Strong Hermeneutics: Contingency and Moral Identity

By Nicholas H. Smith | Go to book overview

2

Strong hermeneutics and thecontingency of self

In important respects, the recognition of contingency serves to define the theoretical outlook and practical momentum of hermeneutics. Inquiry is hermeneutic if, in contrast to the negation of contingency ideally achieved by an objective or transcendental consciousness, it is undertaken with reflexive awareness concerning the concrete historical, and hence contingent, positioning of the inquirer. Similarly, in opposition to the idea that the correct grasp of a matter can be gained by following neutral methodological or procedural rules, hermeneutics insists that what counts as a sound understanding cannot be fixed in advance of the contingencies of real engagement. In addition to informing these well-known epistemological features of hermeneutics, the concept of contingency also serves to structure its ontological commitments. Dasein, the self-interpreting animal that is the subject at least of strong hermeneutics, is a being whose existence precedes its essence, since in its existence it cannot but interpret itself, and its essence depends on how, contingently, it does its interpreting. That there is a rich plurality of self-interpretations also gives practical momentum to hermeneutics. By acknowledging the contingency of our own self-interpretations, we are encouraged to learn from the self-interpretations of others and discouraged from making a priori judgements on their worth. In the light of these considerations alone, it is indisputable that the concept of contingency organizes all kinds of hermeneutic thinking at a deep level.

Just how deeply depends on the particular kind of hermeneutics in question. Weak hermeneutics, we have seen, is a philosophy of radical, unconditional contingency. This is what makes it so well-suited to postmodernists. If, following Bauman’s nice formulation, we characterize postmodernity as ‘the age of contingency für sick, of self-conscious contingency’, 1 and if we consider postmodernism as a crystallization of and contribution to this self-consciousness, then we can usefully call a conception of self-identity which acknowledges and affirms its utter contingency ‘postmodernist’: to think of the self as contingent all the way down, by further bringing contingency to self-consciousness, is to contribute to the ushering in of postmodernity and provides the basis of a normative orientation fitting for a postmodern world. Given this

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Strong Hermeneutics: Contingency and Moral Identity
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Preface ix
  • Introduction 1
  • 1 - The Variety of Hermeneutics 10
  • 2 - Strong Hermeneutics and the Contingency of Self 35
  • 3 - Interpretation, Practical Reason and Tradition 58
  • 4 - Deep Hermeneutics, Emancipation and Fate 81
  • 5 - Communication and the Contingency of Language 103
  • 6 - Strong Hermeneutics and Discourse Ethics 121
  • 7 - The Ecological Politics of Strong Hermeneutics 148
  • Notes 170
  • Index 193
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