Strong Hermeneutics: Contingency and Moral Identity

Strong Hermeneutics: Contingency and Moral Identity

Strong Hermeneutics: Contingency and Moral Identity

Strong Hermeneutics: Contingency and Moral Identity

Synopsis

Strong Hermeneutics is a compelling yet accessible investigation of some of the most important and controversial issues in philosophy today. Nicholas Smith presents a clear and critical picture of both the 'weak' or postmodern view of ethics evident in the work of Nietzsche, Richard Rorty and Jean-Franc^D,ois Lyotard; and the enlightenment view, descended from Kant and taken up by Juuml;rgen Habermas.Nicholas Smith argues that neither of these views can provide a proper framework for ethics. He instead advocates a fascinating alternative, a strong hermeneutics. Drawing on the work of Hans-Georg Gadamer, Paul Ricoeur and Charles Taylor, Strong Hermeneutics provides a lucid and challenging account of how we must understand ethics and identity today.

Excerpt

In recent years there has been a resurgence of interest in ethics across a number of philosophical traditions, including phenomenology, hermeneutics, deconstruction, critical theory and ‘post-analytic’ philosophy. At the same time, questions of identity have risen to prominence throughout the humanities and beyond. As awareness of the complexity and volatility of human identity grows, we are forced into a reckoning of its inner contingency. The implications for ethics of such a reckoning are profound. According to one view, whose broader cultural influence under the names of ‘weak thought’ and ‘postmodernism’ seems pervasive, identity is nothing but a concatenation of contingencies and our ethics should be reoriented to fit this basic fact. On another view, which also enjoys considerable currency, contingent identities are subject to universal but formal moral constraints, the reconstruction of which is the proper business of ethics. The argument of this book is that since both these views give a distorted picture of the relation between contingency and identity, neither can provide a proper framework for ethics. The book commends an alternative framework—a ‘strong hermeneutics’—for thinking about these matters.

I have several acknowledgements to make. The book assumed its final form during my tenure of a research fellowship in modern European philosophy at Middlesex University. The Centre for Research in Modern European Philosophy at Middlesex provided an exceptionally hospitable environment in which to work. I have also had the good fortune to test my ideas at the ‘Philosophy and the Social Sciences’ summer schools held in recent years at Prague. I am indebted to Peter Dews and Axel Honneth for inviting me to participate in these rewarding events. Thanks are also due the Institüt für Hermeneutik at the Freie Universität Berlin, where I was able to make some late refinements to the manuscript. The book also profits from conversations had with Martin Löw-Beer and Hans Joas at this time. I would especially like to thank Bob Canon, Diana Coole, Peter Dews, David Frisby, Dudley Knowles, Christopher Martin, Shane O’Neill, Peter Osborne, Jonathan Rée and Hartmut Rosa for their comments on earlier versions of sections of the manuscript. I am also very grateful to the readers at Routledge (Jay Bernstein and David Ingram); the book would have had

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