Hermeneutics Podcast: Why Does Hermeneutics Matter?

Todd Mei at Living Philosophy has recently produced another excellent podcast that will definitely be of interest to our readers. Here’s a description of the podcast entitled “Why Does Hermeneutics Matter?” You can listen to it here.  Enjoy!

“We see it every day—the problem of misunderstanding and misreading meaning and intentions. It can be the cause of frustration, hurt, and even violence. Hermeneutics is the branch of philosophy interested in how the interpretation of language, symbols, texts, and even the nature of existence requires a nuanced and open-minded approach. It can potentially help us to resolve a lot of the problems of miscommunication. Listen to three experts—Andreea Deciu Ritivoi (Carnegie Mellon University, USA), David Utsler (North Central Texas College, USA), and Nicholas Davey (University of Dundee, UK)—reflect on the importance of hermeneutics and why it matters to our everyday lives.” (From Living Philosophy).

New Website for The International Institute for Hermeneutics

The International Institute for Hermeneutics has a new website! While you are there, be sure to check out the latest issue of Analecta Hermeneutica, Vol. 13, 2021, whose theme is “For a Hermeneutics Yet to Come: Gadamer and Ricoeur’s Legacy to 21st-Century Thought. Contributors to this issue include Richard Kearney, Jens Zimmerman, Cynthia R. Nielsen and David Utsler (co-authored article), David Liakos, and Paul Fairfield.

CFP: Gadamer and the Impact of Hermeneutics (due Feb. 15, 2022)

This CFA/CFP was originally posted on Philevents. I am reposting here, as this will likely be of interest to our readers.

CFA/CFP: Gadamer and the Impact of Hermeneutics

Labyrinth: An International Journal for Philosophy, Value Theory and Sociocultural Hermeneutics is preparing a special issue on the the occasion of the 20th death anniversary of Hans-Georg Gadamer (1900-2002). Of special interest are new elaborations or critical discussions dealing with the main topics of Gadamer’s Philosophy. Such topics include:

  • The Sources of Hermeneutics
  • Historical and Hermeneutical Consciousness
  • Hermeneutics as Praxis: Ethical and Political Implications
  • Hermeneutics and Phenomenology
  • Hermeneutics and Critical Theory
  • Hermeneutics, Destruction and Deconstruction
  • The changing Notions of Art and the Truth of Art
  • Feminist Readings on Gadamer and Hermeneutics
  • Hermeneutics and Intercultural Dialogue
  • New Paths and Applications of Hermeneutics

Researchers working in the field of Gadamerian Philosophy and/or Hermeneutics are invited to submit a brief abstract until the 15 of February 2022 with a brief biograhic information including name, academic affiliation, and main publications.

Authors who have already a finished unpublished paper are welcome to submit it within the abstract in order to help the peer review and the publishing process. Papers in their final form, i.e. proof read, formatted according to the journal guidelines, and print ready, should be submitted no later than the 24 of July 2022.

As a multilingual Journal Labyrinth accepts papers in English, French, and German. For more information about the journal policies and the submission’s guidelines please visit: https://www.axiapublishers.com/ojs/index.php/labyrinth/AuthorGuidelines

All abstracts and papers should be sent to labyrinth [at] axiapublishers.com

An Interview with Professor Jean Grondin

Interview with Jean Grondin

*Abdullah Başaran and Kadir Filiz

* Can we still think of hermeneutics as the ground of philosophy? That is to say, is it still possible to consider language as a center and medium of philosophy? If we want to revisit the task(s) of hermeneutics, what do we expect to see?

JG: “First of all, I would like to thank you most warmly for this conversation and the opportunity to discuss with you. Philosophy has always been a dialogue and I cherish the opportunity to have this conversation with you.

I don’t know if hermeneutics has to be the ground of philosophy – both Plato and Aristotle said that the ground of philosophy was wonderment, and I would certainly agree with them –, but it is the way philosophy is carried out: we are self-interpreting beings (Charles Taylor), we strive to understand and thus interpret. And this interpretation, more often than not, happens through language. As such philosophy has always and will always be hermeneutical, regardless if the word hermeneutics is used or not.”

* After the linguistic-turn of hermeneutical philosophers (Heidegger, Gadamer, Ricoeur), and with the emergence of realist movements and the dominance of natural sciences in philosophy, today it is commonly assumed that hermeneutics has lost its impact on thinking. Is hermeneutics (regarding its dialogical history with critical theory, deconstruction, and various philosophies of language) still in competition with today’s philosophical tendencies?

JG: “First of all, I would say that hermeneutics is not against realism: it strives to understand the meaning, the meanings, of things, and can learn a lot from the natural sciences (it only believes that their objectifying mode of knowledge, precious as it is, is not the only one and probably not the most important one for philosophy and self-understanding).

Secondly, I don’t view hermeneutics as being in competition with other philosophical tendencies. Philosophy is not a market where one company has to crush another or increase its market share. Thankfully, there have always been different philosophical voices and we can all learn from another. As you know, my teacher Hans-Georg Gadamer used to say that the soul of hermeneutics is that the other might be right.

I am not sure hermeneutics has lost its impact on thinking. The three philosophical authors you name, Heidegger, Gadamer, Ricoeur, are still widely read and have many descendants. My compatriot Charles Taylor is certainly one of them and he has recently published a book on The Language Animal which defends a view of language that one has to characterize as hermeneutical.”

* From the centrality of hermeneutics in any philosophical thinking, we want to ask about your idea of hermeneutics as metaphysics or the renewal of hermeneutics as metaphysics if one may say so. This issue has many dimensions when we consider many (mis)labellings identified with hermeneutics such as “relativity”, “historicity”, “anti-rationality”, and so on. First, may we shortly ask, “what is called metaphysics?” among many forms of metaphysics throughout the history of philosophy (as you discuss in your book from Parmenides to Levinas), how can we give a unitary determination to metaphysics in the light of hermeneutics? Does what you mean by metaphysics consist of former conceptions of metaphysics?

JG: “What is metaphysics? It is the dialogical, vigilant and self-critical effort of the human mind to grasp something about reality as a whole (or Being, if you prefer) and its many orders of reason. This conception of metaphysics, which one can call hermeneutical, certainly draws on former conceptions of metaphysics, since all metaphysicians were animated by this striving to understand something about reality as a whole. Their answers are not the same (metaphysics is not mathematics), and this is why a reflective metaphysics has to be dialogical and self-critical: we have to think Plato with Aristotle, Kant with Hegel. We are the heirs of this dialogue that preceded us and will survive us.”

* Second, hermeneutics is also regarded as a way to overcome metaphysics and aims to do a non-metaphysical way of philosophy by some philosophers. We can also find this tendency of overcoming metaphysics in Gadamer (but also some metaphysical theses too, as you show in your work). In this regard, how do you understand this overcoming aspect of hermeneutics together with its metaphysical commitments? Where does the hermeneutical idea of overcoming metaphysics stand in your understanding of metaphysics?

JG: “I, for one, would stress more the metaphysical dimension of hermeneutics, but I know I might be a lost sheep in this regard. The stronger, even faddish tendency today is indeed to do away with metaphysics, but I cannot fail to notice that those ‘overcomers’ often have scant knowledge of the metaphysics they want to leave behind. What authors such as Heidegger, and to a lesser degree Gadamer, want to overcome, is perhaps a certain conception of metaphysics that would have led to the domination of calculative rationality. As Gadamer has suggested, this is by no means the only, nor the natural outcome of metaphysics.”

* Third, metaphysics presupposes a universality of reason, and you put forward the universality claim of hermeneutics in this direction. On the one hand, hermeneutics has taught us that there is not one way of rationality, and on the other hand, metaphysics must pose some basic rules that are always at work in every place and time in order to understand reality. How do these two different ways of understanding reality (multiple rationalities and the universality claims of metaphysics) reconcile and stand without contradiction?

JG: “There have always been many orders of rationality. Aristotele famously distinguishes four different types of causality. For me (and for Gadamer), it would be irrational to think there is only one way of rationality. That would be the epitome of irrationality.”

* In addition to the last point, during the discussions over the postmodern perspectives to interpretation, you strictly rejected relativism in hermeneutical point of view on the grounds that relativism only makes sense if it adopts an absolutist point of view. Simply put, does not metaphysics propose another absolutism?

JG: “Good question. I only reject relativism if this is supposed to mean that there is no attainable truth. Yet, there is such a thing as a ‘healthy relativism,’ as it were, which I would not disregard: it is the notion, to put it almost tautologically, that every point of view is indeed relative to a certain point of view. This healthy relativism is a school of humility: we must and can strive to overcome the limited scope of our points of view and learn from others. We are never condemned to our perspective(s), we can go beyond its limitations. This is not an absolutism.”

* In the same way, hermeneutics focuses on our historical condition and the historicity of thinking. For example, Vattimo’s work pays attention to this radical side of hermeneutics. Moreover, as you point out in your book, metaphysics was only a type of philosophy before Heidegger, and after him it’s the history of metaphysics we started to speak. Can metaphysics be understood as something historical? How can a philosophical work transcend its historical determinations? As Habermas asked, “after historicism, is metaphysics still possible?”

JG: “Metaphysics is certainly a historical endeavour in that it unfolded in the course of history. I have tried to sketch out that history in my Introduction to Metaphysics. Heidegger even argued that it was our “destiny” and has been constitutive of the Western tradition. In this, he is not wrong. I would only argue against him that there is no credible alternative to metaphysics and that any thinking that would want to go beyond metaphysics would still be indebted to its type of reflection on the whole and its reasons.

As for the question, ‘after historicism, is metaphysics still possible?,’ I would say that metaphysics has always been possible because it is an integral part of humanity’s conversation with itself about the meaning of things. Historicism only makes this dialogical quest more indispensable and thus ‘more possible.’”

* Together with historicity, another aspect of understanding and thinking can be its locality or in a sense, its particularity. In your books on metaphysics, you refer to “Western” metaphysics and philosophers. It is the Western history of metaphysics (Such an expression can also be found in Heidegger and many other philosophers). Without establishing a hegemony of a particular place over other places, without appealing to an assumption of the centrality of any particular history and tradition, how can we speak of metaphysics? Between the idea of the relativity of traditions and the dominant universality of a single one, is it possible to consider any other way of thinking which does not suppose the hegemony of a particular tradition (history and place) over others?

JG: “Here I can only thank you for pointing out my own limitations, and I honestly mean that. I have only spoken about the Western history of metaphysics because it is the only one I am familiar with. It is certainly not the only one. But I cannot speak with any authority of other traditions. Unfortunately, but I can sure learn from them. It is one of the important metaphysical insights of our time that the Western tradition is not the only way of philosophy and metaphysics.”

* In this line, for example, in the monumental work, Provincializing Europe, Dipesh Chakrabarty starts with a quotation from Gadamer who uses (probably firstly) the expression of “provincializing Europe”. Gadamer’s hermeneutics made an important contribution to overcoming Eurocentrism in social sciences. Can the idea of hermeneutics as metaphysics offer such an openness to go beyond any kind of domination of a particular historical determination of philosophy?

JG: “It is certainly open to this possibility and quite aware of the limitations of the European point of view. I don’t know however if one has to call this a ‘provincializing’ of Europe, for at least two reasons: Firstly, it is right to point out that European thinking has indeed been dominant in the history of the last two millennia, so it would be difficult to ‘provincialize’ it all of a sudden (it would be like attempting to provincialize natural science, technology, etc.; good luck with that!) I would rather say that European thinking has to be endowed with a stronger sense of humility and, at times, contrition. Secondly, I would be careful with this provincializing of Europe, because there is much in the European tradition that can be defended and maintained. One can think of its science, its sense for democracy and human rights, its metaphysics, its tradition of education, Law, etc.”

* Regarding your last works on metaphysics, we would like to ask what you mean by ‘sense of things’ (sens des choses)? You state that senses are not creatures of our linguistic and cultural system. Is it in a way a realistic understanding of things that are understandable for us?

JG: “I mean at least two things by this. Firstly, that meaning is not something that is only created by our linguistic and cultural systems. It is a meaning in the things themselves. To give but one example: if I wish to understand as a physician the ailment from which a patient is suffering, I want to understand its real meaning, i.e., what it is the patient is suffering from: is it a cancer, an aneurism, etc.? It would be ridiculous to claim that this is a creation of our linguistic systems (even if the names ‘cancer’ and ‘aneurism’ are words of our language, with a rich history indeed). Secondly, I mean by this ‘sense of things’ that we can sense (in the perceptive sense, if you want) this meaning or sense in the things, and do so all the time. Our inquiring minds and senses strive to sense this meaning of things.

* Hermeneutics is mostly associated with conservatism because of its emphasis on tradition (it is also a bit problematic to translate Überlieferung as “tradition”) and prejudices of understanding. One aspect of the discussion between Gadamer and Habermas stems from this claim. Does hermeneutics offer us a conservative approach to the past rather than a critical one? Moreover, hermeneutics mostly deals with the past, rather than the future in the present. How can we think of our understanding regarding the future?

JG: “This is an old debate of which I must confess that I have grown a little bit tired. As an understanding quest, hermeneutics is not conservative, nor does it promote in any way what could be called a conservative agenda in the field of politics. What does it mean to be conservative in politics? I suppose that a conservative agenda favours things like a limited role for the government, lower taxes, a stronger military and certain views on social issues like gay marriage, abortion, etc. I dare anybody to find a hermeneutical philosophy that takes a specific stand on these issues, which pertain to the political field.

I would also question the notion that an approach is either conservative or critical. Why not both at times? We would certainly all agree that it is critical to conserve our natural environment and many of our best cultural traditions.”

* Can we assume a strict separation between phenomenology (not only the Husserlian starting but also involving the recent French phenomenologists up until now) and hermeneutics? No doubt Husserl and Heidegger are some of the main philosophers Gadamer seriously engaged. Can we see hermeneutics as a part of the phenomenological tradition? Is there any difference between the understanding of the sense of things and “to the things themselves”?

JG: “Hermeneutics obviously belongs the phenomenological tradition. There are however many different ways of doing phenomenology and we can distinguish in this regard the way of Husserl from that of Heidegger, Ricoeur or Gadamer (and many others, of course). This plurality makes phenomenology stronger, I believe. The sense of things is indeed related to Husserl’s injunction to return to the things themselves.”

* As opposed to Heidegger’s negative attitude toward humanism, you argue that Gadamer’s position is quite affirmative in the sense that hermeneutics itself is a ‘human’ endeavor. Without regard to the recent debates on posthumanism or transhumanism, to what extent do we need a humanistic point of view?

JG: “Gadamer’s position is indeed quite affirmative in that he began his major work Truth and Method with a powerful rehabilitation of the main tenets of humanism, most notably the notion that the human being is in need of education (Bildung) and can develop his capacity of judgment, taste and common sense. This capacity can be developed by learning from history, literature, art, philosophy, religion, the dialogue with others, models, and not only through the objectifying mode of knowledge of pure methodological science.

Its view of the human condition also has the virtue of being an incarnated one, one that is rooted in the disquiet of the human heart (Augustine) and can help us resist the sheer unreality of posthumanism or transhumanism, which makes one shudder. We are always on the human side of things.”

* As a follow-up question, although it has distanced itself from the shadow of biblical hermeneutics of the previous centuries, philosophical hermeneutics as a study of ‘human’ understanding and finitude has not withdrawn the question concerning God. What makes the idea of God still important for philosophy? To be more specific, is religious experience related to this side, the human side, of the horizon, or to the beyond? Can we contemplate the possibility of a hermeneutical philosophy of religion?”

JG: “The idea of God has always been paramount for philosophy and the best philosophers (including Marx and Nietzsche) all had a solid religious upbringing. As Kant argued, the notion of God is essential to human reason and human reflection raises this question naturally. All humans also have very strong views on God and religion. Just go out on the street and ask them about their opinions on God and religion and you will confirm this is the case. Indeed, they have more views on this subject than any other philosophical subject. I don’t see how philosophy can move away from such a basic preoccupation of human reason.

There are indeed quite a few hermeneutical philosophies of religion. Authors such as Jean-Luc Marion, Charles Taylor (A Secular Age), Paul Ricoeur, Richard Kearney, Jean Greisch (who wrote a trilogy on the philosophy of religion) come to mind. I have written a modest booklet on the philosophy of religion, where I understood the term as a subjective genitive (i.e., the philosophy that is already integral to religion itself and prepared the way for philosophy). The younger Heidegger (and also the later one) had much to say about the religious experience, as did in his way Gadamer. The last piece Dilthey wrote a few days before his passing was also about religion. And let us not forget about Schleiermacher’s very impactful discourses on religion.”

* Last question for humanism: Gadamer’s later project of “going back to the beginning of philosophy” is another task he employed for hermeneutics. Do you agree with him? Is hermeneutics to be primarily used for reading human classics?

JG: “As a classical philologist and a philosopher it was only natural for Gadamer to reflect on the beginning of philosophy. I recall that the first lecture course of Gadamer I ever followed in Heidelberg, in the summer of 1977, was titled ‘On the Beginning: Heraclitus and Parmenides.’ This lecture course was one of the sources of his later book on the beginning of philosophy. Since philosophy is a discipline that resolutely starts with the beginning, to quote Schelling, it is a most legitimate field of hermeneutical inquiry, yet one that is also clouded in mystery since we have little knowledge of the beginning itself and know much more about what followed this beginning, especially since we have more texts of this later epoch and only fragments about the beginning. Needless to say, hermeneutical inquiry can be applied to many other fields, indeed to all, given the universality of hermeneutical understanding.”

* A few years ago, you published a book on understanding Heidegger and you also took into account his Black Notebooks for his trajectory of thought. Why does Heidegger still matter? How can we understand his Black Notebooks in regard to his corpus and philosophical project?

JG: “Heidegger matters immensely because he is a major philosopher and has much to teach us about the human condition, about language and art, about our history, modernity and modern technology. He matters mostly, I would say, because he identified correctly the nihilistic impasse of our technocentric civilization, which he traced back, correctly or not, to the Greek beginnings of metaphysics, thus enabling us to see the instrumentalism of technological thinking as a consequence of the nominalism of a certain metaphysical thinking. My contention with him would be that he was wrong in believing one had to go beyond metaphysics in order to overcome the nominalism and nihilism of modernity. I relied in this regard on Gadamer’s distance with Heidegger’s unyielding reading of metaphysics and its allegedly constraining language. I thankfully take up Gadamer’s discreet hints about another possible reading of metaphysics.”

* One can argue that hermeneutics arrived late to the philosophical problem(s) of body and corporeality — apart from the theological problems of incarnation. Heidegger (except the Zollikon Seminars) and Gadamer (except his several short works on health), perhaps because of the danger of reductionist materialism at their time, abstained from the phenomenological investigations of embodiment. In fact, as phenomenology has brought it to the fore, philosophical hermeneutics has mostly remained unconcerned. In your opinion, what was the main reason(s) for this lack of interest? We can also reflect upon Ricoeur’s idiosyncratic exemplar.

JG: “If phenomenology only came late to this question, one can only say: better late than never! However, I am not sure that is really true of phenomenology. There are many reflections of Husserl on the body and you refer rightly to Ricoeur and to his early work on Le volontaire et l’involontaire, to say nothing about Merleau-Ponty or Heidegger’s ideas on affectivity (Befindlichkeit, Stimmung, etc.). As for metaphysics, I also think it always had a lot to say about the body, starting with Plato and Aristotle. There was, to be sure, a certain disdain for the bodily in NeoPlatonism and its early Christian posterity, which is evidenced by the first sentence of Porphyry’s famous biography of Plotinus: “Plotinus was ashamed to have a body.” Yet, this is also a reflection on the body, which can be quite a burden! Christian metaphysics tempered this negative view of the body with its attention to the mystery of incarnation and Descartes wrote a magnificent treatise of the passions. So I would not speak of a lack of interest in the ‘body.’ It was always obvious, and front and center. What is forgotten today is perhaps the spirit.”

* Last, what is the future of hermeneutics? What kind of program would you suggest for contemporary hermeneutics?

JG: “I know nothing about the future except that it is unpredictable. Nor would I wish to suggest a program to others. I can only speak of what I modestly still hope to achieve and this would be to develop further the metaphysical dimension of hermeneutics because I believe it has been overlooked and has much to teach us, for instance about what culture and education are all about. I will also strive to apply the lessons I learned from the dialogue we just had, that is, I think we should all try to broaden the horizon of philosophy beyond the Western world, which is definitely limited. I also hope to develop further the hermeneutical philosophy of religion which would also take into account the religious traditions of other cultures. For these incentives, I am very grateful to you and for this dialogue.”

Coming Soon . . . Gadamer’s Truth and Method: A Polyphonic Commentary

Here’s a preview of a new commentary on Gadamer’s Truth and Method, edited by Cynthia R. Nielsen and Greg Lynch entitled, Gadamer’s Truth and Method: A Polyphonic Commentary (Rowman & Littlefield International, Forthcoming March 2022). Once the volume  is officially published, we will be sure to let you know. For now, here’s a brief description of the project along with the table of contents and list of contributors.

File:Polyphony.JPG - Wikimedia Commons
Paul Klee, Polyphony

Book Description

Hans-Georg Gadamer’s magnum opus, Truth and Method, was first published in German in 1960, translated into English in 1975, and is widely recognized as a ground-breaking text of philosophical hermeneutics. Unsurprisingly, this text has generated an extensive secondary literature, including a number of excellent studies and commentaries. The present volume brings to bear on this familiar text what might be thought of as an experimental interpretive approach: that of a polyphonic commentary. The term polyphonic means many-voiced, and it is first and foremost a musical term. In choral polyphony, for example, multiple voices sound together in a complex, back-and-forth musical dialogue. Similarly, the commentary presented in this volume consists of the voices of multiple authors, each of whom covers a portion of Truth and Method following the order of the text itself. Some of these voices are those of established writers who are familiar staples of the literature on Gadamer, others belong to the rising younger generation of Gadamer scholars. In organizing the text in this way our aim was to simultaneously pursue two interpretive goals. First, in adopting a commentary format, the volume aims to shed light on Truth and Method as a whole. It ensures both that the discussion covers the entire text (including those parts that have tended to receive scant attention) and also that it discusses the major themes of the work in the logical sequence in which Gadamer himself developed them. Second, in making the commentary polyphonic, we aim to highlight the wide range of ways in which the text has been understood and to give the reader a sense of where there are debates and conversations yet to be had. The result, we hope, is a volume that meshes unity and diversity in a distinctive way: the many voices are united in the common focus of allowing the text to speak in a way that is meaningful today.

Table of Contents

Introduction 

Editors’ Introduction
Jean Grondin Introduction

Part 1: Art

    1. Theodore George, TM 1.1
    2. Nicholas Davey, TM 1.2
    3. Daniel Tate, TM 1.3
    4. Jessica Frazier, TM 2.1
    5. Cynthia Nielsen, TM 2.2

Part 2: Human Sciences

    1. Kevin Vander Schel, TM1.1
    2. David Vessey, TM 1.2
    3. Carolyn Culbertson, TM 2.1
    4. David Liakos, TM 2.2
    5. Greg Lynch, TM 2.3

Part 3: Language and Linguisticality

    1. Carlo DaVia, TM 3.1
    2. Gert-Jan van der Heiden, TM 3.2
    3.  Jim Risser, TM 3.3

Comments on “Critical Fusion: Toward a Genuine Hermeneutics of Suspicion” from L. Simpson’s Hermeneutics as Critique

Below are my comments from a recent book panel on Lorenzo Simpson’s excellent book,  Hermeneutics as Critique: Science, Politics, Race, and Culture, at the North American Society for Philosophical Hermeneutics. At the conference, I  presented only half of the comments, so I thought it might be helpful to present them in full here. Enjoy!  Cynthia R. NielsenHermeneutics as Critique | Columbia University Press

Introductory Comments

Lorenzo Simpson’s book, Hermeneutics as Critique: Science, Politics, Race, and Culture, brings philosophical hermeneutics to bear on important contemporary issues such as race that have not been particularly prominent in the hermeneutical tradition.

As he states in the Introduction, “I steer philosophical hermeneutics along paths that it does not typically tread. I aim to develop a philosophical hermeneutics with critical intent and seek thereby to demonstrate the ongoing relevance of hermeneutic approaches to matters far beyond the field of literary and textual analysis” (1). Likewise in the Introduction he outlines some of the key criticisms leveled against philosophical hermeneutics, focusing on two in particular. The first is the claim that hermeneutics is “unable to critically interrogate the status quo of a given tradition” due to its concern with understanding others within their own context and terms. The second is the charge that hermeneutics amounts to relativism given its emphasis on the contextuality of knowledge” (7). In fact, one of the broader goals of the book is to help to create ways of dialoguing that “would bridge the gap between a merely culturally bound interpretation and a respectful transcultural criticism” (x).

In his previous work, Simpson attempts to strike a balance between the need to “acknowledge social and cultural difference” and “to counter claims that differently situated persons and cultures are . . . ineliminably opaque to each other” (8). Thus, his focus has been to develop a position that responds to incommensurability by “defending a framework in which differences of cultural viewpoints can be interpreted and understood as different perspectives on the same range of issues” (8). In his present book, he develops what he calls “critical hermeneutics” or “hermeneutics as critique,” which supplements and advances a largely Gadamerian framework (8). In fact, in the Introduction, Simpson articulates three aspects of Gadamerian hermeneutics that animate his argument: “[1] the idea of a dialogically enabled and endorsed fusion of horizons; [2] the nature of concept formation; and [3] the hermeneutic centrality of the ‘dialectic of question and answer’” (4) Regarding the need to supplement Gadamer’s account, Simpson points to the Habermas-Gadamer debates of the 1960s and 70s, in which Habermas claimed that Gadamer’s hermeneutics was incapable of granting a “systematic distinction between an ideological regime and a nonideological one” (9) Even though in the course of their continued dialogue, Habermas moved closer to Gadamer on several points, Habermas remained critical of Gadamer’s “more situated and contextualized account” of knowledge. In defense of his position, Gadamer argued that his view of prejudices as the conditions for knowing did not entail that certain prejudices were “beyond criticism.” In fact, as Simpson observes, Gadamer allows for both legitimate and illegitimate prejudices and intimates that such a distinction “could serve as an effective stand in for ideology critique. Simpson grants this distinction but seeks to develop a more robust account of how it might be deployed for critical purposes such as the critique of ideology.

Simpson’s book also aims to address criticisms levelled at Gadamer’s statements about hermeneutics’ universality. For example, he describes his present work as “a contribution toward the redemption of Gadamer’s claim that hermeneutics is ‘a universal aspect of philosophy’ (10). Part of Simpson’s strategy is to show how a Gadamerian critical hermeneutics can be deployed not only in the realm of social critique but also in the realm of scientific investigations. (Chapter 1, which I will not be discussing, is devoted to demonstrating how critical hermeneutics can be fruitfully brought to bear on scientific theory choice.)

Chapter 2: “Critical Fusion: Toward a Genuine Hermeneutics of Suspicion”

Now that I have offered a broad sketch of the book and highlighted some of its objectives, my remaining comments are directed at Chapter 2, which is entitled “Critical Fusion: Toward a Genuine Hermeneutics of Suspicion.” In chapter 2, Simpson’s aim is “to demonstrate the critical potential inherent in hermeneutical approaches to social and cultural understanding” (13). He begins by discussing three conditions, in which “internal or ‘immanent’ normative pressure” can be deployed hermeneutically in the investigation of social and cultural practices (13). The first condition is the fact that cultures are heterogenous rather than “homogenous wholes.” Likewise, cultural identity is neither uniform nor static but dynamic and always in process of negotiation. Cultural identity is thus better “understood as a ‘cluster’ concept, whereby certain elements of the set of features that collectively constitute one’s social identity may be revised as a result of critical reflection without resulting in the loss of identity” (13­–14). The second condition is his notion of “second-order rationality,” which is a “mode of rationality that has a culturally invariant purchase” (59). The third condition is what he refers to as “counterfactual dialogical critique” (59). I will discuss conditions two and three in more detail in the course of my commentary; however, first I turn to Simpson’s case for a hermeneutics of intercultural understanding.

Hermeneutics of Intercultural Understanding

Simpson contends that genuine—by which he means non-invidious—understanding of other cultures is possible. Essential to a critical hermeneutics and proper hermeneutic understanding is the interpreter’s ability to make intelligible the other culture in such a way that that culture would recognize itself in the interpreter’s account. That is, understanding another culture’s aims, assumptions, institutions, pursuits, and so forth are intimately connected to and make possible “meaningful critique” of the culture under investigation (61). Simpson goes on to say that “If we pay adequate attention to these facets of interpersonal or intercultural hermeneutic understanding, we will discover that the potential for meaningful critique is an ineliminable internal feature of such understanding” (61). Here Simpson begins to foreground what will become significantly more clear in the latter part of the chapter when he discusses how conditions two and three are operative in an intercultural exchange. Simpson’s description thus far highlights how he is working squarely within a Gadamerian framework. For example, what Simpson describes in this section is a hermeneutics of charity, which I take to be fully in line with Gadamer’s way of engaging texts, artworks, and so forth. Yet, Simpson’s development of Gadamer’s insights to show their critical import also serves as a counter to Habermas’ claim that Gadamerian hermeneutics is critically impotent.

As Simpson’s develops his account of intercultural dialogue, his use of  Gadamer’s notion of a fusion of horizons becomes evident. For example, Simpson writes that a genuine intercultural dialogue “will emerge from a distinctive kind of dialogue whose vocabulary does not fully precede the dialogue itself. It is rather a dialogue that is enabled by ongoing practices of forging commensurable or mutually enriched vocabularies for identifying and discussing differences, vocabularies that enable a mutually respectful exchange about matters of common concern among people differently situated” (61). What Simpson articulates strikes me as in complete harmony with Gadamer’s account of the fusion of horizons and the need to dialogically engage in a spirit of openness with, for example, a text or artwork, allowing it to speak and responding to what it has to say. The process of refining our projected meanings and assumptions is, for Gadamer (at least as I understand him), part of the process of forging a common language that can then give rise to mutual understanding about the subject matter at hand, which is, of course, different from mutual agreement. In other words, a common language is never given or assumed as already in place. (Simpson seems to suggest at times in this section that Gadamer assumes a common language.)  Rather, for Gadamer tradition—or better traditions—are, like cultures, always multiple, changing, and in process of being negotiated by the diverse parties that identify with particular traditions as well as those who find themselves in conflict with a particular tradition.

Other statements that Simpson makes about Gadamer’s notion of tradition and authority and how the two relate raise questions for me. For instance, Simpson states that Gadamer’s “tendency was to focus on the tradition that both text and interpreter share.” He goes on to add: “Gadamer is preoccupied [… with] the vertical relationship of an authoritative tradition to an interpreter,” whereas his own—that is, Simpson’s—approach focuses on “a horizontal relationship between interlocutors” (62). I take Gadamer’s view of authority to be, like traditions, also always under negotiation and contestation. That is, authority, contra certain Enlightenment characterizations, is not understood as that which one blindly accepts and in so doing signals intellectual laziness, as Kant might put it. In Gadamer’s critical remarks, he draws attention to and argues against the assumed false dichotomy between authority and reason that underlies certain Enlightenment philosophers (e.g., Descartes). In contrast, Gadamer’s view is that while authority can be and is abused, there can also be and are relationships and communities in which authority has a positive and non-dominating role. In such instances, authority is acknowledged because the person, community, institution, and so forth has demonstrated in practice that they are, in fact, knowledgeable, trustworthy, and in possession of some wisdom or know-how that one recognizes and from which one desires to learn. Consider someone who wants to learn jazz guitar and has the opportunity to study with Pat Metheny or John Scofield at Berklee College of Music. Both guitarists are recognized as master jazz guitarists and thus have a certain authority (based on their knowledge, skill, and grasp of the instrument and the tradition of jazz guitar-playing), and the school as an institution is known for its excellence in teaching and musical innovation etc. Given that recognition, there is a deference to those perceived as having more knowledge, understanding, experience, or know-how of a particular topic or skill, but that in no way means that the authority of the person, group, or institution can never be challenged, shown to be problematic, or outright rejected. Nor does it necessarily translate into an instance of intellectual laziness or irrationality but rather can be understand as acting in harmony with reason.

Before moving to the final section of chapter two, I want to briefly comment on Simpson’s intriguing discussion of the epistemological unavoidability of “some degree of ethnocentricism” (64). Simpson begins by making a distinction between an unavoidable“transcendental” ethnocentrism in our interpretive endeavors and a harmful ethnocentrism. Describing the former, he writes: “To see others as engaged in, say, argumentative practices or in morally relevant practices requires our experience with those kinds of practice as a touchstone. And we can be sure, to pick morality, that if another culture’s criteria for the application of moral terms demonstrated no overlap with ours, we would have no reason to think that they were engaged in moral discourse at all” (64). He goes on to say that this type of unavoidable enthnocentrism should not overly concern us and gives two reasons as to why this is the case. First, he states that we can discern the difference between “the ‘transcendentally’ necessary ethnocentricism” in which we cannot help but to draw upon and utilize our own ideas of rationality, cogency, and intelligibility and the harmful kind of ethnocentricsm (64). The latter, he notes, can be resisted and its problematic assumptions exposed through intercultural dialogue “aimed at mutually acceptable descriptions of the Sache and of its correlative contrasting practices” (64). In other words, successful hermeneutic engagement in which both parties come to a mutual understanding of the subject matter involves not only projecting possible meanings but also confirmation of those projections through dialogue with the other. If one’s projected meanings are shown to be incorrect, then one must be willing to revise one’s assumptions, projections, and interpretive theories. Here again, what he describes is thoroughly Gadamerian.

Moving to his second reason as to why we should not be overly concerned with the unavoidable type of enthocentrism, he writes:

Who ‘we’ are is always under revision. Our identities are best viewed as being open to nonfatal contestation because certain elements of the set of features that collectively constitute one’s social identity may be revised as a result of critical reflection without resulting in the loss of that identity. Such a threat to cultural identity need not be feared if we acknowledge that identity is a cluster phenomenon in the sense that few if any beliefs or professions of value, taken singly, are essential to an identity (65).

While I agree and resonate with Simpson’s claim that descriptions of the self are “open to contestable interpretations,” I wonder whether there is not more risk of losing one’s social or cultural identity in certain instances of critical dialogical engagements than is intimated. In other words, being hermeneutically open to the other involves real risk. For example, one could argue that some social and cultural identities seem to involve certain “professions of value and clusters of beliefs” that are so central to those identities that to give those up or to no longer be able to agree and “feel at home” with them would result in the loss of one’s social or cultural identity and would thereby cause a crisis through which one would have to navigate. Examples of such identities are traditional religious identities that require belief in certain core dogmas or perhaps similarly belonging to a political party or group that requires belief in certain values and support of specific practices, policies, and so forth. However, even if the risk is stronger that Simpson acknowledges, I don’t think this causes any major problems for his overall account, but rather underscores the open possibilities of our hermeneutic being and the reality that we are ever-and-always underway—that is, everything that constitutes our social identity, including our values, beliefs, practices, and ways of being are not rigidly fixed; rather, as socially and historically formed, our identities are dynamically lived and capable of being altered. When a radical change takes place, one’s social identity can be experienced as fundamentally upended such that an existential crisis of identity occurs, which then sets in motion the process of forming a new social identity. In short, with its emphasis on openness, finitude, and our historical conditioning, hermeneutics as a way of life involves genuine risk.

Toward a Critical Hermeneutics of Intercultural Understanding

In the last section of the chapter, Simpson elaborates how his approach offers critical responses to “differently cultured others” (65). He begins by stating the following maxim as a methodological assumption of cross-cultural understanding:  others have distinctive interpretations of the world that one can not only come to understand and respect but also from which one can learn. However, he quickly adds that this assumption is not an “indefeasible claim with respect to any particular case” and that there are “practices that defeat such a presumption” (66). Examples of such practices are human rights’ violations, which he discusses in his book, The Unfinished Project. Such abuses violate what he refers to as a “criterial property of the good life.” Spelling this out further, he adds: “I take the recognition of the centrality of the freedom of individuals to assent to or reject propositions put forward by others—propositions purporting to articulate what those individuals would endorse as being of central importance to them—to define a minimalist core of any set of criterial properties of the good life that would meet with reciprocal acknowledgment and survive the test of the conversation of humanity” (66). Hence, there is a kind of minimalist “ethic of human rights” that is required “for participation in such a conversation or as a claim about the minimalist core of any product of such a conversation” (65, 66).

Next, Simpson shows how his critical hermeneutics does not land us in crass relativism. It is in this part of the chapter that his notion of “second-order rationality” comes into sharper focus. Simpson begins by developing a counterargument to a view put forth by Richard Rorty. Rorty claims “that the only way to take seriously the distinction between the merely socially or culturally sanctioned, on the one hand, and the valid, on the other, is to adopt a discredited Platonic foundationalism.” Since no such foundation is forthcoming, there is “no non-question begging way . . . to critically evaluate or to referee conflicts between sociocultural practices” (67).

Contra Rorty, Simpson contends that one can appeal to internal grounds within cultural horizons for the purpose of critically evaluating social practices. Thus, it is not necessary to “appeal to anything beyond the standards of rationality or the central vocabulary of a particular cultural group” (67). Simpson adds that just as we can at least sometimes be shown and come to acknowledge that our own social practices and justifications for those practices are problematic and flawed, so too “there is no reason to think that others cannot be brought to see this as well” (67). Here we should recall Simpson’s earlier condition—namely, that cultures and social identities are never monolithic and have their own critical voices within—voices that offer critical arguments for why certain practices should be changed or done away with. In light of that reality, we can expect that, should we practice a hermeneutics of charity and take the time to understand a culture or group in a way that they would recognize themselves, a critical, cross-cultural engagement that could potentially bring about change is a genuine possibility.

In addition, every culture, whether explicitly or implicitly, claims that its practices and way of life offers the best path for its respective flourishing. At this point, Simpson appeals to his notion of second-order rationality. For example, he states that “This sort of culturally rooted validity claim provides the occasion or basis for a non-question-begging cultural critique informed by the presumption of what I call second-0rder rationality” (68). Moreover, second-order rationality, Simpson contends, is culturally invariant. As he explains: “It is the disposition or mode of rationality that we are entitled to impute to everyone—that is, an inclination to reform one’s practices in the direction of more rationality when one’s lack of rationality is pointed out in terms with which one is conversant” (68).  A key takeaway is that by utilizing this mode of rationality one can distinguish between “what everyone in a particular epistemic community happens to believe and what is, by their own lights, reasonable for them to believe” and all without having to appeal to external standards of rationality or networks of intelligibility (69). In a cross-cultural exchange of this sort, a community or group within a culture could be made aware of their own problematic practices and justifications for those practices and begin the process of negotiating changes.

Here we return to counterfactual dialogical critique, which Simpson describes as “a conversational modality that can be triggered by an encounter with a social or cultural practice […] that may seem questionable even when pursued in cultural contexts in which members of the affected group themselves seem to be part of the consensus in its favor” (15). Underlying his notion of counterfactual dialogical critique is the assumption that those in other cultures can, through dialogical engagement, come to see other interpretive possibilities and practices that would not only be fitting with their own cultural identity and traditions but would also be beneficial and even preferable to them once realized. The realization of such possibilities, Simpson observes, is often “suppressed not because such realization would offend against all intelligible interpretations of cultural identity but rather primarily because it would offend against particular interpretations, namely, those that may serve particular vested interests. For this reason, then, we should be on the lookout for interpretations of cultural identity that operate as cloaks or ideological veils concealing prudential, interest-based concerns” (72). Here we see what Simpson means by both a properly critical and a properly suspicious “hermeneutics of suspicion.”

The case that he discusses toward the end of chapter 2 is female genital excision as practiced in certain “parts of Africa, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia,” in which women themselves constitute part of the group in support of the practice (70).  However, there are some women within these cultures that find the practice problematic. Simpson argues that through properly critical hermeneutic dialogue (which he spells out in detail in the chapter), the community’s social and moral imaginary could be expanded and those who formerly either had no voice or could not conceive of any other options would be able to participate in the dialogue, share their perspectives and concerns, and help to create new social categories that cohere within the culture’s matrices of intelligibility and which are acceptable to the community’s tradition. In fact, some promising changes along these lines have occurred which have “led to the implementation of alternative noninvasive rituals marking female rites of passage” (79).

To wrap things up, Simpson’s articulation of counterfactual dialogical critique and second-order rationality in the context of intercultural dialogue offers a “modality for bringing to bear critical perspectives that are both sensitive to cultural difference and avoid an indiscriminate relativism”—both of which are significant, welcome contributions to philosophical hermeneutics and help to further develop the critical import of Gadamerian hermeneutics in particular (60).

[Note: In response to my comments, Prof. Simpson clarified that his interpretation of Gadamer’s view of authority is actually more similar to my interpretation than I had suggested.]

Book Spotlight: Kant’s Critique of Aesthetic Judgment in the 20th Century

This wonderful volume edited by Stefano Marino and Pietro Terzi offers the reader a comprehensive account of the influence and reception of Kant’s Critique of the Power of Judgment in the 20th century. The book consists in eighteen chapters and has an international list of contributors.

Chapters are devoted to Kant’s influence on the phenomenological and hermeneutical traditions. For example, Günter Figal’s chapter, “Blank Spaces and Blank Spots,” investigates Heidegger’s apparent ignoring of Kant’s third critique. That is, in both the “Origin of the Work of Art” and his 1936–37 lecture course on the same topic, where he critiques Erlebnis-Ästhetik “Heidegger presents the philosophical project of aesthetics without mentioning the book that in general is most closely associated with it: Kant’s Critique of the Power of Judgment” (61). Dennis J. Schmidt’s chapter, “The Place of Kant’s Critique of the Power of Judgment in Gadamer’s Hermeneutics,” charts Gadamer’s complex engagement with Kant in part 1 of Truth and Method. Although Gadamer’s hermeneutic-aesthetic project draws from Aristotle and Heidegger, Schmidt argues that the “Critique of the Power of Judgment is the key text in the formulation of hermeneutic theory for Gadamer” (76).

Chapters are likewise devoted to the Frankfurt School’s reading of Kant. For example, Tom Huhn’s chapter, “Disinterest and an Overabundance of Subjectivity,” shows how, despite Adorno’s embrace of Hegel’s critique of Kantian aesthetics and his (Adorno’s) own critique of the same, the influence of Kantian aesthetics persisted in Adorno’s thought.

The volume also includes various readings of Kant by key thinkers in the French tradition. For example, Anne Sauvagnargues’s chapter, “The Discordant Accord of the Faculties: Deleuzian Readings of Kant,” argues that although Deleuze often criticizes Kant, he regularly returns to Kant’s third critique and utilizes Kantian insights (often creatively reinterpreted) to develop his own thought. Sauvagnargues charts Kant’s influence on several of Deleuze’s texts including Difference and Repetition (1968) and especially in his late philosophy where “the importance of Kant and his analysis of the sublime stand out as major references in his philosophy of cinema, the image and time (The Movement-Image [1983] and The Time-Image [1985]) (195).

Also noteworthy is the detailed Introduction by Stefano Marino and Pietro Terzi, which does an amazing job—within a limited textual space—of tracing the history and geography of Kant’s reception. The volume comes highly recommended and will be of interest to Kant scholars as well as those interested in aesthetics, the philosophy of art, and the influence of Kant on contemporary German and French philosophical traditions.

NASPH/SPEP 2021 Satellite Session

For those planning to attend SPEP 2021, we invite you to attend the North American Society of Philosophical Hermeneutics’ Satellite Session which will take place on Sunday, Sept. 26, 11 am – 2 pm EST. (You have to register with SPEP to gain an access key. Please visit SPEP.com to register. ) Below is the program for the NASPH session. We hope to see you there!

Panel 1: “Hermeneutical Aesthetics and Ethics”

  1. Cynthia R. Nielsen (University of Dallas), “Gadamer and Street Art”
  2. Catherine Homan (Mount Mary College) “Gadamer and the Possibility of Poetic Education”
  3. Alexander Crist (Texas A&M) “Poetic Dwelling, Ethos, and Trust in Philosophical Hermeneutics: Gadamer on ‘Vertrauen‘ and ‘Rückkehr‘ in the Poetry of Hilde Domin”

Panel 2: “New Directions in Hermeneutics”

  1. Ken Archer (Catholic University of America), “Hermeneutics of Technology and Agency”
  2. Bruce Ellis Benson (U. Vienna), “Queer Hermeneutix: On Being the Stranger”)

Hot off the Press: The Gadamerian Mind & A Discount Code

The Gadamerian Mind, edited by Theodore George and Gert-Jan van der Heiden has now been published!  A brief description of the volume from Routledge’s website is listed below.  Our readers can receive a 20% discount by entering this code: FLY21.

Book Description

Hans-Georg Gadamer (1900-2002) is one of the most important philosophers of the post-1945 era. His name has become all but synonymous with the philosophical study of hermeneutics, the field concerned with theories of understanding and interpretation and laid out in his landmark book, Truth and Method. Influential not only within continental philosophy, Gadamer’s thought has also made significant contributors to related fields such as religion, literary theory and education.

The Gadamerian Mind is a major survey of the fundamental aspects of Gadamer’s thought, with contributions from leading scholars of Gadamer and hermeneutics from around the world. Thirty-eight chapters are divided into six clear parts:

Overviews

Key Concepts
Historical Influences
Contemporary Encounters
Beyond Philosophy
Legacies and Questions.

Although Gadamer’s work addresses a remarkable range of topics, careful consideration is given throughout the volume to consistent concerns that orient his thought. Important in this respect is his relation to philosophers in the Western tradition, from Plato to Heidegger.

An indispensable resource for anyone studying and researching Gadamer, hermeneutics and the history of twentieth-century philosophy, The Gadamerian Mind will also be of interest to those in related disciplines such as religion, literature, political theory and education.

New Publication Coming Soon: The Gadamerian Mind (Routledge)

Our readers will be interested in a new publication, The Gadamerian Mind, edited by Theodore George and Gert-Jan van der Heiden. The volume will be available for pre-order on August 25, 2021. A brief description of the volume from Routledge’s website is listed below. A preview of the proofs for Cynthia R. Nielsen’s chapter, “Gadamer on Play and the Play of Art,” can be found here.

Book Description

Hans-Georg Gadamer (1900-2002) is one of the most important philosophers of the post-1945 era. His name has become all but synonymous with the philosophical study of hermeneutics, the field concerned with theories of understanding and interpretation and laid out in his landmark book, Truth and Method. Influential not only within continental philosophy, Gadamer’s thought has also made significant contributors to related fields such as religion, literary theory and education.

The Gadamerian Mind is a major survey of the fundamental aspects of Gadamer’s thought, with contributions from leading scholars of Gadamer and hermeneutics from around the world. Thirty-eight chapters are divided into six clear parts:

Overviews

Key Concepts
Historical Influences
Contemporary Encounters
Beyond Philosophy
Legacies and Questions.

Although Gadamer’s work addresses a remarkable range of topics, careful consideration is given throughout the volume to consistent concerns that orient his thought. Important in this respect is his relation to philosophers in the Western tradition, from Plato to Heidegger.

An indispensable resource for anyone studying and researching Gadamer, hermeneutics and the history of twentieth-century philosophy, The Gadamerian Mind will also be of interest to those in related disciplines such as religion, literature, political theory and education.

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