means of ‘taking possession of things’ and achieving intellectual comfort.21 Nietzsche’s perspectivism also maintains that we must conceive of knowledge in terms of the will to knowledge, the will to truth and, inseparable from both, the will to power. Interpretations no less than valuations and all other forms of human expression are manifestations of the will to power. A vocabulary of domination and conquest would always inform his remarks on knowledge. Knowing is a fundamentally instinctive activity: ‘the personal confession of its author’ in the case of philosophy. There is no eliminating either the perspective or the person of the knower from knowing and the known, and the person taken not merely as a ‘knowing subject’ but as a biological agent. It is the body that interprets; the intellect does not belong to an order transcending the bodily and instinctive, nor does it transcend the order of the political. Power, or the will to power, lies at the basis not only of knowledge but of life taken as a whole. ‘A living thing’, as Nietzsche expressed this point in Beyond Good and Evil, ‘seeks above all to discharge its strength – life itself is will to power.’22 Knowing is one form in which this is accomplished. What the knower in every case seeks is to influence and transform what surrounds it, not merely to behold what is there. Every perspective on the world seeks to further itself by means ranging from the civilized to the uncivilized. It interprets reality ‘in order to press it into service’, and in this sense is ‘a tool of power.’23 Nietzsche’s frequent insistence that the will to knowledge and truth is a manifestation of a more fundamental will to power is best understood neither crudely nor metaphysically but (quasi-) biologically, politically and ontologically. A good deal of ambiguity would always cling to this doctrine; however the weight of the textual evidence suggests a view of knowledge as producing effects on the natural and social worlds and as an interested, instinctive, pragmatic and form-bestowing act. The essentially political language of power and command was in some measure proffered as a corrective of Enlightenment epistemologies that had spoken of the knowing subject in excessively dispassionate and impersonal terms, as if knowing the truth were a fundamentally passive affair of registering uninterpreted sense impressions or analyzing clear and distinct ideas by means of an impossibly cerebral conception of reason. When discussing knowledge, Nietzsche’s language is as given to excess as it is on

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a great many other themes. His point is that nothing about the knower is passive, uncreative, unbiological, ahistorical or coldly impersonal. It legislates what it sees, classifies and schematizes the world according to its own conditions of existence. The strong accent on the active, legislative nature of interpretation must not be read in too literal or crude a way, as many of Nietzsche’s detractors are inclined to do. For Nietzsche, the will to power underlies the life of the human organism in general; as a knower it bestows intelligibility on the world in an analogous way that as a moral agent it bestows value and meaning on its existence. Nothing here is given, and because modern philosophy had so thoroughly misunderstood this, it became Nietzsche’s task to point it out and to demonstrate its implications, particularly the manner in which knowledge is the product of human artifice. The accent on power calls attention to his view that the values and interpretations that issue from a perspective strive not only to express one’s own form of life but to expand its sphere of influence and to constitute the world in which others live. It is in this sense that Nietzsche spoke of philosophy as ‘the most spiritual will to power’ and of philosophers as ‘commanders and legislators’ – not to mean that they are petty autocrats of the mind but that their theoretical constructions afford an order to an existence that unto itself is without it. Philosophical interpretations are not alone in this respect. Scientific hypotheses, artistic expressions, religious precepts, moral values and many other things are likewise expressions of the will to power that are partisan in favour of the interpreter. Ultimately it is ‘one’s own forms’ that one imposes onto being, and normally without thinking that one is doing so.24 Interpretation being an instinctive, quasi-biological matter, it is entirely inevitable that the structure and meaning we find in the world is of our own device. The task of philosophical reflection is to become aware of this fact, and as Maudemarie Clark correctly notes, ‘What Nietzsche objects to in previous philosophers is not that they read their values into the world, but that they pretended to be doing something else, that they were not “honest enough in their work.”’25 Not only philosophers but interpreters in general, Nietzsche wrote, ‘are all advocates who resent that name, . . . wily spokesmen for their prejudices which they baptize “truths.”’26 Nietzsche’s genealogical writings, for example, are hardly presented as value-neutral descriptions of the history of moral and philosophical concepts but as a polemic and an exercise in suspicion. Genealogical interpretation aims to unmask illusions in rather strident terms, not only because Nietzsche himself was a man of conviction but because of the requirements of intellectual honesty – one of the virtues of mind that he valued most highly.

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If moral evaluations typically masquerade as impartial and transcendent deliverances, then it falls to genealogical interpretation to reveal not only their histories but their subservience to a particular will to power. Interpretation as Nietzsche both described and practised it incorporates an attitude of suspicion, yet he would equally speak of it as an exercise in exuberant experimentation, as a gay science to which he opposed the ‘spirit of gravity’. It is a fundamentally creative art that explicitly forswears claims to certainty. Philosophy practised in this spirit is no less ‘scientific’ than several other schools of thought aspired to, yet it was to be a gay science in the sense of uninhibited questioning for which there is no technique. As Walter Kaufmann expressed it, ‘Questions permitting of experiment are, to Nietzsche’s mind, those questions to which he can reply: “Versuchen wir’s! ” Let us try it! Experimenting involves testing an answer by trying to live according to it.’27 No theoretical model can formalize an interpretation that is experimental in this sense. It is best understood in terms of what it is not: a method, an attitude of perfect solemnity, a preoccupation with questions that remain at a surface level of consciousness without any real possibility of penetrating to the deeper regions of experience. Interpretation does not come in one form and is not practised with a single attitude of mind. Here it is suspicious and sceptical; there it is cheerful and mischievous. On some matters it is inclined toward negation, on others affirmation or provocation. At times it leaves a question unanswered or open-ended, and at others it risks a hypothesis or a conviction. In encountering a text it is receptive and resistant in turn, depending not on any preconceived turn of mind but on what emerges in our reading of it. Knowing, in short, is variable, multifarious and experimental. It is thus that he would speak of philosophy as combining ‘a bold and exuberant spirituality’ with ‘a dialectical severity’.28 It never reduces to a single mood or form and is averse ‘to reposing once and for all in any one total view of the world.’29 Many of Nietzsche’s remarks on interpretation, knowledge, truth and related themes undoubtedly aim at correcting the excesses of Enlightenment thought, with its naïve overestimation of reason, its ahistorical objectivity and its quest for foundations. In reading his texts we are mindful of the tradition to which he was continually reacting in his characteristically free-spirited and excessive way. By Gadamer’s time the works of Nietzsche and Heidegger had exercised a profound effect on the German tradition in which he was working, yet in his writings as well a series of phenomenological arguments is brought to bear against many of the same Enlightenment doctrines that had aroused Nietzsche’s opposition and at times express opposition against Nietzsche as well. As he would

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write in Truth and Method, ‘It seems to me, however, that the one-sidedness of hermeneutic universalism has the truth of a corrective. It enlightens the modern viewpoint based on making, producing and constructing concerning the necessary conditions to which that viewpoint is subject. In particular, it limits the position of the philosopher in the modern world. However much he may be called to draw radical inferences from everything, the role of prophet, of Cassandra, of preacher or of know-itall does not suit him.’ Philosophical correctives always exhibit a certain one-sidedness, as Gadamer was also aware: ‘[I]t belongs to the special structure of straightening something crooked’, he noted, ‘that it needs to be bent in the opposite direction.’ By the middle of the twentieth century, what Gadamer sought to bend in the opposite direction was both the false objectivism of the Enlightenment as well as its radical critique. Gadamer’s battle is therefore waged on two fronts: on one side is modern philosophy’s ‘prejudice against prejudice’, its naïve methodologism and foundationalism, and its propensity for ahistorical thinking; on the other are radical critiques of the same.30 Nietzsche’s perspectivism itself required a corrective. The accent on falsification and will to power appeared as an over-correction, a characteristically excessive response to the theories of knowledge that he rightly rejected. That interpretation is a legislative imposition of form neglects a matter that for Gadamer is of fundamental importance: it also listens to being. An authentic encounter with a text or any interpretive object requires a disposition toward reception. By the middle of the twentieth century, the falsification hypothesis in its several forms – Nietzschean, Marxian, Freudian and some others – had pulled the rug from beneath many of the illusions of modern thought and at times introduced distortions of its own. Consciousness, it now needed to be said, is not always false, tradition is not always a source of misunderstanding, and radical criticism is not above the fray of interpretation or delivered from the need to take seriously what the object of interpretation has to say. Gadamer’s emphasis would accordingly fall on the essential receptivity of interpretation. The ‘tradition of Nietzsche and Heidegger through which Germany defined itself’, as Jean Grondin expresses it, required ‘a new humility and openness.’31 Hence Gadamer’s rather un-Nietzschean vocabulary of belonging to the interpretive object, of understanding as an event of our historicity, and of the ‘self-awareness of the individual’ as ‘only a flickering in the closed circuits of historical life.’ Gadamer’s phenomenological descriptions would speak not of the complete passivity of hermeneutical reflection but of its fundamental hospitality. Texts and interlocutors make claims upon us – truth

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claims that we are compelled to take seriously – and it is this that the discourses of radical critique had overlooked. The interpreter, Gadamer would write, ‘belongs to the text that he is reading.’ ‘Understanding or its failure is like an event that happens to us.’ Similarly, ‘We say that we ‘conduct’ a conversation, but the more genuine a conversation is, the less its conduct lies within the will of either partner.’32 If we can speak of a will to power at all in interpretation as Gadamer described it, it is a power that would appear to belong to the text over the reader and to tradition over the standpoint of the present. While this would lead to a still widespread caricature of hermeneutics as a philosophy of uncritical conservatism, Gadamer’s position is clearly no rearguard reaction against either the Enlightenment or any of the masters of suspicion. Its point is that radical reflection also has its limits and its conditions of possibility. Interpretation, radical and otherwise, involves projection, arrangement, classification and no little simplification; it is a perspectival and creative act of configuration. This point Nietzsche very artfully brought to our attention, with all the emphasis and overemphasis that was characteristic of him. Interpretation also listens; it receives the message of the text or the claim of the Thou with a humility and a receptivity without which it deteriorates into a false consciousness of another kind: one of inauthentic self-certainty. One may wish to emphasize the first hypothesis or the second, for the purpose of issuing a corrective or for another reason, yet differences of emphasis do not always amount to substantive and irreconcilable differences. Both hypotheses are correct – provided the one-sidedness that each corrective expresses (and that both are such must not be lost sight of) give way to a more even-handed position. Gadamer’s metaphor of a fusion of horizons provides a fitting articulation of such a position, even while at other times the language of belonging to the text and being claimed by the interlocutor may be overstated. Equally overstated is Nietzsche’s talk of legislation and command. Interpretation is at once an active imposition of form and a reception of truth claims. It transforms the knower and its object in about equal measure and deteriorates under any other condition. It plays the role of neither lord nor bondsman, but at times approximates one more than the other, depending entirely on what emerges in the dialectic of question and answer. Projection and reception, imposition of meaning and hospitality to truth claims are inseparable dimensions of interpretation and are antithetical only when regarded as abstractions. The practice of interpretation involves an experience of reciprocity, of ‘coming to an understanding’ in a dialogue of equals, in Gadamer’s words, and where ‘understanding

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is not a mere action, a purposeful activity, a setting up of signs through which I transmit my will to others.’ Rather, it is a social practice, a ‘life process in which a community of life is lived out’ and in which a ‘“world” is disclosed.’33 The theme of interpretive reciprocity would certainly receive less satisfactory treatment in Nietzsche’s work than in twentieth-century hermeneutics. That interpretation is not only an expression of the will but a back-and-forth – a ‘dialectic without end’, as Graeme Nicholson puts it – between speakers, between question and answer, text and reader, the will and that which resists it, is a theme that Nietzsche underplayed.34 There is agency in interpretation. There is the questioning act, the anticipation of meaning, the projection of form and the search for coherence; there is a looking beneath surfaces, detecting tensions, persuading, criticizing, listening and any number of actions, yet there is also the question of ‘what happens to us’ in interpretation. It is on the latter theme, of what happens behind the back of the interpreter and the will, that Nietzsche’s argument encounters its limits. The will to power is not sovereign but an effect of history; the perspective we bring to bear is likewise a contingency, both in the sense that it is an historical artifact and also that it is frequently revised in the course of interpretation. The prejudices and projections that define our perspective are often disconfirmed by the things themselves or by what emerges or fails to emerge in our reading, causing a revision in our point of view. The interpreter is always projecting, but when our projections come up short we are compelled by the interpretive object itself into replacing them with anticipations, questions or categories of a different kind. This is what Gadamer called ‘the constant task of understanding’: ‘interpretation begins with fore-conceptions that are replaced by more suitable ones.’35 By ‘more suitable’ Gadamer meant more faithful to the text, not in better service to life or to the will to power. It is questionable, however, how clear this distinction is. The will to power also happens behind our back. What is clear is that interpretation is no merely subjective act. Understanding undoubtedly serves the will – this much Nietzsche convincingly demonstrated – yet that it constitutes ‘a mere instrument’ of it is a subjectivizing distortion.36 That there is nothing about the subject that is ahistorical was certainly not lost on Nietzsche; however, his writings would not identify the full implications of this view. For all of Nietzsche’s criticism of modern philosophy’s lack of ‘an historical sense’, his own sense of the historicity of knowledge and the will remained underdeveloped, leaving it to twentieth-century hermeneutics to thematize the facticity and historicity of interpretation.37 Nietzsche’s ‘historical sense’ would eventually

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lead to Gadamer’s ‘historically effected consciousness’, where this signifies a consciousness that is at once an historical artifact and aware of itself as such. That the will itself is such an artifact, that the perspective that knowledge brings to bear constitutes its object while being itself an effect of history, was glimpsed by Nietzsche in only a preliminary way. A fuller grasp of the point might have caused a trimming of certain excesses. Perspectivism is still vulnerable to the charge of subjectivism – not on the grounds that having rejected objectivism, subjectivism remained the only available alternative but because of the one-sidedness of the will to power. There is something that resists the will: the truth claim that a text makes, the argument of our interlocutor, the thing itself. The will does not lie prostrate before these things, but nor does it command them. Only the one-sidedness of a corrective can make it appear that it is one or the other. That Nietzsche’s perspectivism entails a full-blown subjectivism is incorrect; however the balance and the tension that properly exist between the activity of the interpreter and what resists the will, including what happens behind its back, is a theme that would remain underdeveloped in his work, the emphasis lying decisively on one side of the equation. While Nietzsche convincingly showed that interpretation is permeated with the will to power, the view that ‘man finds in things nothing but what he himself has imported into them’ is overstated (let us not say false).38 A less bold but truer way of stating it is that knowing cannot be divorced from the interests of knowers; moral evaluations serve their agents, common sense serves the practical interests of an historical community, and scientific knowledge furthers the interests in prediction and control. All of this can be shown if we have the inclination to look beneath surfaces every now and then. What is also true is that being itself is never encountered aperspectivally or apart from interpretation, and that no little amount of falsification – or at any rate selecting, arranging, ordering and concealing – belongs to knowing in general. It was Nietzsche who taught us to see this, and who insisted as well on an intellectual rigour that does not simply relativize truth or declare true whatever we find to be useful. ‘Life is no argument’, Nietzsche also wrote. ‘The conditions of life might include error’, meaning that interpretations of the world that mask the sheer self-assertion of their advocates are most certainly to be faulted for their lack of rigour.39 What remains unclear is what such rigour can consist in, given his account. ‘[O]ur ideas, our values, our yeas and nays’ may well ‘. . . grow out of us with the necessity with which a tree bears fruit’, but they also must be demonstrated.40 Nietzsche well knew that the interpretive object is not a plaything of the will while removing the grounds on which he could know this. How does hermeneutics know this? What brake does it place on the

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subjectivity of the interpreter? The short answer is the interlocutor to whom we must account and the object that resists our categorizations. ‘The soul of hermeneutics’, in Gadamer’s words, ‘consists in recognizing that perhaps the other is right.’41 This pregnant statement takes us to the heart of the matter, yet his frequent assertions in Truth and Method to the effect that ‘[u]nderstanding is to be thought of less as a subjective act than as participating in an event of tradition’ are overstated in the opposite direction.42 Is interpretation ‘less’ a subjective act than hitherto believed or not a subjective act? Presumably the former, as ‘participating in an event’ requires something of the subject. It is not only the text or tradition that speaks, and what it has to say is not always true, ingenuous or coherent. Sometimes the claim of the text is manifest nonsense and one’s interlocutor is delusional. Hermeneutics is not unaware of this, but the repeated emphasis on the possibility that the other is right can lead us to overlook some other possibilities, as critics of hermeneutics have pointed out. Gadamer’s point about tradition was that it is sometimes a source of understanding, not that it always is. Prejudices and authority are not always false, Gadamer convincingly demonstrated; but, of course, sometimes they are. If he did not emphasize the latter point it was because he believed it did not require it. ‘In a sense,’ as Jean Grondin writes, ‘the whole of Gadamer’s hermeneutics wishes to remind us that we are not gods.’43 This point can be urged against Nietzsche as much as it can against much of modern epistemology, albeit for different reasons. The object of interpretation is not one’s subjective creation any more than it can be objectively represented in propositions. Perspectivism does not issue in an interpretive free-for-all, yet nor did Nietzsche make it explicit what stands against the will or that to which interpretation must answer. Gadamer did make this explicit, but in the process bending matters too far in the opposite direction. In encountering a text or an interlocutor, one does not genuflect. The caricatures of Nietzsche as subjectivist and dangerous relativist and of hermeneutics as traditionalist and conservative are false; in both cases it was selective and careless reading that gave rise to them, yet it remains that the textual basis for them is not nonexistent. In Gadamer’s work this impression is based in part on the examples of interpretive objects that he so often chose and the vocabulary of receptivity that these examples invite. It is the ‘eminent text’, the great work of art, and the partner in dialogue that are presented as exemplars. As long as the object of hermeneutical reflection is of this kind, it makes eminent good sense to speak of being addressed by a Thou, of the truth of the work and the possibility of it being right. But what

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happens when the object is a set of values that conceals the will to power of a group, when we are speaking of mundane objects of perception or texts and works of a less estimable nature? These also call for interpretation, and it is not obvious in these cases that the language of truth and hospitality is quite as suitable. When what speaks to us invites a sceptical response, interpretation appears more an act of the subject than ‘participating in an event of tradition’ or truth. Nietzsche’s examples – Judeo-Christian values, for instance – are often of objects that invite suspicion, while Gadamer’s decidedly are not. The examples and paradigm cases that philosophers introduce always lend a certain cast to the account that follows, and neither of the philosophers under discussion here is an exception. The question for Gadamer is whether the encounter with great art or eminent texts is paradigmatic of interpretation in general. What about more mundane forms of seeing-as, the perception of objects, journalistic reporting or scientific inquiry? There is interpretation as well in the stock examples of empiricism: the keys are on the table; the cat is on the mat; the earth revolves around the sun. These examples bear more than an accidental relation to empiricism, and the same can be said of the examples that inspired Gadamer. They also lend a certain one-sidedness to his account and if not ignore then underplay the activity of the subject. When we are proffering a genealogy of morality, a history of sexuality or an account of the Communist Party of China, we may still be anticipating truth but we are also becoming attuned to falsification and distortion. If Gadamer’s hermeneutics is not unaware of this – and indeed it is not – it is open to question whether it is able to give an adequate account of it or whether it remains limited by the examples that orient it. A final question I wish to take up concerns perspectival plurality. For Nietzsche, as we have seen, ‘the more affects we allow to speak about one thing, the more eyes, different eyes, we can use to observe one thing, the more complete will our “concept” of this thing, our “objectivity,” be.’ The only ‘objectivity’ that is possible in interpretation amounts to ‘the ability to control one’s Pro and Con and to dispose of them, so that one knows how to employ a variety of perspectives and affective interpretations in the service of knowledge.’44 Given that there is no god’s-eye view of any object of knowledge, and that interpretations that are ‘by our lights’ also cast a shadow, is it hermeneutically imperative to multiply perspectives in every case, or in any case? The importance of plurality becomes evident when our interpretive object is, for instance, an historical event. The Second World War may be studied through the lens of political history, military strategy, economics, Jewish history and any number of others. Regarding it through

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a single lens gives us an interpretation that is not false but truncated. A rich understanding requires layers of complexity, that we hold together in thought any number of overlapping and at times conflicting perspectives, that we recount a war now from the standpoint of the winners and now the losers, now in terms of its ‘causes’ and now its long-term consequences. When the thing itself is complex, so must be our mode of access to it. The same can be said of texts and works of art. Gadamer would speak of ‘the structure of truth itself’ in terms of ‘the inherent connection and reciprocal interrelatedness of alternating viewpoints and alternating perspectives’, although he would credit this view to Leibniz rather than Nietzsche.45 If it is the nature of interpretation to be selective in what it brings into view, and then to reveal an aspect of the thing itself and never the totality, an understanding that wishes to overcome one-dimensionality necessarily moves from perspective to perspective and becomes an accumulated effect. We may read Nietzsche’s texts, for instance, from the standpoint of their importance for existentialism, hermeneutics or postmodernism, from the perspective of religion or German intellectual history, of the biography of a man or a psychological standpoint. Each provides partial illumination of our object while casting a shadow that only an additional light can remove, and then incompletely. The importance of perspectival plurality will be less evident when we are speaking of less complex objects, but even here the principle retains its validity. Journalistic reporting that is uniperspectival typically conceals more than it reveals and slants the news in one way or another. Sociological interpretation that is wedded to a single point of view tends to narrow our vision rather than uncover phenomena in a more three-dimensional way. When that point of view is overtly or covertly political, interpretation tends toward the strident and ideological. Even ordinary perception requires that we view objects from various angles in order to get a proper grasp of the thing, perhaps that we subject it to various conditions and analyse it now in one way and now in another. Nietzsche’s point, then, appears to be generalizable. Where perspectives are concerned, the rule is the more the better – that even perspectives that reveal a relatively narrow aspect of the object may inform our understanding, and that understanding itself involves the accumulation and constant mediation of points of view. In all understanding there is the judgement of what matters, an identification of salience or importance and a mindful inattention to what is secondary or irrelevant. Interpretation is every bit as selective as Nietzsche claimed, but what it selects – what it chooses to pay attention to – is not only what serves us but what matters in a less subjective (let us not say

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objective or utterly impersonal) sense. It is not an aggressive marginalization of all perspectives but one, but an estimation of relative importance. Moral consciousness, for instance, involves a constant drawing of distinctions between relative value, importance and relevance, and where no rule appears to help us aside from the careful perception of particulars. Identifying importance is an evaluation and often a revaluation, and among the conditions of its possibility is the availability of multiple perspectives. One is able to discern which aspects of a thing stand out in importance or value and which are of less account only after all perspectives have had a hearing and the several aspects of the thing itself have been brought into view. Nietzsche brought this important hermeneutical principle to our attention more poignantly than Leibniz, and it is one that we would do well to recall.

Chapter 2

Reason as Boundless Communication Karl Jaspers The enduring relevance of existential thought to hermeneutics is not limited to Nietzsche’s perspectivism. It includes a number of ideas concerning the nature of reason that were advanced by the philosopher whom Gadamer succeeded at the University of Heidelberg in 1949: Karl Jaspers. It cannot be said, of course, that the hermeneutics of Gadamer and Ricoeur quite shares the existential pathos of a Jaspers or a Camus, much less a Kierkegaard or a Nietzsche. Nor can it be said that hermeneutical philosophers typically acknowledge Jaspers as a major influence on their thought – the decisive influence among twentieth-century philosophers of existence being, of course, Heidegger. Yet it remains that the foremost representative of philosophical hermeneutics was greatly impressed by Jaspers’ contribution, particularly the early works, and while his references to Jaspers in Truth and Method and elsewhere are scant, there remains a deep affinity that it would profit us to examine further, especially as it bears on what is perhaps the most ultimate question of philosophy: the nature of reason. Prior to Gadamer and, still more, Habermas, Jaspers originated a communicative conception of reason that rejected the artificial narrowing of the concept that had occurred during the Enlightenment. Other grounds for regarding this now somewhat forgotten figure as a hermeneutical thinker certainly exist. That ‘[a]ll knowledge is interpretation’ and that the ‘method we apply to the study of texts may be taken as a parallel to our study of being’ are hypotheses that Jaspers ably articulated. As he expressed it in Way to Wisdom, ‘For we possess being only in its interpretations. To speak of it is to interpret it, and only that which is apprehended in speech falls under the head of the knowable. But even in the prephilosophic stage the language of men’s practical dealings with things contains an interpretation of being; being is always defined in reference to something else. Being is for us only in an interpretative context. Being and the knowledge of being, the existent and what we say of it, are accordingly a texture of diverse interpretations. All being is for us an interpretation.’1 The concepts of situation and historicity, the embedded and aspectival character of all knowledge, including the scientific, and the

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phenomenological hypotheses that ‘we interpret reality and ourselves, and are human only by so doing’, and that the ‘very act of understanding makes it a factor in reality’ were fundamental to Jaspers’ philosophy of existence.2 Equally fundamental is the theme that I wish to pursue in the present study. Jaspers would be no less dissatisfied with what had become in modernity of the concepts of reason and truth than would thinkers of a more explicitly hermeneutical orientation, and on similar grounds. His phenomenological proposal for how reason may be better conceived also exhibits clear affinity both for Gadamer’s dialogical reason, which Gadamer traced to Plato, and for Habermas’ theory of communicative rationality.3 In each instance reason is theorized in a less technical and more expansive way than was characteristic of the philosophy of the Enlightenment. Jaspers’ innovation was to subject the concept of reason not only to phenomenological description but to his particular style of existential elucidation. This elucidation bears recalling particularly in light of the narrowing influence of so much of modern thought in which the notion of reason or rationality plays such a prominent role. When so many theorists in so many disciplines continue to speak of human reason in exclusively utilitarian, instrumentalist, logical, or technological terms it falls to existential-phenomenological interpretation to recall a richer and perhaps more originary connotation of the word, and it is here that Jaspers may be our guide. His elucidation of the concept, in my view, adds an important dimension to the hermeneutical conception of social reason of which Gadamer spoke, a supplement that is entirely consistent with the spirit of the latter account but which Gadamer himself and other hermeneutical thinkers have largely ignored.4 Let us recall, then, what Jaspers’ account consists in before inquiring into its relevance for hermeneutics. If we would speak of reason philosophically, the question before us is, of course, what it is – what the concept signifies. Putting the question ahistorically or in any terms that remove the concept from a larger context of meaning renders the question unanswerable. This much is readily agreed to by Jaspers, Nietzsche, and other philosophers of existence and by hermeneutics; concepts do not exist apart from an historical-linguistic context and cannot be thus analysed. Efforts so to analyse them are inevitably truncated and typically render the concept in too technical and too epistemological a way. For Jaspers, reason must be thought together with Existenz or the human being in the sense in which he would always speak of it: as transcendence, a potentially free and extra-mundane agent of a highly complex sort. A fundamental hypothesis of Jaspers’ is that ‘my Existenz is solely due to other Existenz’, or ‘in other words, that there is no Existenz as



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such, only Existenz in communication.’5 Reason cannot be comprehended apart from the kind of being that is the rational animal, while the latter cannot be understood apart from the capacity for linguistic communication. The human being is not only the rational animal but – inseparable from this – the speaking animal. Existenz is constituted by the capacity for rational communication that draws it into complex forms of social intercourse. Reason must therefore be analysed with constant reference to the fate of human beings, not in any kind of historical or existential vacuum. The imperative of existential elucidation does not render our task any easier, and involves the kind of lengthy detours through cultural analysis and social criticism that he undertook in such texts as Man in the Modern Age and The Atom Bomb and the Future of Mankind. I cannot follow these detours here, of course, but only point out their significance: reason, to be understood, must be grasped together with the existential situation and fate of human beings. If rationality in the modern age has become essentially an affair of ‘the planning human intellect’ and little besides, this reflects the spiritual condition of the age and must be thus understood.6 In the manner of Kierkegaard and Nietzsche, whose thought so profoundly influenced him, Jaspers continually urged his readers in the direction of transcendence or a higher possibility of human existence, and this applies as well to his analysis of reason. In reason I come to be myself; I become what I am, as Nietzsche would say, or else I fail to do so and become or remain something that is not myself. Reason, then, must be conceptualized not solely in methodological terms but as a mode of human existence that transcends technique. It is a way of existing and thinking that includes, while also reaching beyond, the objectively knowable. Never secure in its possessions, reason ‘continually overthrows what has been acquired by the understanding’ and ‘is nothing but the drive to surpass and bind together.’7 It surpasses what he would sometimes refer to as matters of ‘the intellect’, including the empirical knowledge of objects and the entire order of scientific knowledge. While Jaspers the psychologist always insisted on the ultimate inseparability of science and philosophy, he also drew attention to the limits of science and warned of the modern tendency toward its absolutization. In its sphere, scientific knowledge provides us with ‘objectively compelling intellectual cognition’ and is indeed ‘inseparable’ from philosophy itself: ‘philosophy’, as he put it, ‘can take no step without the intellect, that is, without science.’8 Yet neither philosophy nor reason is itself a science, he insisted, and must not be modelled upon it: ‘philosophy is not a science in the sense of cogent, generally valid knowledge. . . . The intellect can state scientific

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truth in unequivocal theses, but philosophical truth can only be communicated in movements of thought. No proposition can adequately capture it.’9 Reason and philosophizing likewise strive to transcend a knowledge that is empirical, particular and formalistic, and to resist all ‘absolute doctrinal pronouncements.’10 Since ‘science is not adequate to embrace Truth’, reason or philosophy in their totality, we must endeavour to think beyond it and with ‘no assured stability’ or certainty. Reason, as he noted in Reason and Anti-Reason in Our Time, ‘is constantly on the move. Once it has gained a position it presses on to criticize it and is therefore opposed to the tendency to free oneself from the necessity for all further thought by once and for all accepting irrevocably fixed ideas. It demands a careful thoughtfulness – it is therefore the opposite of mere capriciousness. It leads to self-knowledge and knowledge of limits, and therefore to humility – and it is opposed to intellectual arrogance. It demands a constant listening and it is able to wait – it is therefore opposed to the narrowing furies of passion. Thus Reason works itself out of the chains of dogma, of caprice, of arrogance, of passion.’11 Nietzsche and Heidegger were also remarking upon the manner in which science and technology in the modern age had become a totalized view of the world while reason itself had narrowed into so many forms of rationalism, a line of critique with which Jaspers fully concurred. No transcendence is possible in this condition, Jaspers warned. It is a situation that finds its social counterpart in the technological and functionalizing malaise of the twentieth century. When reason is reduced to technique, the social and existential consequences for the rational being are troubling indeed. The danger to human selfhood consists, among other things, in that ‘[t]o-day it is taken as a matter of course that human life is the supply of mass needs by rationalized production with the aid of technical advances. The assumption seems to be that the whole can be reduced to perfect order by reason alone.’12 Jaspers the cultural physician would often describe the ‘tenor of the age’ as one of inhuman instrumentalism and functionalism, ‘one of levelling, mechanization, the development of a mass mentality and universal interchangeability of everything and everyone, where no one seemed to exist any longer as himself.’13 The individual is not him- or herself when ‘he is still nothing more than the function of his daily task’ and when ‘the only desire that may stir him beyond that of performing this task is the desire to occupy the best obtainable place in the apparatus.’14 When the conditions of modern life are that bureaucracy, mass institutions and mass society, technical order and means-ends thinking are paramount, and indeed lack an alternative (except perhaps



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for superstition), it is not only the concept of reason that is in peril but the existing individual itself. Reason and Existenz are one – not only conceptually, but in terms of their fate in the world. Theorizing rationality, then, requires us to interpret the concept with constant reference to the individual conceived not merely in its functionality or as a scientifically knowable object but in its whole being. The trajectory of Jaspers’ philosophizing led continually away from the narrow and mundane and in the direction of transcendence. What this entails for the concept of reason is that we are speaking of a capacity that belongs to Existenz as such, which means as a potentially free and creative agent, situated within its facticity but not imprisoned by it. Our analysis of reason ‘should not get caught within any mode of the Encompassing’, including what he would often refer to as ‘empirical existence’ and ‘consciousness as such.’ ‘Reason is always too little when it is enclosed within final and determinate forms’, including the scientific and technological, the instrumentalist and utilitarian.15 This more expansive conception Jaspers found within the practice of ordinary interpersonal communication. Less ordered than its technical counterparts, reason in this sense includes while surpassing the narrowly ‘intellectual’ and scientific. Not itself a technique, it is better spoken of as a condition of the will and a disposition of mind. While Jaspers would caution against offering a formal definition of the word – definitions that typically are essentialist and render the concept as a merely technical term – in numerous texts he would characterize reason as a domain of ‘boundless communication.’16 ‘There is’, as he would write, ‘something like a climate of reason’, the principal feature of which is a ‘total will to communicate.’17 To be rational in the pre-eminent sense of the word is to refuse all reticence and to open oneself to the questioning and the point of view of our interlocutor. In much the spirit of hermeneutical dialogue, nothing is off limits to rational discussion and all persons allow themselves to be drawn into a conversation in which ideas are proposed and challenged in uninhibited fashion. A rational ‘climate’ or ‘mood’ is one in which no speaker and no idea is above the fray of justification and criticism, none is forbidden to speak, and all are answerable for their views.18 All reasoned communication includes an orientation toward unity of mind and openness to whatever our interlocutors have to say, provided only that their message is not one of intolerance or violence. The following passage is representative of Jaspers’ position and echoes sentiments found in many of his writings: ‘Reason can find no rest in the glory and splendour of the world nor can it ever stop asking questions. Reason is attracted by what is

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most alien to it. It wants to illuminate and give being and language even to the passions of the night which threaten to destroy the laws that govern the day. . . . Reason, itself the origin of order, attends even the powers which destroy order. It is always there listening to that which is most alien to it, to that which breaks in upon it, to that which fails it. Reason wants to draw us near to everything that is and that must therefore be able to find expression in speech, in order to preserve it and give it a validity of its own.’19 The rational frame of mind is inclined to listen and to learn, to pay attention to what is alien, to anticipate validity, and in general to take others seriously – which includes demanding a justification of their views. So conceived, reason is neither a technique, a metaphysical faculty, nor a deep core of being, but a capacity that draws us into association with others. Necessarily, reason ‘exists only in common. The individual cannot be rational by himself.’ It requires that one risk oneself in the confrontation of ideas and strive for creative expression as well as consensus with other Existenz. Rational thought does not stand above the fray of assertion and reply or announce its ‘findings’ from some remote location. It does not emerge from its inner sanctum or descend from its mountaintop with the news of a revelation. Rather, it ‘grows out of the free acts of countless men’, all of whom think for themselves, but not in the sense that we often conceive of this.20 Descartes famously announced at the outset of the Meditations that in order to engage in truly rational thought he would need to ‘withdraw in solitude’ so that the opinions and prejudices of others would not interfere with the solitary reflection that was to ensue.21 For modern rationalism, reasoning means thinking more geometrico, in conformity with so many a priori ‘rules for the direction of the mind’, an operation in which others can only be a distraction, or perhaps an audience. The truth of which Jaspers spoke is one that is reached in common, never on a purely private basis, and the only authority that prevails is not that of a method formulated in advance but that which the participants in conversation jointly discover. If we would seek a guarantee for the validity of our position, for Jaspers the only guarantee that is possible is what emerges from open communication. This is not the kind of guarantee, to be sure, that modern rationalism and empiricism sought, but it is all that is possible and all that is needed. To seek absolute assurance for our beliefs – one that would allow us to settle back in the conviction that we are where we need to be intellectually and are therefore no longer obliged to entertain competing ideas – presupposes a conception of truth as an altogether stable property that simply waits for human beings to happen upon it. It presupposes as well that knowledge and reason are end-states rather than the processual



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values that Jaspers believed them to be. The very ‘essence of philosophy’, as he expressed it, ‘is not the possession of truth but the search for truth, regardless of how many philosophers may belie it with their dogmatism.’ The knowledge for which philosophy has searched from the beginning is not an altogether secure possession or a set of fixed facts but is always on the way. ‘Philosophy’, as Jaspers in a Heideggerian mood put it, ‘means to be on the way. Its questions are more essential than its answers, and every answer becomes a new question.’22 This quality of ‘on-the-wayness’ entails that philosophy – this ‘one great hymn to reason’ – is invariably in the process of striving after a knowledge that in some measure eludes its grasp, and that the process of rational inquiry in principle is unending.23 Reason itself is a process, not an end-state, one that drives us into communicative engagements without the possibility of a final terminus. Socratic ignorance belongs as much at the end of the process as at the beginning, and where there is no true end at all. Bringing communication to a halt – either because we believe we have discovered the truth or because we despair of ever doing so – is antithetical to reason in this sense of the word and always signifies a refusal of transcendence. So long as reason ‘can never be entirely consummated’, one cannot rationally adopt fixed positions but views that are provisional upon ongoing conversation.24 Jaspers would speak of truth as well as a contingent and processual matter. Truth can no more be separated from communication than it can be reduced to a single kind or mode. Truth ‘has as many senses as there are modes of communication in which it arises.’25 A multifaceted ontology of the Encompassing lies in the background here, for which the meaning of truth varies within the different modes of the Encompassing in which communication occurs. The details of this intriguing hypothesis I shall pass over; however the larger point is that the several forms that truth takes share a common orientation toward unity of mind. While scientific truth is determined by objective methods and possesses universal validity, ‘philosophical truth is a function of communication with the other and with myself. It is the truth I live by and do not merely think about.’26 It is, moreover, inseparable not only from the communicative process but from the search for consensus within it. The will to truth draws us into a process that binds us together, whether we are speaking of the truth of philosophy, science or any other. Truth is not attained in isolation, and where it appears to be – as in the case of the thinker who turns away from public life in order to cultivate solitude and inwardness – this is only the condition of a more creative communication, perhaps with different interlocutors than the

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mass public. One pursues the truth in the way that one becomes oneself: always in union with others and never ‘in stubborn self-will’ or ‘in a shell of solitude.’27 Reason, Existenz and truth for Jaspers form an inseparable trinity and share an orientation toward communicability and a fundamental ‘will to unity.’ The unifying task of rationality, for instance, is to reconcile alien positions and to gather disparate forms of knowledge and experience into a condition of ‘dynamic interrelatedness.’ Conceived apart from this unifying function, reason degenerates into a technique of rules, while truth as well becomes narrowed and hypostatized. Always incomplete and subject to a dialogue that is ongoing, truth is what brings human beings into solidarity while its value is measured by the kind of union that it brings into being. The mortal enemy of truth is therefore the sheer insistence that one is correct and the refusal to entertain any views that would challenge this. An equally common error occurs when, in Jaspers’ words, we ‘take some restricted truth for the one truth (and thereby absolutize the compelling validity of correct intellectual knowledge of finite things in the world into truth in general); or we take the world as a whole to be cognoscible in a uniform way (and absolutize a relative whole of physical or biological cognition into the whole of being itself).’28 The ethical counterpart to this error finds us absolutizing a single ideal of human life rather than recognizing the freedom and creativity that are essential to authentic Existenz. The value of freedom does not belong to morality alone, but is inseparable from the concept of rationality. Human freedom was a frequent theme in Jaspers’ writings. Its connection with reason consists in its inseparability from authentic communication. Freedom is not a given of our existence but is a possibility only – one that we realize through an act of decision or fail to realize. Free Existenz thinks for itself; however it does not do so in a vacuum of sociability and history. For its thinking to be rational, it must allow itself to be drawn into incessant communication, again by an act of decision. The fundamental choice here is whether to open oneself to the communicative process and the clash of viewpoints or to retreat into a dogmatic system of thought. So closely did Jaspers view the connection between reason and freedom that what he called anti-reason is in its essence the renunciation of free debate. This idea was especially pronounced in his political writings, in which his frequent critiques of totalitarianism centre upon its claim to absolute knowledge and its consequent refusal to entertain opposing ideas. Authoritarian socialism’s claim to scientific status is one example of this: ‘The great force of Marxist thought obviously lies in its fundamentally false interpretation of faith as a science. The power of its fanatical certainty is derived from a belief which the term “science” disguises. What is in fact



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a purely personal faith is dubbed “scientific.” It never calls itself a faith though it behaves like any other dogmatic faith: it is blind to everything that runs counter to it; it is aggressive and incapable of communication.’29 He would offer the same description of National Socialism: ‘National Socialism meant the most radical break in human communication; it also meant that man ceased to be himself. It became clear that the rupture of communication in favour of self-willed violence will always pose a threat to personal existence and the real danger of losing ourselves.’30 Anti-reason is ‘the supposed right of reticence’, the refusal to allow our point of view to be criticized, and the sheer insistence that we are right.31 What does not promote communication, for Jaspers, is false by definition. No truth is incapable of supporting its claim to truth with reasons in which others can see the merit. Totalitarianism does not persuade or respond to its citizens; it subjects them to the will of the state by means of distortion and violence and creates a social order in which individuals cannot become themselves. The knowing vanguard does not submit ideas to the citizenry and solicit their consent when the former alone possesses the truth and possesses it with dogmatic certainty. The same phenomenon happens in other areas of social and intellectual life, of course. One can generally assume in politics and everywhere else that where there is no attempt at rational persuasion and no freedom to disagree, there is no truth either, merely the appetite for power. Finally, Jaspers would offer some important remarks on the relation of reason and logic and the non-reducibility of the former to the latter. In Reason and Existenz he would speak of a ‘rational a-logic’ which prominently includes circular forms of thinking. ‘In all genuine philosophies’, he maintained, ‘we find . . . circles and contradictions at the decisive point.’ Logical nonsense is sometimes eminently rational, while attempts to cleanse a system of thought of all logical tensions end in failure. His examples of rational a-logic within Existenz philosophy include the following. For there to be authentic sociability I must be capable of interiority and withdrawal from the social. For there to be genuine communication there must be the capacity for silence and solitude in the face of transcendence. Where there is successful and meaningful action there is the ever present possibility of failure. As well: ‘I am genuinely rational only if my whole reason factually and for my knowing is grounded upon unreason. I believe only through doubting whether I believe.’32 I become free by opting for freedom; I become myself only in relation to another, and so on. In these cases the truth is comprehended indirectly, in the form of paradox or outright contradiction. Perhaps one could add Nietzsche’s

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perspectivism as well: all knowledge is perspectival, and this is nonperspectivally true. Critics of perspectivism invariably point this out and declare the hypothesis logically refuted, but this has every appearance of a merely clever intellectual manoevre that shows nothing. One might also mention the hermeneutical circle: the whole must be understood in terms of the parts and the parts must be understood in terms of the whole. The circular structure of interpretation appears to be both logically problematic and inescapable. As a matter of phenomenological fact, this is how understanding operates. If there is a logical problem here, then it is a problem in appearance only, or only on the premise that the rules of logic are the secular counterpart of the Word of God. Logic has a rightful but limited authority, Jaspers maintained. Deeming it sacrosanct – and this when the rules of logical inference themselves cannot be logically demonstrated – is plain dogmatism. If it is human existence in its higher reaches that we would understand, we must observe the limits of the merely intellectual, the logical, and of all cognitive tools that apply directly to the knowledge of objects. Existenz is not merely empirical existence, as Jaspers never ceased to remind us. The central point in Jaspers’ account of reason is that philosophical ideas invariably remain subject to a discussion that is without end, including the rules that govern such discussion. Reason’s antithesis is not passion or contradictory thinking but violence, and where violence is more often concealed than overt. While it partakes of transcendence, reason does not sever connection with its historical, cultural and existential situation but seeks to elucidate the condition in which we find ourselves. What philosophical hermeneutics would render more explicit is the phenomenological dimension of such communication, and in a spirit that complements Jaspers’ account while perhaps lacking its existential pathos. Existenz philosophy and hermeneutics can agree that rationality crucially bears on the practice of dialogue, that it is not merely a method of inference or calculation. The logos that in some measure constitutes our humanity is no metaphysical essence but is the possibility of uninhibited communication. The structure of such communication was aptly described by Gadamer: authentic dialogue is a back-and-forth of question and answer, assertion and reply, where the orientation of speakers is toward a truth that is held in common and where we anticipate the possible correctness of what our interlocutor has to say. In his words, ‘Conversation is a process of coming to an understanding. Thus it belongs to every true conversation that each person opens himself to the other, truly accepts his point of view as valid and transposes himself into the other to such an extent that he



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understands not the particular individual but what he says. What is to be grasped is the substantive rightness of his opinion, so that we can be at one with each other on the subject. Thus we do not relate the other’s opinion to him but to our own opinions and views.’ Reason is the social practice of reasoning together and coming to an understanding with others about a disputed question. It is a practice in which none can proclaim themselves above the fray by virtue of special insight or expertise. The claim of the interlocutor or the text does not confront one as an object in opposition to sovereign subjectivity but is a truth claim in which one is caught up. Gadamer likened dialogue to the dialectical structure of play, where what is essential is the movement back-and-forth rather than any final conclusion. ‘Knowledge’, as he would write, ‘is dialectical from the ground up’, while the actions of the players ‘should not be considered subjective actions, since it is, rather, the game itself that plays, for it draws the players into itself and thus itself becomes the actual subjectum of the playing.’33 What hermeneutics strives to articulate, as one scholar has put it, is ‘a more reasonable conception of rationality’ than what has long prevailed in the Western tradition through to the present – more reasonable in the sense of phenomenologically sound, mindful of its historical conditions and finitude, and intellectually modest, particularly in comparison with the various forms of rationalist thought that we have witnessed since the seventeenth century.34 Modern rationalism constitutes at once an artificial narrowing of reason, an absurd overestimation of it, and a forgetfulness of the conditions in which rational thought invariably occurs. In Gadamer’s words, ‘Reason exists for us only in concrete, historical terms – i.e., it is not its own master but remains constantly dependent on the given circumstances in which it operates.’35 These circumstances include language and culture, tradition and rhetoric (in the classical sense of the art of persuasion), and a context of existing beliefs and questions. There is no reasoning in a vacuum, no cognition that occurs apart from a complex historical heritage. It begins not at the beginning but always in midstream, on the model of joining a conversation that began long ago and that it falls to us to carry forward. This much is clear from Gadamer’s work and in the literature of post-Heideggerian hermeneutics more generally. It is also clear that hermeneutics opposes as much as Jaspers did the reduction of reason to scientific, calculative or instrumental rationality. What is less clear is the relevance for hermeneutics of the kind of existential analysis of reason that Jaspers provided. Is there a tension between the two accounts, an ‘existential rationality’ that we could relate in some fashion or other to the ‘dialogical

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rationality’ of hermeneutics? If there is a tension here, it is owing more to the existential pathos of Jaspers’ account – a pathos that owes much to Kierkegaard and Nietzsche – than to any substantive philosophical differences. It is a sensibility that for better or for worse did not find its way into philosophical hermeneutics. As I have noted, Gadamer thought it imperative to desubjectivize the practice of knowing, interpreting and reasoning. What made this imperative was the subjectivizing excesses of a great deal of modern thought, although it was certainly not proffered as a corrective of Jaspers’ own account. Is that account subjectivist in any disconcerting way, as indeed a certain amount of existential thought may be regarded? Jaspers’ Existenz philosophy, while in many ways reminiscent of Kierkegaard and Nietzsche, never shared the kind of sentiments epitomized in Jean-Paul Sartre’s ‘Hell is other people’, nor does his account exhibit the subjectivist and voluntarist excesses that some of the literature of existentialism did. He would remain closer in this respect to Heidegger than Sartre. The general orientation of hermeneutics after Heidegger has been as decidedly nonsubjectivist as was Jaspers’ own thought, while its characteristic mood is not one of existential disorientation or angst. On the question that is before us, Jaspers’ philosophy of existence and philosophical hermeneutics are not at odds. The rationality that is inseparable from communication is the social and dialogical reason of which both Jaspers and Gadamer spoke – not in identical terms, of course, but in terms that are complementary and appropriately phenomenological. What Jaspers added – or perhaps what Gadamer and other hermeneutical thinkers subtracted – was the explicit linkage of the concept of reason with the existential fate of human beings. To conceive of what reason itself is, Jaspers correctly insisted, we must grasp it in connection with what the human being is, and is today. The rational agent is what it is not only in historical and linguistic terms but in existential terms, or in terms of what humanity presently is and is in process of becoming. The cultural-existential analysis that Jaspers often practised remains indispensable not only to the philosophical enterprise in general but to an understanding of reason itself. Without being particularly inclined toward the kind of existential reflection that Jaspers engaged in, Gadamer himself and many other hermeneutical philosophers after Heidegger have lamented what has become of ‘reason in the age of science’, further extending Heidegger’s interpretation of modernity as an age in which science-technology has become a totalizing system of thought. Reason has indeed been narrowed to the order of the calculative and instrumental, as Jaspers had also warned. Yet apart from some observations of this nature, Gadamer and



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contemporary hermeneutics have largely moved on from the discourse of existential thought. Historically speaking, existentialism is largely regarded as belonging to the nineteenth and early to mid-twentieth centuries, while philosophical hermeneutics is associated with the second half of the twentieth century to the present. The sense of existentialism in general as a phenomenon bounded by time is unfortunate in light of the innumerable insights that it has to offer – some of which undoubtedly bear the marks of that time but many of which transcend it. On the question of rationality there is nothing in Jaspers’ account, or nothing essential, that limits its relevance to his own time. Reason must still be grasped together with human existence in its full complexity. The concrete circumstances in which we live, our spiritual and political condition, and the personal, inward dimension of our existence are no less relevant to our understanding of reason than familiar hermeneutical themes of tradition, language and rhetoric. If some of these circumstances have changed since Jaspers’ time, most of them have not. A text such as Man in the Modern Age, for instance, written in 1931, still speaks to the present. The existential condition of human beings does not change with the rapidity of social trends or technological development. The general contours of Jaspers’ descriptions retain their accuracy; only the particulars have changed. The kind of large-scale reflection in which Jaspers engaged in that and many other texts is decidedly out of fashion today, not only in hermeneutics but in virtually every avenue of scholarly thought. This is unfortunate, and indicative far more of the spirit of our times and the specialization of scholarship than it is of the importance of the topic or the answerability of existential questions. Theorizing reason and anti-reason must still be carried out in connection with the fate of human beings in the modern age, the general features of which were expertly described by several philosophers of existence, and none more so than Nietzsche, Heidegger and Jaspers. While the details have changed, the major themes of science and technology, nihilism and the death of God, authenticity and inauthenticity and so on, have lost none of their relevance. The human being in the twenty-first century remains a part of the technological and utilitarian apparatus that these figures described, and ever more so. The salient fact regarding communication today and indeed of social life generally is the fact of technology. Science-technology, no longer a perspective on the world, a mode of the Encompassing or an aspect of what is, appears ever more as an inescapable and total system of thought. We have become supremely well adapted – too well adapted – to modern technology, as is reflected, for instance, in modern communications technology. The

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rationality that is hermeneutical dialogue or boundless communication does not happen via technology of this order but is distorted by an apparatus that stimulates, informs, forms and confines us. The iron cage of rationality is still with us; its dimensions have changed but its effect has not. It has us still, and indeed more than ever. Its outward signs are bureaucracy, instrumentality, impersonality and gadgetry without end, but at bottom it is a way of appearing and being that increasingly lacks an alternative. Reason, if it is a concept that we can still speak of, must retain the power of transcendence of which Jaspers spoke, in the sense at the very least that the order of the useful and the methodological does not exhaust our possibilities. There is more to rationality than what rationalism knows, more to the human being than what science knows. Anti-reason in our time remains the violence and self-certainty that refuses communication, but it is also characterized by the reign of technique beyond which we can no longer see, that is efficient and ‘natural’, that reduces all to order and administers our needs. The life of reason is still found in the free communication of one human being with another, unmediated by technique and uninhibited by intellectual orthodoxy. It is found where individuals encounter one another in face-to-face interaction and account to each other for what they believe and how they conduct themselves. It is found in the search for a truth that is pursued in common and that is no one’s possession. The fate of humanity is the fate of communication, while the latter is impossible to disentangle any longer from technology. From the ciphers, the symbols and metaphors within which we think to the means of communication that we increasingly prefer, from the vocabularies we speak to our ways of knowing and controlling the world, technology is the regime of truth in which we live and the order from which reason must seek transcendence. The question this raises for us is, of course, how this is done. How, as the current expression has it, do we think ‘outside the box’ when the box itself has formed us so completely or, to use a more suitable metaphor, when the net that we must in some fashion think beyond is one in which we are all so thoroughly caught? Are we still waiting for being to reveal itself anew, or for a god to save us? Perhaps not, but if we are awaiting a new Age of Reason – this time one of boundless communication rather than rationalist orthodoxy – we had better be patient. A great new era of dialogue is not upon us, but on this possibility, or something like it, the fate of communication and humanity alike rest. By 1958 Jaspers was warning that if reason in this sense did not soon arrive then ‘the future of mankind’ was the atom bomb. From the perspective of the present we may have to separate



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Jaspers’ existential from his Cold War anxieties. The former alone remain relevant, and while their consequences are far less spectacular than total destruction, they remain profoundly worrisome. What has become increasingly imperative is to think beyond the confines of technology, while the prospects of doing so have become increasingly unlikely. A century or half a century ago, existentialist anxiety about technology made sense to a good many, yet today when we are in its grip still more it appears to trouble us less. The possibility of transcending technology, together with the need for doing so, has been forgotten. Why would we wish to, asks a generation that has been raised on and constituted by technology as never before, and that sees technology merely as a convenient tool or a simple matter of the way things are? Why is it necessary to escape the narrowing influence of modern rationality? How would it profit us, or make our inferences more certain, or make it easier for us to get what we want? The mind or the culture that asks these questions in earnest is a cause for existential worry. It may not amount to a dark night of the forgetfulness of being, and it is not the atom bomb, but it is a phenomenon that should give us pause all the same. How do we think beyond the confines of technology – if we can agree, that is, to the possibility and necessity of doing so? The question seems already to call for a technique: what is the model to be followed, what rules shall now direct the mind? Or is it poetic thinking that is called for? Among the merits of Jaspers’ philosophizing is that he does not proffer the simple answer, as if the question of reason were a scientific or technical problem to be solved. There is no model to be found. Reason is boundless communication – except that even this is an oversimplification. It is also a mood, a climate, a disposition of mind, a will to unity, a practice and an art; it is a source of order and also of disorder, logical and a-logical, something that cannot be divorced from its context and held aloft for us to analyse. It is not a technical term but a word in ordinary language, which like so many such words functions in a bewildering array of ways. We speak of something standing to reason, of having good reason, of being reasonable or unreasonable. What unifies the phenomena of this word’s disparate uses? It is likely that no single value accomplishes this apart from the orientation and abiding imperative toward transcending the established boundaries of thought, to throw off inflexible systems of belief and to be continually ‘on the way’ this way or that. Reason must be thought of processually and non-methodologically, perhaps as a certain kind of poetizing, but not only this. It is oriented toward persuasion, the ordinary offering of accounts for why one speaks and acts as one does. It exists where human beings agree to

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explain themselves and to inquire in common into some disputed matter, in a spirit of reciprocity and with a modicum of good will. It exists where no party claims certainty for its position or special insight to which others lack access. It exists not where violence or manipulation is reduced to zero – for this is likely to be impossible – but where there is a commitment to let the stronger argument prevail, and where narrowness of mind gives way to its opposite. Human beings can still be defined in terms of rationality, where this carries no metaphysical connotation and refers specifically to our freedom to speak and to listen, and to the imperative of communication that governs our existence. When human reason becomes narrowed in meaning, something more is at stake than the philosophical analysis of a concept or the definition of a technical term. We ourselves and our fundamental mode of existence are in question. How we think and interact, how we understand ourselves and our world, is who we are. The search for a human essence that underlies our modes of communication is pointless. If our existence is properly to be one of free creativity, as Jaspers and so many other existential thinkers asserted, we must find ways to think and act beyond the narrowing influences of modernity. The contradiction that we face is that free communication, difference and authenticity, are possible as never before, if we judge matters by their appearances, while at a deeper level of analysis sameness of thinking, valuing, acting, communicating and being are as prevalent as ever they were. The former alone is readily visible, and one easily mistakes a possibility for an attained reality. Thus many today proclaim a new era of dialogue which has been made possible by advances in communications technology, or a social order that finally throws off uniformity and celebrates difference and empowerment, an order that is brought about by utilitarian rationality and bureaucracy. Boundless freedom of communication and thought is not upon us. Its conditions of possibility are many, and include the hermeneutical and epistemological, the scientific and technological, the educational and political, and some others. If Jaspers brought much of this to our attention, it remains our constant hermeneutical task to cultivate the will not only to communicate but to push continually the frontiers of what is sayable and imaginable that is reason’s essence.36 Throughout our Western tradition, the will to reason has tended to become its opposite – some more or less dogmatic form of rationalism, in which the tolerance of uncertainty and the patience for process give way to an insistence on incontrovertible knowledge and the reduction to technique. Perhaps it is a permanent tendency of thought to seek



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deliverance from the processual and to postulate what is fixed, often in the name of reason itself. If we are to be intellectually responsible, an old story goes, we must tie our judgements and the conversation as a whole to the secure post of reason. This we can still believe, but how secure do we imagine the post to be? When this tendency manifests itself it falls to philosophy to remind us of reason’s limits, of what reason can still be in the modern world, and of the obligation of boundless communication under which it places us. If the speaking animal is what we most fundamentally are, we are called upon to risk ourselves and our point of view in a dialogue that does not end. It is the beginning of wisdom as well as sound phenomenology to recognize that nothing human is unassailable or without limits. Nothing in our intellectual life is above the fray of dialogue. If reasoned persuasion sometimes makes use of techniques, as in many areas of inquiry it clearly does, in others it does not. The imperative of reason in any case is to refuse the closing off of discussion and to allow the process to unfold as it will.

Chapter 3

The Thou and the Mass Gabriel Marcel That hermeneutics contains implications for practical philosophy was well known, of course, to both Gadamer and Ricoeur, as it is to numerous theorists who in one fashion or another have followed in their wake. Questions regarding justice and the good, the nature of ethical judgement and social criticism, the relation of theory and practice, universality and particularity, self and other, and a host of related issues have been raised anew by a trajectory of thought to which Being and Time and Truth and Method in particular gave rise. Among these is the question of ethical relations or the phenomenology of the I-Thou. While the works of Martin Buber, Emmanuel Levinas and a number of postmodernists on this issue have certainly garnered more attention than Gadamer’s rather concise account in the second part of Truth and Method, it is the latter account that I take up in this chapter and bring into contact with some reflections of a thinker to whom Gadamer’s writings contain only scant references. Gabriel Marcel was among the first rank of existential thinkers, although his works today receive considerably less attention than they might. My question is the following: What happens to the Thou – or to the experience of the other as Gadamer described it – under conditions of contemporary mass society? What becomes of the other, and of the claim that it asserts on us, when the other is the mass, as Marcel and some other philosophers of existence spoke of it? Among the more salient facts of modern social life are technology and the mass, two conditions that have an effect on moral consciousness that is at once profoundly distorting and seemingly inescapable. The tenor and scale of social relations at present make the descriptions of a Buber or a Levinas highly questionable when what habitually greets us is not the Thou or the Other, as these thinkers spoke of them, but mass society, an anonymous and inhuman entity of some highly ambiguous kind. Under modern conditions, upper-case notions of the Thou and the Other can appear as otherworldly fictions rather than phenomenological descriptions, while Marcel’s discussion of ‘man against mass society’ – most especially in his 1952 book of that title – possesses an enduring and



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disconcerting relevance. Before turning to Marcel’s analysis, let us recall Gadamer’s phenomenological account of the I-Thou relation in Part II of his magnum opus. The context at this point in the text is a discussion not of ethics but of the nature of hermeneutical experience and the concept of historically effected consciousness. If, as Gadamer maintained, ‘[h]ermeneutical experience is concerned with tradition’, we must understand the different modes in which tradition may be encountered by us. There are essentially three such modes, to each of which corresponds a form of the I-Thou relation. Briefly, the first mode is characterized by an objectivating attitude on the part of the experiencer. We encounter tradition or the Thou in a manner that ‘tries to discover typical behaviour in one’s fellow men and can make predictions about others on the basis of experience.’ The Thou here is a representative of human nature and is known as such, something upon which we can pronounce our self-interested calculations and predictions. Tradition or the Thou is here an object encountered by sovereign subjectivity. In the second mode Gadamer described, the posture of objectivity and control gives way and ‘the Thou is acknowledged as a person’, yet in a manner that remains ‘a form of self-relatedness. . . . This relation is not immediate but reflective.’ It is reflective in a sense that the presumption of authority over our object remains in effect; it is the self that knows, tradition or the Thou that is known. Every claim of the other meets with a knowing counterclaim, and ‘the Thou loses the immediacy with which it makes its claim. It is understood, but this means it is co-opted and pre-empted reflectively from the standpoint of the other person.’1 The dialectic that Gadamer described culminates in a third and highest form of hermeneutical experience, the ethical implications of which are not far to seek. Here at last tradition comes into its own and the Thou is experienced as such, with no presumption of authority or objective knowledge, and where the important matter of the claim that tradition or the Thou makes is received in its potential validity. This is an experience in the highest sense of the word, where we may have something to learn that may change us in our being. The other may be right, and the possibility of this creates an anticipation that we shall not have the last word and we are not in control. Reciprocity now reigns – not the pseudo-reciprocity that is a disguised form of domination or reduction of the other to the same, but an authentic mutuality of equals. ‘In human relations’, as Gadamer expressed it, ‘the important thing is . . . to experience the Thou truly as a Thou – i.e., not to overlook his claim but to let him really say something to us. Here is where openness belongs. . . . Openness to the other, then, involves recognizing that I myself must accept some things that are against

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me, even though no one else forces me to do so.’ Tradition as well makes a truth claim that it behoves us to take seriously, which means neither to submit uncritically nor to dominate the scene but something intermediate between the two. ‘I must allow tradition’s claim to validity . . . in such a way that it has something to say to me.’2 The experience of the Thou, in this view, is one of radical openness and reciprocity. What we are open to is not only the other in its otherness but, perhaps more essentially, the claim that it makes upon us, which may be a truth claim, a moral claim or some other. The difficulty is that this mode of experience is not a given and that it presupposes conditions of possibility that Marcel and some other existential thinkers regarded as dangerously elusive in the social reality of our times. What happens when the average everyday experience of social life, or of the other, is the encounter with mass society? Is one capable of hearing the claim of the Thou under this condition or is it not rather lost amid the noise of social reality, or not heard at all due to the fleeting and impersonal nature of so much of that experience? To answer these questions we must again engage in some existential elucidation of the kind at which Jaspers and Marcel both excelled, this time concerning the meaning of our social existence and the factors that lead to its devitalization. It is nothing less than the fundamental situation of human beings that is the object of Marcel’s analysis. To be answerable, this question must be posed not in ahistorical or wholly abstract terms but in terms of the condition of human beings at the present time. This existential question must also be posed as concretely as possible or in such a way that the ‘spirit of abstraction’ of which Marcel was a lifelong critic shall not hinder the work of phenomenological interpretation. Marcel’s account begins by recalling a couple of Nietzsche’s more important existential assertions: ‘God is dead’ and also ‘Man is in his death-throes.’3 The two statements must be comprehended together, Marcel maintained, and give rise to an important line of questioning. What do these statements signify for us and how did it come to pass that modern humanity is in such a perilous condition? What is the nature of this condition and what are its outward symptoms? As a Christian, Marcel’s diagnosis would differ profoundly from Nietzsche’s, especially as this concerns the decline of religious worldviews. For Marcel, the general enervation of social life that he believed he was witnessing is a consequence of spiritual decline and of the dominance of materialist and technological ways of thinking. In an important measure the human being is what it thinks of itself, not merely what it is in the sense of a certain kind of object, yet when our ways of thinking about ourselves



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or anything are beholden to a single and one-dimensional vocabulary, then humanity is indeed in its death-throes. ‘[T]oday a considerable temptation exists’, as Marcel put it, echoing a common worry among existential and hermeneutical thinkers, ‘. . . to become enclosed in the dimension of technological thought to the point of denying that there could be any other dimension.’4 It is a short step from this narrowing of perspective to the more thoroughgoing degradation of life that Marcel believed he was witnessing. The phenomenon of human degradation was a frequent topic of Marcel’s analysis, and it is here that his observation was often at its most astute. The modern world is characterized by a profound spiritual disquiet, he fervently believed, the symptoms of which Nietzsche had begun to glimpse but which took on new dimensions in the twentieth century. Among the most important of these is the rise of a form of civilization in which the individual becomes disconnected from himself and his fellow humanity. In a profound sense, we are no longer ourselves, while the other is increasingly experienced not as a Thou but very nearly its antithesis. While Heidegger would speak in this connection of das Man – ‘the They’ or the interchangeable anyone – Marcel preferred to speak of the mass as the name for who or what the individual that is not himself is and how this is experienced. José Ortega y Gasset had described the mass not only as a collectivity of increasingly bewildering scale but, more essentially, as ‘a psychological fact’ in his The Revolt of the Masses of 1930. The mass is a way of appearing and of being. Whereas in former times, as Ortega put it, the ‘individuals who made up these multitudes existed’, they did not exist ‘qua multitude. . . . Each individual or small group occupied a place, his own, in country, village, town or quarter of the great city. Now, suddenly, they appear as an agglomeration, and looking in any direction our eyes meet with the multitudes. Not only in any direction, but precisely in the best places, the relatively refined creation of human culture, previously reserved to lesser groups, in a word, to minorities. . . . There are no longer protagonists; there is only the chorus.’ Under this condition the individual is experienced as ‘undifferentiated from other men, but as repeating in himself a generic type.’5 Marcel would take this analysis farther and apply it in a somewhat different direction than Ortega. The issue that was most pressing for Marcel was ‘the growing depersonalization of human relationships’ which the concept of the mass well expresses.6 What has brought about this condition and what is its meaning? Mass society as both figures spoke of it signifies far more than the overwhelming number of persons who

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populate modern cities or public places. Deeper than this is the mode in which humanity now appears to us – as the multitudes, a thingly and quasi-material being that is without a name and a face, that is the same everywhere and impossible to elude. Since it is a ‘psychological fact’ rather than a simple function of numbers, it is a phenomenon that characterizes the town no less than the city. There as well we find a ‘promiscuous closeness’ that is the opposite of fraternity and ‘human beings increasingly separated from one another the more they are herded together’, such as in ‘those enormous housing projects which spring up like mushrooms on the outskirts of big cities.’7 The ‘agglomeration’ that ‘was yesterday the city’ exercises an ever more powerful attraction on populations at the same time that they have become dehumanized and unlivable. One does not ‘dwell’, in Heidegger’s sense, in the city of today, Marcel remarked.8 Instead one disappears into the throng, and indeed one is the throng, as are those whom we continue to call our neighbours. The bonds between persons that it is our obligation to cultivate become contingent and fleeting, and if the complaint is frequently made that our sociability and our dignity have been undermined by that fact, or by the perception of oneself as ‘a mere statistical unit, . . . a specimen among an infinity of others’, the complaint seldom leads to a decision. What decision can even be made here is an exceedingly difficult matter when the reactions and opinions that the individual has and ‘which he thinks are his own, are merely reflections of the ideas accepted in the circles he frequents and handed round in the press which he reads daily.’9 Our very gesture of protest is the gesture that ‘one’ has, and we submit to the mass even, or perhaps especially, in imagining our resistance. Marcel struck a strident note in his critique of the social and spiritual deterioration that he believed had occurred by the middle of the last century. One example of this phenomenon is the state of communication that was becoming increasingly mediated by technology at that time. A trend that has, of course, taken on radical momentum in more recent decades, he lamented the effects that mass communication technology, in particular the radio, was beginning to have. For a twenty-first century audience, Marcel’s anxiety about radio in the early 1950s is amusing, given the comparison with communications technology of the present. Radio, as he remarked in Man Against Mass Society, along with other forms of technological innovation, have made possible the manipulation of public opinion on a scale that is unprecedented in history, if it is not downright ‘satanic’. In the words of this French dramatist, ‘How shall we be able to grasp the fact that radio is one of the palpable factors making for our



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present spiritual degradation? I should be tempted to ask whether man, at the level, which is nearly always a low level, of his personal ambition, is not usurping a prerogative which looks like a distorted analogue, a caricature, of divine omnipresence. A Hitler or a Mussolini, speaking into the microphone, could really seem invested with the divine privilege of being everywhere at once’.10 Technology of mass communication shows an abiding tendency to propagandize, to degrade the tone of discourse and to diminish its message, and to serve the interests of whoever commands it. It contributes to the depersonalization of social life and the cheapening of any thought that employs it as a medium. This is readily seen, of course, in the various communications technologies of our own time. The art of letter writing, to take an obvious example, all but disappeared when written communication became electronic and instant.11 Technical innovation in this area was accompanied by a depersonalization and standardization of expression that Marcel would have found shocking. Almost invariably, when technology intervenes between speakers, the level, tone and style of communication deteriorate, yet the imperative toward ever greater convenience, control and personal availability appears to know no limits. ‘Then there is the Press’, to take an equally obvious example, ‘whose degraded character can never be denounced resolutely enough.’12 This critique is part of a much broader line of argument regarding modern technology as a whole that is broadly consistent with Heidegger’s critique. In addition to the narrowing of perception and self-understanding that it brings about when it becomes a totalizing and alternativeless system of thought, modern technology demands of ‘the individual who takes advantage of it without having had any share in the effort at overcoming difficulties of which such a progress is the culmination, the payment of a heavy price, of which a certain degradation at the spiritual level is the natural expression.’13 Marcel, of course, was far from advocating the destruction of radio or just about any other form of technical progress. It was the harnessing of technology and its subordination to self-mastery that he wished to see. He hoped to remind us of what happens to the human spirit when the values of technical mastery and control become ends in themselves. The confusion of means and ends becomes a common phenomenon when the preoccupation with the former eclipses the more important matter of the goals that technology ostensibly serves. The alienation of the individual within mass society was a pressing issue in a great deal of the existential thought of this period. Marcel was hardly alone in his worries. The growing homogeneity of human beings, the uniformity of beliefs and values, the disappearance of local customs and

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rural life, the loss of human scale, the frantic pace of modern life and a host of related phenomena were frequent topics of discussion not only among the philosophers of existence. So as well was the disappearance of the individual into its socio-economic function. In ‘a world more and more completely given over to technical processes’, human beings ‘tend more and more to be reduced to their own strict function in a mechanized society, though with a margin of leisure reserved for amusements from which the imagination will be more and more completely banished.’14 The person as standing reserve and human resource is interchangeable in its being. Its identity is its contribution to the machinery of mass civilization and the enormous institutions on which it depends. Stripped of its function, the human being becomes a shadowy figure of uncertain purpose and worth, a social problem of one kind or another. There is a malaise and a pessimism, Marcel believed, that emerges from such a society, a sense that ‘this world is empty, it rings hollow; and if it resists this temptation it is only to the extent that there come into play from within it and in its favour certain hidden forces which are beyond its power to conceive or to recognize.’15 Whatever elements of meaning or transcendence still exist in such a world are matters that fall outside its conceptual framework, while what lies within it are means without ends and a civilization without spirit. The rhythm of our lives is no longer that of life itself but of the machine, an acceleration that creates a constant sense of haste and ‘prevent[s] the slow sedimentation of habitus which seems surely to have been from all time the essential condition at the origin of all realities connected with the family.’16 The fundamental situation of daily life is reflected in the decay of family and other forms of intimate association, the impersonality and anonymity of public life, the decline of fraternity and community, and a sense of cynicism and emptiness regarding our social existence in general. Marcel would speak of ‘a widely diffused pessimism, at the level of the sneer and the oath rather than that of sighs and weeping’ as ‘a fundamental given fact about contemporary humanity, . . . a sort of physical nausea at life’ of a kind that other existential writers were also noting.17 If the basic condition of knowledge as numerous philosophers of existence conceived of it may be understood in the metaphor of lighting a candle in the darkness, a parallel phenomenon characterizes our social existence. There remain connections that bind us to the other in the midst of a society that in many ways is dehumanized and alienated. ‘To encounter someone’, in Marcel’s words, ‘is not merely to cross his path but to be, for the moment at least, near to or with him. To use a term I have often used before, it means being a co-presence.’18 Marcel’s distinction here is of the



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essence: the mass is that with which we cross paths. We do not encounter it in this sense so much as skirt by it and if possible avoid it altogether. It does not speak to us and we do not listen. One is not ‘with’ the mass but is confronted with it as subject to object, perhaps as an obstacle, a means to an end, or an object of reckoning and prediction. Only if certain conditions of possibility are in place do we genuinely encounter a Thou, in the sense of listening to and being transformed by the claim that it makes. The mass is the abstract anonymity that surrounds us, in the midst of which relations of love and friendship remain possible and urgent. Marcel would always be a philosopher of the concrete – of the concrete experience that he contrasted with the ‘spirit of abstraction’ and of concrete forms of sociability that transcend the mundane. It is a wisdom that grasps together in thought the concrete and the transcendent that he continually sought, but that he also found to be elusive in an age utterly beholden to technology and the material. The nature of this wisdom and its perilous condition at the present time he summarized in a short text, fittingly titled The Decline of Wisdom: ‘[C]ommon sense is not so very different from wisdom. It is a kind of deposit left by wisdom: instead of drifting about it settles in the average human being, but only for so long as certain sociological conditions are maintained. The nature of these conditions is shown by the word “common” itself. There is and can be no common sense where there is no common life or common notions, that is to say where there no longer exist any organic groups such as the family, the village, and so on. Yet the collectivization we are witnessing in every field is happening at the cost or even in contempt of these organic groups. . . . For we are confronted everywhere with enormous agglomerations which are increasingly mechanized, so that the individuals are linked in much the same way as the parts of a machine.’19 Our everyday experience of social life is of processes of collectivization, mechanization and calculation on a scale that leaves the existing individual in the lurch and wisdom as something of an irrelevance or anachronism. What quarter can there be for wisdom and the love of it when our existence is spoken of more or less exclusively as a matter of material causes and effects and our social world is constituted by so many Hobbesian atoms, existentially adrift and unencumbered in their being? The sense of the common – of shared norms, a common tradition and common sense – has been severely degraded, he believed, making any who would continue to speak of wisdom as an ideal out of step with the times, even in the discipline of philosophy. To be sure, Marcel’s particular conception of wisdom was heavily influenced by, if it was not completely inseparable from, his Christian belief. As he would write in Tragic Wisdom

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and Beyond, ‘All my own thinking has aimed at such a wisdom, at least since my conversion to Catholicism’, a wisdom that is ‘not properly speaking humanistic’, but that is ‘grounded to some extent in an action emanating from . . . spiritual powers which are not at all situated within the orbit of the human world.’20 After his conversion of 1929, all his existential reflections would need to be interpreted in this light, yet it remains that the wisdom of which he spoke was not otherworldly but concrete and inseparable from this sense of the common. It is this sense, he feared, that is disappearing in a mechanized and utilitarian social order, a civilization that leaves no place for transcendence and the ‘deep sense of piety towards life’ the absence of which ‘seem[s] to us to bear the undeniable mark of sin.’21 A mark of the degradation of social life is when the mass institutions on which we have come to depend approach all matters as problems in need of solutions rather than what Marcel preferred to call mysteries. The important distinction between a problem and a mystery turns upon the nature of the relation between the matter that we are questioning and the questioner him- or herself. A problem is something that one stands to as subject to object; it is the obstacle in one’s path, a set of objective conditions to which one stands at arm’s length. It does not enter into our being and may be solved or not solved without in any meaningful way transforming us. In the encounter with mystery the subject-object split disappears and the matter into which we inquire is inseparable from the being that we are. Love is a mystery in this sense of the word, as is death and life itself. To characterize it as such does not mean that any of these matters utterly defies knowledge but that to question them is to question ourselves. A mystery is not an object before us, to which we stand in some distanced relation and upon which we pronounce our self-regarding calculations, but is a part of our existence. In his words, ‘A problem is something met with that bars my passage. It is before me in its entirety. A mystery, on the other hand, is something in which I find myself caught up, and whose essence is therefore not to be before me in its entirety. It is as though in this province the distinction between in me and before me loses its meaning.’22 It is a common tendency, Marcel maintained, to attempt to transform a mystery into a problem and so to degrade it. There is nothing sacred in a life comprising so many problems in need of solution, nor is a social order that is devoid of mystery and organized around a complex of utilitarian problems one that is properly habitable by human beings. Something inhuman characterizes such an order: a certain absence of depth, meaning and community. A problem may have considerable complexity, but what it lacks is the depth dimension that the notion of mystery properly captures.



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To partake of a mystery is to ‘find myself committed, and, I would add, not partially committed, not committed in regard to some determinate and specialized aspect of myself, but committed as a whole man.’ It is to ‘abolish that frontier between what lies in the self and what lies before the self.’23 A society that is organized around the supply of mass needs and the functioning of mass institutions is existentially lost, adept as it may be at regulating daily life with an eye to utilitarian efficiency. When techniques rule our ways of thinking about social relations and human existence in general, mystery is abolished and with it any serious effort to listen to the claim of the Thou. Seriously to listen is to cross the frontier to which Marcel alluded and to be co-present with the other. If institutions by their nature are perhaps incapable of this – and mass institutions still more – individuals are not, yet our capacity for this is attenuated to the extent that our ways of thinking and relating are reduced to the order of the technological and the material. ‘The human condition’, as Marcel importantly observed, ‘. . . seems to be in some ways dependent on the very manner in which it is understood.’ When it is understood more or less exclusively in a vocabulary of materialism and technology, then ‘man is thought of on the model of a machine’, an object of some scientifically knowable and institutionally manageable kind. As the person in such an order becomes ‘conscripted into an auxiliary bureaucracy’ and ‘more and more easily reducible to an index card’, its mode of being-in-the-world is transformed.24 It becomes the thing it is spoken of and treated as. Mass man is not a person. It has no dignity of its own, no mystery or capacity for freedom. It is an entity with a standard set of needs and a function in the socio-economic mechanism. As such, it is the same everywhere, an abstraction made real, while what is or was really real – an unrepeatable individual – goes into eclipse. The abstractions and statistics with which institutions reckon correspond to nothing in the world, as a matter of phenomenological fact. The problem of unemployment or health care, speaking concretely, consists in the lived circumstances and experience of particular persons, yet this obvious fact again goes into eclipse when the spirit of abstraction prevails. The human being is neither a case, demographic, file nor statistic. It is something far more than a biological or psychological entity, but only if it continues to think of itself as such or as the bearer of a dignity that belongs to one as a concrete individual. By contrast, the mass can only be conceived as an abstraction of one kind or another, and can have no substantial reality of its own. It remains a ‘psychological fact’ and a way of appearing under conditions of modern life. One does not perceive the mass any more than one perceives any other

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generalized abstraction. We perceive concrete persons, since this is indeed all there is to a society, yet too seldom do we perceive them as such. Such is the issue that Marcel’s analysis brings to our attention. It puts in question all talk of the Thou or the other in the different senses of these expressions that we encounter in contemporary philosophy, including hermeneutics. How, under conditions of modern life and mass society, can one still hear the claim of the Thou or authentically encounter him or her? If ‘[t]he life of the mind’, as Gadamer stated, ‘consists precisely in recognizing oneself in other being’, if the subject itself comes into its own in the midst of intersubjectivity and the struggle for recognition that takes place between real persons, how is any of this possible when our everyday experience of the social is of the interchangeable anyone?25 Without overstating or dramatizing the point in the way that certain existential writers may be accused of, my contention is that the fundamental condition of social life in our times is the experience of the mass, the salient features of which are anonymity, depersonalization and the loss of human scale. In this condition the other person does not become a Thou but remains an ‘it’, a thingly being whose presence is fleeting and whose claim upon the self is not heard. Encountering another in an authentic sense always involves a risk to the self and an overcoming of barriers. It is never an uncomplicated matter, however the lifeworld in which we find ourselves generally provides us with the wherewithal with which to engage in this elemental practice. Yet when the very language of emotional expression, including of love itself, shrinks down to the needs of the organism and its utilitarian functioning, when the vocabulary of ethical relations becomes one of cost-benefit analysis or the satisfaction of physiological and quasi-physiological drives, social life is in a perilous condition. In Gadamer’s account, the crucial transition in our experience of the other or of tradition occurs when the latter is regarded no longer from the standpoint of purported objectivity but in a more immediate relation. The subject whose behaviour we calculate and predict, whose expressions we stand to in a distanced and ‘reflective’ relation, is not experienced as a Thou. It appears as a certain kind of entity over which we preside, and if it would issue a claim of any kind, it is one that is met with an authoritative reply. In the first two modes of hermeneutical experience as he described them, the subject is the one who knows while the object is the thing known. It is in the transition to the third mode that the Thou at last comes into its own, where this means that we perceive not only the other in its otherness but the important matter of the claim that it makes upon us. The Thou may understand something that we do not, something that may



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potentially transform us. What calls for emphasis here is the contingency and fragility of this transition. There are conditions that make it possible to experience the other concretely as a Thou – as a you, an interlocutor who has something to say to us – and conditions that conspire against this or that enclose the self within itself and incline it toward depersonalization. If it is the concrete other of whom we are speaking, this is neither a being who stands in objective opposition to the self nor its abstract antithesis: an incommensurable Other to whom the self stands in a relation of submission. In the encounter with the other, one is neither lord nor bondsman. In the words of Richard Kearney, ‘Hermeneutics suggests that the other is neither absolutely transcendent nor absolutely immanent, but somewhere between the two. It suggests that, for the most part, others are intimately bound up with selves in ways that constitute ethical relations in their own right. Human discourse involves someone saying something to someone about something. It is a matter of one self communicating to another self, recognizing that if there is no perfect symmetry between the two, this does not necessarily mark a total dissymmetry.’26 This passage aptly summarizes the hermeneutical position on this issue and cautions against philosophical accounts that speak of the Other invariably in the upper case and in excessively transcendent terms. The other is not an otherworldly or absolute being of some description but is the concrete Thou that addresses us about some, often disputed, matter. It falls to the self in this circumstance to behold this claim, to anticipate its possible validity, and to respond in dialogical fashion. For this elemental life process to occur, an indispensable precondition is an openness to what the other has to say, and this is not a given or simple matter. In ethical relations it is of the highest importance that the habits we form and that drive the great majority of our conduct do not constitute merely so many adaptations to a technological and mass order of things. The issue is that under conditions of mass society, the claim of the concrete other is all too often lost in the noise of social life. In the face of the mass we are habituated in our daily existence to a refusal of recognition that is fully reciprocated and to a mode of perceiving and relating that is depersonalized and more or less devoid of meaning. There is a fitting response to the claim of the Thou – most often one that proceeds in the spirit of that claim, and not infrequently one that is critical – yet in the encounter with the mass there is no claim that can be discerned and no fitting response. The call of the stranger is not an encounter with the mass but with the concrete other appearing to us as such. The mass, by contrast, does not come into view as a Thou; it issues no discernible claim

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while the innumerable concrete others whose paths we cross in the course of everyday life issue an impossible cacophony of claims which we can attend to, but in a manner that is often perfunctory and guilt-ridden. The characteristic and habitual mode of relating in the daily encounter with the mass is inattention. The result is a moral consciousness that is habituated to anonymity and insensibility. As Marcel observed in a rather important passage: ‘There are today an increasing number of people whose awareness is, in the strict sense of the phrase, without a focus; and the techniques which have transformed the framework of daily life for such people at such a prodigious pace – I am thinking particularly of the cinema and the radio – are making a most powerful contribution towards this defocalizing process. What I mean is this. One may, it seems to me, lay it down as a principle that the human creature under normal conditions finds his bearings in relation to other people, and also to physical objects, that are not only close to him in space but linked to him by a feeling of intimacy. Of this feeling of intimacy, I would say that in itself it tends to create a focus for human awareness. One might go farther and speak of a kind of constellation, at once material and spiritual, which under normal conditions assembles itself around each human being. But, for a great many reasons which it would be superfluous to enumerate, this kind of constellation round the individual life is, in a great many countries, in process of dissolution.’27 Today our habitual experience of social life is to find oneself in the midst of an agglomeration, to encounter others and their claims on an impossible scale and, as a strategy in psychic survival perhaps, to cultivate the kind of unfocused awareness of which Marcel spoke. The nurse or teacher faced on a daily basis with a multitude of charges and administrative inanities adapts to haste and inattention in the face of the other. For the resultant moral consciousness, the transition noted above – from regarding human beings with an objectivating attitude to perceiving them in a more immediate relation – is an increasingly difficult matter. We have become accustomed to the social obtuseness of others and quite possibly our own, the insensibility of mind and wilful unconsciousness that are so commonplace in our time as no longer to cause surprise. A good part of our moral competence comes down to the apparently simple act of paying attention – not only to the plight of the sufferer in a grand sense but to ordinary persons and the mundane claims that they make upon us in the course of everyday life. The situation is exacerbated when the conceptual framework of social life is itself restricted to the order of the utilitarian and technological. If much of our existence as social beings, as Kearney stated, consists of



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‘someone saying something to someone about something’, the conditions that make this possible include both attentive minds and a shared language that is hermeneutically rich enough to enable others and ourselves to express our claims and counterclaims in ways that may be heard. When our language becomes degraded in the manner we have seen – to the level of self-regarding utilities, needs and preference-orderings, as if we were corporations or perhaps machines – ethical relations once again are in danger of the kind of degradation that Marcel described. When the language is lost, the experience is lost with it, and this applies as much to the I-Thou relation as to any other field of experience. The difficulty is that the Thou does not come into appearance as such unless we have the language that expresses and indeed constitutes the experience. The self that is habituated to functionality, anonymity and replaceability – its own and others’ – and that speaks a language of ethical relations that is derived from science, technology or economics has a diminished capacity to experience the Thou truly as a Thou in Gadamer’s sense, or as the Other in the sense of Levinas and the postmodernists. The question is how the other may appear to us, and it is a question for which habit and language are in a commanding position. The human being before us may be the beloved, friend, interlocutor or fellow citizen; it may be the object of desire or knowledge, the nameless functionary, despised enemy or the mass. We experience ourselves likewise in habitual roles and within a language of expression, often at our peril. Whether we are speaking of the teacher overly accustomed to authority and seeming expertise, the labourer habituated to our replaceability, the social worker interpreting one and all through the lens of the DSM, the soldier with an overdeveloped sense of friend and foe or the city dweller excessively habituated to the daily confrontation with the mass and to one’s personal invisibility within it, habits give our character and experience a lasting set and indeed form the self. The capacity for reciprocity that is the essence of the I-Thou relation is attenuated when the habits we form and the vocabulary we speak dispose us more and more toward experiences of ourselves and others that are mediated by a technological and materialist system of thought. This is the existential condition in which we find ourselves, desiring profoundly a quality of experience that has become elusive if not anachronistic. If there is a sense in which ‘Man is in his death-throes’, as Nietzsche dramatically stated and Marcel repeated, it is a statement best interpreted as follows. It behoves moral consciousness above all, as Gadamer expressed it, ‘to experience the Thou truly as a Thou’, where this means ‘not to

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overlook his claim but to let him really say something to us.’28 In the social reality of our times the scope for this kind of experience is increasingly diminished, habituating us to modes of experiencing others and ourselves in a degraded light. ‘Man against mass society’, ‘the individual against mass thinking’ are sentiments that now resonate widely and deeply, and if this does not exactly signify that we are in our death-throes, nor does it bode well for the tenor of social life to which our century has become dangerously accustomed. Has our age become as degraded, existentially and socially, as Marcel maintained? Probably not, or not in quite the manner that he believed. The cultural physician in Marcel is often difficult to separate from the Christian believer, and if we wish to bracket that belief in our own reflections, the stridency of his critique is diminished. It is likely that the existing individual is not at death’s door. Its capacity, however, for the higher forms of intersubjectivity has been weakened by conditions of modern life that worried a great many existential thinkers and ought to worry us still. Social relations that are mediated ever more by technology – now seemingly as an end in itself or to support the illusion of control over an existence that in every respect is perilous – that occur on a massive scale, that are oriented increasingly around utility and functionality, and that are depersonalized and fleeting give rise to an experience that is alienating and hollow. Under these conditions, notions of human dignity, authenticity and openness to the other lose their vitality and take on an appearance of nostalgia. Philosophical accounts of the Other and the Thou, for instance, as articulated by a Buber or a Levinas, hark back to vocabularies that are too theological and difficult – one might say impossible – to separate from their religious underpinnings. Many of Marcel’s reflections are vulnerable to the same criticism. It is no return to theological ethics, including one that speaks the language of phenomenology, that is needed, but conceptions of social life that are concrete, non-hyperbolic and non-nostalgic. It is here, in my view, that Gadamer’s phenomenology of the I-Thou fares well in comparison with more fashionable and ostensibly more radical accounts of the Other and the face-to-face. It is an account that lacks theological fervour, to be sure, but this should be considered a mark in its favour. The main difficulty for it arises not from the direction of postmodernism but from Marcel’s line of argument: the possibility of hearing the claim of the Thou is radically diminished in an age of technology and under conditions of mass civilization. Marcel’s remedy for this is again difficult to separate from his religious commitments: it is to be found in experiences of small-group fraternity, community and hospitality – ‘the sort of piety which is shown in the East to the unknown guest – simply



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because he is a guest, because he has entrusted himself to a man and his dwelling’ – of a kind that is disappearing in the modern world. Marcel’s ethics is an ‘attempt to recall us to the feeling for our neighbour and the consciousness of our immediate surroundings’, one that cultivates attachments beyond the order of the utilitarian and that have a sense of mystery and transcendence about them. It is the experience of concrete others, not of an absolute Other which partakes of the spirit of abstraction, in which Marcel placed his faith, experiences of agape, fraternal association and ‘new aristocracies’ of the spirit, ‘groups managing to form themselves according to the circumstances around an institution, a personality, a living idea, and so on.’29 Groups bound together by a shared idea, he believed, do not degenerate into the kind of herd organization that he decried, and remain possible sites of fraternity. Speaking of the latter notion in The Existential Background of Human Dignity (1963), Marcel made a curiously friendly reference to Levinas’ account of the face-to-face relation while also expressing surprise that ‘he does not use the term which seems to me the only adequate one – “neighbour.” We should note that this word takes its full meaning only when preceded by the possessive adjective, the possessive in this case no longer being used to claim ownership.’ The phrase ‘my neighbour’, he went on to write, draws us ‘almost imperceptibly to the affirmation of a fraternity’ in a sense that differs little, if at all, from the religious.30 These concepts – my neighbour, fraternity, dignity, mystery, the Thou – may still speak to our times and provide a vocabulary that is capable in some measure of offering a counterweight to the depersonalization of social life that we so often experience. As Marcel knew, ‘intersubjectivity is openness to the other’; it is an openness without which our social existence can only be an experience of the mass. It is an openness as well ‘which is perpetually threatened because at every moment the self may close itself again and become a prisoner of itself, no longer considering the other except in relation to itself.’31 We need not and ought not to appropriate these ideas in their more theological connotations. If Marcel would not agree with this, it remains that it is no return to religious ethics that is needed but a conception of ethical relations that places in the centre the primordial and eminently human act of listening in earnest to the claim of the other and so allowing it to appear as a Thou, another self that stands to us in a relation of immediacy and reciprocity. This is the daily struggle of moral consciousness: to remain or to become open to the claim of the Thou and to issue our own in a spirit of dialogue, or something resembling it, and so to preserve the humanity of that relation.

Chapter 4

Truth After Correspondence William James Until relatively recent times, few continental philosophers treated pragmatism with great seriousness. Gadamer’s own view of this movement is characteristic of a position widespread among continental philosophers of the early and middle decades of the twentieth century, to the effect that while pragmatists are correct in identifying lifeworld practices as the appropriate point of departure for philosophical theorizing, they simplistically assimilate truth to the order of utility. Gadamer expressed this in a paper written prior to Truth and Method titled ‘What is Truth?’ As he expressed it there: ‘The connection between situation and truth is already part of the warp and woof of American pragmatism. There the successful coping with a situation is understood as the real criterion of truth. The fruitfulness of a knowledge-claim proves itself in that it eliminates a problematical situation. I do not believe that the pragmatic turn that things take here is sufficient. That shows itself in that pragmatism simply pushes all so-called philosophical and metaphysical questions to the side because it only concerns itself with coping with the immediate situation. In order to move forward it is acceptable to cast off the entire dogmatic ballast of the tradition – I regard this as a short circuit. The primacy of the question, about which I spoke, is not a pragmatic primacy. And even less is the answer that is true bound to the standard of its consequences for action. But pragmatism is certainly right in that one must go beyond the formal relation in which the question stands to the meaning of the proposition.’1 This passage, written in the 1950s, shows only a passing familiarity with pragmatism and is indicative of the reception this school of thought received in continental philosophy. It is a misunderstanding that pragmatism ‘only concerns itself with coping with the immediate situation’ and reduces truth to a kind of crude epistemological counterpart to utilitarianism. Gadamer himself, some forty years after the publication of ‘What is Truth?’, perceived as much: ‘After a delay of almost a century it is being made plain to us how powerfully we had been enclosed in isolation since the beginning of World War I despite all efforts to breach such isolation. That there was philosophical pragmatism in America was certainly not unknown to us,

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but it had no presence for us. One knew about James, who had been a friend of my own teacher Paul Natorp, and one knows about Dewey and his enormous influence on American culture. But only now do we begin to understand that American philosophy did have an impact on us and that certain impulses from there became part of German philosophizing.’2 As a growing number of scholars are pointing out, clear and deep affinities exist between American pragmatism and much of the continental thought of the twentieth century, and nowhere more so than phenomenology and hermeneutics.3 The basic hypothesis of classical pragmatism is that the meaning, justification and indeed truth of an idea is determined in light of its consequences for our practices and lived experience. While Charles Sanders Peirce limited pragmatism to a theory of meaning, William James, John Dewey and others formulated it more broadly as a theory of knowledge and truth. For the two latter figures, a true statement fundamentally is one that resolves a problematic situation that arises in the course of human experience. The pragmatic model of inquiry that they developed was firmly rooted in post-Kantian idealism while drawing equally upon Darwin and empiricism. While James and Dewey continued to speak of truth in the realm of propositional knowledge alone, they rejected the correspondence theory on essentially phenomenological (or ‘radical empiricist’) grounds and replaced it with a coherentist and experimental model of inquiry. It is no exaggeration to speak of James and Dewey as (proto-) phenomenological thinkers, both of whose work reject not only the correspondence theory of truth but many of the standard dichotomies and Enlightenment doctrines that Heidegger, Gadamer, and other hermeneutical philosophers were also leaving behind. In spite of important affinities, pragmatism was ill received in European philosophy and became saddled early with a reputation that is false and which only now is being overcome.4 In bringing it into relation with hermeneutics, therefore, as the next three chapters attempt, we shall need to remove some old caricatures and clarify what a few pre-eminent thinkers in this tradition actually meant in their conceptions of truth, the nature of inquiry and the theory-practice relation. Since pragmatism assumes different forms in the writings of different thinkers, I shall focus on one figure per theme, beginning with James on truth in the present chapter and followed in the next two by Dewey on inquiry and Richard Rorty on the question of theory and practice. The argument of these chapters is not that pragmatism and hermeneutics express identical positions on these issues – for indeed they do not – but that bringing the two traditions into conversation in this way may be mutually beneficial.



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For James, the concept of truth must be understood in connection with lived experience and as a mode of praxis. It consists not in a formal relation between propositions and states of affairs but in ‘a rich and active commerce . . . between particular thoughts of ours, and the great universe of other experiences in which they play their parts and have their uses.’ True statements agree with reality, but where correspondence theory had construed agreement as formal adequation between statements (the only items, according to correspondence theory and James as well, that make a claim to truth) and facts considered to obtain objectively, agreement for James is a dynamic and processual notion inseparable from the projects of the knower. Agreement must be understood as the agreeableness of the consequences of an idea for praxis and consists in a ‘process of being guided’ from one experience to another, ‘from a present idea to a future terminus.’ Truth is therefore an ‘affair of leading’, a ‘go-between, a smoother-over of transitions’ in our dealings with the world. We deem an idea to be true insofar as it prepares us for future experience while remaining faithful to previous experience, insofar as it brings us into working touch with a lifeworld and produces coherence and intelligibility. As James expressed it in Pragmatism: ‘ideas (which themselves are but parts of our experience) become true just in so far as they help us get into satisfactory relation with other parts of our experience, to summarize them and get about among them by conceptual short-cuts instead of following the interminable succession of particular phenomena. Any idea upon which we can ride, so to speak; any idea that will carry us prosperously from any one part of our experience to any other part, linking things satisfactorily, working securely, simplifying, saving labour; is true for just so much, true in so far forth, true instrumentally.’ In the same text James wrote: ‘From this simple cue pragmatism gets her general notion of truth as something essentially bound up with the way in which one moment in our experience may lead us towards other moments which it will be worthwhile to have been led to. Primarily, and on the common-sense level, the truth of a state of mind means this function of a leading that is worthwhile. When a moment in our experience, of any kind whatever, inspires us with a thought that is true, that means that sooner or later we dip by that thought’s guidance into the particulars of experience again and make advantageous connexion with them.’5 In Jamesian phenomenology, truth consists in satisfactory ‘workings’ and ‘leadings’ rather than in accurate representations: ‘True ideas lead us into useful verbal and conceptual quarters as well as directly up to useful sensible termini. They lead to consistency, stability and flowing human intercourse.’6 A true belief does no violence to our perceptions, establishes connections

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between various regions of experience, and produces coherence. Because pragmatic ‘workability’, ‘success’, and ‘satisfactoriness’ are perspectival notions, they must be judged with respect to the projects and interests of knowers. The truth of an idea cannot be determined apart from its consequential value to those who hold it. Scientific hypotheses, for instance, are accounted true in virtue of their capacity to offer successful predictions, cure diseases, create technologies, and in general facilitate our interactions with the world, rather than on the grounds of their mirroring the way the world is in an objective sense. Theoretical constructions are so many contrivances for action rather than eternal verities, while scientific truths constitute useful means of carrying us from one set of phenomena to another. Herein lies the pragmatic significance of ‘verifiability’: certain beliefs allow us to cope successfully with the world, adapt to or modify an environment, and in general realize our practical projects. True beliefs are verifiable in the sense that they can accommodate progressively more phenomena and fashion an integrated and complex worldview. Agreement with reality often signifies the merely negative fact that nothing from one part of our experience contradicts an idea that satisfactorily leads us toward, or sheds interesting light upon, another part. By the same token, statements may be falsified by conflicting with or failing to account for certain experiences. False beliefs fail to conduct us satisfactorily from one experience to another and often contradict certain of our true beliefs. The ‘reality’ with which true ideas agree is threefold: the sum of our other beliefs, relations of ideas, and ‘matters of fact’ – conceived experientially as ‘the flux of our sensations’ or the totality of sense perceptions. An interpretation must cohere not only with its object but with our previously accepted interpretations. The role of the latter is all-important in the process of inquiry as James described it. In his words, ‘Truth grafts itself on previous truth, modifying it in the process, just as idiom grafts itself on previous idiom, and law on previous law. Given previous law and a novel case, and the judge will twist them into fresh law. Previous idiom; new slang or metaphor or oddity that hits the public taste: – and presto, a new idiom is made. Previous truth; fresh facts: – and our mind finds a new truth.’ The simple addition of a new truth to the stock of the old in a manner that requires no rearrangement or critical assessment of previous beliefs is the most elementary form of learning. Acquiring knowledge, however, frequently entails such a rearrangement. When confronted with unfamiliar or unanticipated phenomena, coherence is gained by modifying a previous belief to accommodate the novelty while preserving all the relevant phenomena. New knowledge modifies and is in turn



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modified by settled truths: ‘The novelty soaks in; it stains the ancient mass; but it is also tinged by what absorbs it.’ When confronted with an anomaly, some aspect of the ‘ancient mass’ must be reassessed. In the course of inquiry we discard the belief that produces contradiction and preserve the remainder with the necessary minimum of disturbance. If the anomaly is thus rendered coherent, a change of opinion results, or a previous interpretation is replaced with a new one. ‘This new idea is then adopted as the true one. It preserves the older stock of truths with a minimum of modification, stretching them just enough to make them admit the novelty, but conceiving that in ways as familiar as the case leaves possible.’ As fidelity to our older truths is of considerable importance, an ‘outrée explanation’ that violates all our previous beliefs is unlikely ever to be adopted.7 James insisted that coherence among our ideas and experiences is of paramount importance and that every belief must ‘run the gauntlet’ of our other beliefs in order that no contradiction may stand. James made this point abundantly clear in the following passages: ‘Above all we find consistency satisfactory, consistency between the present idea and the entire rest of our mental equipment, including the whole order of our sensations, and that of our intuitions of likeness and difference, and our whole stock of previously acquired truths.’ Similarly: ‘After man’s interest in breathing freely, the greatest of all his interests (because it never fluctuates or remits, as most of his physical interests do) is his interest in consistency, in feeling that what he now thinks goes with what he thinks on other occasions. We tirelessly compare truth with truth for this sole purpose. Is the present candidate for belief perhaps contradicted by principle number one? Is it compatible with fact number two? and so forth.’8 This coherentist account is not unlike the doctrine of the hermeneutical circle. We expect an interpretation to reconcile a text’s disparate passages into a unified account, to employ one sentence to illuminate the meaning of another, and so on. Interpretations must cohere with other interpretations and in general help us to negotiate our experience of the world. When the process breaks down, when anticipations are thwarted or interpretations generate contradiction, we say either that we have failed to understand or that the thing itself is unintelligible. Dewey’s pragmatic experimentalism further refined James’ account while remaining consistent in important respects with hermeneutics. Here again the process of inquiry is described in a fashion that rejects the model of unconditioned subjectivity on one side and an uninterpreted reality on the other for a more phenomenologically adequate account of inquiry as it actually unfolds. The investigative process, for Dewey, essentially involves

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an experimental testing of ideas in a fashion that proposes and modifies hypotheses with a view to producing optimal coherence. Ultimately, ‘[t]he test of ideas, of thinking generally, is found in the consequences of the acts to which the ideas lead, that is in the new arrangements of things which are brought into existence.’9 In expounding this view – which I shall return to in Chapter 5 – Dewey was following and also transforming Peirce’s dictum that ‘there is no distinction of meaning so fine as to consist in anything but a possible difference of practice.’10 In the process of inquiry, a hypothesis is proposed by which to account for particular phenomena, the progress of which is followed as it proceeds through various stages of investigation until it registers pragmatic consequences of a specific kind. Provided these are consistent with the consequences anticipated by the hypothesis, and by this means provide for the organization or reorganization of a given set of phenomena, the hypothesis passes for true until and unless it generates contradiction in another region of experience. Dewey’s methodology integrates experiences with other experiences, phenomena with phenomena, in dialectical fashion. The product of successful inquiry is not certainty but ‘warranted assertibility’, a conception of truth that is invariably contingent on the course of further investigation.11 Dewey stressed that it is the nature of inquiry to be fallible, futural and ultimately practical in orientation; it never allows us to rest on our conclusions but sets these in operation on the model of scientific experimentation. Truth is a processual notion, and in no sense is an end attained once and for all. In pragmatic knowledge, ‘the process of growth, of improvement and progress, rather than the static outcome and result, becomes the significant thing.’12 Since a monological conception of truth would clearly contradict the dialectical spirit of hermeneutics, it bears emphasis that pragmatism incorporates an important social element in its conception of truth. For both James and Dewey, truth arises only in a community of inquirers. As Peirce had expressed it: ‘In sciences in which men come to agreement, when a theory has been broached, it is considered to be on probation until this agreement is reached. After it is reached, the question of certainty becomes an idle one, because there is no one left who doubts it. We individually cannot reasonably hope to attain the ultimate philosophy which we pursue; we can only seek it, therefore, for the community of philosophers. Hence, if disciplined and candid minds carefully examine a theory and refuse to accept it, this ought to create doubts in the mind of the author of the theory himself.’13 In James’ account, truth in the first instance is predicated of the individual inquirer and is a function of an idea’s pragmatic success within his or her experience. This is not the end of the matter, however. To pass



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for true, the idea must be submitted to the conversation of a community. In the course of inquiry the locus of truth shifts from the vantage point of the individual to the community of thinkers, while one’s own perspective enlarges to incorporate an increasing number of inquirers. As the conversation continues and the pool of experience enlarges, truth becomes less idiosyncratic and increasingly intersubjective. Truth must therefore not be an altogether determinate quality, but one that permits of degrees. As consensus emerges we move by degrees from ‘relatively’ true beliefs to what James (unfortunately) termed ‘absolute’ truth, a term that he construed not in the manner of dogmatic metaphysics but as ‘that ideal vanishing point towards which we imagine that all our temporary truths will some day converge.’14 It constitutes the hypothetical and never to be realized culmination of inquiry in a consensus that no future experience would overturn. It warrants repeating, however, that truth for James and Dewey alike always remains a processual notion that permits no final culminations of any kind, and hence is neither absolute in the usual sense of the term nor certain. The intersubjective nature of truth would be more accentuated in Gadamer’s work, particularly in his notion of the essential linguisticality of understanding. Solidarity, for Gadamer, ‘is the decisive condition and basis of all social reason.’15 In determining the merit of truth claims we appeal not to any metaphysical touchstone but to the conversation and tradition to which we belong. As Richard Bernstein has pointed out, Gadamer appealed ‘to a concept of truth that (pragmatically speaking) amounts to what can be argumentatively validated by the community of interpreters who open themselves to what tradition “says to us.”’16 While hermeneutical innovation often requires a break with tradition in given respects, or a rearrangement of ideas established by our forebears, it remains that even the most inventive interpretations are oriented by the tradition from which they emerge, minimally, in order to demonstrate the deficiency of previous interpretations and the relative merit of a new idea.17 Truth, then, as hermeneutics and pragmatism both conceive it, is essentially dialogical; it emerges only in the course of dialogue and experimental inquiry. Gadamer likened it to an event of disclosure in which what is essential is not any conclusive determination but the ongoing dialectic of question and answer. Interpretation is an open-ended process that neither begins at the beginning nor culminates in a final conclusion. Truth occurs as we are taken up by the interpretive object, not when we correctly represent it in determinate categories. It is an event in which we participate rather than a fixed relation. In both traditions, truth, consensus and being itself are unfinished and subject to further inquiry.

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Both traditions also accentuate the historicity of truth along with its essential sociality. Truth is not independent of the process of inquiry and is contingent on human projects and symbolizing practices. Given the historicity of the latter, all truths are historical constructions. Our most ancient and settled categories were once inventions that were declared true for the reason that they were found to be useful in practice. This thought is repeatedly expressed in James’ writings, perhaps most eloquently in the following text: ‘The trail of the human serpent is thus over everything. Truth independent; truth that we find merely; truth no longer malleable to human need; truth incorrigible, in a word; such truth exists indeed superabundantly – or is supposed to exist by rationalistically minded thinkers; but then it means only the dead heart of the living tree, and its being there means only that truth also has its paleontology and its “prescription”, and may grow stiff with years of veteran service and petrified in men’s regard by sheer antiquity. But how plastic even the oldest truths nevertheless really are has been vividly shown in our day by the transformation of logical and mathematical ideas, a transformation which seems even to be invading physics.’18 In emphasizing the idea of truth as a human invention inseparable from the dialogical process and from history itself, James, Dewey and Gadamer all refused the realist view of truth as obtaining in an absolute sense. For pragmatism as for hermeneutics, there is no ahistorical truth. As James expressed it, the notion of truth as an objective relation happened upon in the course of inquiry, the very idea of eternal verity, ‘the truth with no one thinking it, is like the coat that fits though no one has ever tried it on, like the music that no ear has listened to.’19 The two traditions also concur in holding that truth does not always require direct confirmation by the knower. Just as authority, for Gadamer, is sometimes a legitimate source of understanding, for James, ‘[t]ruth lives, in fact, for the most part on a credit system. Our thoughts and beliefs “pass”, so long as nothing challenges them, just as banknotes pass so long as nobody refuses them.’ While true ideas must be verifiable, they are not always verified directly by the individual. They may be confirmed indirectly, either by others whose range of experience exceeds our own, by the lack of disconfirming evidence for an otherwise fruitful belief, or by an absence of reasonable doubt concerning a given point of consensus. As James put it, one need not directly verify all one’s true beliefs ‘any more than a wealthy man need be always handling money, or a strong man always lifting weights.’20 In so arguing, James, Dewey and Gadamer all described a process of inquiry that is without absolute origins save for the phenomena



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(James’ ‘blooming, buzzing confusion’ or ‘the flux of our sensations’) that are arranged and rearranged by an active intellect into coherent configurations.21 Received understandings are set in motion as provisional anticipations while interpretations and hypotheses are confirmed or disconfirmed in the course of inquiry. Not infrequently our anticipations run into unanticipated phenomena and must be reconfigured to accommodate the new while remaining faithful to the larger share of the old. It being ‘not only impossible but manifestly absurd’, in Gadamer’s words, ‘to try to escape from one’s own concepts’, it is the nature of interpretation to bring these into play and to allow for their modification when they fail to produce coherence.22 All three figures cautioned against viewing inquiry as a naïve leap into alien horizons, against unconditioned perspectives, and against the quest for certainty. Their respective accounts all appeal to the notion of coherence in both its experiential and intersubjective connotations and to the dynamic back-and-forth of experimental investigation. Pragmatism and hermeneutics allow us to conceive of truth no longer as a mirroring relation but as a praxis-oriented commerce with a lifeworld and as ‘an intra-experiential affair’ of interpretive leadings and verifications.23 Both refuse to separate the theory of truth from the practice of inquiry as it unfolds phenomenologically. It would be a mistake, however, to infer that these traditions hold nearly identical positions on the nature of truth. In spite of his thorough rejection of correspondence, James’ account remains within its orbit far more than does twentieth-century hermeneutics. This is especially evident in James’ views that truth may be predicated of statements alone, and that we may continue to characterize truth, albeit with considerable qualification, as agreement with reality. While pragmatism and hermeneutics both pose the question of truth anew in the aftermath of correspondence, for James the meaning of truth remains inseparable from the method by which we justify propositions. The same cannot be said of philosophical hermeneutics. Unlike its nineteenth-century predecessors, Gadamerian hermeneutics is concerned far less with advancing methodological strategies than describing phenomenologically ‘what happens to us’ in the practice of interpretation. As Gadamer expressed it in Truth and Method: ‘I did not intend to produce a manual for guiding understanding in the manner of the earlier hermeneutics. I did not wish to elaborate a system of rules to describe, let alone direct, the methodical procedure of the human sciences. . . . My real concern was and is philosophic: not what we do or what we ought to do, but what happens to us over and above our wanting and doing.’24 The same sentiment is expressed in Reason in the Age

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of Science: ‘The hermeneutics that I characterize as philosophic is not introduced as a new procedure of interpretation or explication. Basically it only describes what always happens wherever an interpretation is convincing and successful. It is not at all a matter of a doctrine about a technical skill that would state how understanding ought to be. We have to acknowledge what is, and so we cannot change the fact that unacknowledged presuppositions are always at work in our understanding.’25 While not positing a dichotomy between truth and method, Gadamer always insisted on the irreducibility of the former to the latter and characterized the relation between the two as one of strained tension owing to the latter’s tendency to claim for itself the entire domain of truth.26 Gadamer’s remarks on this theme were directed largely against such methodologism and toward describing a variety of truth that transcends propositional knowledge. The concept of truth itself, however, seldom received the explicit treatment that one might expect from a philosopher whose magnum opus bears the word in its title. While Gadamer invoked the presocratic and Heideggerian conception of truth as aletheia, he declined to offer an altogether explicit account of it, much less a comprehensive defence, his ‘chief concern’ being instead ‘to expand the concept of truth in such a way that we are not only left with the propositional concept of truth which claimed a monopoly over the concept of truth since Aristotle’s logic.’27 Following Heidegger, Gadamer would speak of the ‘event’ of truth, of the dialectic of disclosure and concealment evidenced especially in the encounter with art. Defending the claim to truth of art and the humanities takes evident priority in Gadamer’s work to articulating a particular theory of truth. It would remain ambiguous, therefore, what a hermeneutical theory of truth would consist in or indeed whether it is possible to provide one. If aletheia has a special relevance when we are asking Heidegger’s questions about Being and Gadamer’s about the truth of art and the limits of methodological rationality, it is doubtful that disclosure in this sense provides a complete account of the nature of truth. What is clear is that a theory of truth can make no appeal to correspondence between an interpretation and the thing in itself or anything transcending our experience of the object, including authorial intentions in the case of texts. It must recognize the historical contingency and partiality of truth while also according with what one scholar refers to as Gadamer’s ‘discourse rationality’, ‘a mode of thinking that seeks and finds whatever anchorage it has in the agreement of others in conversation’, and not in any ahistorical foundation.28 If we are adopting a phenomenological mode of inquiry, we must describe the nature, conditions, and



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limits of human knowing, as it bears on texts and text-analogues as well as ordinary empirical objects. This phenomenological and ‘theoretic stance’, as Gadamer expressed it, ‘makes us aware reflectively of what is performatively at play in the practical experience of understanding’, a stance that resembles in many respects the pragmatists’ approach to inquiry.29 Both approaches seek to explicate ‘how we think’, as Dewey put it, or the practice that is human knowing and understanding, as it is conducted not by ideally rational inquirers but by real persons.30 The aim is to describe in the most phenomenologically adequate and comprehensive terms the process by which true ideas are fashioned, not to subject inquiry to a set of fixed procedures that would ostensibly guarantee the certainty of its conclusions. Pragmatic and hermeneutical thinkers both reject the epistemological ‘quest for certainty’ along with what Dewey called the ‘spectator conception of knowledge’ – ‘the idea that knowledge is intrinsically a mere beholding or viewing of reality’ – and the notion that truth is ascertained by stringing propositions together methodologically and by this means alone.31 Among their more telling criticisms of the correspondence model is that it constitutes so much bad phenomenology. In failing to recognize processes that are always already ‘performatively at play’ in the course of inquiry, this model fails as a theoretical articulation of the practice of inquiry and of the manner in which truth is disclosed within it. A theory of truth and inquiry properly proceeds not by imposing preconceived notions of certainty and correspondence but by attending in the spirit of phenomenology to the practice of interpretation itself. Prior to issuing prescriptions for how inquiry should proceed we must describe what it is, what happens to us within it, the conditions and limits of understanding, and the nature of truth as it arises in the process of inquiry. We must explicate not only the method by which we draw inferences but the process in which human beings find their way about a lifeworld by articulating it and the phenomena that comprise it in language. Not least among the findings of hermeneutics is that understanding itself constitutes far more than a merely contingent behaviour or act of sovereign subjectivity but ‘embraces’, in Gadamer’s words, ‘the whole of [the human being’s] experience of the world.’ It represents ‘the mode of being of Dasein itself’ as well as ‘the existential distinction of Dasein.’32 It is by interpreting the phenomena linguistically that the human being comports itself in a lifeworld and finds its way about. The language it speaks is no mere tool for transmitting wordless intuitions but is ‘the medium in which we live from the outset as social natures and which holds open the totality within which we live our lives.’33 The practice of hermeneutical reflection is a ‘universal

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human task’ which attains ‘completion’ not in a condition of epistemic certainty but in a truth event that is invariably unfinished, uncertain and perspectival.34 Gadamer described the hermeneutical process as a constant dynamic of anticipation and revision, question and answer, assertion and reply, speaking and listening. This is an essentially dialectical process or backand-forth movement that he expressed in the concept of play. The buoyancy or playfulness of interpretation is not a frivolity, but a reasoned and shared endeavour to find what is true. In its most basic constitution it is a process in which speakers participate on a common basis with the aim of generating consensus about a given object. In this endeavour all alike are ‘taken up into a movement that has its own dynamic’, a dialectical movement between interpreters and their object and between the interpreters themselves.35 When the process is successful, inquiry has a way of proceeding in a way that no one anticipated. A conversation, as Gadamer put it, ‘has a spirit of its own, and . . . the language in which it is conducted bears its own truth within it – i.e., . . . it allows something to “emerge” which henceforth exists.’36 The conversation allows the truth or meaning of the object to emerge in the ‘play’ of hermeneutical dialogue. Both Heidegger and Gadamer spoke of understanding as a process that is always already underway in human existence. The act of interpretation presupposes a forestructure of anticipations or prejudices that are appropriated from tradition and which bring the object into view in a particular light, an object that in no sense is immediately given. Prejudices disclose the object in a preliminary way and are confirmed or disconfirmed in the course of interpretation. In interpreting texts, one anticipation in particular lends an initial intelligibility to the object. This is what Gadamer termed the anticipation of coherence or completeness which is invariably present in textual interpretation. One presumes that the text before one constitutes a unified and internally consistent whole if one expects any meaning to emerge from it. The reader approaches the text with particular interests and expectations, not least of which is the expectation that the meaning of the text as a whole is illuminated by individual passages. On the basis of a partial experience of the text, or of ‘some initially understandable elements’ within it, one projects a meaning of the whole. This general meaning is projected back onto the individual parts, and the circular movement that results is governed by the capacity of one’s anticipations to render a coherent interpretation of the text. One anticipates, for instance, that a text belongs to a particular genre on the basis of its title or author, and the working of the relevant prejudices will throw a certain light on



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individual passages. This is a preliminary expectation only, and like other expectations may be revised in light of what emerges in the reading. If one’s anticipations render particular passages incoherent, they are revised and a new meaning projected until each part coheres with the whole. ‘Understanding the “thing” which arises there, before him, is nothing other than elaborating a preliminary project which will be progressively corrected in the course of the interpretative reading.’37 It is, in Gadamer’s words, ‘the experience of being pulled up short by the text’ that refutes our anticipations.38 This involves a thwarting of expectations as either a different meaning emerges or no coherent meaning emerges at all. If a preliminary significance elicited from one passage contradicts another, or if the projected significance of the whole contradicts an individual part, the interpretation is revised dialectically until an internally consistent reading emerges. Like his hermeneutical predecessors, Gadamer stressed the contextual, circular structure of interpretation between part and whole. It is within the back-and-forth of the hermeneutical circle that the forestructure of understanding is worked out, as Heidegger put it, ‘in terms of the things themselves.’39 Heidegger and Gadamer both spoke of the hermeneutical circle as primarily a descriptive rather than prescriptive notion. It is not an a priori technique governing what interpretation ought to be but a description of what it already is. The very structure of interpretation, the hermeneutical circle leads from universal to particular and back again and calls upon the interpretive capacity of the reader rather than setting down formal procedures. ‘The only “objectivity” here’, for Gadamer, ‘is the confirmation of a fore-meaning in its being worked out. Indeed, what characterizes the arbitrariness of inappropriate fore-meanings if not that they come to nothing in being worked out?’40 In this way, Gadamer developed a coherentist and experimental account of inquiry that is rooted in a phenomenological account of the structure of hermeneutical practice. The process of circular integration endeavours to harmonize the whole with the parts, an undertaking that constitutes the work of interpretation. Since it is possible to integrate whole and part, and thus disclose meaning, in different ways, some standard is needed in order to resolve interpretive conflicts. Gadamer’s hypothesis was that coherence or ‘harmony’ functions as such a standard. This point is expressed in Truth and Method as follows: ‘Thus the movement of understanding is constantly from the whole to the part and back to the whole. Our task is to expand the unity of the understood meaning centrifugally. The harmony of all the details with the whole is the criterion of correct understanding. The

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failure to achieve this harmony means that understanding has failed.’41 Gadamer repeated this point elsewhere; in speaking of the hermeneutical circle and the working out of anticipations that occurs within it, he wrote: ‘But of course this purely anticipatory global meaning awaits confirmation or amendment pending its ability to form a unified and consistent vision. Let us think of this structure in a dynamic way; the effective unity of the anticipated meaning comes out as the comprehension is enlarged and renovated by concentric circles. The perfect coherence of the global and final meaning is the criterion for the understanding. When coherence is wanting, we say that understanding is deficient.’ Accordingly, ‘the ideal of truth is located’, in Gadamer’s view, in a ‘demand for coherence’ that is performatively operative within the hermeneutical process itself.42 While the hermeneutical circle and the principle of coherence originate as descriptions arising from within the interpretive process, once articulated explicitly both also serve a prescriptive function. Since methodological questions would always be peripheral to Gadamer’s hermeneutical project, it is no surprise that his remarks on coherence do not afford an altogether complete account. It is here that pragmatism offers an important supplement, specifically as it bears on notions of coherence and experimental inquiry. Jamesian pragmatism, I believe, provides a more adequate articulation of a coherence theory than Gadamer provided, and one that does not fundamentally conflict with philosophical hermeneutics. Pragmatism and hermeneutics both develop a phenomenological, dialogical, coherentist and experimental model of intellectual investigation. While there are differences between these models, many of them arise not from a fundamental difference of position but from the examples of objects of inquiry that each regards as paradigmatic. For James, it is statements about empirical objects that fundamentally orient his account, while for Gadamer and other hermeneutical thinkers it is texts, works of art and other text-analogues that do so. The choice of examples is important and goes some way toward explaining the differing accounts they would offer, even while speaking the language of coherence, experimentation, and so on. When we are speaking of inquiry, whether scientific or humanistic, our account receives a certain orientation from the examples with which we are concerned. To an extent, James and Gadamer spoke at cross purposes. When James posed the question of truth he was asking by what method we may judge the truth-value of a proposition, while Gadamer wanted ‘to expand the concept of truth’ beyond the propositional and to do justice to truth in the realm of art and the humanities. Interpretations are propositions,



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but they are not only this. They do not merely state what is or is not the case but disclose meaning in a less epistemological sense of the word. Interpretations unconceal; they remove the mystery, or some of it, in which so many of the phenomena are shrouded. They declare and propose, but they also strive to say what is telling. This is readily seen in the case of art, but it applies equally to other areas of interpretation. In every case, interpretation or inquiry involves a search for coherence and consensus, but it also varies with its object. When scientific objects are our exemplar, pragmatism provides a compelling conception of the kind of truth that we seek; when texts and works of art are the exemplars, hermeneutics provides the model. The models are overlapping and the differences fewer and more subtle than we often believe. When it has seemed that there is a fundamental impasse between pragmatism and hermeneutics or continental philosophy more generally, it has been due primarily to misunderstandings of the former. If we would speak of truth in art and the humanities, it can appear as if the connection between ideas and their consequences for practice is lost or irrelevant, but the appearance is false and based on too narrow a conception of practice. As James stated, the practical consequences that matter are no mere utility or satisfaction that an idea produces in a believer. A true idea must be tied to the post of experience and practice, and in particular the practice of finding our way about a world and rendering our dealings with it coherent. In theorizing a concept as fundamental to our lifeworld as truth – also reason, knowledge, experience or art – the philosopher faces a basic choice. This is to seek what is called analytical clarity or to save the phenomena of the word’s disparate uses. Seldom can we accomplish both. In the case of reason, as I argued in Chapter 2, doing justice to the concept requires that we avoid the sort of artificial narrowing that we so often find in modern philosophy. Reason may be satisfactorily interpreted as boundless communication, but already the definition points beyond itself. The concept of reason is not an object that can be made to sit still long enough for the philosopher to pronounce upon its essence; it is a word with a history, a concept that is employed in a wide variety of ways, and that has an expansive and mercurial quality which can make our efforts to encapsulate it in a definition (especially one that would reduce all ambiguity to zero) appear foolish. Much the same can be said of truth. Let us consider the following sentences, which illustrate just a few of the ways this word is used in English: There is truth in art; Evolution is true; Susan is a true friend; Ensure that the baseboard is true to the floor; P is true; The recipe is tried and true; To thine own self be true; I am the

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way, the truth, and the life; Don’t be cruel to a heart that’s true. The list could be easily extended, but even limiting ourselves to these sentences, do we find an underlying essence that would unify them all or allow us to separate proper from improper (or perhaps derivative, accidental or figurative) uses? I would suggest that we do not. Defenders of different theories of truth typically focus upon particular uses and examples of that which is held to be true and for reasons usually unexplained leave out the rest. Correspondence theorists, for instance, especially those inclined toward some form of empiricism, are fond of saying such things as, There is a cup on the table, as if the example has a kind of special status; a theory of truth, they will say, must do justice to elementary propositions like this one. The question that is seldom answered and seldom raised is why we should privilege this kind of example over some others and what becomes of the rest of the phenomena when we do. Other possible uses or bearers of truth are not refuted so much as simply left out of the account, without much of an explanation. If we limit ourselves to the truth of propositions, then certain theories become plausible; correspondence talk has an initial appeal, at least when we are speaking of very simple statements about cups and tables. Upon closer inspection, as James correctly argued, pragmatism succeeds where correspondence does not. Even here, however, we are speaking of truth as it pertains to propositions alone. This is a common manoeuver, but on what grounds is it legitimate? Evidently not on grounds of saving the phenomena – or not all of them – for this is precisely what correspondence, pragmatic and some other accounts do not do. Instead the theorist will assume that by truth we mean propositional truth and that other uses of the word are inconsequential or erroneous, but what is the basis of the assumption? Were we to attempt to save the phenomena – a method both ancient and contemporary, and about as time-honoured as any in the history of philosophy – we are faced with bewildering complexity and a plethora of theories. Correspondence, pragmatism, coherence, consensus, Heideggerian aletheia, Foucaultian constructivism, redundancy and semantic theories all succeed in capturing some of the phenomena, and it is not to be wondered at that all such theories have a respectable number of defenders. Rather often, adherents of one theory are not on speaking terms with adherents of another, leaving no one to question why philosophers in one camp would wish to privilege certain examples or uses over others, or why we are trying to capture this range of the phenomena rather than that range. Are empirical propositions about cups more important than the experience of art? Surely not. Are they more clear? Perhaps, but



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we ought to be careful about this word as well. Much of what goes under the name of clarity is artificial, reductive and simplistic. P is true = p is as clear as one could wish, but as a theory of truth it also does violence to the phenomena and is silent on most uses of the word. There is indeterminacy in language, and a good deal of it. Concepts have histories, and theorizing about them in a historical vacuum is a futile undertaking. Their origins – especially when we are speaking of many of the basic notions of philosophy – are often shrouded in unclarity, and over centuries they are pulled this way and that and may assume any number of meanings. Wishing to understand, the philosopher will always try to put matters in order, but there are limits to our ability to do so, and in the absence of Platonic Forms some measure of ambiguity still clings to them. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the case of truth. There is no compelling reason to privilege propositional truth over the truth of art, or vice versa. Nor is there any rationale for declaring certain uses proper or essential and others accidental. There are no compelling grounds for preferring older (including ancient Greek) notions to modern ones, or more scientific uses to unscientific ones. Truth is far from being a simple concept, and is every bit as multifarious as it appears to be and as so many concepts in our language also appear. Truth informs us, solves problems, creates coherence in our ideas and calls our experience to order; it shows and tells; since ancient times it has been said to set us free, and it is also bound up with trust. It is, I believe, highly significant that an early English variant of truth is ‘troth’, meaning a solemn undertaking or pledge on which another can rely. My betrothed is my true love, the one who is trustworthy and loyal. Several uses of truth suggest precisely this quality of trustworthiness: a true idea is one that we can rely upon and on which many other ideas depend; it can account for itself and affords a basis for action. It is not an essential standard, but is any standard – including pragmatic coherence, consensus or disclosure – essential in every case? All being is interpreted being, and truth in interpretation may not be one. A true interpretation accomplishes and is many things: it unconceals the things themselves, even while concealing in the same gesture; it works to resolve the problematic situations with which our experience is replete; it sees-as, negotiates the hermeneutical circle, poses and answers questions, fashions metaphors and narratives, searches for consensus, and remains open to revision in every case. It may also be a ‘woman’ in Nietzsche’s sense – complex, often elusive and ever resistant to the advances of dogmatists.43 It is more a process and an event than a formal relation, and as Gadamer brought to our attention, there is more to it than any method knows. For

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purposes of philosophical interpretation we may speak of truth along the lines that James and Gadamer both suggested, but when the thing itself is complex let us not expect our account of it to be as straightforward as philosophers have often wished.

Chapter 5

The Theory of Inquiry John Dewey This chapter extends the argument of Chapter 4: Dewey’s pragmatic theory of inquiry may be brought into fruitful contact with hermeneutical inquiry as Heidegger, Gadamer, Ricoeur and some related figures have described it. Given Dewey’s lack of acquaintance with twentieth-century phenomenology and hermeneutics, the extent to which he was formulating ideas that would also be defended, often in more detail, by thinkers in the latter traditions is surprising. Dewey placed these themes in a different frame, of course, and spoke of them in a different vocabulary, but in terms that are similarly dialectical, experimental and almost hermeneutical. Dewey’s position receives its basic orientation from Hegel, Darwinian biology and a highly modified version of empiricism which James termed ‘radical’ and which we might better call phenomenological.1 It is an account that regards scientific experimentation as an exemplar of inquiry, yet in a sense that shares nothing with either scientism or positivism. Hermeneutical philosophers would do well to take a second look at this strikingly original, subtle and extremely prolific figure.2 Dewey wished to fashion a unified account of intellectual life that would highlight the organic connections between truth, experience, knowing, thinking and understanding. The question of what inquiry is and the logic by which it unfolds in various fields of investigation is for Dewey, the Jamesian empiricist, a phenomenological matter, as the title of one of his major works, How We Think, rather matter-of-factly suggests. Thinking, or the practice of inquiry, contains an immanent method which it is the task of epistemology to render explicit rather than replace with a method derived in abstraction from the practice itself. On the question of what thinking itself is, Dewey defined this concisely as a ‘response to the doubtful as such.’3 It is essentially the practice of experimental inquiry into a given problem, the aim of which consists in ‘the directed or controlled transformation of an indeterminate situation into a determinately unified one.’4 Thinking responds to a doubtful or problematic situation – the unknown, anomalous or perplexing – by posing questions, advancing interpretations and hypotheses, following the course of a given hypothesis

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to its conclusion, testing it against the available evidence, and looking for specific experiential consequences. It is a process that never loses connection with experience, arising from a doubtful situation within it and ultimately returning to it with an enhanced knowledge of the connections between events or ideas and the significance of the original situation. ‘Thinking is thus equivalent,’ in Dewey’s words, ‘to an explicit rendering of the intelligent element in our experience. It makes it possible to act with an end in view.’5 Dewey’s account of inquiry must be viewed in light of the pragmatist or experimentalist (instrumentalist) theory of knowledge that he appropriated from James. As we saw in Chapter 4, a pragmatic conception of knowledge accentuates the connection between thought and action or the relation of ideas to problematic situations that arise in the course of human experience. Although Dewey, particularly later in his career, was less fond of the word ‘pragmatism’ than James – recommending that we ‘avoid its use’ altogether given the widespread and uncharitable misinterpretations that had surrounded this term – and was mindful of the criticism that had greeted James, the theory of knowledge that Dewey defended throughout his career is thoroughly Jamesian (and to a lesser extent Peircean) in regarding ‘consequences as necessary tests of the validity of propositions, provided these consequences are operationally instituted and are such as to resolve the specific problem evoking the operations.’6 The proviso was Dewey’s clarification of James’ view and forestalls objections to the effect that pragmatism provides a philosophical rationalization for whatever propositions one holds dear. In Dewey’s pragmatic instrumentalism, as he preferred to call it, the process of inquiry is described in a fashion that rejects the idea that knowledge is an objective beholding of reality. Against rationalism and British empiricism, Dewey sought to render explicit ‘the existing practice of knowledge’ as we find it in both scientific and humanistic investigation, a practice in which thought and action are ultimately inseparable and ‘knowledge is power to transform the world’, not as an accidental byproduct but essentially. The true test of an idea lies in the experiential consequences to which it leads or in its capacity to bring about a more coherent arrangement of our experience. Dewey followed Peirce in this, while giving his theory of meaning a broader application and a more explicitly experimental and scientific connotation. Whereas older conceptions of science had been misled by classical empiricism into regarding scientists as in essential respects passive recipients of sensations and observations, provided that they direct their attention toward a given object



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for some period of time, Dewey insisted that the scientist is an active investigator who must ‘do something’ – hazard an hypothesis, perform an experiment, study an object under a variety of conditions, and so on – in order to gain knowledge.7 Thought in general, from the explicitly scientific to the philosophical, crucially bears upon the pragmatic – ‘how things work and how to do things’ – not as a secondary matter but ultimately.8 For Dewey, scientific experimentation is the paradigm of inquiry. While he never embraced any form of positivism nor maintained that procedures proper to the natural sciences can or ought to be transferred to the human sciences, Dewey did hold a decidedly optimistic view of science and of what it might accomplish in refashioning thought in general.9 One finds throughout his writings no naïve adulation of science – although there are passages that do approach this – but a measured optimism that ‘the scientific habit of mind’ is generally applicable to human affairs.10 Dewey’s reading of the general movement of twentieth-century culture was that it is an age of science into which modern civilization has moved, in the sense that empirical and experimental methods are rapidly replacing the worldviews of the past. While numerous thinkers were making a similar observation, Dewey would speak of this new scientific era in his characteristically sober and measured way as neither a dark night of the forgetfulness of being nor a positivist’s utopia but as something intermediate between the two. Science is something to be neither idealized nor brooded over but regarded more modestly as a method, and a singularly useful one. It is, moreover, the same method as that pursued with less exactitude in apparently non-scientific forms of inquiry. While the promise that this method holds for the transformation of human affairs is nothing short of revolutionary, in Dewey’s view, he stopped short of an uncritical idealization of science of the kind that characterized many of his contemporaries. Science represents an ideal of thought in the sense that here the method of rational investigation that is proper to thought in general is visible in its purest form. ‘The general adoption of the scientific attitude’ which would effect ‘nothing less than a revolutionary change in morals, religion, politics and industry’ means that the ‘attitude’ and method of experimental ‘intelligence’ (to use one of Dewey’s favourite expressions) is what is needed to bring about a radical transformation in our ways of thinking and relating, both in liberating us from the dogmas of the past and in supplying us with a positive model for human knowledge.11 Regarding the exact nature of this model, Dewey stated in one of his more concise descriptions: ‘By science is meant . . . that knowledge which is the outcome of methods of observation, reflection and testing which are

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deliberately adopted to secure a settled, assured subject matter. It involves an intelligent and persistent endeavour to revise current beliefs so as to weed out what is erroneous, to add to their accuracy, and, above all, to give them such shape that the dependencies of the various facts upon one another may be as obvious as possible. It is, like all knowledge, an outcome of activity bringing about certain changes in the environment.’12 Following James, Dewey conceived of the investigative process as one of experimental hypothesizing and testing of ideas in a fashion that proposes and modifies hypotheses with a view to arranging or rearranging phenomena with optimal coherence. As experimental, this procedure calls for a dynamic interaction between inquirer and investigated object that bears no resemblance to the technical application of rules. In such inquiry, one proposes an hypothesis to resolve a problematic situation and follows its progress until it registers specific experiential consequences. If the consequences anticipated by the hypothesis come about, and provide thereby for the reorganization of experience, the hypothesis passes for true so long as it generates no contradiction in other areas of experience. Inquiry in general involves an effort to resolve a problem of one kind or another and indeed ‘is the actual transition from the problematic to the secure, as far as it is intentionally guided.’13 This short definition encapsulates a larger process of methodological investigation that begins with a difficulty, doubt or confusion that arises in the course of lived experience and leads to a question and the assertion of a provisional hypothesis, a ‘conjectural anticipation’ or a ‘tentative interpretation’ concerning a problematic situation. The basic trajectory of thought is a solutionoriented refinement of this hypothesis in the light of a more thorough examination of the evidence surrounding the case. The hypothesis is tested against competing ideas and against the evidence itself by determining its capacity to accommodate a greater range of phenomena and by ‘doing something overtly to bring about the anticipated result’, whether this be subjecting an empirical object to a variety of experimental conditions in order to see whether it reacts in the ways that the hypothesis predicts, or testing a textual interpretation by checking it against a progressively larger number of passages.14 This is a method of trial and error that if successful resolves the original difficulty without in the process generating more problems than it solves. Speaking generally, then, ‘[a]nything that may be called knowledge, or a known object, marks a question answered, a difficulty disposed of, a confusion cleared up, an inconsistency reduced to coherence, a perplexity mastered.’15 Dewey’s choice of verbs in this passage is telling: to inquire – also to know – is to answer, dispose of



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difficulties, clarify, reduce to coherence or master a given issue, in essence to solve a problem. Dewey stressed that it is the nature of inquiry, be it scientific or humanistic, to be futural, fallible and ultimately practical in orientation, never allowing us to rest altogether on our conclusions but setting these in operation. Truth is never the final outcome of thought in the sense of an end attained once and for all, but is a processual notion, as James had also maintained. In pragmatic knowledge, ‘the process of growth, of improvement and progress, rather than the static outcome and result, becomes the significant thing.’16 In principle, truth remains always provisional on future inquiry and on the consequences for practice and experience that they engender. While scientific experimentation affords the model for thought in general, it is important to qualify this in a couple of ways. First, the ‘research’ that, according to Dewey, ‘all thinking is’, is most often of a rudimentary variety and involves no sophisticated operation of inference whatever.17 Dewey provided the following example of thinking in its ordinary, everyday meaning: ‘[A] man is walking on a warm day. The sky was clear the last time he observed it; but presently he notes, while occupied primarily with other things, that the air is cooler. It occurs to him that it is probably going to rain; looking up, he sees a dark cloud between him and the sun, and he then quickens his steps. What, if anything, in such a situation can be called thought? Neither the act of walking nor the noting of the cold is a thought. Walking is one direction of activity; looking and noting are other modes of activity. The likelihood that it will rain is, however, something suggested. The pedestrian feels the cold; first he thinks of clouds, then he looks and perceives them, and then he thinks of something he does not see: a storm. This suggested possibility is the idea, the thought. If it is believed in as a genuine possibility that may occur, it is the kind of thought that falls within the scope of knowledge and requires reflective consideration.’18 In the usual course of experience, this is the typical pattern of ‘research’ or ‘inquiry’ that Dewey had in mind, and differs from scientific investigation only in degree of explicitness and sophistication. The second qualification to add is that inquiry includes an important social element, as Peirce and James also maintained, albeit in different ways. For the pragmatists, as we saw in Chapter 4, it is the nature of inquiry to strive for consensus within a community of thinkers rather than to occur essentially in the inner sanctum of the mind. An idea must succeed within an individual’s experience, but it must also be submitted to the general conversation. Regarding ideas themselves, Dewey conceived of these as essentially hypotheses or means of resolving problematic situations. Their

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instrumental function alone supplies whatever meaning they hold for us. This pragmatic conception of ideas poses a direct challenge to standard views according to which concepts have an essential nature and proper meaning which it is the business of philosophical reflection to grasp theoretically. Ideas in general, in the pragmatic view, are not ‘rigidly fixed’ in their meaning but are contingent upon their use value in resolving difficulties in human experience and facilitating our interactions with a lifeworld. They never rise above the status of ‘intellectual instruments to be tested and confirmed – and altered – through consequences effected by acting upon them.’ Ideas therefore ‘lose all pretence of finality – the ulterior source of dogmatism.’ Regarding ideas as hypotheses and means of solving problems, he maintained, ‘would do away with the intolerance and fanaticism that attend the notion that beliefs and judgements are capable of inherent truth and authority; inherent in the sense of being independent of what they lead to when used as directive principles.’19 Nothing is more fatal to inquiry than conceiving of ideas as fixed verities that must be adhered to regardless of where the investigative process leads or that they are above the fray of criticism and justification. Pragmatism’s critics were quick to accuse it of lacking a certain reflective quality, as if it reduces inquiry or truth itself to the order of crude utility. Any association of truth value with use value represents for many a betrayal of philosophy’s age-old promise of gaining an accurate representation of reality, one that foreswears all prejudice and enables us to separate knowledge from opinion, reason from rhetoric, and the truth itself from what merely passes for it in ordinary discourse. At first glance – beyond which many critics never advanced – it may indeed appear that the pragmatic view of ideas as hypotheses rather than fixed verities misses something essential to the life of the mind: something like reflection, contemplation or understanding for its own sake rather than as a means to a practical end. To many it appeared as if pragmatism was denying this and putting forward a crass and simplistic, even antiphilosophical, conception of thought. The inaccuracy of this is easily seen when one brackets the reputation that pragmatism received a century ago and actually reads Dewey’s works, in which he repeatedly addressed the misinterpretations of James’ and his own position that continually appeared throughout the first half of the twentieth century. An important case in point concerns the nature of reflective thought, contemplation and understanding in the sense of these terms that common sense distinguishes from the pragmatic. The connotation of ‘pragmatic’ and ‘instrumental’ that James and Dewey invoked is not the narrow one of common parlance. So far was Dewey from



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separating the practical from the theoretical or the instrumental from the reflective that for this profoundly dialectical thinker such dichotomies are renounced entirely along with the everyday connotation of the pragmatic as lacking the depth dimension associated with the contemplative and philosophical. Dewey’s conception of the intellectual virtues includes a central place for reflectiveness and the turn of mind that is ‘slow but sure’, in contrast to the ‘brightness’ that ‘may be but a flash in the pan.’ The mind that is genuinely reflective ‘is one in whom impressions sink and accumulate, so that thinking is done at a deeper level of value than by those with a lighter load.’ The reflective intellect is precisely the one with an advanced capacity for contemplation and for the ‘wisdom’ that tradition has long distinguished from mere information. Retaining this distinction, Dewey considered it an important matter in education to separate the accumulation of factual knowledge from the higher ideal of wisdom in the sense of ‘knowledge operating in the direction of powers to the better living of life.’20 If education crucially bears upon the training of thought, this includes encouraging habits of mind that far transcend being pragmatic or solution-oriented in the colloquial sense of these terms to include cultivating ‘a deep personal sense of the problem to be dealt with.’ Reflective thought begins with this ‘sense of the problem’ which, in an unhurried way and before proposing a solution, searches for clarification regarding the proper dimensions of the problem or question itself, including the critical issue of ‘why it is a problem.’ Is it an ostensibly perennial question that simply falls from the sky, as so many academic problems are customarily presented to students, or does it arise from some vital experience of life which the student can be made to see? If the former, the course of thought that ensues is more likely to resemble ‘mere debating’ and ‘sophistry’ than the ‘reasoning together’ and ‘process of cooperative search’ that characterizes genuinely reflective inquiry.21 It is precisely the depth dimension of thought that is among the most vital matters in all inquiry and education, Dewey often argued. ‘The depth to which a sense of the problem, of the difficulty, sinks, determines the quality of the thinking that follows; and any habit of teaching that encourages the pupil for the sake of a successful recitation or of a display of memorized information to glide over the thin ice of genuine problems reverses the true method of mind-training.’22 Dewey all but defined the intelligent and educated mind as the one with an advanced capacity for reflection in a sense that includes the power to articulate and pursue questions to their depths and to ‘go below the surface’ of appearances in the way that philosophy has always prized, to reject the premature answer and the facile solution in favour of slow and

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rigorous investigation.23 The term ‘reflective thought’ itself he defined as the ‘[a]ctive, persistent and careful consideration of any belief or supposed form of knowledge in the light of the grounds that support it and the further conclusions to which it tends’, thus as an explicit search for the basis of human knowledge.24 It searches as well for the connecting links in human experience between one problematic situation and another, between different lines of inquiry or whole fields of study, and between a particular subject matter and its larger significance for human life. Since experience is the proper object of reflective thought, such thought pays particular attention to these connections rather than studying objects or ideas apart from the context that supplies them with meaning. Philosophical concepts, for instance, are properly studied not as a god might view them, as acontextual essences which are what they are apart from the uses to which they are put, but as terms within a larger train of thought or discursive vocabulary. Reflection that proceeds by removing the concept from all context and connections with other concepts, from its history, etymology and variety of uses is a project destined for failure. To reflect upon ideas or objects of any kind, we must regard them in organic relation to a context of thought and experience. In Dewey’s view it is the ‘neglect of context’ that constitutes ‘the most pervasive fallacy of philosophical thinking’, a habit of thought that is as old as the Greeks and as contemporary as certain forms of ‘analysis.’25 Reflecting upon an idea involves locating it within a train of thought or argumentative sequence that importantly includes a ‘con-sequence – a consecutive ordering [of ideas] in such a way that each determines the next as its proper outcome.’ In reflective thinking, as in the experience with which it is concerned, one thing leads to another; an idea or object is comprehended by relating it to a purpose, a history, a different idea or object, by identifying that to which it leads, or otherwise by drawing it into association with something else, and not simply providing an inventory of its properties or component parts. This includes a critical examination of its rationale, yet in a sense that is not limited to formal reasoning. In How We Think, Dewey identified three differences between formal reasoning in the sense of logical deduction and ‘thinking as it actually goes on in the mind of any person.’26 While the former is as perfectly impersonal as mathematics, the latter is contingent on the intellectual habits of the thinker – whether the individual is attentive or inattentive, disciplined or undisciplined, and so on. Second, while logical argument forms are unchanging and unconcerned with the content that fills them, thinking is a process that changes with some regularity and is forever taking account



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of its object and trying to resolve difficulties without creating new ones. As well, formal reasoning is indifferent to context, while for reflective thought the larger context of resolving problematic situations remains uppermost in view. These differences notwithstanding, reflective intelligence as Dewey conceived of it is as concerned with the rational basis of a belief as what conventionally goes under the name of logical inference. Dewey’s conception of reflective thought also includes the notion of understanding. If pragmatic inquiry is a properly social undertaking, so is the practice of understanding which is intimately related to reflection. Although Dewey did not write at great length about the concept of understanding or interpretation, he did speak of understanding and its synonym, comprehension, as ‘an inclusive word – it signifies coming together, bringing things together; and when we say that human beings have come to an understanding, we mean that they have come to an agreement, that they have reached a common mind, a common outlook from which they see the same things and feel the same way about them.’27 He would describe understanding as ‘an agreement or settlement of some affair’ between persons, hence in an explicitly intersubjective connotation, as well as in more straightforwardly cognitive terms as the capacity ‘to grasp meaning’ in context. To understand an expression is to locate it within the context that is afforded by a sentence, conversation or discourse. Taken out of context, the expression permits of only a narrow, definitional understanding. Without mentioning the hermeneutical circle by name, Dewey did speak of ‘the constant spiral movement of knowledge’, and wrote that all knowing ‘proceeds by taking the thing inquired into out of its isolation’ and placing it in a context ‘until the thing is discovered to be a related part in some larger whole.’28 The process of contextualization applies to understanding in general, although hermeneutics itself was never a major concern of Dewey’s. Understanding also involves grasping the uses to which something can be put, and in a sense that pertains to the gaining of control. If, as Peirce argued, meaning cannot be separated from consequences for practice, then the object must be understood in terms of that to which it leads. Thus we may understand an historical event – a battle, let us say – as the decisive turning point in a war, as bringing about the eventual victory of one side over the other, or as the defining moment of the war, which allowed lessons to be learned or a larger meaning to be grasped. If understanding is one part of a larger reflective process that involves the resolution of problematic situations generally conceived, it is the part that bears directly on the connection between means and consequences. From the means

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or instrumental side of the equation, an object such as a chair is comprehended in being seen as something on which to sit, while from the side of consequences we can see in examples of invention how a desire to produce a certain outcome requires us to understand the means that will produce it. In either event, ‘[t]he relation of means-consequence is the centre and heart of all understanding.’29 If Dewey’s insistence on the inseparability of understanding and action differs in important respects from hermeneutical accounts, the accent on context remains very much in keeping with the latter, as do Dewey’s remarks concerning the pervasiveness of language in understanding. At around the time that Heidegger was speaking of the as-structure and the linguistically mediated nature of interpretation, Dewey emphasized that it is by means of language and concepts that we comprehend meaning, that ‘[c]oncepts enable us to generalize, to extend and carry over our understanding from one thing to another.’ From ordinary perception to the higher reaches of thought, knowledge is no immediate or objective beholding of reality, but is invariably mediated by prior understanding and by language. Perceptual knowledge is linguistically mediated and thus is an ‘active outgoing construction of mind.’30 He would also speak of a ‘peculiarly intimate connection’ between language and thought in general, noting that logos ‘means indifferently both word or speech and thought or reason.’31 Dewey and Heidegger both regarded this fact as no mere accident of etymology but as a philosophically important indication of the inseparability of word and object as well as language and reflection. Language is no mere tool for communicating wordless intuitions, something added to thought that in essence is an alinguistic ‘private soliloquy or solipsistic observation.’32 Thought in general does not occur apart from language, and where Dewey intended by language not only ‘oral and written speech’ but ‘[g]estures, pictures, monuments, visual images, finger movements – anything deliberately and artificially employed as a sign.’ Thinking occurs in signs and its object is not wordless things but their meaning or pragmatic significance. Reflective thought also transpires within a context afforded not only by language but by tradition and culture. The historical embeddedness of thought is a matter with which Dewey was well familiar both in his earlier Hegelian (or Anglo-American neohegelian) period and in his later (still Hegelian) period. The life of the mind in general, for Dewey, is occupied with signs that are social inventions and works with ‘acquired habitual modes of understanding’, with ‘a certain store of previously evolved meanings or at least of experiences from which meanings may be educed.’33 To understand is fundamentally



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to participate in the discursive practices that constitute a culture. The philosopher, the artist and the scientist all ‘derive their substance from the stream of culture’ and exhibit the same ‘dependence upon tradition’ that characterizes thought in general, including its most creative forms.34 Dewey’s model here is biological: thinking represents an inheritance as well as a carrying forward of the accumulated experience of the past. Our most innovative ideas are themselves ‘already overlaid and saturated with the products of the reflection of past generations and bygone ages’, and constitute so many learned habits of mind, responses and departures from what has been transmitted to us by virtue of our participation in a cultural tradition.35 Inventive thinking no more divests itself of tradition than of language itself. Like Gadamer, Dewey maintained this view without reverting to any kind of traditionalism or intellectual conservatism. A thinker whose habitual turn of mind was progressive and futural, Dewey spoke of the creative and imaginative dimension of thought no less than its situatedness in language and tradition. Reflection is continually finding new uses for received ideas, whether it is new technological applications of an old scientific hypothesis or artistic innovations within old styles and genres. That originality arises from a context that is determined by familiar ways of thinking rather than out of thin air implies only that it is contingent and limited, not that it is unattainable or a rarity. Indeed, thought in general and ‘all conscious experience has of necessity some degree of imaginative quality’, some ‘conscious adjustment of the new and the old.’ As the living organism interacts with its environment and is never its mere product, thought as well represents a vital interaction with the knowledge and meanings that are passed down to it, whether this involves a wholesale appropriation of received truths or a conscious departure from them. Either way, the inventiveness that is proper to thought is fundamentally a new reply in an old conversation. Inquiry, then, in Dewey’s expansive sense of the word includes an orientation toward the experiential, the pragmatic and the problematic. It is an experimental frame of mind that is modelled on scientific inquiry while also being reflective, imaginative, and hospitable to new ideas. It seeks both depth and breadth and above all demonstrates a concern for resolving difficulties that arise within our practices rather than theorizing in a more scholastic spirit. Thinking is no mere amassing of information or procedure of following rules. It is a methodological enterprise, yet one that more closely resembles ordinary trial and error than a conformity to formal methods. Within the sphere of discourse in which he was working, Dewey’s

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model of inquiry has a great deal to recommend it. Classical pragmatism in general is far more credible and rigorous than its critics have believed. While the caricatures survive in the minds of those who have not read the texts, neither James nor (especially) Dewey gave us a conception of truth or inquiry that is closely tied to the ‘pragmatic’ or the ‘useful’ as these words are most often used – in the sense, that is, that knowledge is what ‘works’ in a narrow connotation or, worse, what is intellectually comforting or emotionally satisfying. Pragmatism places the bar of knowledge no lower than any of its alternatives, nor is it scientistic or crassly utilitarian. What I shall question is not whether Dewey’s account is compelling but whether it is complete. As we saw in Chapter 4, pragmatism and hermeneutics sometimes speak at cross purposes. Dewey and Gadamer posed distinct but overlapping questions and at times defended interestingly similar views. Bringing their accounts into coherence, however, is far from straightforward. For Dewey, pragmatic inquiry applies across the board, from natural science to philosophy to politics; liberal democracy, for instance, he conceived as an ethos of experimental inquiry into the requirements of a just society and a cooperative search for solutions to various social ills. Gadamer made his own claim to universality. The hermeneutical phenomenon is fundamental to our experience of the world in general and is of ontological import. It is not merely what we do, but what we are. Both positions hold considerable truth, but how can the two be placed on speaking terms? Is there a pragmatic reading of hermeneutics? A plausible case has been made, for instance, for reading Heidegger as a pragmatist of sorts. Is there a hermeneutical reading of Dewey? Reading Dewey hermeneutically requires that we bring his thought into contact with a tradition about which he knew little and, as Gadamer reminded us, with the anticipation that what he had to say may be correct. It is, in my view, substantially correct; however, the reservation that hermeneutical thinkers will have concerns the scope of that account. James and Dewey were making a conscious departure from older forms of empiricism which had given us an atomistic and phenomenologically inadequate conception of experience, yet the pragmatic account remains within empiricism’s orbit. To be sure, it was a ‘radical’ empiricism that they articulated, yet as is so often the case when we formulate views in reaction to a particular tradition of thought, the new idea bears traces of that tradition. This can be seen, for instance, in Dewey’s examples of inquiry. In the example cited above, a man is walking and must resolve the problematic situation of impending rain. This is an exemplar of inquiry for Dewey,



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and the model does justice to the example. What if the example had been less empirical, such as the meaning of a work of art or an historical event? Can the model be extended to the ‘object’ without distortion? We are well acquainted with the tendency still common in many fields to make the phenomena fit our theoretical models and categories, and it is almost the definition of bad research. Has Dewey committed this failing? Is the model too narrow? When we consider everything that might properly be called thinking or inquiry, it appears that inquiry is not only pragmatic, in search of solutions, but interpretive, in search of meaning. Rather often it is both at once. Dewey’s model succeeds in capturing a good part of what counts as inquiry, yet that it captures the whole is more doubtful. To see this, let us recall Heidegger’s distinction between calculative and meditative thinking. Calculative thought, which reaches its highest expression in science-technology, manipulates and predicts with a view to achieving a kind of mastery over its object. It deduces and plans while understanding neither its limits nor the meaning of its object nor the very act of calculation itself. It transforms our perceptions of the world into so many usable objects set against ‘inner’ subjectivity. Calculative thought is governed by a method that in principle anyone can follow and repeat; it purports to be free of subjectivity and prejudice, and to be an essentially technical affair of ascertaining an object’s nature and use value. It prizes efficiency and organization, clarity and precision in its methods, and certainty in its conclusions. Meditative thinking seeks depth of understanding over certainty and may be applied not only to learned discourses but to ordinary human experience. It follows no method, gets no results and requires no special expertise. As Heidegger stated, ‘anyone can follow the path of meditative thinking in his own manner and within his own limits.’ If the human being ‘is a thinking, that is, a meditating being’, it falls to each of us to take up this mode of thought and direct it particularly toward that which ultimately concerns us. Importantly, it is a way of thinking for which there is no model; it may or may not begin with a problematic situation and may or may not lead to its solution. Nor did Heidegger offer us a formal definition, there being a certain interpretive richness about the term that eludes straightforward analysis. What is clear, however, is that meditative thinking possesses a depth dimension that calculation does not, content as the latter is to remain at a surface level where technical precision and definite outcomes are sought rather than any deeper dimension of meaning. Meditative thought, in its orientation toward the meaning and

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uniqueness of beings rather than that about them that can be generalized, measured or used, resists formal modelling and possesses an open-ended and transformative quality. Dewey’s model of inquiry is neither straightforwardly calculative nor meditative in this sense; however it more closely approximates the former, and here encounters its limits. For Heidegger, thinking does not follow a single track, or when it does, thought itself becomes dangerously narrowed. That which resists problem solving, representation in concepts, calculation or control becomes literally unthinkable; we are reduced to silence before it or perhaps to speculation or unreasoning guess work. The mode of thought that Heidegger gestured toward is non-linear and transformative in the manner of experience itself. It changes one and leads one not toward any reassuring solution but to where one already stands, only transformed. We see this most obviously in the encounter with art: we emerge from the experience changed in a manner that we could not have predicted and that is not readily repeatable in others. We have understood something anew, or emerged from the experience with a new outlook or set of questions. One contemplates a work of art precisely not by squeezing it into a scientific or technical set of concepts but by allowing the work to speak to us as a unique work, one that conveys meaning and opens up a world for us. There is no problem to be solved, no causal relations to ascertain, nothing to quantify or represent, unless perhaps as a secondary matter. The point, rather, is to understand, to grasp a meaning that is singular and unrepeatable. Such thinking, as Heidegger would often say, is a ‘way’ rather than a method, one that must be travelled to be understood. A method can be represented in the abstract while the thinking that is or that ‘builds a way’ cannot.36 Heidegger’s description of thinking – as building, dwelling, clearing, the four-fold of earth and sky, gods and mortals – called attention to its inexhaustibility, to the breadth and depth of meditative thinking and its capacity to bring into focus the meaningful dimension of its object without linearity or empty circularity. For his part, Dewey was alive to the depth dimension of thinking and understanding while invariably insisting that it be brought under the umbrella of pragmatic inquiry. The difficulty to which Heidegger pointed, correctly in my view, is that not everything can be so described. Other cases of a thinking that can only very awkwardly be characterized as inquiry in Dewey’s sense are not difficult to find: the remembrance of personal experiences of joy or suffering may well occasion inquiry into the causes or consequences of such events, but fundamentally a remembrance of this kind involves an interpretation of their meaning and an



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appreciation of their emotional overtones. The experience of grief is not essentially an inquiry into a problematic situation but again an interpretive meditation upon the significance of a life now at an end and an equally important sense of loss. Indeed, many of the events in our lives that we look back upon as learning experiences have this character of forming us this way or that, perhaps deepening our experience or character yet without having solved a problem, unless we stretch the problem-solving model beyond Dewey’s meaning or truncate the experience itself. A history lesson on World War II certainly inquires into a wide variety of problems, but learning the lessons of the Holocaust or simply understanding the enormity of this occurrence does not comfortably fit within Dewey’s model. It can, of course, be made to fit, as theorists are wont to do, but not without a considerable loss of meaning. The interpreter in this case must be transported in imagination into the point of view of the victims and witness the moral outrage of this event; thus do we begin to appreciate its significance in addition to any problems we may solve. Dewey may wish to characterize this as developing a ‘sense of the problem’ – thus as an important preliminary stage within a larger investigative process – yet it would genuinely seem that the development of this sense belongs still more to the end of the process than to the beginning. Understanding an historical event and learning the lessons it teaches importantly involves a resonance of emotionally charged meaning in addition to and more fundamentally than any solutions reached. Inquiry is an interpretively rich notion. It includes interpretation and critique, analysis and synthesis, interrogation and explanation, narrative and metaphor, inference, judgement, taste, discrimination, remembering, information and a good deal else – much of which has little to do with technique. Interpretation, for instance, conforms to no method but the hermeneutical circle and the search for coherence and consensus; however these are not formal rules but only very rough guidelines. No technique instructs us on how to read Plato, how to respond to the meaning that emerges in any text or how to critique what we read or apply it to our own circumstances. Nor is there a method of constructing a narrative or fashioning a good metaphor. If critical and intelligent thought sometimes makes use of methods, as it undoubtedly does, it also involves that which no method can teach: the art of asking questions and of seeing what is questionable, of reflecting and contemplating, slowly weighing the strength or force of an argument, detecting what is salient, cultivating the intellectual virtues in general, and other elements that go beyond any model.

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Dewey was correct: all thinking is experimental. It may not, however, always conform to his model of experimentation. Like Jaspers’ ‘boundless communication’, the notion of experimentation points beyond itself and resists the reduction to a single model. Experimental inquiry varies with its object. If we would know the truth of some matter, our mode of inquiry is contingent on the matter itself. Unless we are dogmatically committed to a theoretical model, we do not approach historical events in the way we study atoms or planets, or psyches in the way we study bodies. Our orientation is experimental in every case, yet the questions we ask, the vocabulary we use and the method, if any, that we employ depend on what it is that we would know. Broadly speaking, Dewey’s model applies within the realm of empirical discourse and Gadamer’s within the realm of human expression. There is considerable overlap between the models and the ‘objects’ with which they are concerned, but there is a distinction here of which we must not lose sight. Scientific research involves a good deal of interpretation and indeed is an interpretation of the world. Hermeneutical reflection also works to resolve problematic situations that arise in our experience, and most obviously in encountering texts. Both models can be extended beyond the discourse in which they were originally formulated, but like any model they can also exceed their grasp. Scientism is the most notorious example of such overreach, and while Deweyan inquiry eludes the standard critiques of that doctrine, its application to the humanities is about as awkward as applying hermeneutics to natural science. Both can be done, but not without interpretive violence. We can, for instance, offer evolutionary explanations of cultural phenomena, and shed a bit of light by this means, but not without reducing culture to something that it manifestly is not: a kind of thingly being that we can speak of in a vocabulary carried over from biology. A culture is not a species. It is better spoken of as a conversation or a constellation of meanings and hence something that calls for interpretation far more than scientific explanation. We can also compress the human psyche into empirical categories and think that we have pronounced the real truth of the matter, but this too is an illusion – which should be obvious to anyone who has ever understood a human being. Making the phenomena fit the research model is generally traceable to overenthusiasm for the model itself and a lack of imagination. It remains a common tendency in many fields to mistake the aspect of the thing which our method reveals for the thing in itself, and our disciplinary perspective for the non-perspective of objectivity. These are not dichotomies: scientific and humanistic investigation, knowledge and understanding, nature and culture, quantitative and



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qualitative research, pragmatic inquiry and hermeneutical reflection. We do not live in a world of binaries, whether we are speaking of nature or, still more, human reality. If we did, we could neatly divide experimental thinking in two: pragmatic inquiry into empirical matters and interpretation of human expression. Both the objects and the modes of inquiry overlap. The complexity of our world is boundless and there is no one way to know the truth about it. Methods that allow us to cope with some corner of it are often clung to with a ferocity that is more a psychological phenomenon than a logical one. There is more to truth than any method knows, more to what is than we shall ever grasp of it, and more to experimental inquiry than what Dewey described. In all inquiry there is what we do and what happens to us in the course of our doing; there is what lies in front of us – an object and a method spelled out in advance – and what has happened behind our back – how we have been constituted and a fundamental orientation that we bring with us. Dewey’s focus was decidedly on the former. He had intimations of the latter, but it took a thinker outside the orbit of empiricism and rationalism alike to make this theme explicit. Dewey still spoke of inquiry as a gaining of control over an object, and while he spoke in terms far more nuanced and phenomenologically adequate than the British empiricists, the orientation toward technical control remained in place, including when he broached humanistic inquiry. For Dewey, as we have seen, thinking in every form consists in ‘the actual transition from the problematic to the secure, as far as it is intentionally guided.’ A reply to this is that thinking rather often includes a transition in the opposite direction, and it is not always intentionally guided. We learn from Nietzsche, Heidegger, Gadamer, Foucault and some others that thinking does not always culminate in resolutions and secure outcomes, particularly when it is philosophical or humanistic. It may culminate, as with the experience of wonder, in an openness or a receptivity to ideas that was hitherto foreign to our experience or in a recognition of the limits of our understanding. Such openness belongs to inquiry not only in its initial stages but at its end. It is not always a failure of inquiry when we do not resolve a problem. When what calls for thinking is what Marcel called a ‘mystery’, there is a matter to be investigated, and with some urgency, but no resolution can be expected. There is no solution to human mortality, or history, or art, or love. Each gives rise to thought, and a line of thinking that can be called experimental, yet as Marcel pointed out, when there is no space between the question and the questioner there is an imperative to reflect, interpret or otherwise come to terms with the phenomena, but with no method and no security. Nietzsche’s ‘philosophers of the future’

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are also ‘men of experiments’, but not in Dewey’s sense; they are ‘attempters’ and ‘very free spirits’ whose thinking obeys no model.37 Should it be made to obey a model? Why are so many still troubled at the thought that intelligent inquiry may not be one, that there are different ways of knowing and that we need neither reduce them to one nor form a hierarchy of them? Common opinion still regards natural science as at the top of a hierarchy, beneath which are the humanities and the arts, with the social sciences somewhere in the middle. What do we imagine would be lost if we abandoned the hierarchy and maintained that how we know depends on what we would know? Is this a recipe for relativism, a surrender of philosophy’s age-old aspiration, as Aristotle put it, ‘to say of what is that it is, and of what is not that it is not’?38 Indeed it is not, but a recognition that ‘how we think’ is more experimental and more variable than even Dewey recognized. His theory of inquiry is not complete, and in a way that he did not see, yet no theoretical model can be. What it can do is describe what we do and what happens to us in the course of inquiry in a given field, recognizing that fields overlap and that no mode of inquiry is of unlimited scope.

Chapter 6

Practice, Theory and Anti-Theory Richard Rorty A principle that is likewise fundamental to hermeneutical and pragmatist philosophy is that lifeworld practices constitute the alpha and omega of philosophical theorizing. The aim of theory construction, if we are to engage in it at all, is to gain a more explicit understanding and critical perspective on our practices, and without grounding them in something external to practices themselves. Our social and linguistic practices do not require philosophical foundations. Both traditions reject the dichotomy and hierarchy of theory and practice that were bequeathed to us by the Greeks and instead conceive of this relation in a more dialectical way. They share as well a phenomenological sensibility for which formalist and scholastic castle-building is about the worst thing that philosophy can do. Sufficient common ground exists for hermeneutical and pragmatist thinkers to pose the question of theory and practice anew and on a shared basis, as the present chapter sets out to do. I do so in connection less with classical pragmatism than with perhaps the best known pragmatist of recent decades. Richard Rorty departed in important ways from the pragmatism of James and Dewey, and in a manner that he often understated. For the latter figures, no amount of theory construction enables us to gain an ahistorical or objective vantage point on our practices. Such a standpoint is neither available nor needed, James and Dewey maintained, yet they were far from rejecting theory in all its forms. Theorizing, they held, had to be reminded of its limits, its conditionedness and its reason for being, in contrast to modern conceptions that had perpetuated the Greek habit of subordinating the practical to the theoretical. Philosophical theorizing had to be chastened but not abolished. This premise they shared with hermeneutics. Rorty would be still more sceptical than his predecessors while also adapting pragmatism to the language of analytic philosophy. Rorty’s linguistified pragmatism focuses almost exclusively on symbolizing practices rather than the larger set of social practices and experiences that concerned Dewey. It is a formulation of pragmatism that he would also relate to the hermeneutics of Heidegger and Gadamer, albeit in a

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somewhat confused way. A couple of decades after speaking favourably of hermeneutics in Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature as ‘an expression of hope that the cultural space left by the demise of epistemology will not be filled – that our culture should become one in which the demand for constraint and confrontation is no longer felt’, Rorty would remark in an interview that ‘I tossed in Gadamer at the end of that book because I happened to be reading him when I was writing the final chapters. I agree with most of what Gadamer says, but his work, like Wittgenstein’s, seems to me largely negative and therapeutic. I don’t think he offers a new enterprise called “hermeneutics” for philosophers to engage in. “Hermeneutic philosophy” is as vague and unfruitful a notion as “analytic philosophy.” Both terms signify little more than the dislike of each for the other.’1 This remarkable statement is not the only one of its kind, and on the subject of hermeneutics Rorty’s propensity for curt provocation was frequently evident. He would express the view, for instance, that Gadamer’s hermeneutics is a ‘method’ which ‘has been replaced by poststructuralism’ and the hope that ‘the very idea of hermeneutics should disappear.’2 Exactly what Rorty understood by hermeneutics, or of it, is far from clear. What he hoped would disappear are many of the same doctrines that hermeneuticists reject: dichotomous thinking, essentialism, foundationalism and philosophical theories that soar over the contingent world of human practices or trace them back to the absolute. What hermeneutics and pragmatism, in both its classical and contemporary varieties, can agree upon is that the lifeworld practices around which so much of our experience is organized do not stand in need of the kind of grounding that modern epistemology sought. Philosophy is at its best, Rorty often remarked, when it is therapeutic rather than constructive, if by the latter we mean the project of fashioning large theoretical explanations of knowledge, truth, justice and so on. Therapeutic philosophy is a largely negative exercise in debunking such accounts while also challenging the need for them. The following statements are representative of a position that Rorty would state and restate throughout his writings: ‘There is no wholesale, epistemological way to direct, or criticize, or underwrite the course of inquiry. Rather, the pragmatists tell us, it is the vocabulary of practice rather than of theory, of action rather than contemplation, in which one can say something useful about truth.’ ‘What we cannot do is to rise above all human communities, actual and possible. We cannot find a skyhook which lifts us out of mere coherence – mere agreement – to something like “correspondence with reality as it is in itself.” One reason why dropping this latter notion strikes many people as “relativistic” is that



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it denies the necessity that inquiry should someday converge to a single point – that Truth is “out there”, up in front of us, waiting for us to reach it.’ As well, ‘we have much more confidence in the practice in question than in any of its possible philosophical justifications.’3 A postmetaphysical philosophy is one that regards our culture, our practices and our truths as so many products of human agreement; they do not correspond to the way the world is or have a foundation in something that transcends history and contingency. Efforts both ancient and modern to ground our ways of speaking and acting within a set of incontrovertible philosophical facts – Plato’s Forms, Aristotle’s essences, Descartes’ cogito, empiricists’ sense data and so on – should not be brought to completion but abandoned altogether. Such efforts do not deliver us from uncertainty but amount rather to an ‘impossible attempt to step outside our skins – the traditions, linguistic and other, within which we do our thinking and self-criticism – and compare ourselves with something absolute.’4 Drawing in different ways upon James and Dewey, Hegel and Nietzsche, Heidegger and Derrida, Wittgenstein and various figures in analytic philosophy, Rorty urged us to abandon once and for all the quest for certainty and the absolute upon which the Greeks embarked and that gained new life during the Enlightenment. Giving up this quest means inhabiting a lifeworld of our own creation and searching for solidarity rather than objectivity. There is no need for philosophical theorizing if there are no such items in the world as Truth, Knowledge, the Good, Justice or any of the other upper-case abstractions that the Greeks hypostatized into nouns whose nature philosophers were charged with ascertaining. Any such theory, Rorty held, presupposes that knowledge and truth are determinate entities which the theorist can accurately represent in the form of a definition, justify with reference to a foundation, or otherwise present in some elegant philosophical package. If we are serious about renouncing essentialism and foundationalism, he argued, we must renounce theory as well and regard our practices as products of consensus that require no philosophical guidance and that have neither essences nor grounds. We neither have nor require theories that are more epistemically solid than the practices they purport to govern. To cite him once more, ‘Pragmatists think that the history of attempts to isolate the True or the Good, or to define the word “true” or “good,” supports their suspicion that there is no interesting work to be done in this area. It might, of course, have turned out otherwise. People have, oddly enough, found something interesting to say about the essence of Force and the definition of “number.” They might have found something interesting to say about the essence of Truth. But in fact

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they haven’t.’ A postmetaphysical culture therefore is one that replaces Philosophy with philosophy, where the upper-case notion refers to the search for theoretical ways to fill in the blank in sentences like: What makes true statements true is _____; What makes right actions right is _____; or What makes a work of art a work of art is _____. If essentialism fails, there is no ‘general and useful’ way to complete these sentences.5 The therapeutic task of philosophy in the lower case is to help us get over the dualisms and the quest for the incontrovertible that have bedevilled Western thought from its inception. There is no philosophical counterpart to the Word of God, no ‘topic called knowledge whose nature can be studied’, no standpoint of objectivity from which to compare the world to our interpretations of it. All that can be said of truth itself is that it is ‘a compliment we pay to beliefs that are serving to guide action better than their competitors’, and where there is no standard of better and worse but for consensus.6 If ‘we are antiessentialist all the way’, as he put it, then ‘we shall say that all inquiry is interpretation’ and that there is no need for a theory of interpretation.7 The distinction of theory and practice itself presupposes not only the doctrine of essentialism but, as Dewey had noted, the socio-economic separation in Greek life between knowing and doing. In Dewey’s words, ‘It reflected, at the time, the economic organization in which “useful” work was done for the most part by slaves, leaving free men relieved from labour and “free” on that account.’8 Relaxing this distinction, or eliminating it, entails that in the practice of inquiry, for instance, ‘there are no constraints on inquiry save conversational ones – no wholesale constraints derived from the nature of the objects, or of the mind, or of language, but only those retail constraints provided by the remarks of our fellow-inquirers.’9 The same can be said of justice in a liberal democracy; there is no principled basis on which to critique political discourse apart from the norms that have generated consensus in our time and place. Such a position is not relativistic but historicist and ‘frankly ethnocentric.’10 An obvious question this raises is whether there is any philosophical work to be done in the aftermath of essentialism and foundationalism. The question was put to Rorty in an interview of 2006 as follows: ‘Q: So what work would you want to engage in as a philosopher now? RR: Well, it’s not a field that’s worth being in unless you’re excited by toppling some tower or other. You can’t tell a student, “Get an interest in toppling this tower.” Either they’re interested or they aren’t. Q: But how do you feel about the trajectory of your own career? Is there a feeling that once you’ve toppled various towers you can only go on saying the same things, because there’s little left to topple? RR: Yes, I think so. I think I’ve been discouraged by



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the fact that every time I think I’ve had a new idea I turn out to have published it twenty years ago. Most philosophers typically have one set of ideas which they repeat over and over again. There are occasional exceptions. Heidegger and Wittgenstein both actually had two sets of ideas in the course of their lives.’11 Rorty’s answers are of more than biographical importance and are consistent with statements he would make elsewhere. If philosophy is not altogether at an end, Philosophy is, and philosophy is not far behind. What work remains to be done is essentially limited to intellectual history and therapeutic kibitzing. Wittgenstein’s later work serves as an example of the latter and is commended by Rorty insofar as it ‘sticks to pure satire’ and demonstrates how ‘the traditional problems . . . are based on a terminology which is as if designed expressly for the purpose of making solution impossible.’12 Philosophy should not aim to be constructive or especially creative, or not on a large scale, not because of any a priori commitment against theory but on grounds of philosophy’s track record of failure to answer its own questions and to resolve what Dewey called ‘the problems of men.’ Dewey’s own theoretical efforts received a less than favourable response from Rorty. The theory of inquiry, for instance, along with the pragmatist theory of truth, Dewey’s theory of experience and philosophy of education are typically either ignored in Rorty’s work or given a questionable interpretation. That Dewey himself, or for that matter James or Peirce, was an anti-theorist in Rorty’s sense is a dubious proposition, although Rorty would often hold up Dewey as an example of philosophy at its finest. In Consequences of Pragmatism, for instance, he would remark: ‘As long as we see James or Dewey as having “theories of truth” or “theories of knowledge” or “theories of morality” we shall get them wrong. We shall ignore their criticisms of the assumption that there ought to be theories about such matters.’ Clearly, they did have theories about such matters and plenty else besides. Rorty’s point was that he did not find such theories compelling. James’ and Dewey’s point was that theorizing need not presuppose essentialism or foundationalism and that doing so in a pragmatic spirit means providing a reflective articulation and critique of our practices rather than a grounding in something ahistorical. The main hypothesis in Dewey’s book-length study of the theory-practice relation, The Quest for Certainty, was precisely that human practices are the point of departure of all legitimate philosophical theorizing and that the point of such theories is to resolve the problematic situations that arise within them, not that there is nothing philosophically interesting to be said about inquiry, experience, truth and so on. His point as well was that the depreciation of practice that began with

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the Greeks had at long last to be overturned, and not in such a way that we are merely engineering a pendulum swing to the opposite extreme. While Rorty was inclined to assert, falsely, that Dewey – along with Nietzsche, Heidegger, and Wittgenstein – held that ‘philosophy may have exhausted its potentialities’ and saw ‘no interesting future for a distinct discipline called “philosophy,”’ he would better have said – and occasionally did – that the constructive efforts of Dewey and the other classical pragmatists to fashion a nonessentialist, nonfoundationalist, and nondualistic philosophy were not, in Rorty’s estimation, a success.13 Be that as it may, in Rorty’s conception of pragmatism, theory construction in more or less every form is an essentialist and ill-fated undertaking. It contributes nothing to our understanding or capacity to critique our practices. If it is rational criticism that we seek, this is to be had not with reference to theoretical principles or general criteria of the kind favoured by a Marx or a Habermas, but in the light of ordinary efforts in persuasion. Rationality itself, in his view, ‘is simply a matter of being open and curious, and of relying on persuasion rather than force.’14 The critique of ideology, for instance, is only ‘an occasionally useful tactical weapon in social struggles’, and ‘one among many others’ rather than any ascent into pure reason.15 How, then, is the philosopher or social critic (or anyone else) to proceed? Does philosophy provide no resources whatever in our rhetorical engagements? The general trajectory of Rorty’s argumentation is decidedly sceptical, yet in places he does offer some views on what philosophy, duly chastened, may have to offer. As he repeatedly stated, ‘we should not look for skyhooks, but only for toeholds.’ What, then, are these? Toeholds for critique and interpretation, in short, are to be found in the resources of our culture. Rational persuasion consists in ‘playing off parts of our minds against other parts’, ‘muddling through toward happiness as best we can’, ‘draw[ing] the map of a culture during a specific time in a specific place (for instance, European culture in the twentieth century)’, and finding ‘small experimental ways’ of resolving problems in contrast to ‘large theoretical ways.’16 Theoretical principles at most ‘provide succinct formulations of past achievements’ or summary descriptions of statements deemed useful in our historical community, but nothing more than this.17 One properly applies such principles or norms not in the fashion of a categorical imperative but by looking back and forth in a pragmatic way between general principles and the consequences of applying them. Ultimately it is agreement that matters – agreement that is based on persuasion rather than force, and where there is no large-scale way of distinguishing one from the other.



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We cannot justify without circularity the standards and conventions that we appeal to in our attempts at persuasion, Rorty emphatically argued – not, again, on the basis of an a priori argument but in view of many centuries of failed efforts to this end.18 We appeal to the standards that are ‘ours’, and when these standards themselves are the problem – as the ideology critic, for one, will assert – the best we can do is compare the concrete advantages of our ‘final vocabulary’ or cultural tradition to some other. Inter-societal comparison is one fruitful way not of leaping outside our lifeworld but of regarding given elements of it from another, equally conditioned, perspective. This historicist conception of pragmatism has a good deal to recommend it, and it does make common cause with philosophical hermeneutics in a number of respects. As I noted at the outset of this chapter, pragmatists and hermeneutical thinkers are united in opposing a great many efforts in the history of Western thought to provide our practices with a theoretical or foundationalist grounding of one kind or another. Whether we are speaking of social practices generally or linguistic practices in a narrower, analytic sense, human practices neither can nor need be legitimated with reference to something outside them that is asserted to be historically unconditioned and incontrovertible. Philosophical gestures toward the absolute may at last be forgotten together with religious gestures to the same end; indeed, without the latter it is unlikely that the former would have had much point. Philosophy in many ways still aspires to know the Word of God, and the great service of pragmatism is to cause us to climb down from the heavens and regard our practices as no longer standing in opposition to something of which theoretical knowledge affords us a glimpse. My reservations about Rorty’s pragmatism stem not from any glimpse into the absolute but from a slightly more optimistic, and not at all unpragmatic, conception of what philosophical theorizing can effect – provided that we remain mindful of its limits and that it is undertaken in a phenomenological spirit. In advancing this case I would like to recall a few examples of theories that are less obviously vulnerable to Rorty’s line of criticism than theories of a straightforwardly essentialist and foundationalist kind. Dewey’s philosophy of education and theory of inquiry, James’ theory of truth, Jaspers’ theory of communicative reason, Paul Ricoeur’s narrative theory of the self and philosophical hermeneutics itself all share with Rorty the conviction that philosophy must overcome Philosophy. Where they part company is on the question of whether there are ways of proceeding in theory construction that are anti-Theoretical yet still ‘useful’ in Rorty’s sense, that do not slide

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back into foundationalism or essentialism or that otherwise compress the manifold into some orderly package which misunderstands through reduction, oversimplification or sheer mythology. Let us consider the first example above. Dewey, in my view, had nothing to learn from Rorty’s critique of Philosophy; indeed, as Rorty fully acknowledged, his critique is in large part appropriated directly from Dewey. Yet the latter insisted in his writings on the philosophy of education that no critical perspective is to be had in this field in the absence of a theory of inquiry and experience of the kind discussed in Chapter 5. The problems that he detected in traditional schooling centred on the quality of experience that students were having in these institutions, while the alternative he envisioned proceeded from an experimental conception of learning. The classroom, he argued, ought to be a place of intellectual inquiry into matters that arise out of the students’ extracurricular experience rather than a setting that is disconnected from ordinary life and that is centred on the transfer into youthful minds of an altogether predigested curriculum, as older views had it. Educative experience is a proper object of philosophical theorizing, he maintained, and the account that he offered in such texts as Democracy and Education and Experience and Education was largely successful, in my view, in providing the resources with which to transform our educational practices.19 This is theory not for theory’s sake but for the sake of practice, as is true of pragmatist philosophy in general. The same can be said of the other theories just mentioned and no doubt others besides. Perspectivism, to be sure, is not an epistemology but a description of how knowledge proceeds which also has prescriptive import. That interpretation involves an accumulating of perspectives, none of which approximates objectivity, is at once descriptive and prescriptive. So as well is the doctrine of the hermeneutical circle; fundamentally, it is a phenomenological description of how interpretation proceeds, yet it also gives us an important clue as to how to proceed when we encounter unanticipated textual passages. Interpretation ought to be, and is – the two propositions amount to one – an experimental and perspectival undertaking, a reconciling of whole and part, a search for coherence and consensus, a will to boundless communication, an art rather than a technique, a disclosure and a concealment, a historically conditioned and dialogical encounter, the resolution of a problematic situation, a project in service to life, and some other things. These statements are both ‘general and useful’, whether it be for prescriptive and critical purposes – for they do prescribe a basic orientation for inquiry – or for the purpose of philosophical understanding, and none is particularly vulnerable to charges of essentialism, foundationalism or reductionism.



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What pragmatists, hermeneuticists and all others can agree to is the need for reasoned criticism of our practices. Whether this requires large-scale theorizing or more modest, immanent forms of reflection is what is in question. The argument that no amount of theory construction will enable us to gain a God’s-eye view of our practices has been convincingly made, and well before Rorty. From what standpoint, then, is a critique of our practices to proceed if not from the standpoint of the absolute? As we have seen, Rorty prefers a vocabulary of local practices and traditions over totalizing theories, yet whether abandoning essentialism and foundationalism entails abandoning theory in all forms, including forms not predicated upon the subordination of practice, is an open question. Without privileging theory over practice – or, as Rorty prefers, practice over theory – it is possible to defend a conception of philosophical theory that is at once hermeneutical and pragmatic. The argument that I proffer is fought on two fronts: on one hand, I share Rorty’s opposition to the subordination of practice to theory, while on the other hand parting company with those who would jettison all forms of theorizing in favour of the primacy of practice. Recognizing the latter, I shall argue, does not entail abandoning all methods of theoretical reasoning, but only those methods that seek absolute grounds for our practices. There is a conception of theory that is immanent to practice. If we can speak of a dialectical relation of theory and practice, we need subordinate neither practice to theory nor theory to practice. For nonfoundationalists, the project of fashioning an indubitable epistemological or metaphysical basis for human practices not only fails in its aim of removing all vestiges of contingency and uncertainty that seem to characterize so essentially the order of human praxis, but mistakenly assumes the necessity of providing such a basis for the practices that take root in a lifeworld. It is simply unnecessary to provide axiomatic grounds for our practices. Human being-in-the-world includes an embeddedness within practices that fundamentally orient us as cognitive and moral agents and which are understood largely prereflectively, partially and pragmatically. Being ready-to-hand, they do not readily lend themselves to explicit reflection and tend to enter conscious awareness, as Heidegger illustrated in Being and Time, only as a consequence of their breakdown. Language itself, as Gadamer has shown, is in its primary mode of being the practice of hermeneutical dialogue. Language is given to us as practitioners in a dynamic back-and-forth movement of statement and counterstatement, a dialectic that we do not preside over as sovereign subjectivity but take up as participants. The primacy of practice entails that our being-in-the-world is

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oriented by involvements in a myriad linguistic and social practices in terms of which we find our way about a lifeworld and that such practices, while ready-to-hand in their immediate mode of being, are already reflective and capable of being theoretically articulated. Involvement in practices calls upon capacities of understanding, reason and judgement that speak to the reflective nature not only of practice itself but of the act of participation within it. Alasdair MacIntyre has defined a practice as ‘any coherent and complex form of socially established cooperative human activity through which goods internal to that form of activity are realized in the course of trying to achieve those standards of excellence which are appropriate to, and partially definitive of, that form of activity, with the result that human powers to achieve excellence, and human conceptions of the ends and goods involved, are systematically extended.’ The principal feature of MacIntyre’s definition is the notion of ‘internal goods’ to which any practice is said to be oriented, as indicated, for instance, by standards delimiting appropriate conduct. These are understood as ends that are held in common and cooperatively achieved in the course of engaging in a given practice, and are contrasted with ‘external goods’ which may be had by other means, typically in forms of strategic action, and which are invariably the private possession of an individual. Internal goods are attainable exclusively through cooperative participation in a practice. To illustrate the distinction, MacIntyre offers the example of chess as a practice in which one engages not for the sake of external ends, such as reputation or wealth, but to practise the virtues associated with this activity such as fairness or good sportsmanship. These virtues are attained only within the rules of the game, while reputation or wealth may be had by other means, including the merely strategic or instrumental from which the order of practice is mainly distinguished. A key feature separating instrumental action from practice properly so called is that, as MacIntyre writes, ‘[i]t belongs to the concept of a practice . . . that its goods can only be achieved by subordinating ourselves within the practice in our relationship to other practitioners. We have to learn to recognize what is due to whom; we have to be prepared to take whatever self-endangering risks are demanded along the way; and we have to listen carefully to what we are told about our own inadequacies and to reply with the same carefulness for the facts.’20 Participating in a practice is distinguished from utilitarian behaviour in virtue of this element of ‘subordination’ to requirements that are imposed upon us by the structure of the practice itself, including the standards of excellence and internal ends that constitute the practice as a distinct form of activity.



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The conception of praxis of which I shall speak shares with MacIntyre’s notion a connotation far broader than modern conceptions of applied science or technique, and shares nothing whatever with popular conceptions that speak of practices loosely as any habitual form of behaviour, particularly one that does not involve higher order cognition. ‘Praxis’ may be spoken of broadly as the larger order of social endeavour in which human beings participate in common by creating institutions, fashioning identities, investigating and criticizing, creating works of art, exchanging goods and services, and a myriad of other forms of intersubjectivity. By the singular term ‘practice’ I shall intend a complex of action types, relationships, roles and standards which display a common orientation toward particular ends. To engage in a practice is to be drawn into social relationships and roles of particular kinds and to observe constraints on our actions that in combination display a unifying orientation toward the attainment of specific aims, aims that define the practice and distinguish it from others. Practices are teleologically structured and display as purposive an orientation as goal-directed action in general. Practices thus conceived encompass both cognitive and pragmatic forms of activity including inquiry, hermeneutical dialogue, education, the arts, sports, commerce, law, politics, medicine, friendship and romantic love (the list is not exhaustive). Each practice exhibits a teleological dimension that is identifiable phenomenologically and which is oriented in its characteristic forms of activity, relationships, standards and general structure toward attaining or approximating ends that constitute the practice’s reason for being. To express this in a manner that is more phenomenologically adequate than the hypostatizing language of internal ‘ends’ – as if these were fully realizable end-states – and that avoids the Aristotelian/ Catholic moralism of the ‘virtues,’ we may speak of a practice as displaying a basic animating spirit in which practitioners are taken up, which makes demands upon us and conducts us toward a condition of self-forgetful participation. Unlike straightforward forms of instrumental action, engaging in a practice is not an exercise in sovereign subjectivity (the pursuit of pleasure or the avoidance of pain), but is a becoming involved, as we say, in the spirit of the thing – and where the ‘thing’ in question is no thing at all, but a process containing an immanent and orienting purposiveness. The life of a practice is inseparable from this quality of internal teleology which is not presided over by the subject but that in which the latter is taken up, as one becomes caught up in conversation or in an artistic performance. Gadamer provided a compelling description of this phenomenon in a discussion in Truth and Method of aesthetic

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practice and the activity of the spectator of a performance – an account that carries significance far beyond its immediate context: ‘the true being of the spectator, who belongs to the play of art, cannot be adequately understood in terms of subjectivity, as a way that aesthetic consciousness conducts itself. . . . Considered as a subjective accomplishment in human conduct, being present has the character of being outside oneself. . . . In fact, being outside oneself is the positive possibility of being wholly with something else. This kind of being present is a self-forgetfulness, and to be a spectator consists in giving oneself in self-forgetfulness to what one is watching. Here self-forgetfulness is anything but a privative condition, for it arises from devoting one’s full attention to the matter at hand, and this is the spectator’s own positive accomplishment.’21 The practice of dialogue displays a similar play structure, characterized by the incessant to and fro of assertion and reply, question and answer, that is oriented toward understanding our object. The conversation is not dominated by any speaker but is a dialectical process in which interlocutors are taken up in a common endeavour to identify the significance or truth of the subject matter. The dialogue ‘takes its own course’ when this condition is fully manifest. The teleological dimension of the practice is more an orientation than any final culmination or a telos that is attained once and for all. This phenomenon is equally characteristic of other areas of praxis than the aesthetic and hermeneutical dimensions with which Gadamer was principally concerned. When, for instance, the practice of education succeeds in its task, there is a spirit of cooperative investigation and openness to the subject matter that comes into its own. This practice comprises a curriculum, classroom discussion, examinations, assigned roles and instructional methods that are oriented in common toward a condition in which the learning process – evidenced by an acquisition of knowledge and critical capacity that is never complete – is allowed to prevail. The phenomenon is equally evident in practices such as competitive games and sports in which, as Gadamer expressed it, players are ‘taken up into a movement that has its own dynamic. The game is underway when the individual player participates in full earnest, that is, when he no longer holds himself back as one who is merely playing, for whom it is not serious.’22 This form of praxis is constituted by standards of excellence and strategies commonly oriented by a dialectical process that is dominated by no individual but by an abiding spirit of competition and sportsmanship of which each of the participants partakes. Professional practices such as law, medicine or scholarship are equally teleological in their constitution, the fundamental purpose of each being to administer justice, secure health,



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and acquire knowledge within a setting of institutions and procedures. While it is well known that not all participants are in fact oriented in their actions toward securing the aims that are internal to their practice, the point that warrants emphasis is that the practice itself – if not all the practitioners – remains oriented toward specific aims in terms of which standards of excellence are defined and the realization of which constitutes the practice’s reason for being. In the case of any given practice there are participants who allow themselves to be taken up into its spirit and become fully oriented in their conduct by its internal dynamic, and those who do not – who substitute extraneous ends or otherwise hold back in their participation. What distinguishes the two is no mere difference in technical skill but the mode of comportment of the practitioner: whether they are disposed toward the kind of self-forgetfulness alluded to above and allow the practice to take the course that it would or insist on bending it to their will. This is reflected, for instance, in the languages of art and romantic love: we speak of an artist being inspired, of the work of art creating itself, of falling in love or of being swept away, expressions suggestive of a voluntary relinquishing of self-possession and being taken up into a process one does not altogether control. As processes, it is the nature of practices that while they are teleologically structured, the particular telos at which they aim is only approximated, often fleetingly, and typically in the form of a common reality. Such ‘ends’ possess a dynamic and processual quality, close in this respect to regulative ideals which orient conduct without being finally attainable. A paradigm case is inquiry or dialogue which, while oriented toward truth or meaning, prevents us from hypostatizing the latter or transforming them into objects of epistemic certainty. Dialogue is oriented toward significance and consensus, yet it is a process in which a final truth or objective meaning is never attained. The telos is no static outcome but an unending process of achieving partial understanding. Analogously, the practice of law aims at securing justice, where this is conceived not in utopian terms but as a continual process of affording better protection for human rights. Much the same obtains in other practices: medicine aims at securing a patient’s health, a value that bears no resemblance to a static condition fully attainable by any person; scholarly investigation aims at the discovery of knowledge without supposing that the process of inquiry will some day come to an end. Once foundational metaphors are dispensed with, there is no need to ground judgements on something more ‘basic’ than the practices that have taken hold in our lifeworld, contingent though they be. The search for large

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theoretical bases of our practices may well be abandoned. The question, however, remains: from what perspective can we offer a principled critique of our practices or of the manner in which these are carried out? Theory can be conceived as arising from within practices themselves rather than descending on them from a transcendent location. Practice-immanent theory seeks not to provide an objective basis for practices but to identify criteria that phenomenologically are already implicitly operative within practices themselves. The aim of this form of theorizing is to critique a given practice in light of an expressly articulated understanding of the aims inherent in it. In describing the implicit teleology of a practice, theory does not preside over it from without but modifies it from within by identifying a practice’s immanent logic. The criteria it articulates serve a critical function while being inherent in, or performatively operative within, the practice. The traditional view among philosophers that in order to practise rational criticism we must occupy a vantage point that transcends it altogether may be replaced with one that arises from a finite perspective that makes no claim to objectivity or certainty. Rather than subordinating practice (conceived since the Greeks as defective, contingent and merely empirical) to theory (conceived since the Greeks as pristine, divine and unconditioned), practice-immanent theorizing takes lifeworld practices as its methodological starting point. The aim of theory thus conceived is twofold. It informs critical reflection by rendering explicit the fundamental constitution of a practice and orients or reorients action given an understanding of what the practice aims to achieve. On the first point: while our involvement in a practice is never without some understanding of what it aims to achieve, what actions are appropriate to it, and of ways and means of competent performance, this form of understanding is typically prereflective and consists primarily of practical know-how. The first task of the theorist is to render this knowledge explicit. One describes phenomenologically what individuals are doing when they participate in a practice and what happens to them no less: what actions comprise it, what aims are in view, what standards are operative within it, and so on. At this stage theorizing is an interpretive enterprise that seeks a reflective awareness of a practice’s internal constitution or immanent dynamic. The second aim of theory construction is to gain critical perspective on the manner in which a practice is carried out. Given a more explicit understanding of a practice, theory supplements the know-how practitioners already possess with criteria that are useful in assessing action. Theorizing provides a perspective from which potentially to challenge this practical know-how by demonstrating how it may actually



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fail to bring about the practice’s internal aims or produces a distortion. In articulating criteria or principles already operative (prereflectively) in a practice, theory makes it possible to reorient, or even radically overhaul, the fashion in which it is conducted. An immanent mode of theorizing views a practice, as it were, from within, describing its internal constitution and the actions and criteria that distinguish it as the particular practice that it is. Theoretical understanding is especially mindful of a practice’s teleological dimension since it is in light of this that the theorist can articulate principles of critique. Given an understanding of the ends toward which a practice is always already oriented, the theorist may fashion principles of critique that have their basis in, and are an explicit articulation of, the ends that belong to that practice. While it is unlikely to generate formal decision procedures for attaining these ends, this form of theorizing makes it possible to appraise actions, policies and rules in light of their conduciveness to a practice’s internal aims and can often bring to light the way in which extraneous ends can enter into and thereby corrupt a practice. Importing extraneous values into a practice produces a kind of distortion. When personal desires, for instance, or a political agenda supplants a practice’s own ends, the result is a distortion of the practice itself, often one that transforms it into a merely strategic form of behaviour. Practices make demands on us, and distortions occur when we violate these out of motives that are extraneous to that form of activity and at odds with its purposes. This occurs, for example, when educators supplant aims that belong to the learning process with an agenda (political, religious, etc.) the purpose of which is to instil the educator’s belief rather than cultivate the intellectual capacity of students. The task of the education theorist in this case is to remind practitioners of the ends that constitute this practice and to critique pedagogical methods that subordinate these to a dogmatic agenda, to identify actions or policies that supplant the animating spirit of education by substituting ends extraneous to that form of activity or that perhaps belong to the practice but in a secondary capacity. The profit motive, for instance, in a practice such as medicine is an accepted element of professional activity, yet it is constrained by the more fundamental matter of the patient’s health. Medical malpractice is less a matter of technical incompetence than a failure to act in the best interests of the patient’s health, perhaps for reasons of financial gain or to satisfy another purpose that is extraneous to the practice itself or subordinate to its more fundamental aim. Distortions of this kind are partly due to the dichotomy of theory and practice itself, and the subordination of the latter. Methods of theory

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construction that claim to derive principles from an unconditioned standpoint and impose these upon practices from some authoritative position typically do so in a way that undermines their animating spirit or sacrifices it to a preconceived notion of their proper outcomes. To guarantee this outcome, criteria are legislated from without and imposed on participants without regard for the practice’s internal logic, the usual result of which is its subversion. A case in point within moral and political thought is utilitarianism. This theory has us optimize whatever ‘preferences’ individuals hold in all social practices and recognizes only those rules and obligations that are generated by the utility calculus rather than any arising from a given practice itself or indeed from any other source. This strategic method of deliberation is concerned exclusively with identifying the most efficient means of satisfying arbitrarily chosen ends, whether they resemble in any respect a practice’s internal aims or not. This method almost invariably corrupts a practice by radically modifying the comportment of practitioners who, no longer disposed toward the kind of self-forgetfulness described above, instead prefer to dominate the scene as a strategy in utility optimization. The instrumentalization of a practice is a virtual recipe for its distortion since it brackets its most salient feature – its teleological orientation – which it banishes to the order of the arational. Whereas utilitarianism is premised on a subjectivism regarding ends, the aims that govern a practice are ends in themselves for those who allow themselves to be taken up in a process that they do not control. The modern instrumentalization and technification of praxis that is exemplified in utilitarianism has the effect of fragmenting practices in the ostensible interest of satisfying human purposes while effectively reducing them to so many quantities of pleasure and pain. Philosophical hermeneutics itself is an example of practice-immanent theorizing. A principle long identified as vital to the interpretive process is the hermeneutical circle. The classic description of this in Being and Time reads as follows: ‘It is not to be reduced to the level of a vicious circle, or even of a circle which is merely tolerated. In the circle is hidden a positive possibility of the most primordial kind of knowing. To be sure, we genuinely take hold of this possibility only when, in our interpretation, we have understood that our first, last and constant task is never to allow our fore-having, fore-sight and fore-conception to be presented to us by fancies and popular conceptions, but rather to make the scientific theme secure by working out these fore-structures in terms of the things themselves.’23 In remarking on this passage, Gadamer observed: ‘What Heidegger is working out here is not primarily a prescription for the practice of understanding,



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but a description of the way interpretative understanding is achieved.’24 In hermeneutical theory it is phenomenological description of the practice of interpretation that is primary and that is prior to prescription. While the hermeneutical circle is in the first instance a descriptive account of interpretation, it is also not without prescriptive value and serves in many cases to inform our interpretation – by cautioning us, for instance, against reading a passage in isolation from a larger context. Here is an example of a theoretical principle that has its basis in phenomenological description of a practice and that is capable of informing our interpretive efforts once expressly fashioned. There may be hope for theory. If there is, we must think of it no longer in the upper case as a search for foundations or essences but more modestly as an immanent, phenomenological and critical reflection on our practices. Ultimately, the aim of theorizing is to allow us the better to cope with our practices and to attain the ends that belong to them, given a more explicit grasp of the ends themselves and the distorting factors that often beset our ways of acting and thinking. I can therefore concur with Gary Madison when he states, ‘It is one thing to accord priority to praxis, to ethos; it is quite another, however, to deny to theory a legitimate and, indeed, central role in the formation and sustenance of life practices and socio-political modes of being-in-the-world – in other words, their justification or . . . “legitimation”. . . . [Rorty] ignores the fact that arriving at some (theoretical) understanding of things is a most important way in which humans manage to cope with things.’ I concur with him as well that ‘the validity of a theory is always something that must be redeemed in practice.’25 Hermeneutics itself is a theoretical search for understanding – of what we do and what happens to us in our doing, of what is and of what might be, and of our being-in-the-world in the most fundamental sense. Pragmatism provides elaboration for what hermeneutics already knows: that theory is not its own end, that its function is to understand and to enhance our practices, and that it grounds and ‘mirrors’ nothing at all. The difference that theory makes is not merely a difference in how we organize our Ps and Qs in a realm of pure reason; it must always touch down to the reality of human experience and action. At its best, theorizing remains mindful of its limits and does not lose sight of the complexity of its object or reduce it to some artificial simplicity. When what we would understand is understanding itself, or reason or language or truth, the things themselves resist our efforts to encapsulate them in a simple formula of the kind that philosophy so often prizes in the name of elegance and clarity.

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Theories are impressionistic interpretations at the best of times. The ‘object’ that they would know is no object at all, but a text analogue, a matter that in every case calls for an interpretation that is partial and incomplete, but that may all the same be ‘useful’.

Chapter 7

Interpretation and Criticism Max Horkheimer That interpretation is not only universal to experience but belongs fundamentally to the ontological constitution of human existence is a basic hermeneutical hypothesis that must be squared with the need for reasoned criticism not only of our interpretations but of our practices and way of life as a whole. To interpret and to understand most often connotes a coming into agreement with others about what is important, meaningful or true, yet rather often the claim is made that critique runs in an antithetical direction, that it interrupts consensus and negates received modes of seeing-as and so amounts to a non- or even antihermeneutical discourse. Criticism, in this frequently encountered view, is an alternative to interpretation, not a form of it, while understanding itself confines us within tradition and culture when these are the very matters that call for critique. Especially when interpretations are mired in ideology, criticism must rise above the ordinary course of conversation and pronounce a rational assessment of what passes for true within it. The standpoint of the social critic in particular must be one of rational objectivity and impartiality, if possible one that transcends the contingencies of time and place. This, of course, was the matter at issue in the debate between Gadamer and Jürgen Habermas that followed the publication of Truth and Method, and it has perhaps been the most important issue confronting hermeneutics since that time. The scope of hermeneutical and rhetorical reflection, Gadamer argued, is universal, a hypothesis that critical theorists in particular took as an invitation to an uncritical brand of conservatism. That this is not so, and that criticism itself belongs to the larger practice that is the search for understanding rather than constituting an exercise in unconditioned reflection, was Gadamer’s rejoinder, and it is a rejoinder with which I fully concur. The project of ascending to a critical standpoint that is not only rational in some sense of the word but objective, scientific and explanatory in Habermas’ sense is a dogmatic overestimation of what is possible for finite cognition. Rather than rehearse the terms of this well known debate, I propose in the present chapter to revisit the original claims of critical theory and the critique of ideology in the writings

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of Max Horkheimer, and in the two following chapters to engage with Habermas’ more recent work on the theory of deliberative democracy as well as Habermas’ and Karl-Otto Apel’s conception of discourse ethics. My reason for returning to Horkheimer is that his earlier formulation of critical theory may be less vulnerable to the criticisms that hermeneutical philosophers have directed at Habermas, incorporating as it does a notion of immanent criticism that in some ways is as close to Gadamer as to Habermas. All criticism, I shall argue, is immanent criticism. What this entails, and how robust our conception of immanent critique may be, are the questions that I shall address. Let us begin with an important distinction in Horkheimer’s thought between two modes of theorizing that he designated as traditional and critical. Traditional theory would presumably include philosophical hermeneutics and refers in general to theoretical discourses that describe and organize experience with reference to categories that are embedded in current sociological conditions. In philosophy, Horkheimer spoke of Descartes’ Discourse on Method as an exemplar, while in the sciences traditional theory encompasses the usual course of empirical research. In the latter case we are dealing with useful information and pragmatic inquiry that does not fundamentally disturb the order that is passed down to us, the aim being to answer questions and solve problems that are contained within such an order. It does not question the origins or larger implications of the order itself but puts it to use in rendering our experience of the world coherent. Traditional philosophical theory similarly occupies itself with received principles and methods whose fundamental purpose is again to organize and clarify experience and to eliminate contradictions among our inherited ideas. It works within an apparatus of judgements and concepts that it does not question, or not fundamentally and not critically. Even when inclined toward scepticism, traditional theorizing on the model of Descartes or Hume runs up against the limits of a system of propositions that it takes as given. Their philosophical ‘achievements are a factor in the conservation and continuous renewal of the existing state of affairs’, as Horkheimer put it. ‘In the social division of labour the savant’s role is to integrate facts into conceptual frameworks and to keep the latter up to date so that he himself and all who use them may be masters of the widest possible range of facts. Experiment has the scientific role of establishing facts in such a way that they fit into theory as currently accepted. The factual material or subject matter is provided from without; science sees to its formulation in clear and comprehensible terms, so that men may be able to use knowledge as they wish.’1 The knowledge may be used as they



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wish provided they do not wish to disturb the received order of categories and techniques by means of which they classify particulars. A term with a clearly pejorative connotation, traditional theory unwittingly affirms and reinforces an existing social order by ensuring its functioning while habitually refusing to turn a critical eye to the system within which it operates. Critical theory reverses this, and as the term announces ‘is not a cog in an already existent mechanism’ but instead ‘is an element in action leading to new social forms.’ Theorizing here aims to achieve ‘the rational state of society’ and is in the service of social praxis understood in a Marxian sense. It is within Marxian categories of class struggle, ideology, revolution, and so on that the critical theorist sets to work diagnosing the present condition of social life. The business of social criticism generally is to turn a suspicious eye to ideological interpretations and practices that conceal from persons the truth of their plight within an oppressive order. ‘The real social function of philosophy’, as Horkheimer expressed it, ‘lies in its criticism of what is prevalent’, thus on the model not of the Discourse on Method but of Marx’s various works. While inclined toward negation, critique in this sense ‘does not mean superficial fault-finding with individual ideas or conditions, as though a philosopher were a crank. Nor does it mean that the philosopher complains about this or that isolated condition and suggests remedies.’ Instead, the ‘chief aim of such criticism is to prevent mankind from losing itself in those ideas and activities which the existing organization of society instils into its members.’ It is to resist current ways of seeing the world by exposing contradictions in our conceptual framework and working toward the eventual goal, as he expressed it, of ‘man’s emancipation from slavery.’2 The ultimate aim of intellectual investigation in general, whether it be philosophical or scientific, is less to acquire knowledge about the world than to transform it in a particular direction. The critical theorist works with a conception of society and history as a whole that is developing in an identifiable direction – if not quite in the manner that dialectical materialism asserted then in an approximately similar and still emancipatory direction. History is marching on, and the theorist’s task is to place oneself in the forefront of this movement and critique existing forms of life from this vantage point. The ‘critical attitude’ as Horkheimer would speak of it ‘is wholly distrustful of the rules of conduct with which society as presently constituted provides each of its members.’ Its characteristic stance is of opposition to prevailing ways of thinking and it distrusts profoundly the evaluative categories that are employed in a given society no less than its institutions and practices. Its diagnosis of the present begins in Marxian fashion with economic categories of exchange, commodity, value, and

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so on, and explains the contradictions of our times as so many effects of capitalist production. Broadly conceived, critical theory ‘says that the basic form of the historically given commodity economy on which modern history rests contains in itself the internal and external tensions of the modern era; it generates these tensions over and over again in an increasingly heightened form; and after a period of progress, development of human powers, and emancipation for the individual, after an enormous extension of human control over nature, it finally hinders further development and drives humanity into a new barbarism.’ The critical attitude sees our culture as declining from the comprehensive historical vantage point that it seeks. The theorist’s task is far less to interpret hermeneutically than in myriad ways ‘to distinguish the appearance from the essence, to examine the foundations of things, in short, really to know them.’3 The task of critical theory is not to interpret but to know, and to do so from a point of view that far transcends what is available to ordinary persons. This is an interdisciplinary standpoint that incorporates knowledge both scientific (natural and social) and humanistic into a comprehensive social theory with broad-ranging explanatory power. Philosophy and science, evaluation and description were to form a larger unity under the aegis of the Institute for Social Research over which Horkheimer presided. The research that issued therefrom took for its object the condition of social life as a totality and drew freely upon philosophy, economics, history, sociology and other fields in ways that crossed disciplinary boundaries and blurred distinctions of fact and value, science and evaluation. As one commentator has pointed out, ‘Horkheimer, as director, often saw himself as the synthesizer of the findings of the research conducted under the Institute’s auspices’, as is reflected in his habit of crossing disciplinary lines with seeming ease.4 The materialist metaphysics on which his social theory is based itself ‘requires the unification of philosophy and science’, not in the sense of the positivist thought that he categorically rejected but in the sense that while the objects and methods of inquiry to some extent vary from one field to another, critical theory ‘does not recognize any difference between science and philosophy as such.’5 While striving for a vantage point of scientific universality and rational objectivity, Horkheimer also emphasized that the critical theorist stands entirely within history and culture. Theoretical reflection does not enable one to transcend the historical moment in which one stands or occupy a moral point of view in the Kantian sense of the term. A more limited kind of objectivity was the critic’s goal, one that is broadly interdisciplinary, historically informed and politically partisan. The critical theorist stands



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as well within a class structure and identifies rather emphatically with the underclass in a social order that is fundamentally hegemonic. In the account that Horkheimer and other early figures in this school put forward, the influence of Marx is everywhere apparent, and this includes an essentially Marxian notion of immanent criticism. The critic’s gesture of protest, Horkheimer argued, is ‘both a protest against this order of things’ and one that is ‘generated by the order itself.’6 Critique is an altogether necessary element in the development of a society and one that issues from a point of view internal to it. The critic’s radicality presupposes no dubious epistemological claims to ahistorical or unconditioned knowledge, for ‘man the knower is himself part of the totality, of the world and all it contains.’7 What the critical attitude presupposes is that the historical moment in which we stand is capable of radical self-consciousness and that a capacity for reason that belongs to all persons may reach an advanced state in the dialectical thought of the critic. Perceiver and perceived alike are historically conditioned and no powers of self-reflection can change this fact. The only quarter for radical criticism is to judge a given social order by one’s own responsibility, by the standards that are contained within that order, and by demonstrating how its actions contradict its ideals rather than ideals that are ostensibly universal or grounded in metaphysics. Only that which violates its own standards is a proper object of criticism. Immanent critique is especially mindful of the tendency of many things to turn into their opposites, as when the philosophy of the Enlightenment little resembled the authentic enlightenment of the proletariat that critical theorists had in mind, or when the democratic ideal deteriorates into ‘a new mythology . . . in the form of popular verdicts on each and every matter, implemented by all kinds of polls and modern techniques of communication.’ Democracy in a cheapened form ‘has become the sovereign force to which thought must cater. It is a new god, not in the sense in which the heralds of the great revolutions conceived it, namely, as a power of resistance to existing injustice, but as a power of resistance to anything that does not conform.’8 In the economic realm in particular, ideals show a tendency to be transformed into counterfeits: ‘fair exchange into a deepening of social injustice, a free economy into monopolistic control, productive work into rigid relationships which hinder production, the maintenance of society’s life into the pauperization of the peoples.’9 The claim to radicality, then, does not entail that critique forms a totalizing or rationally autonomous view of its object. Theorizing never allows one to escape one’s finitude or behold the absolute. What it does allow the critic is a standpoint from which to identify the rootedness of a given object

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in particular human interests. While all ideas are rooted in history, culture, and interests, their claim to truth can be assessed independently of these – especially class – interests. This is the task of the critique of ideology. False consciousness or ideology in Horkheimer’s sense refers to ideas that prevail in a given culture while concealing the class interests that they serve. Liberal capitalism is a cloak for bourgeois egoism; while speaking the language of individual freedom and the common good it turns these values into their opposites in ways that escape the notice of most persons, including those whose interests it violates. Behind claims of impartiality the ideology critic unmasks sectarian interests of various kinds, most especially the self-interest of the powerful and the affluent. To say of an idea that it is ideological, for Horkheimer, ‘is not to say that its practitioners are not concerned with pure truth. Every human way of acting which hides the true nature of society, built as it is on contrarieties, is ideological, and the claim that philosophical, moral and religious acts of faith, scientific theories, legal maxims and cultural institutions have this function is not an attack on the character of those who originate them but only states the objective role such realities play in society.’ Not all illusions are ideological in this sense, while ideas that are ‘valid in themselves’ may function ideologically if they serve to conceal and legitimize the interests of dominant groups and the contradictions to which their ideas and actions give rise.10 Ideology in this sense bears not only on economic practices and their legitimation but on the general ways in which human beings think, act and relate to each other, including the ways in which they perceive their own interests. The critic’s task, then, is to expose the basis of ideas within factional interests as well as in history, and without falling into a debilitating relativism. The proletariat’s own attitudes, values and tastes are as likely to be mired in an ideology that enslaves them as the upper classes are inclined to believe what serves them and ensures their continued domination. In both cases, to say that their ways of perceiving and evaluating are ideological is not necessarily to say that they are false but that they are effects of class interests. To get a better idea of the kind of radical critique that Horkheimer had in mind let us take a look at a few examples from his writings. In ‘The Social Function of Philosophy’ he would ask of Descartes’ thought both the sociological question, of what particular social group his philosophy is properly viewed as an expression and more importantly what ‘decisive historical process’ explains the philosophy and the group itself. Cartesian rationalism reflects an economic system that depended upon ever increasing precision in mechanistic and mathematical thinking. Radical criticism enjoins us therefore ‘to study the productive system of those days and to show how a



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member of the rising middle class, by force of his very activity in commerce and manufacture, was induced to make precise calculations if he wished to preserve and increase his power in the newly developed competitive market, and the same holds true of his agents, so to speak, in science and technology’ as well as other areas of intellectual life. In philosophy no less than economics, ‘the given approach to the world was its consideration in mathematical terms.’11 The ways of an ascending bourgeois class pervaded the culture and brought about a general cultivation of habits and notions that served its interests. The philosophical implications of this pervasive historical process were what occupied Descartes and others whose penchant for mathematical and mechanistic thinking did not arise in a vacuum but drew upon the historical culture to which it belonged. Related to this is the critique of instrumental rationality that Horkheimer and other Frankfurt School theorists proffered. Here again is an ideal that is transformed into a counterfeit. Reason, conceived since ancient times as a fundamental mark of our humanity, is now solely an affair of calculation, prediction and gain on a model of mathematics and economics. In modernity the rational animal is strategically clever and efficient in pursuing its arbitrarily chosen ends. It is able to adjust means to ends profitably, not only in the realm of production or achieving control over nature but in all areas of life. Reason or ‘intelligence itself is becoming more like the machine’s in that it must adapt itself to ever more precisely prescribed tasks.’12 It must apply techniques to everything within its purview and assume a command over nature that transforms the world itself into an object of exploitation. ‘The complete transformation of the world into a world of means rather than of ends is itself the consequence of the historical development of the methods of production.’13 Under the weight of economic imperatives reason is reduced to a technology of profit, creating a world of exploitable objects and a life of disenchantment. The ‘iron cage’ of which Max Weber spoke is an apt description of a state of affairs in which instrumental rationalization and bureaucratization reign over human existence and ends disappear into means. Domination of nature becomes inseparable from the domination of human beings, while ‘for all their activity men are becoming more passive; for all their power over nature they are becoming more powerless in relation to society and themselves.’14 A comportment of strategic egoism and imperialism that is of economic origin reduces reason to its antithesis, together with moral concepts of freedom, happiness, justice, and so on. In the name of reason our basic orientation to the natural and social world is transformed into a pervasive unreason where everything is measured by the standard of efficiency and gain.

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A related phenomenon is the culture industry of which Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno were especially astute critics. Dialectic of Enlightenment in particular featured an important line of criticism of what had become of culture under the influence of twentieth-century liberal capitalism. In their well known critique, whole realms of cultural expression had become so many commodities to be produced and consumed without regard for anything more meaningful than entertainment and profit. In being reduced to the dynamics of exchange, culture became an industry and a product to be bought and sold. Increasingly inseparable from advertising and popular amusement, cultural works are now produced in order to be consumed, in accordance with a formula that substitutes for originality. ‘Not only are the hit songs, stars and soap operas cyclically recurrent and rigidly invariable types, but the specific content of the entertainment itself is derived from them and only appears to change. The details are interchangeable.’ Cultural and art works had become mass-produced, stereotyped commodities without soul, consumer objects calculated to suit the public taste and produce an optimal return for their producers while being devoid of imagination and significance. ‘The development of the culture industry’, they observed, ‘has led to the predominance of the effect, the obvious touch and the technical detail over the work itself – which once expressed an idea, but was liquidated together with the idea.’15 Horkheimer’s and Adorno’s critique demonstrated the myriad ways in which art and culture had again been transformed into their antitheses, imposters that are able to pass for the genuine article so long as the latter belongs exclusively to the past. An additional line of criticism that Horkheimer put forward concerns the value of individuality which liberal capitalism had also appeared to champion and which at a deeper level of analysis it cheapened and finally destroyed. Individualism conceived as a moral and political-economic imperative under capitalism had collapsed under the same weight as art, culture and reason; in being taken up in an economy of exchange relations, individuality, along with so many other values, disappeared into its opposite, leaving only its counterfeit form to survive. Persons now undermine their own individuality and in its own name, as the person’s needs and real interests are systematically falsified in a social world governed by instrumental rationality and ‘the corporate mentality.’ In his words, ‘The less the distinctive character of the individual plays a role in shaping his life and the more the members of the upcoming generation become simply functions in an increasingly planned and managed society, the more factoriented, unimaginative and conformist their thinking becomes.’ Decades



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after Horkheimer wrote these words, one would be hard pressed to deny their validity. If talk of ‘the radical elimination of the individual’ is a touch overstated, the following remarks may not be: ‘As interiority has withered away, the joy of making personal decisions, of cultural development and of the free exercise of imagination has gone with it. Other inclinations and other goals mark the man of today: technological expertise, presence of mind, pleasure in the mastery of machinery, the need to be part of and to agree with the majority or some group which is chosen as a model and whose regulations replace individual judgement.’16 An age of individualism finds the person in full eclipse and replaced by the group mentality, mass thinking, and an abject conformity that we mistake for personal fulfilment. Despite the continuing relevance of such critiques, I shall pass over their details. I mention them here for illustrative purposes only, and what they illustrate is the method of immanent criticism at work. Horkheimer held out no utopian vision for his readers and was notably circumspect on the question of solutions to the problems he so often diagnosed. His reluctance to offer solutions or alternatives is rooted in his conviction that theoretical reflection, no matter how critical, cannot anticipate the specific features of a just society or spell out in advance what consensus free persons might reach in a classless democracy. Such an order is better described in negative terms: it is a society without hegemony, exploitation, and the contradictions that beset the present state of things, but the rational society is not fully articulable theoretically. What the critical theorist can accomplish, however, is to identify sources of progress within a society and make common cause with them, most especially the proletariat. Critical reflection serves this class and the aim of securing their emancipation. If reflection in general, including the theoretical, serves particular human interests, it is the interests of this class on behalf of which the critic advocates, since their liberation entails the liberation of all. Since the common good and the general cause of progress are vitally served by abolishing the class system, the critic must side with the oppressed and endeavour ‘to hasten developments which will lead to a society without injustice’ – including in cases where the critic ‘can find himself in opposition to views prevailing even among the proletariat.’ Theoretical and critical knowledge reveals neither a utopian vision nor political absolutes, yet it does aim to comprehend society and history as totalities and in this light to identify strategies toward our common emancipation. Criticism makes no claims to unconditioned objectivity even while Horkheimer and other critical theorists would continue to speak in somewhat essentialist terms of the ‘real meaning’ of a given phenomenon and of ‘real social causes’ as theoretically knowable objects.17

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Critical theory’s indebtedness to Marx is a source of numerous philosophical difficulties, including Horkheimer’s essentialist and at times dogmatic tendencies. The language of real meanings and objective causes of social phenomena rests upon several unsupportable assumptions and a totalizing perspective that Horkheimer himself abjured. The ambition to unify philosophy and science and the claim to scientific status for social criticism are as dubious as they are unnecessary if what we seek is a basis for reasoned criticism of our interpretations or way of life as a whole. Social criticism requires no exaggerated epistemological, metaphysical or scientific claims, as his own practice as a critic well illustrates. The examples above demonstrate Horkheimer’s considerable skill as a critic of his times, and should one subtract from these critiques claims made in more theoretical moments about scientific objectivity, historical progress and deep meanings, the critiques themselves would suffer no loss. To characterize the critique of instrumental rationality or the culture industry as redescriptions rather than something more epistemologically ambitious does not weaken them as criticisms or in any way undermine their validity. To speak of them as the interpretations and judgements that they clearly are, rather than the scientific certainties that they wish to be and are not, in no way detracts from their force as criticism. What needs to be asked of the scientific social critic is what special dignity do we imagine the mantle of scientific knowledge conveys upon one’s descriptions and judgements. Why suppose that what are primarily normative claims require the confirmation of empirical science? What is it about political judgements, apart from empty enthusiasm, that causes us to make claims for them that we would not consider making in other areas of discourse, claims if not to certainty then to something rather close to it or to some totalizing standpoint that in less political moments we know better than to invoke? Horkheimer well knew that ‘man the knower is himself part of the totality, of the world and all it contains’ while insisting that reflection be critical, not traditional, and that the distinction between the two is clear. That matters are not so categorical, and that dressing up political judgements in the language of objective science serves no purpose, are claims I would urge against Horkheimer and some other formulations of critical theory. On what basis would we claim, with Horkheimer, that all criticism is immanent and, against him, that all criticism is interpretation and an interpretation that is inseparable from tradition? The claim regarding immanence is rooted both in phenomenology and in scepticism about the various forms of unconditioned reflection that philosophers for centuries have sought without success. After Nietzsche and Heidegger in particular,



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it is no longer possible to deny that thinking, critical and otherwise, is embedded within a perspective and a historical lifeworld, and no philosophical or scientific powers of reflection allow us to escape this fact. Thinking simultaneously discloses and conceals our object and invokes a language that constitutes the object and frames any judgements we are likely to form of it. Criticism no less than interpretation has a factical dimension of which we easily lose sight. It is well and good to say of philosophers that they have wanted to understand the world when the point is to change it, but we neither change nor criticize what we have not first understood, and understood not as a god might but in ways that are historically contingent, linguistically mediated, perspectival and partial. Having a mind to criticize, in a political vein or any other, neither enables nor requires us to rise above our participation in a lifeworld. Indeed it is a form of such participation, including when the lifeworld itself, or some aspect of it, is our object. Rather often what we wish to critique has already constituted us. To say this appears to many to undermine the very possibility of critique, or one that can make a claim to rationality, yet this is an illusion. Criticism is invariably preceded by tacit interpretations, concepts, symbols and values that provide reflection with a fundamental orientation. Critical awareness is never in the sovereign position of absolute distance from its object but is embedded in every case within an ontological preunderstanding. To suppose that through criticism we could get behind tradition or language itself to its ‘real’ determinants is to misrepresent both as mere adjuncts of social reality rather than the conversation that we are and, in the case of language, the universal medium in which the things themselves come into view. To engage in critique is always already to have conveyed an initial intelligibility upon our object, integrated it within a conceptual framework, and subsumed it under a universal. Explicit criticism and judgement are subsequent to being-in-the-world and involve the introduction of the same hermeneutical ‘as’ that belongs to interpretation in general. We are speaking here not of a simple apprehension of what presents itself to the unclouded eye but of a perception that selects which aspects of an object are of special relevance. In social criticism the moral-political vocabulary that we speak crucially affects which aspects of a case we shall identify as salient and hence the judgement we form. A normative language directs reflection in particular ways and informs what we are likely to regard as the relevant features of moral or political cases. It is thus far from trivial which normative language social criticism adopts, for it disposes criticism this way or that and unconceals social reality in ways that are far from objective. Criticism is a linguistic event, and not least

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when language is our object and is asserted to be mired in ideology. This verdict is not reached from a prelinguistic location – indeed there is no such location – but from a particular normative vantage point, a horizon of tacit evaluations and prejudices that simultaneously precedes, makes possible and limits reflection. It is here that the hermeneutical dimension of critique comes into view: against all conceptions of presuppositionless knowledge, critical reflection, no matter how rigorous or interdisciplinary, presupposes a set of tacit evaluations, many of which escape our notice and are accepted uncritically. Neat separations of criticism and tradition are possible only when we neglect the factical dimension of the former. When we survey everything that can fairly count as acts of reasoned criticism, including examples from Horkheimer’s work, we do not see any transcendence of the immanent or exercises in scientific objectivity but interpretive judgements that are often and anxiously presented otherwise. Aspirations to objectivity and scientificity, of course, are nothing new in political discourse, and the claims of critical theorists to have radically seen through the subterfuge and made good on these aspirations once and for all ring about as hollow as the similar claims of Marx and so many other modern theorists. Underlying these claims is a longstanding and deeply rooted anxiety about both interpretation and a conception of judgement that is uncertain, finite and rhetorical. For so long now the idea has been that we can and must rise above all this, and that any claim to the contrary must lead to conservatism or relativism, that there is nothing surprising in Horkheimer’s insistence that critical theory can deliver on Marx’s promise of placing criticism on the secure path of a science. The promise and the aspirations associated with it are remnants of foundationalist epistemologies and metaphysical schemes that can no longer be taken seriously. Critique is not a science but an art, and one that belongs to the applied side of hermeneutics. It does not soar above tradition but is a way of participating in it. To see this, it is generally better to look less to theoretical statements than to the critical practice of figures like Horkheimer, whose various critiques demonstrate the same involvement in tradition and the hermeneutical circle, the same perspectivity, rhetoric, metaphor and narrative, the same hermeneutical as-structure, subsumption of particulars under universals and search for coherence as what characterizes interpretation in general. The ‘eclipse of reason’ of which Horkheimer wrote presupposed no purely objective or scientific grasp of Reason itself any more than the critique of the culture industry depended on some ahistorical superinterpretation of culture or the critique of individualism rested on anything more than a plausible and contestable interpretation of the person and a judgement



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about the life that suits it. Social theorists, including later Frankfurt School figures, often erect elaborate superstructures for critique that the critiques themselves do not require. The intent, of course, is to raise the discourse above the art of interpretation and persuasion, but in the end we are left with judgements that are no less disputable than if we had abandoned the superstructure and declared them the interpretations that they are. The critique of the culture industry is a story about what is happening to us, a narrative with a moral and a warning, and it is one of the most valuable critiques to have emerged from the Frankfurt School. Whether it has unified the philosophical and the scientific, delivered a telling blow, or beheld the absolute matters not at all; it is good description. When we attend phenomenologically to the practice of criticism, including Horkheimer’s, what we find is the same dialectical structure as that which characterizes all hermeneutical reflection. Ricoeur spoke of this as the dialectic of recollection and innovation, and it is a fitting description of what we do and what happens to us in this practice. The critical attitude recalls from tradition a conceptuality that it brings to bear upon its object while also applying concepts imaginatively. Imagination for Ricoeur is a linguistic capacity that responds to the need for original signification or semantic innovation, for loosening the hold of received ways of speaking by differently categorizing particulars and reimagining the categories themselves. New meaning emerges when a different conceptuality is brought to bear, and imagination is the capacity to modify perception and extend the limits of understanding by disclosing new possibilities of interpretation. In bringing hitherto disparate phenomena into sudden proximity, for instance, imaginative predication transcends established meaning by ‘misusing’ language as it is habitually understood. While operating within a settled order of language, metaphor in particular fashions new meaning by creating a breach in this order. The transference of meaning from one conceptual domain to another is not only a borrowing of terminology but a transgression of boundaries and a violation of the normal functioning of language, and it is a transgression and a violation on which critique directly depends. Metaphorical language redescribes by reclassifying; in ‘mistaking’, as it were, one thing for another, it modifies the received meaning of concepts and reforms existing systems of classification. Disrupting the old order makes it possible to describe what had hitherto been unexpressed and unexpressible. It becomes intelligible to speak for the first time of history as a class struggle, civilization as repression of desire and life as will to power. In every case we are not grasping an essence or explaining an effect but introducing a new application of the hermeneutical ‘as.’18

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It is a profound misconception that because interpretation is embedded within language and culture it is unable to gain any purchase for critique when language and culture themselves are ideological. The allegation from critical theorists that hermeneutics leaves us with an attenuated critical capacity or an unreflective conservatism assumes that factical recollection is not one moment of a dialectic, along with semantic innovation, but its only moment. Historically situated, critique appropriates what is passed down to us in tradition while also extending the horizon that we occupy by questioning received meanings and creating new modes of disclosure. There is no captivity within language, nor are meanings ever so settled that we are forbidden from questioning and revising them. It is a misconception as well that recollection and innovation, tradition and critique, stand in unvarying opposition. If the critical attitude remains oriented by tradition, it is also capable of modifying perceptions through creative utterances that open up new possibilities of meaning, that reveal what habitual understandings conceal, and that transform what is given into what is questionable. If it is largely the innovative dimension of critique that introduces an attitude of suspicion, it is an attitude that is rootless unless it arises from an historical lifeworld. Criticism remains a possibility so long as semantic innovation, imaginative redescription, practical judgement and dialogue about the social ills of our times remain open to us. Critical consciousness reveals and conceals in the same gesture and in no case amounts to total disclosure. To speak of it as interpretive disclosure means that we are revealing not only meanings but the interests and prejudices that underlie our way of life. Received evaluations very often (perhaps always) conceal the interests that they serve and appear under the guise of impartiality, just as the prejudicial structure of interpretation operates for the most part behind our back. In both cases it falls to critical consciousness to bring these matters to light, and without supposing that by doing so we are revealing all and concealing nothing. To speak of objectivity here or of pure disclosure is false. We are revealing neither essences nor ‘real’ factors supposedly operating behind the facade of language and tradition but interpretations of what lies beneath our habitual ways of thinking. If critical interpretation aims to disclose what present understandings conceal, this should not be inflated into the metaphysical and quasi-scientific view that we are moving from effects to causes, appearances to realities, or manifest to latent meanings. If we wish to speak of criticism as deciphering or seeing through the subterfuge, we must avoid doing so in a way that rehabilitates essentialism yet again. Social phenomena are underdetermined in their meaning, and as long as this is the case all talk of



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objective meanings and real determinants can only amount to a dogmatic privileging of our interpretations or an attempt to derive them from the absolute. The language of critical deciphering and suspicious unmasking too often leads in this direction rather than to the more phenomenologically adequate view that we are interpreting meanings, all of which are perspectival and incomplete descriptions rather than total disclosures. This amounts to saying with Heidegger that ‘concealment, lethe, belongs to a-letheia, not just as an addition, not as shadow to light, but rather as the heart of aletheia.’19 Disclosing and concealing are dialectically correlative moments in interpretation, be it critical, traditional or otherwise. We can agree with Horkheimer that ‘[t]he real social function of philosophy lies in its criticism of the present’ so long as we do not inflate this sentiment into an impossible metaphysical and epistemological position – a position that Horkheimer at times gestured toward without going as far down the path as Marx before him or Habermas after him. We can still aim at the emancipation of humanity from whatever blinding prejudices we believe them to suffer from or from the factional interests that underlie our habitual interpretations and evaluations, so long as we do not suppose that we shall rid ourselves thereby of all prejudices and all interests or that the critic’s task is ‘to distinguish the appearance from the essence.’ There are no essences to be grasped, only interpretations standing behind interpretations. Critical reflection in every case reveals one among many possible meanings. Under the best of circumstances, it is carried out in a fallibilist spirit and remains aware that the metaphors and narratives that it constructs are partial descriptions that conceal other possible modes of disclosure. All too often it becomes so enamoured with its constructions that it mistakes a contingent way of seeing for objective explanation and metaphors for literal truths. It is not only traditional speech that can harden into dogma; the tendency to idolize its judgements and to close itself off from discussion is not unknown in the discourse that characterizes itself as critical or on the political left. When interpretations become scientific explanations, moral perceptions become moral facts, and political judgements become world-historical necessities, we may suspect that something has gone wrong in the argument and that the critical attitude itself has turned into its opposite. Criticism calls upon us to change our perceptions even while nothing compels us to do so – no foundational knowledge or ‘real’ factors operating behind the back of language. We may speak of the things themselves compelling interpretation in one fashion or another, but even here there is always liberty in how we do this. Because meaning is

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inexhaustible, interpretation leads to no final pronouncement but to more interpretation, a perpetual retelling of what things mean for us and what they might yet mean. What is described may always be described otherwise and indeed must be if language is to be a living language and if our culture is to be a conversation that is ongoing. Critical interpretation can speak of sectarian interests functioning beneath the surface of our practices; it can speak as well of a will to power underlying our values, or of any number of meanings underlying any other number. It can shed light this way and that, but it cannot reveal meaning without concealing another. It can be as suspicious and as radical as one likes, but it cannot remove its perceptions from the discussion on grounds of special insight. The critical attitude can also serve an iconoclastic function, reminding us when our ideals have deteriorated into idols and of the partiality of all our ideas. It can provoke current ways of perceiving and see through the false certainty of many a belief without deteriorating into pure negation. Since everything that can be understood can be reimagined, in principle there is nothing preventing every aspect of our lifeworld from falling under the critic’s gaze, and if not all at once then piece by piece. If it remains that the basic orientation of understanding involves a striving for agreement, we must not imagine that our agreements are so settled that they cannot or ought not be unsettled, as many critics of hermeneutics are correct in reminding us. Seeing differently and in the spirit of critique defines our participation in a lifeworld no less than any simple assent to the beliefs of our predecessors. There is no opposition between interpretation and critique, nor is the separation of traditional and critical theory as clear as Horkheimer asserted. Our involvement in tradition must indeed be critical, but too often this has been taken to mean that thought cannot stand opposed to its object without standing at an impossible distance from it. If there is no standpoint that is outside language and culture, this undermines the capacity for criticism only if we are still dreaming of a critique that pronounces the last word on its object from a standpoint of unconditioned reason. Immanent criticism is all that is possible and all that is needed to shed light on what must be attested to in any age – the abiding self-regard in our interpretations and evaluations and the workings of power in everything that we do and are. So far is hermeneutics from undermining critique that we must regard the latter itself as a form of interpretation that operates in every case within the hermeneutical circle and that looks back and forth from particular to universal in a dialectic without beginning or end. Our disagreement with Horkheimer, then, is less pronounced than that which separated Gadamer and Habermas. The latter’s claims regarding critical self-reflection were far



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more ambitious than Horkheimer’s and more vulnerable to the charges that hermeneuticists have directed at them. Horkheimer’s separation of traditional and critical theory may be too neat, his ambition to distinguish effects from causes and appearances from essences too metaphysical, and his talk of progressive social forces a touch mythical, but where he was not mistaken was in regarding critique as immanent to the lifeworld in which it operates.

Chapter 8

Deliberative Politics Jürgen Habermas The debate between hermeneutics and Habermasian critical theory lies in the background of the present study, the focus of which is Habermas’ recent work in the field of democratic theory. This work follows a trajectory that began in the 1960s at the time when Habermas articulated his critique of Truth and Method while applying it in a new direction. The most influential normative theory of democracy to emerge in the last couple of decades goes under the name of deliberative democracy. While this theory takes several forms, Habermas’ formulation is undoubtedly one of the most important, the centrepiece of which is the notion of public deliberation.1 In his view, the ultimate grounds of democratic legitimacy are the collective deliberations of the public, deliberations that are conceived in terms of a somewhat idealized set of procedures. The analysis that follows provides an assessment of deliberative politics in its Habermasian formulation which recalls the debate with hermeneutics. I wish to argue that despite its considerable merits, deliberative democracy is vulnerable to a similar line of criticism to that which Gadamer advanced in that earlier debate. Habermas has defended a conception of deliberative democracy that is intermediate between liberal and communitarian views, one that remains consistent with his earlier research on such themes as the public sphere, the critique of ideology, communicative rationality and discourse ethics. Briefly stated, Habermas’ model seeks to provide a rational basis for democracy by appealing to a conception of public deliberation. The conduct of democratic institutions is legitimate and rational in the event that it represents the outcome of procedures of public reasoning. As he expresses it in Between Facts and Norms, ‘practical reason no longer resides in universal human rights, or in the ethical substance of a specific community, but in the rules of discourse and forms of argumentation that borrow their normative content from the validity basis of action oriented to reaching understanding. In the final analysis, this normative content arises from the structure of linguistic communication and the communicative mode of sociation.’ Habermas’ proceduralism is reminiscent of the earlier notion of an ideal speech situation, conceived as a hypothetical ideal of



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open-ended and egalitarian communication oriented toward rational consensus, or a consensus based not on power but on an appeal to superior arguments and generalized interests. To count as rational, participation in democratic decision-making must be oriented not egoistically or strategically but by impartial processes of collective ‘opinion formation’ and ‘will formation’ which are generalizable in nature. In the background here is Habermas’ distinction between strategic and communicative action and the modes of rationality proper to each. Strategic or instrumental rationality (the capacity to identify efficient means of realizing given individual ends) differs in important ways from communicative rationality which seeks understanding and consensus, is free of power – particularly in the form of ideology or systematic distortion of our linguistic and social practices – and ‘is motivated solely by the unforced force of the better argument.’2 Democratic deliberations are rational so long as they conform to standards of argumentation such as the principle of universalization or ‘ideal role-taking.’3 Habermas modifies the essentially Kantian idea of a universalization test into a transcendental-pragmatic theory of argumentation. As he writes: ‘Under the pragmatic presuppositions of an inclusive and noncoercive rational discourse among free and equal participants, everyone is required to take the perspective of everyone else, and thus project herself into the understandings of self and world of all others; from this interlocking of perspectives there emerges an ideally extended we-perspective from which all can test in common whether they wish to make a controversial norm the basis of their shared practice.’4 On this conception of ‘public reason’, principles are valid if they could generate genuinely uncoerced consensus under conditions of rational discourse. As fellow critical theorist Seyla Benhabib states, ‘According to the deliberative model of democracy, it is a necessary condition for attaining legitimacy and rationality with regard to collective decision-making processes in a polity that the institutions of this polity are so arranged that what is considered in the common interest of all results from processes of collective deliberation conducted rationally and fairly among free and equal individuals.’5 Collective deliberation procedures require that political discussion be at once egalitarian, public and inclusive, free of coercion, rationally motivated, impartial, and occur in the form of argumentation or, as Habermas puts it, ‘through the regulated exchange of information and reasons among parties who introduce and critically test proposals.’6 Habermas sharply distinguishes rational from merely factual consensus, the former alone having a claim to democratic legitimacy. ‘Everything depends’, in his words, ‘on the conditions of communication and the

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procedures that lend the institutionalized opinion- and will-formation their legitimating force.’ Public reason properly so called constitutes an ‘ideal procedure for deliberation and decision-making’ and comprises ‘rules of discourse and forms of argumentation that derive their normative content from the validity-basis of action oriented to reaching understanding, and ultimately from the structure of linguistic communication.’7 While no few obstacles exist to democratic deliberation thus conceived, for Habermas such obstacles are merely empirical and accordingly, in principle at least, eliminable. The locations in which Habermas envisions such discourse coming to pass include ‘parliamentary bodies, on the one hand, and in the informal networks of the public sphere, on the other.’ He continues: ‘Both within and outside parliamentary bodies geared to decision-making, these subjectless modes of communication form arenas in which a more or less rational opinion- and will-formation concerning issues and problems affecting society as a whole can take place. Informal opinion-formation result in institutionalized election decisions and legislative decrees through which communicatively generated power is transformed into administratively utilizable power.’8 Habermas calls for a radical expansion of public fora of deliberation and informal networks of communication while applauding the ‘new social movements’ of the left which, he believes, often put this ideal into practice. Despite its centrality to deliberative democracy, the concept of public deliberation itself has received relatively scant attention from a majority of theorists in this field. As one such theorist has remarked, ‘For all the talk of deliberation among democratic theorists, few tell us what it actually is. Too many proponents of deliberation [among whom he includes Habermas] are satisfied with merely describing some very general procedural conditions and rules. Often it is thought to be sufficient to show that deliberation fulfils the requirements of political equality by maximizing the opportunities for deliberation and the number of citizens who take advantage of them. Although this is certainly true, there is little discussion of what makes deliberation public, what it can really accomplish, and when it is actually successful.’9 The basic deliberationist ideal is that public policy must be fashioned in ways that are acceptable and justifiable to people affected by them on an equal basis, while also meeting the more general requirements of fashioning an orderly and egalitarian public sphere. In his writings on both deliberative democracy and discourse ethics, Habermas often speaks of that to which persons could (hypothetically) agree, in a sense that is ambiguously intermediate between that to which they should rationally agree (according to the theorist, reasoning monologically) and that to



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which, as a matter of fact, they do agree. The ambiguity is troubling. Any political theorist would maintain that policies justified by their method ‘could’ be accepted by all citizens, if only they were rational. The decidedly hypothetical language of capability or potentiality risks watering down the original promise of deliberative politics, which is not that citizens (real persons) ‘could’ accept a given policy but that they actually would and will. What does it add to solitary reflection to say that real persons ‘could’ agree to its conclusions? It is an important matter whether public deliberation is regarded as a real or ideal (actual or counterfactual) mode of discourse. It has been customary for well over a century for democratic theorists to call for increased public deliberation and (real) participation in politics – one thinks, for instance, of John Stuart Mill and especially John Dewey, no less than Habermas – yet it is a call that at the present time is often highly formalized and restricted to participation of a rather specific kind. In its Habermasian formulation, deliberative democracy makes large demands of political deliberators, including the bracketing of a great many beliefs, values and attitudes that characterize our particularity as individuals and as members of a culture. What counts as a potentially convincing reason in political deliberation is restricted to a rather narrow range of utterances relative to what typically passes for democratic argumentation, and is limited to judgements that pass certain ideal procedures or argumentative rules which under real-world conditions are, to say the least, difficult to satisfy. The formalization and rationalization of the concept of public deliberation make it eminently questionable whether anything that currently passes, or has ever passed, for democracy is the genuine article. As James Bohman remarks, the ‘ideal approach’ that Habermas puts forward ‘. . . makes it difficult to connect normative political theory to the practices of actual democracies and to real possibilities for democratic reform.’10 This approach makes it especially odd that Habermas should look to either parliamentary institutions, new social movements of the left or ‘informal networks of the public sphere’ as fora for public deliberation, given the less than Spinozian rigour one typically observes in their deliberations, if indeed ‘deliberations’ is a suitable term. If a degree of idealism and rationalism is detectable in the concept of public deliberation that is the centrepiece of deliberative democracy, it is owing to the numerous differences between the ideal of deliberation and democratic politics as it is, or could ever be, practised under realworld conditions. Habermasian deliberation is a well-ordered, formalistic, argumentative, inclusive and egalitarian form of discourse. It presupposes

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a common orientation toward generalizable interests, the renunciation of strategic action and particularity, a general understanding and acceptance of the rules of rational discourse, a commitment to justice that supersedes the will to power and appropriate fora in which such deliberations may occur. It requires a renunciation of rhetoric and the usual antics of partisan politics, an advanced degree of good will, tolerance and respect for all opinions and differences and acceptance of the legitimacy of majority decisions with which one personally disagrees. The conditions of deliberation so conceived are still more stringent than deliberation in its ordinary connotations. Jury deliberation, for instance, places upon individuals a great many demands which are already more stringent than the requirements of ordinary political participation. Deliberation in this form presupposes not only an appropriate institutional structure and commitment to egalitarian discourse but agreement with respect to ends, an absence of private agendas, knowledge of the evidence and any relevant laws, a capacity to discern degrees of relevance and to see through lawyerly sophistry, an advanced degree of disinterest, and so on. Even personal deliberation presupposes a level of knowledge and self-knowledge, a more or less stable set of values, an array of options and a capacity for intelligent choice, among other things. Public deliberation requires many of the same conditions and far more. The idealism I have noted becomes visible when we consider the possibility of these conditions becoming translated into practice. It is perhaps not an accident that Habermas should prefer to limit his focus to large questions of political epistemology rather than to matters more pragmatic, given the obvious difficulty of applying this formalized epistemology to the real world of democracy.11 Some of the more obvious difficulties with the deliberative model include the possibility of political discourse meeting conditions of strict impartiality, equality and inclusivity, rational argumentation, communicative action or even good will or the priority of the will to justice over the will to power. Democratic discourse is no graduate seminar in political philosophy, and characterizing it as deliberation in the sense in which we have been speaking of it dramatically understates the deep conflicts and complexities that invariably belong to the realm of politics. Consider, for instance, the apparently minimal requirement of commitment to reasoned argumentation in a spirit of disinterest and good will. Do we expect this from speakers ‘deliberating’ across ideological boundaries, or in many cases even within them? Do liberals and Marxists, for example, deliberate together in a spirit of dispassionate argumentation, or feminists and religious conservatives? Do they attend one another’s



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conferences, read one another’s literature or even speak to each other rather than past each other? Might they? Habermas’ reply is that obstacles to public deliberation are merely empirical, that there is no necessity for them, and that in principle they are eliminable. The reply has optimism on its side, but it is the optimism of the rationalist and the utopian. It is precisely because political speech and action, particularly when they occur on a mass scale, seldom resemble authentic deliberation that we have parliamentary legislatures – to create a quasi-agent that can do (or at least mimic) what the general public cannot: deliberate in this sense. Even there, however, deliberation is not exactly what political representatives do when they engage each other in debate. Strategic action, political struggle, grandstanding and adolescent pointscoring are often more accurate descriptions of parliamentary debate than deliberation, descriptions that apply equally to the new social movements to which Habermas and many others look as exemplars of public deliberation. There as well, the mode of political utterance one frequently detects belongs to the struggle for power and strategic action masquerading as communicative action. The idealizing and rationalizing tendency of deliberative democracy is as old as the philosophical tradition itself, with deep roots in Plato’s celebrated critique of the Sophists and repeated in endless variation throughout the history of Western thought. At bottom it is the sentiment that if only we could sanitize language and get everyone to follow the rules then at last we could endorse what passes for truth or justice in such conversation. If only the Sophists would dispense with their rhetoric and engage in the true science of dialectic, if only we could wipe the slate of belief clean and think on the basis of clear and distinct ideas alone, if only we could conceal from citizens their nongeneralizable interests and their particularity, then at last reason would have its day. Habermas takes up this tradition and calls for greater public deliberation – provided such deliberations bracket partiality, private ends, particular identities, inequalities, the will to power, strategic action, ill will, desire, rhetoric, culture and tradition. Then at last we could embrace whatever consensus such deliberations produce. If the demos will not follow the rules – as alas they do not – then we shall take flight to a realm of idealizations and counterfactuals; we shall distinguish what people agree to from what they ‘would’ or ‘could’ agree to if only they were rational and played by the rules. Is it mere pessimism to suppose that much of what Habermas would eliminate from democratic discourse is ineliminable and that obstacles to public deliberation so conceived are more than merely empirical or

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accidental features of politics as it is currently practised, that such features are universal and perhaps ontological? Let us examine a few of the obstacles that Habermas identifies. The list – and it is a long one – includes much or all of what constitutes our particularity as moral agents: our forms of life, tradition, nonuniversalizable values, customary or shared judgements, as well as our private will and identity. It includes further everything associated with the will to power: the imperative to prevail, to exert influence, strategize, struggle and desire. Each of these is to be bracketed from reflection through the application of deliberative procedures. Yet what if these obstacles to reflection are simultaneously its conditions of possibility? When one transports oneself into ‘the moral point of view’, however formalistically conceived, is it not precisely oneself that is transported? One is not, by means of procedures or techniques of reflection, divested of all standpoint and orientation but that afforded by the procedures themselves, any more than historical consciousness transports us into alien horizons incommensurable with our own time and place. Political deliberation is never without a fundamental orientation that conditions, predisposes and limits reflection in a particular fashion, that uncovers and conceals social phenomena in non-objective ways. Even if we were to succeed in bracketing from reflection who we ourselves are, it would be far from obvious what relevance such reflection would have for us. If Habermasian deliberation would eliminate all vestiges of strategic action, ideology and power-seeking in its myriad forms, how likely is it that we could ever satisfy this condition – that we could, for instance, eliminate self-interest and the motivation to prevail in a sense that is not of strict impartiality? What we routinely observe in democratic politics is not the primacy of communicative action or impartial collective ‘opinion and will formation’ but their veritable antitheses: politicians as entrepreneurs, parties as agents of specific factions or voting blocs, and activism as an openly strategic mode of action whose modus operandi is closer to intimidation than egalitarian conversation. There is as much strategizing, sophistry and sheer noise in democratic discourse as either public deliberation, impartial will formation or even negotiation. Actually existing democracy is unkempt, not especially principled, and beholden to personality, and while there is nothing new or objectionable in wishing it radically otherwise, expecting it to become so – even as a counterfactual thought experiment – is a dream akin to the classless society or the peaceable kingdom. Conceiving of deliberative democracy as a reality, as capable of becoming one, or as a criterion of legitimacy does not bolster the democratic idea but idolizes it and undermines it in the same gesture.



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If the fundamental idea of deliberative democracy is that politics ought not be a mere matter of tallying preferences but that we may justifiably expect political officeholders to justify policies to the people who are affected by them, and beyond this that we ought to maximize opportunities for discussion among officeholders and citizens alike, there is undoubtedly much in the idea that is plausible and attractive.12 In the end, however, one must decide whether one believes in democratic discussion or one does not. Democracy and rationalism do not mix. Democratic speech is a thing of this world; it cannot be made to follow the rules of Habermasian (or any other formalist) argumentation, and ‘ideology’ and ‘systematic distortion’ remain permanent, ineliminable possibilities. Efforts to combine democratic discussion with formalist argumentation typically give rise to the following line of argument. First, the theorist proposes the need for public deliberation, in contrast to simple aggregation or utilitarian preference-tallying. However, worries quickly ensue: what about hegemony, ideology, systematic distortion, irrationality, rhetoric, appeals to emotion or mere sophistry? The solution is to replace real discourse with ideal discourse. If the people themselves will not follow the rules of rational argumentation we shall invent hypothetical deliberators who will. If this manoever is too idealistic or rationalistic, we shall reintroduce elements of real discourse and speak no longer of what citizens rationally should or factually do agree to but of that to which they ‘could’ or are ‘capable’ of agreeing.13 Any political theorist could argue that the citizens of their ideal state ‘could’ or have ‘reason to accept’ it. To be plausible, the theory of deliberative democracy must not lose touch with the practice that is actually existing political discourse. If democracy is to be a thing of this world and not a philosopher’s fiction, it cannot incorporate rationalist epistemology. In the end, one must decide whether one believes in ordinary forms of political dialogue or one does not. While it is eminently reasonable to wish for a higher level of political discussion, something dubious happens when theorists begin to speak of ‘public deliberation’ as an ideal, a slide from an aspiration – a bit of political mythos – to an epistemology. Philosophers have always aspired to deliver us from mythos to logos, but in the case of democracy a bit of caution is in order. Should we wish to speak of democracy as a politics of deliberation, we ought to regard this more as an aspiration than as a normative ideal in the usual sense. Theorizing democracy may well serve not only the usual function of theory construction but an imaginative purpose as well: to allow us to aspire and to dream. What it must not do is become otherworldly

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or lose touch with the practice of actually existing democracy. It must not in its imaginings lose sight of the fact that the democratic idea must be applicable in practice if it is to be at all useful. If there is a sense in which democracy is indeed ‘to come’, as Jacques Derrida has put it, it remains that it is also here and now; indeed it is, as Nietzsche would say, ‘human, all too human.’ If regarded as a trope or a plea, a bit of political reverie perhaps, deliberative democracy is entirely unobjectionable; however this is not how Habermas presents the idea. Were it so regarded, deliberative democracy may serve not only as a worthy ideal but indeed as a reminder of liberal democracy’s own animating spirit, in spite of the fact that it is presented as an alternative to it. It may well serve to remind liberals of the originally emancipatory and participatory spirit of liberal politics – that is, before liberalism emerged as the dominant political form of modernity and, rather quickly thereafter, became moribund. As such a reminder, or perhaps corrective, it provides a useful and attractive account of the democratic idea. It runs aground, however, when it is transformed into a new form of political rationalism. As mentioned, public deliberation as Habermas conceives of it is oriented solely by ‘the unforced force of the better argument’, where argumentation is a formalistic operation of thought that is free not only of ideology but of rhetoric as well. There is nothing unusual in this. Political philosophy from its inception has endeavoured to sanitize the language of politics in both its theoretical and practical forms, and is consistent with efforts in other areas of philosophical inquiry to separate decisively knowledge from opinion, rational speech from the irrational, emotive or merely popular. The aspiration of many a political theorist has long been to domesticate epistemically the beast that is political speech, and most especially democratic speech. The warnings of Plato and Aristotle regarding the unruliness of a politics of the demos continue to ring in the ears of contemporary theorists, including those professing an unwavering commitment to democracy. Many political thinkers of the present are no less concerned to demarcate truth, or something closely resembling it, from the merely reasonable, probable or persuasive to ordinary minds – for, as we are never permitted to forget, what an electoral majority deems persuasive may be so much ideology, systematic distortion or manifest nonsense. Even political philosophers who have rejected foundationalism, undergone the linguistic turn, or even flirted with the postmodern typically share a profound and age-old disquiet in the face of the despised other of political philosophy: political rhetoric. While rhetoric, as a matter of historical fact, belongs with politics and political philosophy from their beginnings, and while political theorists,



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wedded as they have long been to ideals of formal and rigorous argumentation, have more than occasionally strayed into the rhetorical domain, it remains among the fundamental aspirations of political theory – including Habermas’ – to reject this ill-reputed mode of speech. It is no exaggeration, however, to characterize the entire history of political philosophy as one of repeated unfaithfulness to its own anti-rhetorical ideal. It is worth noting that the most devastating critic of the Athenian rhetoricians was himself among the most skilled of ancient writers in the art of rhetoric, employing the form of the dialogue, metaphor and mythic prose with an artfulness that readers of Plato have never ceased to admire. Political theorists from Plato’s time to our own have been at once disdainful of rhetoric and skilled in its execution, never failing to have recourse to one or another tropology at strategic points in their argumentation. Yet the idea persists that we may and ought to aspire to a political philosophy, and possibly even a politics, that is free of rhetoric – and indeed, not only this, but one that is free of ideology, domination, strategic action, prejudice, partiality, particularity, and so on. Habermas is but one example of a contemporary political theorist in whose work this idea persists, imagining a day when political speech may be rid of all these distorting factors and more. Political speech would then constitute a thoroughly civilized, well-regulated and impartial form of deliberation wherein everyone followed the rules of rational argumentation and all empirical obstacles to the formation of a public will were overcome. What if, however, such obstacles are not merely empirical, perhaps indeed not obstacles at all, or not only this, but conditions of the possibility of political speech itself? The premise of Habermas’ political epistemology is that it is possible to disentangle normative content from the rhetorical form in which it appears. Habermas is hardly alone in this view; indeed, the weight of tradition is decidedly on his side. After well over a century of philosophical investigation into the fundamental intimacy of thought and language, and an increasing appreciation of language as a living and eminently human – indeed, ‘all too human’ – phenomenon, one might have expected that theories of democracy in which language so centrally figures would have gained a more adequate appreciation of the living character of political language and thought. The phenomenon that is language, as we now know, is far broader than any mere formalism of rules or structural necessities. Heidegger and Gadamer in particular have taught us to see language as comparable to a worldview, a universal medium in which phenomena in general come into view and, precisely as living language, as an unending process of question and answer, assertion and reply, and dialogical

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reciprocity. Language is forever in motion; it is a conversation that we join in midstream and that, while oriented toward consensus, never reaches a condition of finality. As Nietzsche and many of his postmodern heirs have also impressed upon us, and sometimes overdramatized, human language is not the altogether orchestrated and well-regulated affair that deliberative democrats like Habermas describe it as being or capable of becoming. In democratic speech we encounter not only oases of genuine public deliberation but struggle, desire, domination, will to power, mythology, resentment, communicative incompetence, lunacy, bombast and sheer noise. All of this is no less of the essence of democratic speech than its nobler aspect and is found everywhere that democratic institutions exist or have ever existed. Consider, to take but one instance, what invariably happens to political discussion as it is oriented toward the masses, as befits the major portion of such discussion within contemporary mass society. Here I am reminded of Sigmund Freud’s hypothesis regarding group psychology and its universal tendency toward regression. Is there not a linguistic counterpart to this phenomenon which even those untrained in the art of suspicion may readily see? Consider some of the conditions of ordinary dialogue that are more or less held in abeyance in the usual course of democratic speech aimed at a mass public: a degree of consensus between speakers, or one that is found with relative ease; a common language and horizon of understanding within which agreements and disagreements alike become meaningful; relative ease in orienting discussion toward a communicative rather than strategic orientation; agreed upon terms of description and evaluative standards; a shared sense of the problem or question before us; an inclination to speak to each other rather than past each other for the purpose of impressing a mass audience; dialogical responsibility (meaning the obligation to respond directly to the claim of one’s interlocutor rather than skirt round it for a strategic purpose); a degree of good will; and the capacity to listen. Indeed here even the elementary art of listening is in short supply, where listening involves not merely the strategic posture of registering another’s claim as a necessary prelude to destroying it, but an openness to the possibility, however improbable, of learning. If Habermas’ reply is that this other side of political speech is merely an empirical obstacle which may be removed through the application of rational procedures, it is perhaps more than pessimism that gives us pause here. How plausible is it, for instance, to regard as a mere contingency the will to power within political discourse? What are the prospects of effectively subordinating this will to the will to justice or impartiality? In the wake of Nietzsche or Foucault, this proposition appears unlikely.



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Nietzsche regarded the will to power, correctly in my view, as no accidental property of human psychology but as belonging fundamentally to the ontological condition of human existence. More fundamentally, desire – not only the desire to heed the common good but to convince others of the truth of one’s beliefs – belongs to the basic orientation of political speech. If Habermas is correct to draw attention to its cognitive dimension, he is mistaken in overlooking, or regarding as a contingency, its essential affectivity. Not only the affectivity of democratic speech but its fundamentally rhetorical character are regarded by Habermas and many other deliberationists as unfortunate accompaniments of argumentation proper, and eradicable in principle. Again, the weight of tradition is on their side, yet what do we invariably find as we scratch the surface of democratic argumentation? The first item we encounter is a narrative structure, a trope that immediately announces our entry into the rhetorical domain. It is an ‘historical’ narrative – one, moreover, of dubious accuracy: democracy, we are told, had its origin in a golden age at the dawn of Western civilization, an age that was followed by two inglorious millennia of dormancy before its celebrated rebirth in the modern period and final triumph of 1989. Democracy also belongs within a still larger narrative frame: a metanarrative of emancipation and progressive equality encompassing everything from biblical mythology to the modern Enlightenment to the various emancipatory movements of the twentieth century. Democracy legitimates itself not only by means of principled argumentation but by recounting history in a particular way, locating itself within a world-historical saga which contains an unmistakable teleological dimension. Would we wish to say, then, that the narrative quality of democracy, or its rhetorical tropology more generally, is extraneous to the matter of its rational justification? The more general question is whether the narrative and rhetorical qualities of democratic speech are mere contingencies or whether they do not rather belong to its fundamental structure. That the dichotomy of philosophy (or reason) and rhetoric is false is entailed by the intimacy of language and thought that hermeneutics has brought to our attention. If we increasingly speak of the mutual dependency of thought and language, reason and desire, theory and practice, it should come as no surprise should we now speak of the fundamentally rhetorical nature of philosophy itself. ‘The new rhetoric’, as it has come to be called, challenges the age-old separation of philosophy as a discipline whose object is truth and whose means are deductive and inductive reasoning, and rhetoric whose object is linguistic forms and

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their applications in written prose and public speaking.14 The new rhetoric affirms the productive philosophical significance of language and linguistic imagination, including the fundamental significance of metaphor and narrative in various fields of philosophical reflection. As language has assumed an increasingly visible presence in contemporary philosophy, and its relation to thought, understanding and reason better conceived, the discipline of rhetoric as well has come to understand its own profound connection to reason and truth.15 Contemporary philosophy (some of it) and rhetoric alike have gained a more fundamental realization of the intimacy of word and object, the inseparability of form and content, and the legitimacy of what Gadamer has called ‘the probable, the eikos (verisimilar), and that which is convincing to the ordinary reason against the claim of science to accept as true only what can be demonstrated and tested!’16 The decline of foundationalism has entailed broadening the scope of rational speech to include not only that which admits of proof but what is reasonable and convincing within argumentation or persuasive speech broadly conceived. This encompassing of the rhetorical domain within philosophy, or overlapping and interpenetration of themes between these two formerly separate disciplines, is a consequence not only of the failure of foundationalism but of the phenomenological stance that accentuates the situated, perspectival and dialogical nature of reason while also accenting in the study of politics, in Chaim Perelman’s words, ‘the manner in which the most diverse authors in all fields do in fact reason about values.’17 Consider as a case in point the fundamental importance of metaphor and narrative in both political and philosophical discourse more generally. Important advances in thought never fail to invoke a novel tropology that logically precedes and structures argumentation, argumentation that unfolds within an interpretive framework that is itself a product of linguistic imagination and rhetorical invention. Metaphor and narrative are pre-theoretic constructions that gain acceptance not through formally demonstrative reasoning but by inventively synthesizing human experience in ways that are illuminating, evocative, profound, or at any rate different. Political theorists never fail to invoke a tropology in advancing their arguments, including all those who profess a disdain for rhetoric in general, and this includes Habermas. This figure appears in many ways to personify the anti-rhetorical ideal. Here at last, it seems, is a political theorist faithful to the ideal of argumentation that is free not only of rhetorical artifice but of distortion, ideology, manipulation and passion, the cold voice of reason itself. Habermas himself encourages this reading



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by dwelling on the cognitive, argumentative and formalistic dimension of discourse and warning of the corruptive power of language and the danger of systematically distorted communication. What do we find, however, in Habermas’ political writings but a narrative – not, to be sure, the classical liberal tale of the state of nature and the social contract, but an ‘historical’ narrative more powerful still. This is what Ricoeur has called the narrative or tradition of emancipation, ‘that of liberating acts, of the Exodus and the Resurrection’, and extending into the modern period of Enlightenment, liberal politics, Marxism, feminism and other ways of thinking that understand themselves as emancipatory. ‘Perhaps’, as Ricoeur has noted, ‘there would be no more interest in emancipation, no more anticipation of freedom, if the Exodus and the Resurrection were effaced from the memory of mankind.’18 If Habermas would be loath to situate deliberative democracy or his larger critical theory of society in a narrative stemming from the Old Testament, it remains that the rhetorical force and meaning of the emancipation that critical theory has long promised stem not only from an ethical-political narrative but from the oldest such narrative in the history of the West. Consider as well the basic problematic that animates Habermas’ entire project: We, the masses of the late modern capitalist West, are victims of ideology; our practices and consciousness are products of domination of which we are largely unaware; yet we must not fear, for there is a path to enlightenment; enlightenment brings emancipation, and by the grace of good fortune there are certain individuals who are sufficiently enlightened as to show the rest of us the way. If Habermas does not tell us that we have nothing to lose but our chains, he couches a promise of emancipation in a more contemporary tropology – one that speaks of ‘the inclusion of the other’ and promises an end to ideology. Gadamer’s view that ‘the ubiquity of rhetoric, indeed, is unlimited’ is not to be taken as disparaging or a comment on the frailty of human reason but in the true spirit of phenomenology.19 ‘Rhetoric is the universal form of human communication, which even today determines our social life in an incomparably more profound fashion than does science.’20 There is no eliminating rhetoric from public deliberation, no matter what procedures of reflection are brought to bear. In the realm of politics Gadamer’s observation is especially difficult to deny, yet deny it, heatedly and in one voice, is what political philosophy has done since its inception. If Habermas and other deliberative democrats are correct in asserting that it is necessary to choose between discourse and violence, they err in inflating the distinction into a full-fledged dichotomy wherein public deliberation is a sanitized and potentially power-free enterprise. Democratic speech in real-world

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conditions is far too agonistic and rhetorical ever to satisfy Habermas’ ideal. The words and deeds of political actors are oriented toward the art of persuasion, bringing others around rhetorically to one’s way of thinking, and seeing one’s own values reflected in public institutions as much as it is toward public-spiritedness. Indeed, public-spiritedness or civic-mindedness itself, where it is not a rationalist fiction but an achievable ideal, is inherently confrontational and implicated in the will to power. Deliberationists like Habermas are caught in a bind: they are proponents of informal networks of public discussion of which as rationalists they must take a very dim view. They are democrats who do not believe in democracy, or any democracy that could ever exist on earth. As I argued in Chapter 2, there is a conception of communicative reason that can renounce the more brutal forms of the will to power without becoming yet another form of rationalism, a discursive practice that is rhetorical, agonistic and far from utopian, but that is symmetrically structured and oriented toward reciprocity. The conception of reason of which democracy may well stand as a symbol is the reason that is inherent in ordinary dialogue, including that which does not conform to formalist paradigms of thought but that draws upon ordinary capacities of practical judgement, social criticism, persuasion, reason-giving and negotiation. This is a nonformalist rationality, the principal features of which are openness to communication and learning, a willingness to offer and receive criticism and to test its convictions against opposing values. It is a fundamentally undogmatic practice of identifying compelling arguments and fashioning reasoned, if limited, agreements, one in which no speaker enjoys special authority or insight into the truth about justice, and in which all alike share the burden of expressing judgements and defending them in the face of competing views. Communicative reason takes differences very seriously indeed, even as it remains oriented toward fashioning some manner of common ground, some overlapping consensus and temporary compromises with which we can live. It is a rationality that is at once rhetorical, critical, civic-minded, power-seeking, partial and undogmatic. Above all, it is one that is prepared to negotiate, to compromise and to lose as often as it wins. What it is not is an ideal procedure whose outcome can be safely guaranteed, a political epistemology in the tradition of the social contract, the categorical imperative or the utilitarian calculus. It is closer to a symbol and an aspiration than a method, one that transforms enemies into discussional adversaries. In politics violence is the only ultimate alternative to open discussion, and if it is objected that it is present in such discussion as well, perhaps in nascent form, one would be



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hard pressed to disagree. Yet it is all that we have and all for which we can reasonably hope. Communicative reason as hermeneutics conceives of it recognizes otherness while mediating between self and other by the only means available to it: the boundless will to communicate. The mediation that democratic politics undertakes approximates neither the solidarity of communitarianism nor the veritable warfare of identity politics in its less moderate forms. It preserves and negotiates tensions of sameness and difference, unity and diversity, in a logic of the back-and-forth that, in a dialectical and pragmatic spirit, resists all finality. What must be questioned is the tendency, as old as the Western tradition itself, to transform reason into rationalism in one or another variety. This age-old tendency in philosophy is so entrenched in thought that it is often taken, or mistaken, as the characteristic stance, perhaps even the essence, of philosophy itself: to ‘supply its [morality’s] principle’, as Kant so modestly put it in the Preface to his Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals, as if the formalist model that was to follow were a mere ‘correct[ion]’ or supplement to the ancient question of the good life for human beings – a supplement, moreover, quite natural and appropriate to rational beings.21 It is in order to ‘supply its principle’ that rationalist thought from Plato to Habermas has always sought to sanitize and legitimate what passes for reasoned utterance, to pronounce the definitive verdict upon such discourse. Supplying democracy’s principle means supplying a method by which to separate opinion from knowledge, interpretation from some cognitive state displaying greater formal and methodological rigour. The question of democracy then becomes an epistemological one: How do we know that majority-approved measures are in fact just? What makes them just? If the answer cannot be that they partake of the Form of Justice itself, then perhaps we can formulate a political epistemology, a method or standpoint from which to answer these questions with formal certainty. Historically, there is a tendency, as common among ancient as among modern thinkers, to transform almost imperceptibly, and by a seemingly inevitable operation of thought, reason into rationalism, including the reason that is inherent to democracy itself. The practice of reasoning – of ordinary reason-giving, justifying, criticizing, questioning, persuading, dialogical toing and froing – is transformed in the hands of many a philosopher into a dogma – a method or an epistemology, ideally one that might include a guarantee. Socrates, the gadfly of the Athenian marketplace, the great poser of questions and professor of his own ignorance, becomes Socrates the Platonist, the philosopher of the Forms, whose ignorance succumbs to death by a thousand qualifications. The pattern is repeated so

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often in the Western tradition that it begins to look like the fundamental movement of spirit itself, as Hegel would say, the great world-historical, and by all means rational, directionality of thought as such. Thus, in political thought the idea that our institutional arrangements should be subject to general discussion and public approval – an eminently reasonable idea – shades into highly contestable forms of ideality, on the grounds that we must know whether the outcome of such discussion is rational, thus relieving the anxiety bequeathed to us by Plato and Aristotle, and confirmed by history, that the demos is as ill-equipped for political rule as for the pursuit of wisdom. For Habermasian deliberationists, democratic politics is a politics of the forum, not the market, and democratic rationality is communicative, not instrumental. What this model lacks in realism it would make up for in idealism, and with some considerable plausibility. It is eminently sensible to speak of democracy as a common effort to resolve differences of opinion through persuasion rather than force, as a search for unity within difference and for a conception of the common good that transcends mere preference tallying. It is here that we find the intuitive core of the deliberative model: democratic politics as dialogical, potentially harmonious, peaceful, egalitarian and free. It begins to appear fanciful when this basic idea is articulated in a vocabulary of collective will and opinion formation, of ‘achieving common ends’ by citizens and legislators ‘tak[ing] counsel together’ as a fundamentally harmonious community.22 It is a fine-sounding idea, surely. What democrat does not long for election campaigns in which politicians argue – actually argue, using careful reasoning and generating well-justified conclusions – about issues of public policy, in which citizens debate the same issues in a spirit of disinterested inquiry and hermeneutical dialogue, with an open mind and an unwavering commitment to justice? If only it were so. For deliberationists it may well be so, but only if certain highly formalized conditions are met. A basic choice confronts the deliberative and all varieties of democrat: to believe in dialogue or not. Those who do not substitute a monologue of rationalist methodology in one form or another. The concept of dialogue receives a far more adequate formulation in hermeneutics than in the theory of deliberative democracy. Hermeneutics rightly insists on the profound difference between dialogue and monologue, where the former connotes a non-formalized back-and-forth movement of question and answer, assertion and reply, in a spirit of fallibility and openness. So conceived, dialogue is the social counterpart of Aristotelian phronesis and draws upon the competencies of ordinary speakers without formalist



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methodology. It generates consensus and solidarity on occasion, yet one that remains invariably open to contest and possibly radical revision. The dialogue that is wedded to rationalism is a dialogue in name only, a disguised form of monologue. If the fundamental orientation of a democratic citizenry is not merely strategic or competitive, nor is it (in fact or capable of becoming) wholly the opposite. Public debate invariably contains an underside of non-deliberation, ideology, knee-jerk thinking, recalcitrance and bombast. If there remain grounds for optimism regarding the capacity of human intelligence to bring about some semblance of dialogical rapprochement, it will not approximate the well-orchestrated, rationalized conception of this dreamed of by deliberationists. Among the philosophical conceptions of dialogue currently on offer, the hermeneutical and rhetorical view that Gadamer and other hermeneutical philosophers have defended is far and away the most adequate phenomenologically. For Gadamer, the dialogical process is not governed by methods but calls upon ordinary capacities of critical discernment and practical judgement, interpretation and the creative interchange of question and answer.23 Gadamer’s account of language as the practice of dialogue, and of dialogue as at once a hermeneutical, rhetorical and world-disclosing practice stands in stark contrast to rationalistic conceptions of public deliberation, and is certainly less vulnerable than the latter to the charge of utopianism. Even the hermeneutical conception is not one that we should expect to see realized in democratic discourse – a discourse that is invariably strategic and bombastic as well as rhetorical in a less objectionable sense. If communicative reason, conceived along more hermeneutical than Habermasian lines, is the antidote to much of what presently ails our democracies, the questions this leaves us with concern the prospect of dialogue in a globalized world and the conditions that would make this a genuine possibility.

Chapter 9

Discourse Ethics Karl-Otto Apel Philosophical ethics, and specifically the premise that there is an ethics implicit in the communicative process, is the most productive meeting ground for hermeneutics and critical theory. Profound differences quickly emerge, of course, concerning how this premise and the larger argument to which it gives rise are to be formulated, yet before turning to the differences let us begin with the basic idea: communication that is oriented toward understanding (communicative action, discourse, dialogue) always already presupposes an ethics of some more or less inchoate kind which it is the task of philosophy to render explicit. Theorizing so conceived is a matter not of fashioning decision procedures from a transcendent location known as ‘the moral point of view’ but of identifying normative conditions that are implicit to conversation and that belong to its fundamental orientation. Habermas and Karl-Otto Apel are the two most noted representatives of communicative or discourse ethics, and while the argument is more commonly associated with contemporary critical theory than hermeneutics it is an approach upon which philosophers on both sides of this divide could reach at least some partial agreement. The disagreements are clear and obvious, and particularly in the case of Apel. This Kantian formalist regularly charges not only hermeneuticists but philosophers of existence, postmodernists, pragmatists and other nonfoundationalists with relativism and with committing a performative contradiction that quickly reduces each of their positions to absurdity. Apel’s brand of transcendental philosophy is influenced by the linguistic and hermeneutical turns that a good deal of contemporary philosophy has taken, yet his commitments to apriorism, foundationalism and formalism survive these turns and indeed are highly pronounced. The only alternative to relativism as Apel sees it is an ethics of discourse that identifies the idealized presuppositions of this practice and fashions these as universally valid principles of morality. This method alone affords a standpoint from which the critique of ideology and indeed ‘a critique of whole forms of life and their official languagegames’ becomes possible. This ambitious task, as he states in Towards a Transformation of Philosophy, requires ‘sailing between the Scylla of a



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relativistic hermeneutics . . . and the Charybdis of a dogmatic-objectivistic critique that no longer admits of any real discourse.’ This goal ‘can be achieved in the long run only along with the practical realization of the unlimited communication community’ of which C. S. Peirce in particular spoke.1 What is needed, Apel and Habermas maintain, is a philosophical ethics that can provide a critical standpoint on lifeworld practices and norms which goes well beyond what hermeneutics and indeed the early Frankfurt School were able to provide, both of which, Apel believes, succumb in the end to moral relativism. Social criticism requires a rigorous grounding in the pragmatic presuppositions of language, an approach that can provide nothing short of ‘a rational foundation of universally valid ethics’ while also providing ‘a radical critique of the current paradigm of philosophy.’2 Refuting relativism is as vitally important to Apel as securing the foundations of a ‘philosophy of emancipation’ and ‘the ideal of domination-free communication or discourse.’3 Such an ethics is dependent upon neither culture nor metaphysics; indeed it is ‘the only possible way of avoiding metaphysics’ and is ‘not a recourse to empirical facts either.’4 The position I wish to advance is that the considerable promise that communicative ethics holds, especially if we are speaking of the philosophical underpinnings of human rights, is compromised when it promises too much. Apel’s anxieties about performative contradictions, moral scepticism and especially relativism compel him toward the kind of dogmatic excesses that are usual when arguments are formulated with this opponent in mind. Ethical theorists who have not exorcized this demon regularly build castles of cognitivism, formalism, foundationalism and transcendental apriorism and are every bit as susceptible to criticism as the cavalier relativists about whom they worry far too much. ‘Everything is permitted’ or ‘The good is whatever convention or I myself say it is’ are not positions that need to be taken seriously, and those who do often fly to extremes of rationalist orthodoxy. Discourse ethics as Apel conceives of it is among the more orthodox positions in contemporary moral philosophy and ridding it of its excesses begins with getting over these anxieties. Before suggesting a reformulation let us examine Apel’s argument in some detail and point out as well its relation to Habermas’ position. Apel’s is a transcendental philosophy in the tradition of Descartes, Kant and Husserl, but with the difference that it begins not with any kind of ‘methodological solipsism’ but with the practice of communication oriented toward understanding or what he calls discourse. This is not hermeneutical dialogue and it has nothing to do with either rhetoric,

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negotiation, manipulation or power. We are speaking of argumentation in a formalist sense of the term, a linguistic practice involving claims to validity, meaning, truth, moral rightness and possible consensus. Discourse is ‘serious argumentation’, a power-free ‘meta-institution of all cultural institutions’, more what we are than what we do.5 It is ‘non-circumventable’ and has presuppositions or conditions of possibility that are equally non-circumventable ‘and thus far transcendental.’ ‘We cannot question these transcendental presuppositions without abolishing the performance of philosophy.’6 Apel’s method of transcendental reflection is to identify a priori the unavoidable preconditions of argumentation, be it scientific, philosophical, political or what have you. The act of discourse presupposes in every case the ideal of an ‘unlimited communication community’ or ideal speech situation in which all vestiges of domination are renounced and superior arguments carry the day.7 All speakers implicitly recognize this ideal and any whose statements or actions violate this standard fall into a certain kind of contradiction. ‘First philosophy’ so conceived is ‘transcendental pragmatics’ and it provides a foundation for practical philosophy.8 Apel advances a series of very strong claims for a philosophy so grounded. Antifoundationalism is relativism and a self-cancelling contradiction. Its only rationally consistent alternative is the method of transcendental reflection on the pragmatics of language after the fashion of Peirce’s pragmaticism and emphatically not the pragmatism of James, Dewey or Rorty, all of whom are relativists. Transcendental thought is no empirical or phenomenological investigation but is an a priori reflection upon what Kant called a ‘fact of reason’, the unavoidable and incontrovertible presuppositions of discourse and which are ‘implied in the inter-subjectivity of human communication and interaction’ in general.9 Transcendental pragmatics affords an ahistorical and fully ‘rational ultimate justification (Letztbegründung) of the “moral point of view”, and with it the refutation of moral scepticism and relativism.’10 The kind of grounding that it provides is not a derivation or deduction of conclusions from some set of self-evident truths. Moral principles, for instance, are not derived from empirical or any philosophical premises but grounded in the performance of argumentation. The distinction between a grounding through transcendental reflection and one through rationalist deduction is vital for Apel and it is the former alone that is possible after the linguistic turn. The only manner in which ‘an ultimate foundation is possible’, Apel holds, is ‘through transcendental reflection on what in argumentative discourse we cannot deny without committing a performative self-contradiction’ – a contradiction, he believes, into which a great many philosophers fall.11



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What, then, are the necessary preconditions of argumentative discourse and what are their consequences for ethics? First, by consequences we do not intend that a set of moral principles is implied in such discourse but that it is presupposed there. It is presupposed that in issuing claims about what is good or true all speakers are anticipating an ideal communication community in which claims are judged objectively and impartially. Truth and the good are that to which such a community would consent, not that to which any actually existing set of inquirers does consent as a matter of merely empirical fact. The world of reflection is removed from the empirical, and the ethical does not arise from the historical or cultural. Moral theory is a freestanding enterprise that presupposes nothing whatever of the anthropological or psychological, nor of the ontological or metaphysical. The philosopher is charged with establishing formal procedures that govern practical discourses and not the further task of ‘proposing and accepting material norms [which] he must delegate to the participants of the practical discourses.’ The discourse theorist ‘will be one of these participants too, but, within the practical discourses, he has not a privileged position but only a specific role within a division of labour between those experts who are consulted.’12 If the criticism arises that those who create the rules also win the game or otherwise occupy a position that is covertly privileged within it, Apel denies that this follows and that setting down procedures is a power play. It is argumentation alone, free of hegemony, that rules. What Peirce taught us to see, Apel states, is that the rational inquirer and specifically ‘the natural scientist must be in a position to identify himself (as an interchangeable member) with an unlimited community of experiment.’ The pragmatic view of inquiry renounces methodological solipsism and requires all investigators to submit their hypotheses to a community of their peers. Advancing a truth claim presupposes recognition of this community and one’s place in it and the corresponding recognition that in all discourse one does not retreat to a presocial location from which one merely issues one’s ‘findings.’ Instead we recognize the real community of inquiry in which we are participants as well as anticipate a community of a different kind. This is the ‘unlimited community of interpretation which is presupposed by everyone who takes part in critical discussion (that is, by everyone who thinks!).’13 For Apel, this is a ‘counterfactually anticipated’ ideal which is no less valid and binding on participants for its being hypothetical.14 The act of thinking always already presupposes a double commitment to the actually existing discursive community and its idealized counterpart ‘that would basically be capable of adequately understanding the meaning of

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his arguments and judging their truth in a definitive manner.’15 The latter ideal is the never-to-be-realized but always anticipated standpoint from which validity claims are finally judged true or false. The ethical consequences of this argument are not far to seek. Among the necessary preconditions of discourse are moral principles of a roughly Kantian kind. Without appealing to the categorical imperative itself, Apel regards particular ethical norms as elementary ‘facts of reason’, beginning with the principle of discourse. It cannot be disputed without pragmatic self-contradiction that all parties have an equal right of participation in discourse and that all claims regarding the right and the good can receive a hearing. No competent speaker may be excluded from the community of inquiry, although he would also qualify this in important ways. The act of arguing itself commits one to the meta-norm or procedural rule that good reasons alone redeem normative claims and that the judge of such reasons is the community itself. Consensus – not the real consensus of real speakers but the counterfactual agreement of counterfactual speakers – is the standard and its verdict is no more challengeable in moral than in scientific matters. As Apel expresses it, ‘in every serious argumentation – and therefore also in all solitary thinking with claim to validity! – we have always already necessarily acknowledged a normative-ethical principle, according to which all disputable questions, all discrepancies, all conflicts, etc., between communication partners, should only be decided through arguments capable of consensus.’16 What counts as a good moral argument is not that we have derived a conclusion from principles or conformed to a method, but that it is able to produce agreement by taking all parties to the discourse into consideration and eliminating the domination that so often prevails there. Good reasons are those whose force can be felt by the community of inquiry, all of whose members are committed to taking seriously all other members’ claims and interests. The assumption of moral responsibility is essentially the recognition that one’s conception of the good is a claim of which the community as a totality must judge the validity. Apel’s manoeuvre of ‘strict reflection’ allows him, he believes, to speak in a Kantian vein of ‘the moral law as a self-evidently given “fact of reason”’ without the dubious metaphysics that underlies Kantian morality.17 Transcendental pragmatics produces an ethics that is self-grounding and independent of metaphysical and empirical premises, including the ‘free acknowledgment of norms’ by real speakers which ‘is only a necessary but not a sufficient condition for the moral validity of norms.’18 Factual recognition of a given norm is not a sufficient condition of its validity since it might still fail to include all possible participants and, of course, because



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regarding it as sufficient would amount to relativism. All parties to the conversation, real and hypothetical, actual and potential, must be taken equally into account as well as all potential moral claims, all of which are judged impartially. All needs of all persons are morally relevant, any claim to the contrary amounts to hegemony, and we have implicitly recognized this in the very act of thinking. To deny any of this, Apel insists, immediately implicates us in a contradiction. This is not a logical contradiction but the pragmatic or performative contradiction of which Habermas has also spoken. It occurs when the content of a statement contradicts the act of uttering it and the presuppositions of that act. This occurs, for instance, in the liar paradox and the declaration that one is a solipsist, to take the most obvious examples; however Apel and Habermas maintain that it is a common error in philosophy. Many a position in this field is self-cancelling in this sense and Apel regularly charges his opponents in moral philosophy with this error. Avoiding it is of the highest importance for him and is vitally at stake in transcendental reflection. Any overt or covert denial of the moral or other preconditions of discourse succumbs to this error and refutes itself. It therefore becomes a test of a proposed foundation that ‘[w]e are justified in regarding those presuppositions of argumentation as ultimate principles which we cannot deny without, in the process, committing a performative self-contradiction but which cannot, for the same reason, be logically deduced without involving us in a vicious circle (petitio principii).’ This argument becomes more interesting when we move from the examples of solipsism and the liar paradox to what appear to be tenable moral and philosophical positions. Two examples that he mentions are ‘I hereby affirm that I have no truth-claim’ and ‘I hereby argue that, in principle, I need not acknowledge my communication partners as co-subjects of argumentation with equal rights of accepting and using speech-acts as arguments’, statements that commit the same error, he believes, as ‘I hereby state that I don’t exist.’19 It is no more possible to deny truth, meaning or equal rights than one’s existence or the existence of one’s interlocutor. The argument becomes more interesting still when Apel takes it in a rather specific political direction. For his part, Habermas has placed great emphasis on the principle of universalization which is a successor of sorts to the categorical imperative. As he formulates this principle, ‘every valid norm has to fulfil the condition that all concerned can accept the consequences and the side effects its universal observance can be anticipated to have for the satisfaction of everyone’s interests (and that these consequences are preferred to those of known alternative

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possibilities for regulation).’20 Apel’s formulation differs slightly: ‘I would say first: we all have equal rights as members of an indefinite community of argumentation. Second, in principle we all have equal duties, in one word, co-responsibility.’21 Equal freedom in pursuing one’s conception of the good life and equal responsibility in working to resolve the common problems of humanity are the two fundamental principles Apel identifies, both of which are to be understood as ‘conditions of human interaction that make it possible to settle all conflicts of interests by argumentative discourse and not by violence.’22 So stated, these principles cohere with a variety of moral and political positions; however Apel interprets them in specifically Marxian terms and a whole political program is thus entailed, or presupposed as an inescapable fact of reason. Non-Marxist proponents of equal rights will be surprised that Apel considers it but a short step in transcendental reflection from equal rights to Marxism. ‘For it is evident’, he states, ‘that the task of realizing the ideal communication community also implies the transcendence of a class society, or – formulated in terms of communication theory – the elimination of all socially determined asymmetries of interpersonal dialogue. “Taking up the cause of the proletariat” can possibly, therefore, be justified in ethical terms if one adopts our philosophical a priori.’23 The foundation not only of discourse ethics but of Marxian politics is fully justifiable a priori by reflecting on language and without appealing to dialectical materialism. This is a bold manoeuvre and it is coupled with a second argument that is equally bold. This is that human cultures can confidently be asserted to be evolving in the direction toward which discourse ethics points. Shifting from moral philosophy to evolutionary science, Apel claims, together with Habermas and such figures as Jean Piaget, Lawrence Kohlberg and Arnold Gehlen, that humanity is entering a new phase in its evolution and that this new stage corresponds precisely with the transcendental conditions of discourse of which Apel has been speaking. With clear echoes of Hegel and Marx, Apel attempts a theoretical reconstruction of cultural evolution beginning with the period after hominization during which institutional discipline gradually replaced instinctive behavior and the existential situation of humanity became for the first time an ethical problem. In this historical metanarrative, human morality was first conceived in self-regarding and conventional terms as both a ‘micro-ethics’ and a ‘meso-ethics’, where the first term refers to norms governing clans and the second to those governing legal states. Beginning in the period that Karl Jaspers spoke of as the ‘axis time’ in the ancient world that corresponded with the rise of philosophy and many of



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the great world religions – roughly 800 through 200 BCE – conventional norms began to be challenged and morality was increasingly grounded in religious belief and philosophical rationality. The possibility of a postconventional moral consciousness arose and by the time of modernity became philosophically well articulated and reached a high point in the writings of Kant. Moral principles in this highest stage of evolution are not only a priori presuppositions and unquestionable facts of reason but facts of history as well. For Apel, it is a fact and indeed the very telos of history that human civilization is evolving in an identifiable moral direction which corresponds to a universal and principled ‘macro-ethics’ that leaves tradition and convention entirely behind and replaces them with the kind of formalist ethics of which we have been speaking. The moral situation of humanity is now such that a universal striving for consensus of all those affected by a given norm is the only valid standard and the only alternative to a possible devolution. Discourse ethics is on the right side of history and ‘should correspond or answer to a new stage in the cultural evolution of man.’24 The ethical principles of which Apel speaks are to be understood as regulative ideas in Kant’s sense. These are not rules or decision procedures in the fashion of the utilitarian calculus or even the categorical imperative but are hypothetically anticipated ideals that are never perfectly instantiated in practice. One who engages in discourse invariably anticipates the eventual coming into being of the unlimited community of argumentation in which one understands oneself as a participant, and in a way directly comparable to Kant’s idealized ‘kingdom of ends.’ Kant did not expect the kingdom to materialize in the empirical realm, of course, and regarded human beings as having a foot in two worlds while Apel similarly views participants in discourse as incapable of fully realizing the conditions of ideal speech yet obliged to work nonetheless to this end. Ideal communication is a linguistic utopia of sorts that we ‘must anticipate . . . counterfactually’ and regard as ‘an alternative or counterworld to the existing reality’ rather than either a fully realizable end-state or an impossible idealization. Indeed we cannot be fully satisfied in speaking of the presuppositions of communication as a regulative idea, he argues, since we ‘must anticipate as an ideal state of affairs and assume as fulfilled in a certain manner, counterfactually, the conditions of an ideal community of communication or an ideal speech situation.’25 It behoves us to reach toward what in some measure eludes us. The philosopher to whom Apel is closest in a great many respects is, of course, Habermas, although a couple of differences between their

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positions ought to be noted. Both figures have attempted since the 1970s to provide philosophical ethics with a foundation in the rationality of discourse while retaining affinities with Frankfurt School neomarxism as well as Kantian deontology. Their writings both exhibit no little anxiety regarding relativism and conservatism and decided commitments to moral universalism, cognitivism and a communicative rationality that is far more formalistic than what we spoke of in Chapter 2. They agree as well that while specific norms and a fully elaborated view of the good cannot be derived from principles, the proper business of moral philosophy is ‘to ground only the procedural principle for real practical discourses . . . through which the affected persons themselves – or their advocates – can ground norms that are acceptable to all affected persons and ultimately applicable to concrete situations.’26 The theorist is one step removed from the more direct role of the utilitarian moralist, for instance, who applies principles to cases directly and with a claim to philosophical knowledge. The discourse theorist instead provides a grounding for procedures by which affected parties may reach a consensus of their own, although the theorist may also participate in such discourses in an expert capacity. Apel and Habermas diverge primarily on the question of the status of transcendental philosophy and the issue of whether the categorical separation between the a priori and the a posteriori can be sustained. For Habermas, it cannot, and the presuppositions of argumentation are at once necessary and contingent upon empirical testing and are falsifiable by the latter – a position that, according to Apel, constitutes yet another performative contradiction.27 Habermas’ ‘universal pragmatics’ is decidedly more empirical than the transcendental pragmatics of Apel, and the latter’s claim to an ultimate foundation is somewhat attenuated in Habermas’ work. One might say that Habermas is a weak transcendentalist where Apel’s transcendentalism is stronger and far less wedded to the social sciences. Both endevour to leave metaphysics behind while diverging on whether Apel’s transcendental apriorism constitutes a metaphysical position. I have cited Apel above as expressing the desire to navigate between a hermeneutics that he considers relativistic and a ‘dogmatic-objectivistic critique that no longer admits of any real discourse’, a desire that appeals to an idealized and ostensibly nonmetaphysical conception of discourse and its conditions of possibility. My suggested reformulation of discourse ethics begins with discourse itself, the method of transcendental reflection, and the anxiety about relativism that is so pronounced in Apel’s writings. The topic of relativism I shall take up briefly in Chapter 12, but for now the point I would urge is that we not take quite so seriously the prospect



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of moral philosophy deteriorating into this highly untenable and for the most part hypothetical position. Philosophers who worry too much about the happy-go-lucky relativists whom we so often hear about and so seldom encounter in the flesh habitually go to extremes to refute them, and this includes those such as Apel who distinguish rational discourse from its various antitheses in a resolutely unphenomenological and too categorical way. Like Kant, Apel takes his reason pure, undiluted by the empirical, hermeneutical, rhetorical and pragmatic in the Deweyan sense. Its business is validity claims, and a more serious occupation there is not. The transformation of philosophy for which he calls involves systematic and ‘strict reflection’ on performative contradictions and the transcendental a priori of linguistic communication while ‘the test of avoiding the performative selfcontradiction’ becomes an absolute method and a test that even Habermas fails.28 One wonders who, in Apel’s view, does not fail this test, who is not a relativist or proponent of some other position that is allegedly self-refuting. Apel surely has a point in asserting that the dialogical process contains conditions of possibility and indeed an ethics that is in some sense non-circumventable and presupposed by participants within it, which is to say all who speak and listen. There are conditions that make communication oriented toward understanding a real possibility, and these conditions include an ethical orientation toward the recognition of equal freedom and the renunciation of violence. Conversation indeed presupposes an appeal to the freedom of our interlocutor whom we are seeking to persuade with reasons rather than manipulate, and whose own truth claim we are prepared to take seriously. The difficulty with Apel’s argument is that he inflates the distinction between discourse and violence into a full-blown dichotomy which calls for a reflection that is impossibly aprioristic and historically unconditioned. The dichotomy and the mode of reflection are both dubious on phenomenological grounds, and unless we are prepared to leap into the metaphysical, as Apel claims he is not, the argument must be reconceived at this point. First, transcendental reflection into any absolute ‘fact of reason’ is metaphysical mythology. It is better to speak phenomenologically of the conditions of real dialogue than in a too idealistic way of the transcendental a priori of a communication that itself is too rationalistic, counterfactual and otherworldly. We do not need to transform Kantian apriorism or foundationalism but to reject them. Ethics has no ultimate grounding nor is it a matter of simple conventionalism, and while theorizing it indeed requires us to navigate between relativism and objectivism, Apel goes to such lengths in avoiding the former that he ends up in the latter, as determined antirelativists so often

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do. The discourse in discourse ethics is so formalistic and idealized – or, as he says, ‘strict’, ‘earnest,’ and ‘serious’ – that it loses connection not only with the unserious and unstrict but with the reasonable and persuasive.29 There is no room for rhetorical persuasion in serious argumentation as Apel conceives it, nor is there power in knowledge or any recourse to the empirical or phenomenological in the transcendental. Apel’s distinctions are often impossibly clean. Were he writing in a time prior to the linguistic, hermeneutical and pragmatic turns that he claims to have been deeply influenced by, or had he not made this claim, it would be no surprise when he sharply separates the a priori from the a posteriori, the transcendental from the empirical, argument from persuasion and conversation from domination, yet after these turns how sharp do we imagine these distinctions to be? Even dialogue and violence are neatly separable only when regarded as abstractions rather than the worldly realities that they are. ‘Domination-free communication’ is a worthy ideal only when it touches down to the real world of human practices. Under any other condition it commits the same error as older forms of rationalism and transcendentalizes its way into irrelevance. Apel still longs for a standpoint beyond history and culture, a world of pure reason in which knowledge is apodictic and even ethical judgements – the important ones – are indisputable. In the beautiful world of the rationalist, every question has an answer, conversation is about validity claims and dispassionate argument, moral disagreements are impartially adjudicated and power is easily identified and removed. The trouble is that reason is always mixed with unreason, and even reason itself is not nearly as rationalistic as formalists wish it could be. There is no domination-free communication, no non-rhetorical argumentation, and no power-free knowledge, and making things counterfactual cannot change this fact. What would knowledge be like if it were power-free, and communication were it to lack all vestiges of manipulation, strategy and subterfuge, are impossible questions. More than this, they are irrelevant. What hypothetical conversation partners would agree upon in a realm of pure hypothesis, whether it be an ‘unlimited communication community’, a Rawlsian ‘original position’, state of nature, kingdom of ends or any other, is of no importance to situated humanity. The point in speaking of an ethics of communication is to cope with the unreason that resides in all reason, not to abolish it by means of some gesture toward the absolute. These gestures always fail and there is no absolute. Communication in its higher reaches does contain presuppositions, but even these are not absolutes but conditions without which the whole business deteriorates



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into power-seeking in its grosser forms. They supply a basic orientation that under the best of circumstances makes it possible to manage disagreement and cope with the conflict of interpretations and the moral difficulties that arise when human beings encounter one another, but what they do not do is point the way toward certainty or to a conversational utopia. The tendency in all rationalism is to abstract the formal element from thinking and knowing (discarding all the rest), transform it into an absolute, imaginatively transport oneself into this (non-) standpoint, and from there be seated at the right hand of the Father in all matters epistemological and metaphysical but especially moral and political. Apel’s Marxian stand with the proletariat, he believes, is not a contestable political judgement, one way of speaking about equal rights, but a transcendentally inescapable fact of reason and scientific fact of history as well. When the claim is that denying Marxism is no different, transcendentally speaking, than denying one’s own existence, it can fairly be assumed that something has gone wrong in the argument, some contingency has been transformed into a necessity or a judgement into an iron law. If we would speak of what is non-circumventable in communication, we must speak not only of formal and ideal conditions but of real conditions that we do our best to cope with but that we cannot abolish, even as a counterfactual thought experiment. Power, negotiation, persuasion, prejudice and unreason all belong to reason itself, and no technique of contradiction avoidance will make it otherwise. They are all non-circumventable, to use Apel’s word, and whether they are transcendentally or phenomenologically so matters not at all. They are unavoidable, present wherever human beings search in common for what is true or good, and they all define the situation of reflection no less than formal claims to validity. What Apel calls ‘strict reflection’ takes place within the context of a lifeworld, of common assumptions and common sense – what Gadamer has called a ‘deep common accord’ – and in the case of moral matters of common values.30 Apart from such an accord there is no basis on which to reflect at all, strictly or otherwise, unless we revert to the methodological solipsism that Apel rejects. This brings me to another difficulty with his formulation of discourse ethics. Apel has stated that it is ‘the deadly sin in philosophy’ to attempt any ‘immunization against criticism’, and with this I am in full agreement.31 No greater error in thinking can be made than to imagine one’s truth claims, regardless of their content, to be unassailable or above the fray of real conversation. He has also stated that in the critique of ideology it is frequently necessary to cut off the conversation in order to explain,

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critically and authoritatively, the errors of our interlocutor’s ways, and it is an explanation that brooks no reply. In Apel’s words, ‘In any conversation between people it is apparent that one party no longer attempts to take the other seriously hermeneutically with regard to his intentions but rather distances himself from the other objectively as a quasi-natural entity, where he no longer attempts to create the unity of language in communication but rather seeks to evaluate what the other person says as the symptom of an objective situation which he seeks to explain from outside in a language in which his partner does not participate. Typical of this partial breakdown of hermeneutic communication in favour of objective methods of acquiring knowledge is the doctor’s relationship to his patients, and in particular the psychotherapist’s relationship to the neurotic patient. In my opinion, this model of partially suspended communication may indeed be made just as fruitful as the positive basic model of conversation for the foundation of the theory of social science.’ This immediately returns us, of course, to the terms of the Gadamer-Habermas debate in which Apel sides decisively with the latter. Without rehearsing that debate, a question that Gadamer raised for the ideology critic is under what conditions may one justifiably refuse ‘to take the other seriously’ and regard our erstwhile interlocutor ‘as a quasi-natural entity’ whose truth claims call no longer for the reply of a peer but for the explanation of an expert. Apel acknowledges that it is ‘an extremely delicate moral problem’ – and, one would think, a rather difficult epistemological matter – to identify ‘[i]n what situations and by virtue of what criteria may one participant in a communicative exchange claim for himself an emancipated consciousness and consider himself, therefore, to be authorized to act as a social therapist.’ It is a delicate problem, but not, it would appear, a difficult one. With remarkable resoluteness Apel asserts that ‘psychological and social-psychological behavioural analyses can quite easily function like causal explanations – on the basis of laws – which are applied to the object from outside’, and that ‘the model of psychotherapy can be transferred, to some extent, to the relationship of the philosophy of history to the self-understanding of human society.’32 Habermas had argued along similar lines, and the two theorists agree as well that Kohlberg’s inquiries in moral-developmental psychology have provided a scientific basis for assessing our interlocutor’s level of moral competence as well as our own. In Kohlberg’s account the sixth and highest developmental stage accentuates formal and universal principles and corresponds perfectly with discourse ethics. The social scientist is now in a position to critique, explain or otherwise pronounce with authority upon the interlocutor’s claims, including their moral-political judgements. It so happens



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that persons at stage six are very few in number, according to Kohlberg, from which it follows that the proper judges of the moral and communicative competence of the participants in conversation will be few.33 Let us imagine such a conversation. Were our topic the justice or injustice of capitalism, for example, and a participant in the conversation were Friedrich A. Hayek, the ideology critic would not meet his argument in defence of a free market with a counterargument but explain his view as a certain kind of symptom; his texts, we shall say, are a rationalization of the vested interests, a systematic distortion of language or indicative of someone at an inferior stage of moral development. We are offering not a judgement on the validity of his argument but an expert’s verdict upon his competence. It goes without saying that he is not free to pronounce upon ours, for we stand at the forefront of moral development, communicative competence and cultural evolution. There is as much dogmatism here as in any older and more orthodox form of Marxism. While Apel repeatedly states that ‘all the participants in this discourse have, in principle, an equal right to solve problems within this operation’, this becomes a hollow assertion when a few participants claim special rights and special competence.34 So long as we follow procedures identified by the theorist, and so long as we are stage-six universalists, deontological formalists and left intellectuals, we are free to join the unlimited communication community; otherwise we are out of order and likely incompetent. The arguments of the latter group do not warrant counterarguments but dismissal on procedural or competence grounds. If Apel is correct that ‘the deadly sin in philosophy’ is to immunize our views against criticism, and if our views include a highly debatable moral-political stance, the implication is clear. If the hermeneuticist is a self-contradicting relativist, the discourse-ethical critic of ideology is a sinner. Gadamer put the point more gently: he or she ‘is a spoilsport whom one shuns.’35 Either way, the argument is dogmatic, as is any move to suspend the conversation on grounds of special competence. This leads me to propose a discourse-ethical principle of my own, which I should like to call the principle of hermeneutical good faith. This is not good will in the sense that Gadamer spoke of it in his encounter with Jacques Derrida (a topic I shall discuss in Chapter 11). Hermeneutical good faith involves a double anticipation, the first of which concerns our interlocutor’s truth claims while the second concerns our interlocutor him- or herself. First, it is imperative that in the encounter with an interlocutor or text we are prepared to take their claims to truth seriously, which means to anticipate that they may be right and that we ourselves have failed to understand something. Gadamer frequently spoke to this point, and while it appears elementary

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I believe it warrants the emphasis that he placed upon it. The second imperative is that we anticipate our interlocutor is competent and a worthy adversary in the event of disagreement. Leaving aside the content of their truth claims, they themselves are our peers and must be engaged as such. If our knowledge or credentials exceed their own, they are not for that reason unfit to engage in the conversation of humankind. Bad faith in this sense is a general posture that is not prepared to take the other seriously in the sense not only of deception but, perhaps more importantly, of intellectual imperiousness. There are times in conversation, as Apel says, when the anticipation of truth is put aside and we must move to an explanatory discourse that seeks to view the other’s claims as a certain kind of effect or symptom. The question is under what conditions this move can be made in good faith. When Freud provided a psychoanalytic explanation of religious belief, for instance, was this a legitimate move in the conversation or an attempt to escape it by arrogating to himself a point of view and a knowledge in which the other may not participate? Supposing that the explanatory account he offered in such texts as Moses and Monotheism and The Future of an Illusion were true and we came to regard religious belief as a neurotic symptom, would this relieve us of having to take the believer and religion itself seriously as a philosophical matter? We are speaking here of ideas, not only persons and their pathology but ideas around which a good part of human life and culture have been organized for millennia. We are free to reject these ideas, of course, but doing so solely on psychological or other explanatory grounds is a case of bad faith. The same can be said of Kohlberg’s ostensibly scientific treatment of moral ideas that are prior to stage six, which is to say the ethical orientations of nearly everyone in contemporary and all prior societies. Utilitarian moralists, for instance, rightfully expect to have their arguments taken seriously, including by persons who claim to have reached a higher stage of development. Even if we accept Kohlberg’s account – and I would not recommend that we do – we are not relieved of having to rebut utilitarianism on properly philosophical grounds. But perhaps the clearest example of hermeneutical bad faith comes not from Freud or Kohlberg but from Marx and the neomarxists. No amount of transcendental reflection, dialectical gymnastics or political enthusiasm legitimates the kind of high-handed dismissals of ideas toward which too many in this group have long been inclined. Theoretical notions of dialectical materialism, progress, cultural evolution or communicative competence do nothing to satisfy the longing so many have to rise above the fray of conversation or to pronounce the final word within it. Left intellectuals do not sit at the right hand of the absolute. They are political interpreters along with the rest of us.



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There are no criteria and there is no right for any participant in inquiry to claim special status for oneself or one’s claims, including when those claims are explanatory. Bracketing the issue of our explanation’s truth value, the move to explain why our interlocutor is speaking as they are rather than interpret their expressions in a more hermeneutically usual way is legitimate in the event that we also provide a philosophical counterargument to their position that is independent of our explanation. Freud did not refute religion, even if one finds his account of the psychology of the believer compelling, nor did Kohlberg refute any moral position whatever by asserting that it belongs to a lower developmental stage. If we would speak with Apel of an ethics that is implicit to or presupposed within the conversational process, we must include a principle of good faith that would prevent any speaker from claiming false expertise in an inquiry in which we are only ever participants. Rational communication is impossible when some speakers believe it falls to them to assign their interlocutors an order of rank, on transcendental-pragmatic or any other grounds. If one necessarily presupposes anything at all in the acts of speaking and listening, it is that our fellow speaker is worthy of being spoken and listened to and that their competence is not less than our own. Should we suspect in the course of inquiry that their claims must be explained as effects or indeed that their competence is in question, this does not count as a refutation of the claims themselves. There is indeed an ethics of communication and principles without which the whole business deteriorates into something fraudulent; however, fraud comes in many forms and Apel has not provided a complete account of it in speaking in too narrow a way of ideology and domination. The investigative process presupposes a commitment to equal rights and equal responsibility. It presupposes as well a ‘deep common accord’ in the sense of moral preunderstandings, common sense and shared aspirations which we do our best to bring about without ever finally succeeding. It is likely that all our moral-political principles are of this nature, not formal rules or a priori necessities but aspirations held in common by all those who take seriously the need to understand what is true and what is good. We may speak of them as regulative ideas, but the language of transcendental apriorism is too metaphysical and inclines us to overlook that aspirations are not absolutes but possibilities and projects that lie always ahead of us and that remain subject to the conversation. While implicit to this conversation is an ethical orientation, it is nothing as specific as Marxian politics or as formal as Kantian morality. It is more like a constellation of ideals and symbols that require ongoing interpretation and that show an abiding tendency to

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be mixed with their opposites. Communication and domination, reason and unreason, freedom and servitude are antithetical only when regarded metaphysically. Regarded phenomenologically, they define our aspirations and the projects at which we sometimes succeed and sometimes fail.

Chapter 10

Genealogy and Suspicious Interpretation Michel Foucault Post-Heideggerian philosophy is often said to branch in two principal and conflicting directions: philosophical hermeneutics and poststructuralism/postmodernism. How profound this conflict is and whether Michel Foucault in particular took us ‘beyond hermeneutics’, as a great many poststructuralists and postmodernists maintain, are the questions that orient the following discussion.1 Rorty’s claim, cited in Chapter 6, that hermeneutics ‘has been replaced by poststructuralism’, or surpassed by it, is repeated with some frequency in the literature. Béatrice Han, for instance, writes that Foucault’s ‘understanding of interpretation returns neither to traditional exegesis (the “commentary” that the archaeologist despised so much) nor to a hermeneutics of suspicion such as Ricoeur’s, which presupposes the existence of a profound meaning deformed by everyday comprehension and practices of subjects, recoverable through an analysis of these distortions.’2 Foucault’s archaeological and later genealogical projects both invoke a concept of interpretation that owes a great deal to Nietzsche and Heidegger. For all three of these figures, interpretation in every case is perspectival, linguistic and historically conditioned. While genealogy has a critical intent, in no sense does it allow the interpreter to rise above their own cultural embeddedness, in contrast to the objectivist aspirations of some forms of critical theory. If the claim is that poststructuralism/postmodernism, in the thought of Foucault or his contemporaries, surpasses hermeneutics in some important respect, it must significantly modify the idea of interpretation itself. Foucault, as we often hear, interpreted history, if not everything that fell before his gaze, with tradition-subverting suspicion, particularly in the genealogical writings, while Gadamer and other hermeneutical thinkers prefer to recover elements of that same tradition. Hence the apparent radicality of postmodernism and the conservatism of hermeneutics. As Hubert Dreyfus and Paul Rabinow write: ‘Subjection, domination and combat are found everywhere [Foucault] looks. Whenever he hears talk of meaning and value, of virtue and goodness, he looks for strategies of domination. . . . Instead of origins, hidden meanings or explicit

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intentionality, Foucault the genealogist finds force relations working themselves out in particular events, historical movements, and history.’3 We hear that where hermeneutics continues upon a quest for essentialist or objective meaning, postmodernism dismantles and genealogizes such meaning, that it interprets with a suspicious posture yet in a more radical way than the hermeneutics of suspicion. Thus John Caputo follows Derrida in charging Gadamer with defending an untenable metaphysical ‘traditionalism’ and ‘philosophy of eternal truth’, one that ‘turns on an implicit acceptance of the metaphysical distinction between a more or less stable and objective meaning and its ceaselessly changing expression.’ As Caputo puts it, ‘Gadamer’s “tradition” is innocent of Nietzsche’s suspicious eye, of Foucaultian genealogy’, a suspicion that compels hermeneutics to take a ‘radical’, that is, postmodern and deconstructive, turn.4 I return in this chapter to Ricoeur’s distinction between the hermeneutics of recovery and suspicion. While Ricoeur brought this distinction to bear on the debate between hermeneutics and critical theory, it may be equally relevant to the somewhat ambiguous relation between hermeneutics and postmodernism, including the work of Foucault.5 My hypothesis is that the gulf between philosophical hermeneutics and Foucaultian genealogy has been dramatically overstated. Gadamer and more recent hermeneutical thinkers explicitly reject an objectivism of meaning, and his recovery of select themes from the Western philosophical tradition – notably Platonic dialogue, Aristotelian phronesis and Hegelian dialectic, all much revised – differs in no important respect from Foucault’s own rehabilitation of an ancient ethics of self-care. Many postmodernists continue to regard Gadamer’s position here as metaphysical and conservative, yet if any genuine gulf separates these two figures, it pertains far less to Foucault’s radical suspicion of tradition and Gadamer’s non-radical rehabilitation of it than to the style or mood in which the two thinkers spoke of tradition. In some ways Gadamer appeared an optimist with respect to the possibility of recovering historical truths, while in the genealogical writings Foucault decidedly did not, yet this difference may be of less consequence than many claim, a matter far more of style than of substance. Both figures, as well as the larger schools of thought that they represented, stood to tradition in a fundamentally Heideggerian way: as interpreters and immanent critics, selectively retrieving traditionary concepts while turning these to a creative purpose of their own. Neither believed it possible to stand outside tradition, although Foucault sometimes made it appear as if he could. After examining genealogy and recalling Ricoeur’s distinction between these two modes of hermeneutics, I shall compare Gadamer’s



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appropriation of phronesis with Foucault’s recovery from classical sources of an ethics of the care of the self, drawing attention to relevant similarities and differences in their interpretive strategies. My claim will be that the substantive similarities here far outweigh more superficial differences of style and rhetoric and obviate the need to choose between these two essentially Heideggerian schools of thought. Foucault’s genealogical project borrows more than its name from Nietzsche, and includes a number of premises and interpretive methods derived from the latter. Like Nietzsche, he undertook a series of inquiries into the nature and workings of power, the general intent of which was to reveal its hitherto unperceived forms from the standpoint of the situated historian, a perspective that eschews theory while retaining a critical intent. It replaces the theoretical systematicity of ideology critique with a more modest conception of critique, being sceptical of all attempts to form judgements from the perspective of reason, science or universal principles. On his view, any scientific hierarchy of discourses serves merely to conceal the perspectivity of knowledge and to lend false legitimacy to a single interpretive perspective. Foucault abandoned the search for a totalizing standpoint for critique along with any form of theory construction that would legitimize the role of universal judge. He abandoned as well the ideal of power-free communication and proposed to replace ideology critique with specific historical investigations of the forms of power that are endemic to modernity. Genealogy, in Foucault’s words, ‘is gray, meticulous and patiently documentary. It operates on a field of entangled and confused parchments, on documents that have been scratched over and recopied many times.’6 Fundamentally, it is a matter of ‘historical investigation into the events that have led us to constitute ourselves and to recognize ourselves as subjects of what we are doing, thinking, saying.’7 Following Nietzsche, whose genealogy of morality attempted to trace the history of ethics in order to reveal the will to power operative within modern standards of evaluation, Foucault’s method of interpretation is similarly historical, perspectival and partisan while oriented toward modern practices of power. Without appealing to the will to power, Foucault’s genealogical writings ostensibly bracket questions of the rationality of normative or epistemological claims (or their ‘order of rank’) and constitute a set of investigations into the origins and development of modern concepts, practices and institutions. Foucault never combined these disparate inquiries into any systematic whole. Instead, the aim of these texts (principally Discipline and Punish and The History of Sexuality) is to remind us of what has been forgotten in

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our contemporary forms of practice. Genealogical research or ‘effective history’ especially documents the specific ways in which power reaches into and fashions subjectivity. The fundamental manner in which individuals are constituted Foucault revealed as essentially a political phenomenon. Modern subjectivity is constituted within a network of possibilities and norms governing thought and behaviour and of actions governing actions. The body itself is an effect of power, something disciplined and modified by everything from medical technologies to labour to sexual norms. Recounting in specific ways how the subject is an effect of power relations is perhaps genealogy’s most crucial task. In every case genealogy disturbs what was thought solid and reveals the contingency behind all apparent necessity. It dissolves the self-evidence of received judgements and reminds us how both these judgements and the epistemic field in which they are constituted are historical artifacts. If it is in the nature of power to present itself as having no alternative or as belonging to an unassailable order, genealogy dissolves the dogmatic consciousness that is essential to its operations. Archaeology and genealogy alike are invariably oppositional. As one scholar writes, Foucault’s ‘objective is to unearth, to excavate factors and events, overlooked likenesses, discontinuities and disruptions, anomalies and suppressed items, which yield a new picture of whatever has previously gone unquestioned and has been taken as definitive knowledge and truth with respect to a particular subject matter and more generally of how the world is. Foucault is everywhere concerned with exhuming the hidden, the obscure, the marginal, the accidental, the forgotten, the overlooked, the covered-up, the displaced. His subjects for investigation are whatever is taken as the most natural, obvious, evident, undeniable, manifest, prominent and indisputable.’8 It is not essential structures or ahistorical causes that the genealogist unearths but contingencies, accidents and deployments of power that had remained unseen. The genealogical project counters established power/knowledge configurations and reveals accepted historical continuities and overarching structures as so many effects of power, as subterfuge or accidents of one kind or another. Genealogy ‘disturbs what was previously considered immobile; it fragments what was thought unified; it shows the heterogeneity of what was imagined consistent with itself.’9 It traces the effects of strategies that, while decipherable, are often without malicious intent and without a directing agency. It reveals how power is exercised not on a top-down basis but from the bottom up, how it is circulated and pervades a great variety of practices and institutions, and how it constitutes social reality as a whole.



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Genealogy differs from conventional historical inquiry in selectively attending to events of the past that gave rise to exceptionable conditions of the present as well as in refusing to interpret events in terms of a continuous line of development from an absolute point of origin to a present or future terminus. There is no design in history, neither teleology nor inevitability, neither absolute beginnings nor final culminations. Genealogy searches for origins in myriad places, none of which is essential, and examines a multiplicity of factors that gave rise to later conditions. Foucault was especially critical of historical research that subordinates the particularity of events to any kind of overarching explanatory scheme. The genealogist detects no laws, metaphysical necessities or essences to be glimpsed behind the particularities of history, no fixed patterns in terms of which to structure the past. Foucault wished to preserve and ‘record the singularity of events outside of any monotonous finality.’10 In drawing attention to the multiple factors that underlie events, genealogy undermines the reassuring predictability of traditional historical investigation. In recording the accidents and the errors that gave rise to modern practices, the complexity and contingency of historical events, genealogy upsets all comforting talk of progress and necessity. Foucault would always retain a perspectivist view of historical interpretation. If there is no standpoint from which to gain a totalized view of the past or present, the genealogist is no more able to discern the hand of God than the historians whose methods he expressly rejected. Instead, this method requires detailed investigation into the constitution of modern forms of thinking, acting and being. It opposes all universalist and scientific forms of historical explanation such as historical materialism, and claims neither the status of a science nor in any way to bestow objective insight into human affairs. To the question of whether genealogy is or is not a science, Foucault responded: ‘It is surely the following kinds of questions that would need to be posed: What types of knowledge do you want to disqualify in the very instant of your demand: “Is it a science?” Which speaking, discoursing subjects – which subjects of experience and knowledge – do you then want to “diminish” when you say: “I who conduct this discourse am conducting a scientific discourse, and I am a scientist”? Which theoretical-political avant-garde do you want to enthrone in order to isolate it from all the discontinuous forms of knowledge that circulate about it? When I see you straining to establish the scientificity of Marxism I do not really think that you are demonstrating once and for all that Marxism has a rational structure and that therefore its propositions are the outcome of verifiable procedures; for me you are doing something altogether different, you

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are investing Marxist discourses and those who uphold them with the effects of a power which the West since medieval times has attributed to science and has reserved for those engaged in scientific discourse.’ The ‘tyranny of globalizing discourses’ Foucault resolutely rejected in favour of local forms of knowledge that do not depend on ‘established regimes of thought.’11 Where historians often sought evidence of continuous development and hidden meanings, Foucault accentuated discontinuity, the accidental character of events and the superficiality of all ostensible depths. Behind all talk of progress, genealogy discovers strategies of power and the succession of one form of power/knowledge after another. Behind interpretations of concepts and claims to knowledge it finds various forms of intrigue. It documents how discourses, practices and institutions embody forms of domination, and in ways that are decidedly non-conspiratorial. It ‘seeks to reestablish the various systems of subjection: not the anticipatory power of meaning, but the hazardous play of dominations.’12 Genealogical critique always invokes local and popular forms of knowledge. Eschewing the explanatory systems of the ‘universal intellectual’, Foucault’s ‘specific intellectual’ favours what has been demoted to a low rank in the scientific hierarchy of knowledges and champions an ‘insurrection of subjugated knowledges’ in the sense of a rehabilitation of local discourses that have been dismissed for their apparent lack of rigour: ‘a whole set of knowledges that have been disqualified as inadequate to their task or insufficiently elaborated: naïve knowledges, located low down on the hierarchy, beneath the required level of cognition or scientificity.’13 The genealogist takes up the claims of the participant, activist, patient and inmate along with other forms of situated and local knowledge not on account of their rationality or consensus-generating capacity but precisely for their capacity to interrupt consensus and destabilize established regimes of knowledge. Subjugated knowledges serve as instruments of critique since they disrupt the self-evident appearance of what passes for truth and remind us how our practices came to be and may be otherwise. Herein lies genealogy’s claim to radicality: as an oppositional and iconoclastic mode of interpretation, genealogy destabilizes forms of practice and knowledge that have constituted modern subjects. The universal intellectual speaks from the vantage point of scientific knowledge, a teleological philosophy of history or a universalist normative theory, and is heir to ‘the Greek wise man, the Jewish prophet, the Roman legislator.’14 Thinking in terms of totalities invariably overlooks the interpreter’s own participation in that which they would critique and the manner in which their own reflection is made possible by the power relations they



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attempt to unmask. What is needed therefore is a reexamination of the intellectual’s role in the light of Nietzsche’s perspectivism. The genealogist must be a specific intellectual, a radically situated critic who interprets the specificities of our practices and power relations from the standpoint of participants in various kinds of local struggle. Specific intellectuals are not theorists but activists with firsthand knowledge of the contingencies and contradictions that belong to particular domains of practice. As Foucault expressed it: ‘The intellectual no longer has to play the role of an advisor. The project, tactics and goals to be adopted are a matter for those who do the fighting. What the intellectual can do is to provide instruments of analysis, and at present this is the historian’s essential role. What’s effectively needed is a ramified, penetrative perception of the present, one that makes it possible to locate lines of weakness, strong points, positions where the instances of power have secured and implanted themselves by a system of organization dating back over 150 years. In other words, a topological and geological survey of the battlefield – that is the intellectual’s role. But as for saying, “Here is what you must do!”, certainly not.’15 While the influence of Nietzsche and Heidegger was omnipresent in Foucault’s work, the genealogical writings also express an underlying ethos of emancipation. Specifically it is the emancipation of subjugated knowledges and the problematizing of our current regimes of truth at which they point. In Power/Knowledge, for instance, he would state that ‘a genealogy should be seen as a kind of attempt to emancipate historical knowledges from . . . subjection, to render them, that is, capable of opposition and of struggle against the coercion of a theoretical, unitary, formal and scientific discourse.’16 Similarly, in ‘The Subject and Power’, he proposed that ‘the political, ethical, social, philosophical problem of our days is not to try to liberate the individual from the state, and from the state’s institutions, but to liberate us both from the state and from the type of individualization which is linked to the state.’17 Such affirmations are surprising given that genealogy brackets questions of assessment. While Foucault rejected emancipation as a theoretical principle, the force of his critique appears to presuppose some notion of human freedom. On one hand, genealogy is a descriptive enterprise that brackets claims to truth and rightness, while on the other hand it is a partisan endeavour – in the fashion once again of Nietzschean genealogy, albeit less explicitly. A moral horizon underlies the genealogical project and gives it whatever critical force that it carries, yet unlike the original genealogist of morality Foucault never clarified in these inquiries the place from which he himself spoke.18 He championed an ‘insurrection of subjugated knowledges’ and ‘new forms of subjectivity’, yet

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was reluctant to explain why or to provide alternatives or solutions to the problems that he uncovered.19 In Remarks on Marx, for instance, he would write: ‘I absolutely will not play the part of one who prescribes solutions. I hold that the role of the intellectual today is not that of establishing laws or proposing solutions or prophesying, since by doing that one can only contribute to the functioning of a determinate situation of power that to my mind must be criticized.’20 In an interview of 1977, Foucault responded thus to the following questions: ‘“Do you want the revolution? Do you want anything more than the simple ethical duty to struggle here and now, at the side of one or another oppressed and miserable group, such as fools or prisoners?” I have no answer. But I believe that to engage in politics – aside from just party politics – is to try to know with the greatest possible honesty whether the revolution is desirable. It is in exploring this terrible molehill that politics runs the danger of caving in.’21 Foucault’s interest as an historical interpreter lay in the domain of problems, contradictions and dominations, not solutions or alternatives. His aim was to problematize established regimes of knowledge, to unmask the dangers besetting our practices and to describe these in ways that highlight their complexity and caution against facile solutions. Herein lies the considerable value of genealogy as a mode of critical interpretation. Wherein lies the divide between the genealogical project and post-Heideggerian hermeneutics? What Heidegger taught us to see is the fundamental inseparability of illumination and concealment. Interpretation is never a pure disclosure or aperspectival grasp of the phenomena, but involves the complex interplay of lethe and aletheia, quite apart from whether we are appropriating or resisting the claims that a text or any object of interpretation makes upon us. Interpretation in every instance is conditioned by history and language; it is perspectival and partial in what it brings into view, and inclined at once toward revelation and concealment. Philosophical hermeneutics and Foucaultian genealogy can agree to this much, among many other matters. Disagreement arises both between these two schools and between hermeneutics and critical theory around the distinction between suspicion and recovery. As Ricoeur expressed it, the premise of the hermeneutics of suspicion is that we must ‘look upon the whole of consciousness primarily as “false” consciousness.’22 It falls therefore to critique as a suspicious mode of interpretation to demystify what present ways of seeing-as conceal or distort, and in a general spirit of emancipation, however this is conceived. The figures whom Ricoeur identified under the rubric of suspicious hermeneutics are one in regarding consciousness as simultaneously a disclosure and a deception, yet primarily



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the latter. Beneath its significations lie the will to power, the history of class struggle, the repression of desire or ideology in the form of systematically distorted communication. While their methods of decipherment range from genealogy to psychoanalysis to the critique of ideology, hermeneuticists of suspicion practice an art of interpretation as demystifying the falsifications of consciousness. By contrast, the hermeneutics of recovery or recollection returns to the interpretive object’s original context and performs an exegesis with an eye to recovering its truth value. This mode of interpretation inclines toward affirmation and rehabilitation where the hermeneutics of suspicion is inclined toward negation. Its attitudinal posture is distinct from the latter in that one anticipates the possibility of a selective appropriation of one’s object. Consciousness is not primarily false, in this view, nor is misunderstanding the rule, while illumination is the exception. These two modes are sometimes accounted as ‘strategies’, yet in a way that trades on an ambiguity in the word in virtue of which we are often inclined to regard the two as contrasting or indeed incompatible ways of proceeding in interpretation. One proceeds with a strategy of either suspicious unmasking or uncritical endorsement. Whether this constitutes a dichotomy must be questioned. For his part, Ricoeur was far from regarding these two modes of interpretation as antithetical. In Freud and Philosophy he would speak of hermeneutics as ‘animated’ not by one of two incompatible aims but ‘by this double motivation: willingness to suspect, willingness to listen; vow of rigour, vow of obedience.’ The ‘extreme iconoclasm’ that suspicion brings about itself ‘belongs to the restoration of meaning’ rather than constituting a meaning- or tradition-destroying gesture.23 Ricoeur’s point in the context of the Gadamer-Habermas debate was to argue, against the latter, that suspicion in the form of ideology critique is precisely a mode of hermeneutical reflection, not the purely objective, scientific and explanatory discourse that Habermas claimed it to be. Ricoeur’s point was well taken. However suspicious or oppositional one is inclined to be, there is no rising above the fray of interpretation – no skyhooks, as Rorty would say – or as Gadamer expressed it, the scope of hermeneutical reflection is universal. This can be seen by examining the interpretive practice of hermeneuticists both suspicious and ostensibly conservative. Examples of the hermeneutics of recovery include Gadamer’s rehabilitation of Platonic dialogue, Aristotelian phronesis and Hegelian dialectic. Under the rubric of suspicious hermeneutics Ricoeur mentioned Nietzsche’s genealogy of morality, Marx’s critique of capitalism, Freud’s psychoanalysis, and Habermas’ critique of ideology. Since the debate with Habermas, the

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impression of Gadamer as a kind of conservator of tradition has unfortunately stuck in many minds, despite the fact that the texts Gadamer gave us quite obviously disconfirm this reading. Ricoeur might well have mentioned as examples of the hermeneutics of recovery not only many of his own philosophical efforts but Habermas’ rehabilitation of Kantian morality, Nietzsche’s celebration of the Dionysian and a classical ethics of nobility, Marx’s appropriations of Hegel and Rousseau and a great many other cases of philosophers, as radical as one likes, recovering ideas from tradition while turning them to a purpose of their own. In each instance what we find is not any simple return to yesteryear but a properly critical appropriation, and an appropriation without which original and critical thought could not begin. When we examine the actual interpretive practices not only of Foucault or Gadamer but of any notable thinker, what we find is neither wholesale suspicion nor wholesale recovery, but a selective yea- and nay-saying depending entirely on what emerges in the course of interpretation. Thus Gadamer recovered a few ideas from Plato and Aristotle, Nietzsche found inspiration in certain other Greek sources, Heidegger borrowed from the presocratics, Habermas from Kant, Ricoeur from Freud, Derrida from Nietzsche. What distinguishes these appropriations from each other? In none of these pairings is the former an unimaginative disciple of the latter; instead they are creative interpreters, selectively retrieving ideas that can be refashioned and turned to a purpose of their own. None was recovering an objective truth in unrevised form. If Ricoeur’s reply to Habermas was that critique is itself a form of hermeneutical reflection rather than an alternative to it, a similar point can be made with respect to postmodern genealogy. As the original genealogist of morality was well aware, genealogy is a particular mode or style of interpretation. It does not aim to recover an objective meaning or essentialist truth of any kind, but remains a perspectival interpretation. If it is animated by a desire to problematize or unmask this or that – the will to power underlying moral values, the vicissitudes of power/knowledge, or what have you – it does not transcend interpretation in the sense of either a Nietzsche, a Heidegger or a Gadamer, nor does it amount to total disclosure. For these latter figures, it is not only truth or meaning that interpretation uncovers but precisely distortion, subterfuge and idolatry. Moreover, they rightly deny that any sharp distinctions can be drawn between hermeneutical interpretation and either explanation, critique or genealogy itself. This can be seen in the practice of genealogy wherein critique takes the form of a partisan and decidedly suspicious form of historical investigation.



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Whether we are speaking of Nietzsche’s genealogy or Foucault’s, suspicious reflection involves historicizing, recounting or narrating in a certain manner. It is historicizing with a moral or political aim in view, but having such an aim neither requires nor enables us to transcend the finitude of interpretation. Nietzsche was well aware that his own practice of genealogy was interpretive and perspectival through and through, not some purely revelatory discourse. Objectivity is an idol, he always insisted, and it is no more attainable in historical or emancipatory reflection than anywhere else. Foucaultian genealogy as well is an affair of historical reflection – with a suspicious and demystifying intent, to be sure, yet in no sense does it transcend hermeneutical reflection. His genealogy would never exceed the limits that Nietzsche ascribed to it, although he undoubtedly refined the method itself and extended it farther than his predecessor. The combined influence of Nietzsche and Heidegger on Foucault’s genealogical writings is unmistakable and profound. Indeed narrative itself, like fashioning metaphors and other forms of imaginative predication, belongs precisely to the practice of hermeneutical reflection. Genealogy, be it Nietzsche’s or Foucault’s, is a form of historical narrative that is itself a species of hermeneutical interpretation, not something to which the latter is in any important respect contrasted. An important question that arises in connection with Foucault’s later writings concerns the status of genealogy as an interpretive practice. Is genealogical critique a hermeneutical mode of reflection or, as is usually claimed, an alternative to it? Dreyfus and Rabinow defend the latter option, however their reasons for doing so are worth noting. While they point out the obvious fact that genealogy is an interpretive practice, they insist on separating this from hermeneutical interpretation for the reason that the former renounces the quest for fixed and objective meaning behind the phenomena it investigates. It admits that behind every meaning and every perspective lies another meaning and another perspective, and acknowledges that it will never gain an objective viewpoint on human history. Dreyfus and Rabinow cite the following remark from Foucault’s essay, ‘Nietzsche, Freud, Marx’: ‘If interpretation is a never-ending task, it is simply because there is nothing to interpret. There is nothing absolutely primary to interpret because, when all is said and done, underneath it all everything is already interpretation.’ Interpretation does not uncover anything but other interpretations which have been imposed by previous speakers – interpretations, according to Dreyfus and Rabinow, the imposition of which is arbitrary: ‘In this discovery of groundlessness the inherent arbitrariness of interpretation is revealed. For if there is

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nothing to interpret, then everything is open to interpretation; the only limits are those arbitrarily imposed.’24 Dreyfus and Rabinow’s claim that genealogy is interpretive but not hermeneutical raises a question of definition. The notion of hermeneutics with which they operate here harks back to the romantic hermeneutics of Friedrich August Wolf, Friedrich Schleiermacher and Wilhelm Dilthey, according to whom the aim of interpretation is indeed to uncover the original and essential meaning of a text – that which represents the author’s intention. By now, however, this is a highly antiquated reading of the term hermeneutics, given the turn in Heideggerian and subsequent hermeneutics away from all talk of essentialist or objectively determinable meaning. On Dreyfus and Rabinow’s reading, then, the only difference between Foucaultian genealogy and hermeneutical reflection is the apparent arbitrariness of the former; thus acknowledging the interpretive nature of genealogy also forces us to grant its arbitrariness. That interpretation must either constitute a revelation of essentialist meaning and final truth or remain an arbitrary matter is a false opposition. Genealogy is no more arbitrary than historical inquiry in its more conventional forms. It interprets interpretations rather than unearths essentialist meanings, but the same is true of hermeneutics. Wherein, then, lies the difference? Many postmodernists continue to contrast Foucault’s views (or Derrida’s, or their own) with hermeneutics, yet for what reasons? One possibility is that hermeneutics aims not only at recovering some truth or other from tradition (what thinker has not done this?) but at an objective meaning as well. Thus, according to Derrida, Gadamer was (as the latter put it) but ‘a lost sheep in the dried up pastures of metaphysics’ since he remained in quest of the true, that is, objective, meaning of the interpretive object.25 This charge would stick if applied to the objectivist hermeneutics of an E. D. Hirsch – a form of anti-Heideggerian hermeneutics that today finds few advocates – but that it applies to Gadamerian hermeneutics is clearly false. Gadamer explicitly repudiated the notion of a text or interpretive object of any kind having an objective or essentialist meaning. Nietzsche and Heidegger had both demolished this idea and Gadamer never sought to rehabilitate it. Nor did Ricoeur or, to my knowledge, any more recent proponent of philosophical hermeneutics. Interpretations may be better or worse, more or less fruitful, reasonable, coherent or suggestive, but objectively true they are not. If there is an incompatibility between Gadamerian hermeneutics and postmodern genealogy, might it lie in what Ricoeur identified as the basic premise of the hermeneutics of suspicion: that consciousness is primarily



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false consciousness? This would mean that misunderstanding and mystification are the rule in human consciousness while understanding and demystifying critique are the exception, yet what could justify this claim? However commonplace one believes falsehood to be, does this give it primacy over its abstract antithesis? For that matter, who maintains that consciousness is primarily true? Apparently the hermeneuticists of recovery, but do they? What would this even mean? When one sets out interpreting a text, historical event, work of art, or what have you, one sometimes adopts a posture of suspicion – thus looking beneath surfaces for evidence of mystification, idolatry or intrigue – and sometimes of recovery – thus anticipating the possibility of understanding something one had not previously seen. This depends on what emerges in the reading rather than on any prior disposition – whether the claims that the text makes ring true or false, whether they accord with our experience and prior understandings or run afoul of something that we know. We are not confronted with a grand either-or; one alternately appropriates and discounts, recovers and rejects. One does not adopt a posture of receptivity or suspicion entirely on the basis of prior commitments. One reads precisely because one is not already in possession of the truth but must inquire with an open mind into what another has to say. Recovery and suspicion are far from mutually exclusive, the two postures being deployed in turn depending on the back-and-forth between reader and text, on the legitimacy of a claim or the persuasiveness of an argument. That one should survey the history of philosophy and recover some ideas along the way – rather than think on the basis of clear and distinct ideas of one’s own – is neither conservative nor metaphysical but altogether inevitable. No doubt, one interprets with different aims in view: here one is suspicious, there one is not; here one recovers, there one does not. The aim depends entirely on what emerges in the text. One is not suspicious of everything, or of nothing. Nor does one recover everything, or nothing. One may be more inclined this way or that, but both aims belong to the interpretive process and neither has primacy over the other. Was Aristotle a suspicious interpreter of Plato? Yes and no. Was he engaged in a salvage operation or writing in an oppositional spirit? At times one, at times the other. The same can be said of Hegel’s reading of Kant, Marx’s reading of Hegel, Habermas’ reading of Marx, and so on. There is no opposition that is not parasitic on affirmation, no suspicion that is not premised on some valorization or other. One utters a ‘no’ in the light of what one has already affirmed. Even the demystification of genealogical analysis and ideology critique depends for its intelligibility on

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a prior commitment of some kind. One practises critique not by pointing out an inherent problem or evil but by showing how what one is criticizing runs afoul of what one deems important. Far from negation and affirmation, or suspicion and recovery, being antithetical, these two modes of reflection are best regarded as existing in a state of dynamic tension. To negate is already to have affirmed, and to affirm is to be capable – with a little imagination – of negation. Accordingly, suspicion and recovery are as fundamentally inseparable as illumination and concealment. In neither instance does the work of interpretation lead to full disclosure in the sense of an aperspectival grasp of an object sub specie aeternitatis, nor does it lead to complete mystification. Both modes of interpretation shed light and cast a shadow in the same gesture, just as both are predicated on affirmation and negation alike. The original master of suspicion himself urged his readers to reject ‘the faith in opposite values’ which for Nietzsche constituted the ‘fundamental faith of the metaphysicians.’26 That we must choose between two antithetical interpretive strategies is yet another example of this faith. Why, then, does the idea persist that the hermeneutics of suspicion and recovery are separate strategies, the former undertaken by the radical and the latter by the conservative? The answer to this question, I believe, is found far less in the actual interpretive practices of Foucault and Gadamer than in the style or spirit in which they wrote, less in the way in which they stood to tradition than in the rhetorical ways in which they spoke of it – Gadamer with a measure of optimism or esteem and Foucault with pessimism. I shall return to this point later. First, let us look more closely at two examples of the kind of historical appropriations to which I have alluded: Gadamer’s recovery of phronesis from the sixth book of the Nicomachean Ethics and Foucault’s later turn toward the care of the self. Where do we find suspicious demystification and where traditionalist recollection? Thinking that characterizes itself as radical must get below surfaces and grasp its object from the root. Popular conceptions have long overlooked the word’s etymology and reduced radicality to oppositional thinking in general, or still more crudely to left politics. If it is left, one is often given to believe, it is radical; otherwise it is conservative, nostalgic and perhaps metaphysical. Postmodernism is radical and oppositional in its posture toward not only tradition but metaphysics, power, the subject, gender and almost everything that falls before its gaze. Genealogy is above all a critique that stands inveterately opposed to its object, the historical unfoldings of which it recounts with an attitude of partisanship and mistrust. Nietzsche’s



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genealogy of morality and Marx’s critique of the market economy remain exemplars of radical thought. Both figures have long exerted a powerful influence on postmodernism, both for the arguments that they put forward and perhaps still more for the oppositional spirit that so often animated their writings. The point was not only to understand a given object via interpretation but to unmask, demystify, or otherwise see through the subterfuge that had surrounded a given object of interpretation. In a word, it is opposition that is the sine qua non of radicality, or so a familiar story goes. Toward the end of Foucault’s life, however, suspicion toward tradition was displaced in one important instance by a return of sorts to an ethics of self-care which Foucault appropriated from classical sources. Having become accustomed to his diagnoses of the power dimension of knowledge, readers of Foucault might well have been surprised when in the History of Sexuality volumes we find him articulating an ethics that amounts to a surprisingly straightforward recovery of Greek and Roman ideas, albeit with an admixture of Nietzschean self-fashioning. The Care of the Self is particularly surprising in this connection. The first volume saw Foucault engaging in a similar style of critique to his other genealogical texts, yet the later volumes find Foucault in a somewhat different mood. By the second and third volumes Foucault’s ethical interests led him to return to a variety of Greek and Roman sources and to recover an ethics oriented far less by the ancient imperative to know thyself than by the imperative to cultivate or take care of oneself for one’s own sake. This is an ethics that does not provide decision procedures or a catalogue of the virtues, but is oriented toward the relation of the self with itself. The basic idea Foucault expressed as follows: ‘This “cultivation of the self” can be briefly characterized by the fact that in this case the art of existence – the techne tou biou in its different forms – is dominated by the principle that says one must “take care of oneself.” It is this principle of the care of the self that establishes its necessity, presides over its development and organizes its practice. But one has to be precise here; the idea that one ought to attend to oneself, care for oneself (heautou epimeleisthai), was actually a very ancient theme in Greek culture.’ Foucault found expressions of this imperative in the Epicureans, Socrates, Plato, Seneca, Pliny and a great many figures in the ancient world. In addition to being a philosophical precept ‘consecrated by Socrates’, the care of the self ‘took the form of an attitude, a mode of behaviour; it became instilled in ways of living; it evolved into procedures, practices and formulas that people reflected on, developed, perfected and taught.’ Self-care became a set of occupations, a labour that filled a portion of one’s day or one’s life and assumed a wide variety

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of forms, from personal introspection and reflection on daily events to retreats, study, conversation and the pursuit of tranquillity. It included the care of the body and the mind, physical exercise, the satisfaction of needs and all manner of self-improvement. It was a social practice that ‘found a ready support in the whole bundle of customary relations of kinship, friendship and obligation’, one that extended into the medical art and education no less than ethics. The orientation of these practices of the self was not strictly egoistic but personal and social in roughly equal measure: ‘It is to be understood first of all as a change of activity: not that one must cease all other forms of occupation and devote oneself entirely and exclusively to oneself; but in the activities that one ought to engage in, one had best keep in mind that the chief objective one should set for oneself is to be sought within oneself, in the relation of oneself to oneself.’27 In the modern age, Nietzsche gave the idea new life as well as a more explicitly aesthetic turn, perhaps most eloquently in his ‘One thing is needful’ aphorism from the fourth book of The Gay Science.28 Foucault echoed Nietzsche’s point in an interview of 1983: ‘What strikes me is the fact that in our society, art has become something which is related only to objects and not to individuals, or to life. That art is something which is specialized or which is done by experts who are artists. But couldn’t everyone’s life become a work of art? Why should the lamp or the house be an art object, but not our life?’29 That Foucault would take the ethics of self-care farther than the ancients did is evident in his turn toward Nietzsche. If an ethics of self-care and aesthetic self-creation has been forgotten in the modern world, due largely to its eclipse by the imperative of selfknowledge, it fell to Foucault to recover this ancient insight. If Foucault did not advocate any simple return to classical notions, but a more creative appropriation via Nietzsche, it remains an appropriation of ancient ideas divested of their metaphysical trappings, and an appropriation that has been well received by many of Foucault’s readers. How does this ancient appropriation differ from Gadamer’s recovery of Platonic dialogue or Aristotelian phronesis? Let us consider the latter case (a topic to which I shall return in Chapter 12). Gadamer’s recovery of phronesis occurs primarily in Part II of Truth and Method in a section titled ‘The Hermeneutic Relevance of Aristotle.’ His aim in this portion of the text was not to advocate a straightforward return to Aristotelian ethics, but to demonstrate the relevance of the conception of moral knowledge outlined in Book Six of the Nicomachean Ethics to Gadamer’s own hermeneutical project. Indeed the context of these remarks is not a discussion of moral philosophy at all but Gadamer’s identification



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of the ‘elements of a theory of hermeneutic experience’, the title of the second division of Part II. (Gadamer’s most sustained treatment of ethics appears in two other books: Plato’s Dialectical Ethics and especially The Idea of the Good in Platonic-Aristotelian Philosophy. In these texts as well we find no wholesale return to virtue ethics, in the manner of Alasdair MacIntyre, but something far more original.) His point was that phronesis affords a kind of model for human understanding in general. In his words: ‘For the hermeneutical problem too is clearly distinct from “pure” knowledge detached from any particular kind of being. We spoke of the interpreter’s belonging to the tradition he is interpreting, and we saw that understanding itself is a historical event. The alienation of the interpreter from the interpreted by the objectifying methods of modern science, characteristic of the hermeneutics and historiography of the nineteenth century, appeared as the consequence of a false objectification. My purpose in returning to the example of Aristotelian ethics is to help us realize and avoid this. For moral knowledge, as Aristotle describes it, is clearly not objective knowledge – i.e., the knower is not standing over against a situation that he merely observes; he is directly confronted with what he sees. It is something he has to do.’30 Gadamer’s use of Aristotle here was motivated by the need to correct the false objectivism of pre-Heideggerian hermeneutics. Interpretation shares with moral knowledge as Aristotle described it a certain view of the relation between universal and particular, the abstract and the applied. For Aristotle, moral judgement involves a reciprocity between universal and particular that is unlike forms of technical knowledge that begin with a clear grasp of both the ends it sets out to achieve and the method of achieving them, and which applies principles in a more or less automatic way. Phronesis does not merely subsume particulars under general rules known in advance, but is responsive to contingencies and involves a two-way illumination of general moral requirements and particular cases. Application is properly regarded as an art of bringing universals and particulars to bear on each other in the absence of rules. For Gadamer, the concept of phronesis sheds light on the relation between universals and particulars more generally and on the nature of interpretation both within and without moral contexts. Universals are never grasped clearly and distinctly apart from the contexts in which they are instantiated. Determining what morality requires does not involve standing over against a given case and affixing to it a principle that could be fully comprehended in abstract form. It is better regarded as a reading of the situation or a perception of its moral significance from within the situation itself. As an interpreter, one is not an objective observer of something

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standing over against one, but is caught up, in a more immediate way, in an effort to understand a particular in the light of a universal or the text as a whole in the light of individual passages. It is as an instantiation of a universal that the particular is interpreted, a universal that is not fully determined in its being apart from its applications. For Gadamer, understanding is inseparable not only from interpretation but from application as well. Understanding a text involves applying its meaning to the reader’s own situation, just as moral principles are never understood entirely apart from the cases that they govern. Application is not a subsuming of a determinate particular under an equally determinate universal. Universals only come into being as such in the process of being instantiated in or applied to particular contexts. This is the meaning of Gadamer’s thesis that understanding and application, as well as interpretation, must be regarded ‘as comprising one unified process.’31 Gadamer spoke of the interpreter as ‘belonging’ to the interpreted object in the sense that one stands to a text not as subject to object but in a more immediate relation. The interpreter belongs to the text in the sense that one belongs to history: one does not stand at a radical distance from either but is constituted and claimed in some fashion prior to any explicit interpretive efforts. Aristotle’s catalogue of the virtues affords a knowledge of general moral requirements that inform but underdetermine our judgements. What matters in phronesis is the case at hand, the resolution of which one determines by relating the case to such requirements, yet in a way that is not rule-governed. Analogously, interpretation involves an application of the universal to the particular that is fully reciprocal and unaided by formal methods. Gadamer might have advanced this phenomenological argument without referring to Aristotle at all. That he preferred to do so is indicative not of his conservatism but of his dialogical practice as a thinker. Gadamer was inclined to acknowledge his philosophical debts more often than many do, habitually preferring to situate his own views in the context of tradition rather than present them as historically unprecedented. There is nothing conservative in this. It is a requirement of intellectual inquiry to acknowledge one’s debts and to know the history and sources of one’s own position rather than give the appearance of fashioning ideas from scratch, as Gadamer might have done had he wished to strike a more radical pose. The substantive similarities between hermeneutics and genealogy, and between the hermeneutics of suspicion and recovery, run deep. In spite of evident differences of vocabulary, rhetorical strategies and attitudinal postures, and while pursuing quite different lines of inquiry, Foucault and Gadamer remained decisively within the trajectory of Heideggerian



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phenomenology. How is it, then, that these two schools of thought continue to be understood in largely oppositional terms, with postmodernism asserted to represent an advance over hermeneutics? Is Foucault’s recovery of classical ideas radical and suspicious while Gadamer’s recovery efforts are conservative and metaphysical? Foucault, it is said, was championing an ‘insurrection of subjugated knowledges’ while Gadamer was returning to the past. Quite obviously, Gadamer was not returning to the past but embarking on a similar kind of historical-interpretive enterprise as that of Foucault. One might well say that Gadamer initiated an insurrection of his own, yet without quite telling us – that phronesis undermined modern conceptions of experience and ethics at once, that the recovery of Platonic dialogue (in much-revised form) subverted modern, epistemology-centred philosophy in general. A radical thinker he undoubtedly was; a lover of literary excess, however, he was not. Readers of Foucault and Gadamer, as well as the larger schools of thought that they represented, will have noticed important stylistic and indeed temperamental differences between the two. Postmodernism and poststructuralism are political and, as we are so often told, radical ways of thinking that stand in habitual opposition to tradition, consensus and anything that passes for objectivity or ahistorical necessity. Their political commitments are never far from the surface and typically incline their advocates to ‘call into question’ and to ‘problematize’ rather more than they answer or resolve. For its part, hermeneutics is less explicitly political, although it is hardly without implications for politics and ethics – implications that Gadamer himself went only part way toward identifying. Apart from small disagreements that too often become magnified out of proportion, genuine differences between Foucault and Gadamer pertain far more to strategy than substance, and less to interpretive than rhetorical strategy, less to how these two figures actually stood to tradition than how they spoke of it. Foucault’s texts persuade by problematizing and unmasking, Gadamer’s by interpreting tradition in a less oppositional spirit and as at times a source of understanding. Foucault may well have been more pessimistic than Gadamer, yet when have differences of style or temperament amounted to substantive philosophical differences between which we must choose? Here I am reminded of James’ observation at the outset of Pragmatism about philosophical differences being ultimately traceable to differences of temperament, an observation that, to my mind, is true and that the present case would seem to confirm. James’ point is worth recalling: ‘The history of philosophy is to a great extent that of a certain clash of human temperaments. Undignified as such a treatment

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may seem to some of my colleagues, I shall have to take account of this clash and explain a good many of the divergences of philosophers by it. Of whatever temperament a professional philosopher is, he tries when philosophizing to sink the fact of his temperament. Temperament is no conventionally recognized reason, so he urges impersonal reasons only for his conclusions. Yet his temperament really gives him a stronger bias than any of his more strictly objective premises. It loads the evidence for him one way or the other, making for a more sentimental or a more hard-hearted view of the universe, just as this fact or that principle would. He trusts his temperament. Wanting a universe that suits it, he believes in any representation of the universe that does suit it. He feels men of opposite temper to be out of key with the world’s character, and in his heart considers them incompetent and “not in it”, in the philosophic business, even though they may far excel him in dialectical ability.’32 Astute psychologist that he was, James divided philosophical temperaments into two kinds: the tender- and the tough-minded – the former including the optimistic, among other things, and the latter the pessimistic and sceptical. Foucault, James would have surely said, belongs in the latter group, Gadamer more likely in the former. So as well with many of their fellow travellers. Being pessimistic or optimistic, tough- or tender-minded, persuading through oppositional prose or some other kind do not amount to irreconcilable differences. They are literary and rhetorical differences that, substantively speaking, are not of ultimate importance. Whether we are unmasking or rehabilitating, whether we are suspicious genealogists or thinkers of a somewhat more sanguine kind, interpretation is interpretation. No matter our dispositions or strategies, it remains a contingent and historically effected mode of seeing-as which conceals and unconceals in the same gesture. After the death of God it is also all that we have. What difference does style make? All the difference in the world, as the case of Foucault and Gadamer well demonstrates. Suspicion, like cynicism, is always fashionable. It is the rhetorical device par excellence if one’s audience is so inclined and unpersuasive if it is not. This goes some way toward explaining the different receptions Foucault’s work has received in continental (especially French) and Anglo-American circles, among readers who, on the one hand, emerged out of the political atmosphere of May 1968 and, on the other, analytic philosophers, for whom the prose of the technician persuades rather more than that of the revolutionist. It may also explain why Gadamer’s talk of tradition – as a source not always of error but of truth as well – continues to sound to many like stuffy conservatism, no matter how carefully he clarified his meaning or how



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forcefully he articulated his opposition to conservatism and traditionalism in all their forms. The word itself, and the prominent role that it plays in philosophical hermeneutics, made such clarification a lost cause for those who wish to regard themselves as radicals and whose predilection is for a vocabulary of opposition. That Foucaultian genealogy and hermeneutics are at odds on fundamentals, that we are confronted here with philosophical positions between which we must choose, or that one has in any meaningful sense surpassed the other, has not been demonstrated.

Chapter 11

Radical Hermeneutics John Caputo The claim to radicality is one that John Caputo has made with great frequency in Radical Hermeneutics and its sequel, More Radical Hermeneutics, and is based on an incorporation into hermeneutical thought of Derridean deconstruction, a postmodern philosophy of religion and a serious misreading of philosophical hermeneutics. Here again one finds profound differences of style, tone and temperament in the writings of Gadamer, Ricoeur and some related thinkers on one hand and Caputo and Jacques Derrida on the other, some of which I shall discuss in what follows and which again have a tendency to be inflated. Thinking that characterizes itself as radical so often resorts to caricatures of the opposition and posturing that its claim to have plumbed a depth or seen through the subterfuge that others have not must on occasion be viewed with scepticism. Radical hermeneutics is premised on a misreading of Gadamer, and this is an issue that muddies the waters considerably if we are intent upon seeing how this position represents either a departure or an advance over philosophical hermeneutics. Our question in this chapter concerns the merits of Caputo’s radical gesture, including its implications for the philosophy of religion. The turn in recent continental thought to religion is a trend to which Caputo has offered an important contribution, and while in my view it is a trend that invites suspicion – particularly in the case of postmodern writers who acknowledge a sizeable debt to Nietzsche – I shall limit myself to a few remarks concerning the ‘openness to the mystery’ of which the later Heidegger spoke and Caputo’s appropriation of this theme. The project of radicalizing hermeneutics presupposes that the thing itself is not already radical and perhaps, as Caputo also believes, that it leans rather far in the opposite direction. Showing that this is so obliges us to recall Derrida’s critique of hermeneutics. During his ‘encounter’ (it is best not to call it a conversation) with Gadamer in 1981, Derrida advanced the claim that Gadamer’s talk of good will in understanding an interlocutor or a text implicates hermeneutics in Kantian metaphysics, a claim that Caputo would later amplify in asserting that ‘under Gadamer’s hand, hermeneutics is marked by Hegelian and Platonic metaphysics’ as well.1 As Gadamer would



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say of Derrida’s characterization of him, ‘it is I myself who, in taking up and continuing hermeneutics as philosophy, would appear at best as the lost sheep in the dried up pastures of metaphysics.’2 These are pastures in which no sensible phenomenologist would wish to find oneself, but what claim is being made here about the hermeneutics to which both Derrida and Caputo stand opposed – the former in the name of an antihermeneutical deconstruction and the latter under the banner of a radical hermeneutics that incorporates deconstruction within it? Derrida’s point about Kantian metaphysics is slightly amusing but may be left aside in order to take a closer look at Caputo’s view which carries forward the spirit and substance of Derrida’s critique. Caputo charges Gadamer with being a traditionalist, foundationalist, and ‘closet essentialist’ owing to his ‘attachment not only to Plato, the aboriginal essentialist, but more interestingly to Hegel, whose overtly and robustly essentialist thought had an historical twist.’3 Whereas ‘hermeneutics in the Gadamerian sense turns on the communication of meaning, the way meaning gets handed on and reappropriated across the ages, dissemination is an undoing of hermeneutics, a disruption of its “postal” service and harmonious deliveries. By its reduction of the privilege of meaning, dissemination means to release all the hitherto suppressed powers of the signifier.’4 Statements abound in Caputo’s work that ‘Gadamer’s is a philosophy of meaning – of the transmission, communication, preservation, enrichment and nourishing of meaning’ while deconstruction more radically ‘has taken the step back out of meaning into that which grants meaning and at the same time delimits it.’5 Not only is philosophical hermeneutics a ‘philosophy of meaning’ but, on Caputo’s telling, it is a philosophy of objective and essentialist meaning. Gadamer, he writes, ‘does not think that language is the expression of a pre-constituted meaning, but that language is the emergence, constitution or coming into being of meaning (and indeed being itself). But it is the coming to be of meaning. Language is related to meaning as the explicit to the implicit, the emergent to the latent, the actual to the possible.’6 Indeed, the ‘whole argument’ that Gadamer presented in Truth and Method ‘remains attached to the tradition as the bearer of eternal truths’ and ‘turns on an implicit acceptance of the metaphysical distinction between a more or less stable and objective meaning and its ceaselessly changing expression.’ Philosophical hermeneutics, Caputo maintains, ‘is a reactionary gesture’, a full retreat into metaphysics since ‘the matter to be thought is the fundamental content of the metaphysical tradition – the notions of dialogue in Plato, phronesis in Aristotle, dialectic in Hegel – all of which are put to work in a metaphysical effort to preserve and cultivate the truth of the tradition which is closer to Hegel than Heidegger.’7

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More generally, Caputo repeats the assertion often heard in postmodern circles that hermeneutics ‘is innocent of Nietzsche’s suspicious eye, of Foucaultian genealogy’, and, of course, of Derridean deconstruction. In place of suspicion, hermeneutics offers reassurance that ‘all is well, that beneath the surface of historical transition an unchanging, infinite spirit labours.’ Nietzsche’s critique of ‘Egyptianism’ is in the background here; Caputo cites Nietzsche’s remark that ‘All that philosophers have handled for millenia has been conceptual mummies; nothing actual has escaped from their hands alive. . . . What is, does not become; what becomes, is not’, adding: ‘Philosophy is scandalized by motion and thus tries either to exclude movement outright from real being (Platonism) or, more subversively, to portray itself as a friend of movement and thus to lure it into the philosophical house of logical categories (Hegelianism).’ It is the latter move that hermeneutics of the non-radical variety ostensibly makes. Its metaphysics is a subversive metaphysics, its essentialism of the closet variety. It is an attempt, as Caputo often says, to still the flux, to deny becoming, and to provide metaphysical comfort that meaning and truth are out there, embedded in tradition, and that all we need do is take it up and apply it. The notion of phronesis, for instance, is a ‘fundamentally conservative notion’ since it ‘requires a stable paradigm’ and a ‘fixed order’ rather than a radical disruption of that order.8 The hermeneutics of Gadamer and Ricoeur contains ‘a nostalgia for meaning and unity’, for truth and stability behind all contingency.9 Having glimpsed the flux that Nietzsche and Heidegger so effectively brought to our attention, it ‘arrests the flux’ and ‘stills the conflict of interpretations.’ ‘That, of course, is Derrida’s objection to hermeneutics and why he will not use the word, for hermeneutics seems to him to mean the “mistake” of trying to “arrest the text in a certain position, thus settling on a thesis, meaning, or truth.”’10 The point of interpretation, radically conceived, is not to understand meaning or know the truth but to keep the play of language in play. This is the implication of Heidegger’s critical and radical side for which hermeneutics lacks the courage. Its failure of nerve consists in its being ‘too much interested in garnering the accumulated goods of the tradition, the “truth” (verum, alethea) which it has stored up, to ask the question of the a-letheia process itself, which Heidegger never ceased to pose.’11 If we would speak of tradition at all, the aim of a radical hermeneutics, as of deconstruction, is not to learn from it but ‘to keep the event of tradition going, to keep it on the move.’12 Its aim is the Kierkegaardian one of restoring the difficulty of life and the fragility of thought in constant opposition to metaphysics in all its manifestations. Never far from Derrida,



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Caputo is constantly vigilant on the side of the Dionysian, the free play of deconstruction, undecidability and différance. Insofar as interpretation can be said to have an aim, it consists in ‘coping with the flux’ without repressing it by means of some gesture toward the absolute. Philosophers who have caught a glimpse of contingency have a tendency to retreat from it. The great exception is again Derrida, who ‘does not want, ultimately, to tame it or merely tolerate it but positively to celebrate and cultivate it.’ Radical hermeneutics endeavours ‘if not to live constantly in that element, at least to spend some time there, to make an occasional excursion into that desert.’ Emphasizing the perilousness and difficulty of the task, and frequently dramatizing the point, Caputo tells us that our aim is to ‘cope’ with this element or ‘to stay in play with it’ rather than seek metaphysical reassurances.13 How one accomplishes this matters rather less than whether one makes the attempt. What Caputo finds in the trajectory of thought running from Kierkegaard and Nietzsche to Heidegger and Derrida, but not in Gadamer and Ricoeur, is a resolute affirmation of becoming, a thinking that recognizes the abyss beneath us without reverting to an objectifying metaphysics. Essentialism and metaphysics in all their forms must be jettisoned in favour of a Nietzschean innocence of becoming and a view of life as something that is ‘conducted along a narrow line, on either side of which lies the chaos.’14 This is a sense of life that is especially reminiscent of Nietzsche and Kierkegaard. Caputo repeatedly employs metaphors of the desert, the flux, chaos, free-wheeling repetition and play in a hermeneutics that is ‘cold’ and without any manner of reassurance or intellectual comfort. Interpretation is a gay science while the only truth of which we can speak is Nietzsche’s womanly truth. The atmosphere by turns is dangerous and exuberant and always resistant to the spirit of gravity. In short, ‘[t]he play is all’ in a hermeneutics that is schooled in deconstruction. ‘Beneath, behind, around, to the side of all grounding and founding, in the ground’s cracks and crevices and interstices, is the play. . . . The one great danger, the most perilous condition of all . . . is to take reason too seriously.’15 What hermeneutics requires is a Kierkegaardian leap into mystery, into a more poetic thinking that embraces difference over unity, free play over seriousness, and creativity over methodology. But for the method of deconstruction itself (and, of course, ‘method’ is not quite the word), radical hermeneutics regards all methodology as intellectual faintheartedness and a retreat into essentialism. The work of interpretation is play, yet not in Gadamer’s sense of the back-and-forth of dialogue since this too, according to Caputo, is a metaphysical gesture

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that presupposes some deep truth that we are trying to get right, some code that we are endeavouring to crack. Instead it is deconstructive free play that is the business of literary and all interpretation. Whether we are speaking of texts, traditions, perceptual objects or what have you, there is no phenomenological givenness in experience, nothing to get right and no pure origin apart from the ‘supplement.’ There is no sphere of prelinguistic meaning or truth that interpretation must re-present, only the play of linguistic signifiers in which nothing is pure or originary. In general, there is no ideality without language, no constitution without signs, and no realm of decidable meaning. In Caputo’s words, ‘The very meaning and mission of deconstruction is to show that things . . . do not have definable meanings and determinable missions, that they are always more than any mission would impose, that they exceed the boundaries they currently occupy. What is really going on in things, what is really happening, is always to come.’16 The meaning and the truth that we seek elude us and make a mockery of all rational methodology. The implication of undecidability is that nothing is set in stone, that while we are not unable to decide we are unable to still or contain the play of signifiers. No verdict is final, no case closed, no interpretation correct. The orientation of radical hermeneutics is therefore toward the disruptive and provocative and against any effort to reduce the meaning of the text to the author’s intention or otherwise call the play to order. What has been interpreted can be reinterpreted as tensions and complexities are continually brought to light and texts come into association with other texts. If much of this is already implicit to hermeneutics, Caputo insists that it is an ‘antihermeneutical interpretation of interpretation’ that he is offering since it ‘denies all deep meanings, all hidden truth, indeed truth itself.’ Radical hermeneutics speaks in ‘a wholly different voice, a wilder and more Nietzschean tone’ while constituting ‘a philosophy not of retrieval but of a more impious and free-wheeling repetition.’ Philosophical hermeneutics contains a metaphysical nostalgia that postmodernism has wholly abandoned. It reigns in the object of interpretation, pronounces upon its meaning, and excludes certain connections and effects of a text as irrelevant. To claim that one has understood a text or text-analogue is to commit an interpretive violence against it while deconstructive interpretation is an act of liberation, a refusal to pin down what cannot be pinned down. Following Derrida once more, Caputo speaks of hermeneutics as ‘rabbinical’ in its deference to the text, for the tradition it reveres and the spirit of gravity in which it works. There is a ‘theological reverence’ here and a ‘piety’ that radical thought rejects in favour of poetic liberation. ‘The poet’, Caputo writes, ‘. . . is imprudent and autonomous, an



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outlaw. He does not bow his head to the sacred original. If he is involved in interpretation at all, it is in a wilder, freer, antihermeneutic way which lacks the piety of rabbinical hermeneutics.’17 If interpreters come in two types, rabbis and poets, Gadamer and Ricoeur belong in the first category while Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Heidegger and Derrida belong in the second. Poetic thinkers, like all radicals, do not revere. Instead they are transgressors forever attuned to discontinuity, disruption and difference while keeping the play of interpretation and reinterpretation going. Caputo is well aware that many will hear this as a recipe for interpretive arbitrariness, and he does endeavour to show how this is not the case. No criteria and no methods govern interpretation, and this entails neither indecision nor arbitrariness but emancipation. Caputo’s language here is of an irreverent ‘free play of endless textual effects’ which is ‘out of control’ and whose alternative is violence, yet it is neither random, relativistic nor irrational.18 Derridean différance is ‘a wild and formless infinity’ that refuses the reduction to determinate meaning and a Gadamerian fusion of horizons, yet it is a misconception that in deconstruction interpretation dissolves into chaos or that a text can be read in any way that we wish.19 The impression is easily gained, of course, whether we are speaking of Derrida or Caputo, but for both thinkers to speak of interpretation as open-ended does not mean that it is arbitrary. ‘The point is to make life difficult’, Caputo says, ‘not impossible’, not to jettison reason but to fashion a non-rationalist conception of it. The point is not only to keep the play going but to keep it fair and reasonable, Caputo tells us in moments in which he appears somewhat less radical. If there are no criteria, there are still conditions of fairness. What, then, are these? The challenge for Caputo at this stage in the argument is a large one: what makes radical hermeneutics radical, he tells us often and with no little fanfare, is its embrace of the flux, its resolute refusal to retreat into metaphysics, including the subversive metaphysics of philosophical hermeneutics, and its ‘outlaw’ self-image. Any talk of criteria in interpretation is not only essentialist and foundationalist but ‘banal, after the fact, wooden, or, even worse, repressive.’20 Rational principles are for rationalists and are politically dangerous, dogmatic and – no less problematic for the radically minded – dull. Recourse to them evinces a failure of nerve. Caputo presses hard on this theme, and his vigilance on behalf of the Dionysian makes any transition back to Apollonian conditions of fairness and reasonableness awkward. He has told us that even phronesis presupposes an unquestioned order of things to which only guardians of that order and metaphysicians can appeal. What sort of Apollonian moment is possible for the radical?

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It is a question of fair play without criteria of fairness, of reasonableness without rationalism. It is a question, in other words, of dialogue, ‘a crossfertilizing dialogue among many different points of view.’ For Caputo and Derrida alike, ‘things get worked out in a way which is very much like what Rorty (following Oakeshott) calls the conversation of mankind . . . by a kind of ongoing debate in which the forces of rhetoric clash and settle into a consensus of whose contingency it is the role of the Socratics and Derrideans to remind us. . . . The upshot of Derrida’s critical praxis is not confusion and anarchy, as is often claimed, but free and open debate.’21 Caputo’s descriptions of a dialogue that is free and open sound familiar not only to readers of Rorty and a fortiori Dewey, but to readers of Gadamer and Ricoeur. Wherein lies the difference? The debate that is free and open in a radical sense can make no appeal to freedom or openness conceived as principles, to hermeneutical good will, to the fusion of horizons, to an ideal speech situation or to notions of pragmatic coherence or consensus, for all of this is metaphysical, repressive or otherwise non-radical. It must be a non-totalizing dialogue that is free of all gestures toward the absolute, one that is rhetorical but not sophistical, open-ended and hospitable to difference, inclined toward iconoclasm and the political left, and not deadly serious. On the question of science, it is well disposed to Thomas Kuhn and (especially) Paul Feyerabend, and prizes revolution over a normalcy that in most cases is authoritarian. Its openness to the other is said to be more thoroughgoing than what Gadamer spoke of, yet it is an openness that does not anticipate that the other may be right, for this is reverential and rabbinical. We are open to the other without quite being prepared to learn from them, for this implicates us in the language of metaphysics and places us on the receiving end of an essentialist’s postal service. Caputo is emphatic that interpretation is not arbitrary, yet when it comes to identifying the conditions that would render it fair and reasonable, it is primarily negative description that he offers. We must neither repress the play of interpretations nor dream of the coming of the absolute, but remain open to difference. Interpretive hospitality is not a principle of rationality, but it is an imperative of a somewhat less formal kind. ‘Like Rorty’, he writes, ‘I want to try to make it without entertaining any illusions about big world-historical or Being-historical stories’, without large-scale theories of rationality, knowledge, or truth.22 We are to be open – radically open and vigilant in our hospitality to the other. Above all, we are to be open to the mystery of which Heidegger spoke in his later works. The religious turn that things take here makes the distinction with philosophical hermeneutics more emphatic. While



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hermeneutics arose out of Protestant Christianity as a matter of historical fact, hermeneutical philosophy is not religiously committed. In radical hermeneutics the situation is decidedly otherwise. More than a century after Nietzsche pronounced the death of God, Caputo and many other postmoderns who claim the same figure as a major influence now speak of the return of God or religion, and in radical form. His formulation of this remains ‘parasitic upon the confessional forms’ of religion, most especially Christianity, however it is a ‘religiousness without the confessional religions’ – particularly without their metaphysical underpinnings – that he wishes to salvage after a few centuries of learned scepticism. For Caputo, the centrepiece of religion is ‘the passion for the impossible.’ The ‘mark of a religious sensibility’ is not any intellectual assent to doctrines but what he calls the ‘movement of living on the limit of the possible, in hope for and expectation of the impossible, a reality beyond the real.’ Religion is a question of desire, not reason; it ‘is for the unhinged’, not the sober-minded. It is a ‘sense of life [that] awakens when we lose our bearings and let go, when we find ourselves brought up against something that exceeds our powers, that overpowers us and knocks us off our hinges.’ It is a sense of life to which he contrasts the rationalistic and narrowly pragmatic, the character who is concerned only with certainties and mundane practicalities and whose experience is not cognitively deficient so much as unimaginative. The passion for the impossible that defines religious faith is a non-knowing that harks back to ‘what the mystics call a docta ignorantia, a learned or wise ignorance.’23 Like the ignorance of Socrates, it is the knowledge that one does not know and must live in this condition without expectation of deliverance. Caputo states and restates the point: there is no respite from the flux in which our existence is played out and no secret to which the believer has special access. Religion is an effort to cope with mystery and it is authentic only in the degree that it recognizes the contingency and difficulty of our condition. Religious faith is an effort to live with ambiguity and to make ourselves at home in a world in which our concepts are so many ‘thin membranes of structures which we stretch across the flux.’24 If it is our existential condition to know neither who we are nor what it is that we love when we love God, we can at least strive to keep these questions open and to love whatever it is that we love with Dionysian flair. At times Caputo defines religion very simply as ‘the love of God’, while acknowledging that the phrase ‘needs some work.’ No mythical supreme being, ‘God is a name we confer on things we love very dearly, like peace or justice or the messianic age.’ In saying this, he writes not as a theologian in the sense of one who expounds doctrines asserted to represent the

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truth about the deity or the afterlife but as a phenomenologist. It is an experience and a sense of life that he is interpreting, one that goes beyond and that has little to do with knowledge. He insists upon preserving the ambiguity and open-endedness of this experience and upon resisting the urge to reduce this to some determinate form that can be investigated as an intellectual proposition. As a sensibility, it is analogous to an aesthetic or political sense, a capacity for affective interpretation that is a ‘basic structure of our lives.’ Those who lack this, or who conceive of the religious as a propositional matter, Caputo chides as people who are not ‘worth their salt.’ One who does not share the religious sense of life lacks love, he insists, along with passion, depth, and a few other things. Religiosity is ‘the very thing that most constitutes human experience as experience.’ It is a structure that impels us beyond ourselves and beyond what is known, and toward the impossible. Yet religion also partakes of truth – a truth that is without knowledge, that is of a different sort than scientific truth, and that is analogous to the truth that we find in art. Religious experience reveals truth, yet not in the sense that it provides access to propositional knowledge. This is a truth that is unscientific and unknowing; it is not possessed but made and enacted in the course of loving whatever it is that we love. Since we love many things and enact this love in innumerable ways, religious truth is not one but many. Caputo draws the obvious conclusion: ‘Unlike a scientific theory, there is not a reason on earth (or in heaven) why many different religious narratives cannot all be true. “The one true religion” in that sense makes no more sense than “the one true language” or the “one true poetry”, “the one true story” or “the one true culture.”’ All religions are true – equally so, such that there is no religious conversion that can be understood as a transformation from ignorance to knowledge or from being unsaved to being saved. He would qualify this in the case of certain religious movements and persons, particularly fundamentalists of whom he takes a decidedly different view. Here, of course, are movements that proclaim their love of God with no little enthusiasm and make a rather strong claim to the truth. Where fundamentalism goes wrong is in allowing the love of God to deteriorate into a creed, a ‘passion for God gone mad’ which inclines the faithful toward violence and hatred for those not of like mind.25 A group that speaks of itself as the chosen people or special in the eyes of God is sure to become sectarian and oppressive. The fundamentalist or religious dogmatist of whatever kind insists that since there is one true religion, all others are erroneous and their adherents quite likely damned. For Caputo, it is the nature of religion to exist in a state of tension, but in the sense of being at odds with itself, not in conflict or competition with



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rival creeds. He is equally critical of newer forms of spirituality of the kind that fill the shelves of popular bookshops. If fundamentalism makes the mistake of codifying the love of God into a unified body of doctrines and practices which are idolized and divisive, religious nonsense in its flashier forms is humbug. The postmodern ‘religion without religion’ (a phrase that Caputo appropriates from Derrida) is defined above all by a passionate longing for that which cannot be reduced to a formula or captured in something as formal as a proposition. There is no secret of which the religious person knows, ‘although we have many interpretations.’26 Religion deals precisely with that which does not appear. Mystery and that which we love elude us, like the absent Messiah of which deconstruction speaks: ‘Deconstruction is (like) a deep desire for a Messiah who never shows (up), a subtle spirit or elusive spectre that would be extinguished by the harsh hands of presence and actuality. The very idea of a Messiah who is never to show and whom we accordingly desire all the more is the very paradigm of deconstruction.’27 We are to keep open to the mystery, not pronounce upon its meaning, for its meaning we do not and shall not know. Mystical theology provides a model for the kind of experience of which Caputo is speaking, mindful as it has long been not to make dubious claims to knowledge or to name the unnameable or say the unsayable. Mysticism does not know the secret, and while talk of revelation certainly makes it appear as if the believer does know it and is an ordained recipient in the very postal service of which Derrida spoke, Caputo insists that this is not the case, that the Messiah is always to come and that there is no religious secret that we could hold within our grasp. The secret requires an endless play of interpretations where ‘all of them are true.’28 I have stated that radical hermeneutics is premised on a misreading of philosophical hermeneutics, and coming to critical terms with Caputo’s argument must begin here. The remarks that follow are not intended to subvert that argument or to treat Caputo’s texts in quite the way that he treats Gadamer’s, or Ricoeur’s, on which he is all but silent. I shall not, for instance, speak of Caputo as a closet fundamentalist, although it is an accusation that is as plausible as the closet essentialism charge. Instead I shall pose three questions for Caputo. First, what is to be done with such old philosophical concepts as meaning, truth, understanding, experience, reason, the self or, for that matter, God? Is it best to jettison these notions (some or all of them) on the grounds perhaps that they belong to the language of metaphysics and are irredeemably essentialist, or to reinterpret them in ways that are more phenomenologically adequate? There are times

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when philosophers and gardeners should let go of what is dead or dying and pull it up by the roots so that something new can grow in its place, and there are other times when some creative rehabilitation is in order. Caputo opts for the latter strategy in the case of God but not meaning, religious truth but not truth. Why is this? My second question concerns whether there is a logic of vigilance. Deconstruction and radical hermeneutics are constantly vigilant on behalf of the Dionysian, undecidability, and keeping the play of interpretation in play, while others, perhaps more pragmatically inclined or less anxious to display their radical credentials, are vigilant on behalf of interpretation’s more Apollonian moment. Is there a logic of vigilance or is this, as James would say, a question of temperament? My final question concerns religious mysticism: why are so many mystics quite so prolific? Many of us admire a prolific writer; a prolific mystic leaves me puzzled. Our first question forces us to clarify briefly Gadamer’s position on meaning. Neither Gadamer nor Ricoeur, nor to my knowledge any more recent proponent of philosophical hermeneutics, maintains that the meaning of a text or text-analogue is either identical with its author’s intention, objective, prelinguistic, acontextual, essentialist or final. Caputo’s assertion that ‘Gadamer’s is a philosophy of meaning’ is unobjectionable on the face of it, for it does describe the manner in which meanings and truths are handed down to us in tradition, but the claim that this implicates hermeneutics in metaphysical essentialism is false. Gadamer clearly and adamantly rejected all forms of objectivism and essentialism. He repeatedly stated that ‘There cannot, therefore, be any single interpretation that is correct “in itself”’, that ‘Not just occasionally but always, the meaning of a text goes beyond its author’, and that ‘I too affirm [with Derrida] that understanding is always understanding differently.’29 Meaning ‘can be experienced even where it is not actually intended’; it is never proper or fully present, and is in every case inexhaustible.30 It is ‘the inexhaustibility of the experience of meaning’, as Gadamer stated, to which ‘I tried to hold fast.’31 Meaning is an event of mediation, an effect that emerges in the back-and-forth between text and reader and is not a pre-existing essence that the reader merely discovers. It is an event in which one participates. Meaning is inexhaustible in the sense that there is always more to be said, and said differently, about what we encounter in interpretation. ‘The ongoing dialogue’, as he expressed it, ‘permits no final conclusion. It would be a poor hermeneuticist who thought he could have, or had to have, the last word.’32 In similar fashion Ricoeur spoke of a ‘surplus of meaning’; the interpretive object means more than we can say



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of it, in a sense that differs little from what Caputo says of Derrida: ‘He is arguing not that our discourse has no meaning or that anything goes but, on the contrary, that it has too many meanings so that we can fix meaning only tentatively and only so far.’33 These are Caputo’s words when he is defending deconstruction against the arbitrariness charge. Here he speaks in a more Apollonian mood than usual, and in saying this the difference between his own position, or his interpretation of Derrida, and Gadamer’s, minus the essentialist caricature, is greatly diminished. Philosophical and radical hermeneutics both maintain that the meaning of a text or any object of interpretation is neither unitary, essentialist, objectively determinable nor out there awaiting discovery. The text contains a surplus and an inexhaustibility of significance, ‘too many meanings’ as Caputo says, and all efforts to capture the one true meaning are futile. Talk of the one true this and the one true that is over with, and whether we think of ourselves as radicals or not, we are operating in the interstices between essentialism and anarchism, between objectivism and subjectivism. There is an important sense in which interpretation is a faithful rendering of the things themselves, but being faithful in this sense does not mean that we are ‘getting it right’, as Rorty would say, or that we are being reverential or rabbinical. Faithfulness means that while we are participating in an event, we are not making it up, that we are not saying things like ‘The meaning of Les Misérables is every man for himself’ or ‘The moral of the New Testament is to be yourself.’ Texts are read differently, art speaks differently, history is recounted differently, symbols give rise to thought, and signs are ambiguous; all of this is true, and none of these statements betrays dubious metaphysical commitments. In every case we are intermediate between essentialism and relativism, and interpretation partakes of the rabbinical and the poetic, and of the Apollonian and the Dionysian, in about equal measure. Hermeneutics must be a philosophy of the big tent. It must incorporate within it both a ‘willingness to suspect’ and a ‘willingness to listen’, a ‘vow of rigour’ and a ‘vow of obedience’, as Ricoeur has said.34 Whether radical or not, it includes both a Dionysian and an Apollonian moment, an inclination toward the theoretical and the pragmatic, suspicion and recovery, and when it inclines too far in one direction it loses its bearings. Philosophical hermeneutics retains the notion of meaning while ridding it of essentialism – so as well with reason, truth, experience and a number of concepts that serve important philosophical purposes while being detachable from their metaphysical connotations. If, as Caputo believes, there can be ‘religion without religion’, a God without a God that many

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religious believers would recognize, and even a conception of reason that is ‘a far more reasonable reason than metaphysics has been proffering for some time now’, why can hermeneutics not speak of a meaning without essentialist meaning or understanding without the metaphysics of presence?35 Why is phronesis a ‘fundamentally conservative notion’ but God is not? What governs the choice of whether to jettison an old concept or to reinterpret it? For my part, I am inclined toward reinterpretation or rehabilitation of a concept when there is a vital philosophical purpose to be served and no good reason for conceding it to essentialists, foundationalists or others who would claim it as their moral property. James’ and Dewey’s reinterpretation of truth, Jaspers’ of reason, and Gadamer’s of meaning are a few examples of how this can be done to good effect. If Caputo is sympathetic with Rorty’s efforts to articulate a lower-case philosophy without Philosophy, why the opposition to Gadamer’s and Ricoeur’s efforts toward a similar end? Gardeners know when to rehabilitate a plant and when to pronounce upon it. Does the radical hermeneuticist? Our second question concerns the logic of vigilance. Following Derrida, radical hermeneutics is constantly vigilant on behalf of the Dionysian, of a linguistic free play that is impious, wild and unending. What is needful above all is to be watchful for and to resist all efforts to still the flux. If we are radical, our business is to disrupt and to problematize, and if it is still necessary to reconstruct and to resolve problems, rather less ink is spent in the latter occupation than in the former. Why is this? No one would question Nietzsche’s radical credentials, yet he well knew that thinking requires both a Dionysian and an Apollonian moment, and while he spent far more ink defending the rights of the former than the latter, this was because of the defeat that the Dionysian had suffered at the hands of Socrates and Plato and that philosophy ever since had done little to remedy. While it was urgently necessary, Nietzsche believed, to rehabilitate the Dionysian, the point was not to confound the Apollonian but to bring the two into a state of high and creative tension. This was a radical gesture, but by the time the postmoderns enter the scene, things look rather different. Dionysian vigilance now takes on the appearance of an end in itself; the postmodern thinker is one who disrupts, calls into question and destabilizes rather more than they propose or resolve – not, of course, in the sense of a final solution, for we know better than to seek this, but a hypothesis that has been duly chastened without being useless. If for the Dionysian an Apollonian moment is still necessary every now and then – to answer humourless critics, for instance – it is a moment that tends to lack conviction. Many a postmodern thinker leaves the Apollonian



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dimension of thought underdeveloped and we are left to wonder about what Gary Madison calls ‘the positive, philosophical significance of the critique of metaphysics and epistemology.’ As he asks of Derrida and Rorty in particular, ‘Where does it all get us? What future, if any, is there for philosophy after the death of Philosophy?’36 We are told and retold not to perpetuate the metaphysics of presence, not to arrest the flux and not to cope with it by arresting it subversively – so much vigilance over here and so little over there. This is an issue for those of us in agreement with a good deal of postmodern thought and who also believe that philosophy’s proper condition is one of tension between the Apollonian and the Dionysian. Like so much of postmodern philosophy, radical hermeneutics is at its most convincing when it is making life difficult, when it is suspicious and oppositional and when it is defending the rights of multiplicity over totalizing unity. Caputo writes that ‘Derrida’s work is one of vigilance against the metaphysical desire for meaning and stability, the desire of metaphysics to get beyond the physis, the play and the flux’, and the same is true of Caputo’s work. His hermeneutics ‘requires ceaseless deconstructive vigilance to “maintain” itself there’, at the heart of becoming.37 To this I have no objection. The problem is that I also have no objection to Dewey when he insisted that the ultimate concern of philosophy is to resolve what he called ‘the problems of men’, not only to historicize and genealogize them while warning against certain kinds of solution. The Dionysian is an important moment in inquiry, but it is not its beginning, middle and end. If we are serious about justice or democracy, for instance, as Dewey and Derrida both unquestionably were, it will not do to speak a little too much of the democracy to come and rather little of the democracy that is here and now, just as becoming buried in the minutiae of public policy tends to bury our political imagination as well. The imperative of which radical hermeneutics speaks, to cope with the difficulty of life without repressing it, requires a turn of mind and a vigilance that is Janus-faced. The Apollonian and the Dionysian, logos and mythos, the theoretical and the pragmatic, reason and desire must be thought together, and a vigilance that is one-sided eases one set of worries while leaving us silent in the face of worries that are countervailing and no less urgent. Is there a rationale for vigilance on one side of an equation? There is only so much of this quality that one soul can house, and perhaps it is too much to expect a thinker to be Apollonian by day and Dionysian by night, yet be that as it may, the division of labour that finds thinkers divided into rabbis and poets is intolerable. ‘Like Socrates’, Caputo states, ‘Derrida’s

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daemon is not positive.’ He is a ‘practitioner of disruptive strategies whose point – whose style/stylus – is to unmask pretension, to foil the claim to knowledge.’38 Much the same can be said of Caputo along with Rorty, Foucault, Lyotard and a great many other postmoderns. It cannot be said of Dewey, Ricoeur or Gadamer. From the point of view of the first group, the second looks naïve and fainthearted while the second may regard the first as irresponsible and anarchistic. Both are mistaken; the postmoderns are no more wanton than hermeneuticists are conservative or pragmatists are naïve. James would say that once again we are speaking of a difference in temperament and that this apparent impasse is a question more of psychology than philosophy, if indeed this distinction can still be drawn. When Nietzsche remarked that ‘most of the conscious thinking of a philosopher is secretly guided and forced into certain channels by his instincts’, he was correct. Philosophy is always ‘the personal confession of its author.’39 It is the confession of our daimonion, temperament or sense of life – call it what you will – and as James stated it is something in which the thinker has perfect confidence. The philosopher ‘trusts his temperament’ as Socrates trusted his daimonion, not because he was able to produce a demonstration of its reliability but as a psychological article of faith. Radicals and sceptics still do not question their sense of life, and the tough- and tender-minded alike are convinced that those of the opposite disposition are, as James said, ‘out of key with the world’s character’ and ‘not in it.’40 This is precisely what Caputo says of anyone who lacks a religious sense of life; they are not ‘worth their salt.’ This does not need to be shown; believers know it in their bones, just as postmodernists know that hermeneuticists are conservatives and essentialists and hard-nosed analysts know that postmodernists are irrationalists. There is no need for textual evidence; it does not exist and we do not need it for our sense of life tells us it is so. Apollonians gaze upon Dionysians in uncomprehending indignation. Usually they do not allow themselves even to read the latter’s texts for fear of contamination or intoxication, while the Dionysians return the favour for fear of boredom. It is our sense of life that governs where our vigilance lies, and apart from psycho-logic there is no logic to be found here. Knowledge serves knowers in myriad ways, and it serves their sense of life above all. One thematizes, accentuates and celebrates the free play of interpretation, while another speaks of the humility of the listener, but the opposition that this implies is more apparent than real. The accent on listening sounds like reverence to the poetic, but it is not reverence and it is not ‘theological.’ Gadamer’s constant theme is that the other may be right, not that they are right and not that when tradition speaks we must bow our heads. The claim of the



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other and of tradition may be utter nonsense, and if hermeneutics does not emphasize the point it is because it is obvious. By the same token, Dionysian free play sounds like anarchism to the sober-minded, but in both cases we are speaking of caricatures. A philosophy of the big tent is more likely to be found in a hermeneutics that is philosophical and phenomenological than one that speaks a little too emphatically of its radicality. It is not only in politics that opposition to the big tent comes most often from the inhospitable and the self-certain, and in the case of radical hermeneutics the much-celebrated deconstructive hospitality to the other is, I suspect, rather less hospitable when the other does not share our sense of life. Apollonian purists make us laugh and Dionysians make us indignant. In either case it is our sense of life that has been affronted, and perhaps while we are being suspicious we might be a little suspicious of this as well. Interpretation is multifarious. It is appetitive, spirited and rational, suspicious and hospitable, critical and receptive, devilish and angelic, all at once and as need be. We can accentuate one aspect or the other if we are trying to achieve a certain effect, to offer a corrective, or if our sense of life simply demands it of us, but let us keep our tent large and not allow our vigilance to be too one-sided. My final question is brief, and it concerns mysticism. Radical hermeneutics is committed to a Heideggerian ‘openness to the mystery’, and so stated I am in unqualified agreement. The trouble is that something happens on the road from openness to the mystery to Caputo’s mysticism, something that I fear is not unlike what happens on the road from reason to rationalism. The mystic must not be silent, Caputo insists, for silence betrays a metaphysical claim to knowledge. The silent imagine that they know the secret, but there is no secret, he tells us. The mystic is compelled to speak, and to continue speaking, and as volume piles upon volume something happens to the docta ignorantia and the claim to non-knowledge. It dies the death of a thousand qualifications and by some slow but unstoppable process we begin to know a great deal. What great knowledge there often is in the profession of ignorance – more and more docta and less and less ignorantia. An entire theology emerges – one that is ‘weak’ and non-metaphysical, but a theology all the same. Mystics are chatty. Their prolificacy may not amount to one of Apel’s performative contradictions, but it is almost that. At any rate, it is odd. Of religion there is so little to know – nothing at all, Caputo maintains – yet somehow so much to say. My question is, why so much? Why the compulsion to speak of the unspeakable, in such quantity or in any quantity? For that matter, why does openness to the mystery need to take us in the direction of religion and

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the confessional faiths? Caputo is vitally concerned to stop the retreat into nostalgia and metaphysical comfort that, he insists, hermeneutical talk of meaning and truth exhibits, yet somehow the language of God, religious truth and Christian faith survives his scepticism. My own view is that while openness to mystery belongs to the very highest reaches of thinking, the compulsion to speak about it should be resisted. I am with Caputo when he writes in Radical Hermeneutics: ‘It is a question always of staying under way (unterwegs), when the essential thing is the way and where the illusion of a final formulation and resting point is dispelled as so much metaphysics. It is a question of awakening to the mystery of this primordial relationship which defines and sustains us, not in order to remove the mystery but to preserve it as a mystery, to shelter it from the withering glare of metaphysical conceptuality.’ Some volumes later, as metaphysical conceptuality is replaced with theological conceptuality, I am not with him and I suspect that the Heideggerian imperative ‘to keep open to the mystery as a mystery’ has gradually given way to an imperative of an altogether different kind: to keep open to the mystery as an object of learned discourse. Prayers and tears are well and good until the end of the story, when even the higher men have a tendency to worship asses. ‘Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.’41 Openness to the mystery, full stop.

Chapter 12

Unprincipled Judgements Jean-François Lyotard Philosophical hermeneutics is no more credulous toward metanarratives than what goes under the names of postmodernism and poststructuralism. Jean-François Lyotard famously spoke of the postmodern as a Nietzschean ‘incredulity toward metanarratives’, and as definitions of this word go, it is as good as any. We are ‘[s]implifying to the extreme’, he cautioned, yet if no definition quite succeeds in capturing the trajectories of thought that over the last fifty odd years have followed Nietzsche and Heidegger, let us not regard this as a cause for worry. More worrisome perhaps, or more odd, is Lyotard’s inclusion of what he called ‘the hermeneutics of meaning’ on his short list of metanarratives in the same context in The Postmodern Condition in which he announced his definition of the postmodern. As he put it, ‘I will use the term modern to designate any science that legitimates itself with reference to a metadiscourse of this kind making an explicit appeal to some grand narrative, such as the dialectics of Spirit, the hermeneutics of meaning, the emancipation of the rational or working subject or the creation of wealth.’1 Whether ‘the hermeneutics of meaning’ refers to the philosophical and phenomenological hermeneutics of Gadamer and Ricoeur, Heidegger’s hermeneutics of facticity, the romantic hermeneutics of Dilthey or Schleiermacher or perhaps the objectivist hermeneutics of E. D. Hirsch is not clarified here, nor did Lyotard make frequent reference to Gadamer, Ricoeur or other recent post-Heideggerian hermeneutical thinkers. Lines of communication between hermeneutics and postmodern thought in general have been rather less open than they might have been, despite their common Heideggerian heritage. My purpose in this final chapter is to engage Lyotard’s postmodernism on the theme of moralpolitical judgement. The hypothesis of this chapter is that while Lyotard’s scepticism about grounding judgements in metanarratives is well taken, his account of judgement constitutes an over-correction of the views that he and hermeneutical philosophers likewise reject. A postmodern politics, Lyotard held, must be a politics of judgement. The nature of such judgement and its relation to justice he would speak of in approximately Aristotelian terms, particularly in Just Gaming, and in ways

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that show some affinity to Gadamer’s rehabilitated conception of phronesis. As we began to see in Chapter 10, Gadamer regarded Aristotelian phronesis as a model not only of moral knowledge but of hermeneutical reflection more generally. Both Lyotard and Gadamer regarded the concept of judgement as belonging at the centre of the moral-political domain, a judgement that is neither a formal technique nor grounded in an ahistorical foundation. Beyond this, however, their differences would run deep. Lyotard’s incredulity perhaps extends farther than Gadamer’s. Even if it extends no farther, it extends in a somewhat different direction. In any event, our questions are as follows: in what sense is a political morality that takes seriously both Nietzsche’s critique and the onslaught of postmodern scepticism that followed it a politics of judgement? Is it invariably opposed to a politics of principles? If in postmodernity we cannot legitimate judgements by tracing them back to the absolute, can we justify them at all? All judgements, like all interpretations, contain an estimation of importance by which others might be expected to be persuaded, yet on what basis do they do so? Can we still speak of a basis, of reasons or justifications without sliding back into foundationalism or metanarratives of one kind or another? These are urgent questions, and our point of departure will be where hermeneutics and postmodernism intersect. Lyotard urged us to ‘wage a war on totality’ and to resist the ‘terror’ and the ‘totalizing obsessions’ of modernity.2 What do these directives mean and what are their implications? For Lyotard, they entail that we think of justice as a Wittgensteinian language game for which there is no formal model. ‘It means that there is no just society’, no theoretical blueprint to sanction and support political prescriptions. Justice ‘is of the order of the prescriptive’, and prescriptive statements cannot be grounded in descriptions, principles, or on an ontology. Metaphors of grounds and foundations are to be dispensed with in favour of a plurality of language games and of novel utterances within them. Among the ideas Lyotard opposed is that in judging one is issuing prescriptions that have their basis in theoretical descriptions of Justice itself, of ‘the very being of justice’ in the sense of either a Plato or a Hobbes, a Marx or a Mill. There is no essence of justice; there are no essences period. There are only prescriptions, and while these may be just, they are not made just by virtue of an account of the way things are. In saying this, Lyotard opposed the ‘deep conviction’, both ancient and modern, ‘that there is a true being of society, and that society will be just if it is brought into conformity with this true being, and therefore one can draw just prescriptions from a description that is true, in the sense of “correct.”’ No logical path leads from the true to the just, from description



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to prescription. Indeed, ‘one can never reach the just by a conclusion.’3 Prescription and description are altogether separate language games, and neither form of utterance serves to legitimate the other. Lyotard was especially emphatic that political judgements are never legitimated with reference to a metanarrative or large-scale theoretical explanation. What distinguishes the modern from the postmodern is precisely the reliance of the former upon grand narratives such as ‘the progressive emancipation of reason and freedom, the progressive or catastrophic emancipation of labour (source of alienated value in capitalism), the enrichment of all humanity through the progress of capitalist techno-science, and even – if we include Christianity itself in modernity (in opposition to the classicism of antiquity) – the salvation of creatures through the conversion of souls to the Christian narrative of martyred love.’ A metanarrative’s function is to provide legitimation for our ways of thinking and acting in general, very much in the fashion of a myth. What distinguishes the two is that ‘unlike myths, [metanarratives] ground this legitimacy not in an original “founding” act, but in a future to be brought about, that is, in an Idea to be realized. This Idea (of freedom, “enlightenment”, socialism, general prosperity) has legitimating value because it is universal. It gives modernity its characteristic mode: the project, that is, the will directed toward a goal.’4 This is a project and a goal asserted to be valid for all time, and often enough to represent the onward march of history itself. Having transcended the contingency of first-order narratives, the metanarrative is a teleological discourse that claims to encompass political and scientific utterance alike and to ground our judgements once and for all. Postmodernity, by contrast, dethrones all privileged forms of discourse, undermines foundations, teleology, and theories (which ‘themselves are concealed narratives’), and is invariably suspicious of the ‘great “actors” and “subjects” of history – the nation-state, the proletariat, the party, the West, etc.’5 The function of the Kantian Idea is to regulate judgements in the name of the universal. The primary example of this in the political and scientific thought of the last two centuries is the Idea of the progressive emancipation of humankind from its various forms of bondage. As Lyotard expressed it, ‘[t]he sometimes violent divergences between political liberalism, economic liberalism, Marxism, anarchism, the radicalism of the Third Republic and socialism count for little next to the abiding unanimity about the end to be attained. The promise of freedom is for everyone the horizon of progress and its legitimation.’6 The difficulty is that the capacity to form judgements must be regulated by ideas of some kind, yet

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in modernity it is ‘an Idea of totality’ that invariably serves this function.7 The totalizing standard today defies credulity; the question of what is to be done need not and ought not be answered in the name of the transcendent. Lyotard singled out Habermas and Apel in this connection as contemporary proponents of a position that we can no longer take seriously. Critical-theoretic appeals to emancipation and rational consensus are too Kantian to Lyotard’s way of thinking and, broadly speaking, do not withstand the critique that Nietzsche initiated. More specifically, he argued in The Postmodern Condition that Habermas’ and Apel’s notion of universal consensus rests on two dubious assumptions. These are, first, that the rules that govern our language games are capable of generating universal agreement and, second, that the overriding aim of discourse is consensus. On the first point, Lyotard’s contention is that ‘language games are heteromorphous, subject to heterogeneous sets of pragmatic rules.’ The rules of any given language game are subject to the agreement of its players and are never heterogeneous, beyond dispute or identifiable a priori. On the second point, universal consensus is not the goal of inquiry, whether we are speaking of politics, science, or any other form of discourse. At most, consensus represents ‘only a particular state of discussion, not its end’, and not its most decisive moment. Habermas’ and Apel’s most dubious proposition is that which largely defines the modern project: ‘that humanity as a collective (universal) subject seeks its common emancipation through the regularization of the “moves” permitted in all language games and that the legitimacy of any statement resides in its contributing to that emancipation.’8 Insofar as our language games can be said to have an end of any kind, this end is defined far more by invention than consensus. Political judgements, for Lyotard, are not redeemed by their consensusgenerating capacity, nor are they derived from a syllogism. Prescriptive statements belong to the order of opinion and not to the order of knowledge or truth. ‘There is’, in his words, ‘no knowledge in matters of ethics. And therefore there will be no knowledge in matters of politics.’ Instead we are required to form judgements without criteria of any kind. This constitutes the very heart of Lyotard’s ‘pagan’ politics: our judgements are neither determinant (in Kant’s sense), informed by training and habit (Aristotle), guided by a sensus communis (Gadamer) nor by concepts or criteria. ‘One is without criteria, yet one must decide.’ All talk of criteria is illegitimate since ‘the idea of criteria comes from the discourse of truth and supposes a referent or a “reality” and, by dint of this, it does not belong to the discourse of justice. This is very important. It must be understood that if one wants criteria in the discourse of justice one is tolerating de facto



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the encroachment of the discourse of justice by the discourse of truth.’9 Judgements are not arbitrary, yet for Lyotard it is a rather difficult matter to explain how this is not so. What is clear is that we can no longer have recourse to metanarratives, theoretical principles, universals or criteria. The closest that he would come to identifying standards that are capable of regulating our judgements are the ideas of plurality, the differend and invention. In postmodernity one finds a plurality of language games, none of which has privileged status over the others. Communication is far from the wellregulated exchange of arguments of which Habermas in particular speaks, but is an affair in which ‘questions, requests, assertions, and narratives are launched pell-mell into battle.’ In other words, ‘to speak is to fight’, in the sense that interlocutors seek to persuade each other by using ‘any available ammunition, changing games from one utterance to the next’ and with ‘the greatest possible flexibility’ in following rules.10 Nothing in the rules of our language games – which themselves are products of contingent agreements between players – prevents us from leaping from one form of utterance to another, and indeed this is the usual form that discourse takes. Typically we do not play only one language game at a time – or not for long – but move from descriptive statements to prescriptive judgements, performative utterances, questions, promises, narratives, artistic expressions, command and obligation, technical games, and so on. Any given utterance is judged by the rules of the game to which it belongs and in which it is a move, yet within a single conversation the usual course is to move rapidly from one language game to another. Our condition in postmodernity is to think and to speak at the intersection of an indefinite number of such games between which, Lyotard insisted, ‘there is no common measure.’ No rule dictates how one moves from one form of discourse to another, although one can generally determine when this is done to good effect and one knows a ‘master stroke’ when one sees it.11 As with communication in general, then, moral-political discourse is no ideal speech situation or rationally orchestrated search for consensus but its virtual antithesis: it is an unstable and unending series of utterances, ‘the trumping of a communicational adversary, an essentially conflictual relationship between tricksters.’12 The point in all of this is not to generate consensus or hit upon the truth but to invent novel moves. The language game of narrative receives special attention in Lyotard’s account. What is to replace the unitary grand narrative are small and often local narratives. This is owing not only to the usual postmodern scepticism regarding large-scale theorizing but to the premium that Lyotard placed

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on invention. As he expressed it, ‘the little narrative [petit récit] remains the quintessential form of imaginative invention, most particularly in science’ but in political matters as well.13 The grand narrative – of emancipation or what have you – creates a monopoly on what is politically sayable and so closes off the differend and possibilities of creative utterance in general. What is to be avoided above all is the discursive regime that forbids anything new from being said – and new not in the limited sense of filing new information in old pigeon holes but radically new, in which the rules of the game themselves come into question. Pagan politics expresses ‘[t]he need to be godless in things political’, or to replace the belief in one god with many, each of which coexists with while trying to outdo the others.14 Tension in multiplicity is the precondition of creativity, and it is this on which the possibility of justice relies. The statement, ‘“one ought to be pagan” means “one must maximize as much as possible the multiplication of small narratives.”’15 Whatever justice is, it is not a matter of conforming to abstract moral requirements or playing the game in the usual way by the usual rules. There is always the need to take our language games farther, to move the conversation forward either by playing a new move or, more radically, by changing the rules themselves and inventing new games. Justice as Lyotard conceived of it aims not at convergence or finality but always at divergence, at inventing ever newer moves, more and more novel opinions without granting anyone the honour of having the last word. The orienting goal, as one commentator puts it, is ‘simply to produce more work, to generate new and fresh statements, to make you have “new ideas”, or, best of all, again and again to “make it new.”’16 The modern search for secure grounds is replaced with the search for inventive statements, without criteria for determining their legitimacy. To the Kantian ideal of unity or finality Lyotard opposed multiplicity and diversity of opinion, raising the question of whether it is possible to fashion as a political principle of sorts, ‘“Always act in such a way that the maxim of your will may” I won’t say “not be erected”, but it is almost that, “into a principle of universal legislation.”’17 The closest item one finds in Lyotard’s work to a principle or a Kantian Idea is the Idea of divergence, novelty or ‘the inventor’s paralogy.’18 Whether this quite constitutes an Idea in Kant’s sense is a matter on which Lyotard expressed some uncertainty, but his point was that here is a standard or a horizon that is capable of guiding our political judgements without positing a theory of justice – if we mean by this an essentialist account that presupposes some ‘reality’ that tells us ‘what is just.’ The Idea of multiplicity regulates justice in the sense of informing our judgements, but without supposing that



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justice itself has a referent. Lyotard would remain hesitant on this point: ‘Is a politics regulated by such an idea of multiplicity possible? Is it possible to decide in a just way in, and according to, this multiplicity? And here I must say that I don’t know.’19 The game of justice has no ontology, least of all one that partakes of essentialism. There is no justice itself to which our actions or judgements might conform. In postmodernity, then, the idea of plurality – of language games, narratives and judgements – at long last comes into its own and replaces all talk of rational consensus and finality. It is also an idea with roots in ancient thought, although Lyotard’s account of this raises some questions. The obvious connection of the pagan with the sophists or ‘lesser Greeks’ is one of which he was well aware. Political judgements are opinions that are ‘outside of any knowledge of reality’; no rational or scientific politics is possible. Judging is more an affective than a deductive matter, and ‘one of the properties of paganism is to leave prescriptions hanging’, without connection to a Form of Justice or any modern equivalent. If it is not difficult to imagine the sophists agreeing with a great deal of this, Lyotard’s stated indebtedness to the Nicomachean Ethics is more surprising. Just Gaming in particular makes frequent reference to Aristotle’s notion of the prudent judge. If ‘the Aristotle of the Politics, of the Ethics, even of the Topics and the Rhetoric, is indeed an Aristotle very close to paganism’, and indeed to the sophists, it is primarily due to his account of moral-political judgement. On Lyotard’s reading, the phronimos judges from case to case, without knowledge or a sensus communis, and indeed ‘outside of habit’; ‘Aristotle’s prudent individual . . . makes judgements about the just and the unjust without the least criterion.’20 This is an unusual Aristotle. If Gadamer’s interpretation differs profoundly from Lyotard’s, it is more important that we find here an intersection between hermeneutics and postmodernism that warrants our attention. Both agree upon the need for an ethics and a politics of judgement and that Aristotle affords the needed starting point in such a project. Our question concerns the meaning and implications of a politics of judgement, and in addressing it I shall not place Gadamer and Lyotard in simple opposition to each other but read them both as making important inroads on this theme. Indeed, there is a great deal in political paganism with which the hermeneuticist can agree, beginning with the opposition to metanarratives and to all talk of foundations and essentialism in matters of justice. Both regard the political realm as fundamentally rhetorical and without appeal to the transcendent or to some unshakeable ground from which we may derive judgements. There is no eliminating

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contingency, uncertainty or contestation, no decision procedure that will allow us to rise above our own embeddedness in language and history, and what critical reflection is available to us is of the immanent variety. Where the two begin to diverge is on the question of a common measure that Lyotard insisted is absent from our language games. If conversation can be likened to a game or set of games, as it undoubtedly can, it remains that the participants are bound together in a common effort to determine what is just, while our prescriptions in every case are dialogical interpretations that are about something in our social world. Judging is neither an isolated linguistic unit nor a merely self-regarding act of expression but is a reply to what another has said, a move in a game that amounts to, while also inviting, a countermove. Lyotard did not deny this, yet the one-sidedness of his concentration upon the agonistic and the adversarial can cause us to overlook the hermeneutical fact that communication is not always a contest in which one seeks to outmanoeuvre an opposing player. One’s comportment is not always strategic, as the metaphor of prescription already suggests. It is no naïvety to speak of good will here or the anticipation that the other may be right. If our language games are every bit as agonistic as Lyotard maintained, as I believe they are, this remains one side of a complex story. Political discourse is no ideal speech situation or utopia of public deliberation, yet nor is it a contrarian’s dystopia. There is a tension here that must be preserved between the strategic gaming of which Lyotard spoke and the search for agreement that orients all conversation that is worthy of the name, as it is out of this tension that novel utterance emerges. We need not and ought not choose between a conception of discourse as aiming at consensus and one that aims at perpetual revolution. For particular purposes we shall often emphasize one or the other, but the suggestion that we find, for instance, in the debate between Lyotard and Habermas that it is multiplicity or unity that reigns supreme is dubious, particularly if we are speaking about the real world of democratic discourse. Regarded as an abstract antithesis, the choice between the two appears to be forced, yet phenomenologically speaking the fact of plurality – legitimate and rational plurality – and the search for unity are co-present in all intellectual investigation, if indeed they are not ultimately inseparable values. It is not only metanarratives of which postmodernity is rightly sceptical but binary oppositions that do not map onto our practices, including the one of which we are speaking. Lyotard and Habermas both have a point, but in both cases the point is lost when multiplicity or unity is regarded not as an important moment in inquiry but as a kind of first principle.



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A second polarity that surprisingly finds expression in Lyotard’s account is that between knowledge and opinion. A philosophy so profoundly indebted to Nietzsche and Heidegger is not a natural home for Platonic dichotomies, yet this one features prominently in Lyotard’s argument. Gadamer’s position here, following Aristotle, is precisely that phronesis is not an alternative to knowledge but another form of it. It differs in important ways from technical knowledge, but it is not for that reason something with which knowledge is contrasted. What kind of knowledge this is was treated in the sixth book of the Nicomachean Ethics, and Gadamer’s interpretation of this theme is worth recalling. Among the more salient features of moral-political judgement is its dialogical and dialectical structure. To judge is to negotiate the distinction between universal and particular in what Calvin Schrag calls ‘the space of intersubjectivity.’21 A clear contrast to this view is afforded by ethical formalism. Utilitarians, Kantians and other formalists regard practical judgement as a rule-governed application of abstract moral requirements to particular cases. Principles, conceived as decision procedures formulated in advance of a given case, function as major premises in a practical syllogism, while the act of judging abstracts from the contingencies of a case and focuses on a single dominant consideration, such as whether an act is universalizable or maximizes the general utility. Practical judgement is a matter of subsuming the case under a ready-made universal and following procedures without any significant reliance on the inventiveness or personal responsibility of the judge. For hermeneutics, the situation is reversed. While we are speaking of knowledge, phronesis as Aristotle and Gadamer both spoke of it is a knowledge of particulars for which there is no formal model and which is not governed by rules. Judging is not an act of derivation but an interpretation that aims at disclosing meaning in a given case and, as Ricoeur stated, ‘grasping the situation in its singularity.’22 Phronesis is concerned with particulars, yet these are not known in isolation. Practical judgement as Aristotle spoke of it involves neither the hegemony of the universal nor its abolition but a reciprocity of universal and particular which is fundamentally unlike technical and scientific forms of knowledge (techne, episteme) and which is not governed by a method. Technical knowledge begins with a clear grasp of the end it sets out to achieve and the method by which to achieve it, and applies its rules in a more or less automatic way, while in contrast, phronesis is responsive to the contingencies of a situation and involves a two-way illumination of the particular case and a moral concept (virtue, law, or what have you). In judging, we are not merely subsuming a case under a rule spelled out in

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advance but interpreting it in the light of a universal, and where universal and particular are codetermining. Interpreting any particular requires the mediation of a universal, of which it is seen as an instance or in terms of which its meaning can be understood. Phronesis in this respect is directly comparable to textual interpretation, in which an individual passage must be taken out of its isolation and read in the light of the text as a whole. In political judgement as well, while it is the particular that is our object, we do not perceive this apart from a moral concept of one kind or another. We interpret and judge always in relational terms, by viewing a particular in connection with (from the perspective of) the relevant universal. It is equally true that our grasp of the particular is mediated by the universal and that our grasp of the latter is mediated by the former. No rule governs the application of moral concepts. The reason for this is twofold. When we seek a formal basis for their application, there is no way to avoid an infinite regress of rules governing rules. Further, a judgement that is appropriately responsive to particularity is far too complex to be catalogued in a set of procedures. Abstract normative requirements, for instance, permit exceptions that cannot be enumerated in advance. The formalist view would need either to forbid exceptions (thus opening itself to the charge of rule fetishism) or provide further rules governing what may count as an exception and what is to be done once it is recognized. The difficulty in formulating rules of this kind is that special cases do not come in types. The most complex of rules are incapable of mapping the intellectual virtue of phronesis. Judgement is better spoken of as a skill or art of bringing a particular and a universal to bear on each other in the absence of rules, and thus as a virtue (intellectual and moral) of mediation. It is the art of interpreting cases in the light of the appropriate universal without criteria of appropriateness. If it works with abstract moral concepts, it is not governed by them but employs them in the fashion of hypotheses. Judgement is a skill in detecting the salient features of a case, in separating what is important from what is trivial, and in subsuming particulars under universals. While, with Kant, we may say that ‘judgement in general is the faculty of thinking the particular as contained under the universal’, practical judgement is an instance of this in which neither universal nor particular is given.23 It is neither reflective nor determinant; it is neither the case that the particular is given and we are in a condition of having to find the appropriate universal under which to subsume it, nor that the universal is given and we must determine which particular belongs under it. Our interpretation of a case is mediated by a moral concept, yet so too is the latter mediated (has its content determined) by the former. Judging



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is a dialectical process in which universal and particular are mutually determined in their being. Phronesis determines the way in which such reciprocal illumination occurs and is the skillful exercise of looking back and forth, between universal and particular, and judging both the moral concept to be applied and the manner of its application. It does not reach conclusions deductively but perceives a moral context in a way that is ‘fitting’ or ‘suitable.’ The vagueness of speaking with Aristotle of what is fitting, or what the situation requires, is inescapable since there are no necessary and sufficient conditions determining the abstract content of these expressions. Nor is there a substantive common feature uniting all instances of good judgement. In many cases what is fitting is a more or less straightforward application of a value or norm, while on other occasions it requires that we recognize an exception in the light of the circumstances surrounding a case, or challenging the norm itself. Knowing how to make distinctions of this kind is the mark of a competent judge, one that does not obey rules bureaucratically but tailors moral requirements to cases in a flexible way. Like any art, judging is an ability to establish a fit between abstract requirements and concrete action without following rules. Unlike the novice, one who has mastered a skill is not forever consulting rules but has a developed sense of what the situation calls for and how to perform whatever action is required. This is a sensibility that, as Aristotle showed, is acquired through training and habit. It is not only an ability to reason well but a virtue of mind that is inseparable from the ethical virtues and acquired together with them in the process of education. It is a capacity that operates not only in language games but in a lifeworld, and is informed by the experience of both the individual and their culture. Indeed, phronesis is a social process inseparable from dialogue since the judgements one forms are either a cultural appropriation or a creative departure from the same; they are moves in a game in which one is not the only player. In making prescriptive statements it behoves us not merely to utter a yea or a nay but to persuade. We are in the domain of rhetoric here, and while Lyotard was inclined to compare politics with art it cannot be lost sight of that what we say is addressed to an interlocutor who must be persuaded and who in the usual course of things resists us. Judgements must have reasons, and if these are not formal derivations but something ultimately indistinguishable from interpretations, it remains that they are not arbitrary acts of decision of which others can be informed but not persuaded. Political persuasion is a Janus-faced movement back and forth from a universal to a particular, in which neither is given and there is no method to be followed apart from careful perception.

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Phronesis so conceived is closely associated with equity (epieikeia), which Aristotle spoke of as the ‘correction of legal justice.’ Normative requirements formulated in abstract terms have a certain deficiency; their generality may lead us to overlook aspects of a case that are crucially relevant. What calls for moral appraisal or political judgement is particular, and universals of all kinds never catch up with their complexity, thus requiring flexibility in application. ‘For when the thing is indefinite’, Aristotle wrote, ‘the rule also is indefinite, like the leaden rule used in making the Lesbian moulding; the rule adapts itself to the shape of the stone and is not rigid.’24 Equity has us apply general laws while attending carefully to the particularity of cases and without losing sight of a judgement’s consequences. Aristotle and Gadamer would both speak of flexibility, even-handedness and a sense of proportion as indicators of good judgement – not, as Lyotard believed, because there are no criteria but because there are many. Our lifeworld provides us with a plethora of moral concepts and norms, with laws and political values that orient but also underdetermine our judgement. In every case we must decide which standard to apply and how to apply it, yet standards or criteria in some sense of the word there must be if we take seriously the need to persuade and to justify. In judging, we do not merely declare ‘Here I stand’ but appeal to values we anticipate our interlocutors will share. These standards are many and are themselves contested in their meaning, their relative weight and their practical implications, yet they provide orientation for a dialogue that is at once hermeneutical and rhetorical, civil and combative. For all Lyotard’s talk of invention – a position with which I fully agree – he may have underestimated the extent to which even this is situated in tradition and the ethos of a historical community. One does not invent from scratch, and moral imagination never lacks a heritage. Lyotard the phenomenologist was well aware of the human being’s embeddedness in a lifeworld, but the political thinker may have underestimated its consequences. Phronesis must be thought of together with both invention and application. Gadamer advanced the important hypothesis that application is inseparable from understanding and interpretation. ‘Understanding’, as he put it, ‘. . . is a special case of applying something universal to a particular situation’, and so too is judging. Application in the cases of both moral knowledge and the interpretation of texts is distinct from application in the sciences in that it follows no method and works not only from the universal to the particular but vice versa. The applied sciences, governed by a technological view of the theory-practice relation, apply principles that are known clearly and distinctly in advance of individual cases. A proper application



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subsumes the case at hand according to general requirements and the relation between the two is one of strict subordination. By contrast, in the perception of a moral case, as Gadamer remarked, ‘moral concepts are never given as a whole or determined in a normatively univocal way. Rather, the ordering of life by the rules of law and morality is incomplete and needs productive supplementation. Judgement is necessary in order to make a correct evaluation of the concrete instance.’25 Moral concepts lack essences and are never fully determined apart from the contexts in which they are applied, just as understanding the meaning of a text involves applying this to the reader’s own circumstances. For hermeneutics, application ‘can never signify a subsidiary operation appended as an afterthought to understanding: the object of our application determines from the beginning and in its totality the real and concrete content of hermeneutic understanding. Application is not a calibration of some generality given in advance in order to unravel afterwards a particular situation. In attending to a text, for example, the interpreter does not try to apply a general criterion to a particular case; on the contrary, he is interested in the fundamentally original significance of the writing under his consideration.’26 In judging, we are not applying concepts in the sense that a determinate particular is subsumed under an equally determinate universal, and according to a rule. Universals only come into being in being applied to, or instantiated in, particular contexts. Universal and particular, as one hermeneuticist writes, exist only ‘as the two “poles” of one and the same creative dialectical activity’, and not as ‘separate and distinct’ items.27 This is the meaning of Gadamer’s thesis that understanding and application, as well as interpretation, must be regarded ‘as comprising one unified process.’28 We can say the same of judgement and application. Determining what is just involves applying a value or principle to a case, yet not in the familiar sense that we are standing over against the case and affixing to it a principle that could be fully known in abstract form. It is better regarded as a reading of the situation from within the situation itself. As with textual interpretation, one is caught up in an effort to understand the specific in the light of the general, and in a more immediate way than formalist models suggest. Jean Grondin remarks that application ‘is less a mechanical process than a capacity, less a matter of rules than an ability-to-be, less a procedure than a mental subtlety.’29 That the same description applies to phronesis is a point that the Nicomachean Ethics makes abundantly clear. Gadamer’s analysis of this, as we have seen, emphasized the contrast with techne: ‘For we can only apply something that we already have; but we do not possess moral knowledge in such a way that we already have it and then apply it to

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specific situations. The image that a man has of what ought to be – i.e., his ideas of right and wrong, of decency, courage, dignity, loyalty, and so forth (all concepts that have their equivalents in Aristotle’s catalogue of virtues) – are certainly in some sense images that he uses to guide his conduct. But there is still a basic difference between this and the guiding image the craftsman uses: the plan of the object he is going to make. What is right, for example, cannot be fully determined independently of the situation that requires a right action from me, whereas the eidos of what a craftsman wants to make is fully determined by the use for which it is intended.’30 Moralpolitical judgements are unprincipled only in the sense that we are not employing a technique, decision procedure or essentialist notion of justice. We do not have what the craftsman has, yet to assert with Lyotard that there are no criteria full stop is overstated. There is nothing problematic or metaphysical in claiming that there are ‘in some sense images’ that we bring to bear in deciding what is to be done, some principle of freedom or equality that orients our judgement without amounting to a categorical imperative or a Form of Justice. Judging is not a glimpsing of justice itself, for there is no justice itself. It is seeing a case in the light of a value that we can defend but not prove. It is interwoven with a moral concept of one kind or another – not in the sense of a definition or a clear and distinct idea, but an idea that is a ‘horizon’ in Lyotard’s sense and not unlike a regulative idea in Kant’s sense, the never-to-be-fully-realized but orienting value at which we continually aim. It is likely that all our principles can be understood this way, without any need to construe these as metaphysical, methodological or moral absolutes. Not one of our political values is known or applied in its pure form since as pure universality it is nothing at all. Freedom, democracy, equality and so on are all of the nature of aspirations, not realities, and are fully realized only in the fevered imaginations of ideologues. Like all statements that are intended to persuade, judgements must be tied to the post of reason, even if the post itself is a perspective and a historical artifact (as indeed it is). The realm of the political is at equal remove from a rationalist’s fantasy and an agonistic free-for-all. It may be likened to a game or a contest in which, as Lyotard said, ‘to speak is to fight’, yet unlike a good many games the point is not to win. The point, as he also said, is to win over, to persuade and to issue prescriptions that – as the metaphor already suggests – aim at the amelioration of social ills. Lyotard’s own political statements confirm this and are rather less combative and revolutionary than one might have been led to expect. Speaking of his purported irrationalism, for instance, he commented: ‘I’ve



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struggled in different ways against capitalism’s regime of pseudorationality and performativity. I’ve emphasized the importance of the moment of dissent in the process of constructing knowledge, lying at the heart of the community of thought.’31 Even in the context of May 1968, he would write on behalf of ‘the movement’: ‘In particular, we affirm that we will concede nothing on the following points: freedom of expression and political assembly in the faculty; participation by both students and teachers in all bodies; and common student-teacher electoral lists.’32 Were it not for the revolutionary prose, one might be tempted to call these principles, and principles that are not especially novel; freedom of expression and assembly, student and faculty participation, dissent, anti-capitalism and opposition to performativity are values that were not unknown prior to 1968 and enjoy a good deal of consensus at the present time. Perhaps it is indecent to say so, but they would also generate much agreement among contemporary liberals and others who do not think of themselves as political radicals. The question of irrationalism and relativism is posed so often in discussions of Lyotard that I should like to conclude this chapter with a few remarks on the issue and an explanation of why I shall not level this charge against him. Lyotard is not alone in this, of course. Postmodern and poststructuralist thinkers in general are regularly accused of defending some sort of relativist or historicist position by philosophers with more objectivist leanings, as are hermeneuticists and indeed most of the figures I have discussed in this book. None of them is properly regarded as a relativist, but I shall limit myself to Lyotard and to hermeneutics. What does the charge of relativism amount to and how seriously should we take it? Lyotard, Gadamer and other philosophers who are accused of relativism typically do not regard the accusation with great seriousness, and they are not to be faulted for this. Like irrationalism, relativism is primarily an epithet of condemnation rather than a position that a philosopher might actually defend. It is a word, as Grondin correctly notes, that ‘intends to cause fear’: ‘For Gadamer and Heidegger, relativism is only . . . a spectre, a bugbear that intends to create fear by depicting the infamous consequences which are to be upheld by “everything is relative.”’33 Most often the charge is a sophism that is meant to manoeuvre its addressee into taking seriously some form of objectivist or essentialist thinking by arguing that the only alternative is the road to perdition or, in the case of politics, Hitler. Pagan politics may be vulnerable to objection, but a road to Hitler it is not. What is the meaning of relativism in the minority of cases in which it is not an empty term of abuse? Rorty discerned three meanings in articulating

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his own reply to the charge: first, every statement is as true and every judgement as just as any other; second, ‘true’ and ‘just’ are equivocal terms; and third, there is nothing substantive to be said about truth or justice but for historically specific procedures of justification. Rorty himself defended the third view while rejecting the first two. The second view, he believed, is ‘eccentric’ while the first is self-refuting – a charge sometimes directed at the third view as well.34 It is not obvious in the case of either Lyotard or hermeneutics which of the three views allegedly applies; however let us first consider the claim that either position is logically self-refuting. Does Lyotard’s argument that political judgements are not legitimated by means of metanarratives or objective criteria, or Gadamer’s that interpretations are justified with reference to other interpretations rather than ahistorical touchstones – or similar arguments offered by Nietzsche, Heidegger, James, Dewey, Foucault, Rorty and so on – refute itself? To see that it does not, as Gadamer noted, ‘we must ask whether the two propositions – “all knowledge is historically conditioned” and “this piece of knowledge is true unconditionally” – are on the same level, so that they could contradict each other.’ A statement can contradict another only if the two are ‘on the same level’ in this sense or if, in Lyotard’s terms, they belong to the same language game. In the case of the two statements Gadamer cited, they are not. A phenomenological statement about understanding or judgement is on a different level of discourse from a statement about statements, or in Gadamer’s words, ‘what men say about themselves is not to be understood as objective assertions concerning a particular being.’35 Reflexive statements and descriptions of the world are separate language games played by separate rules. A statement in one can no more contradict a statement in the other than a move in baseball can counter a move in hockey. We do not have a contradiction when the political judgement ‘This should not be’ is countered with the descriptive utterance ‘It is.’ The second statement neither contradicts nor refutes the first but jumps to a separate language game and so misses the point. The same kind of jump occurs from the first proposition cited by Gadamer above to the second. It is an aporia of reason that reason itself has no rational foundation. The principle of sufficient reason itself no more admits of rational proof than the rules of logic admit of logical demonstration, yet the existence of an aporia does not mean that we are at a standstill or that we have refuted ourselves.36 Pure reflection, were it to exist, would be no privileged route to the things themselves, and what passes for it are typically empty formalisms from which nothing substantive follows. To cite Truth and Method once more: ‘What does [the thesis that relativism refutes itself]



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achieve? The reflective argument that proves successful here rebounds against the arguer, for it renders the truth value of reflection suspect. It is not the reality of scepticism or of truth-dissolving relativism but the truth claim of all formal argument that is affected. Thus the formalism of such reflective argument is of specious philosophical legitimacy. In fact it tells us nothing. We are familiar with this kind of thing from the Greek Sophists, whose inner hollowness Plato demonstrated. It was also he who saw clearly that there is no argumentatively adequate criterion by which to distinguish between truly philosophical and sophistic discourse. In particular, he shows in his Seventh Letter that the formal refutability of a proposition does not necessarily exclude its being true.’37 Were relativism a tenable philosophical position, the fundamental problem with it, hermeneutically speaking, would not be that it creates a logical problem but that it brings intelligent conversation to a halt. If it did result in a genuine logical problem, it would still need to be asked what follows from a priori arguments of this kind. Unless we wish to assert (as many who express this argument appear to believe) that the rules of our logic are a philosophical counterpart to the word of God, we must concede that they are conventions, useful fictions which like the rules of any language game are subject to the ongoing agreement of the players. Jaspers had a point when he spoke of a ‘rational a-logic’; his point was that when we forget the limits of logic or of any system of thought we enclose ourselves in a worldview that is narrowing and dogmatic. If any kind of forward movement is possible in our ways of thinking, it happens precisely when we do not regard established rules of the game as sacrosanct but hazard a move that brings these into question. Lyotard’s and other postmodernists’ constant theme is that we must change or otherwise limber up the rules of the game and think in more experimental ways than philosophical modernity deemed permissible. But what if our critics were to persist, and indeed were correct, that there is a logical problem here and that the rules of our logic are utterly sacrosanct? What would follow? If the position that knowledge is finite and conditioned – by language, culture, power, perspective or what have you – refutes itself, have we proven in cogito-like fashion that absolute knowledge is possible after all? What is the content of such knowledge and what is the method? It will be a form of pure reflection which, escaping all finitude, beholds the world as it is in itself and the Moral Law as well. Could we ask the possessors of this knowledge to describe what they see, and in pure terms? The project has been tried since Plato and the track record is not good. At last the idea dawned on Nietzsche and Dewey that

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this was a project in security-seeking not unlike religion, and that the preoccupation with pure forms and pure reflection caused us to lose sight of the phenomena. It was ‘an attempt’, as Rorty said, ‘to avoid facing up to contingency, to escape from time and chance.’38 Philosophers from the beginning have dreamed of being gods, and reminding us that we are not is neither a contradiction nor an invitation to relativism. The position that both Lyotard and hermeneuticists defend would better go under the name of anti-essentialism than relativism, as Rorty said of his own version of pragmatism. It is a serious misinterpretation of any of these views to regard them as claiming that truth or justice is relative to anything at all. They are denying that truth and justice have essences, and as Rorty also remarked, ‘I do not see how a claim that something does not exist can be construed as a claim that something is relative to something else.’39 The problem for our critics is that they cannot imagine how one could deny this without ending up in equivocation or, again, Hitler. The answer is that we avoid the implication by denying the underlying duality. Philosophers who reject ancient dichotomies – reality/appearance, knowledge/opinion, rationalism/irrationalism, absolutism/relativism, objectivism/subjectivism – appear as relativists to those who accept those dichotomies and cannot imagine how philosophy could proceed without them. Thinking without dichotomies is what postmodernists, hermeneuticists and almost all the philosophers whom I have discussed in these chapters are endeavouring to do. An incredulity toward false oppositions is no less imperative, and no less postmodern, than an incredulity toward metanarratives. There is no more point in speaking of Lyotard or Gadamer as relativists than in speaking of them as heretics or infidels. It is only within a certain worldview that these terms hold meaning, and when the quest for certainty is given up along with the Kingdom of God, the fear of relativism vanishes into air. One final point I would make in this connection is that while the general thrust of Lyotard’s writings, as of all philosophizing that takes Nietzsche and Heidegger seriously, is generally away from dichotomous thinking, on occasion he did revert to it in very questionable ways. In particular, the distinctions that he drew rather categorically between knowledge and opinion, and between a politics of principles and a politics of judgement must be challenged. Phronesis is a form of knowledge, and judgements without principles are blind. If judgement has no connection with principles or universals of one kind or another, if all talk of principles is hopelessly metaphysical and essentialist, it is exceedingly difficult to see how our political judgements could be engaged dialogically. Surely not all talk of justification or ‘good reasons’ must make dubious appeals to the



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absolute. There is no Moral Law; this we can grant, but the alternative is not invention for invention’s sake or the perpetual novelty that can be difficult to distinguish from mere newness. When we are speaking of what ought to be, there is no chasm separating knowledge from opinion, criticism from interpretation or some other cognitive acts that are still too often spoken of as altogether discrete faculties of mind. Very often there is a point in distinguishing what we know from what we believe or opine, in separating one language game from another, but one of the lessons of both postmodernism and hermeneutics is that when we cross from one to the other we are not entering and exiting worlds or switching on and off now one faculty and now another. To speak of a judgement that makes no appeal to the absolute does not mean that our prescriptions are now unreasoning or arbitrary. It means that in interpreting what is and judging what ought to be, we participate in the event of truth and in the happening of justice.

Notes

Introduction 1

The list can be easily extended: reason and unreason; truth and untruth; light and shadow; order and disorder; reality and appearance; substance and style; quantity and quality; statement and reply; analysis and synthesis; decision and undecidability; being and becoming; within and without; reconstruction and deconstruction; past and future; solution and problem; principle and case; disinterest and interest; returning and venturing; self and other; freedom and unfreedom; the here and now and the ‘to come’.

Chapter 1 Hans-Georg Gadamer, Truth and Method, second revised edition, trans. J. Weinsheimer and D. G. Marshall (New York: Continuum, 1989), 182. 2 Gianni Vattimo, Dialogue with Nietzsche, trans. W. McCuaig (New York: Columbia University Press, 2000), 74, 76. 3 Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, trans. W. Kaufmann (New York: Vintage, 1989), sec. 2, p. 10. 4 Gadamer, Truth and Method, 302, 282, 305. 5 Nietzsche, The Will to Power, ed. Walter Kaufmann, trans. W. Kaufmann and R. J. Hollingdale (New York: Vintage, 1968), sec. 583, p. 313. 6 Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, Preface, p. 2. 7 Nietzsche, The Will to Power, sec. 567, p. 305. 8 Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morals, ed. Walter Kaufmann, trans. W. Kaufmann and R. J. Hollingdale (New York: Vintage, 1969), III sec. 12, p. 119. Throughout this book all italics in quoted material are in the original. 9 Nietzsche, The Will to Power, sec. 481, p. 267. 10 Alexander Nehamas, Nietzsche: Life As Literature (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1985), 50. 11 Gadamer, Truth and Method, 447, 473. 12. Jean Granier, ‘Perspectivism and Interpretation’ in The New Nietzsche: Contemporary Styles of Interpretation, ed. David Allison (New York: Delta, 1977), 190, 191, 192. 13 Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morals, III sec. 24, p. 151. 14 Nietzsche, The Will to Power, sec. 522, p. 283; sec. 584, p. 315. 15 Ibid., sec. 590, p. 323. 16 Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, sec. 24, p. 35. 1.

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Nietzsche, The Gay Science, trans. W. Kaufmann (New York: Vintage, 1974), sec. 354, p. 300. 18 Nietzsche, The Will to Power, sec. 507, p. 276. 19 Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, sec. 4, p. 11. 20 Nietzsche, The Will to Power, sec. 513, p. 277. 21 Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, sec. 14, p. 21; The Will to Power, sec. 503, p. 274. 22 Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, sec. 6, p. 13; sec. 13, p. 21. 23 Nietzsche, The Will to Power, sec. 480, p. 267; sec. 480, p. 266. 24 Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, sec. 9, p. 16; sec. 211, p. 136; sec. 259, p. 203. 25 Maudemarie Clark, Nietzsche on Truth and Philosophy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Pres, 1990), 240. Clark here cites Beyond Good and Evil, sec. 5, p. 12. 26 Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, sec. 5, pp. 12–13. 27 Walter Kaufmann, Nietzsche: Philosopher, Psychologist, Antichrist (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1974), 89. 28 Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, sec. 213, p. 139. 29 Nietzsche, The Will to Power, sec. 470, p. 262. 30 Gadamer, Truth and Method, xxxvii–xxxviii, 555, 270. 31 Jean Grondin, Hans-Georg Gadamer: A Biography, trans. J. Weinsheimer (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003), 330. 32 Gadamer, Truth and Method, 276, 340, 383. 33 Ibid., 446. 34 Graeme Nicholson, ‘Gadamer – A Dialectic Without End,’ Symposium: Canadian Journal of Continental Philosophy vol. 6, no. 2. Fall 2002. 35 Gadamer, Truth and Method, 267. 36 Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, sec. 6, p. 13. 37 Nietzsche, The Will to Power, sec. 408, p. 220. 38 Ibid., sec. 606, p. 327. 39 Nietzsche, The Gay Science, sec. 121, p. 177. 40 Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morals, Preface sec. 2, p. 16. 41 Gadamer, Interview with the Süddeutsche Zeitung, February 1990. 42 Gadamer, Truth and Method, 290. 43 Jean Grondin, The Philosophy of Gadamer, trans. K. Plant (Montreal: McGillQueen’s University Press, 2003), 96. 44 Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morals, III sec. 12, p. 119. 45 Gadamer, Interview: Die Welt als Spiegelkabinett: Zum 350. Geburtstag von Leibniz am 1. Juli 1996. 17

Chapter 2 1

2

3

Karl Jaspers, Way to Wisdom, trans. R. Manheim (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1976), 77, 77–8. Jaspers, The Atom Bomb and the Future of Mankind, trans. E. B. Ashton (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1961), 275, 276. See especially Jürgen Habermas, The Theory of Communicative Action, 2 vols, trans. T. McCarthy (Boston: Beacon Press, 1984 and 1987). Jaspers remains a curiously

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unacknowledged source of the theory of communicative rationality in these volumes and elsewhere in Habermas’ work. 4 An important exception to this is Gary B. Madison. See his The Hermeneutics of Postmodernity: Figures and Themes (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1988) and The Politics of Postmodernity: Essays in Applied Hermeneutics (Boston: Kluwer, 2001). 5 Jaspers, Philosophy, vol. 2, trans. E. B. Ashton (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1970), 13. 6 Jaspers, The Atom Bomb and the Future of Mankind, 232. 7 Jaspers, Philosophy of Existence, trans. R. Grabay (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1995), 58, 58–9. 8 Jaspers, The Atom Bomb and the Future of Mankind, 9. 9 Jaspers, Philosophy and the World: Selected Essays and Lectures, trans. E. B. Ashton (Washington: Gateway, 1989), 279. 10 Jaspers, Philosophy of Existence, 60. 11 Jaspers, Reason and Anti-Reason in our Time, trans. S. Godman (London: SCM Press, 1952), 38, 39. 12 Jaspers, Man in the Modern Age, trans. E. and C. Paul (New York: Doubleday, 1957), 33. 13 Jaspers, Philosophy of Existence, 4. 14 Jaspers, Man in the Modern Age, 51. 15 Jaspers, Reason and Existenz, trans. W. Earle (London: Noonday, 1955), 65, 66. 16 Jaspers, Reason and Anti-Reason in our Time, 44. 17 Jaspers, The Perennial Scope of Philosophy, trans. R. Manheim (London: Routledge, 1950), 47, 48. 18 As he would write, ‘Reason is more than the sum of acts of clear thinking. These acts, rather, spring from a life-carrying basic mood, and it is this mood we call reason.’ Jaspers, The Atom Bomb and the Future of Mankind, 218. 19 Jaspers, Reason and Anti-Reason in our Time, 40–1. 20 Jaspers, The Atom Bomb and the Future of Mankind, 218, 7. 21 René Descartes, Meditations on First Philosophy, trans. D. Cress (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1979), 13. 22 Jaspers, Way to Wisdom, 12. 23 Ibid., 12; Jaspers, Philosophy of Existence, 60. 24 Jaspers, Reason and Anti-Reason in our Time, 7. 25 Jaspers, Reason and Existenz, 80. 26 Jaspers, Philosophy, vol. 2, 100. 27 Jaspers, The Perennial Scope of Philosophy, 49. 28 Jaspers, Philosophy of Existence, 54, 55, 75. 29 Jaspers, Reason and Anti-Reason in our Time, 16. 30 Jaspers, Philosophy and the World, 296. 31 Jaspers, The Atom Bomb and the Future of Mankind, 218. 32 Jaspers, Reason and Existenz, 113, 118. 33 Gadamer, Truth and Method, 385, 365, 490. 34 Grondin, The Philosophy of Gadamer, 140. 35 Gadamer, Truth and Method, 276. 36 As one Jaspers scholar writes, ‘Reason . . . must keep itself open for all the modes of reality and for all the possibilities of thinking and try to bind and recollect

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them all. Open Reason requires both clarity, the glory of logical understanding, and unity, the transcendent aim of rational a-logic.’ Sebastian Samay, Reason Revisited: The Philosophy of Karl Jaspers (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1971), 215.

Chapter 3 Gadamer, Truth and Method, 358, 359. Ibid., 361. 3 Gabriel Marcel, Man Against Mass Society, trans. G. S. Fraser (South Bend: St. Augustine’s Press, 2008), 9. 4 Marcel, Tragic Wisdom and Beyond, trans. S. Jolin and P. McCormick (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1973), 195. 5 José Ortega y Gasset, The Revolt of the Masses (New York: Norton, 1960), 14, 13, 13–14. 6 Marcel, Man Against Mass Society, 152. 7 Marcel, The Existential Background of Human Dignity (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1963), 158. 8 Marcel, Tragic Wisdom and Beyond, 152. 9 Marcel, Homo Viator, trans. E. Craufurd (New York: Harper and Row, 1962), 20. 10 Marcel, Man Against Mass Society, 39. 11 Gadamer remarked on this point, and well prior to email: ‘The art of letterwriting consists in not letting what one says become a treatise on the subject but in making it acceptable to the correspondent. But on the other hand it also consists in preserving and fulfilling the standard of finality that everything stated in writing has. The time lapse between sending a letter and receiving an answer is not just an external factor, but gives this form of communication its special nature as a particular form of writing. So we note that speeding up the post has not improved this form of communication but, on the contrary, has led to a decline in the art of letter-writing.’ Gadamer, Truth and Method, 369. 12 Marcel, Homo Viator, 80. 13 Marcel, Man Against Mass Society, 40. 14 Ibid., 53. 15 Marcel, The Philosophy of Existentialism, trans. M. Harari (New York: Citadel Press, 1956), 12. 16 Marcel, Homo Viator, 79. 17 Marcel, Man Against Mass Society, 42. 18 Marcel, Creative Fidelity, trans. R. Rosthal (New York: Crossroad, 1982), 12. 19 Marcel, The Decline of Wisdom, trans. M. Harari (London: Harvill Press, 1954), 46–7. 20 Marcel, Tragic Wisdom and Beyond, 198. 21 Marcel, Man Against Mass Society, 60. Elaborating on this last point, Marcel remarked: ‘One must admit, however, that the use of the term “sin”, at a level of discussion which is that of philosophy and not of theology, may arouse certain objections. Is not sin in its very essence the rebellion of the creature against his 1 2

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Creator, and can this word retain any meaning for the unbeliever whose own position is precisely that God the Creator does not exist? Such an objection seems to have an incontestable formal validity. But if we go a little deeper, we shall have, it seems to me, to recognize that unbelievers themselves, faced with the abuses, with the systematic horrors, which we have seen become more and more widespread in the last thirty years, have acquired a growing awareness of the note of sin that is the mark of such monstrosities – and this even though we have witnessed during the same period a certain regression of public morality.’ A little later in the same text he would write: ‘But here we come again on that age-old notion of sin, as that notion has been understood by all the great religious traditions without exception; I mean sin as pride, sin as hubris, sin, ultimately, as revolt.’ Ibid., 59, 74. 22 Marcel, Being and Having, trans. K. Farrer (Westminster: Dacre Press, 1949), 100. 23 Marcel, Man Against Mass Society, 67. 24 Ibid., 73, 136, 135. 25 Gadamer, Truth and Method, 346. 26 Richard Kearney, Strangers, Gods, and Monsters: Ideas of Otherness (New York: Routledge, 2002), 79. 27 Marcel, Man Against Mass Society, 109. 28 Gadamer, Truth and Method, 361. 29 Marcel, Man Against Mass Society, 192, 203, 201. 30 Marcel, The Existential Background of Human Dignity, 130. 31 Marcel, Tragic Wisdom and Beyond, 253–4.

Chapter 4 1

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4

Gadamer, ‘What is Truth?’ in Hermeneutics and Truth, ed. Brice R. Wachterhauser (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1994), 42–3. Gadamer, ‘Reply to Thomas M. Alexander’ in The Philosophy of Hans-Georg Gadamer, Library of Living Philosophers vol. xxiv, ed. Lewis Edwin Hahn (Chicago: Open Court, 1997), 346. Many of these affinities are discussed is John Dewey and Continental Philosophy, ed. Paul Fairfield (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 2010). According to its early reputation, pragmatism gives expression to a materialistic and naïvely optimistic worldview. Worse still, it was widely regarded as an apology for intellectual licence, owing in part to ungenerous critics who showed at best a passing familiarity with pragmatism’s key texts, notably James’ Pragmatism, a book so widely and profoundly misread as to occasion its author to write a ‘sequel’ titled The Meaning of Truth, and in part to James’ sometimes careless use of language. A text originally composed for oral presentation, Pragmatism contains numerous formulations of the pragmatist theory of truth, some of which sacrifice clarity for pithy remarks that reveal little about James’ considered view. His references to truth, for instance, as ‘only the expedient in the way of our thinking’ or ‘the name of whatever proves itself to be good in the way of belief’ stuck in the minds of many while doing nothing whatever to clarify the meaning

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of pragmatism. His critics took James to be opening the door to irrationality and intellectual licence, a suspicion seemingly confirmed by the argument of The Will to Believe. It is unfortunate that language of this kind, which by no means captures James’ considered view, much less that of Peirce or Dewey, profoundly influenced pragmatism’s reception and occasioned its immediate dismissal by many. In more careful moments, James emphasized that the ‘cash value’ of a belief, in which its truth consists, is to be understood strictly ‘in experiential terms’ or with respect to its phenomenological verifiability: ‘True ideas are those that we can assimilate, validate, corroborate and verify. False ideas are those that we cannot. That is the practical difference it makes to us to have true ideas; that, therefore, is the meaning of truth, for it is all that truth is known-as.’ William James, Pragmatism (Harvard: Harvard University Press, 1981), 106, 42, 97, 97. The ‘satisfaction’ that truth affords is not to be identified with any emotional satisfaction a belief may cause. For James, a belief passes for true for the reason that it produces experiential coherence which in turn makes it possible for human beings to negotiate their way about the phenomena, and not merely on the grounds that it produces an emotional or material payoff. In phenomenological terms, it is ‘the circumpressure of experience itself’ that is ‘the only real guarantee we have against licentious thinking.’ James, The Meaning of Truth (Harvard: Harvard University Press, 1981), 47. Dewey was still more clear in this regard, carefully avoiding James’ occasional casualness of expression while insisting on the circumscription of terms such as ‘satisfaction’ and ‘practical interests’ to the immediate object of true belief. ‘Too often [Dewey wrote] . . . when truth has been thought of as satisfaction, it has been thought of as merely emotional satisfaction, a private comfort, a meeting of purely personal need. But the satisfaction in question means a satisfaction of the needs and conditions of the problem out of which the idea, the purpose and method of action, arises. . . . Again, when truth is defined as utility, it is often thought to mean utility for some purely personal end, some profit upon which a particular individual has set his heart. . . . As a matter of fact, truth as utility means service in making just that contribution to reorganization in experience that the idea or theory claims to be able to make. The usefulness of a road is not measured by the degree to which it lends itself to the purposes of a highwayman. It is measured by whether it actually functions as a road, as a means of easy and effective public transportation and communication. And so with the serviceableness of an idea or hypothesis as a measure of its truth’. John Dewey, Reconstruction in Philosophy (1920). MW 12: 170. The satisfactoriness of an empirical belief consists exclusively in its capacity to predict future experience, account for present perceptions, and cohere with other relevant beliefs. The good promoted by the belief consists not in any extraneous emotional satisfaction on the part of the subject, but in its ability to account coherently for all the relevant phenomena. The ‘problem’ resolved by a true belief, Dewey repeatedly asserted, is solely that which originally occasioned a given course of inquiry. James, Pragmatism, 39, 102, 103, 101, 35, 34, 98–9. Ibid., 103. Ibid., 117, 116, 83, 35, 35. James, The Meaning of Truth, 105, 113.

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Dewey, The Quest for Certainty (1929). LW 4: 109. Charles Sanders Peirce, Collected Papers, vol. 5 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1931–1958), 400. 11 Dewey, Logic: The Theory of Inquiry (1938). LW 12: 15. 12 Dewey, Reconstruction in Philosophy (1920). MW 12: 181. 13 Peirce, ‘Some Consequences of Four Incapacities.’ The Journal of Speculative Philosophy vol. 2, 1868, 140. 14 James, Pragmatism, 106–7. 15 Gadamer, Reason in the Age of Science, trans. F. G. Lawrence (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1989), 87. 16 Richard Bernstein, Beyond Objectivism and Relativism: Science, Hermeneutics, and Praxis (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1985), 154. 17 Gadamer and James both emphasized the gradual, evolutionary character of such transformation. See Gadamer, The Relevance of the Beautiful and Other Essays, ed. Robert Bernasconi, trans. N. Walker (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1988), 9; and James, Pragmatism, 35. Both indicated how, as James put it, ‘the most violent revolutions in an individual’s beliefs leave most of his old order standing.’ James, Pragmatism, 35. 18 James, Pragmatism, 37. 19 James, The Meaning of Truth, 110. 20 James, Pragmatism, 100, 106. 21 James, The Principles of Psychology, vol. 1 (New York: Dover, 1950), 488. 22 Gadamer, Truth and Method, 397. 23 James, The Meaning of Truth, 76. 24 Gadamer, Truth and Method, xxviii. 25 Gadamer, Reason in the Age of Science, 111. 26 While at times it seems as if Gadamer indeed sets up such an opposition, the intent of such passages is unmistakeably polemical, their purpose being to provide a corrective to the methodological imperialism prevalent within the human sciences. The following texts represent perhaps Gadamer’s clearest statements on the matter and caution against conceiving truth in simple opposition to method: ‘In my work, heightening the tension between truth and method had a polemical intent. Ultimately, as Descartes himself realized, it belongs to the special structure of straightening something crooked that it needs to be bent in the opposite direction. But what was crooked in this case was not so much the methodology of the sciences as their reflexive self-consciousness.’ Gadamer, Truth and Method, 555. Similarly: ‘[T]he title of Truth and Method never intended that the antithesis it implies should be mutually exclusive.’ Gadamer, Philosophical Hermeneutics, 26. 27 Gadamer, ‘Reply to Joan Stambaugh’ in The Philosophy of Hans-Georg Gadamer, 135. 28 Robert Sullivan, Political Hermeneutics: The Early Thinking of Hans-Georg Gadamer (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1989), 11. 29 Gadamer, Reason in the Age of Science, 112. The phenomenological significance of James is well documented by James M. Edie in William James and Phenomenology (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1987). 30 Dewey, How We Think (1933). LW 8: 181. 31 Dewey, Reconstruction in Philosophy (1920). MW 12: 144. 9

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Gadamer, Truth and Method, xxx; Gadamer, Philosophical Hermeneutics, 49. Gadamer, Reason in the Age of Science, 4. 34 Gadamer, Philosophical Hermeneutics, 17. 35 Ibid., 66. 36 Gadamer, Truth and Method, 383. 37 Gadamer, ‘The Problem of Historical Consciousness’ in Interpretive Social Science: A Second Look, eds. Paul Rabinow and William Sullivan, trans. J. Close (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1987), 129, 130. 38 Gadamer, Truth and Method, 268. 39 Martin Heidegger, Being and Time, trans. J. Macquarrie and E. Robinson (New York: Harper and Row, 1962), 195. 40 Gadamer, Truth and Method, 267. 41 Ibid., 291. 42 Gadamer, ‘The Problem of Historical Consciousness’, 127, 87. 43 As Nietzsche began the Preface to Beyond Good and Evil, ‘Supposing truth is a woman – what then? Are there not grounds for the suspicion that all philosophers, insofar as they were dogmatists, have been very inexpert about women? That the gruesome seriousness, the clumsy obtrusiveness with which they have usually approached truth so far have been awkward and very improper methods for winning a woman’s heart? What is certain is that she has not allowed herself to be won – and today every kind of dogmatism is left standing dispirited and discouraged. If it is left standing at all! For there are scoffers who claim that it has fallen, that all dogmatism lies on the ground – even more, that all dogmatism is dying.’ Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, Preface, p. 1. 32 33

Chapter 5 1

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4 5 6

See James’ Essays in Radical Empiricism (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1996). For a thorough examination of Dewey’s indebtedness to Hegel, see James A. Good, A Search for Unity in Diversity: The ‘Permanent Hegelian Deposit’ in the Philosophy of John Dewey (Lanham: Lexington Books, 2006). Richard Rorty did much to restore interest in Dewey’s thought, beginning in Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1981). This may be regarded as a mixed blessing. Rorty’s Dewey looks rather more like Rorty than Dewey. The latter’s complete works total no less than thirty-eight thick volumes and cover just about every subdiscipline in philosophy and some related fields. Dewey, The Quest for Certainty (1929). LW 4: 179. All references to Dewey’s works are to The Collected Works, edited by Jo Ann Boydston (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1969–1991), which are classified under The Early Works, 1882–1898; The Middle Works, 1899–1924; and The Later Works, 1925–1953. I shall abbreviate these as EW, MW, and LW followed by the volume number. Dewey, Logic: The Theory of Inquiry (1938). LW 12: 121. Dewey, Democracy and Education (1916). MW 9: 152. Dewey, ‘Preface’ to Logic: The Theory of Inquiry (1938). LW 12: 4.

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Dewey, Reconstruction in Philosophy (1920). MW 12: 144. Dewey, ‘The Challenge of Democracy to Education’ (1937). LW 11: 184. 9 Dewey made explicit the point concerning the methods of the natural sciences not being transferable to humanistic inquiry in a footnote to an essay from 1949: ‘The word “methods” is italicized as a precaution against a possible misunderstanding which would be contrary to what is intended. What is needed is not the carrying over of procedures that have approved themselves in physical science, but new methods as adapted to human issues and problems, as methods already in scientific use have shown themselves to be in physical subject matter.’ Dewey, ‘Philosophy’s Future in our Scientific Age: Never Was Its Role More Crucial’ (1949). LW 16: 379. 10 Dewey, ‘Science as Subject Matter and as Method’ (1910). MW 6: 78. 11 Dewey, Individualism, Old and New (1929). LW 5: 115. 12 Dewey, Democracy and Education (1916). MW 9: 227. 13 Dewey, The Quest for Certainty (1929). LW 4: 181. 14 Dewey, Democracy and Education (1916). MW 9: 157. 15 Dewey, The Quest for Certainty (1929). LW 4: 181. 16 Dewey, Reconstruction in Philosophy (1920). MW 12: 181. 17 Dewey, Democracy and Education (1916). MW 9: 155. 18 Dewey, How We Think (rev. ed. 1933). LW 8: 118–19. 19 Dewey, The Quest for Certainty (1929). LW 4: 221. 20 Dewey, How We Think (rev. ed. 1933). LW 8: 148, 163. 21 Dewey, ‘Foreword to Argumentation and Public Discussion’ (1936). LW 11: 515. 22 Dewey, How We Think (rev. ed. 1933). LW 8: 148. 23 Dewey, ‘John Dewey Responds’ (1950). LW 17: 85. 24 Dewey, How We Think (rev. ed. 1933). LW 8: 118. 25 Dewey, ‘Context and Thought’ (1931). LW 6: 5. 26 Dewey, How We Think (rev. ed. 1933). LW 8: 114, 171–2. 27 Dewey, ‘Understanding and Prejudice’ (1929). LW 5: 396. 28 Dewey, How We Think (rev. ed. 1933). LW 8: 225, 237, 226–7. 29 Ibid., 233. 30 Dewey, Psychology (1887). EW 2: 180. 31 Dewey, How We Think (rev. ed. 1933). LW 8: 301. 32 Dewey, ‘The Inclusive Philosophic Idea’ (1928). LW 3: 51. 33 Dewey, How We Think (rev. ed. 1933). LW 8: 301, 214–15. 34 Dewey, Art as Experience (1934). LW 10: 270. On this point, also see MW 9: 7; LW 2: 57; LW 6: 11–13; and LW 10: 274–5. 35 Dewey, Experience and Nature (1925). LW 1: 40. 36 Heidegger, ‘The Question Concerning Technology’, trans. W. Lovitt, in Basic Writings, ed. David Farrell Krell (New York: Harper Collins, 1993), 311. 37 Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, sec. 210, p. 134; sec. 42, p. 52; sec. 44, p. 53. 38 Aristotle, Metaphysics IV. 7.27, in The Basic Works of Aristotle, ed. Richard McKeon, trans. W. D. Ross (New York: Random House, 1941). 7 8

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Chapter 6 Richard Rorty, Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1979), 315; C. G. Prado, ‘A Conversation with Richard Rorty’, Symposium: Canadian Journal of Continental Philosophy vol. 7, no. 2, fall 2003, 228. 2 Jürgen Habermas, Richard Rorty and Leszek Kolakowski, Debating the State of Philosophy (Westport: Praeger, 1996), 35; Rorty, Take Care of Freedom and Truth Will Take Care of Itself, ed. Eduardo Mendieta (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2006), 37; Rorty, Objectivity, Relativism, and Truth, Philosophical Papers vol. 1 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991), 103. 3 Rorty, Consequences of Pragmatism (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1982), 162; Rorty, Objectivity, Relativism, and Truth, 38; Rorty, Truth and Progress, Philosophical Papers vol. 3 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), 64. 4 Rorty, Consequences of Pragmatism, xix. 5 Ibid., xiv, xiii. 6 Rorty, Take Care of Freedom, 120, 94. 7 Rorty, Objectivity, Relativism, and Truth, 102. 8 Dewey, Reconstruction in Philosophy (1920). MW 12: 258–9. 9 Rorty, Consequences of Pragmatism, 165. 10 Rorty, Essays on Heidegger and Others, Philosophical Papers vol. 2 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991), 168. I return to Rorty’s stance on relativism in Chapter 12. 11 Rorty, Take Care of Freedom, 135–6. 12 Rorty, Consequences of Pragmatism, 34. 13 Ibid., 160, 40–1. 14 Rorty, Objectivity, Relativism, and Truth, 62. 15 Rorty, Essays on Heidegger and Others, 135. 16 Rorty, Objectivity, Relativism, and Truth, 14; Rorty, Debating the State of Philosophy, 61; Rorty, Take Care of Freedom, 84; Rorty, Truth and Progress, 228. 17 Rorty, Objectivity, Relativism, and Truth, 70. 18 As he articulated this point, ‘For the ironists, “final vocabulary” does not mean “the one which puts all doubts to rest” or “the one which satisfies our criteria of ultimacy, or adequacy, or optimality.” They do not think of reflection as being governed by criteria. Criteria, in their view, are never more than the platitudes which contextually define the terms of a final vocabulary currently in use. Ironists agree with Davidson about our inability to step outside our language in order to compare it with something else, and with Heidegger about the contingency and historicity of that language.’ Rorty, Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989), 75. 19 I discuss this at length in Education After Dewey (London: Continuum, 2009). 20 Alasdair MacIntyre, After Virtue: A Study in Moral Theory (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1984), 187, 191. 21 Gadamer, Truth and Method, 125–6. 22 Gadamer, Philosophical Hermeneutics, 66. 23 Heidegger, Being and Time, 195. 24 Gadamer, Truth and Method, 266. 1

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Gary B. Madison, The Politics of Postmodernity: Essays in Applied Hermeneutics (Boston: Kluwer, 2001), 17, 143. Madison draws important connections between hermeneutics and classical pragmatism in several other works, including Understanding: A Phenomenological-Pragmatic Analysis (Westport: Greenwood Press, 1982) and The Hermeneutics of Postmodernity: Figures and Themes (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1988).

Chapter 7 Max Horkheimer, Critical Theory: Selected Essays, trans. M. O’Connell (New York: Continuum, 1972), 196. 2 Ibid., 216, 264–5, 246. 3 Ibid., 207, 227, 270. 4 David Held, Introduction to Critical Theory: Horkheimer to Habermas (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1980), 189. 5 Horkheimer, Critical Theory, 34. 6 Ibid., 229. 7 Horkheimer, Critique of Instrumental Reason, trans. M. O’Connell (New York: Continuum, 1994), 1. 8 Horkheimer, Eclipse of Reason (New York: Continuum, 1987), 30. 9 Horkheimer, Critical Theory, 247. 10 Ibid., 7. 11 Ibid., 263–4. 12 Horkheimer, Critique of Instrumental Reason, 27. 13 Horkheimer, Eclipse of Reason, 102. 14 Horkheimer, Critique of Instrumental Reason, 27. 15 Horkheimer and Theodor W. Adorno, Dialectic of Enlightenment, trans. J. Cumming (New York: Continuum, 1991), 125. 16 Horkheimer, Critique of Instrumental Reason, 157, 95, 158, 12. 17 Horkheimer, Critical Theory, 221, 101. 18 See especially Paul Ricoeur, The Rule of Metaphor: Multi-Disciplinary Studies of the Creation of Meaning in Language, trans. R. Czerny et. al (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1977). 19 Heidegger, ‘The End of Philosophy and the Task of Thinking’, in Basic Writings, trans. J. Stambaugh (New York: Harper and Row, 1977), 390. 1

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In addition to Habermas, some of the more notable theorists in this field include John Rawls, Amy Gutmann, Dennis Thompson, John Dryzek, Ian Shapiro, Jon Elster, Robert Goodin, Iris Marion Young, James Bohman, Seyla Benhabib, Joshua Cohen and James Fishkin, among others. Jürgen Habermas, Between Facts and Norms: Contributions to a Discourse Theory of Law and Democracy, trans. W. Rehg (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1996), 296–7,

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306. Also see Habermas, The Theory of Communicative Action, 2 volumes, trans. T. McCarthy (Boston: Beacon Press, 1984 and 1987). As Habermas elsewhere writes, ‘In discourse what is called the force of the better argument is wholly unforced.’ Habermas, Moral Consciousness and Communicative Action, trans. C. Lenhardt and S. W. Nicholsen (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1990), 160. 3 Habermas, Between Facts and Norms, 162. 4 Habermas, ‘Reconciliation Through the Public Use of Reason: Remarks on John Rawls’s Political Liberalism’, The Journal of Philosophy vol. XCII, no. 3, March 1995, 117. Also see Habermas’ Moral Consciousness and Communicative Action; Justification and Application: Remarks on Discourse Ethics, trans. C. Cronin (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1993); Between Facts and Norms; The Inclusion of the Other: Studies in Political Theory, trans. C. Cronin (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1998). 5 Seyla Benhabib, ‘Toward a Deliberative Model of Democratic Legitimacy’, in Democracy and Difference, ed. Seyla Benhabib (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1996), 69. 6 Habermas, Between Facts and Norms, 305. 7 Habermas, The Inclusion of the Other, 245–6. Habermas describes this ideal procedure (with reference to Joshua Cohen) in the following terms: ‘(a) Processes of deliberation take place in argumentative form, that is, through the regulated exchange of information and reasons among parties who introduce and critically test proposals; (b) Deliberations are inclusive and public. No one may be excluded in principle; all of those who are possibly affected by the decisions have equal chances to enter and take part; (c) Deliberations are free of any external coercion. The participants are sovereign insofar as they are bound only by the presuppositions of communication and rules of argumentation; (d) Deliberations are free of any internal coercion that could detract from the equality of the participants. Each has an equal opportunity to be heard, to introduce topics, to make contributions, to suggest and criticize proposals. The taking of yes/no positions is motivated solely by the unforced force of the better argument. Additional conditions specify the procedure in view of the political character of deliberative processes; (e) Deliberations aim in general at rationally motivated agreement and can in principle be indefinitely continued or resumed at any time. . .; (f) Political deliberations extend to any matter that can be regulated in the equal interest of all. . .; (g) Political deliberations also include the interpretation of needs and wants and the change of prepolitical attitudes and preferences.’ Finally, ‘In short, the ideal procedure of deliberation and decision making presupposes as its bearer an association that agrees to regulate the conditions of its common life impartially. What brings legal consociates together is, in the final analysis, the linguistic bond that holds together each communication community.’ Habermas, Between Facts and Norms, 305–6. 8 Habermas, The Inclusion of the Other, 248–9. 9 James Bohman, Public Deliberation: Pluralism, Complexity, and Democracy (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1996), 24–5. 10 Ibid., ix. 11 As Ricardo Blaug observes, ‘Habermas posits a normative counterfactual ideal of complete participation, and he fully intends this to help us with the more empirical problem of how a political order might be made more democratic.

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Yet though he is able to highlight the importance of the public sphere and to call for the increase in deliberative fora in order to deepen democracy, he never really confronts questions regarding the actual functioning of such fora. Indeed, his most recent work moves rather in the opposite direction, concentrating on the “macro” questions of the normative basis of law and constitutional practices.’ Ricardo Blaug, Democracy, Real and Ideal: Discourse Ethics and Radical Politics (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1999), xiv. 12 In John Dryzek’s words, ‘democratic legitimacy [can] be seen in terms of the ability or opportunity to participate in effective deliberation on the part of those subject to collective decisions . . . [and thus] claims on behalf of or against such decisions have to be justified to these people in terms that, on reflection, they are capable of accepting.’ John Dryzek, Deliberative Democracy and Beyond: Liberals, Critics, Contestations (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000), 1. 13 Another example is Joshua Cohen, who argues that under deliberative democracy citizens must be not only free and equal but reasonable, in the sense that ‘they aim to defend and criticize institutions and programs in terms of considerations that others, as free and equal, have reason to accept, given the fact of reasonable pluralism.’ Joshua Cohen, ‘Democracy and Liberty’ in Deliberative Democracy, ed. Jon Elster (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), 194. 14 See Chaim Perelman and Lucie Olbrechts-Tyteca, The New Rhetoric: A Treatise on Argumentation, trans. J. Wilkonson and P. Weaver (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1969). 15 As one hermeneuticist remarks: ‘The important transformations that have occurred in these two disciplines [philosophy and rhetoric] could perhaps be best characterized in terms of the classical distinction between res and verba. What has occurred in philosophy is, so to speak, a broadening-out in its conception of reality (and, accordingly, of truth) in such a way as to include language in the very definition of reality and truth themselves. . . . [T]his development is aptly summed up in Gadamer’s famous statement: “Being that can be understood is language.” In a parallel fashion, the treatment of language in rhetoric has been broadened out such that it is no longer restricted to a matter of mere stylistics but has taken for its object “truth” itself (and, accordingly, reality as well) – if by “truth” one understands the various “truth claims” that people, of whatever sort and in whatever circumstances, make about what they take to be “reality.” The development here involves, in the words of Calvin Schrag, “a move from a rhetoric of expression to a rhetoric of truth.”’ Gary B. Madison, The Politics of Postmodernity: Essays in Applied Hermeneutics (Boston: Kluwer, 2001), 106. Madison here cites Gadamer, Truth and Method, 474 and Calvin O. Schrag, Communicative Praxis and the Space of Subjectivity (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1986), 187. 16 Gadamer, ‘Rhetoric, Hermeneutics, and Ideology-Critique’, trans. G. B. Hess and R. E. Palmer, in Rhetoric and Hermeneutics in our Time, eds. Walter Jost and Michael J. Hyde (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1997), 318. 17 Chaim Perelman, The New Rhetoric and the Humanities: Essays on Rhetoric and its Application (Dordrecht: D. Reidel, 1979), 9. 18 Paul Ricoeur, Hermeneutics and the Human Sciences, ed. and trans. John B. Thompson (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981), 99, 99–100.

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Gadamer, ‘Rhetoric, Hermeneutics, and Ideology-Critique’, 318. Gadamer, ‘The Relevance of the Beautiful’ in The Relevance of the Beautiful and Other Essays, ed. Robert Bernasconi, trans. N. Walker (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988), 17. 21 Immanuel Kant, Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals, trans. J. W. Ellington (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1993), 1. 22 James Bohman and William Rehg, eds. Deliberative Democracy: Essays on Reason and Politics (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1997), xiv, x. 23 ‘Coming to an understanding’ in dialogue, in Gadamer’s words, ‘. . . is a life process in which a community of life is lived out. To that extent, coming to an understanding through human conversation is no different from the understanding that occurs between animals. But human language must be thought of as a special and unique life process since, in linguistic communication, “world” is disclosed. Reaching an understanding in language places a subject matter before those communicating like a disputed object set between them. Thus the world is the common ground, trodden by none and recognized by all, uniting all who talk to one another.’ Gadamer, Truth and Method, 446. 19 20

Chapter 9 Karl-Otto Apel, Towards a Transformation of Philosophy, trans. G. Adey and D. Frisby (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1980), 172. 2 Apel, The Response of Discourse Ethics. Morality and the Meaning of Life 13. Leuven: Peters, 2001, 28. 3 Apel, ‘Regarding the Relationship of Morality, Law, and Democracy: On Habermas’s Philosophy of Law from a Transcendental-Pragmatic Point of View’ in Habermas and Pragmatism, eds. Mitchell Aboulafia, Myra Bookman and Catherine Kemp (London: Routledge, 2002), 24. 4 Apel, ‘Globalisation and the Need for Universal Ethics’ in Public Reason and Applied Ethics: The Ways of Practical Reason in a Pluralist Society, eds. Adela Cortina, Domingo Garcia-Marzá and Jesús Conill (Hampshire: Ashgate, 2008), 138. 5 Apel, Ethics and the Theory of Rationality. Selected Essays Vol. II, trans. E. Mendeta (New Jersey: Humanities Press, 1996), 201. 6 Apel, ‘What Is Philosophy? The Philosophical Point of View After the End of Dogmatic Metaphysics’ in What Is Philosophy?, eds. C. P. Ragland and Sarah Heidt (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2001), 166. 7 Apel, Towards a Transformation of Philosophy, 138. 8 Apel, ‘What Is Philosophy?’, 177. 9 Apel, The Response of Discourse Ethics, 68. 10 Apel, Ethics and the Theory of Rationality, 195. 11 Apel, ‘Regarding the Relationship of Morality, Law, and Democracy’, 22. 12 Apel, The Response of Discourse Ethics, 62. 13 Apel, Towards a Transformation of Philosophy, 276, 123. 14 Apel, The Response of Discourse Ethics, 49. 15 Apel, Towards a Transformation of Philosophy, 280. 1

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Apel, Ethics and the Theory of Rationality, 195. Apel, ‘Kant, Hegel, and the Contemporary Question Concerning the Normative Foundations of Morality and Right’ in Hegel on Ethics and Politics, eds. Robert Pippin and Otfried Höffe, trans. N. Walker (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 68, 70. 18 Apel, Towards a Transformation of Philosophy, 270. 19 Apel, Ethics and the Theory of Rationality, 255, 320. 20 Jürgen Habermas, ‘Discourse Ethics: Notes on a Program of Philosophical Justification’ in The Communicative Ethics Controversy, eds. Seyla Benhabib and Fred Dallmayr (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1990), 71. Robert Alexy elaborates upon Habermas’ statement as follows, which Habermas cites with approval in the same text: ‘(3.1) Every subject with the competence to speak and act is allowed to take part in a discourse. (3.2) a. Everyone is allowed to question any assertion whatever. b. Everyone is allowed to introduce any assertion whatever into the discourse. c. Everyone is allowed to express his attitudes, desires and needs. (3.3) No speaker may, by internal or external coercion, be prevented from exercising his rights as laid down in (3.1) and (3.2).’ Ibid., 86. 21 Apel et. al, What Right Does Ethics Have? Public Philosophy in a Pluralistic Culture, ed. Sander Griffioen (Amsterdam: VU University Press, 1990), 17. 22 Apel, The Response of Discourse Ethics, 75. 23 Apel, Towards a Transformation of Philosophy, 283. 24 Apel, What Right Does Ethics Have?, 23. 25 Apel, ‘Is the Ethics of the Ideal Communication Community a Utopia? On the Relationship between Ethics, Utopia, and the Critique of Utopia’ in The Communicative Ethics Controversy, eds. Seyla Benhabib and Fred Dallmayr (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1990), 47, 46. 26 Apel, ‘Regarding the Relationship of Morality, Law, and Democracy’, 21. 27 See Apel, ‘What Is Philosophy?’, 173. 28 Apel, What Right Does Ethics Have?, 16; Apel, The Response of Discourse Ethics, 47. 29 Apel, Ethics and the Theory of Rationality, 196; Apel, The Response of Discourse Ethics, 80. 30 Gadamer, Philosophical Hermeneutics, 7. 31 Apel, ‘What Is Philosophy?’, 159. 32 Apel, Towards a Transformation of Philosophy, 68, 285, 70, 71. 33 See Lawrence Kohlberg, Essays on Moral Development Vol. 1: The Philosophy of Moral Development (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1981) and Essays on Moral Development Vol. 2: The Psychology of Moral Development (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1984). 34 Apel, What Right Does Ethics Have?, 15. 35 Gadamer, Philosophical Hermeneutics, 41. 16 17

Chapter 10 1

See Hubert Dreyfus and Paul Rabinow, Michel Foucault: Beyond Structuralism and Hermeneutics (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1983).

246

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Béatrice Han, Foucault’s Critical Project: Between the Transcendental and the Historical, trans. E. Pile (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2002), 101. Another example is Herman Nilson, who contrasts Foucault and hermeneutics as follows: ‘For Foucault, mankind had no hidden purpose which had to be discovered; there is no abyss lying in the dark depths of being which betrays to us what we truly are. Man is something developing, unfinished, which is more a reason for a creative activity than for a hermeneutic decipherment.’ Herman Nilson, Michel Foucault and the Games of Truth, trans. R. Clark (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1998), 79. Other examples are not hard to find. Jean-François Lyotard also included what he called ‘the hermeneutics of meaning’ in his short list of metanarratives in the introduction to The Postmodern Condition. The list reads as follows: ‘the dialectics of Spirit, the hermeneutics of meaning, the emancipation of the rational or working subject, or the creation of wealth’, rather as if the differences between each are a somewhat minor matter. Jean-François Lyotard, The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge, trans. G. Bennington and B. Massumi (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1984), xxiii. 3 Dreyfus and Rabinow, Michel Foucault: Beyond Structuralism and Hermeneutics, 109. 4 John D. Caputo, Radical Hermeneutics: Repetition, Deconstruction, and the Hermeneutic Project (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1987), 111, 112. 5 I shall not pursue the somewhat tedious question of whether Foucault was or was not a postmodernist or poststructuralist, or how the distinction between these two terms may be analyzed. 6 Foucault, ‘Nietzsche, Genealogy, History’ in Language, Counter-Memory, Practice: Selected Essays and Interviews, ed. Donald F. Bouchard, trans. D. F. Bouchard and S. Simon (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1977), 139. 7 Foucault, ‘What is Enlightenment?’ in The Foucault Reader, ed. Paul Rabinow, trans. C. Porter (New York: Pantheon Books, 1984), 46. 8 C. G. Prado, Starting with Foucault: An Introduction to Genealogy (Boulder: Westview Press, 1995). 9 Foucault, ‘Nietzsche, Genealogy, History’, 147. 10 Ibid., 139. 11 Foucault, Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews and Other Writings 1972–1977, ed. Colin Gordon, trans. C. Gordon et al. (New York: Pantheon Books, 1980), 84–5, 83, 81. 12 Foucault, ‘Nietzsche, Genealogy, History’, 148. 13 Foucault, Power/Knowledge, 81, 82. 14 Foucault, ‘Power and Sex’ in Politics, Philosophy, Culture: Interviews and Other Writings 1977–1984, ed. Lawrence D. Kritzman, trans. D. J. Parent (New York: Routledge, 1988), 124. 15 Foucault, Power/Knowledge, 62. 16 Ibid., 85. 17 Foucault, ‘Afterword: The Subject and Power’ in Dreyfus and Rabinow, Beyond Structuralism and Hermeneutics, 216. 18 This tension is captured in Habermas’ characterization of Foucault as a ‘cryptonormativist’ whose premises prevent him from accounting for the standards on which his critique implicitly relies. See Habermas, The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity: Twelve Lectures, trans. F. G. Lawrence (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1987), 266–93. 2

Notes

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Foucault, ‘The Subject and Power,’ 216. Foucault, Remarks on Marx, trans. R. J. Goldstein and J. Cascaito (New York: Semiotext[e], 1991), 157. 21 Foucault, ‘Power and Sex,’ 122. 22 Paul Ricoeur, Freud and Philosophy: An Essay on Interpretation, trans. D. Savage (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1970), 33. 23 Ibid., 27. 24 Dreyfus and Rabinow, Michel Foucault: Beyond Structuralism and Hermeneutics, 107. 25 Gadamer, ‘Letter to Dallmayr’, in Dialogue and Deconstruction: The Gadamer-Derrida Encounter, eds. Diane Michelfelder and Richard Palmer (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1989), 94. 26 Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, sec. 2, p. 10. 27 Michel Foucault, The Care of the Self: The History of Sexuality vol. 3, trans. R. Hurley (New York: Vintage, 1986), 43, 44, 45, 52–3, 64–5. 28 The aphorism begins: ‘One thing is needful: – To “give style” to one’s character – a great and rare art! It is practised by those who survey all the strengths and weaknesses of their nature and then fit them into an artistic plan until every one of them appears as art and reason and even weaknesses delight the eye. Here a large mass of second nature has been added; there a piece of original nature has been removed – both times through long practice and daily work at it. Here the ugly that could not be removed is concealed; there it has been reinterpreted and made sublime. . . . In the end, when the work is finished, it becomes evident how the constraint of a single taste governed and formed everything large and small. Whether this taste was good or bad is less important than one might suppose, if only it was a single taste!’ Nietzsche, The Gay Science, sec. 290, p. 232. 29 Foucault, ‘On the Genealogy of Ethics: An Overview of Work in Progress’ in Michel Foucault: Beyond Structuralism and Hermeneutics, 236. 30 Gadamer, Truth and Method, 314. 31 Ibid., 310. 32 James, Pragmatism, 11. 19 20

Chapter 11 1

2

3

4

5 6 7

John D. Caputo, More Radical Hermeneutics: On Not Knowing Who We Are (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2000), 42. Gadamer, ‘Letter to Dallmayr’ in Dialogue and Deconstruction: The Gadamer-Derrida Encounter, eds. Diane Michelfelder and Richard Palmer (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1989), 94. Caputo, ‘Gadamer’s Closet Essentialism: A Derridean Critique’ in Dialogue and Deconstruction, 259. Caputo, Radical Hermeneutics: Repetition, Deconstruction, and the Hermeneutic Project (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1987), 148. Caputo, ‘Gadamer’s Closet Essentialism’, 262. Caputo, More Radical Hermeneutics, 53. Caputo, Radical Hermeneutics, 111, 5, 6.

248

Philosophical Hermeneutics Reinterpreted

Ibid., 112, 11–12, 217. Caputo cites Nietzsche’s Twilight of the Idols and The Anti-Christ, trans. R. J. Hollingdale (Baltimore: Penguin, 1968), p. 35. 9 Ibid., 97. 10 Caputo, More Radical Hermeneutics, 204. Caputo is citing Jacques Derrida, Points . . . Interviews, 1974–1994, ed. Elizabeth Weber, trans. P. Kamuf (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1995), 96. 11 Caputo, Radical Hermeneutics, 96–7. 12 Caputo, Deconstruction in a Nutshell: A Conversation with Jacques Derrida (New York: Fordham University Press, 1997), 37. 13 Caputo, Radical Hermeneutics, 221, 145, 271. 14 Ibid., 278. 15 Ibid., 225. 16 Caputo, Deconstruction in a Nutshell, 31. 17 Caputo, Radical Hermeneutics, 117, 118, 119, 116–17. 18 Ibid., 151, 150. 19 Caputo, More Radical Hermeneutics, 54. 20 Caputo, Radical Hermeneutics, 7, 197. 21 Ibid., 197, 196. 22 Caputo, More Radical Hermeneutics, 84. 23 Caputo, On Religion (New York: Routledge, 2001), 33, 67, 13, 19. 24 Caputo, Radical Hermeneutics, 269. 25 Caputo, On Religion, 1, 8, 9, 110, 107. As he writes elsewhere of fundamentalism: ‘Their faith is direct, nonironic, and reactionary. And my own take on that is twofold. 1. They know something that the intellectuals have forgotten; they affirm something that we must understand. 2. At the same time, their faith is reactionary; it has been stampeded into a literalist extreme by the deracinating effects of modern technology and global capitalism. Their beliefs and practices are dangerous and uncritical and hence this allows their religion to be manipulated for nationalistic purposes, held captive by the worst forces, forces that contradict everything that Jesus and the prophets stand for.’ Caputo and Gianni Vattimo, After the Death of God (New York: Columbia University Press, 2007), 154. 26 Caputo, ‘Hauntological Hermeneutics and the Interpretation of Christian Faith’ in Hermeneutics at the Crossroads, eds. Kevin Vanhoozer et. al. (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2006), 103. 27 Caputo, ‘Apostles of the Impossible: On God and the Gift in Derrida and Marion’ in God, the Gift, and Postmodernism, eds. John Caputo and Michael Scanlon (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1999), 186. 28 Caputo, ‘Hauntological Hermeneutics and the Interpretation of Christian Faith’, 108. 29 Gadamer, Truth and Method, 397, 296; Gadamer, ‘Letter to Dallmayr’, 96. 30 Gadamer, Philosophical Hermeneutics, 30. 31 Gadamer, ‘Text and Interpretation’ in Dialogue and Deconstruction, 24. As Gary Madison remarks, ‘To the deconstructionist notion of undecidability should be opposed the quite different notion of inexhaustibility. In contrast to deconstruction, hermeneutics maintains that there is always the possibility of meaning, but, in contrast to logocentrism, it maintains that it is never possible to arrive at 8

Notes

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a final meaning.’ Gary B. Madison, The Hermeneutics of Postmodernity: Figures and Themes (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1988), 115. 32 Gadamer, Truth and Method, 579. Speaking of Derrida in an interview of 1993, Gadamer stated ‘But what we are dealing with here is a conversation in which, unfortunately, Derrida is not allowing himself to get involved. Why he cannot do this I do not know. I think he suspects that the readiness to reach an understanding and the will to reach an understanding, which are the presuppositions of every conversation, magically reintroduce the transcendental signified into the event of posing and answering questions. I certainly don’t want this. The “dialectic of the word” . . . is based on the freedom of each partner, which I have never disputed but on the contrary have particularly emphasized. Conversation is the game of language, and readiness for conversation is only the entrance door into this game, not an absurd effort to hold the game within boundaries.’ Gadamer, ‘Aesthetics’ in Gadamer in Conversation: Reflections and Commentary, ed. and trans. Richard Palmer (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2001), 68. 33 Caputo, Deconstruction in a Nutshell, 59. 34 Ricoeur, Freud and Philosophy, 27. 35 Caputo, Radical Hermeneutics, 209. 36 Madison, The Hermeneutics of Postmodernity, 107. 37 Caputo, Radical Hermeneutics, 146, 147. 38 Ibid., 195. 39 Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, sec. 3, p. 11; sec. 6, p. 13. 40 James, Pragmatism, 11. 41 Ludwig Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, trans. C. K. Ogden (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1922), 7.

Chapter 12 Jean-François Lyotard, The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge, trans. G. Bennington and B. Massumi (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1984), xxiv, xxiii. 2 Ibid., 82, 81; ‘Tomb of the Intellectual’ in Political Writings, trans. B. Readings and K. Paul (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1993), 7. 3 Lyotard and Jean-Loup Thébaud, Just Gaming, trans. W. Godzich (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1985), 25, 20, 23, 17. 4 Lyotard, The Postmodern Explained: Correspondence 1982–1985, trans. D. Barry et. al. (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1993), 17–18, 50. 5 Lyotard, ‘Lessons in Paganism’ in The Lyotard Reader, ed. Andrew Benjamin (Cambridge: Basil Blackwell, 1989), 130; Frederick Jameson, ‘Foreword’ to The Postmodern Condition, xii. 6 Lyotard, The Postmodern Explained, 82. 7 Lyotard, Just Gaming, 88. 8 Lyotard, The Postmodern Condition, 65, 66. 9 Lyotard, Just Gaming, 73, 17, 98. 10 Lyotard, The Postmodern Condition, 17, 10, 17. 1

250

Philosophical Hermeneutics Reinterpreted

Lyotard, Just Gaming, 50, 61. Jameson, ‘Foreword’ to The Postmodern Condition, xi. 13 Lyotard, The Postmodern Condition, 60. 14 Lyotard, ‘Lessons in Paganism’, 130. 15 Lyotard, Just Gaming, 59. 16 Jameson, ‘Foreword’ to The Postmodern Condition, ix. 17 Lyotard, Just Gaming, 94. 18 Lyotard, The Postmodern Condition, xxv. 19 Lyotard, Just Gaming, 77, 94. 20 Ibid., 75, 59, 28, 82, 14. 21 See especially Calvin O. Schrag, Communicative Praxis and the Space of Subjectivity (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1989). 22 Ricoeur, Oneself as Another, trans. K. Blamey (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992), 175. 23 Immanuel Kant, Critique of Judgement, trans. J. H. Bernard (New York: Hafner Press, 1951), 15. 24 Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, trans. W. D. Ross, in The Basic Works of Aristotle, ed. Richard McKeon (New York: Random House, 1941), 1137b12, 1137b29–30. 25 Gadamer, Truth and Method, 312, 38. 26 Gadamer, ‘The Problem of Historical Consciousness’, trans. J. Close, in Interpretive Social Science: A Second Look, eds. Paul Rabinow and William Sullivan (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1987), 125–6. 27 Jeff Mitscherling, ‘Hegelian Elements in Gadamer’s Notions of Application and Play’, Man and World vol. 25, no. 1 (January 1992), 65. 28 Gadamer, Truth and Method, 310. 29 Jean Grondin, The Philosophy of Gadamer, trans. K. Plant (Montreal: McGillQueen’s University Press, 2003), 102. 30 Gadamer, Truth and Method, 317. 31 Lyotard, The Postmodern Explained, 73. 32 Lyotard, ‘Preamble to a Charter’ in Political Writings, 45. 33 Grondin, The Philosophy of Gadamer, 112. 34 Rorty, Objectivity, Relativism, and Truth, 23. 35 Gadamer, Truth and Method, 534, 449n85. 36 As Caputo states, ‘If we ask the principle of reason for its own reason, if we ask what is the reason for the principle of reason, if we ask about the reasonableness of reason, we get no answer. The silence is very embarrassing. Under pain of infinite regress, the buck of reason stops with the principle of reason itself. The principle cannot itself have a reason. It must be its own authority, speak with its own voice. It cannot call the police; it is the police.’ Caputo, Radical Hermeneutics, 225. 37 Ibid., 344–5. 38 Rorty, Objectivity, Relativism, and Truth, 32. 39 Ibid., 27. 11 12

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Index

Adorno, Theodor  126, 192 agency  3, 21, 31 agreement  32, 33, 34, 65, 68, 69, 77, 79, 85, 89, 95, 101, 102, 106, 119, 134, 136, 150, 153, 158, 178, 191, 200, 214, 217 ahistorical thought  10, 11, 17, 34, 70, 99, 103, 105, 122, 128 Alexy, Robert  245n20 anti-theory 99–116 Apel, Karl-Otto  4, 154–170, 214 Apollonian  1, 10, 199, 204–209 application  189, 190, 221–224 Aristotle  72, 98, 101, 109, 144, 152, 185, 188, 190, 214, 217, 219, 221, 222, 224 art  17, 24, 25, 77, 79, 94, 102, 126 as-structure  13, 24, 79, 90, 119, 129–131, 180, 192 becoming  15, 231n1 being  3, 10, 11, 12, 14, 15, 16, 19, 22, 27, 40, 72, 79, 97, 231n1 Benhabib, Seyla  136 Bernstein, Richard  69 Blaug, Ricardo  242n11 Bohman, James  139 Buber, Martin  58 Camus, Albert  27 Caputo, John  4, 174, 194–210 certainty  18, 32, 40, 42, 73, 74, 101 Chladenius, Johann Martin  9 claims  19, 20, 22, 35, 37, 44–46, 51, 53–58, 72, 167, 169, 185 Clark, Maudemarie  17 Cohen, Joshua  243n13

coherence  21, 64–67, 71, 74–77, 79, 82, 84, 85, 95, 106, 130, 200 common sense  15, 51, 52, 214, 217 concepts  12, 14, 15, 17, 21, 28, 71, 77, 79, 86, 88, 90, 129, 131, 178, 223, 224; also see universals consensus; see agreement conservatism  20, 23, 91, 119, 130, 162, 174, 182, 185, 186, 190–193, 208 correctives  19, 20, 22, 237n26 correspondence  64, 65, 71–73, 78 creativity; see invention critical theory  3, 4, 117–170, 173 criticism  19, 20, 21, 30, 55, 86, 95, 99, 102–104, 106, 107, 112, 113, 115, 119–135, 150, 153, 155, 175, 179, 180, 182, 185, 218, 229 critique of ideology  104, 105, 119–135, 136, 154, 165, 167, 181, 185 culture  37, 96, 104, 119, 126, 130, 132, 134, 141, 160 cultural evolution  160, 161, 168 Darwin, Charles  64, 81 deconstruction  194, 195, 197–199, 203, 204, 207, 209, 231n1 deliberative democracy  5, 136–153 Derrida, Jacques  4, 144, 174, 182, 184, 194–200, 203–207, 249n32 Descartes, René  32, 101, 120, 124, 125 Dewey, John  4, 64, 67–70, 73, 81–98, 99, 102–106, 139, 156, 200, 206–208, 227, 238n1 dialectic  1, 2, 6, 10, 20, 21, 37, 68, 72, 74, 75, 81, 99, 107, 110, 131, 133, 134, 148, 174, 181, 195, 219

260 Index dialogue  1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 20, 23, 27–43, 48, 59, 69, 74, 76, 106, 107, 109–111, 132, 143, 145, 146, 150–153, 154, 163, 164, 170, 174, 181, 188, 190, 191, 195, 197, 199, 200, 215, 218, 221, 228 dichotomies  2, 6, 10, 87, 99, 100, 113, 186, 218, 219, 228 Dilthey, Wilhelm  9, 184, 211 Dionysian  1, 10, 197, 199, 204–209 disclosure  1, 9, 10, 11, 69, 72, 77–79, 106, 129, 132, 133, 153, 180, 186 discourse ethics  5, 136, 154–170 dogmatism  14, 30, 33, 34, 35, 86, 128, 133, 167, 186 Dreyfus, Hubert  173, 183, 184 Droysen, Friedrich  9 education  87, 103, 105, 106, 109, 110, 113 emancipation  147, 179, 180, 198, 199, 213, 214, 216 empiricism  24, 32, 64, 78, 81, 82, 92, 97, 101 Enlightenment  10, 15, 16, 18, 20, 23, 27, 28, 64 essence  2, 42, 77, 78, 86, 88, 114, 131–133, 135, 212 essentialism  31, 100–104, 106, 127, 128, 132, 182, 184, 195–197, 199, 203–205, 208, 216, 217, 228 event  72, 74, 79, 229 existential elucidation  28, 29, 37–39, 46 existentialism  3, 7–60 experience  10, 15, 57, 65, 68, 71, 77, 79, 81, 82, 85, 88, 91, 92, 103, 106, 115, 189, 203, 205 experimentation  10, 18, 64, 67–69, 75, 76, 81–85, 91, 96–98, 104, 106, 227 expertise  37, 42, 93, 134, 167, 169 facticity  21, 27, 91, 129, 130, 132, 142 falsification  14, 15, 19, 22, 24 finitude  10, 11, 37 Foucault, Michel  4, 78, 97, 146, 173–193, 208

foundationalism  10, 18, 100–103, 106, 130, 148, 154, 155, 199, 225 foundations  99, 111, 155, 212, 217 freedom  34, 42, 53, 125, 170, 179, 200, 213, 224, 231n1 Freud, Sigmund  19, 146, 168, 169, 181 genealogy  9, 17, 18, 24, 173–193 good faith  167–169 good will  42, 139, 146, 167, 194, 200, 218 Granier, Jean  14 Grondin, Jean  19, 23, 223, 225 Habermas, Jürgen  4, 27, 28, 104, 119, 120, 133, 134, 136–153, 154, 155, 159–163, 166, 181, 182, 185, 214, 218 habits  55, 57, 58, 87, 91, 215, 221 Han, Béatrice  173, 184 Heidegger, Martin  9, 11, 13, 14, 27, 30, 38, 47, 49, 72, 74, 75, 90, 92–94, 97, 99, 103, 104, 107, 114, 128, 133, 145, 173, 174, 179, 182, 184, 196, 199, 200, 209, 211, 225 Hegel, G. W. F.  81, 90, 152, 160, 174, 181, 185, 195, 196, 238n1 hermeneutical circle  1, 36, 67, 75, 76, 79, 89, 95, 106, 114, 115, 130 Hirsch, E. D.  184, 211 historically effected consciousness  21, 45 historicity  3, 9, 10, 21, 22, 27, 37, 70, 122, 129, 132 horizon  10, 20 Horkheimer, Max  119–135 humility  19, 20, 30 Husserl, Edmund  9, 14 ideal speech situation  136, 156, 200, 215, 218 ideology  25, 119, 121, 132, 136, 142, 149, 153, 181 imagination  91, 127, 131, 132, 183, 222 inquiry  5, 67–70, 72, 73, 76, 81–98, 103, 105, 106, 109, 111

Index instrumentality  30, 31, 40, 49, 52, 56, 114 interests  10, 15, 16, 22, 66, 74, 124, 127, 132–134 invention  2, 15, 17, 20, 33, 42, 91, 197, 215, 216, 222, 229 James, William  63–80, 82, 84–86, 92, 99, 103, 105, 156, 191, 192, 206, 208 Jaspers, Karl  27–43, 96, 105, 160, 206, 227, 232n3 judgement  95, 108, 127–133, 139, 150, 153, 190, 211–229; also see phronesis justice  100–102, 125, 212, 214–217, 222, 224 justification  64, 86, 89 Kant, Immanuel  136, 151, 156, 158, 161–163, 169, 213, 216, 220, 224 Kaufmann, Walter  18 Kearney, Richard  55, 56 Kierkegaard, Søren  27, 29, 38, 196, 197, 199 knowledge  10, 11, 12, 13, 15, 16, 18, 22, 27, 32, 33, 37, 38, 50, 73, 77, 81, 82, 84, 86, 90, 92, 96, 100, 101, 111, 122, 178, 179, 219, 228, 229 Kohlberg, Lawrence  160, 166–169 language  3, 10, 12, 13, 15, 37, 39, 40, 47, 57, 73, 74, 90, 107, 129, 130, 132, 134, 141, 145–148, 153, 155, 195, 244n23 language games  212, 214, 215, 217, 218, 227, 229 Leibniz, Gottfried Wilhelm  9, 25, 26 Levinas, Emmanuel  57, 58, 198 linguisticality  10, 38, 69, 90, 131 listening  21, 30, 32, 42, 51, 53, 59, 74, 146, 208 logic  15, 35, 88, 89, 227 logos  1, 10, 36, 207 Lyotard, Jean-François  208, 211–229, 246n2

261

MacIntyre, Alasdair  108, 189 Madison, Gary B.  115, 207, 233n4, 241n25, 243n15, 248n31 Marcel, Gabriel  44–59, 97 Marx, Karl  19, 34, 104, 121, 122, 128, 130, 133, 149, 160, 165, 167–169, 177, 178, 181, 182, 185, 187, 213 mass society  30, 44–59 meaning  1, 17, 21, 50, 55, 64, 68, 74, 75, 77, 79, 86, 89, 90, 93, 94, 127, 128, 131–134, 173, 174, 178, 181–184, 190, 195, 196, 198, 203–206, 248n31 meditative thinking  93, 94 metanarratives  211, 213, 215, 216, 228 metaphor  79, 95, 130, 133, 145, 148, 183 method  11, 15, 18, 32, 33, 41, 43, 71, 72, 75, 76, 81, 83, 91, 93, 95, 97, 100, 109, 151, 190, 199, 219 Mill, John Stuart  139 Mitscherling, Jeff  223 mystery  52, 53, 59, 77, 97, 194, 197, 203, 209, 210 mysticism  204, 209–210; also see religion mythos  1, 10 narrative  79, 95, 105, 130, 147, 149, 183, 215–217 Nehamas, Alexander  13 neighbour  48, 59 new social movements  141, 147 Nicholson, Graeme  21 Nietzsche, Friedrich  4, 9–26, 27, 29, 30, 35, 38, 46, 47, 57, 79, 97, 104, 128, 144, 146, 147, 173, 175, 179, 181–184, 186, 188, 197, 199, 206, 208, 227, 247n28 Nilson, Herman  246n2 objectivity  10, 15, 18, 19, 29, 45, 54, 96, 99, 101, 102, 106, 119, 122, 127, 130, 132, 157, 183, 189, 191, 195, 204

262 Index openness  19, 45, 46, 55, 58, 59, 97, 104, 110, 150, 152, 200, 203, 209, 210 Ortega y Gasset, José  47 other  23, 54–56, 58, 59, 151; also see Thou particulars  1, 75, 130, 189, 190, 219–223 perception  13, 14, 24, 25, 26, 90, 129, 131 Peirce, Charles Sanders  64, 68, 82, 85, 89, 103, 155–157 Perelman, Chaim  148 perspectivism  3, 9–26, 36, 106, 129, 130, 148, 177, 179 phenomenology  10, 11, 18, 28, 53, 64, 65, 72, 75, 81, 99, 105, 112, 114, 128, 148, 163, 190, 191, 202, 209, 237n29 phronesis  152, 174, 175, 181, 186, 188, 189, 191, 195, 196, 199, 206, 212, 217, 219–223, 228; also see judgement Plato  28, 101, 141, 144, 145, 151, 152, 227 plurality  24–26, 218 postmodernism  3, 4, 100, 146, 171–229 practice  1, 21, 63, 68, 70, 73, 75, 77, 85, 87, 99–116, 155 practice-immanent theory  112–116 Prado, Carlos G.  176 pragmatism  3, 5, 61–116, 235n4 praxis  65, 71, 109, 121 prejudices  21, 23, 71, 74, 75, 86, 129, 130, 132, 133, 165 principles  113, 114, 156, 157, 190, 199, 215, 219, 224, 225, 228, 231n1 procedures  113, 225 process  33, 41, 43, 65, 68, 69, 79, 85, 109, 111 public deliberation  136–142, 144, 146, 149, 218, 242n7 questioning  1, 10, 13, 18, 20, 21, 31, 36, 37, 52, 69, 74, 79, 81, 87, 95, 97, 145, 151–153

Rabinow, Paul  173, 183, 184 radical hermeneutics  194–210 radical thought  20, 122, 134, 155, 173, 174, 178, 186, 187, 190, 191, 194, 199, 200, 225 Ranke, Leopold von  9 rationalism  32, 37, 97, 124, 139, 141, 144, 150, 152, 153, 164, 165, 199, 228 reason  5, 12, 16, 18, 27–43, 77, 86, 87, 108, 115, 125, 126, 136, 139, 147–153, 163–165, 169, 170, 199, 203, 205–207, 226, 228, 231n1, 233n18, 250n36 reciprocity  45, 46 reflection  86–89, 91 regulative ideas  161, 169, 213, 216, 224 relativism  22, 23, 98, 100, 102, 124, 130, 154–156, 162, 163, 225–228 religion  16, 17, 25, 58, 59, 194, 200, 203, 209; also see mysticism. rhetoric  10, 21, 37, 39, 41, 86, 104, 105, 119, 130, 131, 139, 141, 143–153, 163–165, 186, 190–192, 217, 221, 222, 224 Ricoeur, Paul  4, 105, 131, 149, 173, 174, 180–182, 184, 204, 205, 208, 219 Rorty, Richard  99–116, 156, 173, 181, 200, 205, 207, 208, 225, 226, 228, 238n2 rules  34, 190, 215, 219–221 Samay, Sebastian  233n36 Schleiermacher, Friedrich  9, 184, 211 Schrag, Calvin  219, 243n15 science  11, 15–18, 22, 24, 27, 29–40, 57, 66, 68, 76, 77, 81–83, 85, 91, 96, 98, 122, 128, 130, 157, 175, 178, 216 sense of life  38, 197, 200, 201, 208, 209 subjectivity  11, 15, 16, 21, 22, 23, 25, 29, 30, 37, 38, 109, 110, 114, 178, 179, 205, 228 suspicion  2, 17, 18, 20, 24, 121, 132–134, 173–193, 205, 209

Index technology  28, 29, 30, 31, 39–51, 53, 55–58 temperament  4, 191–193, 194, 204, 208 theory  1, 10, 66, 73, 87, 99–116, 120–122, 127, 134, 135, 143, 157, 162, 175, 207, 213 theory/practice relation  5, 64, 147 thinking  1, 81, 88, 93, 94, 96, 127, 129 Thou  20, 23, 44–59; also see other totality  11, 14, 25, 39, 127, 128, 178, 212, 214 tradition  19, 23, 37, 39, 45, 46, 51, 69, 74, 91, 105, 107, 128–130, 132, 134, 141, 142, 181, 182, 191–193, 195, 196, 208, 222 transcendental thought  15, 154–170 transcendence  28, 29, 31, 33, 36, 40, 41, 50, 52, 59 transformation  16, 20, 51, 94 truth  5, 10, 11, 15, 16, 18, 22, 24, 28, 30, 32–37, 40, 63–80, 81, 84–86,

263 97, 100–103, 181, 182, 196, 198, 202–205, 215, 231n1, 238n43

uncertainty  10, 69, 74 universals  1, 75, 130, 189, 190, 213, 215, 219–223; also see concepts values  10, 13, 15, 16, 17, 18, 22, 24, 26, 129, 130, 134 Vattimo, Gianni  9 vigilance  197, 199, 204, 206–209 violence  36, 40, 42, 45, 104, 149, 150, 163, 164, 170, 180, 198, 199 Weber, Max  125 will to power  13, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 131, 134, 139, 141, 142, 146, 147, 150, 175, 181 Wittgenstein, Ludwig  100, 103, 104, 210, 212 Wolf, Friedrich August  184 York, Count  9