Rhetoric, hermeneutics and the philosophy of technology

My approach to the philosophy of technology has been via the route of hermeneutics from day one. Within mainstream philosophy, there are established figures such as Heidegger who feature in all of the summaries of the philosophy of technology, yet they does not do much for me. There are the critical theorists such as Marcuse who are also often appealed to, and likewise I am unenthused. I feel I should set out how and why hermeneutics, and Hans Georg Gadamer specifically, set the tone for my engagement with the philosophy of technology and its sub-disciplines. The reason I choose Gadamerian hermeneutics is that it is a philosophy which puts rhetoric in a central position, and technology is a deeply rhetorical field.

Technology is most often described as being connected with science, in that it is technology which exemplifies a scientific principle brought to bear on the world. It is science made practical, science made to serve our human ends. Were this the full story, in all its neutral glory, then turning to Heidegger or Marcuse would not seem quite so problematic to me. If technology was only ever merely “application” then it would invite such interpretation as Heidegger and Marcuse seem to offer. But it is not. There are two ways to demonstrate this, Continue reading

The philosophy of information in Lyotard and Gadamer: postmodernism and hermeneutics

Lyotard‘s famed antipathy towards meta-narratives might well be framed as the problem of the growing chasm between knowledge on the one hand (the abode of philosophy, sociology, political theory, anthropology, history) and the sources of such knowledge, namely information and data -once we accept the “knowledge pyramid”, or the ascending steps of data, information, knowledge, and that other one. What I wish to illustrate is that the invocation of computer and machine analogies for human thought are precipitous. The philosophy of information is not just that which is practiced by Luciano Floridi. By invoking the philosophy of information, however, we are simultaneously given a route away from the impasse diagnosed by Lyotard, and a means of better appreciating and understanding Gadamer’s philosophical hermeneutics.

I have noted previously (“Defending Modernism and visions of the future”) that there is nothing necessarily wrong with ideals or narratives in and of themselves. The problem comes with the struggle to define coherent ideals and narratives, and accordingly just ceasing to make any effort at when the going gets intellectually tough. How much, then, was the vulgar notion of Lyotard’s thesis an excuse for laziness? Continue reading

Language and gaps: why to make a metaphor of metaphor

Wolfgang Iser‘s interests in prose may not allow him to consider what he calls a text’s “deviation” in the radical sense that it may demand. In Hans-Georg Gadamer‘s terms, we can note that with all his talk of horizons meeting (one of Gadamer’s most important ideas), nevertheless a gap emerges. It is not purely within these horizons, but between them, the horizon of me as a reader, and the horizon of an author’s text, or even the gap between the horizons of you and me as two people trying to communicate. The gap is the distance in time and space that communication seeks to negate, but it is also the gap of mis-communication, of things ill-said, or of things not said.

I have always thought about this is in terms of kenosis, chiasmus, and plerosis. Kenosis, I define as an “emptying out”, and plerosis as a “filling up”. Most usefully in these terms, for me, is the Greek -sis ending which implies that a process is on-going. Completion is not necessary for discussion. Nor is the theological source of these words significant. Harold Bloom used, in his Kabbalah and Criticism, the strategies of Jewish mystical interpretation to develop a theory of poetic interpretation. I do something analogous here. The link to Bloom’s book above suggests that aside from fashionable co-option by celebrities, or misunderstanding as a result of cheap books beside the check-out,

“The great lesson that Kabbalah can teach contemporary interpretation is that meaning in belated texts is always wandering meaning, even as the belated Jews were wandering people. Meaning wanders. Like human tribulation, or like error, from text to text, and within a text, from figure to figure. What governs this wandering, this errancy, is defense, the beautiful necessity of defense, but meaning itself is defense, and so meaning wanders to protect itself.”

Wandering and errancy, there is nothing to pin down, there is no original meaning to find. The gap is to be lived with because the gap is integral to meaning. It does not come before meaning as with some theories, it is simply always there. That is the point I wish to make in this little picture.

In this space (which I consider a kind of chiasmic crossing, which is the gap between horizons for Iser and Gadamer), Iser postulates that the ‘act’ of meaning takes place. Paul H. Fry has an arresting image to explain this, with the spark-plug which cannot function without the gap to traverse. The gap is not an impasse of permanent parabasis (which the deconstructionists turn into a sacred term, a fetish). The gap is the call to duty to communicate, and the call to duty to theorize and discuss this gap. The point is that meaning happens “in spite of” everything that stand in its way. Fry escapes the temptation to which Iser succumbs, namely the hypostatization of deviation. Fry, by having recourse to a metaphor, enacts the way out of the chiasmic crossing. We could describe it literally, as do the deconstructionists, but by simply describing, and by avoiding the literary truth of metaphors we are separated from its power, power which we can use. This is the value of Fry’s outline. It is descriptive as a schematic, but it runs builds the model and runs the current of metaphor through the thing, making it alive.

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Philosophy of technology notes: 3

Consider technology as a nexus of problems of solutions. I want to suggest that philosophy of technology then would be more concerned with the form of the solution rather than the content or the actual materials used; how rather than what.

In their everyday, vulgar ontology, people interact with the world in a fairly standard manner. We rely upon rules, prejudices, established procedures. This is the realm of “this is the way it’s done”. (Aside: indeed, Gadamer developed an entire philosophy predicated on just this fundamental mode of interacting the world, via his hermeneutical analysis of what is – not wholly felicitously – translated from German as prejudice, the praejudicium or “prior judgement” of medieval law.) That is to say, on a daily basis, we encounter an entire constellation of already existent solutions that long precede us.  Continue reading

Hermeneutics of modern architecture

The architect is a specialist in the sense that they must respond to the needs of a community, and as such may be said to be constrained by both values (however we might define these) and technical requirements. This makes the architect different from other aesthetic practitioners who may assume an audience no matter what they do. Indeed, some art forms exist very much “in spite of” the audience. If ideas have a history, then so too do styles. This makes us question the reactionary elevation of Quinlan Terry (almost universally regarded as a purveyor of pastiche) by Roger Scruton. Why does he see fit to elevate the neoclassical above the gothic? Why isn’t Terry churning out works in the style of Pugin? Edward Winters calls Scruton “nihilistic” in that he is fixated on a world that is irredeemably lost. What if we step back from all this, though, and ask some more questions about what we think architecture should be… Continue reading

Being, metaphor, and “nothingness”

I know it’s obscene in WordPress terms to include something that you wrote during your undergraduate days, but I may want to refer to this at some point, and I am too lazy to quote selectively, so I include something I did for my B.Phil. below:  Continue reading