Notes and Quotes: Habermas – A Review of Gadamer’s Truth and Method

June 10, 2012 — Leave a comment

Part 1

Habermas emphasizes linguistic structure and analytical reason with regards to the pluralism of language games. What does this mean? Perhaps that languages can be translated into one another? First of all, the distance of theoretical language from normal language. Second, ordinary language grammar itself transcends the language it determines since it can be translated across languages. This second point describes a unity of word and thing, linguistic structure and world-conception.

There is a reflexive element that Habermas is driving at:

“For we become aware of the boundaries drawn for us by the grammar of ordinary language by means of the same grammar.” (p336)

“Hermeneutic experience is the corrective through which thinking reason escapes the spell of language; and it is itself linguistically constituted…To be sure, the multiplicity of languages with which linguistics is concerned also poses a question for us. But this is merely the single question: how is every language, in spite of its differences from other languages, supposed to be in a position to say everything it wants? Linguistics teaches us that every language does this in its own way. For our part, we pose the question: how does the same unity of thought and speech assert itself everywhere in the multiplicity of these ways of saying, in such a way that every written tradition can be understood?” (Gadamer, Truth and Method, in Habermas, p336)

Analytical reason: Habermas is saying that reason is transcendent over language. Hermeneutics mistrusts any mediatizing of ordinary languages and refuses to step out of their dimension. Linguistic practice has a tendency of self-transcendence embedded in it of which hermeneutics makes use.

“Languages themselves possess the potential of a reason that, while expressing itself in the particularity of a specific grammar, simultaneously reflects on its limits and negates them as particular. Although always bound up in language, reason always transcends particular languages; it lives in language only by destroying the particularities of languages through which alone it is incarnated.” (Habermas, p336)

It seems that through a complex unpacking of the nature of language interactions (conversations, translations, learning to speak at all) Habermas is driving at the need for a dialectical structure (citing Wittgenstein) and the need for conversation partners to find a common ground, a consensus in language usage. There is a conflict between Wittgenstein and Gadamer: for Gadamer the life-worlds that determine the grammar of language games are not closed forms of life (open horizons), Wittgenstein suggests a monadological language experience where understanding is limited to the virtual repetition of the training through which native speakers are socialized.

On tradition:

“Tradition, as the medium in which languages propagate themselves, takes place as translation, namely, as the bridging of distances between generations. The process of socialization, through which the individual grows into his language, is the smallest unity of the process of tradition….With the first fundamental rules of language the child learns not only the conditions of possible consensus but at the same time the conditions of possible interpretations of these rules, which permit him to overcome, and thereby also to express, distance.” (p339)

Wittgenstein sees language practice as the reproduction of fixed patterns; ‘as if socialized individuals were subsumed under a total system composed of language and activities.’ (p340) This is a positivist outlook.

Part 2

On Gadamer’s fusion of horizons:

Habermas first gives an account of Gadamer’s conception of the fusion of Horizons:

“The interpreter is a moment of the same fabric of tradition as his object. He appropriates a tradition from a horizon of expectations that is already informed by this tradition. For this reason we have, in a certain way, already understood the tradition with which we are confronted. And only for this reason is the horizon opened by the language of the interpreter not merely something subjective that distorts our interpretation. In opposition to theoretically oriented language analysis, hermeneutics insists that we learn to understand a language from the horizon of the language we already know.” (p343)

Habermas here is recognizing that Gadamer’s fundamental assumption is that humans have a set of rules, or habits, to which they conform in the knowledge building process. In a sense, a tradition of socialization (learning language, learning body language, how to relate etc).

“Hermeneutics avoids the embarrassment of a language analysis that cannot justify its own language game; for it starts with the idea that learning language games can never succeed abstractly but only from the basis of the language games that the interpreter has already mastered. Hermeneutic understanding is the interpretation of texts in the knowledge of already understood texts. It leads to new learning processes out of the horizon of already completed learning processes. It is a new step of socialisation that takes previous socialisation as its point of departure.” (p344)

Habermas seems to agree with Gadamer on the flaws of an objectivist (historicism) outlook.

“From the perspective of hermeneutic self-reflection, the phenomenological and linguistic foundations of interpretive sociology move to the side of historicism. Like the latter, they succumb to objectivism, since they claim for the phenomenological observer and the language analyst a purely theoretical attitude. But both are connected with their object domain through communication experience alone and cannot, therefore, lay claim to the role of uninvolved spectators.” (p344)


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