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Philosophical Hermeneutics: Between Gadamer and Ricoeur
Chavdar Valentinov Dimitrov
I. Two foundations of the human sciences
1. A preliminary comparison: backgrounds and reasons
The philosophical projects of Hans-Georg Gadamer and Paul Ricoeur originate in the works of Edmund Husserl and Martin Heidegger. Gary Madison (1994) lists several concepts of such a background. With the conception of 'reduction' (1) Husserl displaced the constitutive notions of epistemological problematic: 'objective,' 'external', 'world in-itself' and correlative 'knowledge' consisting in 'representations' on the part of a subjectivity which 'transcends' itself - 'cognizing' by means of ideas (within the 'mind') that 'refer to' facts or states of affairs. This framework (Husserl 1990: 19; 1983: 57) effects the insight that consciousness has its own essence which is not touched by the phenomenological bracketing. The result of such clarification is that "only transcendental subjectivity has ontologically the meaning of Absolute Being [...]; whereas the real world indeed exists, but in respect of essence is relative to transcendental subjectivity" (Husserl 1983: 14) The latter is the ultimate source of meaning-constitution for all transcendencies (1983: 113). In Cartesian Meditations, the world shifts (via reduction) firstly from the being-outside-me to the being-for-me; then from the being-for-me to the being-in-me (Husserl 1977: 60, 100). Heidegger rejected the primacy of pure consciousness as basis for constitutional analysis. As Man-to Tang (2016: 70) recalls, this type of constitution needs no extra-mental thing. He writes (2016: 68-69) that, for Alfred Schutz (1959: 88), Husserl did not engage with a concrete problem like the place of the other. Taking for granted the status of being of consciousness, its attributions are self-posited (Heidegger 2009: 108, 112). According to Paul Ricoeur (1983: 190) the development of the notion of Lebenswelt (2) played a role for the evolution of Husserl's method towards hermeneutics. Ricoeur (1966: 14) adds that the transcendental ego tends to posit itself and remains in the circle of self's return to itself. He recalls (1981: 54) that it is part of the structure of Dasein as being (Heidegger) to have an ontological pre-understanding of being. Ricoeur's main contributions are theories of symbols (embedded in myths), metaphor and narrative. He develops a detour account of the meaning constitution in the human sciences.
Additional contextual topic is the so-called divide between existential phenomenology and theory of Erkenntnis (Gordon 2010). Thora Ilin Bayer (2010: 10-12) notes that while Martin Heidegger's book on Kant (1929) approached the first Critique not as an epistemology of scientific cognition, on issues of human condition and freedom Ernst Cassirer's later approach also went beyond epistemology of science. The fourth volume of Philosophy of Symbolic Forms (1928) confronted Lebensphilosophie. On Cassirer's view, Geist is a transformation of the movement of Leben (Bayer 2010: 8). A reference close to this theme (Buttigieg 2014: 4-6) points to antiquity's view upon the self-maintaining totality of nature. In such lineage for Gadamer our condition holds both expertise and freedom (1996: 102-3, 109; Buttigieg 10-12), but re-connects to the explication of fore-structuring; fore-having, fore-sight, fore-conception (Heidegger 1962: 191). By virtue of our existence, we possess a 'pre-ontological,' never fully thematizable understanding of 'being'. 'Pre-understanding' is also a rejection of the idealistic "project of self-constitution and self-transparency" (Jervolino 1990: 24). Understanding itself is rather that which we most fundamentally are, including our being inseparable from the other Dasein (Mitsein) (Heidegger 1962: 149-168); 'being-in-the-world' (3) is a relation prior the level of cognition (1962: 90). Another hermeneutical notion, which Madison refers to in this context, is 'facticity' (4) - the sense that our interpretations can never achieve transparency, and that there can be no traditional 'science' of existence (Madison 1994: 247). The conception of Dasein opposes the view that affirms the power of man to make the world of Geist through symbolic forms (Bayer 2010). In his 1928 review of Cassirer's analysis of mythical thought, Heidegger concluded: "But with all that the fundamental philosophical problem of myth is not yet attained: in what way does myth belong to Dasein as such; in what respect, after all, is it an essential phenomenon within a universal interpretation of being (Sein) and its modifications?" (Bayer 2010: 13; Verene 1979: 34-6). Accordingly, any self-driven activity must meet the terms of finite existence. For Peter Gordon (2010: 7), "[...] we discover ourselves in the midst of conditions we had no share in creating and cannot hope to control. [...] The phenomenon of 'disclosedness' rejects the sense of human consciousness that is free to make a world". "The experience in question cannot be a project of Geist; it depends upon a breakthrough (Einbruch). For Heidegger, man exists only in very few glimpses of the pinnacle of his own possibility, but otherwise moves in the midst of his beings." (Gordon 2010: 194-95; Bayer, 14). Cassirer (1946: 293) developed a counter-critique. The final chapter of The Myth of the State refers to the ethical sense of action - a free agent's motives, judgment and conviction of what moral duty is (Bayer 13-14); what is identified as 'thrownness' is not a solution. For Cassirer (1946: 293) a crucial dialectic - between life and the possibility of spirit - depends on self-determination. Looking for the term of "spontaneity" (Spontaneitat) around this formulation, Bayer notes that he adopts the term "symbolic pregnance" from the "law of pregnance" of Gestalt psychology. Symbolic form might be regarded as the product of the human condition, not the condition itself. Gordon (2010: 17) finds this theme in an early study, Freiheit und Form (1916), which connects Kant's concept of 'autonomy' and 'self-legislation of spirit' (Selbstgesetzlichkeit des Geistes). Bayer (2010: 15) refers to "the process of man's progressive self-liberation" (Cassirer 1944: 228) and emphasizes the role of a project of philosophical idealism for the philosophy of culture. In other words, Phanomenologie des Geistes (Hegel's conception for the development of consciousness) without its telos of absolute knowledge. In Bayer's summary, forms of spirit (Geist) resonate with symbolic forms of culture: Hegel's conception of the self as building upon its own acts is affirmed in Cassirer's idea for the self-active process of symbolic formation of experience.
As Madison states, the recognition of the above-discussed feature - finitude (5) - explains why it is impossible to posit a correct interpretation of a text (traditional hermeneutics). Ontological hermeneutics has for its object an elucidation of the basic structures of human existence (Madison 1994: 247; Heidegger 1962: 183-94): the mode of becoming, that is, possibile ways in which we could be ('potentiality-for being'). Auslegung (explication, laying-out) belongs to our pre-predicative understanding and becomes interpretation - a derivative disclosure of what is already 'understood in fore-structures.' Heidegger's example of textual interpretation (as starting from the undiscussed assumption of the interpreter) accentuates that 'anticipatory' character 'must...already operate in that which is understood' (Madison: 248). This circle is the condition of possibility of our understanding anything at all. The hermeneutics of Gadamer emphasizes 'historicity' and the 'rehabilitation' of prejudice (pre-reflective judgment) as integral (1976: 58; Madison, 250). He shows that understanding aims towards effective history of the subject-matter - the history of an influence. His concern is with "what happens to us over and above our wanting and doing," with what occurs whenever we seek to understand something (Gadamer 1989: xvi, xix; Madison, 244); the perspective of the being of that which is understood. Understanding happens to us by means of our 'belonging' to history. That consciousness is situated within a process of tradition marks a different knowledge in the human sciences (Geisteswissenschaften) and the ontological status of their questioning (Gadamer 1979: 106, 112-13; 1989: 325, 329, 333). They thematize something handed down to us by the tradition(s) to which we belong. The hermeneutical 'consciousness of effective history' is 'the consciousness in which history is effectively at work'; 'both what seems to us worth enquiring about and what will appear as an object of investigation' are pre-determined (Gadamer 1989: 267, 268; Madison, 252). Such conception encompasses the horizons where (in the case of intercultural understanding) we attain to a 'hermeneutical consciousness' of the other. The example is 'conversation': thinking historically is not necessarily agreeing with, or seeing oneself in the meaning of what is been handed down. This implies that an Aufhebung of differences is not total. In practical or pragmatic terms, "old and new continually grow together to make something of living value" (Gadamer 1989: 270, 273; Madison: 253).
Ricoeur admits that hermeneutics acknowledges "the historical conditions to which all human understanding is subsumed" (1981: 87, 96), but he does not accept the opposition of Naturwissenschaften to Geisteswissenschaften. Wilhelm Dilthey maintained that the proper object of the latter is the lived experience of agents; as it manifests itself in 'written monuments' and other expressions of their inner psychic life and world-views. Accordingly, as reconstruction of objectifications of life, 'understanding' is a matter of interpretation of outward 'expressions', or imaginative re-living of the 'experience' of others. Ricoeur alignes himself with what he sees as "an integral part of hermeneutics as it is of the Husserlian phenomenology from which it derives" (1990: 201-2) - an opposition to objectivism. This includes 'desubjectivizing' the notion of meaning, specifying 'explanation' in the human sciences and incorporating the idea of the text's independence of both author and reader (Ricoeur 1983: 194-95). While for Ricoeur "consciousness, even before its awakening as such, belongs to and depends on that which affects it" (1981: 74), he is also attentive to methodology against the authority of tradition. Gadamer states that continually presupposed history is not an obstacle to genuine understanding. Respectively, 'truth' is an existential concept which designates a possible mode of being-in-the-world - a dialectical 'openness to experience that is encouraged by experience itself' (Gadamer 1989: 319). Ricoeur concurs that tradition and investigation are fused by a bond which no critique could resolve without destroying the research (1981: 76; Madison: 252). While "the tension between the other and oneself is unsurpassable" (1981: 75), Ricoeur (1979a) also claims a place where to live and think with our opponents. He argues for a notion of subject recovered via a detour - subjectivity "must be lost as radical origin, if it is to be recovered" (1981: 113). The human sciences can attain this sense of foundation - "[...]to transcend the ego would be both to retain it and to suspend it as the supreme instance" - "only after the intersubjective detour of interpretation" (Ricoeur 1967: 232-33). Thus, from existential interrelationship, Ricoeur moves to the 'I' as a 'self' being with and interpreted by the others (Kearney 2004: 5). He marks reflexive verbs to illustrate a form of "relation, at once active and reflective, of the self with the self" (Tang 2016: 73-74).
How does Ricoeur appropriate Husserl's model of Paarung in the context of the word? In this process of ante-predicative experience (analogical transfer brought into play in the experience of the Other), a new experience is always founded in an originary one. It provides the association of the analogy between similarities (ego - alter-ego) through passive synthesis. Here apperception is the meaning-constitution of the Other in virtue of pairing between my body here and the other body there. As the index of an alien life, concordant behavior remains the only 'verification'. As a modification of my ego in an "asymmetrical or non-reciprocal" relation (1967: 131, 197), the Other cannot be reduced to my 'sphere of ownness'. Ricoeur opts for a couple configuration (Tang 2016: 74-76): taking an alien body as a symbol-body with literal and symbolic meanings (1974: 31). According to non-idealistic resources in Husserl's Ideas II, the body, as organ of the will, cannot be fully explicated through pairing. The spiritual life of the Other is sedimed in imprinted sense (a cultural object) which cannot be reduced to my primordial sphere. Therefore the justification of the 'I' is fould in the co-presence of others (1981: 203). The meaning of self-esteem is established as a reciprocal relationship - through opinion. For Ricoeur, the embodied, affected 'self' is among others who are "seeking for mutual recognition" (1986: 121, 128). The "I"'s quest for itself is never complete, because team work is of "a different ontological style" (1967: 126, 211). In Ricoeur's early approach, for each of these features of man's existence there is a style (of description) which may also be ideological (1981: 226-27, 230).
2. Philosophical hermeneutics and the nature of language
On Gadamer's view the phenomenological method teaches us that the relation between language and world parallels that between consciousness and world, or that there is an 'affiliation': language has no independent life apart from the world that comes within it. As a postulate of meaningfulness (expressibility) he sums up: "Being that can be understood is language" (Gadamer 1989: 432). Not merely 'signs' that 'refer' to a pre-given reality, the words are the means by which things exist for us. Practically or pragmatically speaking, there is no totally extra-linguistic reality (Madison: 257). On this thesis for 'linguisticality of the world' (Sprachlichkeit of experience) not linguistic forms of interpretation presuppose language. Understanding is linguistic through and through. Language is the effective-historical mediation of tradition. The quality of the past that continues to be present is the concretion of both (Gadamer 1989: 350-51), and this applies even to the presence of art. Gadamer elaborates that the linguistic form which the interpretation of understanding finds must contain within it an infinite dimension that transcends all bounds. But also: "Reason exists for us only in concrete, historical terms, i.e., it is not its own master, but remains constantly dependent on the given circumstances in which it operates" (1989: 245). Still, experience is infinitely expressible - there is always 'an infinity of what is not said' (Gadamer, 1989: 365, 426; Madison: 256). From this point of view, the 'conversation that we ourselves are' is the example for what is itself an instance of language as praxis (1989: 340, 404). Its commonality (the arrival at agreement) is made by what is the 'topic' or 'subject' (die Sache).
For Ricoeur, self-understanding is mediated by signs, symbols and texts; language is the primary condition of human experience (1983: 191). According to Van Leeuwen (1981), this position implies a super-abundant meaning and an abundance of non-sense (Ricoeur 1974: 411). That is, bringing experience to language is making it become itself (Ricoeur 1981: 115; Madison, 256); discourse strives to bring into language a way of Being-in-the-world (1983: 196). In his plea for analytical precision, Ricoeur accepts the semiological inside-code of the system - neither subject, nor reference, nor communication - into a 'phenomenology of language' which is based on the pair of epoche and symbolic function (1974: 242-53). As a parallel to the 'actualisation of our linguistic competence in performance,' what text communicates to a subject is a possible mode of being-in-the-world. Ricoeur articulates the 'effect' of the subject's encounters with text and 'other' (Madison 1994: 259).
According to Gadamer text-interpretation seeks to let speak again what was alienated or distantiated (1989: 260). It aims to articulate what is ontologically presupposed; objectivity is "confirmation of a fore-meaning in its being worked out" (Gadamer 1989: 237). But in the first place, what is being communicated to a reader is 'the meaning of the text itself' (1989: 335; Madison, 260). In order to understand what constitutes the significance of a traditional text, an interpreter must relate it to particular hermeneutical situation. We have grasped a meaning, only when we are able to relate ('apply') what a text says to our own (historical) situation (Gadamer 1989: 275-76, 289). As explicating textual meanings in 'application,' interpretation is an encounter equivalent to joining the author in a conversation on the issue at stake (1989: 259-60, 345). To the extent that there occurs a 'fusion' of the 'horizon' of the text with the 'horizon' of the reader, the meaning of the text exists in the form of an event -a challenge to our presupposition expands our horizon (Madison: 261). In his lectures at the University of Louvain (1957), Gadamer argues that "[...] in reality, it [time] is the ground which supports the arrival of the past and where the present takes its roots. 'Temporal distance' is not a distance in the sense of a distance to be overcome... Actually, it is rather a matter of considering 'temporal distance' as a fundament of positive and productive possibilities for understanding" (1979: 155-56). The inseparability of understanding, interpretation and application rejects the 'representation' of an in-itself state of affairs. If the 'hermeneutical situation' is productive, a tradition must always be understood differently. Because they don't deny 'becoming', effective history of language and conversation are not obstacles to reason. Tradition is not uncritical acceptance (Gadamer 1979: 108). We examine presuppositions beyond the insistance upon what is held to be true, yet, a total critique of what is being handed-down is impossible. Gadamer retrieves Aristotle's notion of phronesis - "situated judgment" which seeks to determine 'what is feasible, what is possible, what is correct' (1989: xxv; Madison, 263-64). A codetermining relation obtains between a text (universal that has no real meaning apart from its application and yet is not reducible to its particular) and various interpretations ('applications') of it. Hence, 'the procedure of the human sciences' is to discover and recognise a valid meaning by restatement through the present. If text-interpretation is an instance of practical reasoning, it must be possible to make a claim and argue beyond both objectivism and relativism (Gadamer 1981: 111).
To some extent the stance of Ricoeur shares Gadamer's attempt at a 'non-subjective' theory of meaning. Both draw upon section 32 of Being and Time, which locates the primacy of judgement in the structure of understanding as a structure of anticipation in which the world is never approached without some previous notion of that world ('fore-structure of understanding'). "This structure contains the seeds both of a certain rehabilitation of prejudice as pre-judgment and of a critical requirement in regard to prejudices insofar as they create an obstacle for an authentic relationship with the thing itself. In other words, the critical moment is required by the work of partitioning into authentic and inauthentic experience; this work takes place at the level of the structure of anticipation, at the level of pre-understanding." (Ricoeur 1978:18). According to Ricoeur, the methodical expression of this structure consists in judgment upon tradition. Such attention elucidates the meaning of the past, which lies within tradition, by a remaking of this world of human action through the narration. The latter provides a connection between our 'belonging-to-history' and the Husserlian method of Ruckfrage or of 'questioning back' (from the idealizations of the natural sciences to the 'life-world'). In this way, for Ricoeur, the discipline of (narrated) history is the objectification of the primary relation.
Madison (265) differentiates respective accents on text-interpretation. (1) Ricoeur insists that the notion of 'experiential truth' (Gadamer) neglects scientific concern. His own 'methodological' hermeneutics aims to mediate the 'conflict of interpretations' and to incorporate validation into interpretation theory (1981: 212-13). (2) According to Ricoeur, 'the dialogical model' cannot conceptualize the relationship between reader and text; 'the paradigm of reading' is rather the concrete act in which the destiny of a text is fulfilled (1981: 146-7, 203, 210). Ricoeur accentuates the written 'fixation' of discourse: with the text's emancipation, the intention of the author and the meaning of the text cease to coincide (1981: 139, 145, 200, 201). (3) In Gadamer's Truth and Method is discerned an opposition between 'belonging' (participation within tradition) and 'distantiation'. For Ricoeur, the latter is a perspective for objectivity via the phenomenon of 'textuality'. This mode is productive, because in 'alienating' a text from its original context, it frees the text for being 'reactualized.' Distanciation constitutes the written text, in which hermeneutics incorporates a critical moment. Ricoeur calls this reactualization 'appropriation', or '"to make one's own" what was initially "alien"' (1981: 185). Madison notes that the preferred term underscores the central role of the reader, but the text's audience is one "that it (the text) itself creates" (1981: 139, 202). We might say that the text's 'about-ness' is the 'world of the text' - an ensemble of meanings (opened up by the text) which eventually meet someone's particular understanding. For this, its functionality connects up with reality; the 'intended reference' is the projecting - "the process which is at work in the text" (1981: 164, 202). The central task of interpretation is the 'second-order reference', that is, to explicate the type of being-in-the-world unfolded in front of poetry and novels (1981: 132, 141). Ricoeur's view of 'world of the work' aims to approach the life-world (Husserl). By opening up, a text suggests ways we ourselves could be (1981: 202, 218). Thus, text-interpretation upgrades the articulation of a theory of subjectivity: the self re-appropriates itself in a two-way relation where the text's actualization depends on a reader, who (in the process) is given an 'enlarged' self. In exposing themselves, readers undergo 'imaginative variations' of their selves and receive the existence corresponding to the world proposed' (Ricoeur 1981: 143, 182, 189). For Madison (268) by linking up the problem of meaning with self-understanding, Ricoeur's interpretation theory holds a motive of 'reflexive' philosophy - the search for meaning of a self's own life (1981: 158, 192).
3. In-between text and action (Ricoeur)
Ricoeur sketches the methodological relevance of the humanities - their practice and object - as the what, why, how and the consequences of action. As 'applied' hermeneutics of texts, the human sciences must read the pervasive element of meaning (Madison 1994: 269). Following the thesis of cultural anthropology - agents are 'suspended in webs of significance' spun by themselves (Geertz 1973: 5-9), - human action is significative (intention, teleology, purpose). For Ricoeur, this issue is also methodological. According to The Model of the Text (1984b), 'objectifying' comes with the 'fixation' of meaning by writing. Text-interpretation reveals 'the internal dynamic which governs the structuring of the work' (Ricoeur 1983: 193). Action can only be viewed as a 'quasi text.' For Ricoeur, the social dimension is constituted in action's detachment from its agent. As a phenomenon that has unintended effects, our deeds are drawn or rather 'inscribed' (Ricoeur 1981: 206). An autonomous meaning that is not reducible to agents' intentions becomes the object of social sciences. Madison (1994: 270) summarizes that their objects are social orders (equivalent to texts) which result from action but are not necessarily of human design. Like texts, the patterns of action are intersubjective. The sociologist explicates objective human events. These 'wholes' are objective logics, socio-culturally instituted via plural activities. As object embedded in practices, meaningful action surpasses self-interpretations (Madison: 271-72). Because the actors' side of interpretation bears discrepancies (between what people do and what they say they do), the 'hermeneutics of suspicion' (Nietzsche, Marx, Freud) is re-introduced. Such a critique is integral to Ricoeur's conceptualization of a way to resolve the conflict between 'explanation' and 'understanding'. Because meaning is not 'subjective,' there is a place for explanatory techniques, but their intelligibility is one-sided. The results must be integrated into a wider scope. 'Explanation', which amounts to a distanciation from what is 'said' in the 'world of the text', is necessary for the process of 'appropriation'. This method consists in a transition from primal understanding, through distantiation, to comprehension. The goal is to integrate the stages of the hermeneutical arc within a conception of Interpretation (Ricoeur 1981: 218). With due intent on self-understanding, "the final brace of the bridge [is] anchorage of the arc in the ground of lived experience". From this point, social structures must appear as "attempts to cope with perplexities, predicaments and deep-rooted conflicts" (1981: 164, 220). Including such acts into procedures which mediate personal commitment (Ricoeur 1981: 221), expresses the relation between 'teleological nature of action' and 'emplotment' where the measured data achieve intelligibility; "this retrospective glance is made possible by the ideologically guided movement of our expectations when we follow the story" (1981: 277; Madison: 273).
If we juxtapose, Gadamer argues for the universality of hermeneutics on the grounds of linguisticality, the range of which is coextensive with 'being that can be understood'. Ricoeur maintains that the object of hermeneutics is textuality. In this way, narrative understanding (in storytelling) undermines the opposition between the 'real' and the 'imaginary' - truth becomes a result of productive imagination. In this way, with an accent on the role of the latter in 'fixating' action into institutionalized patterns and in generating historical processes, poetic imagination brings an utopian "force" that is subversive to the 'real'. At the same time, Ricoeur conceives of text-interpretation as a 'hermeneutics of the power-to-be' (1981: 94) - a basis for a critique of ideology and a possible correction of the illusions of consciousness.