The Primacy of Interpretation in Luigi Pareyson's Hermeneutics of Common Sense: A Response to D. Di Cesare's "U-Topias of Understanding"

By Valgenti, Robert T. | Philosophy Today, Winter 2005 | Go to article overview
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The Primacy of Interpretation in Luigi Pareyson's Hermeneutics of Common Sense: A Response to D. Di Cesare's "U-Topias of Understanding"


Valgenti, Robert T., Philosophy Today


In her essay "Re-Interpreting Hermeneutics: U-topias from the Continent," Donatella Di Cesare poses a decisive question, more important than ever for philosophy today: if philosophy were to become a koine, what price would it pay? In line with Gianni Vattimo's thesis that hermeneutics has become a common idiom of Western culture in the past few decades, what is the price that hermeneutics has already paid?1 The need for precision is something that touches upon philosophy at its core, linking this current endeavor to the larger narrative of philosophy that includes, of course, its own dissolution and recovery. Such endeavors are not new, but are bound by a sort of kindredness, a family resemblance that allows for originality even when philosophy skulks beneath the weight of conceptual hand-me-downs that too often result in imitation or irony rather than a genuine reappraisal of philosophy's role in human life. And this is the trouble with the koine and our recovery from it: the way to resuscitate philosophy as hermeneutics, and hermeneutics as philosophy, may rest not in the confines of philosophy alone, but in its connection to everyday lifein the very heart of the chaotic rabble from which philosophy all too often attempts an escape. Di Cesare's question not only points to the possible advantages of this reappraisal, but more importantly, to the dire consequences of not justifying the relevance of philosophy's role in contemporary life.

I want to take the occasion of this response to focus specifically on the vital task confronting philosophy in the face of everyday wisdom that has traditionally been known as "common sense" (sensus communis). I will reflect specifically on Luigi Pareyson's 1971 work, Truth and Interpretation, and in particular the work's final chapter where he demonstrates the necessary connection between philosophy (and especifically, philosophical hermeneutics) and everyday experience, human pursuits, and even to the legacy of the great Italian philosopher Giambattista Vico.2 Di Cesare has, through the lens of Heidelberg, effectively shed light upon the Italian style of hermeneutics through a critique of its misplaced nihilism, focusing specifically on the importance of "understanding" and the experience of "being struck by something" (Anstoss) characteristic of Gadamer's hermeneutics. In response, I would like to drag the debate back into the dark, foggy confines of Turin in order to push a more Pareysonian reading of the task that confronts a philosophical hermeneutics based not on understanding and "being struck," but on interpretation and kindredness (congenialita). My contention is that if hermeneutics begins with understanding rather than interpretation, it can never become a philosophical hermeneutics that submits its own presuppositions to critique. Faced with the koine of hermeneutics, how can we make hermeneutics, now become common idiom, philosophical again? Is the koine of interpretation the inevitable result of Gadamerian philosophical hermeneutics and its claim to the universality of interpretative understanding? Rather than claim the primacy of understanding, I will argue that Pareyson's reflection on common sense emphasizes the circular reciprocity between philosophy and experience, that is, between interpretation and understanding.

Gadamer on the Sensus Communis

Gadamer's outline of the guiding concepts of the human sciences in the first section of Truth and Method serves not only to differentiate these sciences from the natural sciences, but also to prepare the reader for the type of truth that Gadamer sees, in the broadest sense, as hermeneutic. His work in the first section, then, is not merely a preface to the core of his argument; it is, more importantly, the conceptuai groundwork that will make any application of such a truth to the human sciences possible. In Part I of Truth and Method ("The Question of Truth as it Emerges in the Experience of Art"), Gadamer aims to explain the mode of being of the work of art and introduce the concept of Erfahrung as a replacement for Erlebnis to describe the aesthetic experience, and consequently, the nature of truth in the human sciences.

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