Saturday, September 30, 2006

Philosophy and Universality

I recently read an article on abstraction by Peter Osborne called “The Reproach of Abstraction” (thanks to Tony for lending me this issue of Radical Philosophy). At the start of the essay he situates it within the task of rescuing “the idea of philosophy as a discourse of universal mediation from the corrosive critiques of its claims to an absolute universality, familiar in recent years in various pragmatist, historicist, contextualist and deconstructivist forms.” He then provides this quote from Paul Ricoeur:

Philosophical discourse achieves universality only by passing through the contingence of cultures … its rigour is dependent upon equivocal languages … its coherence must traverse the war between hermeneutics. (Freud and Philosophy: An Essay on Interpretation p.47)

I really should make more of an effort to read some more of Ricoeur’s work.

Anyway my interest in the issue of universality was tweaked again on reading James Smith’s Jacque Derrida Live Theory. Rather than say anything more about this at the moment I’ll add two more suggestive quotes on this theme.

First off Alain Badiou in the first essay of his book Infinite Thought outlines “the present state of philosophy” in terms of three principles tendencies or orientations: a hermeneutic orientation, an analytical orientation and a postmodern orientation. Each of which in their own way (though all because of a linguistic turn) have been obstacles to the desire of philosophy for truth and universality. In other words he too bemoans the corrosive critiques that Osborne alludes to, and this is why:

“If the category of truth is ignored, if we never confront anything but the polyvalence of meaning, then philosophy will never assume the challenge that is put out to it by a world subordinated to the merchandising of money and information.” (p.36)

And finally J.P.A. Mekkes at the end of his article “Methodology and Practice” talks of an integral norm rather than universality, and distinguishes between positing a norm and finding the way towards that norm:

An integral norm of life obtains for the direction of scientific thought, a norm reaching beyond every dialectic of practical and theoretical reason no matter how modernized, or camouflaged, and that norm subjects our ‘Bildung’ to it. It is here that reformational philosophy, persisting in dia­logue along immanent philosophical lines, wants to help find the way towards that norm, and wants to consider the consequences too, with every­one else. Reformational philosophy cannot, in typically western philoso­phical fashion, accepting the traditional philosophical and special-scientific pretensions to originality, posit a norm because this philosophy along with everyone and everything remains subject to the norm that has been set, for as long as it is allowed us to speak of LIFE.” (Philosophia Reformata 1973 Vol. 38 p.96)

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