Tuesday, January 18, 2005

So Hans-Georg Gadamer and Jürgen Habermas were sitting at an outdoor cafe, somewhere in Europe...

Habermas: What up, G? Say, I've read all your stuff on hermeneutics, and I think it's pretty good. But I've got a couple of major concerns.

Gadamer: OK, shoot.

H: Well for one, I'm not really down with your rehabilitation of tradition. I mean, tradition is there, I understand, but it is nothing more than a carrier of prejudice.

G: I know, and I think prejudice is just fine, too.

H: But prejudice and tradition are tools of The Man. They only support hegemony, oppression, and domination. You're naïve to think they don't.

G: You're the naïve one, H. As human beings, we are prejudiced by our traditions. I'm just calling it what it is. You, my friend, have been seduced by the Enlightenment's prejudice against prejudice, which is, itself, a prejudice. I think we should all claim our prejudices, and I also think -- you're going to give birth to a calf on this one -- I also think that tradition is and should be authoritative.

H [getting red in the face]: Are you insane?!? Have you lost your mind?!? The point of philosophy is emancipation! Liberation from oppression!

G: Settle down, dude. I knew that would get under your skin, so let me amend it a little. I don't agree with you that the goal of philosophy is emancipation -- that kind of advocacy stance is foundationalist, and I'm a non-foundationalist. I don't do philosophy with a political agenda. My only agenda is further self-knowledge. I will, however, grant you that I wasn't sufficiently radical in Truth and Method. A drop or two of Marxism in my coffee would do me some good, I suppose.

Ricoeur [bending over from the next table]: I'm sorry, I couldn't help overhearing you two. If you don't mind me saying, I find your debate pedantic and stale, a leftover encounter between the Enlightenment and Romanticism.

G: Oh, really?

R: Yes. You, sir, are positing a naïve position in regards to tradition, which I shall call "participation."

G: Clever.

R: And you, Mr. H, are cutting yourself off from tradition, which I shall term, "distanciation."

H: Is that a word?

R: Frenchmen can make up words at will. Just ask Derrida. But back to my point. Ultimately, G, I'm on your side in this, but let me propose a middle ground between you two. When dealing with tradition, one should adopt a critical distance, so that you can be discerning about your traditions.

G: Is that all?

R: No. One more thing: You should judge your tradition against the regulative idea of emancipation. That will be how you determine whether the tradition is to be heeded or rejected.

G: OK. I can live with that.

H: Back to your cafe au lait, Frenchie. Listen, G, I've got another problem. You say that all human experience, and therefore all meaning, is utterly linguistic, right?

G: Yes.

H: But so much communication is distorted. I think hermeneutics is a fine place to start, but there are limits to interpretation. Like what about a mental patient and a therapist? That's what I would call distorted communication.

G: Sure it is, but it's still linguistic. The therapist claims an authoritative position based on the tradition of psychology in which she was trained. And she sits there for an hour trying to interpret what her patient is saying. Sorry, my friend, you can't escape language.

H: Speaking of distorted communication, here comes Derrida. I'm outta here.

[Habermas hurriedly leave, and Derrida comes skipping up to the table, sits in the
chair opposite Gadamer, and laughs with a crazy cackle.]

G: Oh Jacques, pleeeeeeeeeeeease debate me.

D: I shan't, G, for philosophy is nothing but a game with no point; it has no beginning and no end. We play and play, but everything means nothing.

G: I agree that that it's a game, but there is a point to it. When we play the game more, we become better players. We understand ourselves better, and that is the meaning of life.

D: Meaning of life? HA! Can't we please bury Plato already? There is no meaning, only différance.

G: I know French, and that's not a word.

D: Frenchmen can make up words at will.

G: Yeah, I guess I've heard that. But listen, the point of dialogue, of conversation, is agreement. That's how we know things better.

D: Agreement?!? HA! Consensus leads to holocausts. There is no consensus, only dissensus, you silly man. You are a Romantic. And the French love Romance. Let me give you a hug.

[Derrida reaches across the table, spilling coffee on himself and Gadamer, and hugs Gadamer a little too long for anyone's comfort.]

D: I must be off. My favorite soap opera begins in ten minutes!

[Derrida skips off, leaving Gadamer alone at the table.]

N.B.: Thanks to Tim Keller, whose question prompted my assault on philosophical dialogue. Tim, I've not read Van Hoozer, and I only know Thistleton as a (foundationalist) commentator on hermeneutics -- I've not really read enough of him to judge his work.


Blogger Kel said...


This was great, although I don't know what you were doing up at 4:56 am or how you had any creative juice at that time.

For reference, Kevin Vanhoozer wrote the book "Is There a Meaning In This Text?" which was a poke and nudge at Stanley Fish's book "Is There a Text In This Class?" Vanhoozer is highly critical of the kind of hermeneutics taught at Yale, meaning he is a hermeneutic realist. In the end, he comes down on the side of restoring the author, text and reader, and from what I've read on your blog, I don't think you would agree with him on much. Not that you should only read those you agree with, but it's a 400 page book that is suffocatingly boring in parts, so I suggest you put your $25 elsewhere.

Kelly Hahn

4:33 AM  
Blogger daniel lukas said...

absolutely fun. how about a meeting between george w. bush and... nevermind

9:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nice. This may be, quite possibly, the greatest blog post I have ever read.


9:05 AM  
Blogger Fajita said...

You forgot the part when they both notice Anderson having tea with someone and Habermas says, "You never know with her if she is talking to her best friend or a mental patient."

G: And that is what makes her so successful.

H: No, what makes her successful is her skillful intervention.

G: Exactly. Communication is her only intervention. When she privleges the patient or friend or student with her language, she heals.

And then enter the skipping Derrida

Just thought I'd throw that in there.

4:00 PM  
Blogger Anastasia said...

you all have way the hell too much time on your hands.

4:28 PM  
Blogger Bill Arnold said...

I'm so glad you're getting into writing skits, Tony! I think I'll use this one with the youth group!

4:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

fun fun!
do that again

5:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tony-- I think Wolterstorff might be a very good guide for you. He is not a foundationalist but he's not a coherentist either, and he does not agree that we are completely stuck in our linguistic worlds unable as individuals to know objective reality. I think he would say that Gadamer and Ricoeur haven't really gotten over Kant. Wolterstorff says, "Kant isn't a terminal disease. You can get over him." Why should we believe that we can't perceive what's really 'out there'?

I think classical foundationalism leads to sectarianism (a lack of openness to others) but I think coherentism, the idea that we create the world with our community-linguistics, leads just as much to sectarianism. I think either Plantinga (who is a moderate Reidian foundationalist) or Wolterstorff (who is non-foundationalist but an unashamed realist) and will do a better job of helping us avoid absolutism on the one hand or relativism on the other.

Tim Keller

6:44 AM  
Blogger RobeFRe said...

The midnight oil shines brightest in the eyes of him whose eyes (is) open.

French descendants can make up Confuscianismatic philos de grupos d'etyms.


10:08 AM  
Blogger John Musick said...

brilliant, absolutely brilliant.
what does it say about me that I actually think I learned something about philosophy from the way you did this?

9:28 PM  
Blogger bethany said...

You don't know me, but I enjoyed this post so much, I just had to tell you. So here it is:
hi. I really enjoyed this post. Thanks.

2:26 PM  
Blogger Friar Tuck said...

Hey there!!

I think you should read VanHoozer. It is slow in part, and I have not finished it, but I would like to see how you interact with him and his reversion to Augustinian hermaneutics.

4:01 PM  
Blogger Chris Enstad said...

You have outdone yourself. This is one of your greatest posts.

And it proves that despite the PhD you are refusing to take yourself too seriously. Fantastic.

9:25 AM  

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