Monday, January 17, 2005

The Linguistic Turn in Hermeneutic Philosophy

A review of Lafont's The Linguistic Turn in Hermeneutic Philosophy can be read here. Few Habermas related excerpts (related to issues discussed in some of the recent posts:

"Lafont is determined to give both the communicative dimension and the cognitive dimension of language their due; indeed, she consistently refers to her central argument that we should no longer defend the reification of language as world-disclosure. Instead, she argues for the use of current theories of "direct reference" to bring the designative ("referential") function of language back into play Accordingly, Lafont finds in Habermas's later thought a dialectic "between an intersubjectivity to be produced through communication, and an intersubjectivity always already produced, thanks to the `lifeworld' shared by speakers" (126). From this perspective, she maintains, we can acknowledge that our relationship with the world is symbolically mediated."

" . . . Lafont also usefully takes us through many years of Habermas's writings and shows how his reliance on a "lifeworld," a holistic concept of shared presuppositions, does not appear to agree with some of his other more universalist claims. In other words, Lafont's agenda is to show how a hermeneutic component to Habermas's philosophy cannot account for how we understand the meaning of what someone says. For example, Lafont claims, Habermas presumes that we share implied background knowledge that we cannot reduce to propositions; but because we cannot formalize this holistic knowledge, then counter to Habermas's intent, we cannot isolate "the acceptability conditions of speech acts from the background knowledge that determines these conditions and thus makes possible the understanding of speech acts" (223)."

"Lafont uses the issue of learning as a limit case to test her strategy: can a philosophy of language explain how we learn through language? To accomplish this task, she analyzes the referential and cognitive use of language to show how language contains within itself the possibility of revising itself (so we can change, learn, and correct previous knowledge). After much abstraction intended to show how referential uses contain possibilities of revisibility, Lafont moves to specific examples in her lively and clear examination of K. Donnellan's distinction between "attributive" and "referential" uses of definite descriptions. An "attributive" description is essential for doing something; it is irreplaceable. A "referential" description is but on, e of many ways to accomplish the same job. For Lafont, Donnellan's distinction helps us understand that the classic theory of reference only applies to the "attributive" use. In the act of redescribing something, hearers can agree to the existence of the referent, but disagree about the specific way the speaker describes that referent; a theory of indirect reference cannot, Lafont asserts, account for this possibility In order to learn, we must have the possibility for cognitive disagreement; we must learn the referential use of language."

full here.

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