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  • Orientation and Judgment in Hermeneutics by Rudolf A. Makkreel
  • Jane Kneller
Makkreel, Rudolf A. Orientation and Judgment in Hermeneutics. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2015. Pp. xii + 244. Cloth, $50.00.

In his most recent book Rudolf Makkreel expands upon his previous work on the hermeneutics of Wilhelm Dilthey and its development in Martin Heidegger and Hans-Georg Gadamer, as well as the hermeneutical importance of Kant’s theory of reflective judgment. The book begins with a helpful overview of key concepts of hermeneutics and contrasts Heidegger’s “ontological” hermeneutics with Dilthey’s “ontic” experiential views. Chapter 2 explores Hegel’s rejection of Kant’s account of aesthetic feeling (disinterestedness) and Gadamer’s assimilation of that rejection in his hermeneutics. In general this first section presents interesting and helpful contrasts of the hermeneutical theories of Dilthey, Heidegger, and Gadamer and provides a nuanced understanding of their similarities and points of agreement.

Part 2 contains the central focus of this book. It builds on themes from Makkreel’s groundbreaking work on Kantian reflective judgment as a model for philosophical hermeneutics, Imagination and Interpretation in Kant: The Hermeneutical Import of the Critique of Judgment. This section draws on Kant’s notion of “spheres of reference” (field, domain, territory, and habitat) and the judgments associated with these as a way to “re-orient” human understanding in a complex, multicultural world complicated even further by new forms of communication. The value of Kant’s theory of judgment, especially of aesthetic reflective judgment, Makkreel argues, is to provide a hermeneutics of judgment that encompasses the universal human capacity for shareable subjective response while at the same time providing for critical reorientation in our thinking about our changing world. He argues that Kant’s theory of the indeterminacy of reflective judgments avoids what for Heidegger and Gadamer were unavoidable reductive “pre-judgments” (prejudices), replacing them with “preliminary” judgments that are normatively re-assessable. In chapter 4, Makkreel convincingly documents Kant’s ability to counter Heidegger’s and Gadamer’s [End Page 344] later objections that judgment is always already built on pre-judgment (prejudice); and, in the process, he acquits Kant of the charge that his judgment-based account of cognition is guilty of the naïve Enlightenment vice of reducing our understanding to self-evident rational standards. Distinguishing cognitive convincing (überzeugen) from reflective witnessing (zeugen), Makkreel argues that Kant’s theory of the latter offers a promising approach to critical understanding not provided by more recent hermeneutic philosophies.

He makes the further case for the hermeneutical value of Kant’s account of judgments in chapter 5, where he makes a helpful comparison between Kant’s distinction between determining and reflective judgment on the one hand, and Dilthey’s contrast between explanation and understanding on the other. Chapter 6 continues this argument in the case of historical understanding, distinguishing anticipatory reflection from reflective self-awareness or “second-order reflexivity made possible by reflective judgment” (166), which he claims is the key to a hermeneutics that makes tradition responsive to criticism and open to fundamental changes. Chapter 7 then moves from what he calls the “constitutive” critiques of Kant and Dilthey to Jürgen Habermas’s and Paul Ricoeur’s “regulative” hermeneutics based on ideal communication situations. Again Makkreel argues for a reflective account that also refers to specific, subjectively oriented communicative situations.

The final section of the book (Applications and Adaptations) deals with genealogical (Friedrich Nietzsche’s) and narrative theories of history, and discusses issues of art interpretation in the age of electronic media and the digital revolution. He argues for an updated affirmation of artistic creativity that can still remain open to fundamental changes in its modes of expression. Again he argues in a Kantian vein that our capacity to have expansive feelings that transport us beyond ourselves can be applied to new media and techniques. The value of art lies in its ability to expand our horizons and to help adapt and transform old traditions in new contexts.

Overall, Makkreel’s book is full of interesting exegetical and philosophical discussion of major themes in the development of philosophical hermeneutics since Kant. There are omissions, of course. Friedrich Schleiermacher and Friedrich Schlegel...


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pp. 344-345
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