4. Gadamer and Romanticism
The contemporary Western philosophical scene can be characterized in terms of divisions and interactions between approaches to philosophy which assume that their task is inextricably linked to the development of the natural sciences and approaches which often regard this assumption with considerable suspicion. Philosophers who adopt the former approach have the obvious advantage that the project of which they see themselves as a part produces more and more results which are in principle—if not in practice—publicly testable and which appear to confirm their underlying assumption that science is converging towards an already constituted reality as it is “in itself”. One disadvantage of this project for its philosophical adherents, however, is that it becomes, as the work of the later Heidegger already suggested, increasingly unclear what its “philosophical” aspect is actually for. As Richard Rorty's remark against representational theories of truth—“Instead of seeing progress as a matter of getting closer to something specifiable in advance, we see it as a matter of solving more problems” —makes clear, it is possible to adopt realist or antirealist assumptions (or neither) as a working scientist (or as a philosopher) without that affecting one's belief in the value of a particular scientific theory; and even if philosophical arguments help in the genesis of theories, this cannot, on pain of circularity, legitimate either the arguments or the theories themselves. Those who suspect the close link between philosophy and natural science, on the other hand, face the evident disadvantage that the explanatory and technical success of the modern sciences seems to render philosophical questions of their kind about the truth generated by those sciences redundant. The advantage they have over their opponents, though, is that even if it is the case that natural science has now developed so far that it does not need philosophy, they can still make appeals to the stubbornly persistent intuition
What is at issue here, of course, is a version of the debate between what are often thought of as “Enlightenment” and “Romantic” forms of thinking, which has also, in this century, been termed the debate between “positivism” and “Romanticism.” Given the nature of academic philosophy, the gap between the sides has in recent times led to an ever more specialized concentration on trying to account for how the sciences represent or converge on the truth about the world on the part of much “Enlightenment” philosophy, and to a sometimes equally rarefied concern with interrogations of the technological domination of nature made possible by the success of the sciences on the part of some “Romantic” philosophy. However, the rigidity characteristic of the worst versions of both sides has contrasted unfavorably with the attitude of those who have sought ways of mediating between the sides, and it will be one of my contentions that such mediation is in fact part of the thought which has the best claims to the title of “Romantic.” A number of notable American philosophers trained in the analytical tradition have, for example, come to think that scientism may be as much a danger as antiscientific irrationalism. John McDowell sees the problem with scientism as follows: “When we ask the metaphysical question whether reality is what science can find out about, we cannot, without begging the question, restrict the materials for an answer to those that science can countenance.” On the other hand, “continental” thinkers like Jurgen Habermas, while articulating worries about the effects of the dominant technological role of the sciences, have given often very necessary reminders that the alternatives to a modernity founded to a large extent upon the results of the natural sciences are not necessarily as appealing as the more extreme critics of “Western rationality” might suggest. Despite their very different backgrounds, such thinkers evidently meet on territory established by Kant that is further explored in Romantic philosophy, and in the hermeneutic
As is well known, Gadamer offers, in Truth and Method and other work, one of the most influential postwar “Romantic” stories about the development of modernity, which questions perceived distortions introduced by the Enlightenment into Western philosophy. A major motivation of Gada-mer's story is summed up in his assertion that “I wanted to show that it is not right to separate the question of art from the question of truth and to deprive art of all the knowledge it can communicate to us” (GW8:ao3). He outlines the origin of the problem this entails as follows: “Only when philosophy and metaphysics got into crisis in relation to the cognitive claims of the sciences did they discover again their proximity to poetry which they had denied since Plato…. Since then it makes sense to acknowledge the autonomous claim to truth of literature, but this takes place at the price of an unexplained relationship to the truth of scientific knowledge” (GW8: 287). In the wake of Kant's attempt to overcome the crisis of cognitive foundations occasioned by Hume and others, the first thinkers seriously to work out philosophical ways of thinking about the truth communicated by art were the early German Romantics, among whom I count, besides Friedrich Schlegel and Novalis, Schleiermacher and, at times, Schelling. As we shall see later, in the light of the work of Manfred Frank, the aspect of Romantic philosophy which leads these thinkers to the question of art is their conviction that the attempt to ground modern philosophy in the activity of the subject cannot succeed, because the subject is not fully transparent to itself. It is now widely accepted that the main contribution of Gadamer's own work to contemporary philosophy is a rearticulation of the relationship between the claims to truth of art and of the humanities, and the truths of the sciences. However, part of that contribution involves a story about Romantic philosophy which includes a number of questionable contentions. I shall make some interpretative, philological, and historical points against that story in what follows, but I am also concerned to offer a few fragments of an account that is different from Gadamer's of how the interrogation of the truth of art and the truth of the sciences that begins with Romanticism plays a role in reflections about the nature of philosophy today.
Just what is meant by “Romanticism” is still essentially contested, and it is pointless to try to conjure away the tensions now present in the term. Let us, then, take a specific historical example of a phenomenon often linked with Romantic thinking in order to see how this tension becomes apparent. In his essay “Poetry and Mimesis” of 1972 Gadamer discusses the move away from an aesthetics of “representation” in the eighteenth century, claiming that, as
The major philosophical questions which emerge at the end of the eighteenth century and which remain significant today concern how one should respond to this situation, especially given the success of the sciences in producing results despite the epistemological doubts that accompany that success. Gadamer's remarks refer to one extreme—and putatively “Romantic”—response, which is to valorize a language supposedly wholly constituted by the subjective, the “immediate language of the heart,” that can be construed as refusing to partake of the objective realm. Toward the end of the eighteenth century music comes to be regarded by a particular group of thinkers as a language which articulates the emergent inner individuality of the subject. The need for such a language relates to the fact that this individuality is threatened simultaneously by some of the very advances in knowledge and the social changes in modernity which enabled it to emerge in the first place. The perception of music in question is apparent, for example,
Gadamer's own view of music is more differentiated than this—he claims, for example, that “Every composition of ‘absolute music’ has [the] structure of being a relation to meaning [Sinnbezug] without a key [Schlussel]” (GW8:324)—but he does share Hegel's suspicion of the notion of mere subjective expression associated with music, and this suspicion is carried over into aspects of his conception of Romanticism. The question is, then, whether this suspicion will allow an adequate characterization of the philosophical consequences inherent in the move away from representational-ism associated with the change in status of music in the early Romantic period. Before this issue can be addressed we need to look at other aspects of Gadamer's conception in order to clarify his relationship to Romantic philosophy.
Gadamer's account of the wider significance of the constellation sketched here relies on his particular story about modern philosophy. In this story, both the suspicion of “prejudice” in the Enlightenment that follows from the demand to bring everything established before the “tribunal of reason” and the concomitant disempowering of tradition lead to the idea that the only reliable truth is arrived at by the methods of the natural sciences, which objectify the natural world. Other forms of articulation therefore come to be seen, in the manner we have just observed with regard to music, as being reliant on individual taste and individual feeling, so that the ground of the new philosophical discipline of aesthetics is thereby “subjectified.” Gadamer's alternative to aesthetic theory's supposed adoption of a narrow conception of truth from the natural sciences relies on the demonstration that “understanding is never a subjective relationship towards a given ‘object’, but belongs rather to the effective history, and that means: to the being of that which is understood” (WMxix). This is because the model of the subject confronted with the art object in a manner analogous to the scientist with her object of investigation is untenable as an account of the experience of art:
We never find ourselves in the situation of being the pure contemplator of or listener to a work of art, for in a certain sense we are always participants in the transmission. The aim of grasping the inner structure and the connectedness of a work is, as such, not sufficient to remove all the prejudices which stem from the fact that we are ourselves within a tradition. (APgo)
Being in a tradition means being subjected to a happening of meaning which always transcends the individual's ability to articulate that meaning. In Gadamer's terms “effective historical consciousness” is “more being [Sein] than consciousness [Bewusstsein], i.e. more historically effected and determined than conscious in its being effected and determined” (GW3:22i). Consequently, the very idea of a division between a subject and its object cannot be sustained, because the individual subject's meanings are—even before the subject develops a reflexive ability to think about them—inextricably bound up with already disclosed meanings which constitute the world it encounters, and which form, via the notion of “effective historical consciousness,” what Gadamer means by “tradition.”
The method of the natural sciences, Gadamer maintains, requires the elimination of merely contingent subjective apprehensions of their object, in order to arrive at what the object has in common with other objects of the same kind. In the wake of one aspect of the work of Dilthey, Gadamer understands the development of nineteenth-century historiography and the other Geisteswissenschaften as leading to the attempt to objectify what has been historically transmitted, in order to establish a method for the human sciences that is analogous to that of the natural sciences. His own project, on the other hand, is to “seek out the experience of truth which exceeds [ubersteigt] the realm of control of scientific method … and to interrogate it as to its own legitimation” (WMxxvii). As such, “along with the experience of philosophy, the experience of art is the most emphatic warning to scientific consciousness to acknowledge its limits” (WMxxviii). Gadamer's response to the “subjectivism” of Kantian and post-Kantian aesthetics is, therefore, a conception in which “The ‘subject’ of the experience of art, that which remains and persists, is not the subjectivity of the person who experiences it, but the work of art itself” (WMg8). A decisive methodological and historical link is thus established between the idea of natural science as the subject's means of control over the object and the rise of aesthetics, in which both are interpreted as part of the subject's attempt to arrogate to itself the right to determine truth. Gadamer's alternative conception relies on the subversion of that subject by the fact that it can never finally step outside the ways in which it is formed by tradition, so that “we are always very much more and other than what we know of ourselves, and … what exceeds us and our knowledge is precisely our real being” (GW8:327). How, then, does this relate to what I mean by “Romanticism”?
Given my remarks at the outset, one might have expected that a project which regards the limits of self-knowledge as a crucial aspect of our self-interpretation and aims to salvage a truth not countenanced by the analytical method of the natural sciences would see itself as at least partly in line with a Romanticism which produced such claims as Friedrich Schlegel's that—because of our inherently temporal nature—“Every person is only a piece of themselves,” and his wonderful dictum that “If the chemist thinks a thing is not a whole because he can dissect it, that is just the same as what bad critics do to literature.—Didn't the world emerge from slime?’ Such parallels occur in other areas as well. Remembering the close connections between the idea of “philosophy” and the idea of “science” of the time, Schelling's claim in 1800 that art is “the only true and eternal organ and document of philosophy, which always and continuously documents what philosophy cannot represent externally” initiates the explicit link of art and philosophy which Gadamer regards as so important. When Gadamer says of poetic language that “Where language exists in such a manner it is absolved of the function of pointing something out that is also presentable in another manner and thereby shows itself in its own function” (GW8:59), it is easy to think of Novalis's provocative antirepresentationalist speculation on “Poems, just pleasant sounding and full of beautiful words, but also without any meaning or context … like fragments of the most diverse things. True poetry can at the most have an allegorical meaning as a whole and an indirect effect, like music etc.” Gadamer's remark that “It is a mysterious form of the non-differentiation of what is said from the way it is said which gives art its specific unity and lightness and precisely thereby its own way of being true” (GW8:294) suggests a complex relationship between language and music, of the kind present in Novalis's assertion that the poet's “words are not universal signs—they are notes—magic words which move beautiful groups around themselves … for the poet language is never too poor but always too universal.” Furthermore, when Gadamer claims “It is paradoxical enough that one…speaks of art-criticism. It does not actually consist in differentiating good and bad in the work of art, but in differentiating something as a ‘successful’ work of art from an unsuccessful one or from something that has just been thrown together” (GW8:252), he echoes Novalis's contention that “Criticism of literature [Poesie] is an absurdity. It is already difficult to decide, yet the only possible decision, whether something is literature or not.” However, despite all these parallels—and there are plenty more—if one looks at Truth and Method, the only appearances of the Romantics are a few remarks by Schlegel, with little or no reference to the wider context of Romantic thought, and the more extensive critical appraisal of Schleiermacher's hermeneutics as part of the process of reduction of truth to what is produced by the method of the natural sciences that is inaugurated by Kant's “subjectivization of aesthetics.”
The immediate objection to the parallels just cited between the Romantics and Gadamer might be, given the intellectual context of the Romantics at the end of the eighteenth century, that what they meant by these assertions is very different from what Gadamer means. However, things are not that simple. Gadamer's own account of interpretation is meant to reveal why interpretation can never be a simple historicist representation of aspects of thought of the past—that would be precisely the kind of objectification the theory is intended to counter—but is rather a “fusion of horizons” with what is to be interpreted, as part of the happening of “tradition.” Furthermore, an awareness of the context of the Romantics, of the kind which Gadamer himself invokes for his presentation of the thinkers upon whom he does concentrate, soon makes it clear that his story offers only one—often very selective—perspective on these issues. It is therefore no longer obvious how the criteria of selection for the figures he concentrates on are to be legitimated, if not by the story he constructs about modern philosophy's being almost wholly dominated by the idea of objectification. I shall look at some consequences of this question later, but it is worth pointing out already that if the content of Gadamer's story is put into question by the proposal of an equally compelling or superior narrative, the conclusions he draws from his story concerning the nature of modernity themselves also cease to be wholly compelling, because they rely on the “effective history” of the texts he invokes to establish his story in the first place.
The central problem can be illustrated by the following example. In Truth and Method Gadamer gives an account of the difference between what he presents as two opposed strands of thought, epitomized by Schleiermacher's and Hegel's views of the hermeneutic task, in which Schleiermacher stands for the objectifying “reconstruction” of the “original determination of the work” (WMi58), and Hegel for the “integration” of the work into a “thinking mediation with contemporary life” (WMiGi). According to Gadamer, Schleiermacher objectifies interpretation in a manner which Hegel does not, Hegel's procedure being closer in this respect to what Gadamer himself intends. The problem is that Gadamer's interpretation of Schleiermacher is tendentious at best, and in certain respects demonstrably misguided. He claims, for example, that the conception of Schleiermacher's which had the most influence was, rather than the early conception influenced by his friendship with Friedrich Schlegel in the 1790-5, probably his later conception in Hermeneutics and Criticism, published by Friedrich Liicke in 1838. According to Gadamer, in the later conception subjectivist “technical interpretation,” in which, as Schleiermacher puts it in 1805, “language with its determining power disappears and only appears as the organ of the person, in the service of their individuality,” plays a more dominant role than “grammatical interpretation,” in which “the person … disappears and appears only as the organ of the language.” However, Wolfgang Virmond has now
Schleiermacher in fact uses “art” (Kunst) both in the sense of the Greek “techne,” meaning ability, capacity, and in the sense related to the new aesthetic
“Romanticism” is still widely regarded as the movement in modern European society which gave primacy to the creative and autonomous aspects of the subject over what could be understood about that subject in objectifying “Enlightenment” terms. This image has, though, increasingly come to be seen as inadequate to the complexity of what we mean by Romanticism, as the following example from the present discussion can suggest. Gadamer himself now regards his distorted picture of Schleiermacher in Truth and Method as being a result of his failure to take adequate account of Schleier-macher's Dialektik, which relates to Schleiermacher's hermeneutics in the following manner: “Language only exists via thought, and vice versa; each can only complete itself via the other. The art of explication and translation [hermeneutics] dissolves language into thought; dialectic dissolves thought into language.” As such, given the role of hermeneutics and dialectic as the necessary complements of each other in Schleiermacher, it cannot be the case that the ground of understanding is some kind of direct intuitive contact with another subject, or a direct apprehension of objects in the world. At the same time, though, Schleiermacher is also convinced that language alone does not determine the access we have to the world: if the de-terminacy of thought requires the fixity provided by the limited number of elements in a language, language in turn requires the spontaneity of the individual
The reason for Gadamer's failure in relation to Schleiermacher is, though, less contingent than his failure to consult one particular text, because his misconception actually follows quite straightforwardly from part of the larger story that he presupposes as the basis of his desire to formulate an alternative conception of hermeneutics. Despite all Gadamer's invaluable revisions of, and improvements to, Heidegger's conception—notably his rejection of the untenable idea of the “language of metaphysics”—his story still relies upon aspects of Heidegger's account of modern philosophy, an account which has continued to have enormous effects on the most varied kinds of contemporary theory, particularly via the influence of post-structuralism's adoption of its diagnosis of the role of the subject in modernity (see Frank for the best critical account of this issue). From Descartes, to Hegel's claim that “the substance is subject,” to Husserl's search for the “principle of all principles,” Heidegger maintains, the “concern [Sache] of philosophy … is subjectivity.” This startling assertion is explained by what Heidegger regards as being behind Descartes's adoption of the cogito as the fundamentum inconcussum: “To the essence of the subjectivity of the subjectum and of man as subject belongs the unconditioned de-limitation of the domain of possible objedification and of the right to decision about this ob-jectification,” so that man himself “guarantees the certainty of the know-able.” Heidegger's development of this position into a verdict on the whole of “Western metaphysics,” which he later comes to equate with natural science itself, is well known and need not detain us for long here, not least because Gadamer, while still claiming that “in the background of the whole of modern thought stands the Cartesian characterization of consciousness as self-consciousness” (GWa:i48), is rather more circumspect about the implications of such a view of the subject in modern philosophy.
If philosophy is, as Hegel put it, its “age grasped in thought,” philosophers who correspond to what is assumed about the age in other respects are likely to become part of a self-confirming picture. The philosophical story about the foundational status of the subject which begins with Descartes,
Gadamer is in certain respects aware of this when he suggests that “It is the philosophy of German Idealism, Romantic literature, and the discovery of the historical world in Romanticism which have shown themselves up till now to be an effective countermovement within the process of Enlightenment in modernity” (GW8:i63). The problem in Gadamer's approach, though, is that radical reassessments of our self-understanding are homogenized into a narrative of tradition which, as has often been pointed out, has similarities with the movement of Hegel's all-consuming Geist, the ultimate dominating “super subject.” Hegel's view of the subordination of the individual subject to Geist—which was precisely what Schleiermacher opposed in Hegel—is also consistent with Gadamer's view of the relationship of the subject to the work of art, in which the work of art “subjects” its recipient to its truth, rather than the recipient, as Schleiermacher saw her, also generating this truth by enabling new aspects of the work to reveal new aspects of the world. Gadamer wants to account for the indisputable fact that certain great works of art, which have transcended their context of genesis and which have remained significant in ever new contexts, are not susceptible to the kind of temporality encountered in the sciences, where validity is often very ephemeral. His underlying idea is apt to experiences like being subjected to the power of a musical work which always transcends our ability to exhaust its potential, a potential which is never fully realized in the work's performances, and in the thoughts and feelings the work evokes at any particular time. However, the approach is also too one-sided in that it transfers too many of the attributes of an admittedly inept conception of the aesthetic subject into the work itself, as though the (metaphorical) active authority of the work from the past always took precedence over the new possibilities of understanding which depend on the activity of its present and future interpreters.
Behind all these matters lies the question of the subject and its relation to truth in modernity, and it is here that the Romantic contribution has
It was J. G. Hamann who probably first explicitly proposed the inversion of the cogito, in which being is understood as preceding consciousness, rather than vice versa, in a letter to F. H. Jacobi in 1785, and Jacobi developed the idea in some detail immediately after this. The fact is that Jacobi revealed the problems of grounding modern philosophy in a way that directly or indirectly affected nearly every significant subsequent German philosopher. His decisive argument is simple: if all our knowledge is of determinate facts, and such knowledge is only intelligible via its relation to other determinate facts, and if, furthermore, each thing depends for its identity on its relations to other things, we are left in both cases with the threat of an infinite regress that renders incomprehensible our undoubted sense of a world of intelligible things.
This problem has reappeared in a variety of guises, suggesting the continuing centrality of Romantic thought within modern philosophy. Hans Albert's Popper-influenced “Critical Rationalism,” which played a crucial role in the Positivism Dispute of the igGos between Adorno and Habermas, and Popper and Albert, talks, for example, of the “Munchhausen Trilemma” that results from the attempt to use Leibniz's “principle of sufficient reason” to ground knowledge. The attempt definitively to ground knowledge is either, as Jacobi already showed in relation to precisely this principle, an infinite regress of reasons for reasons, or a circular argument that relies on reasons which themselves require grounding, or a breaking off of the attempt
A vital problem which Fichte himself came to be aware of, and which the Romantics explored in detail, is that there seems to be no way of explicating the structure of subjectivity which does not entail just presupposing what is to be explicated. In what Henrich terms, in the light of Fichte's “essential insight” into the problem in 1797, the “reflection model”—the model common to Descartes and others in the Enlightenment tradition—the circle in the explanation results from the attempt to explain the phenomenon that is myself in the same way as any part of the objective world. As Novalis put it in 1795-96, “Can I look for a schema for myself, if I am that which schematizes?” If I am to know the object that is myself as myself I must already be familiar with myself in a way which does not depend upon an objectifying reflection. One can look in a mirror and be infallibly aware that one is seeing someone without being aware that the someone is oneself, so that the object side of the reflection makes no contribution to this kind of self-awareness. Consequently, reflexive, prepositional self-knowledge, knowledge of oneself as object, is fallible in away that immediate self-knowledge is not. The experience of “qualia” and the ability to ascribe experiences to myself as my experiences are the increasingly widely accepted nonobjectifiable aspects of self-consciousness which the contemporary philosophy of mind sees as confirming both that the reflection model cannot provide an adequate account of self-consciousness and that the language via which self-consciousness is articulated is only a necessary, not a sufficient, condition of self-consciousness. Henrich sums up the core
The question therefore becomes how to think about that which resists objectification and representation and yet is essential, as Kant had shown in his demonstration of the necessity for that which will bind together different intuitions, to the possibility of truth. Schleiermacher gives a good condensed version of a Romantic conception of the subject in the following passage from his Dialektik:
as thinkers we are only in the single act [of thought]; but as beings we are the unity of all single acts and moments. Progression is only the transition from one [reflexive] moment to the next. This therefore takes place through our being, the living unity of the succession of the acts of thought. The transcendent basis of thought, in which the principles of linkage are contained, is nothing but our own transcendent basis as thinking being…. The transcendent basis must now indeed be the same basis of the being which affects us as of the being which is our own activity.
Frank explains the basic conception as follows: “Being—the Absolute—is no longer a content of consciousness, but rather a presupposition which we must necessarily make if we want to explain the unity of our self-consciousness, which is split into a subject-and an object-pole.” The nature of this being is bound up with the Romantic understanding of art in a manner close to Gadamer, because both positions regard the transcendence of being over reflexive consciousness as best understood via the experience of art.
As we have seen, Gadamer regards the truth manifest in art as a happening of tradition which transcends the contingent responses of the individual subject. Frank has suggested, though, that Gadamer's own idea of tradition may itself involve the aporias of the reflection model, because the truth about myself can only be approached via the recognition of myself in the mirror of linguistic “effective historical consciousness,” which results in another version of the problem of objectifying the subjective outlined above. Frank finds an alternative conception precisely in the early Romantics, who reject Fichte's idea of the subject as prior constitutive ground of philosophy and connect this version of antifoundationalism to the experience of art—in which the failure to be ground of oneself is experienced in the failure to
The question which links the different approaches here is how to respond to the ever more widespread doubts about the possibility—or even desirability—of foundationalism. In this respect the conception of science as founded on the self-certainty of the subject proposed by Heidegger, although historically mistaken, does have the virtue of suggesting how “Enlightenment” positions of many kinds rely on something which has to claim to be self-confirming, if the regress discussed above is to be avoided. The point of both idealist and materialist views for Heidegger is that they require a final, articulable ground, for example in the self-certainty of the subject, or in the assumption of the ultimate possibility of a physicalist reduction of that subject to its material ground. How, then, is the relationship between the “Enlightenment” and the “Romantic” sides of modern philosophy now to be understood, given the problems in the story upon which Gadamer relies?
Two differing “Romantic” alternatives seem to me most revealing in the light of the questions with which we began. One is the early German Romantic conception, now reestablished by the work of Frank, in which the recognition of the inability of philosophy to establish an absolute ground in the manner sought by the Cartesian tradition leads to the idea of truth as a regulative idea to be approached in “endless approximation,” an idea which is understood, though not explained, via the subject's experience of the inexhaustibility of the work of art. The other, highly influential—and related—contemporary alternative, which highlights issues also raised by Gadamer, is Rorty's Nietzsche-influenced conception of a pragmatist “Romantic polytheism,” which regards even a regulative idea of truth as remaining within the Christian-Platonist representationalist tradition. Given that, for Rorty, there is nothing which can unite the differing senses in which the word “truth” is used, the very notion of a goal of inquiry or a moral ideal which is supposed to be endlessly approached but never attained is at best a. focus imaginarius, albeit one which “is none the worse for being an invention rather than (as Kant thought it) a built-in feature of the human mind.” As we shall see, Gadamer's conception involves aspects of both alternatives.
Gadamer comes close to Rorty—though in a manner which Rorty regards as being too reliant on a big philosophical story—because he also does not regard truth as a goal, thinking of it instead as a temporal happening which becomes manifest in the transmission of the work of art. However, this conception is open to questions that were already being asked in early Romantic philosophy. The basic problem is that the conception can be seen as too readily surrendering the—admittedly only counterfactual—
Clearly the difficult problem here is how to cash out the notion of truth if we do not accept a correspondence theory. Perhaps surprisingly, Rorty is happy to admit that” ‘true’ is an absolute term,” and he claims that “Davidson has helped us realize that the very absoluteness of truth is a good reason for thinking ‘true’ indefinable and for thinking that no theory of the nature of truth is possible. It is only the relative about which there is anything to say.” These assertions take us right to the heart of the Romantic conception, as these characteristic remarks from Novalis's so-called “Fichte-Studies” of 1796 make clear. Novalis ponders the idea of philosophy as the search for the ultimate ground of truth and asks what would be the case if “the absolute ground” were unattainable, claiming that “the drive to philosophy would [then] be an endless activity,” and that, in consequence—and this is compatible with Rorty's assertion—“The absolute which is given to us can only be known negatively by our acting and finding that what we are seeking is not attained by any action.” As such, “All seeking after the First is nonsense—it is a regulative idea,” so that grounding, either from the outset, as in Fichte, or in anticipation of the absolute Idea at the end, as later in Hegel, is never definitive. Rorty's Nietzschean question here is whether there is therefore any point in pursuing something whose existence is merely hypothetical, on the assumption that, despite all, this is what most of
Schlegel suggests a partial difference from Rorty when, while asserting, like Novalis, that “There is no absolute truth,” he also claims that “this spurs on the spirit and drives it to activity.” To counter the obvious objection to such assertions, Schlegel also admits that “If all truth is relative, then the proposition is also relative that all truth is relative.” Any proposition has, as Rorty also suggested, to introduce relativity into the absolute, because, as Novalis puts it, in relation to “A is A” as the statement of the absolute, “The essence of identity [of the “ideal” and the “real”] can only be established in a pseudo-proposition [Scheinsatz]. We leave the identical in order to represent it.” Schlegel therefore claims that “For a positive criterion of truth the truth itselfwould have already to be present and be given—which is therefore a contradiction,” because we would have presupposed what the criterion is supposed to enable us to discover. What lies behind Schlegel's assertions is apparent in his declaration elsewhere, which brings him close to Gadamer, that “In truth you would be distressed if the whole world, as you demand, were for once seriously to become completely comprehensible.” Complete understanding would render the pursuit of better—or other—ways of understanding redundant and the world would therefore become meaningless, because postfoundational meaning in this sense resides precisely in the idea that there is always more to be revealed, not in the convergence on a “ready-made world.”
The question is, though, whether one therefore renounces any notion of the totality on the grounds that, in Rorty's terms, the notion requires either the idea of an ultimate correspondence between thought and the world as it is independently of how we describe it, or the idea of an ultimate rendering commensurable of all vocabularies. The two kinds of idea in question are, of course, not necessarily the same, as the history of subsequent philosophy will make clear. With regard to the first idea, Rorty thinks that if there is no identifiable aspect of the world that definitively could be said to be what makes our sentences true, “there is nothing that can plausibly be described as a goal of inquiry, although the desire for further justification, of course, serves as a motive of inquiry.” Any more emphatic concern with
There is, of course, a further dimension to this issue. Rorty's rejection of the “subpropositional” also excludes precisely the dimension of “language” that becomes manifest when Romanticism takes seriously the meaning of the non-propositional form of music, a form which relies for its significance on agreements within a community about the need for articulations which transcend what can be said. If one takes a narrowly semantic view of “truth,” as Rorty sometimes does, there is no problem here, because music does not have meaning in this sense, but if “meaning” is what we understand when we understand something, there is evidently a sense in which music has to be meaningful to be music at all. Gadamer reminds one of the importance of this dimension even in everyday language use when he remarks that “The word which one says or which is said to one is not the grammatical element of a linguistic analysis, which can be shown in concrete phenomena of language acquisition to be secondary in relation, say, to the linguistic melody of a sentence” (GWs: 196).
Before trying to establish which differences make a real difference here, it is important to remember that the differences we have been exploring are accompanied by a substantial degree of agreement on some basic issues. For the Romantics, Rorty, and Gadamer we are always, albeit in different senses, in contact with reality, and all agree that this contact should not be thought of as based on representing the object world in an adequate manner. Schlegel says, thereby refusing the scheme/content division in the manner of Rorty, but at the same time retaining the regulative idea of the whole also seen in Putnam, that “One has always regarded it as the greatest difficulty to get from consciousness to reality [Daseyn]. But in our view this difficulty does not exist. Consciousness and reality appear here as the connected parts [Glieder] of a whole.” He takes the very fact that we come to refute previously held beliefs as the source of our inarticulable sense of truth: truth “arises where opposed errors neutralize each other … if we destroy error truth arises of its own accord.” Although new beliefs are themselves in turn open to revision because they are only partial, and they depend for
To this extent Schlegel's (and Novalis's) position can be seen as congruent with many of Gadamer's contentions about art as a corrective to the ob-jectifications of the natural sciences, which aim to reduce the being of the thing to the aspect which renders it subsumable into an explanatory theory. Frank, in “Unendliche Annaherung,” though, actually sees Schlegel's position as pointing to the need for a “metaphysical realist” interpretation of Romantic philosophy, because the conviction that being transcends consciousness leads to the idea of thought as correspondence to a reality which is independent of what we think about it. The problem here lies in the ever more tangled nature of the debate over realism: can the realist “view from nowhere” meaningfully be termed a ‘View’ in the same way as a view from somewhere, and how would we articulate a view from nowhere in a language which is itself always a view from somewhere? The fact is that Schlegel's position is equally compatible with a pragmatism or a hermeneutics which regards the realism/an tirealism and realism/idealism divisions as futile because of their reliance on a representational conception, which the world-disclosive nature of art undermines by its reminder of the constant possibility of rearticulation of what there is. Indeed, Schlegel himself explicitly rejects the correspondence theory of truth, which is generally regarded as essential to a realist position, because in it “the object would, as such, have to be compared with the representation; but that is not at all possible, because one only ever has a representation of the object, and thus can only ever compare one representation with another.” Truth cannot be seen as the “agreement of subjective and objective” because “reality … cannot be called either subject or object.” In a similar vein, Schleiermacher also says that “One could say that correspondence of thought with being is an empty thought, because of the absolute different nature and incommensurability of each.” Apel makes the basic point as follows, thus emphasizing one of the continuities I am concerned to establish here: “If one asked about the criterion of the presence of … adaequatio, then the answer would have to be given by an observer who located themself outside the subject-object relation
However, the problem remains that if something is postponed to infinity, there are grounds for assuming that it has no role to play in what we actually do that could not be better dealt with either in a more pragmatic manner, or in terms of Gadamer's notion that the temporality of understanding does not involve a privation but rather a multiplication of horizons. In common with the Romantics, Rorty rejects the notion of truth as correspondence, and he also uses attenuated notions of coherence of beliefs and communicative consensus, but the difference is that he thinks there is no substantial point in approaching these issues in terms of truth as regulative idea. As we saw above, Schleiermacher gave reasons of the kind Rorty also gives for questioning whether we can finally make distinctions between what the world contributes and what we contribute to knowledge, but he retained a more emphatic sense of truth, of the kind suggested by Putnam and Apel, insisting that “in language as well there is error and truth; even incorrect thought can become common to all.” Rorty refers to this idea as involving the “cautionary” use of “true,” which he sees as “a gesture toward future generations” who may find the contrary of what is now universally accepted a better way of talking about the world, rather than as involving truth as a regulative idea. So how are we to adjudicate between these differing conceptions of “Romantic” thought?
It should now be evident that the discussion has led into some of the most contentious debates in contemporary philosophy, and, of course, to the (intended) sense that we are in some senses little further on in resolving these debates than people were at the end of the eighteenth century. One point does, though, seem to be decisive, and it is encapsulated in the title of Apel's critical essay on Gadamer, cited above: “Regulative Idea or Happening of Truth?” which also sums up the difference which has underlain much of the preceding discussion. Let us conclude, then, by looking very briefly at the investment entailed by allegiance to one or the other side of the divide suggested by Apel's title in relation to the question with which we began. Rorty and Gadamer share with Schlegel and Schleiermacher the conviction that, although the natural sciences are indispensable to human survival, as Gadamer puts it, “this does not mean that people would be able to solve the problems that face us, peaceful coexistence of peoples, and the preservation of the balance of nature, with science as such. It is obvious that not mathematics but the linguistic nature of people is the basis of human civilization” (GW8:342). The strength of this position lies in its widening of the focus of philosophical reflection beyond the narrow analytical concern
The vital hermeneutic idea which Gadamer has done so much to render convincing, and which was made possible by Romantic thought, is that the method of the sciences depends upon world-disclosing preunderstandings which themselves cannot be scientifically explained—hence the link of his hermeneutics to art. In the early Romantic view, the limits of what can be explained are understood in terms of the way in which the subject's being is always more than it can explain to itself, which leaves it with an endless task of self-exploration via its relations to the world: natural science is therefore only one part of that exploration. The significance of music lies, in this sense, precisely in its meaning being independent of what science can say about it as sound. Rorty has, as we saw, no time either for “subpropositional” modes of articulation or for reflections on self-consciousness, but this surely tries to obviate too much too quickly, giving us no way, for example, of understanding the difference of intentional language use or the playing of music from the mere mechanical production of signifiers and patterned noises. Do reflections on self-consciousness necessarily lead back in the last analysis to the paradigm of representation if the essential issue is not the empiricist problem of how sensations ever get to the point of becoming reliable knowledge, but rather the Romantic problem, which Rorty accepts in its psychoanalytical version, of how to come to terms with the fact that the being of the self is more than it knows?
One of Rorty's most productive ideas in this context is his separation of “projects of social cooperation and projects of individual self-development”: the “paradigm” of the former is natural science, of the latter, “romantic art,” and another “may be” religion. The former demands the kind of communicative consensus which is vital to the functioning of any society—which Apel, Habermas, and others try, in Rorty's opinion unsuccessfully, to elevate into a substitute for earlier forms of transcendental philosophy—the latter is left to the individual, provided they do no harm to others. Gadamer, of course, wishes to use engagement with what Rorty sees in terms of a private search for transcendence in art as a means of revealing the culturally damaging implications of the exclusive concentration on rule-based “method” in the sciences. The dangers in this area are familiar: in its extreme versions the rendering public of the private need for transcendence is precisely what makes Habermas and others so suspicious of what they mean by “Romanticism,” especially in the light of the course of German history. Rorty therefore says that he reads “people like Heidegger and Nietzsche as good private philosophers,” contrasting himself with Habermas who “reads them as bad public philosophers.” This is because they offer resources for the kind of
“Romantic” transcendence which allows one to imagine Utopian possibilities, even though they are useless, or worse, for the “philosophical” task of advancing democracy. Their value lies, then, precisely in the world-disclo-sive element of their thought, not—and Rorty suggests something similar about Gadamer, whom he regards in this respect as sharing a suspect Hei-deggerian nostalgia in relation to the “public” aspect of modernity in their contribution to solving political, economic, and technical problems in the modern world.
Rorty himself seems here to rely on questionable radical dichotomies between two fundamentally different kinds of project, and two different uses of language, of the kind he elsewhere seeks to avoid, though the distinctions are in many ways merely strategic. He claims against Habermas, for example, that what happens in “private” world disclosure can, if it happens to become part of the problem-solving resources of a society, move from one to the other side of the divide, from mere disclosure to the realm of argument about truth based on the consensus of a community. If one accepts this view in the form in which Rorty presents it, Gadamer's desire for an emphatic sense in which great art involves a happening of truth entails the equivalent with regard to art of what Rorty wishes to escape via the rejection of the correspondence theory of truth, namely a kind of deeper legitimation that needs to be backed up by a big philosophical story, in this case of the need for something opposed to the idea of “science and technology as something like our historical fate.” On the other hand, if one accepts Rorty's more emphatic formulations, one is left with a questionable schematic distinction between “arguments,” in which “the same vocabulary” must “be used in premises and conclusions” as part of the same “language game,” and “suggestions about how to speak differently.” All the latter can do is “fluidize old vocabularies.” In real language use, of course, this distinction is being transgressed all the time, and it is the spontaneous interpretative capacity of subjects most obviously exemplified in their ability to make sense of art which prevents the confusion that would ensue if Rorty's model were really determining.
Gadamer is actually prone to make an analogous kind of distinction, from the other direction, in order to sustain his story about the difference between rule-bound, objectifying language use in scientific and technical work, and revelatory language which escapes objectification: “Both kinds of discourse, poetic as well as philosophical … share a common trait. They cannot be ‘false.’ For there is no criterion outside them by which they can measure themselves, to which they could correspond” (GW8:23g). This seems to mean that scientific discourse does correspond to the world in itself, as opposed to being seen as a way of making predictions to solve problems. As such, in wishing to avoid the—in any case questionable—idea that all evaluation involves objectification, Gadamer ends up leaving the door
1. Richard Rorty, Achieving Our Country: Leftist Thought in Twentieth-Century America (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1998), 28. [BACK]
2. Richard Rorty, Objectivity, Relativism, and Truth (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1991), 162. [BACK]
3. See, e.g., Tugendhat's review of Gadamer in Ernst Tugendhat, Philosophische Aufsatze (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1992). [BACK]
4. Rorty terms scientism “the doctrine that natural science is privileged over other areas of culture, that something about natural science puts it in closer—or at least more reliable—touch with reality than any other human activity.” Richard Rorty, Truth and Progress: Philosophical Papers, vol. 3 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), 294. [BACK]
5. John McDowell, Mind, Value, and Reality (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1998), 72. As will become apparent below, this is essentially a formulation of the problem of the “absolute” as it is seen in early German Romantic philosophy. On this see Andrew Bowie, ‘John McDowell's Mind and World and Early Romantic Epistemology,’ in Revue international dephilosophie, 50.197 (1996): 515-54. [BACK]
6. On this see Manfred Frank, “Unendliche Annaherung”: Die Anfdnge der philoso-phischen Fruhromantik (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp), 1997. [BACK]
7. For a much more detailed account, see Andrew Bowie, From Romanticism to Critical Theory: The Philosophy of German Literary Theory (London: Routledge, 1997). [BACK]
8. See Dahlhaus, Die Idee der absoluten Musik (Munich: DTV, 1978); and Andrew Bowie, Aesthetics and Subjectivity: From Kant to Nietzsche (Manchester: Manchester University Press, new ed. 2003). [BACK]
9. One of Gadamer's aims is to establish a nonrepresentational concept of “mimesis” as the “essence of all constitutive activity in art and literature,” in which “Mimesis is … not so much that something points to something else that is its original image [Urbild], but that something in itself [in sich selbst] is there as something meaningful” (GW8:85). There is nothing incompatible in this with the idea that music can be world-disclosive: neither position assumes that music is essentially the representation of interiority. [BACK]
10. Quoted in Paul Moos, Die Philosophic der Musik von Kant bis Eduard von Hart-mann (New York: Georg Olms, 1975), 27. [BACK]
11. It is questionable, in the light of the hermeneutically influenced postem-piricist history of science, whether this is an adequate view of the practice of science, but it does correspond to a widely held view in the traditions Gadamer refers to. [BACK]
12. See my From Romanticism to Critical Theory for a more differentiated account of Dilthey. [BACK]
13. Friedrich Schlegel, Kritische Schriften und Fragmente 1-6 (Paderborn: Ferdinand Schoningh, 1988), 38. [BACK]
14. Ibid., 48. [BACK]
15. Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling, Sammtliche Werke, ed. K. F. A. Schelling, I Abtheilung vols. 1-10, II Abtheilung vols. 1-4 (Stuttgart, 1856-61), 1/3.627. On this, see Andrew Bowie, Schelling and Modern European Philosophy (London: Rout-ledge, 1993); and Bowie, Aesthetics. [BACK]
16. Novalis, Band 2: Das philosophische-theoretische Werh, ed. Hans-Joachim Mahl (Munich: Hanser, 1978), 769. [BACK]
17. Ibid., 322. [BACK]
18. Ibid., 840. [BACK]
19. In F. D. E. Schleiermacher, “Hermeneutics and Criticism” and Other Texts, ed. and trans. Andrew Bowie (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998). [BACK]
20. Ibid., 94. [BACK]
21. See Wolfgang Virmond, Schleiermacher-Archiv, Band I (Berlin: W. de Gruyter, 1985), 575-90; Schleiermacher, “Hermeneutics.” [BACK]
22. Schleiermacher, “Hermeneutics,” 94. In the General Hermeneutics of 1809-10 Schleiermacher sees the two sides as follows: “The grammatical side puts the utterer in the background and regards him just as an organ of the language, but regards language as what really generates the utterance. The technical side, on the other hand, regards the utterer as the real-ground of the utterance and the language merely as the negative limiting principle” (ibid., 230). [BACK]
23. Ibid., 257. [BACK]
24. See Bowie, Romanticism, and my Introduction to Schleiermacher, “Hermeneutics. “As Frank shows in “Unendliche Anndherung,” the insight into the regress of rules, which Kant already describes (see Bowie, Romanticism,chapter 2), was a commonplace of the post-Kantian thinkers who prepared the way for Romantic thought. [BACK]
25. Schleiermacher, “Hermeneutics,” 229. [BACK]
26. Ernest Lepore, ed., Truth and Interpretation (Oxford: Blackwell, 1986), 446. [BACK]
27. On this see, e.g., Manfred Frank, Das Individuelle-Allgemeine: Textstruhtur-ierungund interpretation nach Schleiermacher (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1977); Christian Berner, La philosophie de Schleiermacher (Paris: Cerf, 1995); and Bowie, Romanticism. [BACK]
28. F. D. E. Schleiermacher, Dialehtih, ed. L. Jonas (Berlin: Reimer, 1839), 261. [BACK]
29. See my Introduction to Schleiermacher, “Hermeneutics.” [BACK]
30. Martin Heidegger, Zur Sachen des Denkens (Tubingen: Niemeyer, 1988), 70. [BACK]
31. Martin Heidegger, Holzwege (Frankfurt: Klostermann, 1980), 107. [BACK]
32. Ibid., 105. [BACK]
33. See Frank, Individuelle-Allgemeine; Bowie, Schilling. [BACK]
34. Karl-Otto Apel, Auseinandersetzungen (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1998), 572-74. [BACK]
35. See Frank, “Unendliche Annaherung,” §*](:>. [BACK]
36. See Dieter Henrich, Der Grand im Bewusstsein: Untersuchungen zu Holderlins Denhen (1794-5) (Stuttgart: Klett-Cotta, 1992); Andrew Bowie, “Re-thinking the History of the Subject: Jacobi, Schelling, and Heidegger,” in Deconstructive Subjectivities, ed. Simon Critchely and Peter Dews (New York: SUNYPress, 1996); Frank, “Unendliche Annaherung. “ [BACK]
37. Gadamer sees correspondences between his position and that of Popper (GWa:4). [BACK]
38. See Bowie, “Re-thinking”; Bowie, Romanticism; Frank, “Unendliche Annaherung. “ [BACK]
39. The contemporary counterpart of Fichte in relation to the question of grounding is Karl-Otto Apel, who insists against Albert that a “final foundation” is to be discovered in the fact that if one does not accept an absolute presupposition concerning the possible intersubjective validity of what is being argued about, one would be involved in the “performative self-contradiction” of claiming validity for a position which excludes the possibility of validity. I shall return to some of the less controversial and more productive aspects of Apel's arguments below. [BACK]
40. Fichte's subjectivism has often led him to be regarded as the essential Romantic philosopher. It was Walter Benjamin who first showed why this is an invalid view of Fichte, for reasons similar to those suggested below; on this see Bowie, Romanticism,chapter 8. [BACK]
41. Novalis 162. [BACK]
42. See Manfred Frank, Selbstbewusstsein und Selbsterhenntnis (Stuttgart: Reclam, 1991). [BACK]
43. Dieter Henrich, Fluchtlinien: Philosophische Essays (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1982), 166. [BACK]
44. F. D. E. Schleiermacher, Friedrich Schleiermachers Dialektih, ed. Rudolf Ode-brecht (Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1976), 274-75. [BACK]
45. Frank,“UnendlicheAnnaherung,” 717. [BACK]
46. Richard Rorty, Contingency, Irony and Solidarity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989), 196. [BACK]
47. Rorty, Truth and Progress, vol. 1, 2. [BACK]
48. Ibid., 3. [BACK]
49. Novalis 181. [BACK]
50. Ibid. [BACK]
51. Friedrich Schlegel, Philosophische Vorlesungen (1800-1807), Kritische Fried-rich Schlegel Ausgabe, vol. 12 (Munich: Ferdinand Schoningh), 95. [BACK]
52. Friedrich Schlegel, Transcendentalphilosophie, ed. Michael Elsasser (Hamburg: Meiner, 1991), 95. [BACK]
53. Novalis 8. [BACK]
54. Friedrich Schlegel, Philosophische Lehrjahre II (1798-1828) (Kritische Friedrich Schlegel Ausgabe, vol. 19) (Munich: Ferdinand Schoningh, 1971), 58. [BACK]
55. Schlegel, Kritische Schriften, 240. [BACK]
56. Rorty, Truth, 38. [BACK]
57. Richard Rorty, Essays on Heidegger and Others: Philosophical Papers, vol. 2 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989), 126. [BACK]
58. Hilary Putnam, Reason, Truth, and History (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981), 216. [BACK]
59. Schlegel, Transcendentalphilosophie, 74. [BACK]
60. Ibid., 92-93. [BACK]
61. Schlegel, Vorlesungen, 316-17. [BACK]
62. Schlegel, Transcendentalphilosophie, 92. [BACK]
63. Schleiermacher, Dialektik, 18. [BACK]
64. Apel 92. [BACK]
65. The further complicating factor lies in the fact that representations require linguistic articulation if they are to be agreed on, which gives a further reason why the correspondence model is untenable, at least in its traditional form. [BACK]
66. Schleiermacher, “Hermeneutics,” 274. [BACK]
67. Rorty, Truth, 60-61. [BACK]
68. Indeed, it is arguable that for much of this century most English-speaking philosophy at least was, with respect to these specific issues, not even at the level of the Romantic debate. [BACK]
69. Richard Rorty, “Pragmatism as Romantic Polytheism,” in The Revival of Pragmatism: New Essays on Social Thought, Law, and Culture, ed. Morris Dickstein (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1998), 37-46. See also Rorty, Contingency. [BACK]
70. Rorty, Truth, 310. [BACK]
71. Ibid., Truth, 288. [BACK]
72. Cited in ibid. [BACK]
73. Rorty, Essays, 125. [BACK]
74. Ibid., 126. [BACK]