Towards a Creative Hermeneutic of Suspicion: Recovering Ricoeur's Intervention in the Gadamer-Habermas Debate
In this paper I wish to examine a contemporary response to an important debate in the "science" of hermeneutics "the art of rightly understanding the speech, chiefly in written form, of another" (Schleiermacher, 1977). The 20th century has witnessed, what elsewhere has been termed, "a profound radicalisation of the understanding of texts" in asmuch as hermeneutics the programmatic of interpretation and all that it had hitherto supposed about the nature and relation of text and its meaning is itself problematised. The site of the contestation has been language, understood in the broadest possible sense of the medium that functions to convey meaning, textual and otherwise. A variety of responses maturing into formidable intellectual movements have emerged, and continue to be articulated, especially in philosophy, literary studies and the social sciences. As is well-known, this virtual explosion of theories of textual meaning and vastly differing models of linguistic understanding, or of the semiological processes, during the intellectual ferment known as Modernism, has had considerable impact in as areas as far afield as architecture, the arts, postmodernism, feminist studies, psychoanalysis, cross-cultural and post-colonial discourses, indigenist jurisprudence and even on geography and ecology or the geo-sciences. I will here confine my inquiry to a significant thinker rather than cover any particular movement or movements. I have chosen to discuss Paul Ricoeur's intervention in the debate between Hans-Georg Gadamer and Jungen Habermas concerning the proper task or calling as it were of hermeneutics as a mode of philosophical interrogation in the late 20th century. I will also take the opportunity of drawing some implications through this encounter with Hermes (the messenger of the gods) matured into hermeneuein, for thinking on religion (as distinct from the God of theology).
Setting the scene
Heidegger throws a hammer into the work of classical (19th century) hermeneutics. From its beginnings in unravelling hidden meaning in the text, discerning the authorial intention and understanding the text more deeply than ordinary language would enable, by the early years of the 20th century hermeneutics under the impetus of phenomenology in particular directs its focus more "toward discovering the epistemological foundations of the human sciences, or the methodological principles which lead to objective knowledge in the Geisteswissenschaften ." (Gayle Ormiston and Alan d. Schrift, 1990: 15). Thus for example with Husserl and Cassirer, for example, the question of truth is subordinated to the question of meaning, significance and symbolic formation. The task of phenomenology in this context centres on an analysis of knowledge, but moves further into investigating all modes of apprehension or the 'phenomenology of perception' and the diversity of ethnological-psychological experiences, which includes myths and symbolic forms in cultural lifeworlds. Heidegger is initially sympathetic to aims of this project (having been a former junior colleague of Husserl, and having met the neo-kantian Cassirer in Davos in 1929). However, with Heidegger the emphasis shifts to the discourse of the ontological conditions in contradiction to the linguistic, psychological, and anthropological structural formations which underlie such knowledge or claims to knowledge. As Ormiston and Schrift (1990:15-16) explain, citing from Heidegger's Being and Time:
Later Heidegger came to recognise more and more the pervasiveness of the hermeneutical circle with respect to understanding, interpretation and meaning. He thus distanced himself from hermeneutics in terms of no longer believing that classical (i.e. mid-19th to early 20th centuries) hermeneutics held out the key to its own problem or presupposition. The problem is explained in the following way. A prior understanding always grounds interpretation; but the understanding itself is constituted by fore-structures. ("The entity which is held in our fore-having for instance, the hammer is proximally ready-to-hand as equipment."). Thus understanding already presupposes in its fore-structures what interpretation is to provide. One has to acknowledge the grip of this circle while also working through to disclose the fore-structures, the presuppositions and so on, in the genuine apprehension of Dasein's encounter with Being and its own trajectory.
In short, Heidegger's preoccupations shifted towards a critique of epistemology (which builds on reason's undisclosing potentialities) and to the grounding-ontological quest (the encounter with Being), even as he deepened the tension between Verstand ("understanding") and Vernunft ("reason"), a distinction which Hegel had adopted from Kant. But reason too for Heidegger was not the formal and definitive process of (calculative) thinking, with its unassailable logic, appeal to argument, and universality of its codes, as the Enlightened thinkers had been hard at forging. Rather, reason is the epistemic space within thinking (or thought thought-ing, Denken). The Romantic image of language as a natural transparency to reason, whose representations reason could therefore disclose with ease, looses its hold on post-Enlightenment philosophers. Rather the emphasis is on the possible absence of universality in epistemology and more towards the phenomenon of language as the "house of Being". This insight for Heidegger helps inquiry move toward newer and hitherto unchartered modes of knowing but a knowing which is as it were for being's sake alone and which occurs upon disclosure of the hidden the unspoken, the unthought through the powerful reflection (on history as on Dasein's conditions). The inquiry here turns for its aid also to the searching phenomenological critique (in the Husserlian manner) and, more especially, Destruktion ("de-structuring") of the history of metaphysics and classical ontology wedded to theology or the onto-theo-logos contagion alongside modern humanism that has apparently bedevilled Western thought, ever since the pre-Socratics began to wonder.
In Being and Time Heidegger suggests the following account of the hermeneutic circle of meaning and being:
As to the precise role or genealogy of "Destruktion" in the history of ontology (often misunderstood as indicative of a nihilistic urge or simple destruction), Heidegger gives this account:
So "Destruction" is aimed at getting behind the presuppositions of a tradition (its history of ontology) and unearthing or unmasking the hidden, the unspoken, the unthought, (its history of metaphysics), as well as gaining an inkling of the future goals, trajectory of hopes or aspirations of the culture (religion, the national project).
The suggestion that follows on from Heidegger's insights in this regard is that if "text" and its meaning are to be understood in a broader sense or context (and pre-text or pre-judgments) than just in terms of the markers on paper (or verbal ciphers in speech and oral enactments), or the authorial intention(s), then the inquiry perforce spills beyond linguistics into other modes of expressions and cultural productions or constructs, all of which may in turn play a role toward interpretation and the understanding to be derived In a special sense, language might be said to constitute this larger horizon in which the idea of text as a linguistic expression on the one hand and text as a cultural-historical artefact or production on the other hand converge if not coincide. But cultural and historical artefacts and their transmissions over time (or travel over space) are also imbued with pre-conceptions, prejudices, pre-judgment, occlusions and even errors of judgment within them. Now if our "readings" or expectations of meaning are conducted against this horizon or background of "language" then our interpretations cannot be said to be free of those very prejudices, presuppositions and biases, wittingly or unwittingly, as is too often presupposed in the hermeneutical enterprise. The interpreter as the interlocutor is another moment in the tradition as is the object s/he is attempting to interpret and understand (and all the more confounding if the object is the "subject" or self of the interpreter, or the Self writ large as in Hegel's idea of Spirit as Absolute Subject, or Brahman of the Upanisads). Language, text, linguistic structure, interpretation and understanding are inextricably intertwined. All understanding (and translation) is interpretation and all interpretation is embedded in language which itself, history and culturally speaking, is not free from certain prejudices and presuppositions. Can a nail dislodge a bent nail stuck on the raw piece of hardwood?
A rather gloomy implication drawn by Walter Schultz in respect of the history of Western metaphysics with the advent of the Heideggerian philosophical hermeneutics seems to suggest that modern Western metaphysics represented the end of a long tradition of speculative hermeneutics, and therefore incapable of either being assimilated into it or criticised in terms of any phase of that. Western metaphysics, he believes, with Heidegger exhibits a meaningful historical pattern moving towards an end which culminates with "Destruktion" or the strategy of dismantling to take "the step back" (to loosen hardened concepts and retrieve the lost dimensions of meaning formerly possessed in living languages, texts, cultures, speech of the gods, and so on). This is most explicit in his essay What is Metaphysics? in which the metaphysical tradition is shown as culminating in 'Nothing', which is the "end-point of tradition", thus marking the "metaphysical endwork of traditional metaphysics" or tradition's terminus point, after which it passes into another beginning. (Schultz, 1953/54; I). As J L Mehta remarks, "Heidegger's philosophy thus represents the historic moment of the self-abrogation, the 'reversal', of the metaphysical tradition and is itself conditioned by this tradition" (Mehta, 1992:54)
Gadamer: The Hermeneutic of Tradition
At this point, we should introduce Hans-Georg Gadamer who takes the Heideggerian critique of the classical interpretative schema a stage further, by sharpening this particular puzzle in phenomenological terms, and suggesting a likely solution by invoking the weighty role of tradition in the hermeneutical enterprise. Gadamer was an early pupil of Heidegger, and inspired as much by him as by the works of Husserlian phenomenology and Schleiermacher or the tradition of Geisteswissenschaften., though Gadamer is of a more sober and humbler temperament in comparison to the formidable passionate presence of Heidegger in his richly didactic and multipli-nuanced writings. Much of Gadamer's thinking is articulated in his magisterial treatise Wahrheit und Methode, 1960, second edition with replies 1965; English translation issued in 1975 as Truth and Method, hereafter TM). This work culminates in a discussion of language juxtaposed between intentional meaning and historical consciousness as a basis for a hermeneutic ontology . Gadamer's own way of putting the conundrum we confronted with Heidegger's thinking is to suggest the following. Given that the elements that comprise the fundamental structures of our linguistic understanding are not entirely independent of the "text" we are attempting to understand, and being historically and culturally constituted, they are further not free from certain presuppositions and prejudices (Heidegger's fore-structures, pre-understanding). How then can we claim to arrive at a neutral, "Archimedean point", from which to proffer the objective reading of the text qua text? Either we say that everything is a "text" , including our own modes of understanding and the disciplines and methods of inquiry we bring to bear on our subject-matter (the texts), and therefore themselves stand in need of interpretation or "de-construction", or that the concept of the text has to be extended in a way that does not leave out all the many modalities, influences, myths, cultural, historical and rhetorical tropes or expedient devices and all manner of "constructs", patriarchal overlays, etc., that might have gone into informing the deeper, unconscious, structure or background in the very formation of the "discourse".
The give and take of understanding of a text occurs in the medium of language; but the medium of language is not so different from the matrix of conversation in which the speakers, if they do not share the same language-game, will find it difficult to follow and understand each other. And no one takes everything someone else says in a dialogue as unquestionable and absolute truth. Often the authenticity or otherwise of the speaker is established only after the dialogue has proceeded some way and one has had a moment or two to reflect on the testimony being presented in the course of the conversation. From such a stance, it becomes possible to cultivate reflection, detachment from the texts and the tradition as well. This insight has immense ramifications for inter-textual and intra-tradition understanding. Tradition in this way is both de-mystified and understood as a "historical" process yet to be fully realised, and its hold therefore on authority, or claim to be grounded in "logos" (the absolute presence of Truth, or truth-claims about "things-in-themselves", the End, Finality, and ultimate purpose or Telos) is also softened somewhat, if not bracketed out and opened up for questioning. A tradition can be menacingly obscure and bewitching, if not also marked with exclusivity. A sense of alienation from the tradition is then an indispensable part of reading and thinking through the textuality (texts and the making of the texts) of the tradition. There is no such thing as pre-suppositionless understanding. Our understanding is not just an act of our subjectivity, but is more like an ingression or intrusion into the process of tradition in which the past and present are continuously mediated. And this matrix, i.e. tradition or community of understanding and mutuality, is itself in constant formation and transformation: we cannot anticipate a finality to any understanding, but hold up this telos as an ideal, or vice versa (the latter being more a Hegelian concern.). (cf Gadamer, 'Text and Interpretation' 1986.)
Gadamer nevertheless did not believe that such difficulties as outlined above should lead us to a hopelessly relativistic, anarchic and defeatist situation. Rather, Gadamer's own contribution was to underscore the conversation or dialogue between tradition as "the horizon of expectation of the interpreter" and the more universal or transcendental process of reflection, but never far away from the conditions that make history. The hermeneutic dimension of meaning is bound to the unending conversation or dialogical interaction of an ideal interpretive community, an ideal however that can perhaps never be achieved in praxis but which could nevertheless anticipate the direction in which the hermeneutic act (and enactment) must move if it is not to become a meaningless montage of stereotypes and multipli-located non-sensical conversation stoppers (or a tower of babels). Gadamer's formulation of a "philosophical" or "ontological" version of hermeneutics gives ample room to concepts such as "hermeneutical consciousness" and intentional "meaning" which draws him closer to traditional philosophy of reflection, while in the critique of the subject whether it be in the work of art or aesthetics, literature, history, etc. in which he follows Heidegger's Destruktion, he is at one with the "ontological turn" (as indeed Gadamer has often been charged with, Cf 'Letter to Dallmayr', 1989: 97). While a fixed subjecthood or subject-centred meaning in the interpretive availability of the "ear of the other" is not presupposed, nevertheless the intentionality of the other in conversation is placed in relation to the whole of our own meaning, or becomes temporality at least the horizon wherein holds the meaning of the other.
What could have presented themselves as the "bitter blockers" to adequate understanding and Selbstversta:ndis (self-understanding) namely, intentions, subject or "auto" reference, and the embeddedness of a tradition of textual representation in presuppositions, pre-judgments and prejudices, are turned around by Gadamer to become the very links, devices and missing parts that actually enable and are constitutive of understanding. Prejudices are made transparent for what they are, and their limitations are thereby undermined. The walls of traditional framework need not keep the world closed off from hermeneutical access, in understanding and in reflection. This is what Gadamer calls "the happening of tradition" which admits to a kind of hermeneutic self-reflection on the part of language in dialogue with (the author-ity) of tradition; and here one will notice that the horizons of language and tradition are seen to converge, the world of the reader and the world of the text merge into one another. (ibid). Gadamer characterised this non-analytic coming-together as the "fusion of horizons" TM: 273ff, 337, 358); and later commentators have extended the metaphor to signal the meeting of disparate cultures, trans-tradition comparisons, and even the synthesis of the arts of different cultures (as in the "fusion" of world music).
However, Gadamer goes further and elevates tradition to a near-transcendental status for grounding our understanding, placing immense value on ausia or Being that as it were speaks through the audacious philosophical hermeneutics (not a historical necessity as with Hegel's parousiological Geist, but in various concrete historical, plural, self-and-other conscious, and non-hierarchised forms). The following very often cited passage from Gadamer's famousTruth and Method brings out this point rather tellingly:
Habermas's attack on Gadamer
"Philosophers have interpreted the world; the point however is to change it." (Marx)
A highly critical review of Gadamer's leading treatise, Truth and Method, was issued in 1967 in the form of a debate with Gadamer by the contemporary German philosopher, equally well-known and regarded, Jurgen Habermas, who however hails from the Critical Theory or Frankfurt School (which has is linked with critiques of Feuerbach, Horkheimer, Adorno, a Kantian Marx, and Apel, unlike Gadamer's phenomenological antecedents in Hegel, Heidegger and Husserl). After the second edition of Gadamer's Wahrheit und Methode appeared in 1965, Habermas launches an attack in 1967 in Zur Logik der Sozialwissenschaften (Frankfurt), especially on the section in TM discussing the rehabilitation of prejudice, authority and tradition, and the famous theory of the "historical-effective consciousness". Habermas' attack, Gadamer's clarificatory essays, and the ensuing debate are collected in volume entitled Hermeneutik und Ideologiekritik (Frankfurt, 1971). (Paul Ricoeur's essay which reports this debate in note one, while bearing the English rendition of the self-same title of the debate, is not a translation but a commentary, indeed an intervention from a third voice in the debate, originally published in French as 'Hermeneutique et des Critique des ideologies', 1973, in English as 'Hermeneutics and the Critique of Ideology', 1981,  1986).
Let us consider the critique before we turn to Ricoeur's intervention. Habermas begins by criticising Gadamer's position as relativistic and potentially repressive, in the suspicion that Heidegger's attack on realism and humanism (via his hermeneutic of Dasein) are somehow linked to his Nazism, and in the final analysis all attempts at interpretation, including Marxist ones, and preoccupations with defining words like "truth", "knowledge", or "philosophy" are nothing more than an apology for the status quo (Rorty, 1991:28-30). Habermas's specific criticism of Gadamer's approach to the "hermeneutic" theory of knowledge through the idealised tradition makes the following points:
(i.) The idea of "tradition" reeks of foundationalism even as it seeks the impossible grounding in essentialist presuppositions.
(ii) In as much as the hermeneutic of tradition retains a decisive role for the subject, self-understanding and "our own meaning" it has not freed itself from valuation of the abstract, the subjective and indeed Being.
(iii) The concept of "tradition" leads one to ignore the dimension of ideology and the sway that powerful allies, forces and domineering groups within a tradition (textual, authorial, religious, cultural) have over the development of social justice and transformations anticipated in the conversations as Gadamer rightly underlines.
It follows, from (iii) especially, that there is no guarantee that the supposed goodness and fair-mindedness in human beings will prevail. Tradition can easily become a ruse (hence 'tradition-in-use'), and where it is absent tradition can be re-invented (as Coomaraswamy did so ably in the Indian aesthetic and metaphilosophical context). The erstwhile or new understanding so derived serves as a further weapon or armoury with which to continue the regime of oppression and violence (e.g. in the march of Reason in Hegel's Geistwelt, the emergence and justification of patriotism, nationalism, colonialism, imperialism, and fundamentalism). If we loose our distance then we weaken our ability to criticise rationally the powerful, quasilinguistic (or discourse-saturated) forces of society that impact on our thoughts, regulate labour, dictate education, channel information, and perpetrate various forms of domination. Hence Habermas worries about Gadamer's conservatism which shows in the latter's tendency to accede to the authority of tradition even as a rational possibility.
As it should be apparent, the confrontation between Gadamer and Habermas turns on the assessment of tradition and the place of language within it: the hermeneutical stance takes a rather more positive and sanguine stance, while the critical theory of ideology views tradition with a hooded-brow of suspicion,, which in Ricoeur's words amounts to, "seeing tradition as merely the systematically distorted expression of communication under unacknowledged conditions of violence" (Ricoeur 1981 (1987): 64;1986. p. 301). The reference to "suspicion" here is deliberate as it echoes Ricoeur's own characterisation of the "school of suspicion" or the doubters of the inexorably given (in history, metaphysics, and in consciousness), to which he enlists Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud respectively, who opposed or fissured interpretation as restoration of meaning with interpretation as an "exercise of suspicion". From this dialectic we get the famous phrase "the hermeneutic of suspicion" (Ricoeur, 1970:32-35; 1981 (1987): 34), which can be extended to describe the Habermasian critique or doubt as well.
Habermas is thus deeply suspicious of Gadamer's understanding of language as an "event in tradition", which we essentially "suffer" as a historical condition and which we doubtless confront in lived experience. Habermas searches for a distanciation (critical distancing, setting reflectively aloof) from tradition and the subjectively-involved conditions ("happenings", "events", etc.) that would make space for reflection, question dogmatic forces, and not conflate knowledge with authority. Unless there is a more universal epistemological and objective matrix from which to launch and check or scrutinise the ground-rules for this conversation or dialogue between tradition and reflection, there is no way of subduing the rule of subjectivity and preventing prejudices and pre-suppositions of a tradition from re-asserting and re-inscribing themselves.
This is a powerful criticism and Habermas did certainly pick on a fundamental weakness in the Heideggerian-Gadamarian project for staying too close to a historicisation of understanding rather than making sufficient space for the critique of the historicity of understanding itself. In other words, providing a transcendental or sufficiently objective ground for self-reflection and criticism without compromise or blinking of the eye. It might look as if Habermas is looking for the "Archimedean point" or some kind of "idealism of linguisticality" which Gadamer had earlier rejected as a genuine possibility. (Wachterhauser 1986 :47). The point of the contention here is that Gadamer does himself attach a "claim to universality" to hermeneutical enterprise in practice at least; that is to say, the program of hermeneutic as formulated by Gadamer has universal applicability without setting its limits. Gadamer was as concerned to develop a theory as to suggest ways for its applicability or praxis.
Habermas however remains sceptical about the basis of the universal claim in Gadamer's formulation, and believes that the universal basis should be looked for in concerns for social justice, local or particularised concerns, communicative action, development of the means for human flourishing, and the appropriate attitude toward nature this may call for. Habermas wants us therefore to rethink the conditions for the possibility of knowledge and its power over human affairs for which he develops the concept of interest (which itself is a larger conception related to labour and power in the spheres of social development). Its implications for hermeneutics is that one has to be upfront and critically reflective about the complicity of language in distorting communication and entrenching prejudice, authority and the domineering tradition. So Habermas opposes the Gadamarian Romantic ideal of tradition with the critique of ideology; prejudice (even in its positive legal sense of praejudicium) with judgment (in the Kantian critical sense); and understanding (Verstand) with reason (Vernunft); which is to say that contra Gadamer hermeneutics is stood on its head or subverted under the powerful methodology of communicative ethics developed by Habermas and his senior colleague, Karl Otto-Apel. But Gadamer himself is not averse to the thrust of reason understood as communicative action, for he too emphasises Vernunft; however, he would argue that what is reasonable emerges in the course of dialogue and understanding derived in the spirit of the tradition.
Ricoeur's hermeneutic of suspicion
It might be instructive at this point to turn to Paul Ricoeur's intervention in this debate more directly. Let us note that in positioning himself in this debate, Ricoeur does not take sides either way, but rather tries to focus on both sides of the competing positions on hermeneutics articulated in recent times and especially in the Gadamer-Habermas debate. From where Ricoeur stands, the debate raises the question of "the fundamental gesture of philosophy", which is at heart a post-Heideggerian problem. The question is teased out thus: "Is this gesture an avowal of the historical conditions to which all human understanding is subsumed under the reign of finitude? or rather is it, in the last analysis, an act of defiance, a critical gesture, relentlessly repeated and indefinitely turned against 'false consciousness', against the distortions of human communication that conceal the permanent exercise of domination and violence?" (1981 (1987):63 ;1986:300). What is then at philosophical stake in this debate would seem to boil down to either of the alternatives: hermeneutical consciousness (pace Gadamer) or a critical consciousness (pace Habermas). But Ricoeur questions this simple formulation of the alternatives, for not only is the philosophical stake too high to risk an error at this juncture, but also because it might be necessary (or our own calling in the aftermath of the disputation) to surpass the alternative, to take another turn. But Ricoeur sighs away from any planned "annexation" or "syncretism" in attempting to open respective spaces on both sides to "speak" to each other, and to recognise the other's virtues and claim to universality. This bold philosophical gesture has earned Ricoeur an endearing recognition among philosophers and theologians alike.
Ricoeur therefore brings an interesting insight into this debate and helps re-orient the debate from one concerned purely with method to the heart of philosophy which is the question of ontology in the concrete context of lived history. The task is not so much of "Destruktion" as of "re-construction", or "re-structuring" out of the latent layers of recollected consciousness, reminiscence, myths, symbolic forms, narratives, with the requisite engagement of reflection and criticism. Accordingly, Ricoeur sees four schemes through which the two seemingly opposing camps (of Gadamer and Habermas) can be dialogued and brought to closer appreciation of the other's perspective.
Firstly, he takes Gadamer's suggestion of "distanciation" or alienation from the tradition and shows this to be an important strategy for the emancipation of the text. The suggestion is that a text is a production of a number of moves, beginning with the intention of the author, the disposition of the original auditors, the cultural environment and the socio-linguistic conditions in which it arises. A decontextualisation is necessary before a recontextualisation can take place. Dialogue is not a sufficient condition; discourse has to be reframed and mediated through writing which is open to anyone's reading of it.
The second theme follows on from the recognised need of the critical attitude, in which discourse is pushed further towards objectification, "to the point where structural analysis discloses the depth semantics of a text".
Third, the hermeneutics of texts turns towards the critique of ideology, through interrogation and transgressing of the closure of the text. One no longer looks simply for the intentions of the author, but expects a world or reality (as the mode of being and power-to-be) to unfold out of it. This echoes Heidegger's trajectory of Dasein's own possibilities.
The fourth condition returns the element of subjectivity into interpretation, for understanding in the end is concerned with self-understanding, mediated by the "matter of the text" against the horizon of the tradition. But such a self-understanding must be open to a rupturing of the subjective (or transcendental) illusion as well, i.e. to a critique of false consciousness, whether historical or contemporary" "The critique of false consciousness can thus become an integral part of hermeneutics, conferring upon the critique of ideology that metahermeneutical dimension that Habermas assigns to it." (1986: 332; 1981 (1987): 94). Again, the theme of distanciation or detachment becomes critical here. Ricoeur dwells on this concept at some length complaining about its apparent radical absence in Gadamer's philosophical hermeneutics, in his essay 'The hermeneutical function of distanciation' (Ricoeur 1981(87):131-144).
Ricoeur then goes further and turns the hermeneutic themes outlined here on the critique of ideology itself, lest it assumes a life all its own without contributing to understanding in any deep or significant way. So both a depth hermeneutic and a critical hermeneutic is necessary for there to be emancipation from the snares of tradition on the one hand and the oppressive potentialities within the discourse or the theory of ideology itself. (For instance, Marxism in the Soviet Union was intended as a critique of bourgeois ideology; but in the present day it has outrun its function, yet Marxism continues to hold sway, albeit as a replacement ideology.)
So Ricoeur combines the reanimation of traditional sources of communicative action with the reawakening of political responsibility towards a creative renewal of cultural heritage. His own summary of the "fusion" or consensus (which he refrains from calling a "synthesis" or "union"), discusses the specific symbols from the two dominant religions of the West, Judaism and Christianity, namely, Exodus and Resurrection, which are eschatological symbols of liberation, salvation and hope. A passage recounting the debate in Ricoeur's famous essay upon which we have focussed here brings out this point most poignantly. (The pauses between the quotes are interspersed with linkages that discern);:
Ricoeur has put this model for hermeneutics to fruitful use and produced excellent interpretations of phenomena which neither phenomenologists before him nor theologians were quite able to deal with in their complexities. In his work The Symbolism of Evil he develops an interpretation of symbols, understood as cultural expressions which contain double meaning. The object of hermeneutics is to disclose, to explicate, to open out the symbolic (or "sacred") meanings in these double-barrelled or ambivalent expressions. "Evil" presents itself as one extremely reified challenge. In another of major works, The Rule of Metaphor, Ricoeur shows how a philosophy of living metaphor as distinct from signs set up through analogy or the non-offending argument from parity can form a reconciliatory bridge in the age-old divide between the poetic and the speculative discourses in philosophy. The history of this divide goes at least as far back as Plato and Aristotle respectively, and a hermenutics of the metaphor can be seen to play a far greater role in understanding than had hitherto been realised.
Ricoeur then returns us one again to the theme of the hermeneutic of suspicion we referred in the discussion of Habermas's critical strategy, and drawing increasingly from Derrida's unbounded 'deconstruction' to supplement Heidegger's own 'restrained criticism', he proposes this as a means of unhitching the latent in metaphysics and dead metaphors which accumulate and occlude a tradition's understanding of cosmology, and the deeper symbolic truth undergirding certain of its discourses. He points out: "A simple inspection of discourse in its explicit intention, a simple interpretation through the game of question and answer, is no longer sufficient. Heideggerian deconstruction [Destruktion?] must now take on Nietzschean genealogy, Freudian psychoanalysis, the Marxist critique of ideology [post-Habermas], that is, the weapons of the hermeneutics of suspicion. Armed in this way, the critique os capable of unmasking the unthought conjunction of hidden metaphysics and worn-out metaphor." (1987:285). The overall task is not a linguistic task (or the prerogative of "cultural studies"), rather it is a philosophical task (as part of the "fundamental gesture of philosophy"). Thus if Habermas's use of the hermeneutic of suspicion is shot through with ideologiekritik, Ricoeur's would seem to have a more creative edge to it, and one which, in keeping with Gadamer's philosophical hermeneutics, is full of hope and sagacity.
I wish to conclude this essay with a brief discussion of the possible areas of application of the creative hermeneutic of suspicion especially in the non-Western contexts. The examples I draw upon take in seriously both the hermeneutic of tradition and the critique of ideology, which becomes paradigmatic in post-colonial critiques of Western ethnocentrism and other (more indigenist) kinds of author-itarial elitism. To take up the latter first, one could argue that the impersonal, abstract, ahistorical, atemporal concept of 'Brahman' much dear to Vedanta philosophy is a 'dead' metaphor, in as much as it is grounded in eidos, logos , and ousia and therefore has its life or sustaining significance entirely within the discourse of metaphysics (as Heidegger would say of all grand metaphors of the subject). A culture or rather ideology of brahmanical hegemony and renunciative restrain bordering on the obsessive denial of the lived experience, was built or idealised on the basis of this dominant and powerful transcendental signifier. Its social praxis legitimated the rule of the priest, a strident and pervasive caste hierarchy, marginalisation of women, the under-class and foreigners as others. A wondrous evocation that may have arisen in the poetic musings of the Vedic (nomadic Aryan) bards, which in the altar of later Vedic sacrificial fire is transmuted into a substantive being (in the dis-guise of language), and which finally under the anvil of speculative philosophy ascends to assume the throne on highest rungs of metaphysics. Thus Brahman stands to be de-structured, dismantled, disseminated, deconstructed by being subjected to the same rigours of the hermeneutic of suspicion and critical ideology as Ricoeur has suggested. It may then be possible to recover the latent and to reanimate the tradition in more creative ways than has occurred either through the revivalism of neo-Vedanta or the Romanticism of 19th century philological Indology. (Bilimoria, 1997a).
The last remark brings me the second example. The large body of texts produced and translated in Europe since around the 16th century on the cultures prevalent, literature, and peoples inhabiting the vast land mass to the east and south-east of Europe have nowadays been recognised to be suffused with "orientalism". This marks a peculiar hermeneutical act which the West ingressed upon the East. More specifically, the discourse of Orientalism underscores the wilful romantic construct of the East (the Orient or Asia) in the imagination of the West as Europe's "other", and destined to be converted, civilised and controlled by the burgeoning Western religious, economic and political might. But if we leave out any part, conscious or complicitous, involved in the formation of the text or the supplemental discourse we could be doing grave "epistemic violence" to the text. An incisive judgment along these lines has, for instance, been said of the 19th century British Raj's novel statutory judgment on sati, the Indian practice of widow burning, as constituting a legal "crime", which however failed to register the social motivations of the Hindu patriarchal order that perpetrated this culturally aberrant practice for so long. (Spivak). It is not as though such a censor was not possible within the Hindu and Pan-Indian tradition itself; indeed, there was evidence in traditional moral texts against such practices and indigenous leaders had rallied against the act on the grounds that sati violated women's rights: but is that tantamount to a criminal act under English Common Law? (see, Bilimoria, 1997b)
By focussing on the discourse of Orientalism we understand better the Occidental-West, its logocentrism, and its failure to bring about genuine dialogue with the East and generate authentic methods for reading, translating and understanding the "other". The same can be said about the early British settlers judgment that the colonies of terra australis were not inhabited by any people (thus rendered as terra nullius) because the nomadic native Aborigines appeared not to have cultivated the land or invested any labour in it or asserted an instrumental interest in it. It took a Ernie Mabo to challenge this "interpretation" of another tradition in place. This massive legal and political prejudice, in the Gadamarian sense, is finally turned back on the incoming tradition for its own self-reflection, and to demonstrate that it misjudged "interest" in individualistic-utilitarian rather than in communicative-communitarian terms; and it perhaps paves the way for corrective reparation or "Reconciliation" of First and Second-Third Nations' respective claims.
Third World studies and feminist movements more widely have capitalised on such insights and trans-boundary critiques, which was given a heavy political emphasis by Foucault's theorising premised on the generalisation that all knowledge is inextricably linked with power (and power is invariably corrupting). They have advocated, and developed methods for a re-reading and "de-construction" therefore of much of the past history and "civilising" or literary productions, translatory enactments, etc. resulting from the basically liberal-individualistic, imperial and patriarchy-propelled intrusions into the lives of women, slaves, marginalised groups, the "other", the outcastes, and the colonised subjects, both within the history of Western-European societies but more damagingly in various countries throughout the world. History might be more authentic and closer to the truth were its voices to emerge, as it were, "from below" rather than from the pens of the privileged, the elite, the experts, and bow-tied academic researchers who have a vested interest (unwittingly perhaps) in perpetuating certain myths "paradigm" of the dominant cultural force in a society or tradition at large. The requisite hermeneutics for (re-)writing history from below has been technically popularised by South Asian radical social theorists as the "Subaltern" stance or voices of the submerged subject-positions.
Last but not least, cross-cultural philosophers of religion have claimed that the Western invention of the sub-discipline or discourse of philosophy of religion with its expectations of a solid, irrefutable and logically profound "proof" (or, for that matter, "disproof") of the existence of God has triggered much unnecessary anguish, mimicery, and irreparable damage among non-Western, non-Christian peoples. (Bilimoria 1996b) When directed at the "other" this trenchant discourse has in part also helped erode local traditions, folk understandings, indigenous hermeneutics, law and social wisdom developed over many centuries in non-Western religious cultures by which they have sustained themselves. Such and more sophisticated critical analyses have arisen in recent years from movements in philosophy and the human sciences, particularly from Europe and now increasingly influential in North America, India, and Australasia.
References and Bibliography
* I wish to take this opportunity to thank my colleague Dr Jocelyn Dunplhy Blomfield for commenting on an earlier draft of the paper and pointing me to some significant narratives; and to Dr Renuka Sharma for giving me to access to her fabolous Hermenenutics collection in the household library.
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