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  • After Kant:Re-thinking Hermeneutics and Aesthetics
  • Michael J. Shapiro (bio)

Generally speaking, political science is an intellectually challenged discipline. As I have noted elsewhere, despite important advances in the history of philosophy, many of which have influenced scholarship in diverse branches of the humanities, much of political science remains in a "pre-Kantian epistemological slumber." Happily, however, as Anne Norton's and Ian Shapiro's texts testify, the discipline is not bereft of critically-oriented intellectuals. Both texts effectively address the conceptual poverty and epistemological myopia that have afflicted the discipline since its founding period at roughly the turn of the twentieth century. 95 Theses on Politics, Culture, & Method and The Flight from Reality in the Human Sciences are fiercely intelligent texts. They share a dual focus in that the two operate in both critical and programmatic registers. They treat not only what has been largely lacking in the discipline's theory-building and evaluation but also suggest how the lack can be addressed.

Although the texts differ markedly in style — Norton, borrowing from Martin Luther, articulates her arguments as a series of polemical theses, while Shapiro's writing is more reminiscent of Max Weber's juristic style, dialectically stating arguments and their refutations — they share the position that the methodological rigor associated with political science's dominant empiricist epistemology is an ambiguous achievement. While each of the texts articulates a major theme, the significance of interpretation and the priority of problems over methods for Shapiro and the pervasiveness of aesthetics for Norton, neither is a continuous narrative. Norton's fragments are presented as separate theses, while Shapiro's breaks are a function of the separate studies that his various chapters represent. Importantly, however, both Norton and Shapiro share an appreciation of the critical undermining of empiricist conceits that derives from the position that language is action rather than mere reference, which is developed in the language philosophies of John Austin and Ludwig Wittgenstein. It is well to recall, however, that the Austinian/Wittgenstinian insistence on the significance of the context of an utterance or statement (which Shapiro especially elaborates) has been famously radicalized by Jacques Derrida, who points to the instability of such contexts (an issue I treat later in my review).1

In what follows, I draw inspiration from the critical insights of both texts, focusing first on the hermeneutics-politics relationship Shapiro explores and the problem-oriented injunction he defends, and then on the implications of the aesthetic-politics relationship central to one of Norton's theses. I then offer some critical reflections that I see as altering and radicalizing the programmatic directions toward which both texts aim. To set up those reflections, I summon an earlier but remarkably like-minded critique of empiricist methodology, Sheldon Wolin's, written during the height of the behavioral revolution in political science. Wolin's critical intervention is important here because he evokes a conceptual persona, Immanuel Kant, who I think needs to be brought into the critical conversations that Norton and Shapiro evince.

Writing during a Cold War and Vietnam War-influenced period of intense turmoil within the U.S. political culture at large, as well as within academic institutions, Wolin sought to redeem the "tradition" of political theory.2 He indicted the behaviorist trend in political science for its "methodism," for exhausting the space of political education with methodological details to the neglect of a historically informed and politically engaged knowledge. Significantly, Wolin, like Shapiro, rejects the radical separation between theoretical commitments and facticity. As Wolin puts it, "Perhaps facts are somehow molded by the logical forms of fact-stating language"3 (similarly, Shapiro, edified by an earlier Yale intellectual, Norwood Russell Hanson, evokes the famous Hanson remark that facts are "theory-laden"). But apart from what he shares with Shapiro, Wolin's turn to Kant anticipates the issues I want to join with Shapiro and Norton.

Despite his recognition that facts are theory-laden, and his appreciation of the language-as-action perspective, Shapiro retains a strong commitment to a more or less referential model of the language-reality relationship. He argues for an interpretive supplement that, because it is context sensitive, makes "reality" more present rather...


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