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Binding Words

Conscience and Rhetoric in Hobbes, Hegel, and Heidegger

Feldman, Karen S.

Publication Year: 2006

In a work that brings a new field altering perspective as well as new tools to the history of philosophy, Karen S. Feldman offers a powerful and elegantly written account of how philosophical language appears to "produce" the very thing here, "conscience" that it seems to be discovering or describing. Conscience, as Binding Words convincingly argues, can only ever be understood, interpreted, and made effective through tropes and figures of language. The question this raises, and the one that interests Feldman here is: If conscience has no tangible, literal referent to which we can apply, then where does it get its "binding force?"

Published by: Northwestern University Press


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pp. vii

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pp. ix-x

I would like to express my appreciation to Peg Birmingham, Will McNeill, and Michael Naas for their generous feedback and encouragement during this book’s early stages; to Stephen Houlgate for his assistance with the initial formulation of my goals; and to Beth Ash and Paul Davies for preparing me for this work.

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Introduction: On Metaphor, Conscience, and Bindingness

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pp. 3-18

Both our philosophical and everyday conceptions of conscience come to us by way of a tradition of wildly incompatible figures and images. They include figures of activities, such as seeing, hearing, telling, judging, biting, strangling, gnawing, punishing, and torturing; spatial and architectural figures, as of the heart, a courtroom, an inner hell, and a church ...

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1 Hobbes’s Leviathan: Conscience and the Concealments of Metaphor

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pp. 19-47

In the course of condemning metaphor and figurative language in Leviathan, Hobbes offers the example of the word “conscience” to illustrate the dangers of metaphor. According to Hobbes, “conscience” was originally the name for public, shared knowledge, but Hobbes narrates a history in which a metaphoric characterization of conscience as private, individual knowledge came to supplant the earlier meaning.

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2 Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit: The Performative Successes and Rhetorical Failures of Conscience

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pp. 48-79

In the previous chapter I examined how, in Hobbes’s seventeenth-century account of conscience, metaphor and figurative language function performatively. For Hobbes, the metaphoric usage of the word “conscience” to refer to a solitary knowing instead of a shared knowing invents the sphere of private conscience and private opinion; likewise figurative usage destabilizes the order of names that constitutes truth.

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3 Heidegger’s Being and Time: Not “About” Being

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pp. 80-103

In the last chapter we saw that the Phenomenology of Spirit is in Hegel’s own description not simply about the development of Spirit but instead enacts, or even is, this development. In Hegel’s understanding, the Phenomenology of Spirit does not primarily represent but rather performs the unfolding that it describes. Heidegger’s Being and Time (1927) also has a “not-about” quality, ...

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Conclusion: The Frailties of Guarantee

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pp. 104-110

In the preceding chapters I have considered how conscience is characterized as binding within texts of Hobbes, Hegel, and Heidegger, and I have also examined those characterizations as paradigmatic for a consideration of how texts may be binding upon their readers and the world. Given the emphasis placed in the preceding readings on the nonconstative, “not-about,” and binding aspects of texts, it is a discomfiting task to formulate a conclusion or finding.


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pp. 111-136

Selected Bibliography

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pp. 137-154


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pp. 155-158

E-ISBN-13: 9780810162297
Print-ISBN-13: 9780810122802

Page Count: 164
Publication Year: 2006

Edition: 1