Modern hermeneutics begins with F. D. E. Schleiermacher who systematized hermeneutics, developing it from a group of disparate disciplines meant to apply to different fields of discourse to a set of procedures applicable to all. Schleiermacher also insists on a methodical practice of interpretation including grammatical interpretation, which attends to an author’s language, and psychological or technical interpretation, which attends to an author’s intentions. In moving to philosophical hermeneutics, Martin Heidegger and Hans-Georg Gadamer refocus away from the procedures conducive to understanding and towards the conditions under which understanding occurs: namely, in the context of our ongoing projects and purposes and the interrelations they involve. For Gadamer, these conditions lead to a rethinking of the Enlightenment’s criticism of tradition and prejudice. The context of understanding is a historically developed one. Indeed, Heidegger and Gadamer conceive of the so-called hermeneutic circle of whole and part not as a method for coming to a definitive understanding of a text, as Schleiermacher does, but rather as a reflection of our historical circumstances. We are the result of the effective histories of the very texts and discourses we seek to understand. To the extent that we are, however, we participate in their traditions and are oriented or prejudiced by the assumptions they hand down to us. The problem with a Schleiermachian reliance on interpretive method, then, is that it pretends to an objectivity that it cannot attain and thereby gives up on the possibility of acknowledging and interrogating prejudice. Schleiermacher’s focus on intentions is equally problematic. To the extent that we concentrate only or primarily on the intentions or thoughts behind an author’s or speaker’s expression, we fail to take their expressions up as possible insights or valid claims. In contrast, philosophical hermeneutics asks us to take works of literature seriously with regard to their subject matter, or Sache, and to engage dialogically in a process of clarifying an issue or subject matter for ourselves. In short, we miss much of what we can learn about a subject matter if we look to intentions over content. Likewise, we miss much of what we can learn about ourselves if we look to method and forgo dialogue.
Clarence W. Joldersma
Education needs an ethical orientation that can help it grapple better with global environmental issues such as climate change and decreasing biodiversity, something called earth ethics. The term ethics is used in an unusual manner, to mean a normativity more basic than concrete norms, principles, or rules for living. The idea of earth is also used in an unusual way, as a kind of concealing, a refusal to disclose itself, while at the same time, constituting a kind of interference with the familiarity of the world. The idea of earth plays on the contrast between living on earth and living in the world. The latter involves the familiar concerns and actions of culture and work, of politics and economics. Earth ethics becomes a call to responsibility coming from the earth—a call to let the earth and earthlings be, to acknowledge their refusal to answer our questions or fit easily into our worldly projects, and to recognize their continuing mystery as beings with their own intrinsic worth. The idea of earth ethics is developed through attending to a set of human experiences. First is an experience of gratefulness toward the earth. This gratefulness not only reveals our finitude, but also our indebtedness to the grace-filled support the earth continually gives us for our worldly projects and concerns. This reveals earth as our home, a dwelling we share with other earthlings. This reveals earth’s fundamental fragility. What seems solid and dependable from a worldly perspective shows up as vulnerability from an earthly viewpoint. The experiences of gratefulness to and fragility of the earth gives rise to feeling a call to responsibility, the core of earth ethics. Earth ethics is a call of responsibility to the earth, one that grows out of our debt of gratitude and the earth’s fragility. It is this normative call that might guide education in its grappling with environmental issues.
Ranajit Guha is one of the best-known and most innovative historians of modern India. The bulk of his best-known work was published between 1981 and 2002. The main historiographical issues that appear in his work include (a) the colonial appropriation of the Indian past and its representation as a “highly interesting portion of British history,” which together with the force of colonial conquest added up in Guha’s terminology to a colonial expropriation of Indian history; (b) the complicity of all branches of colonialist knowledge in the fact or force of conquest; (c) British rule in India as a “dominance without hegemony,” in which the moment of coercion outweighed the moment of persuasion by contrast with western Europe; (d) an Indian historiography of India that attempts to redress the expropriation of Indian history and make “the Indian people, constituted as a nation, the subject of their own history”; (e) a subaltern historiography that identifies the limitations of the mainstream Indian historiography of India and the need to pay attention to the “neglected dimension of subaltern autonomy in action, consciousness and culture,” the “contribution made by the people on their own”; and (f) a historiography that goes beyond “statism” to the everyday being-in-the-world of ordinary people, countering the pretensions of the “prose of world-history” with the “prose of the world.” These issues recur in various forms and combinations in Guha’s books and essays, notably the ones he contributed to Subaltern Studies, an edited series that he launched in 1982. The theoretical influences on Guha’s work are not limited to Marxism and its many offshoots. Guha used the concept of “subaltern” to signify anyone in India who did not belong to the “elite” and therefore included peasants, workers, impoverished landlords, and others whose behavior exhibited a combination of defiance and deference to the elite. It has many points of contact with Gramsci’s work. Guha drew freely on the philosophy of Hegel and Heidegger, Bengali literature, notably the works of Rabindranath Tagore, not to mention semiotics, linguistics, structuralism, and poststructuralism, the objective being not theoretical monism or purity but the mobilization of a wide range of references to shed light on history’s dark corners. The eclectic richness, if not elusiveness, of the concept of “subaltern” and Guha’s deployment of it in various forms to speak to caste, class, and gender issues has perhaps inspired its wider diffusion for rethinking the history of popular consciousness and mobilization in fields as far apart as Asian, African, and Latin American history.
Simon D. Podmore
Principally, Luther defers from philosophy’s authority to the authority of theology owing to an intense recognition of theology’s ultimate foundation in revelation. Allied to this is a suspicion about philosophy’s intellectual hubris and speculative neglect of the individual coram Deo (“before God”)—the “God” who is only known as revealed pro me (“for me”). As it transpires in modern philosophy’s emergence from its “service” to theology, variations of such concerns come to shape a new philosophical horizon which, for better or ill, come closer to Luther’s own in important and underexamined ways. Under implicit or explicit influence from Luther, key figures in modern European philosophy reconfigure critical new modes of philosophy which can be read to reflect Lutheran concerns about the nature of philosophy and reason itself. This story is related through key figures in modern philosophy (Leibniz, Kant, Hegel, Feuerbach, Kierkegaard, Heidegger), leading from the birth and apotheosis of the modern, through to the critical emergence of the postmodern. Through the critical reception of Luther in these philosophers, it is shown that modern European philosophy regularly deals with Lutheran tensions but often produces visions of the role of reason and selfhood which would have deeply troubled Luther himself. Nonetheless, there are also signs of a recovery of Luther’s suspicions about the possibilities of knowing which also bring into question the parameters of postmodern philosophy itself.