October 31, 2010

Vattimo on truth as persuasion


I wrote an essay once on truth as rhetoric. It might look a little different if I were writing it today, but let's see if we can clear the matter up once and for all. First and foremost: I am convinced that truth is not a problem of political science, or even a matter subject to scientific demonstration. Truth for me is persuasion, I don't mean "take it from me, sonny boy," I mean something more like "let's all lend a hand here." In other words: philosophical arguments are arguments ad homines, not ad hominem. By truth I mean truth as persuasion, but persuasion in relation to, and together with, a collectivity, not the art of persuading people to part with their money or something like that. Essentially I am talking about proposals for interpreting our common situation along certain lines and starting from shared assumptions. I will try to persuade you by mentioning the kind of authors you have presumably read and experienced for yourself - not the kind whose business is proving that 2 + 2 = 4, the kind who were also seeking an interpretation of our common situation. Not just any authors, authors who have earned a permanent place on your bookshelf and who are linked to your own specific experience. So the truth to which I bring the discussion back is this: how can you still be saying that without invalidating the experience you had when you were reading Nietzsche, Marx, and Freud? Doesn't the experience that you got from reading Nietzsche (or Kant, or Hegel) now block you from saying things you might once have said and defended?

The question arises: what kind of evidence does this furnish? I answer that differently from Richard Rorty, although he more or less shares my premises. I regard truth in philosophy as the result of a form of ad homines persuasion, but persuasion grounded in a certain faith in the history of Being, faith in our capacity to trace (interpretively) lines of continuity in the history of Being. To me, this faith corresponds to what some might call a kind of philosophical evolutionism: the classics, the things that have held out, weren't perhaps necessarily classics right from the outset, things destined to hold out, but the fact that they did become classics involves me, what I am is largely the fruit of their endurance...

- Gianni Vattimo, The Responsibility of the Philosopher


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