Sunday, February 20, 2011

Hans Blumenberg, Paradigms for a Metaphorology: Chapter 2, "Metaphorics of Truth and Pragmatics of Knowledge"

Blumenberg starts by thematizing the truth value of absolute metaphors. This truth, Blumenberg claims, is pragmatic: absolute metaphors have historically provided a guiding or orienting function with respect to the world as a whole.

Blumenberg suggests that absolute metaphors can no longer perform this function adequately in an era like ours which is conscious of them, and that their function has been increasingly taken up instead by art.

14: "Absolute metaphors 'answer' the supposedly naive, in principle unanswerable questions whose relevance lies quite simply in the fact that they cannot be brushed aside, since we do not pose them ourselves but find them already posed in the ground of our existence."

14: "[W]e ask once again about the relevance of absolute metaphors, their historical truth. This truth is pragmatic in a very broad sense. By providing a point of orientation, the content of absolute metaphors determines a particular attitude or conduct [Verhalten]; they give structure to a world, representing the nonexperienceable, nonapprehensible totality of the real. To the historically trained eye, they therefore indicate the fundamental certainties, conjectures, and judgments in relation to which the attitudes and expectations, actions and inactions, longings and disappointments, interests and indifferences, of an epoch are regulated."

Cosmos is an answer to the question of what the world as a whole is that has proved enormously durable.

Blumenberg's turns to the metaphor of the mightiness of truth to see what a pragmatic approach to its meaning can uncover. He notes first that the power which is attributed to truth is related to an expectation that it is easy to find. He goes on to note that historically the metaphor emerged in the context of a concern with salvation. It is a characteristic first of all of Hellenistic thought and its therapeutic deployment of truth. Blumenberg argues that this new attitude toward the function of truth is the key to the divergence of Classical and Hellenistic thought. Where truth was the goal and consummation of human existence for Classical philosophy, it becomes a corrective in Hellenistic philosophy. Where Classical philosophy had an expansive agenda for truth , Hellenistic philosophy seeks to create a protected sanctuary for those truths which are necessary for salvation. Although Blumenberg does not make this explicit, the classical idea that truth reveals itself does not seem far off from the ease of finding truth implied by the mightiness of truth. The key change is that perspicuous truth is no longer assumed to be universal, but instead is understood to be restricted to a small set of truths.

Patristic thought takes up this economy of truth, and puts out of bounds as unnatural any inquiry which leads neither to salvation or any practical application. These restrictions on theoretical curiosity lent an air of the forbidden and unnatural to the pursuit of new research. With truth robbed of its naturalness, an explicit consciousness of method involved in acquiring truth comes to the fore.

With Francis Bacon, we get the metaphor of the world as a tribunal where the truth is found out and the association of the concepts of truth and labor.

Aristotelean pure reality -> Medieval pure activity -> world possesses truth because of God's creation -> modern conception of the truth as a product of human effort, and the concomitant valorization of the artificial in art and research.

Blumenberg traces the metaphor of knowledge as work in Descartes, d'Alembert, and Montesquieu. Among the consequences of the metaphor is the valorization of the machines and methods used for investigation. Blumenberg claims this drove development of apparatus and technique ahead even of the actual demands for them -- in a sense, new tools and methods created their own demand for use.

Goethe's attempt to revive the Classical harmony of man and nature involves a commitment to truth as open and self-revealing.

(An epilogue from LTG describing the Classical view: "Truth is there and you just have to look at it.")

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