Sunday, 31 October 2010

Interviews on hermeneutics

Keith D'Souza, SJ, professor of philosophy at St Pius X Seminary, Goregaon, Mumbai, and I were interviewed twice at the IGNOU seminar on Philosophy and Distance Learning. The first was a video recording meant largely for undergraduate students; the anchor was Prof. Gracious Thomas, HoD Social Work, IGNOU. The second was a live telecast, with a live audience and Dr Babu Emmanuel, SVD, Spokesperson CBCI, as anchor.

I realize I have to brush up my Schleiermacher and Dilthey, and also Deconstructionism.

Dr Annie Kunnoth, recently returned from Paris with a PhD on Paul Ricoeur, and currently teaching at the Jamia Milia University, Delhi, pointed out that for the last 20 years or so, Schleiermacher is not considered as the 'father' of modern / universal hermeneutics. I guess she was pointing out to what people like Grondin (and Greisch, she said) are saying, that universal hermeneutics was proposed already in the previous century, by rationalists like Dannhauer, Chladenius and Meier. The plea fell on deaf ears; Ast and Schlegel know nothing about this attempt, and so Schleiermacher can make the claim to be the first to call for a universal hermeneutics.

Annie also 'objected' to or perhaps corrected my mention of friendship as a condition for attainment of truth. Not friendship, she said, but respect. Friendship is interpersonal, and cannot be expected in a collaborative search for truth; respect, instead, can and must be demanded. Whatever: but the group is an important element in the question of objectivity / truth in hermeneutics / interpretation. I think I remember Ricoeur saying that dialectic is the royal road to truth. Lonergan' functional specialty dialectic is designed to be done in group. That is one emphasis that he can surely bring to the hermeneutics debate.

What was a strange sensation was to find that 'objectivity' and 'truth' was not seen as much of a problem by Keith. In fact, coming to think of it, he never once mentioned historicism during all our discussions, and certainly not in the recorded / live interviews. Yet that was the great problem facing the historicists - especially Dilthey. And that was, according to many, Heidegger's great contribution: the demolition of the problem: don't try to get out of the hermeneutical circle of your historicity, just get into it properly. Which Gadamer put in his famous formulation, that prejudices, far from being hindrances to truth, are the only means we have to truth. Effective history as the only way to truth. And effective history as more being than consciousness - another thing that Keith did not seem to want to emphasize.

So what was the way to truth / objectivity for a Ricoeurian like Keith? Understanding (from Gadamer); explanation (from Ricoeur - basically, use of the 'lower blade' methods such as form and redaction criticism); application (a la Ricoeur - in the more traditional sense of 'application' to some problem, relevance, rather than the "If I cannot apply I do not understand" of Gadamer - if I don't have a question, if the text does not answer my question, there is no understanding at all).

Then again, from Habermas, four aspects: the statement must be understandable (logical criterion of meaningfulness); it must be true (objectivity - a matter of 'explanation'); it must be truthful (I should not want to deceive; I must tell the truth); it must be right (there must be respect; no manipulation).

All fine. I prefer to summarize these in terms of the proximate criterion in grasp of the virtually unconditioned - with the absence of further relevant questions, as well as evidence, as the key moments; and authenticity as the remote criterion, where authenticity is at least triple layered: intellectual / philosophical; moral; religious.

But probably both Keith and I were rather 'uncontroversial'. I wonder what would have happened if the postmodern / deconstructionist questions had really arisen. But then one has to take a stand. Does Derrida proscribe all talk of truth as will to power? One simple tack is to simply disagree.

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