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53 3 “A large mental field” Intellectual Traditions and Responsible Knowledge after Newman Leo Strauss’s critique leaves us with the impression of modern historicism as above all a distancing technique, driven by modernity’s visceral fear of the unknown and its consequent resistance to any transcendent or otherwise heteronymous authority. Echoing and elaborating Strauss’s view, Hans-Georg Gadamer was to argue that “our usual relationship to the past is not characterized by distancing and freeing ourselves from tradition [Überlieferung] … We do not conceive of what tradition says as something other, something alien. It is always part of us, a model or exemplar, a kind of cognizance.” The first manifestation of reason, and the basis for all subsequent acts of understanding, thus involves our intuitive awareness as being related to, rather than estranged from, the specific phenomena under investigation. By its very nature, human inquiry is never a purely random product of gratuitous spontaneity but, instead, belongs to the realm of action. It constitutes a response to a calling, that is, to phenomena soliciting our attention and engaging our intelligence. This they do because, in a strictly pre-discursive (indeed ontological) sense, we achieve self-awareness and purposive orientation in our life world only because we are already embedded in and committed to it in what Heidegger calls an attitude of “care” (Sorge). For Gadamer, “the anticipation of meaning that governs our understanding of a text is not an act of subjectivity, but proceeds from the commonality that binds us to 54 prolegomena the tradition. But this commonality is constantly being formed in our relation to tradition . Tradition is not simply a permanent precondition; rather, we produce it ourselves inasmuch as we understand, participate in the evolution of tradition.”1 What (with an oblique nod to Husserl) Gadamer calls “the ontological structure of understanding ” we shall find to be at the very heart of Coleridge’s phenomenology of the human person, conscience, and the responsible will. Against the autistic models of human agency proffered by Descartes and Hobbes, Coleridge’s focus on personhood is prima facie ethical rather than epistemological. His Aids to Reflection and Opus Maximum thus conceive of personhood as essentially relational. The person originates in, and is subsequently sustained by, her or his relation with another being—a metaphysical truth (as Coleridge and, following him, John Henry Newman were to argue) first made apparent by the phenomenology of human “conscience”—that is, by an incontrovertible awareness that the sense of relatedness and obligation to the other is sanctioned by the vertical rapport (however latent, tenuous, and/or susceptible to misconstrual and neglect) that all persons have with the divine logos. The same metaphysical truth thus revealed in the person’s relation with the other—apprehended as a “thou” rather than an impersonal he or she—also relates to our continuous appraisal of ambient phenomena to a supra-personal, normative logos. Colin Gunton thus emphasizes how tradition “involves a personal relatedness to others in both past and future time,” as well as our “recognition of the uniqueness and value of that which is given … To deny the salutary character of tradition is to say that we can only be ourselves by freeing ourselves from others.”2 Though Gunton himself does not make the connection, what he later elaborates under the heading of “open transcendentals” characterizes rather precisely the notion of tradition that this book means to reconstitute, specifically with reference to the concept of the will and the idea of the person. They, too, qualify as an open transcendental, a notion in some way basic to the human thinking process, which empowers a continuing and in principle unfinished exploration of the universal marks of being. The quest is indeed a universal one, to find concepts which do succeed in some way or other in representing or echoing the universal marks of being. But it is also to find concepts whose value will be found not primarily in their clarity and certainty, but in their suggestiveness and potentiality for being deepened and enriched, during the continuing process of thought, from a wide range of sources in human life and culture.3 1. Truth and Method, 283, 293–294. 2. Gunton, The One, the Three, and the Many, 95. 3. Ibid., 142–143. “A large mental field” 55 Intellectual traditions, and the concepts of which they are variously composed, thus attest both to the transcendent and universalizing telos that impels human thought and to the necessary incompleteness and boundless...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780268158200
Related ISBN
9780268038403
MARC Record
OCLC
860943773
Pages
728
Launched on MUSE
2013-10-21
Language
English
Open Access
No
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