This is an intricate – but fascinating – argument. The rhetorical moves are so smart! I don’t think I can come up with a concise summary, so I’m going to map out what I see happening in each major point.
How can composition forge an autonomous identity that situates itself in the field (ecology) of academia, where every part is dependent on all others? How does composition become both independent and interdependent in the academy? Perhaps the paradigm in which composition was born – post-moderninsm – can provide us with answers. (3)
Composition was born in the post-modern world, which is “marked by themes of loss, illusion, instability, marginality, decentering, and finitude” and characterized by “critiques that challenge reason, consciousness, knowledge, meaning, communication, freedom, and other values asserted by the Enlightenment and developed in modern sciences, humanities, and public life” (pg. 5). YIKES! CRISIS! Post-modernism = meaningless lives. What can we do???
How about having a “new, positive framework for human life?” (5) Sounds good to me! This could come from a “new world hypothesis” that cuts at the base of every discipline, including empirical science. (5) It will have a theme of rationality and must involve a “revival of hermeneutics as an interpretive theory of inquiry.” (5) OK? You on board? Let’s go!
F irst, we have to critique scientism (aka positivism), which says that knowledge must be defined through absolute, “objective” scientific terms, and the discourse of knowledge should be achieved through a scientific method and be “exact, formal, literal, and univocal” (10) The disciplines who most subscribe to scientism are empirical (“hard”) sciences and philosophy. This is a problem, though, when we’re talking about people and social processes: these human (“soft”) sciences don’t have universal truths; they have understandings instead, and LWP thinks that those understandings are just as valuable as universal truths. These understandings come about through the use of interpretive hermeneutics.
Now, to critique scientism, you can’t just scoot around it. You must deconstruct it. Kuhn begins that deconstruction by saying that empirical science is as influenced by subjectivity and historical context as the “soft” science: “science itself is a social, historicocultural process that proceeds by basically rhetorical strategies” (12). How so, you ask? Because “scientific practice is rife with unformalizable elements,” specifically tacit knowledge, which is “all the cognitive structures, bodily parts, and extensions of either that bear on human action at a given moment and are instrumental to it” (13). Tacit knowledge and skills are subconscious but constructs our reality.
Dreyfus claims that human knowledge comes from being situated in that reality: “Facts are not imposed on a separate reality by an observer’s theories; rather, the observer understadns them as a total function of his own relation to the context – historical, cultural, situational…there can be no such things as rules for thought and behavior that would function the same in every context.” (17) CONTEXT drives everything, not absolute rules.
Tacit knowledge “provides a language for the scientist to think with, a lens to see through, a world view to dwell in” (18). So what does this mean? The logic by which scientists go about making their discoveries is rhetorical; “knowledge becomes a matter of ‘warrented assertion’ within the constext of a community of language users who form its rhetorical audience” (19). Hello Toulmin!
Now we’re going to shift to talking about how hermeneutics plays into this argument. The opposite of empirical objectivism (which was just debunked) is flat-out crazy irrational subjectivism, which is not going to give us a new positive world order. A new type of hermeneutics (interpretation) must enter the argument and take up positivism from a new, outside angle. How can we do that? We cannot look to an autonomous author (positivism) or even an autonomous reader – both which are impossible – to create knowledge. The new hermeneutics begins “not with a subjective but an intersubjective turn. It takes as point of origin (rather than foundation) the situation in which human beings find themselves before philosophy or sicence, before the recognition of self as consciousness or world as object” (22). This world of pure experience, this “life-world,” creates all human understanding and is the basis for all knowledge (23). In this way, reason is rooted in humanness, not absolute truths.
So how is this human-centered knowledge created? Through the one thing we have in common: discourse. As an example, “science the a rhetorical proactice of reason…science arises from praxis, develops through practical reason, and returns to praxis.” Therefore, in the sciences, the knowledge-making process begins in discourse, moves to scientific inquiry, and is shared through discourse. Neato! Now, human sciences are a bit different: the people who are investigating the human subjects are not only engaged in discourse with one another but also with their objects of study. Double neat-o. LWP says: “all sciences share a hermeneutical nature, first, through their grounding in a prescientific understanding [the life-world], and second, in constituting their meanings and truths thorugh dialogue and interpretation [discourse.]” (25)
Now, are use of hermeneutics – interpretation – must be critical: “the critical spirit embeds moments of distance, irony, analysis, and judgment within the interpretive effort.” It allows us to see our development and our progress. Now what limits our interpretations – why must we be critical? Because even our own consciousnesses – our own bodies – are affected by outside institutions. How can we critique, then? By using lenses such as Marxism, pyschoanalysis, critical theory, or analyzing the structure of language.
Let’s bring what we have together (in LWP terms): “the irreducibility of the human world as a web of significations constituted through social practices…this affirmative notion of context as providing menaing and the possibility of knowledge represents the precise counterpart (as God-term) to the discreditied ideas of an autonomous, context-free authority – prescence, logos, reason, an empirical world, and the like” (30). So what now? There is “an enlarged concept of context” in post-modern thought that can unify the disciplines (30). It “encompasses more than the human world because it projects on the universe at large the metaphor of dramatistic event” (30).
What? Tell me more!
“A contextualist theory is one in which all parts are not only interdependent but mutually defining and transactive, so that through their shifting relationships they continually constitute new parts or elements as well as new structures” (32). Binaries aren’t stable but exist to define one another. The world is a true ecology: “a total interrelatedness and reciprocity of change for all parts and all levels” (33).
Humans cannot be separated from their context: the context of their language, the knowledge they possess and encounter, and their own minds.
Composition, through rhetoric, can explore the context of everything, and thus form the baseline for all disciplines.
How does that work for you?