Archives For Hermeneutics

Those who believe this, and those who do not, have no common ground of discussion, but in their view of their opinions they must of necessity scorn each other. Plato

What are the implications of this with regard to empathy and understanding, social awareness and compassion; those catch cries and mantra’s of the contemporary ‘value creation’ zeitgeist? The zeitgeist of the rejection of traditional values, the decay and fragmentation of cultural institutions and as Popper asserts, the era of irrationalist doctrine seems to be the fruits of the German influence on the West. (see Alan Bloom, Nietzsche, Heidegger and the Frankfurt school)

“One of the components of modern irrationalism is relativism (the doctrine that truth is relative to our intellectual background, which is supposed to determine somehow the framework within which we are able to think: that truth may change from one framework to another), and, in particular, the doctrine of the impossibility of mutual understanding between different cultures, generations , or historical periods – even within science, even within physics.”
Popper: The Myth of the Framework

This could be framed as a problem directly related to Gadamer’s hermeneutics. Does the ‘framework’ correspond to Gadamer’s horizons? At the outset it seems as if this will become a question of degree; of determining a sensible approach to moral standards and judgments. To what extent is Gadamer’s hermeneutics outcome driven? Does he seek just to describe the state of man’s existence in the world and ability to interpret events/texts/reality? Or does he seek a normative approach to seeking truth? (this will determine the character of his relativism)

“The proponents of relativism put before us standards of mutual understanding which are unrealistically high.”
Popper: The Myth of the Framework

What is a realistic level of mutual understanding? The proponents of relativism are thus asserting that mutual understanding is impossible, which seems a contradiction to the mantra of ‘understanding’ delivered by the ‘socially aware’ social elites. Popper argues that such impossibility is not the case and that common goodwill can lead to far reaching understanding. This is a very different picture to mutual understanding. Mutual understanding asserts an equality of understanding for ones own set of beliefs (frameworks) and the others. Far reaching understandings asserts that ones own set of beliefs can maintain a hierarchy of priorities/values/ethics/morals whilst still ‘seeing’ or empathizing with the other. Common goodwill implies cultural institutions and traditions, as it is through these that the ‘common’ find expression.

“Furthermore, the effort is amply rewarded by what we learn in the process about our own views, as well as about those we are setting out to understand.” Popper: The Myth of the Framework

This has correlation to Gadamer’s fusion of horizons.

On tradition:

I hold that orthodoxy is the death of knowledge, since the growth of knowledge depends entirely on the existence of disagreement.Popper: The Myth of the Framework

Popper goes onto an exposition of the importance of culture clashes in the development of the intellectual characteristics of Western civilization. He sees the ‘framework’ as a direct opposition to the notion of argument and discussion. The ‘framework’ asserts that there is no access to the truth so therefore discussion and critical evaluation of reality is arbitrary.

The Myth of the Framework defined by Popper:

“A rational and fruitful discussion is impossible unless the participants share a common framework of basic assumptions or, at least, unless they have agreed on such a framework for the purpose of the discussion.” Popper: The Myth of the Framework

Popper is defending a directly opposite thesis:

“that a discussion between people who share many views is unlikely to be fruitful, even though it may be pleasant; while a discussion between vastly different frameworks can be extremely fruitful, even though it may sometimes be extremely difficult, and perhaps not quite so pleasant (though we may learn to enjoy it).” Popper: The Myth of the Framework

Cultural Relativism

Relativism is the result of over-optimism concerning the powers of reason – that is, the over-optimistic expectation concerning the outcome of a discussion. When it is discovered that a discussion doesn’t lead to victory for truth of one side over another (the chaotic and random nature of our existence and relations in the world), over-optimism turns to a general pessimism. This observation of Popper’s seems to me to fit perfectly with the pessimistic view of mankind put forward by those who embrace cultural relativism, especially those of the environment movement. On one hand you hear words of compassion and understanding (code for cultural relativism, and a particularly arrogant view; as if no one else has compassion or understanding) and on the other that mankind’s ascent from the darkness of deep-time is a malignant cancer on the earth (total pessimism). This also accounts for the psychology of the mistrust of the marketplace by the far-left.

In terms of difference between people and cultures, some are arbitrary. Fashion, music, language, arts etc, even what side of the road you drive on, comes down to gradual integration of the more appropriate and popular ideas (formats for cultural life). However, Popper introduces the elephant in the living room: institutions, laws and customs.

“Some countries and their laws respect freedom while others do less, or not at all. These differences are most important, and they must not be dismissed or shrugged off by a cultural relativism, or by the claim that different laws and customs are due to different standards, or different ways of thinking, or different conceptual frameworks, and that they are therefore incommensurable or incomparable. On the contrary, we should try to understand and to compare. We should try to find out who has the better institutions. And we should try to learn from them.” (Popper, p46)

This is crucial to the confusion of today’s discussion on issues such as multiculturalism and the vision for how our societies demographics are to play out over time. It seems to me that multiculturalism usually gets discussed by the (biased and often completely out of touch) media in terms of two extremes, neither of which anyone actually wants in reality. On the one hand, a totally culturally relative vision in which no critical thought or discussion between two different cultures is to take place, usually propped up by misguided accusations of racism, (this is the desirable mode for the countries media and politically correct) and on the other hand, an exclusive closed door culture (which I’m yet to be convinced actually exists). These are the terms of the discussion as they appear on the front page of the average newspaper.

“Cultural relativism and the doctrine of the closed framework are serious obstacles to the readiness to learn from others. They are obstacles to the method of accepting some institutions, modifying others, and rejecting what is bad.” Popper, p46 The Myth of the Framework

Cultural relativism also has to conclude that morality is identical with legality, custom or usage. popper relates this to Hegel, for whom truth itself was both relative and absolute. Hegel is followed by Marx, who (obviously) asserts that each mans conceptual framework is determined by his ‘social habitat’. Marx also asserted a difference between ‘bourgeois’ science and ‘proletarian’ science.

So, where to if the insight asserts that all things are relative, yet we need to be able to exercise critical judgements?

“Thus to the fallibilist the notion of the truth, and that of falling short of the truth, may represent absolute standards – even though we can never be certain that we are living up to them. But since they may serve as a kind of steering compass, they may be of decisive help in critical discussions.” Popper, p48 The Myth of the Framework


Notes from the Stanford Encyclopedia

Reliabilism has to do with truth-conduciveness. Reliabilism looks for truth-indicating properties.

“It is generally agreed that a person S knows a proposition P only if S believes P and P is true. Since all theories accept this knowledge-truth connection, reliabilism as a distinctive approach to knowledge is restricted to theories that involve truth-promoting factors above and beyond the truth of the target proposition. What this additional truth-linkedness consists in, however, varies widely.”

Can be thought of as such: a belief is knowledge if it is true, certain and obtained by a reliable process.

Non-inferential belief: a belief that is not a logical consequence of another belief (i.e. a belief which acquires its truth value via experiences in nature)

From Noah Lemos: An Introduction to the Theory of Knowledge

In “What Is Justified Belief?” Goldman contrasts ‘faulty’ belief producing processes, processes that typically produce unjustified beliefs, with those that typically produce justified belief. Things that cause faulty belief systems: confused reasoning, wishful thinking, reliance on emotional attachment, mere hunch, guesswork, and hasty generalization. Thus the task is to uncover the truth-conducive qualities of the belief.

Goldman distinguishes between belief-dependent and belief-independent processes.

Belief-dependent process: starts with some beliefs and yields other beliefs. Reasoning involves belief in a premise followed by belief in a conclusion.

Belief-independent: no inputs that are beliefs. Might include certain basic perceptual and introspective processes. “I believe that I am in pain.” (non-doxastic)

Conditionally Reliable processes refer to the idea that systems of beliefs derived from a set of propositions that are true, are likely to be true, and likewise false, if the premises are false.

Lemos summarises:

S‘s belief that p is justified if and only if (i) S‘s belief that p is produced by a reliable cognitive process, and (ii) there is no reliable or conditionally reliable process available to S which, had it been used by S in addition to the process actually used, would have resulted in S‘s not believing p.” (p89)

However, the idea of ‘availability’ throws up issues. What counts as an available process, and surely there must be room for unforeseen procedures i.e. undiscovered laws of physics in science.

Three Objections:

(1) the new evil demon problem

This refers to the Cartesian demon which (Matrix style) tricks you into thinking you perceive. For instance, Cogito ergo sum, might be a deception from an unknown force. The new evil demon problem suggests a possible hypothetical world with a person who has been caused to perceive experiences just like ours. His perceptual experience is phenomenologically indistinguishable from ours. On this basis he forms a system of beliefs about his surroundings. However, due to the premise of the deceiving demon, these beliefs are false. Many philosophers would argue that these beliefs are epistemically justified. For instance, a coherentist could argue that the beliefs are coherent amongst themselves regardless of the faulty ‘foundation’. Reliabilism however asserts that due to the deceiving demon this is an unreliable process. Therefore, if this is to be taken as justified, reliable process is not a necessary condition for justified belief.


A is a normal person
B is a brain in a jar connected to a very powerful computer (commonly ‘a brain in a vat’ in texts)

The computer stimulates B in such a way as to cause it to have perceptual experiences.

A and B have the same perceptual experience. They both believe they have two legs, two arms, are sitting in a lecture hall and listening to a lecture.

B‘s beliefs about its environment are totally false.

Many would argue with sound logic that because both A and B have the same perceptual belief, and A is true, then B is true as well.

(is there space here for a relativism discussion, moral and cultural?? Perhaps the same ideological forces that shape philosophical views about relativism shape epistemological views as well)

Reliabilism asserts that B’s perceptual experiences are not reliably produced and therefore not justified. This is the simple point of contention between reliabilist’s and non-reliabilist’s.

(2) the problem of unknown reliability

From BonJour:

“Norman, under certain conditions which usually obtain, is a completely reliable clairvoyant with respect to certain kinds of subject matter. He possesses no evidence or reasons of any kind for or against the general possibility of such a cognitive power or for or against the thesis that he possesses it. One day Norman comes to believe that the President is in New York city, though he has no evidence either for or against this belief. In fact the belief is true, and results from his clairvoyant power under circumstances in which it is completely reliable.” (Lemos, p92)

BonJour holds that this is not justified belief even though it is reliably produced. The belief needs to be ‘cushioned’ in a set of other justified beliefs. Thus, according to BonJour, reliability is not a necessary condition for justified true belief.

(3) the generality problem

The problem here is identifying the process which leads to the belief. Lemos takes the example of looking out of a window at night and seeing a full moon. Thus proposition A: There is a full moon tonight. There are 4 possible processes:

a) perception
b) visual perception
c) visual perception at night
d) visual perception of a brightly illuminated object

It seems reasonable to believe that (d) is more reliable than (c). (d) will mean that the belief is well justified. (c) will mean that the belief is not as well justified. Reliabilism needs to be able to tell us which processes are relevant to justification. This remains an unclear area of reliabilism.

A thought and a connection:

I would like to address the issue of how one knows whether belief B has been reliably produced or not. Surely there is always a wider view to which one has not been exposed. Take the concept behind Gadamer’s fusion of horizons. Interpretation is a dialogical process, which grows and moves in unpredictable and unknown directions, and to which there can be no applied method. Is the regress to a foundation, or search for a reliable production line, or system of inter-connected justifications (coherentism – which to me at this stage is looking the most robust) not a similar metaphor and phenomenological case as Gadamer’s hermeneutical horizons?

Overarching Question: How does Nietzsche think history should be used to advance life? Is his position convincing?

What’s the problem Nietzsche is trying to solve?

How does he propose to solve it?

Does his solution work?

Text: Untimely Meditations: On the uses and disadvantages of history for life

History must not be a costly superfluity and luxury. It must not merely instruct but invigorate. “[…] the superfluous is the enemy of the necessary.” (p59)

Nietzsche asserts that we need history, but not for idle knowledge. He addressing symptoms of his own time, and in particular the character of the movement of German thought in the generations leading up to him. Goethe asserts:

“when we cultivate our virtues we at the same time cultivate our faults.” (P60)

Nietzsche seems to be saying there is a historical interest that permeates German culture, potentially to its detriment. He recognizes himself as a classicist and therefore a historian, though claims that classical studies are untimely in that they counter our own time, thereby acting on it, hopefully, for the benefit of a time to come.

Nietzsche attributes the cow in the field ‘happiness’ as it has no memory. It does not know what is meant by yesterday or today. Man is tied to a chain of memories, which equal a chain of moments, for which each moment significantly disturbs the peace of a later moment. Thus the animal lives unhistorically. Man lives historically:

“Man, on the other hand, braces himself against the great and ever greater pressure of what is past: it pushes him down or bends him sideways, it encumbers his steps as a dark, invisible burden which he can sometimes appear to disown and which in traffic with his fellow men he is only to glad to disown, so as to excite their envy.” (p61)


“In the case of the smallest or of the greatest happiness, however, it is always the same thing that makes happiness happiness: the ability to forget or, expressed in a more scholarly fashion, the capacity to feel unhistorically during its duration.” (P62)

On forgetting, and perhaps Nietzsche will extend this thought from the individual to the collective:

“Imagine the extremest possible example of a man who did not possess the power of forgetting at all and who was thus condemned to see everywhere a state of becoming: such a man would no longer believe in his own being, would no longer believe in himself, would see everything flowing asunder in moving points and would lose himself in this stream of becoming: like a true pupil of Heraclitus, he would in the end hardly dare to raise his finger. Forgetting is essential to action of any kind, just as not only light but darkness too is essential for the life of everything organic.” (p62)

The basic thesis:

“[…] there is a degree of sleeplessness, of rumination, of the historical sense, which is harmful and ultimately fatal to the living thing, whether this living thing be a man or a people or a culture.” (p62)

How great is the plastic power of a man, a people, a culture? There has to be a way to determine this. Plastic power means the capacity for self-correction and growth, to be able to heal wounds, develop wisdom etc.

The strength of a man’s inner-most roots determine his assimilation of things of the past. The most powerful nature, the most powerful set of roots, would be characterised by the fact that it would not recognize the boundary at which the historical sense began to overwhelm it. If a culture let’s past transgressions prevent it from acting into the future, historical conscience has become a debilitating force. A weak person will be destroyed by one single bad/painful event.

“That which such a nature (the powerful man) cannot subdue it knows how to forget; it no longer exists, the horizon is rounded and closed, and there is nothing left to suggest there are people, passions, teachings, goals lying beyond it.” (p63)

Proposition and thesis number two:

“[…] the unhistorical and the historical are necessary in equal measure for the health of an individual, of a people, and of a culture.” (p63)

A man’s horizon of history and knowledge does not determine his happiness nor social acceptance. An unwieldy horizon may cause sickness and collapse. (Nietzsche’s own sentiment to sickness always shining through)

“Is it true that only by imposing limits on this unhistorical element by thinking, reflecting, comparing, distinguishing, drawing conclusions, only through the appearance within that encompassing cloud of a vivid flash of light – thus only through the power of employing the past for the purposes of life and of again introducing into history that which has been done and is gone – did man become man: but with an excess of history man again ceases to exist, and without that envelope of the unhistorical he would never have begun or dared to begin. What deed would man be capable of if he had not first entered into that vaporous region of the unhistorical?” (p64)

Humans can only act without conscience and knowledge. A goal must be striven for in an unhistorical condition. A human must love his deed more than the deed deserves to be loved; the finest deeds take place in such an abundance of love.

The Supra-historical vantage:

An intensity of consciousness which is exceptionally great. The viewer from this vantage point could no longer have any temptation to go on living, nor participate in history. (p65) He would recognize the necessary unhistorical condition for action: “[…] to answer his own question as to how or to what end life is lived.” (p65)

The historical being: “[…] believe[s] that the meaning of existence will come more and more to light in the course of its process […]” (p65)

The supra-historical man sees no salvation in the process of existence. the world is complete and reaches its finality at each and every moment. Therefore there is little to be found in the past, or in projection to the future. The supra-historical man is one of revelation of the present moment.

For the supra-historical man: “the past and the present are one, that is to say, with all their diversity identical in all that is typical and, as the omnipresence of imperishable types, a motionless structure of a value that cannot alter and a significance that is always the same.” (p66)

However, our (normal people) un-wisdom is conducive to life and at any rate indeed has a future. Life and wisdom are the antithesis of one another.

Knowledge and history:

“A historical phenomenon, known clearly and completely and resolved into a phenomenon of knowledge, is, for him who has perceived it, dead: for he has recognized in it the delusion, the injustice, the blind passion, and in general the whole earthly and darkening horizon of this phenomenon, and has thereby also understood its power in history. This power has now lost its hold over him insofar as he is a man of knowledge: but perhaps it has not done so insofar as he is a man involved in life.” (p67)

The study of history must be supplementary to a culture that is regardless evolving, dominated and directed by a higher force, not dominated and directed by history.

Here is the logic against history as a science: for history must be in the service of the unhistorical action oriented movement of culture. Therefore, history is subordinate to such forward progression. Science is the aim at a conclusion for life, a settling of accounts, and history leads to degeneration of life, and eventually of itself. History is in the service of unhistorical power. Unhistorical power is the cradle of the scientific urge. Therefore, the scientific urge and history do not belong together.

History is subordinate to an unhistorical power, in the service of life. The question of degree with regards to historical consciousness is the important area of thought.

History pertains to the living man in three respects:

as a being who acts and strives
as a being who preserves and reveres
as a being who suffers and seeks deliverance

This corresponds to three species of history:


“That the great moments in the struggle of the human individual constitute a chain, that this chain unites mankind across the millennia like a range of human mountain peaks, that the summit of such a long-ago moment shall be for me still living, bright and great – that is the fundamental idea of the faith in humanity which finds expression in the demand for a monumental history.” (p68)

Cultural need for monumental history:

“In this transfigured form, fame is something more than the tastiest morsel of our egoism, as Schopenhauer called it: it is the belief in the solidarity and continuity of the greatness of all ages and a protest against the passing away of generations and the transitoriness of things.” (p69)

Greatness that once existed can exist again. Monumental history serves as a reminder to the project of civilization that which has been possible.

A hint at the eternal recurrence:

“Only if, when the fifth act of the earth’s drama ended, the whole play every time began again from the beginning, if it was certain that the same complex of motives, the same deus ex machina, the same catastrophe were repeated at definite intervals, could the man of power venture to desire monumental history in full icon-like veracity, that is to say with every individual peculiarity depicted in precise detail: but that will no doubt happen only when the astronomers have again become astrologers. Until that time, monumental history will have no use for that absolute veracity: it will always have to deal in approximations and generalities, in making what is dissimilar look similar; it will always have to diminish the differences of motives and instigations so as to exhibit the effectus monumentally, that is to say as something exemplary and worthy of imitation, at the expense of the causae: so that, since it as far as possible ignores causes, one might with only slight exaggeration call it a collection of ‘effects in themselves’, of events which will produce an effect upon all future ages.” (p70)

“As long as the soul of historiography lies in the great stimuli that a man of power derives from it, as long as the past has to be described as worthy of imitation, as imitable and possible for a second time, it of course incurs the danger of becoming somewhat distorted, beautified and coming close to free poetic convention; there have been ages, indeed, which were quite incapable of distinguishing between a monumentalized past and a mythical fiction, because precisely the same stimuli can be derived from the one world as from the other.” (p70)

Monumental history is mythologized, “individual embellished facts rise out of it like islands.” (p71)

Monumental history is dangerous as it creates a false vision of destiny. Through it the courageous are inspired to foolhardiness, and the inspired to fanaticism. (p71) Through it empires are destroyed, wars and revolutions launched; there are effects without sufficient cause; “Effects in themselves”. (p71)

Monumental history has a paralysis effect: while any art, because contemporary, which is not yet monumental, seems unnecessary and unattractive and lacking in authority conferred by history, the monumental cannot be repeated and so connoisseurs of art do away with art all together. New greatness cannot emerge as greatness already exists. Nietzsche recognizes this as a psychological disposition:

“Monumental history is the masquerade costume in which their hatred of the great and powerful of their own age is disguised as satiated admiration for the great and powerful of past ages, and muffled in which they invert the real meaning of that mode of regarding history into its opposite; whether they are aware of it or not, they act as though their motto were: let the dead bury the living.” (p72)

So there are two concerns here: what monumental history actually is, and its subsequent use and misuse in society.

Antiquarian history: Talking about the man who preserves and reveres, to whom history belongs in second place: “By tending with care that which has existed from of old, he wants to preserve for those who shall come into existence after him the conditions under which he himself came into existence – and thus he serves life.” (p73) Ancestral goods, the inheritance of history possess this soul, rather than he they. Nietzsche relates this antiquarian sentiment with the health of a culture and nation. He says that this history can help a people be comfortable with their domestic situation, environment and companions; that his is healthy for a community. When a nation is seized by the desire expedition and adventure: “the condition a nation gets into when it has ceased to be faithful to its own origins and is given over to a restless, cosmopolitan hunting after new and ever newer things.” (p74)

“[…] the tree is aware of its roots to a greater degree than it is able to see them; but this awareness judges how big they are from the size and strength of its visible branches. If, however, the tree is in error as to this, how greatly it will be in error regarding all the rest of the forest around it!” (p74)

Nietzsche also likens antiquarian historical sentiment with relativism, where field of vision is restricted, and what can be seen is close up and isolated, thus distinguishing between things in a way that does justice to them is distorted: there is a lack of discrimination of value and proportion.

“Antiquarian history itself degenerates from the moment it is no longer animated and inspired by the fresh life of the present. Its piety withers away, the habit of scholarliness continues without it and rotates in egoistic self-satisfaction around its own axis.” (p75)

Antiquarian history knows how to preserve but not engender life. It hinders any form resolve to attempt something new.

Critical history: “he who is oppressed by a present need, and who wants to throw off this burden at any cost.” (p72)

History becomes a ‘devastating weed’ through the thoughtless transplantation of each species history: “the critic without need, the antiquary without piety, the man who recognizes greatness but cannot himself do great things.” (p72)

In section 4 Nietzsche comes to frame the problem he recognizes in his contemporary context. The natural relationship of a nation, culture and age to its history is characterized by desire only in the service of the future and the present. Nietzsche claims that this natural relationship, that history serve the future and the present, has been disturbed by the demand that history should be a science: historicism.

“[…] all that has ever been rushes upon mankind.” (p77)

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)

Philosophy of science is going to be an invaluable tool in analyzing this argument as it is hermeneutics claim (as represented by Gadamer) to universality that Habermas points out leaves no room for criticism in the social or natural sciences. If we are subject to our horizons of prejudice and preconception, how can science or social science critique? Gadamer claims that this state of being is not normative, it just simply is. To what extent would Popper or Kuhn, or even Einstein, agree?

Part 1

Habermas starts out by grouping hermeneutics (the art of understanding) with linguistic communication.

“Understanding of meaning focuses on the semantic content of speech, but also on the meaning contained in written forms of expression or in non-linguistic symbol systems, so far as such meanings can, in principle, be ‘recovered’ in speech.” (p294)

“Philosophical hermeneutics is a different matter: it is not an art but a critique – that is, it brings to consciousness in a reflective attitude experiences which we have of language in the exercise of our communicative competence and thus in the course of social interaction with others through language.” (p294)

Habermas is separating out a natural hermeneutical capability we as humans have, which is linguistic, from a philosophical hermeneutics which is critical, and also an extension, or clearer, second tier philosophical hermeneutics that is an inquiry into the structures of colloquial communication.

A fundamental assumption in philosophical hermeneutics is that natural language is sufficient to clarify the meaning of any configuration of symbols. We can translate from any language into any other.

Here he makes a comment on history, worth making a note of:

“We can place the objectifications of the most remote period and the most alien culture in understandable relationship to the familiar (that is, previously understood) context of our own surroundings.” (p294)

With regards to cultural distance:

“The inter-subjectivity of colloquial understanding is in principle as limitless as it is fragmentary: limitless, because it can be enlarged at will; fragmentary, because it can never be exhaustively constructed. That is as much true of contemporary communication within a socio-culturally homogeneous language community as it is of communication which takes place over the distance between different classes, cultures and time periods.” (p295)

Habermas is very wordy in his description of the reflexive nature of language and its potential and ability to permit ad hoc stipulation and commentary on individual statements:

“For every natural language is its own meta-language.” (p295)

Next comes the observation that such freedom of movement in language is dependent upon linguistic tradition itself, and so language competence is dependent upon a context which has been dogmatically transmitted and implicitly pre-established. This has clear links to Heidegger and developments in linguistic philosophy, and soon follows with mention of understanding being unavoidably biased. Here the Gadamer debate hones into view:

“in the process of learning, he merely forms a new preconception, which in turn becomes the reigning preconception at the next hermeneutical step. That is the meaning of Gadamer’s statement: ‘effective historical consciousness is inescapably more existence than it is consciousness.'” (p296)

Here the Heideggerian foundation can be detected in acknowledging that subjectivity is the natural state of consciousness, therefore existence. Habermas will undoubtedly employ logic and language to reason against this ‘outcome’ of investigating understanding, but his own ideological frameworks must always be kept in view. To what extent does a Marxist/materialist outlook hold validity if we accept the proposition of subjective existence?

Habermas argues that in the reverse order communication, convincing and persuading, colloquial language also shapes and alters attitudes which inform behavior. (p296) This is a structuralist argument and one can see a conflict arising with unescapable subjectivity. For if subjectivity is shaped by language, then subjectivity can be changed if language is changed. There is also an argument about the social framework of society here regarding decisions that are made about normal behavior, standards etc. Such decisions are arrived at via convincing speech:

“[…] practical questions can be decided only through dialogue and therefore remain bound to the context of the colloquial language.” (p296)

Habermas next turns to the individuals capacity to influence a ‘corporate’ body of men, and the obverse of this power, the powerlessness of the subject vis-a-vis familiar language games:

“[…] the grammar of language games must become a constituent part of the personality structure.” (p297)

Language games are a clear reference to Ludwig Wittgenstein.

The next element of consideration for the speech/language experience is actions and gestural forms of communication. Skillful speech has power over practical consciousness due to the fact that a natural language cannot be adequately grasped as a system of rules for semantically meaningful expressions. It is dependent on its context i.e. body language:

“The rhetorical experience thus teaches us to see the connection between language and praxis.” (p297)

Language and behavior interpret each other reciprocally.

“The grammar of language games, understood as a complete life-praxis, governs not only the combination of symbols but the interpretation of linguistic symbols through actions and expressions.” (p297)

This reciprocal power relationship between language and praxis will be the site of Habermas’ critique of Gadamer’s dialogic approach to knowledge (my conjecture at this early stage in reading).

How is hermeneutics different from linguistics?

“Reflexivity and objectivity are as fundamental to language as creativity and the integral relationship between language and life praxis.” (p297)

Hermeneutics means to investigate the structures of natural language, and engage in a ‘reflective use of communicative competence.’ Linguistics is limited to ‘linguistic competence’, as distinct from communicative competence. This linguistic competence refers to the ability of an ideal speaker who has full command of the abstract rule system of a natural language. (Chomsky) Linguistics is concerned purely with langue (the deep structure that produces our ideas), whereas hermeneutics takes into account the dimension in which langue is transformed into parole (a specific instance of speech or writing).

“Further, the goal of linguistics is a reconstruction of the rule system which underlies the production of all the various grammatically correct and semantically meaningful elements of a natural language, whereas hermeneutics reflects on the principle experiences of a communicatively competent speaker (whose linguistic competence is tacitly presupposed).” (p298)

Hermeneutics brings to light for the knowledge seeker his inherent freedoms and dependencies with regards to language. However, philosophical hermeneutics cannot define communicative competence. This is the task of linguistics. This means, according to Habermas, that the subjectivity of the speaker remains fundamentally untouched in the field of hermeneutics.

Two ways in which hermeneutics is significant:

1) “Hermeneutical consciousness demolishes the objectivistic self-conception of the traditional human sciences. Given the bond between the interpreting scholar and the hermeneutical situation from which he starts, it follows that impartiality of understanding cannot be secured by abstraction from preconceived ideas, but alone through reflection on the effective historical relationship in which the knowing subject always stands to its object.” (p298)

2) “hermeneutical consciousness calls to the attention of the social sciences problems which arise from the symbolic ‘fore-structuring’ of their investigation field.” Essentially, all observation is theory laden and must be treated as such with regard to the scientific method. (p299)

3) “[…] natural language always plays the role of an ‘ultimate’ metalanguage for all theories expressed in formal language […]” This explains the epistemological rank of colloquial language in the research process.

4) “[…] the translation of momentous scientific information into the language of the social world at large.”

This is a new territory for hermeneutics argues Habermas:

“Hermeneutical consciousness originates in reflection on our activity within natural language, while the interpretation of the sciences for the world at large must mediate between natural language and monlogical language systems.” (p300) By monological language systems Habermas is referring to sciences characteristic ability to produce knowledge and make statements about things by proceeding via controlled observation, where the ‘mirror’ (reflection) of human speech needs no attention.

Habermas questions the validity of hermeneutics claim to universality:

“Is it possible to have an understanding of colloquial configurations of symbols themselves that is not bound by the hermeneutical presuppositions of context-dependent processes of understanding, that in this sense cheats the natural language of its role as ultimate meta-language? Since hermeneutical understanding must always proceed ad hoc and cannot be developed into a scientific method (can at most reach the level of an art through discipline and training), this question is equivalent to asking whether there can be a theory appropriate to the structure of natural languages which provides the basis for a methodologically ensured understanding of meaning.” (p301)

Habermas suggests two avenues of inquiry to find an answer to this problem: 1) the application of hermeneutical understanding is limited by undertakings of explanation by psychoanalysis and critique of ideologies (in so far as it involves collective behavior), and 2) the search for a universal theory of linguistics, which amounts to the reconstruction of a rule system which would adequately define universal linguistic competence. Of the first, the primary suggestion is that the subject who expresses himself is unaware of his own intentions:

“A theory of colloquial communication, consequently, must first open the way to pathologically buried meaning. If the claim to produce such a theory were to prove valid, an explanatory understanding were then possible which would be able to pass beyond the limits of hermeneutical understanding of meaning.” (p301)

Of the second, the goal is to assign a structural description from the theoretical language unequivocally to every element of natural language. The structural descriptions expressed in the theoretical language would be able to take the place of hermeneutical understanding of meaning. (p301)

This comes into direct contact with the philosophy of science, through which both ideas are basically refuted. First of all, Popper’s assertion that both psychoanalysis and political criticism (such as Marxism) are pseudo-sciences due to their mutable/adjustable natures. Secondly, that science (whether you be a realist or anti-realist) is in a state of change, paradigm and constant falsification. This is the character of science and in so being is unsuitable as the basis of a system of structural descriptions to be applied to natural language.

Habermas asserts that psychoanalysis is a critical science. On this I invoke Karl Popper and simply disagree. These are not good options to replace universal hermeneutics as they appear as attempts to assert control and systemization over the language game, rather than artful engagement with it. It seems that Habermas seeks to replace the problem of subjectivity and structure of language as a dominant force, with a system of analysis, which in turn equals a system of analysis control.

Part 2

Habermas invokes the concept of pseudo-communication – where unintelligibility results from a faulty organization of speech itself (as opposed to disturbances which might appear in psychotics, outside of normal speech). In pseudocommunication disruptions of speech are not noticed by parties involved. hermeneutics does not put a universal criterion at our disposal which would tell us when we are caught up in the false consciousness of a pseudo-normal understanding. Following this point comes an analysis of Freud who thoroughly explored systematically displaced communication, of which the dream is the normative phenomena. Freud extends this from conception of systematically distorted communication to the hidden pathology of entire social systems. What follows is a complex account of Freudian speech analysis. It has to be said that this needss to be treated with caution considering Habermas’ claim that it is a critical science.

Part 3

“Indeed, the implicit knowledge of the determinants of systematically distorted communication, which is presupposed by the depth-hermeneutical use of communicative competence, is enough to call into question the ontological self-conception of hermeneutics which Gadamer explicates, following Heidegger.” (p313)

Hermeneutics (via Gadamer) is context-dependent. It is supported by tradition and develops constantly a new preconception.

Quote Gadamer in Habermas:

“Is the phenomenon of understanding adequately defined if I say: understanding means avoiding misunderstanding? Does not, in truth, every misunderstanding presuppose the existence of something like a standing agreement?” (p313)

“Gadamer, if i am correct, is of the opinion that the hermeneutical elucidation of unintelligible or misunderstood expression must always refer back to a prior consensus which has been reliably worked out in the dialogue of a convergent tradition. This tradition, however, is objective for us, in the sense that it cannot be confronted with a claim to the truth on principle. The inherently prejudiced nature of understanding renders it impossible – indeed, makes it seem pointless – to place in jeopardy the factually worked out consensus which underlies, as the case may be, our misconception or lack of comprehension. Hermeneutically, we are obliged to have reference to concrete pre-understandings which, ultimately, can be traced back to the process of socialization, to the mastery and absorption into common contexts of tradition. None of the contexts involved is off-limits to criticism as a matter of principle, but none of them can be called into question abstractly. That would be possible only if we could look at a consensus produced through mutual understanding from the sidelines, as it were, and could subject it, behind the backs of the participants, to renewed demands for legitimation. But we can make demands of this sort to the face of the participants only by entering into a converstaion with them. In so doing, we resubmit ourselves to the hermeneutical obligation of accepting for the time being – as a standing agreement – whatever consensus the resumed conversation may lead to as its resolution. The attempt to cast doubt, abstractly, on this agreement – which is, of course, contingent – as a false consciousness is pointless, since we cannot transcend the conversation which we are. From this, Gadamer infers the ontological precedence of linguistic tradition over criticism of all sorts: we can, it follows, bring criticism to bear only on given individual traditions, since we ourselves are part of the encompassing traditional context of a language.” (p313)

This is where psychoanalysis can serve to undermine Gadamer’s proposition: that is, if the consensus is worked out in pseudo-communication, on a set of miscommunication. Also, the conversation that ‘we are’ implies an experienced reality of a communication distorted by force:

“The enlightenment demands that reason be established as the principle of unconstrained communication.” (p314)

The conversation that we are is also a nexus of force and for that very reason not a conversation.

“Gadamer has used hermeneutical insight into the prejudicial structure of understanding to rehabilitate prejudice. He sees no antithesis between authority and reason. The authority of tradition, he says, does not prevail blindly but through the reflective acknowledgement of those who, standing within the tradition, interpret it and continue its development through application.” (p316)

Gadamer’s response to Habermas:

“Granted, authority exercises force in countless forms….But this view of the obedience rendered to authority can never explain why it should express itself in power structures and not in the disorder which characterizes the exercise of force alone. As I see it, then, there are compelling reasons for viewing acknowledgement as the determining factor in true authority relationships….One need only study representative instances of the loss or decline of authority to see what authority is and whence it derives it life. Not from dogmatic force, but from dogmatic acknowledgement. What, however, is dogmatic acknowledgement, if not this: that one concedes to authority a superiority in knowledge and judgment.” (p316)

Habermas’ main point of contention is to question the use of force in establishing authority. He argues that Gadamer presupposes that acknowledgement and agreement in which authority is grounded is brought about without force. He goes further to suggest that force “achieves permanence through precisely the objective illusion of freedom from force which characterizes a pseudocommunicative agreement.” (p316)

Once again, if psychoanalysis can be argued to be invalid as a critical science and therefore speculative, this whole argument becomes speculative. What of Gadamer though? To what extent does the use of force matter in the establishment of social consensus (if there is force)?? And what of the illusion of freedom? Surely there are tangible qualities of freedom regardless of pseudo-communication.


Habermas, J., “Hermeneutics and the Social Sciences”, in The Hermeneutics Reader, K. Mueller-Vollmer ed., Oxford: Basil Blackwell 1986, 293-319

Broadly speaking and to get straight to the point, Derrida rejects the traditional project of philosophy. He seeks not a continuation of philosophy by other means, but a continuation of philosophy’s means for other ends. This could be thought about as the direct decendancy of the Heideggerian tradition in which Heidegger sees Nietzsche as the end of the old, metaphysical philosophical tradition. That tradition being defined by, in Heidegger’s terms, the essentia and the existentia. Heidegger’s discussion prompts the question of the direction of philosophical research given that the metaphysical outlook was condemned by Nietzsche but not surpassed.

“Derrida is centripetal, relentlessly dissecting the body of failed philosophical knowledge.” (p289)

Derrida’s project of continuing philosophy’s means for another end involves looking back on, and employing philosophy’s paradigmatic questions and approaches to knowledge. So what does Derrida do? For convenience I am going to try to frame him in terms of interpretation, and link him to the tradition of Hermeneutics, though he himself would reject this. This will be the subject of a later discussion on the meeting between Derrida and Gadamer.

“Derrida maintained that although traditional philosophical issues are undecidable in principle, they are also ineliminable from our thought and in some sense require our constant attention. As a result, Derrida’s writings, unlike Foucault’s, are a constant and explicit probing of traditional philosophical concepts.” (p290)

In one sense Derrida could be thought of as critic or reader of philosophy, rather than practitioner. This is key to understanding Derrida’s foundations in structuralism and the critical engagement in literary as well as philosophical texts. His work leans more towards the writerly than the readerly in terms of Bathes’ spectrum.

“Derrida employs a variety of writing styles, most of which have little to do with the analytic philosopher’s efforts to clarify and refine our common-sense intuitions. He will, for example, play with language through puns, bizarre associations, or perverse self-referentiality, simple to effect a disorientation of our ordinary conceptual categories.” (p290)

For Derrida, writing itself was the subject matter that would reveal the essential peculiarities and limitations of human thought. Issues of authorship, attempts to bracket the text (Barthes) and the forever unresolved elusiveness of meaning and interpretation (hermeneutic basis for Derrida) all become sites of Derrida’s onslaught to excavate the experience of human consciousness. Linguistic formulation itself, even in the mind of the speaker, is limited and inaccurate. Writing may be the main material study, but the implication is to the very act of language at its source.

“It would seem that perfect adequacy is achieved only in the immediate, pre-linguistic presence of my thought to itself. But Derrida argues that there is no such pure presence of thoughts to the self. All thought is mediated through language and can never attain such total clarity.” (p292)

Perhaps an appropriate time for a discussion on Plato’s ideals? Gaze and ways of seeing?

“Derrida’s philosophical project is an unending extrapolation of the reader’s inability to master a text.” (p292)

Derrida closes the gap between speaking and writing. In the same that Plato thought of speaking as a “kind of writing inscribed in the soul,” Derrida defines a fundamental form or act of writing – archi-writing – of which speech itself is an instance.

To summarize A basic structuralist approach:

“First, the basic elements of thought and language are pairs of opposing concepts, such as presence/absence, truth/falsity, being/nothingness, same/other, one/many, male/female, hot/cold. This we can call the principle of opposition. Next, the opposing pairs are regarded as exclusive logical alternatives, governed by the principles of identity (A=A) and non-contradiction (Nothing is both A and not-A). This we can call the principle of logical exclusion. For example, being present excludes being absent; the present is simply what it is (present) and is in no way what it is not (absent). Finally, each fundamental pair is asymmetrical in the sense that one term has in some crucial sense priority over the other (e.g. is more fundamental, more real, morally better than the other). This is the principle of priority.” (p294)

Derrida challenges such logical models and seeks to reveal the extent to which a given text does not fit these models. thought for later…compare linguistic vagueness in logic to Derrida…where do the two crossover or conflict When Derrida is able to unmask in a text it’s own undermining of itself, or rather, that its system of binary opposition cannot be sustained and so such a system falls down on the very text that formulates it, he gives the name deconstruction to this technique.

“Deconstruction shows how texts based on binary oppositions themselves violate both the principle of exclusion and the principle of priority.” (p294)

Derrida’s technique and vision cast a long shadow. He does not simply interrogate texts to put on display the disfunction of language, he manages to apply his technique across consequential historical texts:

“The general project of deconstructing the fundamental dichotomies built into thought yields a critique of logocentrism. The dominant terms of the standard polar oppositions always correspond to some sort of presence, a reality that is positive, complete, simple, independent, and fundamental (Plato’s forms, Aristotle’s substances, Aquinas’s God, Hegel’s absolute). This presence is always understood as the polar opposite of something that is negative, incomplete, complex, dependent, and derivative (matter, creatures, appearance, etc.). Derrida’s deconstructive analyses show, however, that the purity and priority of presence is never sustained in the texts of the great metaphysicians. For example, Plato discovers that the forms participate in non-being, Christians think of God as somehow humanly incarnate, and so on. The result is a critique of metaphysical presence.” (p294)

Further to this deconstruction of metaphysics, is a deconstruction of epistemological foundationalism.

“Foundationalists assert something present and immediate (to the mind, in experience) that opposes and overcomes what is absent and derivative, for example, opinions received from others, unjustified inferences, interpretations that go beyond the given facts. Deconstruction, however, shows that the foundational elements themselves are tainted by the very epistemological limitations they are designed to overcome. Thus, entirely clear and hence infallible intellectual insights are found to contain questionable hidden assumptions, allegedly pure sense data turn out to embody culturally relative interpretative frameworks and so on.” (p295)

Derrida is probing philosophies own presuppositions about itself and in this sense continuing the Socratic project: to question assumptions and interrogate dialectic structures.

To relate back to Heidegger and the change in direction of the philosophical project, and the hermeneutic evolution:

“All so-called books are ‘entirely consumed by the reading of other texts’: a text can be understood only by the reading of other texts, from which it draws its problems, concepts, vocabulary. ‘Other texts’ also includes other parts of the given text.” (p296)

This sounds resonant of Heidegger’s free-to-hand and ready-to-hand, that an object is perceived in terms of its relationship to other things. Derrida is asserting that there is no grand unity of a text or of anything. So beyond structuralism that asserts the elements or atomising of a text, Derrida goes on to disassemble any concept of unity at all.

Re-visit page 297 of text

Reference: Structuralism and Beyond (1960 – 1990)

* Gutting, G., French Philosophy in the twentieth century, New York 2001, chap. 10, “Derrida”