Hermeneutics


Hermeneutics
Hermeneutics Gadamer and Ricoeur G.B.Madison THE HISTORICAL BACKGROUND: ROMANTIC HERMENEUTICS Although the term ‘hermeneutics’ (hermeneutica) is, in its current usage, of early modern origin,1 the practice it refers to is as old as western civilization itself. Under the traditional appellation of ars interpretandi, hermeneutics designates the art of textual interpretation, as instanced in biblical exegesis and classical philology. In modern times, hermeneutics progressively redefined itself as a general, overall discipline dealing with the principles regulating all forms of interpretation. It was put forward as a discipline that is called into play whenever we encounter texts (or text-analogues) whose meaning is not readily apparent and which accordingly require an active effort on the part of the interpreter in order to be made intelligible. In addition to this exegetical function, hermeneutics also viewed its task as that of drawing out the practical consequences of the interpreted meaning (‘application’). This dual role of understanding (or explanation) (subtilitas intelligendi, subtilitas explicandi) and application (subtilitas applicandi) is perhaps especially evident in the case of juridical hermeneutics where the task is not only to ascertain the ‘meaning’ or ‘intent’ of the law but also to discern how best to apply it in the circumstances at hand. In the early nineteenth century, at the hands of Friedrich Schleiermacher (1768–1834), the scope of hermeneutics was expanded considerably. Indeed, Schleiermacher claimed for hermeneutics the status of an overall theory (allgemeine Hermeneutik) specifying the procedures and rules for the understanding not only of textual meaning but of cultural meaning in general (Kunstlehre). Rooted in the romantic tradition, Schleiermacher, often referred to as the ‘father of hermeneutics’, empha-sized the ‘psychological’ or ‘divinatory’ function of hermeneutics—the purpose of interpretation being that of ‘divining’ the intentions of an author, or, in other words, reconstructing psychologically an author’s mental life (‘to understand the discourse just as well as and even better than its creator’).2 The purpose of hermeneutics is thus that of unearthing the original meaning of a text, this being equated by Schleiermacher with the meaning originally intended by the author.3 This view of hermeneutics as a form of cultural understanding (understanding another culture or historical epoch, for instance) and the concomitant, ‘psychological’ view of understanding (as a grasping of the subjective intentions of authors or actors) was developed more fully towards the end of the century by Wilhelm Dilthey (1833–1911). One of the most salient features of the nineteenth century was the rapid expansion of the human sciences (Geisteswissenschaften), historiography in particular. The task that Dilthey set himself was that of furnishing a methodological foundation for these new sciences, similar to the way in which, a century earlier, Kant had sought to ‘ground’ the natural sciences philosophically. Conceding, like Kant, an exclusivity in the explanation of natural being to the natural sciences (Naturwissenschaften), Dilthey sought to go beyond Kant by arguing (as the historian J.G.Droysen had before him) that the human sciences have their own specific subject matter and, accordingly, their own, equally specific, method. A spokesperson for the Lebensphilosophie current at the time, Dilthey maintained that the proper object of the human sciences is something specifically human, namely the inner, psychic life (Erlebnis, lived experience) of historical and social agents. Whereas the natural sciences seek to explain phenomena in a causal and, so to speak, external fashion (Erklären), the method proper to the human sciences is that of emphathetic understanding (Verstehen). The task of the human scientist is, or should be, that of transporting himself or herself into an alien or distant life experience, as this experience manifests or ‘objectifies’ itself in documents, texts (‘written monuments’) and other traces or expressions (Ausdrucken) of inner life experiences and world-views (Weltanschauungen). The Lebensphilosophie assumption operative here is that, because the human scientist is a living being, a part of life, he or she is, as a matter of principle, capable of reconstructively understanding other objectifications of life. Understanding (the method proper to the human sciences) is thus a matter of interpretation, and interpretation (Deutung) is the means whereby, through its outward, objective ‘expressions’, we can come to know in its own innerness what is humanly other, can, in effect, imaginatively coincide with it; relive it. Dilthey thus viewed the goal or purpose of interpretation as that of achieving a reproduction (Nachbildung) of alien life experiences. Dilthey’s purpose in conceptualizing the hermeneutical enterprise in this way was, as I indicated, to secure for the human sciences their own methodological autonomy and their own scientific objectivity vis-à-vis the natural sciences. The human sciences can lay claim to their own rightful epistemological status, can, indeed, lay claim to validity, if, as was Dilthey’s aim, it can be shown that there is a ‘method’ which is specific to them, and which is different from the one characteristic of the natural sciences. This, Dilthey argued, was the method of Verstehen, as opposed to that of Erklärung; the task of the human sciences is not to ‘explain’ human phenomena, but to ‘understand’ them. As a matter of historical interest, it may be noted that Dilthey’s ‘solution’ to what could be called the ‘problem of the human (or social) sciences’ was revived several decades later in the mid twentieth century by Peter Winch, at roughly the same time that Gadamer and Ricoeur were developing their own quite different version of hermeneutics. In opposition to the then dominant positivist approach to the human sciences, which (as in the case of Carl Hempel and his ‘covering law’ model)4 maintained that these disciplines could be made ‘scientific’ if they could manage, somehow, to incorporate the explanatory methods of the natural sciences, Winch argued that the ‘explanatory’ approach is totally inappropriate in the human sciences. With Wittgenstein’s notion of ‘forms of life’ in mind, Winch maintained that ‘the concepts used by primitive peoples can only be interpreted in the context of the way of life of those peoples’. The task of the anthropologist, for instance, can be no more than that of empathetically projecting himself or herself into an alien ‘form of life’. When one has empathetically described in this way a particular ‘language game’, there is nothing more to be done. Like Dilthey, Winch drew a radical distinction between empathetic understanding and causal explanation and suggested that the human sciences should limit themselves to the former, arguing that human or social relations are an ‘unsuitable subject for generalizations and theories of the scientific son to be formulated about them’. ‘The concepts used by primitive peoples’, he insisted, ‘can only be interpreted in the context of the way of life of those peoples.’5 Winch’s position is accurately characterized by Richard J.Bernstein in the following terms: Winch’s arguments about the logical gap between the social and the natural can be understood as a linguistic version of the dichotomy between the Naturwissenschaften and the Geisteswissenschaften. Even the arguments that he uses to justify his claims sometimes read like a translation, in the new linguistic idiom, of those advanced by Dilthey.6 The important thing to note in this regard is how this Diltheyan-style attempt to make of life a special and irreducible category and to set it up as the foundational justification for a special and irreducible son of science is, by that very fact, to oppose it to another distinct category, that of nature, which generates another, opposed kind of science. Explanation and understanding are viewed as two different, and even antagonistic, modes of inquiry. As we shall see later in this chapter, one of the prime objectives of Ricoeur’s hermeneutics has been to overcome the understanding/explanation dichotomy inherited from Dilthey which has bedevilled so much of the debate in the twentieth century as to the epistemological status of the human sciences. Indeed, it could be said that one of the principal tasks of contemporary phenomenological hermeneutics7 continues to consist, on the one hand, in ‘depsychologizing’ or ‘desubjectivizing’ the notion of meaning (rejecting thereby an empathetic notion of understanding) and, on the other hand, and correlatively, in attempting to specify the particular sense in which (or the degree to which) it can properly be said that the human sciences are indeed ‘explanatory’. In order to position ourselves for understanding what is distinctive about the hermeneutics of Gadamer and Ricoeur, it should also be noted that the Schleiermacher- Dilthey tradition in hermeneutics (customarily referred to as ‘romantic hermeneutics’) has been carried on in this century in the work of Emilio Betti and E.D.Hirsch, Jr, both of whom have strenuously objected to the version of hermeneutics put forward by Gadamer and Ricoeur. In an attempt to revive traditional hermeneutics (which they view phenomenological hermeneutics as having unfortunately displaced), Betti and Hirsch have sought to argue anew for hermeneutics as a general body of methodological principles and rules for achieving validity in interpretation. Betti, the founder in 1955 of an institute for hermeneutics in Rome, has sought to resuscitate Dilthey’s concern for achieving objective validity in our interpretations of the various ‘objectifications’ of human experience. He has attacked Gadamer for, as he sees it, undermining the scientific concern for objectivity and, because of the emphasis that Gadamer places on the notion of ‘application’ (to be discussed below), of opening the door to arbitrariness (or ‘subjectivism’) in interpretation and, indeed, to relativism. At the outset of his major work of 1962, Die Hermeneutik als allgemeine Methodik der Geiteswissenschaften,8 Betti indirectly accused Gadamer of abandoning the ‘venerable older form of hermeneutics’ by having turned his back on its overriding concern for correctness or objectivity in interpretation. Betti’s critique was taken up by Hirsch with the publication in 1967 of the latter’s Validity in Interpretation,9 the first original and systematic treatise on hermeneutics written in English. As the title of his book so clearly indicates, Hirsch, like Betti and the other romantic hermeneuticists before him, was concerned to make of hermeneutics ascience capable of furnishing ‘correct’ interpretations of ‘verbal meanings’ presumed to exist independently of the interpretive process itself. Hirsch’s critical arguments are much the same as those of Betti, but he does add a new, methodological twist to his overall position. Hirsch’s strategy for transforming interpretation into a genuine science is, quite simply, to transfer—lock, stock and barrel—the method of hypothetico-deductionism and Popperian falsificationism from the philosophy of the natural sciences to the humanities and, in particular, to the interpretation of literary texts. Like Popper’s ‘logic of scientific discovery’, Hirsch’s ‘logic of validation’ maintains that there can be no method for ‘guessing’ (‘understanding’) an author’s meaning but that once such ‘conjectures’ or ‘hypotheses’ happen to be arrived at, they can subsequently be subjected to rigorous testing in such a way as to draw ‘probability judgments’ supported by ‘evidence’. ‘The act of understanding’, Hirsch writes, ‘is at first a genial (or a mistaken) guess, and there are no methods for making guesses, or rules for generating insights. The methodological activity of interpretation commences when we begin to test and criticize our guesses’ (Validity, p. 207). And the activity of testing ‘interpretive hypotheses’, he says, ‘is not in principle different from devising experiments that can sponsor decisions between hypotheses in the natural sciences’ (p. 206). The curious result of Hirsch’s attempt to make of hermeneutics a science is to have narrowed considerably the scope that, traditionally, was claimed for it by the romantics. Hermeneutics is no longer concerned with understanding, interpretation and application but with interpretation alone, and this conceived of merely as ‘validation’. In Hirsch’s hands hermeneutics becomes essentially no more than an interpretive technique (technē hermeneutikē) for arbitrating between possible meanings, conflicting interpretations, with the aim of deciding which of them is the one and only true meaning of the text, i.e., the one intended by the author. Moreover, in conceiving of ‘validation’ in a Popperian and positivistic fashion, Hirsch effectively collapses the distinction between the natural and the human sciences,10 sacrificing in the process the concern of Dilthey and others to safeguard the integrity and autonomy of the latter. Hirsch resolves the long-standing explanation/understanding debate—but at the total expense of ‘understanding’. He uncritically endorses the scientistic claim that the natural sciences represent a model for all legitimate knowledge and are canonical for all other forms of knowledge. In the wake of Betti and Hirsch, critics of Gadamer and Ricoeur continue to iterate the (by now well-worn) objection that their version of hermeneutics is incapable of generating a method by means of which ‘correct’ interpretations of textual meaning can be conclusively arrived at and that, because of this, it inevitably results in subjectivism and relativism.11 We can begin to understand what is specific to phenomenological hermeneutics when we can understand its own reasons for rejecting the modernist obsession with ‘method’ and when, moreover, we can see why phenomenological hermeneutics should in its turn accuse traditional hermeneutics of falling prey to a naive form of objectivism. MOVING BEYOND THE TRADITION: PHENOMENOLOGICAL HERMENEUTICS It would seem to be something of a general rule that any specifically human phenomenon is understood best when understood in terms of that from which it differs. It is certainly the case in any event that what goes to make up the specificity of the hermeneutics defended by Hans-Georg Gadamer (1900-) and Paul Ricoeur (1915-) is the way in which it differs from, and stands opposed to, traditional hermeneutics, as portrayed in the preceding remarks. For his part Ricoeur has explicitly characterized his hermeneutics in terms of its oppositional role when he declared: ‘I am fighting on two fronts.’ The two fronts he is referring to are, on the one hand, the ‘romantic illusion’ of empathetic understanding and, on the other hand, the ‘positivist illusion’ of a textual objectivity closed in upon itself and wholly independent of the subjectivity of both author and reader’ (OI, 194–5).12 In the latter case Ricoeur had the structuralist approach to texts in mind, but his remark would apply equally well to Hirsch’s brand of hermeneutics to the degree that the latter seeks to maintain the pristine objectivity of a text closed in upon itself and wholly independent of the subjectivity of the reader (of its ‘application’). Gadamer has sought in a similar way to clarify his position by differentiating it from that of Betti. In the Foreword to the second edition (1965) of his magnum opus, Truth and Method, Gadamer attempted to defend himself against Betti’s criticisms. His response was basically two-sided. On the one hand, he sought to justify his lack of concern for ‘method’ and, on the other, to defend himself against the charge of ‘subjectivism’. In regard to the question of method he stated: My revival of the expression ‘hermeneutics’, with its long tradition, has apparently led to some misunderstandings.13 I did not intend to produce an art or technique of 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 isphilosophic: not what we do or what we ought to do, but what happens to us over and above our wanting and doing.14 In other words, the goal that Gadamer set himself was that of envisaging hermeneutics in a way thoroughly different from the way in which it traditionally had been envisaged. In stark contrast to the positivistinspired view of hermeneutics that Hirsch was subsequently to defend, Gadamer’s goal was not prescriptive (laying down ‘rules’ for (correct) interpretation) but, in the phenomenological sense of the term, descriptive (seeking to ascertain what actually occurs whenever we seek to understand something). The difference between Gadamer’s hermeneutics and traditional hermeneutics could be aptly compared to the difference between traditional philosophy of science, of either a positivist or Popperian sort, and the radically new approach to the philosophy of science instituted by Thomas Kuhn in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (first published in 1962, two years after the original German edition of Gadamer’s Truth and Method), a work which was to revolutionize the philosophy of science. Analogously to Gadamer, Kuhn sought not (like, for instance, Popper) to lay down methodological criteria that scientists must meet if what they do is to merit the appellation ‘science’, but sought instead simply to describe that particular activity which we refer to when we speak of someone ‘doing science’ (the actual characteristics of which are more often than not significantly different from what scientists are liable to say they are doing when pressed to make philosophical statements about their actual practice). With Gadamer explicitly in mind, Kuhn was later to describe his own work as ‘hermeneutical’. As the text cited above clearly indicates, Gadamer’s purpose was not ‘methodological’ but, as he says, ‘philosophic’. That is, Gadamer’s goal was to elaborate a general philosophy of human understanding, in all of its various modes. It is precisely for this reason that his thought is often referred to as ‘philosophical hermeneutics’.15 A couple of pages further on in the Foreword Gadamer, again with reference to Betti, states his ‘philosophic concern’ in the following way: The purpose of my investigation is not to offer a general theory of interpretation and a differential account of its methods (which E.Betti has done so well) but to discover what is common to all modes of understanding and to show that understanding is never subjective behaviour toward a given ‘object’, but towards its effective history—the history of its influence; in other words, understanding belongs to the being of that which is understood. ([9.7], xix) What in the present context is to be noted is how, in this last remark, Gadamer is attempting to respond to Betti’s accusation of ‘subjectivism’. Understanding, Gadamer is effectively saying, is not so much a ‘subjective’ as it is an ontological process. Understanding is not something that the human subject or we ‘do’ as it is something that, by reason of our ‘belonging’ to history (Zugehörigkeit), happens to us. Understanding is not a subjective accomplishment but an ‘event’ (Geshehen), i.e., ‘something of which a prior condition is its being situated within a process of tradition’ ([9.7], 276). If, as we shall see, phenomenological hermeneutics is adamantly opposed to all forms of objectivism, it is equally opposed to all forms of modern subjectivism. As Ricoeur would say, it is continually constrained to do battle on two fronts. The central thrust of phenomenological hermeneutics is to move beyond both objectivism and subjectivism, which is to say, also, beyond relativism. One of the core features of Ricoeur’s hermeneutics has been his ongoing attempt to articulate a notion of ‘the subject’ which would be free from all forms of modern subjectivism.16 Unlike other forms of postmodern thought, hermeneutics has strenuously resisted the current, and very fashionable, antihumanist calls for the abolition of ‘the subject’ (the ‘end of “man”’). The notion of the subject, hermeneutics insists, is not to be abandoned—but it must indeed be stripped of all its modernist, metaphysical accretions. This continued allegiance on the part of hermeneutics to the notion of the subject testifies to its rootedness in the phenomenological tradition inaugurated by Edmund Husserl. THE PHILOSOPHICAL BACKGROUND OF PHENOMENOLOGICAL HERMENEUTICS: HUSSERL AND HEIDEGGER All of Husserl’s philosophizing, from roughly 1900 onwards, was a sustained attempt to overcome the debilitating legacy of modern philosophy and, in particular, the subject/object dichotomy instituted by Descartes.17 A pivotal moment in the unfolding of Husserl’s phenomenology occurred in 1907 with a series of five lectures delivered in Göttingen (published subsequently in 1950 by Walter Biemel under the title Die Idee der Phänomenologie). In these lectures Husserl introduced his celebrated ‘phenomenological reduction’, the express purpose of which was to achieve a decisive overcoming of what the French translator of this work, Alexandre Lowit, has called ‘la situation phénoménale du clivage’, in other words, the subject/object split which presides over the origin and subsequent unfolding of modern philosophy from Descartes onwards. To speak in contemporary terms, what Husserl was seeking to accomplish by means of the ‘reduction’ was a thoroughgoing ‘decon-struction’ of the central problematic of modern philosophy itself, namely, the ‘epistemological’ problem of how an isolated subjectivity, closed in upon itself, can none the less manage to ‘transcend’ itself in such a way as to achieve a ‘knowledge’ of the ‘external world’.18 This, it may be noted, is, in one of its many variants, the problem which continues to inform the work of Betti and Hirsch (how to ‘validate objectively’ our own ‘subjective ideas’). Thanks to the ‘reduction’ however, Husserl effectively displaced or deconstructed the epistemological problematic itself. He did so by discrediting (revealing the ‘philosophical absurdity’ of) its two constitutive notions: the notion of an ‘objective’, ‘in-itself’ world and the correlative notion that ‘knowledge’ consists in forming inner ‘representations’ on the part of an isolated ‘cognizing subject’ of this supposedly objective or ‘external’ world. The subsequent history of the phenomenological movement in the twentieth century—from Heidegger and Merleau-Ponty to Gadamer and Ricoeur—could be viewed as nothing other than an attempt ‘to extract the most extreme possibilities’19 from Husserl’s own deconstruction of the epistemological problematic. Building on Husserl’s own point of departure, phenomenological hermeneutics has systematically defined itself in terms of its opposition to both objectivism and subjectivism. If the key methodological notion in Husserl’s phenomenology is that of the reduction, the key substantive notion is the one that Husserl uncovered late in his life, that of the life-world (Lebenswelt). This too was to play a decisive role in the evolution of hermeneutics.20 As was later pointed out by Merleau-Ponty (who in his own revision of Husserlian phenomenology anticipated a great many of the themes developed later on in greater detail by hermeneutics), what Husserl’s phenomenological reduction serves ultimately to reveal is the life-world itself and this, Merleau-Ponty observed, is exactly what Heidegger referred to as ‘being-in-the-world’.21 The basic paradigm of modern epistemologism, dominated as it is by the subject/object dichotomy, is that of an isolated subjectivity (the ‘mind’) which is supposed to be related to the ‘external’ or ‘objective’ world by means of ideas or sense impressions (subsisting within the ‘mind’ itself) which are said to be ‘true’ (a ‘true likeness’) to the degree that they adequately ‘represent’ or ‘refer to’ facts or states of affairs in ‘reality’. This modernist view of things (which could appropriately be labelled ‘referentialist-representationalism’) is one that continues to prevail with theorists such as Betti and Hirsch. It was in opposition to modern epistemologism, however, that Martin Heidegger argued in Being and Time (1927) that a relation (a commercium) between the subject and the world does not first get established on the level of ‘cognition’ or ‘knowledge’.22 Before any explicit awareness on its part, the human subject (Dasein) finds itself already in a world, ‘thrown’ into it, as it were. This surrounding world, the life-world, is thus one which is ‘always already’ there. What this pregivenness (as Husserl would say) of the life-world means is that, by virtue of our very existence, i.e. our ‘being-in-the-world’, we possess what Heidegger called a ‘preontological understanding’ of the world (of ‘being’). All explicit understandings or theorizings do no more than build on this always presupposed—and thus never fully thematizable—‘ground’. For Heidegger, therefore, understanding is not so much a mode of ‘knowing’ as it is one of ‘being’. As Gadamer would subsequently put it, consciousness is more Sein than Bewusstsein. Heidegger refers to this situation as ‘facticity’: if there is an always presupposed element in all our explicit understandings, this means that, in our various interpretations of things, we can never hope to achieve total transparency. The lesson that phenomenological hermeneutics was to draw from this Heideggerian position is that human understanding is essentially ‘finite’. As Ricoeur has said: ‘The gesture of hermeneutics is a humble one of acknowledging the historical conditions to which all human understanding is subsumed in the reign of finitude.’23 What this means is that there can be no ‘science’, in the traditional philosophical sense of the term (episteme, scientia intuitiva), of existence (or of ‘being’). The hermeneutics of Gadamer and Ricoeur could most fittingly be characterized as nothing other than a systematic attempt to draw all the philosophical conclusions that follow from a recognition of the inescapable finitude of human understanding (this is why they will argue, against objectivists such as Betti and Hirsch, that it is impossible ever to arrive at the (one and only) correct interpretation of a text or any other human product). Their hermeneutics will be ‘a hermeneutics of finitude’ ([9.15], 96). Heidegger’s ‘existential analytic’—his phenomenological-interpretive description of human existence and its basic structures (what he referred to as Existentialen), his attempt to elaborate a ‘hermeneutics of facticity’, of everyday life, the life-world—provided the crucial impetus for subsequent hermeneutics. What is peculiar to Heidegger’s hermeneutics is that it is an ontological hermeneutics. It is ontological (rather than ‘methodological’) in that, unlike what traditionally had gone under the heading ‘hermeneutics’, it was not concerned to specify criteria for ‘correct’ interpretations but instead had for its object something much more fundamental (Heidegger referred to his project as ‘fundamental ontology’), namely a properly philosophical elucidation or interpretation of the basic (ontological) structures of human understanding which is to say, human existence) itself. The move that Heidegger made in this connection was to prove decisive for the subsequent development of hermeneutics. Understanding, Heidegger insisted, is not merely one attribute of our being, something that we may ‘have’ or not (in the sense in which we are said to ‘have knowledge’); understanding is rather that which, as existing beings, we most fundamentally are. As existing beings, we exist only in the mode of becoming (as Kierkegaard—from whom Heidegger drew much of his inspiration—would have said), and thus what we most fundamentally are is not anything fixed and given but rather what we can become, i.e., possibility. This in turn means that the understanding which we are is itself nothing other than an understanding of the possible ways in which we could be (‘Understanding is the Being of such potentiality-for Being’, BT, 183). As existing, understanding beings, we are continually ‘projecting’ possible ways of being (our being is defined in terms of these ‘projects’). What Heidegger calls ‘interpretation’ (Auslegung) is itself nothing other than a possibility belonging to understanding. That is, when our prethematic, prepredicative or tacit understanding is developed, it becomes interpretation.24 Interpretation (explication, laying-out, Auslegen) is the working-out (Ausarbeitung) of the possible modes of being that have been projected by the understanding. The point that Heidegger is insisting on is that interpretation is always derivative; interpretation discloses only what has already been understood (albeit only tacitly). In other words, interpretation is never without presuppositions (Heidegger referred to these as ‘fore-structures’). It is never the mere mirroring of an ‘objectivity’ which simply stands there naked before us (the ‘bare facts’); in interpretation there is always something that is ‘taken for granted’. With the example of textual interpretation in mind, Heidegger pointedly remarks that if in one’s interpretations one appeals to ‘what “stands there”, then one finds that what “stands there” in the first instance is nothing other than the obvious undiscussed assumption [Vormeinung] of the person who does the interpreting’ (BT, 192). There is, then, an essential circularity between understanding and interpretation. In this way Heidegger effectively ontologizes what traditional hermeneutics had called the ‘hermeneutical circle’, which, as a methodological rule, simply meant that when interpreting a text one ought continually to interpret the parts in terms of the whole, and the whole in terms of the parts. For Heidegger, however, the ‘circle’ of understanding goes much deeper; it is in fact rooted in the existential constitution of human being itself. Human understanding itself has a circular structure. This amounts to saying that all interpretive understandings are presuppositional or ‘anticipatory’ by nature (interpretation must…already operate in that which is understood’ (BT, 194). Since the ‘circle’ is constitutive of our very being—since, in other words, it constitutes the very condition of possibility of our understanding anything at all—it would be altogether misleading to view it, as a logician might, as a ‘vicious circle’. Even to view the circularity involved in all understanding—its ‘presuppositional’ nature—as an inevitable or unfortunate imperfection of human understanding that, in an ideal situation, could or ought to be overcome would mean, Heidegger says, that one has misunderstood the act of understanding ‘from the ground up’ (BT, 194). Indeed, all attempts to deny the ‘circle’ or to escape from it testify to a false consciousness. What Heidegger is here calling into question is the Cartesian ideal that has dominated all of modern philosophy, namely, the notion that truly ‘objective’ knowledge must be presuppositionless or ‘foundational’, grounded upon some rock-solid, ‘objective’ foundation (even the logical positivists continued to demand such a foundation and believed that they had found it in a combination of the laws of logic and raw ‘sense data’). Thus, he maintains that the objectivistic ideal of ‘a historiology which would be as independent of the standpoint of the observer as our knowledge of Nature is supposed to be’ is a false ideal, an idol, in fact, of the understanding. Both scientistic objectivism and common sense (the ‘natural attitude’, as Husserl would have said) misunderstand understanding (see BT, 363). The important thing, Heidegger says, the lesson to be drawn from the phenomenological analysis of human being-in-the-world, is that we ought not even to try to get out of the circle but should attempt rather ‘to come into it in the right way’ (BT, 195). We must, in other words, learn in our theorizing to do without ‘foundations’ (such as, in textual interpretation, the supposedly original intention of the author). It would not be too much of an exaggeration to say that the whole meaning and significance of post-Heideggerian hermeneutics consists in its strenuous attempt to take this lesson to heart and, accordingly, to elaborate a theory of understanding and interpretation that could most properly be termed ‘non-foundational’. PHENOMENOLOGICAL HERMENEUTICS: THE BASIC THEMES The putative purpose of Heidegger’s lengthy analysis in Being and Time of the basic structures of human being was to set the stage for raising anew the age-old question of the meaning of Being, a question which Heidegger believed had increasingly been lost sight of since the time of the ancient Greeks. In subsequent writings Heidegger attempted to find a more direct approach to the Being-question (die Seinsfrage), abandoning in the process the existential orientation of his earlier work which, he believed, had distracted him from this overriding issue. The key actor in Heidegger’s later writings is no longer the human being (Dasein) but Being itself, Being-as-such. Neither Gadamer nor Ricoeur chose to follow Heidegger in this all-out pursuit of ‘Being’. The following remark of Gadamer reflects well the agenda that hermeneutics has set itself—and which is not that of Heidegger’s ontological eschatology: ‘What man needs is not only a persistent asking of ultimate questions, but the sense of what is feasible, what is possible, what is correct, here and now’ ([9.7], xxv). Throughout his career Ricoeur has, for his part, held fast to a fundamentally existential motivation, conceiving of hermeneutics as an attempt on the part of the reflecting subject to come to grips with ‘the desire to be and the effort to exist which constitute us’25 (his ‘existentialism’ is at the root of his opposition to scientistic objectivism), and over the last several decades Gadamer has greatly expanded the scope of Heidegger’s earlier, existential hermeneutics (the ‘hermeneutics of facticity’), elaborating in the process an all-inclusive philosophical discipline. As he once remarked: ‘I bypass Heidegger’s philosophic intent, the revival of the “problem of Being”.’26 Unlike Heidegger, Gadamer has focused his interest not on the question of ‘Being’ but on the Geisteswissenschaften, on the nature and scope of the human sciences. ‘We make’, he said, ‘a decided relation between the human sciences and philosophy…. The human sciences are not only a problem for philosophy, on the contrary, they represent a problem of philosophy’ (PHC, 112). As the subject matter of his writings testifies, Ricoeur has also devoted a great deal of his philosophical attention to human science issues. If there is a difference between the two hermeneuticists in this regard, it is that Ricoeur feels that Gadamer has slighted important methodological issues having to do with the human sciences in his concern to accord them a special ontological status vis-à-vis the natural sciences (‘an entirely different notion of knowledge and truth’ [PHC, 113]). We shall, accordingly, return to the relation between hermeneutics and the human sciences after having explored some of the basic tenets of hermeneutics qua philosophy. In responding to Betti’s charge that his shift away from the concern of traditional hermeneutics for verificatory method encourages subjectivism and arbitrariness in interpretation, Gadamer, it will be recalled, asserted: ‘understanding is never subjective behaviour toward a given “object”, but towards its effective history—the history of its influence.’ One of the most outstanding features of Gadamer’s hermeneutics is the emphasis he places on the ‘historicality’ or tradition-laden nature of human understanding. ‘It is not really ourselves who understand’, he in fact says, ‘it is always a past that allows us to say, “I have understood”’ ([9.5] 58). Gadamer defends himself against the charge of subjectivism by maintaining that interpretation is never—indeed, can never be—the act of an isolated, monadic subject, for the subject’s own selfunderstanding is inevitably a function of the historical tradition to which he or she belongs. In fact, Gadamer attempts to turn the tables on the objectivists by arguing that the ‘presuppositionless’ or ‘objective’ view of understanding that their theory of interpretation calls for is an existential impossibility, that, as Heidegger would say, it involves a thoroughgoing misunderstanding of human understanding. It is in this context that Gadamer’s famous ‘rehabilitation’ of prejudice must be understood. When Gadamer provocatively asserts that prejudices are integral to all understanding, he is not condoning wilful bias or bigotry. He is simply generalizing on Heidegger’s observations on the ‘anticipatory’ nature of understanding, the fact that all understanding operates within the context of certain pre-given ‘fore-structures’. ‘Prejudice’ must be understood in the literal sense of a ‘pre-judgment’ (or a pre-reflective judgment), a presupposition, not in the pejorative sense of the term which has prevailed since the Enlightenment. The polemical thrust of Gadamer’s speaking of ‘prejudice’ is in fact directed against what he calls the Enlightenment ‘prejudice against prejudice’ ([9.7], 240). There can be, he wants to argue, ‘legitimate prejudices’. Here is yet another, and most basic, instance of how phenomenological hermeneutics essentially defines itself in opposition to modernist objectivism. The aim of Gadamer’s rehabilitation of prejudice is to call into question the very notions of reason and knowledge that we have inherited from Cartesianism and the rationalism of the Enlightenment. In this rationalist view of things reason stands opposed to authority; the ‘prejudice against prejudice’ is indeed, on a deeper level, a prejudice against ‘authority’ itself and as such. The peculiarly rationalist prejudice is that true knowledge can be had only by freeing ourselves from all inherited beliefs and opinions (the ‘authority of the tradition’) so as to create a tabula rasa on which genuinely ‘objective’ knowledge can be erected. What Gadamer objects to here is the quite arbitrary way in which Enlightenment rationalism equates authority with blind obedience and domination; as there can be ‘legitimate prejudices’, so likewise the recognition of authority can itself be fully rational. Gadamer asserts: It is true that it is primarily persons that have authority; but the authority of persons is based ultimately, not on the subjection and abdication of reason, but on recognition and knowledge—knowledge, namely, that the other is superior to oneself in judgment and insight and that for this reason his judgment takes precedence, i.e., it has priority over one’s own. This is connected with the fact that authority cannot actually be bestowed, but is acquired and must be acquired, if someone is to lay claim to it. It rests on recognition and hence on an act of reason itself which, aware of its own limitations, accepts that others have better understanding. Authority in this sense, properly understood, has nothing to do with blind obedience to a command. Indeed, authority has nothing to do with obedience, but rather with knowledge. ([9.7], As Gadamer goes on to say, if we accord recognition to anything, it is because ‘what authority states is not irrational and arbitrary, but can be accepted in principle’ ([9.7], 249). There is, therefore, something like rightful authority, the recognition whereof is itself fully rational. Gadamer contends that the Enlightenment ideal of Reason, as a ‘faculty’ enabling the individual to make contact with ‘reality’ unmediated by authority and tradition, is in fact an idol of modernity. He is especially opposed to the modernist assumption that reason so conceived (in an objectivistic-instrumentalist fashion) should serve as the basis for the complete reorganization (‘rationalization’) of society. As Richard Bernstein points out: ‘We can read his philosophic hermeneutic as a meditation on the meaning of human finitude, as a constant warning against the excesses of what he calls “planning reason”, a caution that philosophy must give up the idea of an “infinite intellect”.’27 Curiously enough (though not surprisingly), the modernist quest for ‘objective knowledge’ is itself supremely subjectivistic. It presupposes that the thinking subject has direct access only to the contents of its own ‘mind’ (which is assumed to be fully transparent to itself) but that, with suitable methodological procedures, this isolated individual can, by means of Reason, achieve genuine knowledge on his or her own. An appropriate label for this view would be ‘methodological solipsism’. For Gadamer, however, ‘Understanding is not to be thought of so much as an action of one’s subjectivity, but as the placing of oneself within a process of tradition, in which past and present are constantly fused’ ([9.7], 258). It can thus be seen that Gadamer’s defence of ‘prejudice’ goes hand in hand with the emphasis he places on tradition; indeed, for Gadamer the ultimate locus of authority is tradition itself. It is interesting to note in this regard that post-positivist philosophy of science has, in the case of Thomas Kuhn, Paul Feyerabend and others, sought to highlight the role that tradition plays in that rational enterprise called ‘science’. Scientists, it is now recognized, do not simply ‘observe and describe’ bare facts; what they look for, and what they accordingly find, is a function not of an abstract method (‘the experimental method’) but of the ‘paradigms’ or research traditions in which they happen to be working (and into which they have been enculturated in their training as scientists). This parallel between the new philosophy of science and Gadamerian hermeneutics is perhaps especially interesting and noteworthy in that in his work Gadamer has focused exclusively on the human sciences and has not sought to indicate what a hermeneutical approach to the natural sciences might look like. But the point that the new philosophers of science are making is a properly Gadamerian one: there are no answers ‘in themselves’; the only answers that scientists get is to the questions they have asked, and these are ones which they owe to the tradition within which they are working. In his reflections on the human sciences Gadamer has devoted particular attention to the importance of the question. The logic of the human sciences, he says, is ‘a logic of the question’ ([9.7], 333, see also 325ff.). All knowledge comes only in the form of an answer to a question. And much as Feyerabend was later to do in his Against Method, Gadamer insists that ‘There is no such thing as a method of learning to ask questions, of learning to see what needs to be questioned’ ([9.7], 329). This of course does not mean, as a neopositivist like Hirsch would maintain, that there is no ‘art of questioning’. There is indeed such an art, and this is precisely one we learn from the tradition to which, as thinking beings, we belong. From what has been said, it can be readily appreciated why, in his attempt to elaborate an overall philosophy of human understanding, Gadamer should devote so much of his attention to the notion of tradition. If there is no understanding without presuppositions or ‘prejudices’, then it is incumbent on a philosophical hermeneutics to thematize the role that tradition plays in our understanding, since our enabling presuppositions are historical by nature, something handed down to us by the tradition(s) to which we belong—a prime instance of ‘the historicality that is part of all understanding’ ([9.7], 333). In highlighting tradition in this way, Gadamer is led to articulate one of the core notions in his work, that of wirkungsgeschichtliche Bewusstsein. Like so many other German terms, this one defies easy translation. The ‘hermeneutical consciousness’ it designates is ‘the consciousness of effective history’ or, alternatively, ‘the consciousness in which history is effectively at work’. What effective-history ‘means’ is that ‘both what seems to us worth enquiring about and what will appear as an object of investigation’ are determined in advance ([9.7], 267–8). The term connotes a consciousness which is at once affected by history and aware of itself as so affected, an awareness which precludes our regarding history as an object since it is itself already implicated in history.28 As Ricoeur characterizes it, effective-history is ‘the massive and global fact whereby consciousness, even before its awakening as such, belongs to and depends on that which affects it’ ([9.15], 74). ‘Effective-history’ is Gadamer’s response to ‘historical objectivism’. Gadamer not only argues that there can be no purely ‘objective’ knowledge of history—since history is already effectively at work in all historiological attempts at understanding it—he argues also that the rootedness of understanding in its own history (a history which it therefore continually ‘presupposes’) must not be viewed as an impediment to genuine understanding, to ‘truth’. Or as Ricoeur sums it up: ‘The action of tradition [effective-history] and historical investigation are fused by a bond which no critical consciousness could desolve without rendering the research itself nonsensical’ ([9.15], 76). That indeed is Gadamer’s main point. Effective-history does not signal a limitation on our ability to understand (unless, of course, one wishes to contrast human understanding with divine understanding, in which case human understanding will always come out the loser) as much as it designates the positive and productive possibility of any understanding that lays claim to truth. To speak in traditional philosophical terms, effective-history is the very condition of possibility of understanding. Effective-history provides us with our ‘enabling’ presuppositions. There is a phenomenological parallel between the world in which we exist as thinking beings and the world in which we exist as perceiving beings: both have horizons.29 Effective-history provides us with the intelligible horizon within which, as thinking beings, we ‘live, move, and have our being’. Now, what occurs in the case of historical or intercultural understanding is what Gadamer calls a ‘fusion of horizons’ (Horizontsverschmelzung). The term ‘fusion’ is perhaps misleading, however. When we attain to a ‘hermeneutical consciousness’ of another historical or cultural horizon, we do not coincide with the other (cf. Dilthey’s notion of nachleben, re-living), but our horizon and that of the other partially overlap, as it were. The best illustration of such a ‘fusion’ is that of a meaningful conversation. As Gadamer writes: Just as in a conversation, when we have discovered the standpoint and horizon of the other person, his ideas become intelligible, without our necessarily having to agree with him, the person who thinks historically comes to understand the meaning of what has been handed down, without necessarily agreeing with it, or seeing himself in it.30 ([9.7], 270) Were one inclined to draw out the applicational significance of Gadamer’s notion of a fusion of horizons, it would be most instructive to interpret it in the light of recent debates about ‘incommensurability’.31 What this would serve to reveal is how the notion of a fusion of horizons, like so many other hermeneutical notions, is an intrinsically oppositional or dialectical notion. In regard, for instance, to the question as to whether different cultural world-views are in any way ‘commensurable’, the fusion-of-horizons notion would oblige one to defend a position which would be neither absolutist nor relativist. On the one hand, the hermeneuticist would want to argue—as Richard Rorty, for instance, has done—against the idea of ‘universal commen-suration’, the idea, that is, that the values operative in different cultures can be measured or ranked according to some univocal, hierarchical standard of comparison, by means of some kind of epistemological algorithm. On the other hand, however, the hermeneuticist would want to argue just as strenuously against an unrestrained ‘particularism’, i.e., against the outright rejection of universalism altogether (cf. Rorty’s defence of ‘ethnocentrism’). The hermeneutical notion of a fusion of horizons means (in practical or pragmatic terms) that a meaningful dialogue with the ‘other’ (a genuine contact with the other, as other) is always possible, given the necessary effort and good will—even though a Hegelian-like Aufhebung of differences in a univocally uniform understanding is neither possible nor even, for that matter, desirable.32 Expressing much the same point, though in a somewhat different way, Ricoeur observes: This [the fusion of horizons] is a dialectical concept which results from the rejection of two alternatives: objectivism, whereby the objectification of the other is premissed on the forgetting of oneself; and absolute knowledge, according to which universal history can be articulated within a single horizon. We exist neither in closed horizons, nor within an horizon that is unique. No horizon is closed, since it is possible to place oneself in another point of view and in another culture…. But no horizon is unique, since the tension between the other and oneself is unsurpassable. ([9.15], 75) To sum up: what Gadamer has called ‘tradition’ is nothing other than the way in which our own horizons are constantly shifting through ‘fusion’ with other horizons. ‘In a tradition,’ he says, ‘this process of fusion is continually going on, for there old and new continually grow together to make something of living value, without either being explicitly distinguished from the other’ ([9.7], 273). The all-inclusive name for the phenomenon in question is ‘understanding’. To highlight in this way the ‘horizonal’ nature of understanding is, once again, to underscore the essential finitude of all understanding. ‘Philosophical thinking’, Gadamer insists, ‘is not science at all…. There is no claim of definitive knowledge, with the exception of one: the acknowledgement of the finitude of human being in itself.’33 The important thing to note in this regard, however, is that while an emphasis on finitude rules out the possibility of our ever attaining to ‘definitive knowledge’, it does not exclude the possibility of truth. It does not, that is, if and when truth is no longer conceived of in a metaphysical fashion, as a state of rest in which one has achieved a final coincidence with the object in question (e.g., the meaning of a text), but is reconceptualized to mean a mode of existence in which we keep ourselves open to new experiences, to further expansions in our horizons. Truth, for Gadamer, is not a static but a dynamic concept. It is not an epistemological but an existential concept, designating a possible mode of beingin- the-world. When, in the very last line of Truth and Method, Gadamer speaks of ‘a discipline of questioning and research, a discipline that guarantees truth’, what he means by ‘truth’ tends to coincide with the notion of openness. This is why he writes: ‘The truth of experience always contains an orientation towards new experience…. The dialectic of experience has its own fulfilment not in definitive knowledge, but in that openness to experience that is encouraged by experience itself’ ([9.7], 319).34 If human understanding is effectively historical, this means that it is also linguistic through and through, since it is through language that the tradition is effectively mediated and ‘fused’ with the present (which means also that in the language we speak and by means of which we achieve understanding the past continues to be effectively present). ‘The linguistic quality of understanding’, Gadamer remarks, ‘is the concretion of effective-historical understanding’; ‘it is the nature of tradition to exist in the medium of language’ ([9.7], 351). Ricoeur has summed up the chief consequence of the ‘new ontology of understanding’ in the following way: ‘there is no self-understanding which is not mediated by signs, symbols and texts…that is to say that it is language that is the primary condition of all human experience’ (OI, 191). For both Gadamer and Ricoeur the ultimate goal of all understanding is self-understanding, and, to the degree that this occurs, it occurs by means of language. As was mentioned earlier, hermeneutics for Ricoeur is nothing other than an attempt on the part of the reflecting subject to come to grips with ‘the desire to be’ (‘le désire d’être’), and there is, he says, a basic ‘proximity between desire and speech’. In fact, the path to self-understanding, he says, ‘lies in the speech of the other which leads me across the open space of signs’. Like Gadamer, Ricoeur believes that the condition for understanding and self-understanding is the linguistically mediated tradition to which we belong, ‘the whole treasury of symbols transmitted by the cultures within which we have come, at one and the same time, into both existence and speech’ (OI, 192–3). At one point in his career,35 Ricoeur equated hermeneutics with the interpretation of symbols, i.e., various double-meaning expressions such as stain, fall, wandering, captivity, and so on, the purpose of hermeneutics being that of explicating the non-literal meaning of these expressions, thereby recollecting and restoring the fullness of their symbolic meaning. In work undertaken subsequent to what he calls his ‘linguistic turn’, Ricoeur’s view of the scope of hermeneutics expanded to include the entire range of human linguisticality, the issue of textuality in particular. Gadamer for his part devoted fully one-third of Truth and Method to a discussion of language. If ‘all understanding is interpretation’, it is equally the case, Gadamer insists, that ‘all interpretation takes place in the medium of language’. Language, he says, ‘is the universal medium in which understanding itself is realized’ ([9.7], 350). This is Gadamer’s thesis concerning the ‘linguisticality’ (Sprachlichkeit) of experience, regarded by some as ‘his most original contribution to the history of hermeneutics’.36 As he formulates it, the thesis is a strong one: Linguistic interpretation is the form of all interpretation, even when what is to be interpreted is not linguistic in nature, i.e., is not a text, but is a statue or a musical composition. We must not let ourselves be confused by these forms of interpretation which are not linguistic, but in fact presuppose language. ([9.7], 360) A natural reaction on the part of many readers is to object that, surely, we have experiences which are not linguistic in nature. As if in realization of the somewhat counter-intuitive nature of his thesis, Gadamer goes on to say: We must understand properly the nature of the fundamental priority of language asserted here. Indeed, language often seems ill-suited to express what we feel. In the face of the overwhelming presence of works of art the task of expressing in words what they say to us seems like an infinite and hopeless undertaking. It seems like a critique of language that our desire and capacity to understand always go beyond any statement that we can make. But this does not affect the fundamental priority of language. ([9.7], 362) It is indeed necessary, as Gadamer says, to understand properly the nature of the priority being asserted here. Gadamer is not advocating a kind of Sprachidealismus, a linguistic idealism. He is not defending a metaphysical thesis to the effect that there is nothing outside of language or that everything can be reduced to language—as Derrida was subsequently perceived to be saying (‘Il n’y a pas de hors-texte’). The linguisticalitythesis does not deny the meaningfulness of non-linguistic modes of experience; rather it affirms that meaningfulness by maintaining that it can always, in principle, be brought to expression (can be interpreted) in language. If the pre-linguistic could not be so interpreted, it would indeed be meaningless to speak of it as having any meaning at all. Thus, as Gadamer says: language always forestalls any objection to its jurisdiction. Its universality keeps pace with the universality of reason. Hermeneutical consciousness is only participating in something that constitutes the general relation between language and reason. If all understanding stands in a necessary relation of equivalence to its possible interpretation and if there are basically no bounds set to understanding, then the linguistic form which the interpretation of this understanding finds must contain within it an infinite dimension that transcends all bounds. Language is the language of reason itself. ([9.7], 363) Ricoeur too insists on this ‘general relation between language and reason’. The operant presupposition or ‘central intuition’37 underlying his hermeneutical endeavours is that existence is indeed meaningful, that, notwithstanding the very real existence of unmeaning, necessity (unfreedom) and evil, there is in existence ‘a super-abundance of meaning to the abundance of non-sense’.38 The core of what could be called Ricoeur’s philosophical faith is his belief in the dicibilité, the ‘sayability’, of experience. He formulates this ‘wager for meaning’ or this ‘presupposition of meaning’ in the following way: ‘It must be supposed that experience in all its fullness…has an expressibility [dicibilité] in principle. Experience can be said, it demands to be said. To bring it to language is not to change it into something else, but, in articulating and developing it, to make it become itself ([9.15], 115). Perhaps no more forceful statement could be adduced to highlight the fundamental difference between hermeneutics and other forms of postmodern philosophy which also emphasize the centrality of language but which proceed to draw from such a recognition conclusions of a philosophically agnostic sort (cf. Derrida’s notions of différance and ‘undecidability’). For hermeneutics the fact that our understanding of things is always mediated by language does not mean that language is a barrier preventing us from having genuine access to ‘reality’. Precisely because of the linguisticality of understanding, hermeneutics insists that there is—‘in principle’, as Ricoeur would say—nothing that we might wish to understand which cannot, in one way or another, be brought to language. As Gadamer states: ‘everything that is intelligible must be accessible to understanding and to interpretation. The same thing is as true of understanding as of language’ ([9.7], 365). ‘Every language’, he maintains, ‘…is able to say everything it wants’ ([9.7], 363). This of course is not to say that one could ever succeed in saying everything that there is to be said about anything; experience of the world is not only expressible, it is infinitely expressible and is, therefore, inexhaustible in its meaning.39 It should be noted that the hermeneutical ‘postulate of meaningfulness’, of expressibility, is not merely an article of (philosophical) faith but is based on an ontological thesis as to the relationship between human understanding (what traditional philosophy would have called the ‘mind’) and reality. The thesis is one to which Gadamer gave the following succinct formulation: ‘Being that can be understood is language’ ([9.7], 432). Let us attempt to unpack this very provocative assertion. What exactly the thesis as to the ‘linguisticality of the world’ means can perhaps best be grasped when it is reinserted in the phenomenological context from which it derives; for hermeneutics the relation between language and the world parellels the relation between consciousness and the world as described by Husserl. As was mentioned earlier, the ‘phenomenological reduction’ was the means by which Husserl sought to overcome the subject/object split of philosophical modernity. What the reduction served to reveal is the ‘intentionality’ of consciousness: ‘all consciousness is consciousness of its object, of the world.’ In other words, in being conscious, one is not first of all conscious of one’s own consciousness and then, only subsequently, of an object; on the contrary, selfconsciousness is derivative—‘parasitical’, even—upon an immediate consciousness of the object.40 Consciousness is therefore not something we have to break out of in order to encounter the world. As Merleau-Ponty remarked, ‘there is no inner man’;41 consciousness is ‘always already’ in a world and thus is itself a mode of being-in-theworld. Transposed from the register of consciousness to that of language, the intentionalitythesis means that between language and the world there exists, as Gadamer puts it, a mutual belonging, an ‘affiliation’. What language ‘expresses’ is nothing other than the world itself, and thus, as Gadamer says, ‘language has no independent life apart from the world that comes to language within it’ ([9.7], 401). Echoing, as it were, Heidegger’s characterization of language as ‘das Haus des Seins’, the home of being, Gadamer insists on ‘the intimate unity of word and object’. Objecting to ‘the instrumentalist devaluation of language that we find in modern times’ ([9.7], 365), Gadamer maintains that language is not simply a tool, ‘a mere means of communication’ ([9.7], 404). ‘Language’, he says, ‘is not just one of man’s possessions in the world, but on it depends the fact that man has a world at all.’ By strict phenomenological logic, the conclusion follows: ‘this world is linguistic in nature’ ([9.7], 401). Thus, to speak of ‘the nature of things’ or of ‘the language of things’ is, Gadamer remarks, to use two expressions ‘that for all intents and purposes mean the same thing’ ([9.5], 69). Like the notion of a fusion of horizons, the hermeneutical view of language is a dialectical concept resulting from a rejection of two alternative views of language. On the one hand, just as phenomenology rejects the modernist view of consciousness as a mere ‘representation’ of the ‘external’ world, so likewise hermeneutics rejects the modernist view of language as nothing more ‘than a mere sign system to denote the totality of objects’ ([9.7], 377). The words of a natural language, Gadamer insists, are not merely ‘signs’ that ‘refer’ to an alinguistic, pre-given reality. Words are not mere labels that we stick on things that are fully defined in themselves; they are the very means by which the things themselves exist for us. To say that language is the universal medium of our experience of the world means, practically or pragmatically speaking, that it is quite devoid of meaning to speak of a totally extra-linguistic reality. The age-old goal of transcending language in such a way as to coincide with reality as it is ‘in itself, with a transcendental signified (as Derrida would say), is thereby shown to be a vain and meaningless pursuit. Hermeneutics spells the ‘end of metaphysics’ when it insists that being itself is (to borrow a phrase from Jacques Lacan) ‘structuré comme un langage’, structured like a language. On the other hand, hermeneutics also rejects not only modernism but also those postmodern views of language which, in addition to viewing language as a mere system of signs, maintain as well that the system is closed in upon itself and that it ‘refers’ to nothing other than itself—which is to say, to nothing ‘real’ at all. That indeed would be a form of linguistic idealism. For hermeneutics, language is neither a mere tool nor an autonomous object in its own right; it is the medium of understanding itself, and all understanding is in the last analysis a form of self-understanding. Faithful to its origins in existential phenomenology, hermeneutics views language as the means whereby a speaking subject arrives at understanding in dialogue with other speaking subjects. For his basic model of linguistically-mediated understanding, Gadamer invariably takes as his privileged example what is itself an instance of language as praxis: conversation (Gespräch).42 He seeks, as he says, ‘to approach the mystery of language from the conversation that we ourselves are’ ([9.7], 340). Language, he says, ‘has its true being only in conversation, in the exercise of understanding between people’ ([9.7], 404). By ‘conversation’ Gadamer understands a process of two people understanding each other [‘fusion of horizons’]. Thus it is characteristic of every true conversation thateach opens himself to the other person, truly accepts his point of view as worthy of consideration and gets inside the other to such an extent that he understands not a particular individual, but what he says. The thing that has to be grasped is the objective rightness or otherwise of his opinion, so that they can agree with each other on the subject. ([9.7], 347) We should note that, as Gadamer defines it, conversation is an instance of dialogue. What makes the conversation a dialogue is that it is not simply the intersection of two monologues; in a conversation there exists a genuine commonality. What makes for this commonality is not the individual ‘subjectivities’ of the interlocutors but rather what the conversation is ‘about’, ‘what is being said’, i.e., the ‘topic’ or ‘subject’ of the conversation or what Gadamer calls die Sache, that which is at issue (at play, en jeu) in the conversation.43 As in a game situation, what guides and rules over the conversation is not the subjective intentions of the participants but ‘the object to which the partners in the conversation are directed’ ([9.7], 330). It should also be noted how the above definition of conversation also contains an implicit reference to the concept of truth, as hermeneutics conceives of it: truth (according to one reading of Gadamer’s somewhat ambiguous remarks on the subject) is essentially the agreement that the interlocutors arrive at in the course of a conversation on the issue at stake. Gadamer’s portrayal of language under the aegis of conversation is typically ‘ontological’: it is part and parcel of his overall attempt to elaborate a philosophy (an ontology) of human understanding. However, privileging as it does the point of view of the speaking subject (or subjects), it bypasses the approach to language taken by the science of linguistics and the methodological implications thereof. One of Ricoeur’s chief preoccupations has been to remedy this situation by engaging in a debate with the objective science of language. Resisting Gadamer’s separation of ‘truth’ from ‘method’, Ricoeur defines his own approach vis-a-vis that of Heidegger and Gadamer as wanting to contribute ‘to this ontological vehemence an analytical precision which it would otherwise lack’ (OI, 196). Like Gadamer, Ricoeur holds to ‘the conviction that discourse never exists for its own sake, for its own glory, but that in all of its uses it seeks to bring into language an experience, a way of living in and of Being-in-the-world which precedes it and which demands to be said’ (OI, 196). However, he believes that it is not sufficient simply to assert this conviction but that it must be justified given what could be called the ‘semiological’ challenge. What exactly is this challenge? For structural or Saussurian linguistics (from which philosophicalpoststructuralism was to draw much of its inspiration and, in particular, its rejection of the notion of ‘the subject’), language is an autonomous system of differences, one of internal dependencies which are self-referential and self-defining. In this respect the system has no outside, only an inside, and, as a mere code, it is anonymous. This means that, from a ‘semiological’ point of view, language has neither subject nor meaning nor reference, nor, a fortiori, is it to be viewed as a means of communication. It would seem, therefore, that in their views on language hermeneutics and ‘semiology’ are irreconcilably opposed.44 Typically of his general approach to issues, Ricoeur has sought to arbitrate this dispute and to elaborate ‘a new phenomenology of language which would take seriously the challenge of semiology, of structural linguistics, of all the “structuralisms”’.45 He has done so by arguing that while on the micro level of phonological and lexical units the structuralist approach to language is, qua science, fully justified, it none the less fails to account for what is uniquely characteristic of language when one considers larger linguistic units, such as the sentence and, above all, the text. When language is considered no longer merely as an atemporal system of signs but as an event of discourse, as an ‘actualisation of our linguistic competence in performance’, it becomes apparent, Ricoeur argues, that language does indeed communicate something meaningful about the world to a subject attuned to it (see [9.15], 132ff.). As we shall see in the next section when considering the hermeneutical principles of text-interpretation, what a text communicates is indeed a world, i.e., a possible mode of being-in-the-world. Ricoeur’s debate or Auseinandersetzung with structural linguistics illustrates very well one of the persistent elements in his philosophizing. From his early work in philosophical anthropology (where he sought to overcome the idealist limitations of Husserl’s philosophy of consciousness) to his current concern with textuality, semantic innovation and the narrative function, Ricoeur has throughout waged a philosophical battle on two fronts. While seeking to overcome all forms of modern subjectivism and, in particular, all psychologistic theories of meaning (e.g., those which equate meaning with authorial intention), he has consistently opposed various structuralist and poststructuralist attempts to get rid of the notion of subjectivity altogether. What Ricoeur has worked to articulate is a renewed, transformed and, above all, decentred notion of the subject, i.e., one which views subjectivity not as a metaphysical ‘origin’ of meaning but as the result (‘effect’) of its transformative encounter with the ‘other’. If, as Habermas has done in a recent work, we were to take as one of the more noteworthy traits of contemporary philosophy its critique of ‘a self-sufficient subjectivity that is posited absolutely’46 (‘the philosophy of the subject’, the ‘philosophy of consciousness’), the hermeneutics of Gadamer and Ricoeur would stand out as exemplary in this regard. In its basic philosophical orientation—key elements of which we have surveyed in this section—hermeneutics is a prime instance of the general movement in twentieth-century philosophy which has been a movement away from the paradigm of (monological) consciousness to that of (dialogical) intersubjectivity. To insist, as hermeneutics does, on the effective-historical and linguistic nature of consciousness is, eo ipso, to insist on its intersubjective nature. To maintain that ‘the goal of all communication and understanding is agreement concerning the object’ ([9.7, 260) is to aim at a conception of meaning and truth which is neither objectivistic nor subjectivistic. Truth is not to be thought of objectivistically as ‘correspondence’ to some in-itself reality, nor is meaning to be thought of subjectivistically as something residing ‘within’ subjectivity itself. The attempt on the part of phenomenological hermeneutics to move decisively beyond both objectivism and relativism is especially evident in regard to its theories on text-interpretation, an issue to which we now turn. THE HERMENEUTICAL THEORY OF TEXT INTERPRETATION ‘The best definition for hermeneutics’, Gadamer writes, ‘is: to let what is alienated by the character of the written word or by the character of being distantiated by cultural or historical distances speak again. This is hermeneutics: to let what seems to be far and alienated speak again.’47 As we have seen, however, Gadamer distances himself from the tradition of romantic hermeneutics by insisting that his ‘philosophical’ hermeneutics is not intended as a skilled procedure, a body of knowledge that ‘can be brought under the discipline of consciously employed rules and thus be deemed a technical doctrine’. Rather, it is, as he says (borrowing a phrase from Habermas), a ‘critical reflective knowledge’, i.e., an attempt to articulate what is ontologically presupposed in all acts of text-interpretation which seek to bridge over cultural or historical distances.48 As a critical reflection, it seeks to uncover ‘the naive objectivism within which historical sciences, taking their bearings from the self-understanding of the natural sciences, are trapped’. In regard to text-interpretation, the ‘naive objectivism’ to be uncovered and overcome is the belief that (as with respect to ‘reality’ naturalistically or scientistically conceived) texts contain within themselves (as Hirsch would say) a perfectly well-defined, determinate, selfsame, and unchanging meaning that it is the business of interpretation merely to lay bare. It goes without saying that this objectivistic view of ‘knowledge’ is thoroughly at odds with the philosophical theory of human understanding outlined above. How then, we may ask, does philosophical hermeneutics conceive of textual meaning and the business of interpretation? The basic point can be stated fairly tersely: what interpretation seeks to understand is not the intention of the author, but the meaning of the text. To put the matter yet another way: textual meaning is not reducible to authorial intention. A ‘good’ text is precisely one which has something to say to us, its readers, over and above what its author may (or may not) have intended and willed.49 As Gadamer pointedly asks: ‘Does an author really know so exactly and in every sentence what he means’ ([9.7], 489)? ‘The sense of a text’, Gadamer says, ‘in general reaches far beyond what its author originally intended.’ And thus ‘the task of understanding is concerned in the first place with the meaning of the text itself’ ([9.7], 335).’50 The task of interpretation is to develop or explicate these textual meanings—by means, as we shall see, of ‘application’. The distinctive tenet of philosophical hermeneutics is that, as Gadamer says, interpretation is never simply reproduction ([9.7], 345). Gadamer’s rejection of authorial intention as the supreme criterion of textual meaning follows from his views on conversation. As we have seen, a genuine conversation is one wherein we are not preoccupied with ‘reading the other person’s mind’ but are concerned, instead, with coming to a mutual understanding (‘agreement’) with him or her on the topic under discussion. For Gadamer, the same is, or ought to be, the case in our encounter with texts. Reading involves ‘not a mysterious communion of souls, but a sharing of a common meaning’. The goal of interpretive understanding is not ‘to recapture the author’s attitude of mind but…the perspective within which he has formed his views’ ([9.7], 259–60)—in other words, to join with him or her in a conversation on the issue at stake in the text. Such is the ‘hermeneutic situation’ with regard to texts. To speak of ‘conversation’ is necessarily also to speak of a ‘fusion of horizons’. What occurs in the act of reading or interpretation is a ‘fusion’ of the ‘horizon’ of the text (what Ricoeur calls the ‘world of the text’) with that of the reader. The meaning of the text is the result of this ‘fusion’. Textual meaning is therefore nothing substantial in itself but exists rather in the form of an event, and this event is the act of reading.51 If, as we have seen, there are no answers but to questions we ourselves pose, then it is the presupposition of ‘fore-meanings’ we bring to bear on a text which are decisive in what the text ‘tells’ us. ‘The only “objectivity” here’, Gadamer insists, ‘is the confirmation of a fore-meaning in its being worked out’ ([9.7], 237). This of course is not to say that we are free to project our own presuppositions on to the text arbitrarily—this would precisely not be a conversation in the Gadamerian sense. Indeed, to the degree that in reading a ‘fusion’ actually does occur, to that very degree our own presuppositions are put at risk. The mark of arbitrary prejudices, Gadamer says, is that ‘they come to nothing in the working-out’ ([9.7], 237). This not infrequently happens. Our fore-meanings are often not confirmed but challenged, and it is precisely in this way that our own horizons are transformed, such that we gain in understanding. Not only is understanding, in the final analysis, a form of self-understanding, but all selfunderstanding is ultimately a matter of self-transformation. When we encounter a text or object whose newness is a challenge to our acquired presuppositions, what that object says to us is: ‘You must change yourself.’ Thus, in the act of reading, by means of the fusion of horizons effected thereby, we achieve an understanding of what is other by relating its horizon to our own; however, in order to do so, we are at the same time challenged to expand our own horizons, such that, through and by means of reading, our own selves are renewed. The postmodern paradigm of intersubjectivity under which philosophical hermeneutics operates is perhaps no more in evidence than here, in its theory of text-interpretation. ‘Only through others’, Gadamer says, ‘do we gain true knowledge of ourselves’ (PHC, 107). Another way of expressing this whole matter would be to say that all interpretation necessarily involves application (Anwendung, applicatio). We can be said to have understood a text, grasped its meaning, only when we are able to relate (‘apply’) what it says to our own situation, our own historical horizon. Indeed, if there would be no way in which we could relate what a text says (what it means, ‘wants to say’, veut dire) to our own situation, if, in other words, there were no way we could translate the language of the text into our own historically conditioned language—then it would be meaningless to speak of our having to do with a text in the first place, i.e., something presumed to have meaning. We would have no more grounds for viewing the thing in question as a text than we would to view markings on the floor of the Peruvian desert as traces of alien subjectivities from outer space, rather than as mere curiosities of nature. For Gadamer, the three moments of the ‘hermeneutical situation’—understanding, interpretation and application—are inseparable. Just as understanding always involves interpretation, so also interpretation always includes the element of application. In asserting this interconnection (‘the truly distinctive feature of philosophic hermeneutics’, in the words of one commentator52), Gadamer is once again distancing himself from the tradition of romantic hermeneutics and, indeed, from the basic paradigms of modern epistemology in general. In linking together understanding, interpretation and application, he is rejecting outright the modernist view of ‘knowledge’ as correct ‘representation’ of an in-itself state of affairs. He is insisting, in a decidedly postmodern fashion, that all genuine knowledge is in fact transformation. Understanding, he maintains, is never merely ‘a reproductive, but always a productive attitude as well…. It is enough to say that we understand in a different way, if we understand at all’ ([9.7], 264). What that means in regard to text-interpretation is that, since understanding a text involves its application to the situation of the interpreter, it is necessarily the case that in changing circumstances a text is understood appropriately ‘only if it is understood in a different way every time’ ([9.7] 275–6). This is yet another inevitable consequence of linking up meaning with the event of understanding. If, indeed, understanding (truth) is itself in the nature of an event then, as Gadamer remar—provocatively, but with perfectly good reason none the less: ‘the same tradition must always be understood in a different way’ ([9.7], 278). An understanding of things which failed constantly to renew itself in this way—through ‘application’—would be nothing more than (to borrow a phrase from Hegel) ‘the repetition of the same majestic ruin’.53 It may be noted in passing that Gadamer’s notions of the fusion of horizons and, consequent upon this, the transformative nature of understanding is enough to deflect one of the main criticisms often directed at his work, namely that it amounts to a form of cultural or intellectual conservatism. From what we have seen, it should be obvious that Gadamer’s defence of tradition is in no way a paean to an incessant repetition of the same. If the ‘same’—the tradition—is not always understood differently, it ceases to what Gadamer understands by ‘tradition’. What are commonly referred to as ‘traditional’ societies—ones which seek to deny change and transformative becoming and to perpetuate inviolate a particular societal order—are precisely ones which are devoid of tradition in the Gadamerian sense, i.e., a living tradition animated by a ‘historical consciousness’. The fact that language and its effective-history preforms our experience of the world does not, Gadamer insists, ‘remove the possibilities of critique’. ‘Conversation’ always holds open ‘the possibility of going beyond our conventions’ and ensures ‘the possibility of our taking a critical stance with regard to every convention’. In short, tradition does not present ‘an obstacle to reason’ ([9.7], 495–6). Gadamer’s response to charges of conservatism could not be more categorical: It is a grave misunderstanding to assume that emphasis on the essential factor of tradition which enters into all understanding implies an uncritical acceptance of tradition and socio-political conservatism…. In truth the confrontation of our historic tradition is always a critical challenge of the tradition. (PHC, 108) Gadamer’s position in this matter could be summed up in the following way: given the presuppositional nature of human understanding, the idea of a total critique of what has been handed down to us by tradition is utopic and is an existential impossibility, for the only way in which we can critically scrutinize certain presuppositions is by tacitly appealing to others. However, the fact that we stand always within tradition and cannot, for that reason, criticize everything at once, does not mean that there are things that cannot be criticized, as a cultural conservative might maintain. The fact of the matter is that, for Gadamer, there is nothing that cannot, at some time or other, be subjected to criticism in the light of reason. For Gadamer reason and tradition do not stand in an antithetical relation. ‘Reason’, he in fact says, ‘always consists in not blindly insisting upon what is held to be true but in critically occupying oneself with it.’54 Thus, in contrast to intellectual conservatives such as Alasdair MacIntyre and Leo Strauss, Gadamer’s trenchant critique of philosophical modernity is not intended to justify a return to an idealized, premodern, metaphysical past. When, as he often does, Gadamer makes use of notions drawn from the philosophical tradition, it is with the aim of articulating a decidedly post-metaphysical and post-foundationalist—which is to say, postmodern—theory of human being and understanding (albeit one which differs in important ways from other forms of postmodern thought in that it seeks to avoid their relativistic and nihilistic tendencies). Gadamer’s way of summing up his notion of application by saying that the ‘same’ tradition must always be understood ‘in a different way’ may strike one as being, to say the least, paradoxical. It would be meaningless indeed were Gadamer presenting his theory of interpretation as a science in the traditional sense of the term; from a scientific point of view the same conclusions should invariably follow from the same premises. Unlike Betti and Hirsch, however, Gadamer is not attempting to make of hermeneutics a science; indeed, he is resolutely turning his back on the age-old Platonic notion of science (episteme). What he is arguing for is ‘a knowledge that is not a science’.55 In order to indicate what such a knowledge could be, Gadamer effectuates, in the course of his discussion of application, a creative retrieval of Aristotle’s notion of phronesis. Phronesis is the key concept in Aristotle’s practical philosophy (ethics, politics) and is concerned with the crucial issue of how something universal is to be applied in particular circumstances. Phronesis designates a form of historically informed, prudential judgment which seeks to determine not what is eternally true or valid (as in mathematics) but, as Gadamer would say, ‘what is feasible, what is possible, what is correct, here and now’ ([9.7], xxv). In opposition to Plato, Aristotle argued that in matters of practical reasoning (whose object is human action) there can be no hard and fixed rules which, as in logic, can mechanically generate particular decisions. In practical reasoning there is, as it were, a dialectical relation between the universal and the particular; the relation between the two is one not of logical subsumption but of codetermination. The universal in question (an ethical maxim, a law, a principle of political philosophy, and so on) is oriented entirely towards its application and has no real meaning apart from it—in that, precisely, its raison d’être, as a theoretical principle, is itself entirely practical, in that it is meant to serve as a guide to action—and yet the universal is not reducible to its particular applications, either, since no single application of the universal is unequivocally dictated by it and, consequently, can claim to exhaust it (to express its ‘univocal’ meaning). It is just this sort of reciprocal or codetermining relation, Gadamer holds, that obtains between a text (which, as something that is in a sense ‘self-same’, functions as a universal) and various interpretations (‘applications’) of it. He writes: The interpreter dealing with a traditional text seeks to apply it to himself. But this does not mean that the text is given for him as something universal, that he understands it as such and only afterwards uses it for particular applications. Rather, the interpreter seeks no more than to understand this universal thing, the text; i.e., to understand what this piece of tradition says, what constitutes the meaning and importance of the text. In order to understand that, he must not seek to disregard himself and his particular hermeneutical situation. He must relate the text to this situation, if he wants to understand at all. ([9.7], 289) Gadamer’s preferred model for text-interpretation is the interpretive activity of the jurist. ‘Legal hermeneutics’, he maintains, ‘is able to point out what the real procedure of the human sciences is.’ As he goes on to say: Here we have the model for the relationship between past and present that we are seeking. The judge who adapts the transmitted law to the needs of the present is undoubtedly seeking to perform a practical task, but his interpretation of the law is by no means on that account an arbitrary re-interpretation. Here again, to understand and to interpret means to discover and recognise a valid meaning. He seeks to discover the ‘legal idea’ of a law by linking it with the present. From this Gadamer generalizes as follows: Is this not true of every text, i.e., that it must be understood in terms of what it says? Does this not mean that it always needs to be restated? And does not this restatement always take place through its being related to the present? …Legal hermeneutics is, then, in reality no special case but is, on the contrary, fitted to restore the full scope of the hermeneutical problem and so to retrieve the former unity of hermeneutics, in which jurist and theologican meet the student of humanities. ([9.7], 292–3) It follows as a general conclusion that in text-interpretation it is altogether inappropriate—indeed, quixotic—to seek to determine the single correct interpretation of a text. However, it also follows, and with equal force, that in text-interpretation, as in practical reasoning in general, it is never the case that ‘anything goes’. If hermeneutics is an instance of practical reasoning, as indeed Gadamer insists that it is—‘The great tradition of practical philosophy lives on in a hermeneutics that becomes aware of its philosophic implications’56—this means that while it is never possible to demonstrate the validity of one’s interpretations, it is nevertheless always possible to argue for them in cogent, non-arbitrary, indeed, prudent ways. As an instance of practical philosophy, hermeneutics is as remote from dogmatic scientism as it is from interpretive anarchism. It is precisely because hermeneutics is a practical philosophy in the Aristotelian sense of the term that it can legitimately claim to have transcended both objectivism and relativism. Godamer’s interest in practical philosophy has led him to explore the relationship between hermeneutics and rhetoric. The relationship between the two is both extensive and deep.57 If it is the case that hermeneutical reasoning is not a form of scientific demonstration but of persuasive argumentation and that its object is not what is certain but what is probable or likely, then it is obvious that it is to traditional rhetoric—the theory of argumentation (in the words of Chaim Perelman58)—that hermeneutics is obliged to look for its theoretical and methodological grounding. The scope of rhetoric, Gadamer says, is truly unlimited, and thus to the universality of hermeneutics corresponds the ubiquity of rhetoric. As he further remarks: Where, indeed, but to rhetoric should the theoretical examination of interpretation turn? Rhetoric from oldest tradition has been the only advocate of a claim to truth that defends the probable, the eikos (verisimile), 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! Convincing and persuading, without being able to prove—these are obviously as much the aim and measure of understanding and interpretation as they are the aim and measure of oration and persuasion. ([9.5], 24) Ricoeur shares with Gadamer the same basic approach to text-interpretation, the most common element in which is perhaps the attempt to work out a ‘non-subjective’ theory of meaning. However, there are some noticeable differences between these two leading representatives of phenomenological hermeneutics, differences not so much in substance, perhaps, as in what they choose to accentuate. Three such differences may be noted. In the first instance, Ricoeur has always been uncomfortable with Gadamer’s apparent dichotomizing of ‘truth’ and ‘method’. Throughout his career Ricoeur has maintained a strong interest in the relationship between philosophy and the human sciences; accordingly, and in contrast to Gadamer, the focus of much of his attention has been on specific methodological issues. While he fully subscribes to the basic ontological concerns of both Heidegger and Gadamer, he feels none the less that this particular preoccupation on their part has tended to prevent philosophical hermeneutics from entering into a serious dialogue with the more empirically oriented sciences. Reacting no doubt to Gadamer’s somewhat underdefined notion of ‘truth’,59 Ricoeur insists that questions of ‘validation’ cannot simply be bypassed. Gadamer’s ‘ontological’ hermeneutics, he maintains, ignores the quite legitimate question of validation which so preoccupied romantic hermeneutics. In Ricoeur’s eyes Gadamer develops not only the anti-psychologistic tendencies of Heidegger’s philosophy but also, unfortunately, its antimethodological tendencies as well. As a result, he says, a crisis is opened in the hermeneutical movement: ‘in correcting the “psychologizing” tendency of Schleiermacher and Dilthey, ontological hermeneutics sacrifices the concern for validation which, with the founders, provided a balance for the divinatory aspect.’60 Ricoeur distinguishes his own ‘methodological’ hermeneutics from Gadamer’s ‘ontological’ hermeneutics by saying that it attempts to place ‘interpretation theory in dialogue and debate with the human sciences’. It is not surprising, therefore, that—in his continuing attempt to mediate the ‘conflict of interpretations’—Ricoeur should make an explicit attempt to incorporate Hirsch’s concerns for validation into his own interpretation theory (though in a way which is hardly likely to have won Hirsch’s allegiance to the cause of phenomenological hermeneutics).61 Another aspect of Gadamer’s interpretation theory about which Ricoeur has expressed reservations is the conversation model on which Gadamer relies so extensively. In the light of his concern over the nature of textuality as such, Ricoeur argues that the relationship between reader and text is significantly different from that between two conversational partners. The latter should not be taken as a model for all instances of understanding, and it is definitely not appropriate for conceptualizing our relationship with texts: ‘the dialogical model does not provide us with the paradigm of reading’ ([9.15], 210).62 Far from viewing the act of reading as a kind of dialogue, we should, Ricoeur provocatively remarks, consider even living authors as already dead and their books as posthumous—for only then does the readers’ relationship to the book become ‘complete and, as it were, intact’ ([9.15], 147). The reason for Ricoeur’s saying this is the profound transformation that he believes writing has on language. Ricoeur defines a text as ‘any discourse fixed by writing’ ([9.15], 145). but with this ‘fixation’ something important happens: the text achieves, as it were, an ‘emancipation with respect to the author’ ([9.15], 139). More specifically, in writing, the intention of the author and the meaning of the text cease to coincide (in spoken discourse, Ricoeur holds, the intention of the speaker and the meaning of what he says overlap) (see [9.15], 200). In other words, when language is transformed into a text, it assumes a life of its own, independent of that of its author. As Ricoeur expresses the matter: ‘the text’s career escapes the finite horizon lived by its author. What the text says now matters more than what the author meant to say, and every exegesis unfolds its procedures within the circumference of a meaning that has broken its moorings to the psychology of the author’ ([9.15], 201). This leads directly into the third difference between Ricoeur and Gadamer to be noted in the present context, having to do with the notion of ‘distantiation’. It will be recalled how at the outset of the present section I quoted Gadamer as saying: ‘The best definition for hermeneutics is: to let what is alienated by the character of the written word or by the character of being distantiated by cultural or historical distances speak again.’ This remark might seem to imply that distantiation is a negative factor which it is the task of interpretation to overcome as much as possible. Ricoeur for his part appears to read Gadamer in this way; he perceives as ‘the mainspring of Gadamer’s work…the opposition between alienating distantiation and belonging’—an opposition reflected in the very title of Gadamer’s Truth and Method ([9.15], 131). He sees Gadamer as wanting to renounce the concern of the human sciences for objectivity so as to reaffirm our ‘belongingness’ to the tradition. In opposition to this, Ricoeur states: ‘My own reflection stems from a rejection of this alternative and an attempt to overcome it.’ The point that Ricoeur wishes to emphasize is that the phenomenon of textuality overcomes ‘the alternative between alienating distantiation and participatory belonging’ in such a way as to introduce ‘a positive and, if I may say so, productive notion of distantiation.’ Why is distantiation a ‘productive function’? Distantiation is productive in that, in ‘alienating’ a text from its original context, it confers on the text a kind of ‘autonomy’, thereby freeing it for what is in fact its true vocation, namely, that of being ‘reactualized’ in ever new contexts (becoming in this way a genuinely ‘living’ text).63 This reactualization (or recontextualization) is what Ricoeur calls ‘appropriation’ (Aneignung). He prefers this term to ‘application’ (Anwendung), since it underscores the central role that the reader plays in regard to the text. To ‘appropriate’ means ‘“to make one’s own” what was initially “alien”’ ([9.15], 185). It is the reader’s function to actualize (‘make actual, real”) the meaning of the text. A text is, by its very nature, addressed to someone, to ‘an audience which extends in principle to anyone who can read’ ([9.15], 139). In a very real sense, the text’s audience is one ‘that it itself creates’ ([9.15], 202). In any event, without an audience (an addressee) to reactualize it, the meaning of a text would remain for ever ‘undecidable’, as Derrida has quite rightly remarked. Thus, for Ricoeur, ‘reading is the concrete act in which the destiny of the text is fulfilled’ ([9.15], 164) Ricoeur’s position in this matter is a strict consequence of his rejection of the psychologistic theory of meaning. The meaning of a text is its ‘reference’, but this is neither the psychological intention of the author nor an empirical state of affairs in the socalled ‘objective’ world (‘ostensive reference’). The true referent of a text is what it is ‘about’, what Gadamer calls die Sache, the ‘matter of the text’. Ricoeur calls this the ‘world of the text’. He defines it as ‘the ensemble of [nonsituational] references opened up by the text’—as when we speak of the ‘world of the Greeks’, meaning thereby not an empirical reality but a particular understanding of the world ([9.15], 202). The ‘intended meaning of the text’ is the ‘world’ that it discloses; the projecting of a world is ‘the process which is at work in the text’ ([9.15], 164). For Ricoeur there is no text that does not express a ‘world’, that ‘does not connect up with reality’, no matter how fictional the text may be ([9.15], 141). In opposition to Roland Barthes, Ricoeur strenuously maintains that the language of texts does not merely ‘celebrate itself. Poetry and novels may not refer to any merely empirical reality, but they most definitely do have a ‘second-order reference’.64 The central task of interpretation is that of explicating this higher-level reference; herein lies, according to Ricoeur, ‘the center of gravity of the hermeneutical question’ ([9.15], 132), ‘the most fundamental hermeneutical problem’ ([9.15], 141): If we can no longer define hermeneutics in terms of the search for the psychological intentions of another person which are concealed behind the text, and if we do not want to reduce interpretation to the dismantling of structures [as in the structuralist, purely explanatory approach], then what remains to be interpreted? I shall say: to interpret is to explicate the type of being-in-the-world unfolded in front of the text. This last remark provides a more precise indication of what Ricoeur means by the ‘world of the work’. This ‘world’ is none other than Husserl’s life-world or Heidegger’s beingin- the-world. That is to say, the ‘possible world’ ([9.15], 218) unfolded in a text is nothing other than a possible mode of being. In other words, it is a world which I, the reader, could (possibly) inhabit. By opening up a world for us, a text provides us with ‘new dimensions of our being-in-the-world’ ([9.15], 202); it suggests to us new and different ways in which we ourselves could be. ‘To understand a text’, Ricoeur says, ‘is at the same time to light up our own situation’ ([9.15], 202). It is at this point that Ricoeur’s theory of text-interpretation links up with his overriding concern to articulate a non-metaphysical concept of subjectivity, ‘a new theory of subjectivity’ ([9.15], 182). The key point here is that in appropriating the meaning (the ‘world’) of a text, the reader—the self—reappropriates itself, acquires in effect a new self. ‘What would we know of love and hate,’ Ricoeur asks, ‘of moral feelings and, in general, of all that we call the self, if these had not been brought to language and articulated by literature’ ([9.15], 143)? The relation between text and reader is thus, as it were, a twoway street: the text depends on its readers for its actualization, but in the process of reading—giving the text a meaning—readers are themselves actualized (‘metamorphosed’)—given a self—by the text. In exposing ourselves to the text, we undergo ‘imaginative variations’ of our egos (see [9.15], 189) and receive in this way from the text ‘an enlarged self, which would be the proposed existence corresponding in the most suitable way to the world proposed’ ([9.15], 143). Thus, as Ricoeur remarks: In general we may say that appropriation is no longer to be understood in the tradition of philosophies of the subject, as a constitution of which the subject would possess the key. To understand is not to project oneself into the text; it is to receive an enlarged self from the apprehension of proposed worlds which are the genuine object of interpretation. ([9.15], 182–3) It can thus be seen that while Ricoeur’s interpretation theory situates the reader at the heart of the interpretive process, it does not legitimate any form of interpretational subjectivism; what it calls for is ‘instead a moment of dispossession of the narcissistic ego’ ([9.15], 192).65 However, by linking up the understanding of meaning with selfunderstanding, it does illustrate in a striking way Ricoeur’s basic philosophical motives which derive from the tradition of reflective (or reflexive) philosophy and, more particularly, the concern for the ‘self that he inherits from existentialism.66 In all textinterpretation what is ultimately at stake is a self in search of self-understanding, in search of ‘the meaning of his own life’ ([9.15], 158). Thus Ricoeur writes: ‘By “appropriation”, I understand this: that the interpretation of a text culminates in the selfinterpretation of a subject who thenceforth understands himself better, understands himself differently, or simply begins to understand himself ([9.15], 158). It is accordingly not surprising that when in the course of a famous debate Lévi-Strauss asserted that for him meaning is always phenomenal and that underneath meaning (conceived of as nothing more than the combination of elements meaningless in themselves) there is only non-meaning, Ricoeur should have insisted most strongly: ‘If meaning is not a segment in self-understanding, I don’t know what it is.’67 The position that Ricoeur adopts in his consideration of the human sciences and, in particular, the explanation/ understanding debate is, as we shall see in what follows, dictated by this fundamental conviction. HERMENEUTICS AND THE HUMAN SCIENCES: FROM TEXT TO ACTION If Gadamer’s major contribution to philosophical hermeneutics is to have provided it with a general theory of human understanding, Ricoeur’s vital contribution to the discipline could perhaps be said to consist in his having drawn from this ontology of understanding methodological conclusions of direct relevance to the practice of the human sciences. In doing so, he has also addressed the key problem in the philosophy of the human sciences that Gadamer’s hermeneutics tends to leave unresolved, namely, the problem of the relation between explanation and understanding. What is it about hermeneutics, one might ask, that makes it especially relevant to the human sciences? Or, again, what is it about the human sciences that allows one to maintain that they themselves are most properly understood when viewed as a form of ‘applied’ hermeneutics? The proper objects of these disciplines might seem, on the face of it, to have very little in common: the traditional concern of hermeneutics is texts, whereas the proper object of the human sciences is human action. The human sciences are concerned with what people do, the meaning of what they do, why and how they do it, and the consequences of their doing what they do. Hermeneutics is concerned, at its core, with the right reading of texts. But perhaps, to be understood properly, human action needs also to be read in the right way. Perhaps the common element here is the notion of meaning. What indeed constitutes the specificity of the human sciences vis-à-vis the natural sciences? The difference lies first and foremost in the respective objects of these sciences. What is unique about the objects of the human sciences is that these objects are also subjects. As three human scientists remark: ‘the objects studied are subjects, embedded in cultural practices, who think, construe, understand, misunderstand, and interpret, as well as reflect on the meanings they produce.’68 This difference in the objects (or subject matter) of the two kinds of science dictates a difference in method (it does, that is, if one adheres to Aristotle’s injunction to the effect that a science should always adapt its method to the nature of the object under consideration). From a methodological point of view, human action falls under a different category altogether than does mere physical motion. Motion can be ‘explained’ in purely mechanistic terms, in terms of physical cause and effect relations, but action cannot properly be ‘understood’ except in terms of meaning. As the object of a science, human agents are not only interpreted objects (as in the case of the natural sciences), they are also self-interpreting subjects. Phenomenologically speaking, what is unique about that entity called ‘man’ is that he is a self-interpreting animal (this is, of course, simply another way of saying that ‘man’ is the ‘speaking animal’). What this all means is that (in the words of the hermeneutical anthropologist Clifford Geertz) ‘man is an animal suspended in webs of significance he himself has spun’ and that, accordingly, the analysis of human culture (understood as precisely those ‘webs’) is not ‘an experimental science in search of [nomologicaldeductive] law but an interpretive one in search of meaning’.69 Human action is essentially meaningful (significative) in that action is, by definition and in contrast to purely physical systems, intentional, teleological or purposeful. Humans act in order to bring into being states of affairs that would not, or would not likely, prevail without their acting. If, for instance, humans engage in economic activities (the only species to do so), it is, as economist Ludwig von Mises has remarked, in order to improve their material position, to make their lives more liveable, more meaningful.70 That human action is essentially meaningful can therefore be taken as an ontological (or phenomenological) fact. The crucial question, as concerns the human sciences, is a methodological one: if the human sciences cannot look to the natural sciences for their method (since the concept of meaning or purpose is itself meaningless in a purely physicalistic or mechanistic context), where are they to look? This is where hermeneutics comes in. In a famous article, ‘The Model of the Text: Meaningful Action Considered as a Text’, Ricoeur addressed the above mentioned question. Meaningful action, he said, can be the object of a science only if the meaning of action is ‘objectified’ in a way equivalent to that in which the meaning of discourse is ‘fixated’ by writing (see [9.15], 203)—only if, in other words, action can properly be viewed as a text-analogue (a ‘quasi text’). Ricoeur maintains that this is indeed the case. He writes: In the same way that a text is detached from its author, an action is detached from its agent and develops consequences of its own. This autonomisation of human action constitutes the social dimension of action. An action is a social phenomenon…because our deeds escape us and have effects which we did not intend. One of the meanings of the notion of ‘inscription’ [‘fixation’] appears here. The kind of distance which we found between the intention of the speaker and the verbal meaning of a text occurs also between the agent and its action. ([9.15], 206) This is an important text, in that it specifies clearly that aspect of meaningful human action which makes of it the proper object of a social science: as in the case of texts, the meaning of action is not reducible to the psychological intentions of the agents themselves. The meaning of what people do displays an autonomy similar to that of texts in regard to their authors’ intentions. Thus here too the notion of meaning must be ‘depsychologized’ or ‘desubjectivized’. The proper objects of the social sciences are various social orders (the equivalent of texts) which are the result of human action—the result, it must be added, of human action but not necessarily of human design.71 As Ricoeur remarks: ‘our deeds escape us and have effects which we did not intend.’ Our deeds escape us in the same way that the text’s career escapes the finite horizon of its author. Strictly speaking, therefore, the meaningful action or, better expressed, the meaningful patterns of action that the social sciences seek to understand are neither subjective nor objective (in the purely physicalistic sense of the term). As the Canadian hermeneuticist Charles Taylor has emphasized, we are dealing here with meanings which are not subjective (residing in the heads of the actors) but rather intersubjective. ‘The meanings and norms implicit in these practices’, Taylor observes, ‘are not just in the minds of the actors but are out there in the practices themselves, practices which cannot be conceived as a set of individual actions, but which are essentially modes of social relation, of mutual action.’72 Although, as Ricoeur reminds us, it is only individuals who do things, it is nevertheless also the case that human action is meaningful—and thus understandable—only in terms of a shared public world.73 As one psychotherapist observes: The meaning of action can be read from the directedness of the action seen within the pattern of practices that constitute the individual’s social milieu. It is these practices, and not any representations in the individual’s head, that determine the meanings attributable to the individual. The background of social practices and cultural institutions give specific objects and actions—and even mental representations when they do occur—their meanings.74 Another way of expressing the matter would be to say that just as what constitutes a text is that it has a certain ‘logic’ which it is precisely the task of text-interpretation to lay bare (Ricoeur speaks in this regard of ‘the internal dynamic which governs the structuring of the work’ (OI, 193)), so also there is a certain objective logic to human events or practices which it is precisely the task of social science to explicate. The social orders or ‘wholes’ that social scientists (anthropologists, economists, historians, etc.) seek to render intelligible possess their own unique ontological status in that their mode of being is neither psychological nor physical; it is, as Merleau-Ponty would say, an ‘ambiguous’ mode of being, neither that of the for-itself nor that of the in-itself. These wholes are indeed objective (or incarnate) logics, which exist as the sedimented results (in the form, ultimately, of sociocultural institutions) of the activities of a myriad of individual human agents, each of whom was pursuing meaning in his or her own life. If this is indeed the case, the crucial methodological question becomes: what method is most appropriate to the task of explicating these logics? From what has been said, it should be evident that a purely descriptive approach (in terms of mental states) is no more appropriate than would be a purely ‘explanatory’, cause-and-effect approach; in both cases the object to be understood—meaning embedded in intersubjective practices—would be lost sight of. Human agents are selfinterpreting beings, but it is not the task of a social science simply to ‘describe’ these interpretations. It is not their task, if it is indeed the case that the meaning of action surpasses the intentions of the actors themselves. The function of interpretation cannot simply be that of Verstehen in the classical sense of the term, i.e., that of articulating the self-understanding of human actors, in such a way as to achieve an empathetic understanding of them. The unavoidable fact of the matter is that the human sciences are doubly interpretive; they are interpre-tations of the interpretations that people themselves offer for their actions. As Clifford Geertz has observed: ‘what we call our data are really our own constructions of other people’s constructions of what they and their compatriots are up to.’75 The fact that the proper object of social science is the logic of practices and not merely the psychological intentions of actors means that social scientists often have to discount the self-interpretations of the actors themselves.76 Ricoeur has long insisted that the consciousness that we have of ourselves is often a false consciousness, which means that the hermeneutical enterprise must include as one of its moments, a ‘hermeneutics of suspicion’. This amounts to saying that the role of an interpretive social science is necessarily critical. The fact that there is inevitably a certain non-coincidence between the interpretations worked out by the social scientist and the self-interpretations proffered by the actors themselves means that there exists, in the words of John B.Thompson, a ‘methodological space for…the critical potential of interpretation’.77 Because there is always, to one degree or another, a certain décalage or discrepancy between what people do and what they say they do, critique is in fact integral to interpretive understanding, and this is why philosophical hermeneutics can, with Habermas in mind, insist on the emancipatory function of interpretive theory. In conceptualizing the interpretive function in a way such as this, Ricoeur is able, he believes, to resolve the long-standing conflict between ‘explanation’ and ‘understanding’ (Gadamer had already portrayed Dilthey’s dichotomizing distinction as a relic of the Cartesian dualism which has infected all of modern thought).78 From what has been said, it is obvious that interpretation cannot be reduced to ‘understanding’, in the narrow (empathetic) sense of the term. Indeed, precisely because the meaning of human action is not ‘subjective’, there is, Ricoeur maintains, a legitimate, albeit strictly limited, place for explanatory techniques of a purely objective nature in the overall interpretive process. If (as in psychotherapy, for instance) meaningintentions are not open to, or cannot be exhaustively grasped by, direct inspection, and thus cannot simply be described ‘from within’, but must be deciphered and interpreted, as it were, ‘from without’, it follows that there is, by principle and of necessity, a rightful place for ‘explanation’ (in the traditional sense of the term) in the human sciences. Just as, in the case of text-interpretation, it may be useful at the outset to approach a text in a purely objective way, in terms of an analysis of its formal structure or computer analysis of word distribution, for instance, so also, in an attempt to understand human action, an objective approach, e.g., in terms of statistical analysis, may alert social scientists to the existence of patterns they might otherwise over-look. What Ricoeur wishes nevertheless to emphasize is that the intelligibility provided by purely explanatory techniques is essentially partial and one-sided. The phenomena themselves cannot properly be understood, in the last analysis, until the results of the explanatory approach are integrated into a wider, interpretive understanding. For Ricoeur, ‘explanation’ amounts to a methodological distantiation from what is ‘said’ in the text (the ‘world of the text’), but, unlike Gadamer (in Ricoeur’s view), he holds that this is a proper, and even necessary, moment in the overall process of understanding, conceived of, in the last analysis, as ‘appropriation’. With Ricoeur there is, therefore, as one commentator says, a ‘dialectic of an understanding which takes the detour of methodic distantiation so as to return to understanding’.79 Ricoeur’s strategy in this regard consists in locating ‘explanation and understanding at two different stages of a unique hermeneutical arc’ ([9.15] 218), integrating thereby the opposed attitudes of explanation and understanding within an overall conception of interpretation as the recovery of meaning. In accordance with his hermeneutical conviction that all understanding is ultimately a form of self-understanding, Ricoeur maintains that, as he says, ‘the final brace of the bridge [is] anchorage of the arch in the ground of lived experience’ ([9.15], 164). In accordance as well with his underlying existential motivations, Ricoeur also insists that social structures are ‘attempts to cope with existential perplexities, human predicaments and deep-rooted conflicts’ ([9.15], 220). Thus, the ultimate goal of the social sciences is no different from that of textinterpretation, namely ‘appropriation’, a heightened understanding of the meaning of our being-in-the-world. ‘We are not allowed’, Ricoeur insists, ‘to exclude the final act of personal commitment from the whole of objective and explanatory procedures which mediate it’ ([9.15], 221). In applying Ricoeur’s notion of the ‘fixation’ or ‘inscription’ of meaning to the study of cultures, Clifford Geertz for his part insists that the ultimate concern of the anthropologist is ‘the existential dilemmas of life’ and that the ‘essential vocation’ of interpretive anthropology is that of making ‘available to us answers that others, guarding other sheep in other valleys, have given, and thus to include them in the consultable record of what man has said’.80 Ricoeur has long maintained that human phenomena—texts, action—cannot properly be understood until the results of the explanatory approach have been integrated into a wider, interpretive understanding. In his latest work culminating in his three-volume study Time and Narrative (1983–8), he has argued that the attempt to understand the specifically human must, in the final analysis, assume the form of a narrative. To the teleological nature of action, discussed above, corresponds the plot structure of narrative.81 ‘Objective data’ (that is, the data that are produced as a result of the application of objective measuring techniques) achieve their maximum intelligibility not when, as is the goal of the natural sciences, they have been subsumed under (supposedly) binding and timeless ‘covering laws’ (whose putative purpose is that of ‘explanation’ and ‘prediction’) but when, as in history or psychotherapy, they have been interrelated and integrated into a narrative account, one which, precisely, confers meaning on them through narrative emplotment. For Ricoeur, the most primordial of all forms of understanding is thus that of story-telling. He writes: to follow a story is to understand the successive actions, thoughts and feelings as displaying a particular directedness. By this I mean that we are pushed along by the development and that we respond to this thrust with expectations concerning the outcome and culmination of the process. In this sense, the ‘conclusion’ of the story is the pole of attraction of the whole process. But a narrative conclusion can be neither deduced nor predicted. There is no story unless our attention is held in suspense by a thousand contingencies. Hence we must follow the story to its conclusion. So rather than being predictable, a conclusion must be acceptable. Looking back from the conclusion towards the episodes which led up to it, we must be able to say that this end required those events and that chain of action. But this retrospective glance is made possible by the ideologically guided movement of our expectations when we follow the story. Such is the paradox of the contingency, ‘acceptable after all’, which characterises the understanding of any story. ([9.I5], 277) As Kierkegaard pointed out, understanding comes always only after the event, and, as Ricoeur has sought to show, the full measure of whatever understanding is available to us is made possible not by formalistic modes of explanation but by retrospective, narrative emplotment. Ricoeur has developed his theory of the narrative function primarily with respect to historiography,82 but it can be, and has been, extended to other human sciences.83 If Gadamer has argued for the universality of hermeneutics on the grounds that hermeneutics is concerned with the entire range of human linguisticality—which, in turn, is coextensive with ‘being that can be understood’—Ricoeur advances this claim even further when, in his later writings, he maintains that the object of hermeneutics is textuality, and that this notion is coextensive with human existence itself. As one commentator remarks: ‘Hermeneutics is concerned with the interpretation of any expression of existence which can be preserved in a structure analogous to the struc-ture of the text…. Taking it to the limit, the entirety of human existence becomes a text to be interpreted.’84 As Ricoeur’s work on narrative clearly demonstrates, good history shares many of the same traits as good fiction. In showing how understanding is ultimately a form of storytelling— and in undermining in this way the modernist opposition between the ‘real’ and the ‘imaginary’—Ricoeur has also shown how hermeneutical truth is itself a result of the productive imagination.85 For Ricoeur the poetic imagination (the means whereby that ‘higher order referent’ he calls the ‘world of the text’ is brought into being) is necessarily a ‘subversive force’ in regard to what is customarily (or traditionally) taken to be ‘real’. If Ricoeur stresses the role of the imagination in the overall understanding process, it is because he perceives this to be a strategic means of defending hermeneutics against Habermas’s charge that it is inherently ‘conservative’. The hermeneutics of the text conceived of as a ‘hermeneutics of the power-to-be’ (and thus as a critique of the illusions and false consciousness of the subject) would itself, he argues, provide the necessary underpinnings for a critique of ideology [9.15], 94). Of particular interest to Ricoeur is the theme of the ‘social-imaginary’ (‘l’institution imaginaire de la société’, in the words of Cornelius Castoriadis), an interest which testifies to his overriding concern with social and political, i.e., practical, philosophy—a concern shared by Gademer, as we shall see in what follows.86 HERMENEUTICS AND PRACTICAL PHILOSOPHY: ETHICAL AND POLITICAL IMPLICATIONS The ultimate task of hermeneutical reflection consists in explicating the values that inform and guide hermeneutical practice itself. These are values that are inherent in the ‘hermeneutical experience’ (as Gadamer calls it), i.e., in that most natural and universal of all human activities: the persistent attempt on the part of humans to achieve understanding, self-understanding, and, above all, mutual understanding. In articulating these values, hermeneutics seeks to do no more than to spell out the (practical) ‘conditions of possibility’ of the interpretive-communicative process itself. It may be noted that the values arrived at in this way are the core values of traditional liberal theory: tolerance, reasonableness, the attempt to work out mutual agreements by means of discourse (‘conversation’) rather than by means of force.87 The values in question are ones that Gadamer would call ‘principles of reason’—in that they are integral to communicative understanding or rationality. Hermeneutical values are those having to do with respect for the freedom and dignity of one’s conversational partners, one’s fellow dialogical beings. A fundamental value in this regard is that of equality. Since for an agreement to count as ‘true’—from the viewpoint of communicative rationality—it must be reached by non-coercive means, the right of dialogical partners to equal and fair consideration cannot rationally be denied. The hermeneutical notion of ‘good will’88 points to a core precept of democratic pluralism: the other may possibly be right over against oneself and thus must be accorded a freedom equal to one’s own. Of all the principles of reason, the highest is of course freedom itself. In the course of a discussion of Hegel, Gadamer asserts: There is no higher principle of reason than that of freedom. Thus the opinion of Hegel and thus our own opinion as well. No higher principle is thinkable than that of the freedom of all, and we understand actual history from the perspective of this principle: as the ever-to-be-renewed and the never-ending struggle for this freedom. ([9.6], 9) Freedom is the highest ‘principle of reason’ in that (as the theory of argumentation—the ‘new rhetoric’—has shown) no one can claim to be ‘reasonable’ if he or she denies freedom of opinion and expression to others. No one, that is, can deny this freedom without undermining his or her own demand for due consideration (recognition) that is implicit in the expressing of any opinion whatsoever, and without thereby ostracizing himself or herself from collective or intersubjective deliberations as to what is true and right. For Gadamer freedom and reason are inseparable concepts; freedom is precisely the freedom (the right) to possess a meaningful voice in the common dialogue, in that ‘conversation’ which is constitutive of our humanity. In advocating the ‘freedom of all’ as the highest principle of reason, Gadamer, it will be noted, is defending the universality of certain basic human values. Here again is an illustration of how hermeneutics differs in a most important way from other forms of anti-foundational postmodernism; unlike them, hermeneutics does not believe that a rejection of objectivism need entail an anti-humanist relativism. To the universality of human linguisticality corresponds the universality of certain basic human rights. ‘It is no longer possible’, Gadamer insists, ‘for anyone still to affirm the unfreedom of humanity’ ([9.6], 37). Unlike Heidegger and recent poststructuralists, both Gadamer and Ricoeur defend the tradition of philosophical and political humanism.89 It may be noted as well that hermeneutics’ defence of normative universalism is what allows for the possibility of a philosophical or rational critique of existing practices. ‘The task of bringing people to a self-understanding of themselves’, Gadamer says, ‘may help us to gain our freedom in relation to everything that has taken us in unquestioningly’ ([9.6], 149–50). To the degree that this or that form of human community fails to embody the universal values of communicative rationality, it is a legitimate object of critique. To fail to expose various forms of ‘social irrationality’ ([9.6], 74) for fear of being accused of ‘ethnocentrism’ and, more specifically, of ‘Eurocentrism’ would, hermeneutics believes, amount to nothing less than a betrayal of reason.90 This is yet another reason why Gadamer’s own version of hermeneutics is improperly understood when, as is often the case, it is thought to entail ‘an uncritical acceptance of tradition and sociopolitical conservatism’ (PHC, 108). Richard Bernstein is one commentator who has clearly perceived the ‘radical’ element in Gadamer’s hermeneutics that follows from its stress on practical philosophy. Bernstein notes how, in attempting to draw out the practical consequences of philosophical hermeneutics, Gadamer appropriates from Hegel the principle of freedom (‘a freedom that is realized only when there is authentic mutual “recognition” among individuals’), and he remarks: ‘This radical strain is indicated in his emphasis—which has become more and more dominant in recent years—on freedom and solidarity that embrace all of humanity.’91 Although he meant it as a criticism, Stanley Rosen was quite right when he said: ‘Every hermeneutical program is at the same time a political manifesto or the corollary of a political manifesto.’92 Gadamer openly acknowledges this when he characterizes hermeneutics as scientia practica sive politica.93 Hermeneutical philosophy is inevitably political—to the degree, that is, that it is a form of practical philosophy, which is to say, to the degree that it privileges practical reason, phronesis, dialogue. In addition, hermeneutical politics inevitably assumes the form of what Ricoeur calls ‘political liberalism’. ‘This apologia of dialogue’, he says, ‘implies, in the context of politics, an unremitting censure of tyranny and authoritarian régimes, and a plea for discussion as also for the free expression and unrestricted interplay of all shades of opinion.’94 In many of his shorter writings after Truth and Method Gadamer returns again and again to sociopolitical issues, defending the values of communicative rationality and denouncing the subtle forms of oppression that tend to subvert these values in an age dominated by science and technology and a purely instrumentalist conception of reason. ‘It is the function of hermeneutical reflection, in this connection [the conservation of freedom],’ Gadamer says, ‘to preserve us from naïve surrender to the experts of social technology’ ([9.5], 40).95 The term used by Gadamer to refer to the normative ideal defended by hermeneutics is solidarity. What ‘practice’ means, Gadamer says, ‘is conducting oneself and acting in solidarity. Solidarity…is the decisive condition and basis of all social reason’ ([9.6], 87). The task incumbent upon hermeneutics is a universalist one; it is, as Gadamer might say, that of ‘reawakening consciousness of solidarity of a humanity that slowly begins to know itself as humanity’ ([9.6], 86). The solidarity advocated by Gadamer is not, it should clearly be noted, one based solely on ethnic or cultural commonalities (Gemeinschaft, ‘culture’). What he means by solidarity is, rather, ‘rational identification with a universal interest’, with ‘the universals of law and justice’.96 Unlike present-day communitarians of either the left or the right, Gadamer is not extolling the virtues of any particular ethos or way of life (‘community’), purely as such; he is arguing for the need for a genuine, philosophical (and thus universalist) ethics. The relation here between ethics (Moralität) and ethos (Sittlichkeit) parallels the more general relation between ‘understanding’ (the universal) and ‘application’ (the particular) discussed above; the former requires the latter, but is not reducible to it.97 Practical reason is indeed a form of reason, which means that it makes a claim to universality.98 In the final analysis, the solidarity Gadamer defends is the solidarity of reason seeking ‘general agreement’;99 it is the solidarity of mutual recognition (Anerkennung) binding together the citizens of a liberal society (Gesellschaft), i.e., a polity, or what Kant called ‘a universal civic society’,100 founded upon the rational idea of human rights and universal freedom.101 In opposition to anarchism in both its leftist and rightist versions (the latter sometimes referred to as ‘anarcho-capitalism’), hermeneutics insists that for freedom and solidarity to prevail in practice liberal institutions are required (or what Gadamer refers to as ‘moral and human arrangements built on common norms’.)102 As Merleau-Ponty had already pointed out, invoking the name of Hegel: ‘freedom requires something substantial; it requires a State, which bears it and which it gives life to.’ The essential thing is the existence of ‘institutions which implant this practice of freedom in our customs [moeurs]’.103 Ricoeur reiterates this point. In the Hegelian view that Ricoeur adopts, an ‘institution’ is the ‘whole of the rules relating to the acts of social life that allow the freedom of each to be realized without harm to the freedom of others’.104 Ricoeur refers to this institutional set-up as ‘un Etat de droit’, i.e., the liberal-democratic state or the rule of law. Such a state is democratic in that it ‘does not propose to eliminate conflicts but to invent procedures permitting them to be expressed and to remain negotiable. The State of Law, in this sense,’ Ricoeur goes on to say, ‘is the State of organized free discussion.’ Ricoeur refers in this connection to Hegel’s definition of the most rational state as ‘the State in which each would be recognized by all’.105 In arguing for ‘a synthesis of freedom and institution’ Ricoeur is expressly arguing against those contemporaries of his—referred to by some as the ‘philosophers of ‘68’106—who exalt a kind of ‘liberté sauvage’ outside of any institutional framework and who denounce institutions as being essentially coercive and repressive. And he insists that ‘it is only in the form of the liberal State that this synthesis [of freedom and institutions] can be seen at work in the depths of history’.107 The liberal-democratic state defended by hermeneutics is, one could say, nothing other than the institutionalization of (dialogical) reason. In this connection Richard Bernstein describes the practical task of hermeneutics as that of fostering ‘the type of dialogical communities in which phronesis becomes a living reality and where citizens can actually assume what Gadamer tells us is their “noblest task”—“decisionmaking according to one’s own responsibility—instead of conceding that task to the expert”’.108 What democratic theory has long referred to as the ‘common good’ is in fact nothing other than an order of social institutions binding people together, one whose raison d’être is to facilitate and encourage in them the exercise of practical-dialogical reason (‘solidarity’). In conclusion, it is apparent that philosophical or phenomenological hermeneutics not only provides a general theory of human understanding in its various modes, it also prescribes very specific tasks in the realm of socio-political praxis. With the recent demise of anti-liberal socialism and the triumph of democratic values throughout much of the world, ‘the end of history’ is said by some to have occurred. Although Gadamer too does not see any alternative to liberalism, he is under no illusions as to the ultimate triumph of freedom and reason in history. He agrees with Hegel that it is no longer possible for anyone (rationally) to deny the supreme value of the freedom of all. ‘The principle that all are free never again can be shaken.’ It cannot be shaken to the degree that the principle is, precisely, a principle of reason. However, he adds: But does this mean that on account of this, history has come to an end? Are all human beings actually free? Has not history since then [Hegel’s time] been a matter of just this, that the historical conduct of man has to translate the principle of freedom into reality? Obviously this points to the unending march of world history into the openness of its future tasks and gives no becalming assurance that everything is already in order. ([9.6], 37) The task of realizing freedom in history is like the task of understanding and selfunderstanding itself—it is an endless task. ‘To exist historically’, Gadamer says in reply to Hegel, ‘means that knowledge of oneself can never be complete’ ([9.7], 269). Like humanism or the belief in the ‘subject’—the human subject in search of meaning in his or her own life and, as such, the bearer of basic human rights—hermeneutics or the belief in meaning in history must recognize, as Ricoeur says, that it is without metaphysical foundations, that it is a wager, a cry.109 NOTES 1 The term was apparently first used by J.C.Dannhauer in his Hermeneutica sacra sive methodus exponendarum sacrarum litterarum (1654). 2 F.Schleiermacher, Hermeneutics: The Handwritten Manuscripts, ed. H.Kimmerle, trans. J.Duke and J.Forstman (Missoula: Scholars Press, 1977), p. 93. 3 Both Gadamer and Ricoeur concur in ascribing to Schleiermacher a ‘psychologistic’ view of understanding of the sort described here. This interpretation has been challenged, however, by Manfred Frank; see his What is Neostructuralism?, trans. S.Wilke and R.Gray (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1989), pp. 8–9. 4 See C.G.Hempel, ‘The Function of General Laws in History’ (1942), reprinted in Theories of History, ed. P.Gardiner (New York: Free Press of Glencoe, 1959), pp. 344–56. 5 See P.Winch, The Idea of a Social Science and Its Relation to Philosophy (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1958), as well as his articles ‘The Idea of a Social Science’ and ‘Understanding of a Primitive Society’, both in Rationality, ed. B.R.Wilson (New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1971). 6 R.J.Bernstein [9.29], 30. 7 ‘Phenomenological hermeneutics’ aptly designates the hermeneutics of Gadamer and Ricoeur since, as I shall indicate in more detail below, their thought is rooted in the phenomenology of Edmund Husserl and Martin Heidegger. Ricoeur has said of his own position: ‘it strives to be a hermeneutical variation of this [Husserl’s] phenomenology’ (‘On Interpretation’ in A.Montefiore (ed.), Philosophy in France Today (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983), p. 187; hereafter cited in the text as OI). On another occasion Ricoeur stated: ‘I do not believe that hermeneutics replaces phenomenology. It is only opposed to the idealist interpretation of phenomenology’ (‘Response to My Friends and Critics’ in C.E.Reagan [9.25], no page no.). 8 Tübingen: J.C.B.Mohr; see also his earlier encyclopaedic work, Theoria generale della interpretazione, 2 vols (Milan: Dott. A.Giuffrè, 1955). 9 E.D.Hirsch, Jr, Validity in Interpretation (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1967). 10 See Validity, p. 264: ‘The much-advertised cleavage between thinking in the sciences and the humanities does not exist. The hypothetico-deductive process is fundamental in both of them, as it is in all thinking that aspires to knowledge.’ 11 A particularly mean-spirited attack against Gadamer along these lines was published by J.Barnes: ‘A Kind of Integrity’, London Review of Books, 6 Nov. 1986, pp. 12–13. 12 As Ricoeur recently pointed out in response to the Canadian hermeneuticist Jean Grondin, hermeneutic’s polemical opposition to objectivism is an integral part of hermeneutics as it is of the Husserlian phenomenology from which it derives. ‘L’herméneutique…est polémique’, Ricoeur says, ‘parce que la compréhension dont elle s’autorise doit sans cesse se reconquérir sur diverses figures de la méconnaissance’ (Ricoeur, ‘Réponses’ in C.Bouchindhomme and R.Rochlitz (eds), ‘Temps et récit’ de Paul Ricoeur: en débat (Paris: Editions du Cerf, 1990), pp. 201–2). 13 Gadamer here refers in a note to Betti’s work. 14 Hans-Georg Gadamer, Truth and Method [9.7], xvi. 15 This was in fact the title given to an edited collection of essays by Gadamer published in 1976: Philosophical Hermeneutics ([9.5]). 16 For a detailed treatment of this issue see ‘Ricoeur and the Hermeneutics of the Subject’ in Madison [9.34]; forthcoming also in The Philosophy of Paul Ricoeur (Library of Living Philosophers), ed. I.E.Hahn. For a good overview of the basic themes in Ricoeur’s philosophizing, centred on the notion of the subject, see John W.Van Den Hengel [9.27]. Van Den Hengel includes in his study a remarkably extensive bibliography (483 titles) of Ricoeur’s writings from 1935 to 1981. 17 Husserl provides a historical reconstruction of the modernist tradition to which he is opposed in The Crisis of European Sciences and Transcendental Phenomenology: An Introduction to Phenomenological Philosophy, trans. D. Carr (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1970). 18 See E.Husserl, The Idea of Phenomenology, trans. W.P.Alston and G. Nakhnikian (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1964), lecture I. 19 The phrase is that of Ludwig Landgrebe, one of Husserl’s late assistants. See his ‘Husserl’s Departure from Cartesianism’, in R.O.Elveton (ed.), The Phenomenology of Husserl (Chicago: Quadrangle Books, 1970), p. 261. 20 Cf. Ricoeur, ‘On Interpretation’ (see note 7), p. 190: ‘The theme of the Lebenswelt, a theme which phenomenology came up against in spite of itself, one might say, is adopted by post- Heideggerian hermeneutics no longer as something left over, but as a prior condition.’ 21 See M.Merleau-Ponty, Phenomenology of Perception, trans. C.Smith (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1962), p. xiv: ‘Far from being, as has been thought, a procedure of idealistic philosophy, phenomenological reduction belongs to existential philosophy: Heidegger’s “being-in-the-world” appears only against the background of the phenomenological reduction.’ 22 M.Heidegger, Being and Time, trans. J.Macquarrie and E.Robinson (New York: Harper & Row, 1962), p. 90: hereafter cited in the text as BT. 23 Ricoeur, Hermeneutics and the Human Sciences [9.15], 87. 24 ‘In it [interpretation] the understanding appropriates understandingly that which is understood by it’ (BT, 188). 25 Ricoeur, ‘The Question of the Subject’, in D.Ihde (ed.), The Conflict of Interpretations:Essays in Hermeneutics (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1974), p. 266 (translation corrected). 26 Gadamer, ‘The Problem of Historical Consciousness’, in P.Rabinow and W. M.Sullivan (eds), Interpretive Social Science: A Reader (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1979), p. 106; hereafter cited in the text as PHC. Ricoeur also bypasses Heidegger’s concern for Being. Grounded as his thinking is in the French tradition of reflexive philosophy, Ricoeur’s guiding question is not so much ‘What is the meaning of being?’ as ‘Who am I?’ He writes: ‘L’herméneutique devenait pour moi le long détour d’une philosophie de la réflexion, la médiation interminable de l’auto-compréhension…
a
philosophie s’est développée—grossièrement parlant—comme une anthropologie philosophique, où la question de l’être se réduit à celle du mode d’être de cet être capable de se désigner comme sujet parlant, comme agent et patient de l’action, comme sujet moral et politique, porteur de responsabilité et de citoyenneté’ (‘Réponses’ in ‘Temps et récit’ de Paul Ricoeur (note 12), p. 211). 27 Bernstein [9.29], 159. 28 I owe this particular observation to Paul Fairfield. 29 The parallel between the two was one of the principal objects of concern of Merleau- Ponty’s hermeneutical phenomenology. 30 What Gadamer says here of historical understanding could be applied, mutatis mutandis, to intercultural or ethnological understanding and could be usefully contrasted with the position defended by Peter Winch. 31 For a good overview and discussion of the issues involved in this debate, see Bernstein [9.29]. 32 It would not be desirable, in that it is incompatible with the philosophical-political values to which hermeneutics subscribes—a topic to be considered later in this chapter. 33 Gadamer, ‘The Science of the Life-World’, Analecta Husserliana, 2 (1977): 185. It should be noted that this text differs from the version published subsequently under the same title in Philosophical Hermeneutics. 34 Ricoeur makes a similar remark: ‘The truth is…the lighted place in which it is possible to continue to live and to think. And to think with our very opponents themselves, without allowing the totality which constrains us ever to become a knowledge about which we can overestimate ourselves and become arrogant’ (‘Reply to My Friends and Critics’ [9.25], no page no.). It could thus be said that for hermeneutics ‘truth’ is primarily not ‘cognitive’ but a ‘moral’ concept; it refers not so much to bits and pieces of ‘information’ we may possess as it does to a general mode of living (being-in-the-world). In this connection Ricoeur remarks, in a very Jamesian sort of way: ‘We wager on a certain set of values and then try to be consistent with them; verification is therefore a question of our whole life. No one can escape this…. I do not see how we can say that our values are better than all others except that by risking our whole life on them we expect to achieve a better life, to see and to understand things better than others’ (Lectures on Ideology and Utopia [9.16], 312). 35 In La symbolique du mal (Philosophie de la volonté: Finitude et culpabilité, vol. II) (Paris: Aubier, 1960). English translation: The Symbolism of Evil [9.20]. 36 D.C.Hoy [9.33], 61. 37 See T.M.Van Leeuwen [9.28] 1. 38 Ricoeur, The Conflict of Interpretations [9.13], 411. 39 In what is said, there is always, Gadamer insists, ‘an infinity of what is not said’ ([9.7], 426). 40 This point is developed by Sartre in La transcendance de l’ego: Esquisse d’une description phénoménologique (Paris: J.Vrin, 1966). 41 Merleau-Ponty, Phenomenology of Perception (note 21): there is no inner man, man is in the world, and only in the world does he know himself’ (p. xi). 42 It should perhaps be noted that, from a Gadamerian point of view, conversation is not so much an instance of language as it is what language essentially is. 43 As Gadamer goes on to point out: ‘Where a person is concerned with the other as individuality, e.g. in a therapeutical conversation or the examination of a man accused of a crime, this is not really a situation in which two people are trying to understand one another.’ (In a footnote Gadamer remarks that in such a situation the questions which arise are ‘marked by insincerity’.) As we shall see later, this view of conversation has important consequences for the theory of text-interpretation. 44 For a discussion of these issues see Ricoeur, ‘Structure, Word, Event’ in The Conflict of Interpretations [9.13]. 45 Ricoeur, ‘New Developments in Phenomenology in France: The Phenomenology of Language’, trans. P.Goodman, Social Research, 34:1 (spring 1967): 14. 46 See J.Habermas, The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity, trans. F.Lawrence (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1987), pp. 41–2. 47 Gadamer, ‘Practical Philosophy as a Model of the Human Sciences’, Research in Phenomenology, 9 (1980):83. 48 See Gadamer, ‘Reply to My Critics’ in G.L.Ormiston and A.D.Schrift, The Hermeneutic Tradition: From Ast to Ricoeur (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1990), pp. 275–6. 49 For Hirsch, in contrast, meaning is always willed meaning (see Validity (note 9), p. 51). 50 See also pp. xix, 321, 336, 338, 353, 356. 51 This point is developed in aesthetic response theory and reader reception theory by Wolfgang Iser and Hans Robert Jauss, respectively (see Iser, The Act of Reading: A Theory of Aesthetic Response (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1978) and Jauss, Towards an Aesthetic of Reception, trans. T.Bahti (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1982). Ricoeur discusses the views of Iser and Jauss in Time and Narrative [9.21], vol. 3, pp. 166ff. 52 Bernstein [9.29], 145. 53 G.W.F.Hegel, The Philosophy of History (New York: Dover Publications, 1978), p. 106. 54 Gadamer, ‘The Power of Reason’, Man and World, 3:1 (1970):15. In response to Habermas’s charge that ‘tradition’, as hermeneutics understands it, is not subject to a critique guided by an ‘emancipatory interest’, Gadamer makes the following countercharge: ‘unconsciously the ultimate guiding image of emancipatory reflection in the social sciences [i.e., Habermas’s position] must be an anarchistic utopia. Such an image, however, seems to me to reflect a hermeneutically false consciousness, the antitode for which can only be a more universal hermeneutical reflection’ ([9.5], 42). Gadamer’s emphasis on tradition is not meant to deny either (1) the universality of certain values or (2) the critical function of reason. What it does deny is the existence of an ahistorical reason (the kind of ‘transcendental’ reason appealed to by Habermas that can escape tradition altogether). In Truth and Method Gadamer states his position in the following way: ‘Does the fact that one is set within various traditions mean really and primarily that one is subject to prejudices and limited in one’s freedom? Is not, rather, all human experience, even the freest, limited and qualified in various ways? If this is true, then the idea of an absolute reason is impossible for historical humanity. 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’ ([9.7], 245). We shall return to the question of values and rational critique in the concluding section of this chapter. 55 Gadamer, ‘Reply to My Critics’ (note 48), p. 273. 56 Gadamer, ‘Hermeneutics as Practical Philosophy’, in Reason in the Age of Science [9.6], 111. 57 For a detailed treatment of this issue see my ‘The New Philosophy of Rhetoric’, Texte: Revue de critique et de théorie littéraire, 8/9 (1989):247–77. 58 See C.Perelman and L.Olbrechts-Tyteca, Traité de l’argumentation: la nouvelle rhétorique (Bruxelles: Editions de l’Institut de Sociologie, Université Libre de Bruxelles, 2nd edn, 1970). 59 R.Bernstein remarks in this regard: ‘Although the concept of truth is basic to Gadamer’s entire project of philosophic hermeneutics, it turns out to be one of the most elusive concepts in his work’ ([9.29], 151). 60 Ricoeur, ‘Langage (Philosophie)’ Encyclopaedia Universalis, vol. 9 (1971), p. 780. 61 See Ricoeur, ‘The Model of the Text’ in Hermeneutics and the Human Sciences [9.15], 212–13. 62 See also pp. 146–7, 203. Ricoeur also says that whereas Gadamer, with his reliance on the model of conversation, places a great deal of confidence in Einverständnis—profound agreement—he himself is ‘beaucoup plus sensible au caractère conflictuel du champ d’interprétation’ (‘De la volonté à l’acte’ in ‘Temps et récit’ de Paul Ricoeur (note 12), p. 19. 63 ‘Distantiation is not the product of methodology and hence something superfluous and parasitical; rather it is constitutive of the phenomenon of the text as writing’ ([9.15] 139). Critics of Ricoeur might argue that his own critique of Gadamer is not entirely fair, in that Gadamer himself argues for a ‘positive’ notion of distantiation. See, inter alia, the following remarks that Gadamer made in his lectures at the University of Louvain in 1957: ‘Contrary to what we often imagine, time is not a chasm which we could bridge over in order to recover the past: in reality, it is the ground which supports the arrival of the past and where the present takes its roots. “Temporal distance” is not a distance in the sense of a distance to be overcome…. Actually, it is rather a matter of considering “temporal distance” as a fundament of positive and productive possibilities for understanding’ (PHC, 155–6). If it is the case that Ricoeur has misread Gadamer on this score, then it is also the case that he concedes too much to Habermas in the latter’s criticism of Gadamer (for Ricoeur’s attempt to mediate the dispute between Habermas and Gadamer, see ‘Hermeneutics and the Critique of Ideology’ in Hermeneutics and the Human Sciences) [9.15]. If Ricoeur argues for a positive notion of distantiation, it is because he wants to maintain (against Habermas) that hermeneutics has to do not only with the transmission of the past (as Habermas portrays Gadamer as saying) but that it can also incorporate a critical moment in the appropriation process. However, if Gadamer’s notion of distantiation is itself of a positive sort, then there is already a critical element in Gadamer’s hermeneutics (which therefore does not need to be supplemented with borrowings from Habermas’s critical theory). As I have already indicated, Gadamer does indeed make this claim. 64 The ‘second order referentiality’ of metaphorical discourse was one of the main things that Ricoeur sought to demonstrate in La métaphore vive (Paris: Seuil, 1975); English trans.: The Rule of Metaphor [9.19]. 65 This highlights an important difference between Ricoeur’s theory of text-interpretation and other postmodern theories which indeed do legitimate ‘projecting oneself into the text’ in whatever way, i.e., engaging in ‘strong misreadings’ of the text. An outstanding example of just how ‘strong’ misreadings of a deconstructionist sort may be is provided by the American literary critic J. Hillis Miller. In a review of Ricoeur’s Time and Narrative, Miller asserts that ‘hermeneutic theories’, such as Ricoeur’s, assume ‘the existence of stable monological texts of determinable meanings, meanings controlled in each case by the intentions of the author and by the text’s reference to a pre-linguistic “real world out there”’. One’s astonishment over such a manifestly absurd remark (do deconstructionists even bother any more to read the texts they pretend to ‘interpret’?) is compounded when a few paragraphs further on one reads: ‘his view of language remains a more or less unambiguous copy theory. Language, for him, mirrors, represents or “expresses” the lived world’ (‘But Are Things as We Say They Are?’, Times Literary Supplement, 9–15 October 1987:1104). 66 See in this regard ‘On Interpretation’ (see note 7), pp. 185ff. The subject of the ‘self’ was the topic of Ricoeur’s 1986 Gifford Lectures, ‘On Selfhood, The Question of Personal Identity’, published in book form under the title Soimême comme un autre (Paris: Seuil, 1990), trans.: Oneself as Another [9.17]. 67 ‘Si le sens n’est pas un segment de la compréhension de soi, je ne sais pas ce que c’est’ (Esprit, November 1983:636). 68 S.B.Messer, L.A.Sass, R.L.Woolfolk (eds), Hermeneutics and Psychological Theory: Interpretive Perspectives on Personality, Psychotherapy, and Psychopathology (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1988), p. xiii. 69 C.Geertz, The Interpretation of Cultures (New York: Basic Books, 1973), p. 5. 70 By way of underscoring the purposive nature of human action, Mises writes: ‘There is no human being to whom the intent is foreign to substitute by appropriate conduct one state of affairs for another state of affairs that would prevail if he did not interfere’ (The Ultimate Foundation of Economic Science: An Essay on Method (Kansas City: Sheed Andres & McMeel, 1978), p. 71). 71 That various social orders are the result of human action but not necessarily of human design has been one of the major themes in the work of F.A. Hayek whose work anticipates, in many ways, that of Gadamer and Ricoeur. See in this regard my ‘Hayek and the Interpretive Turn’, Critical Review, 3:2 (spring 1989). 72 C.Taylor, ‘Interpretation and the Sciences of Man’, in P.Rabinow and W. M.Sullivan (eds), Interpretive Social Science: A Reader (note 26), p. 48. 73 See Ricoeur, ‘History as Narrative and Practice’, interview with P.Kemp, Philosophy Today (fall 1985):216. 74 J.Wakefield, ‘Hermeneutics and Empiricism: Commentary on Donald Meichenbaum’ in Messer et al. (eds), Hermeneutics and Psychological Theory (note 68), p. 143. 75 Geertz, The Interpretation of Cultures (note 69), p. 9. 76 The interpretive economist D.Lavoie remarks in this regard: ‘The fact that the objects of our study already have an interpretation of what is going on does not release the social scientist from the responsibility to develop and defend her own explication of what is going on. The interpreter should not try to rid herself of her own perspective in order to ‘adopt’ that of the interpreted, but must try to find new ways to use her presuppositions to attain a better understanding of the human activities under study…. Thus interpretation always means adding to what is said through a mediation of the ‘horizons’ of the interpreter and the interpreted’ (‘The Account of Interpretations and the Interpretation of Accounts: The Communicative Function of “The Language of Business”’, Accounting, Organizations and Society, 12:6 (1987):594). 77 J.B.Thompson, Ideology and Modern Culture: Critical Social Theory in the Era of Mass Communication (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1990), p. 323. In his analysis of ideology Thompson draws extensively on suggestions put forward by Ricoeur. For a comparative study of Ricoeur’s hermeneutics and the critical theory of Jürgen Habermas, see his earlier work [9.26]. 78 See Gadamer’s discussion of Dilthey in ‘The Problem of Historical Consciousness’ (note 26). 79 Jean Grondin, ‘L’herméneutique positive de Paul Ricoeur’ in ‘Temps et récit’ de Paul Ricoeur (note 12), p. 125. 80 Geertz, The Interpretation of Cultures (note 69), p. 30. 81 In Time and Narrative [9.21], vol. I, Ricoeur refers to ‘explanation’ and ‘understanding’ as ‘a now obsolete vocabulary’; he prefers to speak instead of ‘nomological explanation and explanation by emplotment’ (p. 181). 82 Of Ricoeur’s work in this area historian H.White has said: ‘Ricoeur’s is surely the strongest claim for the adequacy of narrative to the realization of the aims of historical studies made by any recent theorist of historiography’ (‘The Question of Narrative in Contemporary Historical Theory’, History and Theory, 1 (1984):30). For a discussion of Ricoeur’s treatment of the imagination over the course of his writings see Richard Kearney, ‘Paul Ricoeur and the Hermeneutic Imagination’, in T.P.Kemp and D.Rasmussen (eds) [9.24] (reprinted in Kearney, Poetics of Imaging: From Husserl to Lyotard (London: Harper Collins Academic, 1991)). The thesis defended by Kearney is that ‘a poetic hermeneutic of imagination’ represents ‘the ultimate, if discreet, agenda of his philosophical project’ (p. 2). The following remark of Ricoeur lends support to this thesis: ‘Despite appearances the one problem that has interested me from the beginning of my work as a philosopher is that of creativity. I worked from the angle of individual psychology in my early work on the will, then on the cultural level with my studies on symbolisms. My present work on narrative puts me right at the heart of this social, cultural, creativity’ (‘History as Narrative and Practice’, Philosophy Today (fall 1985):222). 83 Thus, for example, economist D.Lavoie writes, with reference to Ricoeur: ‘History is in this view not an attempt to find quantitative covering laws that fully determine a sequence of events, but an attempt to supply a qualitative interpretation of some part of mankind’s “story”. The whole purpose of the theoretical social sciences (including economics and accounting research) is to equip people with the capacity to better distinguish acceptable from unacceptable historical narratives…. What we find ourselves doing in the social sciences is not so much the testing of ex ante predictions but is more of the nature of what the Austrian economist F.A.Hayek calls an ex post explanation of principles. The only “test” any theory can receive is in the form of a qualitative judgment of the plausibility of the sequence of events that has been strung together by narrative’ (‘The Account of Interpretations and the Interpretation of Accounts’ (note 76), pp. 595–6). 84 D.Pellauer, ‘The Significance of the Text in Paul Ricoeur’s Hermeneutical Theory’ in [9.25], 112, 109. 85 Ricoeur’s interest in history and narrative can be seen to be the logical outgrowth of his abiding concern over the issue of human action, since, in being ‘fixated’, action is transformed into institutionalized social patterns, which is to say that it generates historical processes. 86 Ricoeur deals at length with the issue of the ‘social imagination’ (of which ideology and Utopia are two basic modes) in Lectures on Ideology and Utopia [9.16]. 87 See Ricoeur’s remarks on violence and discourse in Main Trends in Philosophy (New York: Holmes & Meier, 1979), pp. 224–7. On p. 227 Ricoeur writes: ‘It is because we, as men, have chosen discourse—that is, discussion, seeking agreement by means of verbal confrontation—that the defence of violence for violence’s sake is forever forbidden us.’ 88 ‘Reaching an understanding in conversation presupposes that both partners are ready for it and are trying to recognize the full value of what is alien and opposed to them’ ([9.7], 348). 89 Speaking of the humanistic ideal of the German historical school, Gadamer says that it ‘does not contain any particular content, but is based on the formal ideal of the greatest variety. This kind of ideal is truly universal, for it cannot be shaken by any historical evidence, any disturbing evidence of the transience of human things. History has a meaning in itself’ ([9.7], 178). The political motivation for Ricoeur’s defence of philosophical humanism is evident in the following remark: ‘If anti-humanism is true, there is also no theoretical basis on which the legal subject can oppose the abuse of political authority’ (Main Trends in Philosophy, p. 369). 90 The real ‘ethnocentrist’, hermeneutics maintains, is the person who denies the universal validity (‘applicability’) of the principles of freedom and reason and who asserts that any criticism of non-western societies for failing to recognize these principles is an instance of ‘Eurocentrism’. As a leading spokesperson for democratic values (‘such basic ideas as representative government, human rights, and the rule of law’) in the ‘third world’, Aung San Suu Kyi, recipient in 1991 of the Nobel Peace Prize, has stated: ‘The proposition that the Burmese are not fit to enjoy as many rights and privileges as the citizens of democratic countries is insulting’ (‘In Quest of Democracy’, Journal of Democracy, 2:1 (January 1992):6 and 11). Anti-universalist ethnocentrism (‘reverse Eurocentrism’) is indeed an affront to basic human dignity. 91 Bernstein [9.29], p. 163. 92 S.Rosen, Hermeneutics as Politics (New York: Oxford University Press, 1987), p. 141. 93 Gadamer, ‘The Power of Reason’, Man and World, 3:1 (1970):8. 94 Ricoeur, Main Trends in Philosophy (note 87), p. 315. 95 In ‘Hermeneutics and Social Science’, Cultural Hermeneutics, 55 (1970), Gadamer writes: ‘the chief task of philosophy is…to defend practical and political reason against the domination of technology based on science. That is the point of philosophical hermeneutic’ (p. 316). 96 ‘The Power of Reason’ (note 93), p. 13. 97 See in this regard Gadamer’s remarks on natural law in Truth and Method [9.7]. 98 Cf. Gadamer, ‘The Power of Reason’ (note 93): ‘Clearly reason has an immediate connection with the universal’ (p. 6); ‘identification with the Universal—what is Reason if not that?’ (p. 12). Reason is ‘the self-realizing identification with the universal’ (p. 14). On p. 13 of this text Gadamer identifies ‘loss of freedom’ with ‘lack of possibility of identifying with the universal’. 99 See Gadamer. ‘Reply to My Critics’ (note 48), p. 289. SELECT BIBLIOGRAPHY For an exhaustive bibliography of both the primary and the secondary literature in various languages, see Jean Grondin, Einführung in die Philosophische Hermeneutik 100 I.Kant, ‘Ideas for a Universal History from a Cosmopolitan Point of View’, in On History, L.W.Beck (ed.) (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1963), p. 16. Kant goes on to characterize such a society as ‘the society with the greatest freedom. Such a society is one in which there is a mutual opposition among the members, together with the most exact definition of freedom and fixing of its limits so that it may be consistent with the freedom of others’. 101 The notion of human rights, as hermeneutics conceives of it, is not a metaphysical notion and does not appeal to essentialist or foundationalist modes of thinking. Human rights are not ‘natural rights’ (as Gadamer’s critic, L.Strauss, would maintain); they are rational rights, rights of reason. That is to say, they are injunctions as to how people ought to be treated, given what they in fact are, namely rational beings. That means: beings who have the logos (as Isocrates said), i.e., are capable of engaging in dialogical or communicative rationality. Basic rights such as freedom of speech, of conscience, of association, and so on, are simply enumerations of the legal-institutional guarantees that are required for the unimpeded exercise of this form of rationality. Since, as Gadamer recognizes, the ‘power of reason’ is not a ‘natural faculty’ but a social attribute (‘This is not simply a capacity that man has, but something of the sort that must be developed’ (‘The Power of Reason’ (note 93), p. 7), people can be fully rational (and thus fully human) only when they have the good fortune of living within the kind of institutional set-up that these rights make possible. Human rights are what those rational beings who are reflectively aware of what they are will claim for themselves, in order to be recognized for what they are and in order to become what they are (cf. Tiananmen Square, 1989). 102 ‘The Power of Reason’ (note 93), p. 8. 103 M.Merleau-Ponty, Signs, trans. R.C.McCleary (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1964), p. 349. 104 Ricoeur, ‘Le Philosophe et la politique devant la question de la liberté’, in La liberté et l’ordre social (Neuchâtel: La Baconnière, 1969), p. 53. 105 Ricoeur, Du texte à l’action (Paris: Seuil, 1986), p. 404. 106 See L.Ferry and A.Renaut, French Philosophy of the Sixties: An Essay on Antihumanism (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1990). 107 Ricoeur, ‘La raison pratique’ in T.Gearets (ed.), La Rationalité aujourd’hui/ Rationality Today (Ottawa: Editions de l’Université d’Ottawa, 1979), p. 238. 108 Bernstein [9.29], p. 159. 109 See Ricoeur, Main Trends in Philosophy (note 87), p. 372. On another occasion, Ricoeur says that ‘the lament of modern philosophy [is] that we have to raise Hegelian problems without the Hegelian solutions.’ While rejecting the notion of absolute knowledge and allencompassing theories of history, he nevertheless concedes: ‘Maybe we cannot have passionate history without a certain expectation of what could be the global meaning of history, but that must remain at the level, I think, of hypothesis; that must remain a kind of working hypothesis’ (‘The Conflict of Interpretations’ in R.Bruzina and B.Wilshire (eds), Phenomenology: Dialogues and Bridges (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1982), pp. 319–20). (Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1991). Gadamer Translations 9.1 Dialogue and Dialectic: Eight Hermeneutical Studies on Plato, trans. P.C. Smith, New Haven: Yale University Press, 1980. 9.2 Hegel’s Dialectic: Five Hermeneutical Studies, trans. P.C.Smith, New Haven: Yale University Press, 1976. 9.3 The Idea of the Good in Platonic-Aristotelian Philosophy, trans. P.C.Smith, New Haven: Yale University Press, 1985. 9.4 Philosophical Apprenticeships, trans. R.Sullivan, Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1985. 9.5 Philosophical Hermeneutics, trans. D.E.Linge, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1976. 9.6 Reason in the Age of Science, trans. F.Lawrence, Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1981. 9.7 Truth and Method, New York: Seabury Press, 1975, 2nd rev. edn, New York: Crossroad, 1990. Criticism 9.8 Foster, M. Gadamer and Practical Philosophy: The Hermeneutics of Moral Confidence, Atlanta: Scholar’s Press, 1991. 9.9 Michelfelder D., and Palmer, R. (eds) Dialogue and Deconstruction: The Gadamer- Derrida Encounter, Albany: State University of New York Press, 1989. 9.10 Sullivan, R. Political Hermeneutics: The Early Thinking of Hans-Georg Gadamer, University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1989. 9.11 Warnke, G. Gadamer: Hermeneutics, Tradition and Reason, Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1987. 9.12 Weinsheimer, J. Gadamer’s Hermeneutics: A Reading of Truth and Method, New Haven: Yale University Press, 1985. Ricoeur Translations 9.13 The Conflict of Interpretations: Essays in Hermeneutics, ed. D.Ihde, Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1974. 9.14 Freud and Philosophy: An Essay on Interpretation, trans. D.Savage, New Haven: Yale University Press, 1970. 9.15 Hermeneutics and the Human Sciences, trans. J.B.Thompson, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981. 9.16 Lectures on Ideology and Utopia, ed. G.H.Taylor, New York: Columbia University Press, 1986. 9.17 Oneself as Another, trans. K.Blamey, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992. 9.18 Political and Social Essays, ed. D.Steward and J.Bien, Athens: Ohio University Press, 1974. 9.19 The Rule of Metaphor, trans. R.Czeny, K.McLaughlin and J.Costello, Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1977. 9.20 The Symbolism of Evil, trans. E.Buchanan, New York: Harper & Row, 1967. 9.21 Time and Narrative, trans. K.McLaughlin and D.Pellauer, 3 vols, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984, 1985, 1988. Criticism 9.22 Clark, S.H. Paul Ricoeur, London: Routledge, 1990. 9.23 Ihde, D. Hermeneutic Phenomenology: The Philosophy of Paul Ricoeur, Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1971. 9.24 Kemp, P. and Rasmussen, D. (eds) The Narrative Path: The Later Works of Paul Ricoeur, Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1989. 9.25 Reagan, C.E. (ed.) Studies in the Philosophy of Paul Ricoeur, Athens: Ohio University Press, 1979. 9.26 Thompson, J.B. Critical Hermeneutics: A Study in the Thought of Paul Ricoeur and Jürgen Habermas, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981. 9.27 Van Den Hengel, J.W. The Home of Meaning: The Hermeneutics of the Subject of Paul Ricoeur, Washington: University Press of America, 1982. 9.28 Van Leeuwen, T.M. The Surplus of Meaning: Ontology and Eschatology in the Philosophy of Paul Ricoeur, Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1981. General commentaries and analysis 9.29 Bernstein, R.J. Beyond Objectivism and Relativism: Science, Hermeneutics, and Praxis, Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1983. 9.30 Bleicher, J. Contemporary Hermeneutics: Hermeneutics as Method, Philosophy, and Critique, London: Routledge, 1980. 9.31 Heckman, S.J. Hermeneutics and the Sociology of Knowledge, Notre Dame: Notre Dame University Press, 1986. 9.32 Hollinger, R. (ed.) Hermeneutics and Praxis, Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1985. 9.33 Hoy, D. The Critical Circle: Literature and History in Contemporary Hermeneutics, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1978. 9.34 Madison, G.B. The Hermeneutics of Postmodernity: Figures and Themes, Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1988. 9.35 Palmer, R.E. Hermeneutics: Interpretation Theory in Schleiermacher, Dilthey, Heidegger, and Gadamer , Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1969. 9.36 Weinsheimer, J. Philosophical Hermeneutics and Literary Theory, New Haven: Yale University Press, 1991.

Routledge History of Philosophy. . 2005.

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  • Hermeneutics — • Derived from a Greek word connected with the name of the god Hermes, the reputed messenger and interpreter of the gods Catholic Encyclopedia. Kevin Knight. 2006. Hermeneutics     Hermeneutics …   Catholic encyclopedia

  • hermeneutics —    Hermeneutics is the art and science of interpreting the Bible. The Protestant emphasis on biblical authority made hermeneutics an essential task for church leaders.    The dominant Christian hermeneutics of the Middle Ages, developed by Origen …   Encyclopedia of Protestantism

  • Hermeneutics —    Hermeneutics is (1) the theory of interpretation, a systematic articulation of the principles that underlie the interpretation of texts, (2) an approach to philosophy that begins with issues of interpretation. The history of hermeneutics has… …   Christian Philosophy

  • HERMENEUTICS — HERMENEUTICS, the science of biblical interpretation. The rabbis saw the Pentateuch as a unified, divinely communicated text, consistent in all its parts. It was consequently possible to uncover deeper meanings and to provide for a fuller… …   Encyclopedia of Judaism

  • Hermeneutics — Her me*neu tics, n. [Gr. ? (sc. ?).] The science of interpretation and explanation; exegesis; esp., that branch of theology which defines the laws whereby the meaning of the Scriptures is to be ascertained. Schaff Herzog Encyc. [1913 Webster] …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • hermeneutics — 1737, from HERMENEUTIC (Cf. hermeneutic); also see ICS (Cf. ics) …   Etymology dictionary

  • hermeneutics — [n] the science of searching for hidden meaning in texts exegetics, exploration, interpretation, investigation, literary criticism, psychoanalytic criticism, revealing, unmasking; concept 349 …   New thesaurus

  • hermeneutics — [hʉr΄mə no͞ot′iks, hʉr΄mə nyo͞ot′iks] n. [< HERMENEUTIC] the art or science of interpretation, as of literary or religious texts …   English World dictionary

  • Hermeneutics — In religious studies and social philosophy, hermeneutics (English pronunciation: /hɜrməˈn(j)uːtɨks/) is the study of the theory and practice of interpretation. Traditional hermeneutics which includes Biblical hermeneutics refers to the study of… …   Wikipedia

  • hermeneutics — /herr meuh nooh tiks, nyooh /, n. (used with a sing. v.) 1. the science of interpretation, esp. of the Scriptures. 2. the branch of theology that deals with the principles of Biblical exegesis. [1730 40; see HERMENEUTIC, ICS] * * * Study of the… …   Universalium


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