Another Brandon…

Email correspondance from Brandon Absher, PhD student at the University of Kentucky, and the latest inductee in the Schatzki Ring:

Greig and Brandon, I just finished reading the paper.  And, I’m very excited that you are considering these issues in the light you are.  Probably my most important thought about the paper is that it could lead into a piece on the Gadamer/ Habermas debate.  Chris Zurn is currently writing an encyclopedia entry on this issue and I read a lot of the material over the summer (with the intention of perhaps writing a paper on the topic).  Ultimately, Habermas consistently attacks Gadamer for a perceived conservatism.  His claim is that we require theories to offer understandings of oppression.  He models this approach on psychoanalytic theory.  The point of doing the theory is to develop therapeutic practices – ultimately understood in terms of the theories developed later in TCA I and II.  Personally, I’ve been VERY concerned about the relationship between science and practical life in Heidegger’s work.  Mostly, I share his belief that practical/existential/ethical life is foundational for any theoretical interpretation of the world.  On the other hand, I don’t want to be dragged into a form of irrationalism consonant with Heidegger’s own political commitments. My work: The first chapter of the dissertation as I’m now conceiving of it will challenge a currently (perhaps perennially) popular way of thinking about language.  The basic idea is that humans have “attitudes” toward represented “content” which are “expressed” in the form of marks, utterances, and other forms of signs. As I read W and H, they present a challenge to this view.  Most importantly understanding language isn’t about associating signs with content and attitudes, rather it’s about knowing how to get along in a practical context.  Signs don’t represent content and express “attitudes” (believing vs. wishing, etc.), instead they bring about a shared practical intelligibility – my warning about the wet floor brings the floor itself to view as having a certain place within our already shared practical world, there are certain things that I’m supposed to do with regard to this floor now or with regard to the utterance itself.  The second chapter is on the concept of context.  Basically, it works out the common theme of background understanding found in W and H and the necessity of shared background understanding in understanding the utterances, etc of another.  Here, drawing on the concept of meaning finitism worked out by David Bloor in his reading of W, I’m going to argue that W’s understanding of context as fluid, ambiguous, and ever-changing is preferable to what I see as Heidegger’s more closed interpretation of context (or background understanding).  There’s a tenuous third chapter on the relation of W and H to analytic theories of semantic “externalism”, but Ted’s a little uncertain about it.  The final chapter will be about the “articulation of intelligibility” and the role of language in this articulation.  This chapter will share substantial ground with your section on narrative, theory, and argumentation.  The basic idea is as follows: the warning in the example mentioned before draws on a shared practical intelligibility.  It brings the floor to light in a new way within our ongoing practice, but our larger sense of the situation and it’s relation to other situations remains unchanged.  Other types of discourse (or maybe other discursive moments or events) allow us to re-contextualize much larger regions of our life.  With Arendt in mind, I think primarily of political discourse – which corresponds in many ways to what you’re talking about under the head of “argument.”  Certain political discourses or political moments of discourse have the power of re-shaping our background understanding of the world within which we live.  Religious discourse is also important in this way – here I think less of Arendt and more of Heidegger’s treatment of poetry in the later work and of silence in the early work.  The best way of saying it, I think, is that much of our practical discourse operates within an already shared horizon and leaves that horizon basically untouched.  There are, however, (borrowing from Gadamer) horizon shifting and horizon fusing ways of speaking.  So that’s the basic idea.

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4 Responses to Another Brandon…

  1. mrsaturdaypants says:

    Re: The Gadamer/Habermas Debate:

    We’ve talked about this — which is to say, Greig has brought this up a few times. We even considered titling the last section Toward a
    Gadamerian Critical Theory, but ended up concluding that that was too ambitious. Anyway, I’m interested in hearing much more about this — though since it’s not part of your dissertation, probably it would be best for you to not get too far afield in this region.

    Re: Heidegger’s Nazism:

    Greig and I have had a few conversations over the years around this topic. Basically, we’re both some species of leftist, but are drawn
    to both Heidegger (particularly Greig) and Wittgenstein (BC), I guess in spite of their general conservativism. I don’t really buy
    that their philosophies entail their politics, nor especially that each and every component of their philosophies leads inexhorably to
    conservativism. With that said, part of Greig’s dissertation at least hints at the preferability of Gadamer’s philosophy over
    Heidegger’s on a related point, namely that whereas the later Heidegger leaves his readers waiting for some sort of mystical
    event, Gadamer prescribes, well, dialogue as part of an active program to understand and change the world.

    Re: Brandon Absher’s dissertation project:

    Sounds very good. I should mention here that I think that part of what you’re attempting sounds like a superior version of what I was
    trying to do in my dissertation, so if you’d like to see some missteps to avoid, that might be worth a peak.

    My only caveat on your position: I think all of the talk about attitudes, content, and expression has its place…it just isn’t the
    fundamental level analytic philosophy takes it to be. That is, language is a means by which one may express content with attitude, but it is so only because it is more fundamentally a means by which we enact and articulate practical intelligibility (as you say). The W/H “layer” of language is more basic…the standard analytic layer still has its place, though, I think.

    [If nothing else, it is the case that analytic philosophers sometimes speak, and when they do they tend overwhelmingly to say things like, “The cat is on the mat,” or “The Carnap is on my mind,” and they seem to really being expressing content in these cases, and
    in about as practically unintelligible a way imaginable. In short, analytic discourse exemplifies its own theories about language, even
    if most other discourse does not.]

  2. Obiwanky says:

    On the Habermas-Gadamer debate:

    not much to say here except that Habermas is, by definition, wrong. His position is too formal, even though he attempts to deal with content issues. Zurn and I disagree about this, obviously.

    On Heidegger’s Nazism:

    Remember that Marcuse, of all people, went directly to study with Heidegger after Zein und Zeit was published. Marcuse struggled with this much later after Heidegger’s position came out. Somewhere he argued that the conservative position is immanent in ZZ.

    On Brandon Absher:

    hi, I’m the black sheep of the Schatzkians because I didn’t write on practices and haven’t even read Ted’s book, though I studied with Ted. Your project does remind me quite a bit of Brandon C’s dissertation, so I would recommend looking into that. But it also seems to me to need the broader umbrella of tradition that I mentioned in a previous comment. My disseration was on reason, and deals with the issue of what you call shared practical intelligibility. This can only occur within the context of a tradition. A practice gets us part way there, but the practice is part of a tradition, and the intelligibility of the practice refers back to the tradition. So, you might want to look at the fourth chapter of my dissertation. Anyway, good luck. I have little to nothing to say about the analytic claptrap, I mean theory.

    This has given me a lot to think about with respect to issues of human nature.

  3. barndon says:

    Re: Nazism, Science, etc.

    I should be more clear about this. The first thing to say is that I don’t think that there’s a causal connection between what a person thinks and what a person does. The relationship between one’s thoughts and one’s actions is VERY complicated as I see it. So, Heidegger’s Nazism is not ipso facto evidence that SZ was itself commensurate with Nazism. Generally speaking, people offer Karl Lowith’s interpretation of SZ and his meeting with Heidegger in Greece as evidence that SZ is implicated in the Nazism – according to Lowith Heidegger said as much. Even granting that H said such a thing, I’m of the opinion that 1) a philosopher may misinterpret herself and 2) that H might have had political/psychological/other reasons for saying such a thing. The final bit of evidence is the appearance of the terms gemeinschaft, schicksal, and geschick (community, fate, destiny). All these terms are linked in the literature of the young conservative movement in the 1920’s. Toss in H’s affiliation with figures such as Junger and Schmidt and things start to look grim. My major dissatisfaction with this line of interpretation and attack stems from old school hermeneutic theory. Essentially, this is an attempt to reduce the text to a genre – in this instance young conservative propaganda. My major point: This text exists at the intersection of a multitude of genres and is not determined in its content by its place within any of these. It inherits and disrupts each and every genre within which it is situated. Thus, H’s use of the terms gemeinschaft, etc. cannot be reduced to the use these terms have in this genre, since even as he inherits them from this genre or tradition he disrupts that use – in fact, in his case this disruption is typically quite deliberate. So, I don’t intend to suggest that my worry about H’s Nazism is an overriding concern.

    Still, I do see important links between irrationalism and conservatism. There are plenty of leftists who buy some form or another of irrationalism, so it’s not a necessary connection or anything. But, for instance, I have a problem with the “creation museum.” I think it’s deliberately misleading and that it is a pretty shady political trick. Most of the people I know on the left agree with me on this. Even many who would attack science or reason. So, on one hand, I believe that science and reason are inherited as traditions and that they are contingent social institutions which often represent the interests of dominant classes to the detriment of those who lack power. But, on the other hand, the “creation museum” is just wrong about what happened. Evolution is just true. I think it’s important to find a way of reconciling this tension without letting go of the first horn – viz. social institutions which play a part in domination and other bad things. To allign myself with some of H’s more criticized work, I do think that science has an existential’ethical/political mission. I don’t agree with him about what this mission is, however.

    Here I think Habermas is important. But, I agree with Obiwan, that the formalism is unacceptable and I think transcendental philosophy of any kind is out of the question.

    Re: Expression and Content

    I agree with you that this analysis MAY work in some highly specialized cases (I take this to be H’s position), but one way or another it misses what’s going on in a lot of our talk with one another. Comparing H’s treatment of Aussage in (I want to say) section 33 of SZ will show his allegiance to such a model when discussing the restricted domain of theoretical assertion. But, as he sees it, the focus on theoretical assertion and the treatment of the assertion from the theoretical standpoint has led to a ‘science of logic’ which misinterprets language and treats it as another object. By the later period, I think he’s less committed to allowing such an analysis of even theoretical/scientific discourse. If W or later H are more radical in this regard, I think they might have good reason to be. It may be true that “analytic” philosophers have an accurate analysis of their own discourse occasionally, but even so it’s EXTREMELY rare. Imagine a dissertation defense or even an essay in which all other modes of discourse were excluded or absent. I tend to agree with W that this focus is part of an illness of sorts – a kind of logical fetishism born of the combination of dangers identified by H and the four tendencies identified by W in the Blue and Brown Books. Broadly speaking, theoretical assertion (Aussage) is not only not the norm, it’s a very rare occasion and cannot serve as the basis for understanding other modes of discourse.

  4. Obiwanky says:

    Two points, I think:

    first, I would say, not that science and reason are inherited s traditions, but that they are inherited as parts of traditions.

    Second, as an author — both of a dissertation and of a novel and short stories — I’m not sure what it means to say that a text exists as a genre. And hen you speak of existing in several genres and disrupting them, I’m even less clear. For me, writing a vampire hunter novel, I understand this in a particular way. Vampire hunter novels exist within/between several genres: fantasy, romance, thriller, and action. But I don’t think that’s what you mean by genre. And if it is, those genres are defined according to marketability.

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