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Convictions and Justification

Mei, Todd (2015) Convictions and Justification. In: Paul Ricoeur in the Age of Hermeneutical Reason: Poetics, Praxis, and Critique. Studies in the Thought of Paul Ricoeur, 1 . Lexington (Rowman Littlefield), Lanhan, MD, USA, pp. 99-124. ISBN 978-0-7391-9173-6. E-ISBN 978-0-7391-9174-3. (Access to this publication is currently restricted. You may be able to access a copy if URLs are provided) (KAR id:58334)

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Typically, there have been three ways of responding to problems of fairness in matters of distributive justice: the reconstruction of the process of public scrutiny and debate so that it is sensitive to difference; the safeguarding of difference; and the task of rethinking the face-to-face dynamics of debate. The first two projects tend to have significant shortcomings with respect to assumptions about identity and language, which I discuss elsewhere. The third project, which is generally hermeneutical with its emphasis on dialogue and interpretation, appears promising since it attempts to respect diverse languages as well as how this diversity radically changes what we might think it means to understand what another person or group is attempting to say. The complexity of public debate, nonetheless, goes much deeper than merely a difference between identities and language games since conflicts at this level arise from what I refer to as an existential commitment—i.e., an avowal concerning how to live in view of the meaning of being. Another way of speaking of this kind of commitment is in terms of deeply held beliefs, or convictions, which in the words of Charles Taylor involve “questions about how I am going to live my life which touch on the issue of what kind of life is worth living.” The committed nature of these beliefs—that is, their conviction—is the very thing that processes of public mediation find difficult to address and therefore often attempt to eliminate by means of a process of scrutiny. In other words, convictions are seen in some sense to be irrational and either require being excluded or translated into a better form of reasoning.

The argument I present in this chapter resists this reductive strategy by establishing some distinctive qualities about the aforementioned third, hermeneutical project involving clarifications of the role of convictions and how these clarifications affect what it might mean to listen to the beliefs of another individual or group. I argue that convictions are a specific type of belief best analysed according to a hermeneutical form of reasoning, as opposed to an epistemologically oriented one. Accordingly, convictions should not be held to the same standard of justification in the sense of the traditional philosophical conception of “justified true belief.” Following Ricoeur, I demonstrate how convictions are ontologically prior to those beliefs that we think should be justified. I discuss this in terms of convictions being linked to a primary mode of existential attestation that is set within the framework of a tradition. Due to the scope of this essay, I do not discuss the nature of tradition in any detail and instead assume a typical hermeneutical viewpoint which sees tradition as the historically constituted and changing framework in which symbolic meanings are interpreted, and thus formative of a culture’s shared practices and understandings.

The conclusion of this chapter is devoted to indicating some practical steps toward integrating convictions in public debate through a process of listening to the beliefs of another. I therefore distinguish what an institutional space founded on hermeneutical reasoning might possibly look like. Instead of conceiving of public debate in terms of the epistemological assumptions about argumentation and justification, I refer to a specific, preliminary stage of public mediation as being constituted solely by the task of listening. Argument presupposes that one has first listened to the other party, and as we shall see, my concern is how processes of debate under-determine this crucial step. Drawing from George Taylor’s work on metaphor, I describe the potential effect of listening in terms a “resemblance across difference” that can serve as the basis for a more productive, if not amicable, ground for later stages of debate and argumentation.

Item Type: Book section
Uncontrolled keywords: Paul Ricoeur, hermeneutics, convictions, justification, belief-in, listening
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion
Divisions: Divisions > Division of Arts and Humanities > School of Culture and Languages
Depositing User: Todd Mei
Date Deposited: 02 Nov 2016 11:54 UTC
Last Modified: 17 Aug 2022 11:01 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)

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