Hermeneutics and the Conservatism of Listening

Cosmos and History 16 (2):495-519 (2020)
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It is well known that philosophical hermeneutics has long been associated in political discussions with a conservative orientation. Many Gadamerians have sought to rebut this suggestion, convincingly emphasizing progressive political dimensions of hermeneutics in general and of Gadamer’s thought in particular. One version of the association of hermeneutics with conservatism has been overlooked, however, namely, Hans Blumenberg’s provocative claim that the predilection in the hermeneutic tradition for metaphors of hearing and listening indicates that hermeneutics passively heeds and takes in tradition as we would unwillingly receive a loud sound, and is thereby politically conservative. This paper critically responds to Blumenberg’s critique of what I call the conservatism of listening, and aims to interrogate the extent to which Gadamer’s hermeneutics can be characterized by this form of conservatism. Through a consideration of ocular metaphors in Gadamer’s thinking, we will discover in Gadamerian hermeneutics a conception of dynamic, constructive, and embodied engagement with historical traditions that makes room for critique. In this way, Gadamer avoids the charge of adhering to the conservatism of listening.



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David Liakos
Houston Community College System

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