Strong Hermeneutics: Contingency and Moral Identity

By Nicholas H. Smith | Go to book overview

3

Interpretation, practical reason andtradition

In chapter one strong hermeneutics was characterized as a ‘realist’ philosophy. Its realist character arises from its espousal of two basic principles: first, that horizons of significance open up a space which is habitable by non-instrumental reason; and second, that concerning strong evaluations there is a truth to the matter. It has already been noted that, like all types of hermeneutics, strong hermeneutics insists with normative force on the irreducible diversity of horizons of significance and frameworks of strong evaluation. The issue to be explored in this chapter is how strong hermeneutics attempts to make these two commitments—to realism and pluralism—compatible.

In current debates it is too quickly assumed that realism in any sense and a sincere commitment to pluralism are mutually exclusive. Indeed, critics of the two realist principles defined above regularly appeal to the fact of and aspiration to pluralism as decisive objections. Take the first principle, that horizons of significance, as background frameworks of strong value, are habitable by reason. There are, broadly speaking, three levels of scepticism to this view. According to the first, practical reason is extended beyond its legitimate scope when applied to conceptions of the good that give substance to a moral identity. Sceptics of this kind doubt that strong evaluations are subject to reason on account of their unsuitability for universalization: different people can, it seems, hold incompatible ideals with equally good reason. What are really so answerable, according to this view, are the norms that regulate social interaction, irrespective of particular strong values individuals or groups uphold. Such norms can be right or just but not, strictly speaking, good, so they need to be distinguished from the scope of application of strong evaluations. This kind of scepticism about the habitability of reason in horizons of significance, with its hard distinction between the cognitive domain of moral right and the contingent sphere of the good, is typical of deontological theories. At a second level, scepticism about the universalizability of the good is carried over into the domain of morality. Historicist sceptics are particularly suspicious of the idea that practice in general is arbitrable by reason: on the one hand, they hold that reason just is, as a

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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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