PHIL 447/510: Hermeneutics and Critical Theory discussion

This post is primarily for the students of Professor Prabhu’s Hermeneutics class (Winter 2011), but anyone is free to join the discussion.

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1) if you want to introduce a new topic of discussion, please introduce it as a direct comment to this post.
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16 thoughts on “PHIL 447/510: Hermeneutics and Critical Theory discussion

  1. First, thanks to Daniel for an excellent class today. I'm afraid my question about the “structure” of language didn't do justice to the “Scope and Function of Hermeneutic Reflection.” I'll restate some of my concerns here, and if any of you see how today's topic can shed light on my concerns, please let me know. Otherwise I'll be happy to hear any comments.So, when Gadamer asserts “the essential linguisticality of all human experience of the world” (PH 19), at what point does his definition of language become so broad as to empty itself of meaning? Is pain essentially linguistic?Also, I was thinking of language in terms of early Heidegger, when he makes the distinction between discourse and language – discourse being the “articulation of intelligibility,” and language being “the way in which discourse gets expressed” (BT 204). (I should note that, by “articulation,” I think Heidegger is referring to something pre-linguistic – as in the process whereby meaningful distinctions are clearly made, prior to their being expressed and thus prior to language.) If experience is thoroughly linguistic, what's the difference between linguisticality and meaningfulness?Some of these concerns I inherited from previous classes. For example, I was curious as to the difference between Gadamer's “prejudice” and Heidegger's “attunement.” I'd guess that Heidegger's attunement doesn't involve judgments, whereas prejudice (to pre-judge) does. In which case, and in light of Gadamer's broad statements on linguisticality, I keep thinking of McDowell's idea that representational content is conceptual “all the way down.” There's a difference in that McDowell was motivated by epistemological concerns – trying to overcome the problem of foundationalism – and Gadamer was motivated by ontological concerns, but if experience is thoroughly linguistic, that must mean that simple perceptions involve judgments, right? That is, if Gadamer says we're thrown into a linguistic world such that “primordial” with our being are a set of judgments (prejudices), since judgments are beliefs and beliefs are paradigmatic of cognitive content and cognitive content is conceptual, then all experience is conceptual, right (conceptualism)? But perhaps this only works when we assume an isolated subject which spontaneously makes for itself representations of the world.So I suppose my basic concern is in distinguishing between meaning and language. Language seems representational to me. It expresses a meaning; it isn't the meaning itself. …Or is it? Are syntax, semantics, and pragmatics all ontologically “primordial” with meaning? In which case, when we speak of language as a tool which opens up possibilities, where does this “toolness” come from if it's no different from the “material” from which it is made?Ok, that's enough for me. I prefer being able to offer possible solutions to the problems I raise, but I'm throwing this out there just to maybe get a conversation going. Were I too think all this through to my satisfaction, I'd never have posted this comment. (Maybe that's why Socrates never wrote anything down?)

    1. I regret that I didn't make it to the discussion today. Perhaps, this interview can shed light concerning the questionable notion of “meaning” as “intention” from the perspective that Gadamer himself preferred to use to illustrate the notion of “meaning”; in the arts. 

      I do not know if your class is going in this direction but I do wish to respond to what seems to me a significant issue your questions of language as representational press upon ( and also from what I gather from Daniel's review question concerning the infinite regress of meaning using the hermeneutic method of interpretations). Here is a link that covers what I deem that relevant issues. 

       I apologies if my use of links to summarize point seems to some to detract from the conversation. They are an aid for explication and not meant to replace the dialogue. Also please forgive any typos as I am using my iPhone to write this.

  2. Oh my gosh. I just got an email from one of my friends (from a completely diffrent campus – Pepperdine). This conference is going to be HUGE!!!! I knew it would be, but oh my gosh – there are some many heavy weights in this event it's gonna be sick!!! Yeah!!! Kai.Here is the blog/schedule, you gotta check it out. http://conferencemodernitycrit…/

  3. “Essentially we are human beings embedded in language.” In our lecture on the 11th of February 2011, we were provided with four paradigms of language: linguistics, philology, referential, and ontological. According to Gadamer, the ontological approach to language is primary. From such a perspective language is a happening rather then a tool. The change in language is constant flow, a never-ending flow. Our job as thinkers, as truth seekers is to stand under the development/unfolding of language, to recognize and pay homage to the rich traditions that hand over terms and concepts. These four perspectives on language do not challenge each other, rather they enrich each other. The differences that separate these four paradigms are “some what within the world of each other.” They compliment each other and are intertwined; without these links they would be incomprehensible. Rimundo Panikar puts forth a paradigm of interpenetration (this concept is initially developed in regard to religion, but I believe we can expand this concept to the systems of language). The different paradigms are different paths leading to the same goal: knowledge, wisdom and understanding. “Just as there are different paths up a mountain leading to the same summit.” Each is right, each contains elements of truth that shed light on our situation, yet, each approach must be allowed to maintain its proper peculiarity. The difficulty with such an approach is that at a fundamental level some of the systems might contradict each other. These contradictions must be puzzled out in order to see what stands behind them. Everything about language is an open, ongoing process… When we enter a true dialogue with the Other, specifically a poem or a work of art, there will be an ontological resonance, a cultural, spiritual, human aspect that will be evoked within us. These highly complex emotional states that are brought-out of us by the Other represent an opportunity for growth. By embracing what the Other brings out of us and the conceptual articulation of what is brought forth we can expand our understanding of ourselves, our world, and what matters to us.We situate ourselves in relation to the Other when we embrace the tradition that the Other is working out of. Once we are situated in relation to the Other, then we can thematize our place in history and the role that history/tradition has played in the development of our world-view. -Siddiqui, Imran

    1. I completely sympathize with the wish to discuss these different linguistic paths to “puzzled out in order to see what stands behind them”, verses to sophomorically debate them and then declare one path the best. So in the spirit of “it's not who wins but how you play the game”, I do not wish to contest that “each contains elements of truth that shed light on our situation”.But as you have already recognize the great challenge of this, perhaps you or someone else would be so kind to help me better see my prejudices against the paradigm of language as reference, which makes it particularly difficult for me ( since reading Hume & Nietzsche) to do as you would suggest and “allow it to maintain its proper peculiarity”. It is this paradigm (as I understand Frege, Russell, and Wittgenstein to name a few who have developed it) that in trying to elucidate matters obscures and confuses the  nature of language as overly simplistic in it's usefulness. Language is more than a picture or a tool since you can not put this tool down. You can not speak of what is outside language to check if the picture resembles the object or give a full and definitive description of it. For what is language referring to exactly  if not more language?Our situation is always dramatized by the position from where we set our lights, so that the strong flood light that illuminates also casts strong shadows that dims other aspects. Hopefully, by unhinging fix lights, more can be seen.If I may appropriate your use of the metaphor of  “different paths up a mountain leading to the same summit” with respects to the playful relationship between journeys and goals. In what ways can we say that 'different' paths up a mountain lead to the 'same' summit? Surely we can appeal to longitudes and latitudes of the summit to identify it as the same summit, as well as the names that describes it. I do not contest this being useful,  but is this not one of the most superficial ways in seeing the mountain or the summit. The metaphor of the many paths while used to speak about the overlap and similarities between occupants who accent a mountain, I wish to use it to illustrate that the path one takes to the summit plays a more important role in determining how one experiences the summit. The different journey of a cross country hiker, compared to the journey of someone who was shuttled up the mountain's summit in a comfortable bus, I would suggest reveals a substantially different mountain and appreciation of the summit's view, even as well as the difference of the goals of viewer. Please excuse the long length of this response, if I was not texting this from my phone I could have made it shorter. Let me know if this helps.

  4. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”Logos can mean many things. According to all-knowing Google, “Heidegger logos” sayeth (…):1) Rede: “making manifest”/”to let something be seen”2) language: expression of rede (a derivation from “making manifest”)3) synthesis: “letting something be seen in its togetherness with something”4) logos in terms of “uncoverdness” vs. “coverdness,” i.e., truth or faleshood.

  5. _in defense of hermeneutic cliff notesI'll venture to come to Daniel's defense here regarding the value of a succint summary of key concepts to be used as reference points in orienting an understanding of a given topic, whether this summary comes in the form of cliff notes, spark notes, dictionaries devoted to particular philosophers, SEP articles, etc. The hermeneutic circle begins when we enter a dialogue with a set of presumptions – call it a fore-understanding or prejudice. This set of presumptions serves as an initial orientation with regard to the issue. Before we can enter a discussion, we need to at least think we know what's being discussed. Then after we enter it, of course this initial set of presumptions will be replaced by a more accurate understanding of what the issue is, and beyond (to its creative implications, for instance). In this sense, the succint summaries found in sources like cliff notes can be a good starting point. They can put us in the conversation. Even as we're in the conversation, these summaries could help us to keep in mind the big picture even as we focus in on details of that picture. This is another part of the hermeneutic circle. We must continually reference the whole as we look at the parts, and each serves to adjust our understanding of the other. I've found the SEP articles to be a big help in allowing me to keep some idea of a big picture in mind so I don't get lost in the details of what I happen to be studying. So in this sense, these summaries are very valuable. I thought the professor's reaction against the idea of referencing cliff notes was too strong. There is value there. I do, however, see two immediate ways that these summaries can be detrimental. First, in so far as they presume a set of fixed concepts structuring the debate, they can be counterproductive to dialogical play, if you will. That is, if the horizons of understanding a topic are set by fixed terms (or reference points), and we confine ourselves to those points, we might have trouble broadening those horizons. I actually think philosophy does this too much. We define a problem, and there's a point at which any attempt to redefine that problem gets met with, “but then you're talking about something else, so go ahead and do that and I'll hang on to my pet problem.” So if we use concise summaries like cliff notes as a starting point, that's good, but if we use them to tie us to a static conversation, we're tying ourselves to corpses. And this is related to the second way that I see how summaries like cliff notes might be less than helpful. It's related to the commodification of art. Placing a price tag on art removes it from the world in which it exists, or “lives.” Once a price is fixed, once a value is placed, there's no more re-evaluating discourse to be had with the work; it's now removed from the realm of dialogical appreciation. So, if after studying a topic, we return to cliff notes or the like to give us the “final word” on what's really valuable to know about it, then we're selling ourselves short. I think the way Daniel introduced the “cliff notes” subject in class was more in line with the positive side – that is, the idea of reference points which might serve as an initial orientation to a topic, not as a fixed limit to its exploration. I think the professor reacted in an unhelpful way by assuming the value of such things as “cliff notes” to be fixed in the negative sense. If they're an end, they're no good, but if they're a start, then I think they're valuable. And I think this valuable side illustrates well certain elements of the hermeneutic process.

    1. I'm embarrassed that I'm crossing the line of trolling the comments here… but nonetheless I'll respond anyway. My intention is not to debate in the hopes of reaching a hermeneutic understanding through agreement. For you have acknowledged that they presume a set of fixed concepts structuring the debate so that it is counterproductive to dialogical play. I write because I understand “play” to be the most powerful element of Hermeneutics.For more than just the appearance of being fair, I wish to mention that we are often told that we should be “charitable” when dealing with a philosopher. (Although Nietzsche's critique of morality makes that demand itself suspect as a power play.) Still, perhaps it can be more fruitful to interpret the motivations of a professor's reaction best as a resistance to “society's superstitious belief in experts”, as this was a recurring goal of both Gadamer and Habermas. This also affirms the Hericlitus, Nietzsche, Heidegger insight: that we are tying ourselves to corpses when we freeze our understanding into static objects. Systematic distorted communication is primarily a result of our lack to interpret for ourselves. I'm not denying both willful and ignorant manipulation as causes, only that we have less power to control it on that end. So it can not be combated by understanding through agreement but the real power of hermeneutics rest more on understanding through interpretation. The real danger is of one falling back on a less fruitful metaphor based on false ontologizing when expecting “meaning” to be completely grasped and passed on. Hermeneutics has outgrown it's “Hermes” metaphor of a pure form of meaning delivered from up above.Don't get me wrong,  I use secondary references all the time and have benefitted greatly from them. I have less problems with SEP than I do with sparknotes, but that is a matter of degree as I have even less of problems with referencing art and artist. While I understand getting clear on matters from another's analysis is useful as a start, in the end, redefining problems is Philosophy's real export.

      1. …just playing…I don't know much about Hermes, but ever since I snapped at Santiago when he defended Platonic forms in class I've been questioning my genuine understanding of them. Maybe Frege spoiled it for us. Maybe a characterization of Platonic forms as fixed structures is unfair. Maybe our interpretation of Plato is informed too much by our quantified lives living in our reductive science/capitalist evaluating age. Maybe Plato's forms had more to do with the act of interpretively seeking and defining for ourselves our own ideals – the end of which is eternally distant and thus unachievable and thus necessitating a process by which we find a “trajectory” toward “them.” After all, if we talk of 'treeness,' it's got to include all instantiations of trees. This could be interpreted temporally such that treeness is a (process-like) continuum that connects all trees. And this may be more in line with Aristotle's conception of form in his hylomorphism (matter + form). The hylo is the matter and the morph is the form. Does “morph” sound like something fixed? No. It sounds alive. Maybe we confuse form and matter because our attention is taken away from the vitality of being and reduced to the atomistic components that constitute being. …So what does it mean to be the “messanger of the gods”? Is Hermes carrying to us ideas fixed in eternity? Is that really the nature of “the gods” that the ancient Greeks had in mind? Somehow I don't think so. Somehow I think that, as Santiago was trying to suggest in class when I snapped at him, that the recognition of a form requires some effort on our parts – that, in fact, they can't be defined as independent of us. Maybe they originally (conceptually) understood the gods as being independent of us, but maybe they were just naive in not recognizing that the very conception of them as they were conceived was integrally dependent on some attitudinal orientation. Maybe they were naively reifying their opinions. (Think the stereotypical Mediteranian-region man who thinks his opinion is fact.) So maybe the Hermes metaphor isn't outdated after all, but it just needs reinterpretting.(Disclaimer: all of the above may or may not be productively insightful or otherwise expressive of my genuine opinion, given that it was given in a rather uninformed, off-the-top-of-my-head manner.)

        1. just playing? …as if playing were not enough?( I'm thinking more of the stereotypical Academic-region man who thinks his fact is not an opinion, in so far as it is an interpretation. Albeit, a very informed interpretation. ) However, I am all for reinterpreting the Hermes metaphor. Now that's what I'm talking about! Perhaps the first move would be to no longer assume we need a mediator between the gods and mortals, but rather we see that it was always us who play the role of Hermes and had the task of interpreting the message and translating it in our beautiful mortal tongue.

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