Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Hans Blumenberg, Paradigms for a Metaphorology: Chapter 1, "Metaphorics of the 'Mighty' Truth"

Blumenberg begins by noting the thinness of the conceptual history of truth, which he relates to the parsimony of its definition within the Western philosophical tradition. He suggests that the metaphors associated with the concept of truth are contrastingly rich and supple. He notes that the metaphor of light is most closely associated with the concept of truth, and then he claims that this metaphor must be seen in relation to the unstated but foundational questions regarding the status of truth. 7: "The metaphorics of light cannot be translated back into concepts; analysis seeks to disclose the questions to which answers are sought and risked, questions of a presystematic nature whose intentional fullness 'provoked' the metaphors, as it were." (This insistence that there is a dialogical, question-answer underpinning to concepts reminds me of Blumenberg's approach to historical systems of thought in The Legitimacy of the Modern Age). Some of these "naive" questions regarding truth: how much truth can we have? how easy is it to get? how much is it good for us to have? 7: "These are all questions that barely a philosophical school has attempted to answer with systematic means; we nonetheless maintain that everywhere in the language of philosophy, indications can be found that answers to these questions have always already been given in a subterranean stratum of thought, answers that, although they may not be contained in the systems in propositional form, have never ceased to pervade, tincture, and structure them."

Blumenberg contrasts the metaphors of truth that forces itself on one to the metaphors of truth that must be forced to reveal itself. The former is characteristic of ancient thought up to the time of Aristotle, and is associated with metaphors of light, openness, and transparency. The latter is associated with the Stoics and their doctrine of cataleptic presentation -- an argument which presents evidence so overwhelming that the hearer is compelled to assent (with the presumption being that one would be wary of granting assent). This is associated with the metaphor of imprinting.

The classical metaphorics of powerful, self-activating truth was taken up later in patristic thought and scholasticism. It survives even into the modern era, but more often in a subsidiary function. The force of truth is an assumption, for instance, of Vico's theory of error, but his focus is on the linguistic means by which human beings resist that force. For Hume, there is a skeptical reversal, in which whatever idea compels us most strongly is what we call true (although his view is made palatable by a rather benign teleology of nature).

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