Studied Horizons

Twice, or thrice in what Abbott calls the nature that "trinitates," this week, I was challenged to reconsider whether beneath the veneer of different people lie universal similarities. The manifestation of universals, as opposed to phantasmagoria, seems to depend on whether they have been willfully cultivated through a giving over of self: seed pressed by hand into ground and so forth.
I still often wonder, even as an adult: Why can't we all just get along? The question could be considered geographically - though this ignores the very real problem of how people who share the same language fail to reach understanding.
But we often talk of "horizons" when speaking of coming to know other ways of looking at the world - I know my students love to provoke me by using cliches like, 'critical thinking means broadening our minds,' to which I return the dialectics of provocation by playing advocatus diaboli: why would we care about broadening our minds? This year, I'll cite Gadamer when this comes up. He writes that the horizon is the range of vision that includes everything that can be seen from a particular vantage point; since Nietzsche and Husserl, thought has been conceived as being tied to a finite determinacy and gradually expanded.
The task he sets for hermeneutics is acquiring the "right horizon of inquiry for the questions evoked by the encounter with tradition". This situation is complicated by the fact that "horizons change for a person who is moving" - the horizon of the present is always in the process of being formed as we test our prejudices and fuse horizons as we reach that higher universailty that overcomes particularities (of self and other).
The fact that universality can never be fully attained aside, not everyone is interested in moving. "A person who has no horizon does not see far enough and hence over-values what is nearest to him." Is this not called conceit, complacency? Signs of false pride. My first example of those who work against universals.
And, secondly, I met this false pride in person, the "friend" of a friend - and I thought to myself, for someone who claims to be open, self, you are not being very open. It is not so much what people call themselves than whether they have applied the slightest self-criticism to any appellations.
Thirdly, we have the example of Theseus, who I read about in this marvelous post, the rather inclusive devotee, spreading his alliances broadly, but without meaningful or essential connections. This blinds him to the intent of those he was joined to, who he believed more than his own son, whose life was lost to this misplaced breadth. As an extract in the post shows, his son Hippolytus was by nature chaste - not having acquired virtue by book learning. Of course, Gadamer might say as he does of living morally that experience is never enough - one is to to guide one's actions by learning how. Thence my trinitating.




Except it is difficult to learn how, because as Gadamer writes, we are always moving. Texts must be understood in new and different ways in every concrete situation. Understanding is application. I'd add that the same virtuous idea might not be virtuous in two different situations. If someone is looking to eat your hand, you are generally not doing either of you a favour by extending it to them (though even as I write this, I can think of a few exceptions even to this rule: what if you have reason to expect that such an act of cannibalism would wake the person up in horror of themselves, or if those watching would realise how low behaviour has stooped).
It used to be obvious, Gadamer writes, that hermeneutics was to adapt texts' meanings to concrete situations. He compares this with the interpreter of the divine, who could interpret the language of the oracle. Philological and historical hermeneutics cut ties with the critical function of the art: namely, the application of what is learned to the interpreter's present situation.
I'd say this amputation is what gave philosophy - and higher learning - its bad name. What is more, we are forgetting the nuances of learning, which include being wary of our own expectations about what something means. It is possible to project onto a text - I saw this in criticism of the subject of my master's thesis: some of his tenured critics totally missed the point and even appropriate context of his writings. That is rather embarrassing, though explainable in terms of politics. Still, the child in me asks, Why can't we all get along? So I shall return to Charles Conrad Abbott, who wrote in Peripatetic Meditations, "When men have the patience to study the despised things on earth they lose a goodly portion of their self-conceit." And, "age can see only when blinded to the facts."
Along his walks through the nature that riddles language, he writes, "These are long days but not long enough for those who begin asking questions."



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