Idea Shelf

This morning, I realized one aspect of Jürgen Habermas’s philosophy of communicative action that really bothers me. Habermas suggests that the tacit “intent to communicate” that every communicative action implies, obliges us to interpret those communications in concord with the latent intent. As I was doing my sit-ups this morning (sit-ups coming back easier than stationary-biking, my mind was clearer), I tried to connect Habermas to the general points I’ve tried to make about signifying practices in general; Habermasian arguments tend to play well among biblical scholars, so I’d do well to have a riposte in view.

What dawned on me is that Habermas tends to define signifying in terms of speaking/writing — to define all signifying in terms of verbal communication. Now, he doesn’t exclude non-verbal communication, but the thrust of his argument treats non-verbal communication as though it were a less-precise version of verbal communication, or a failed (or flawed) attempt at verbal communication. This tendency has bothered me from the time that I began to observe ways that ASL required that I think about hermeneutics in very different ways; this morning, it occurred to me that when a Habermasian approach treats the case of verbal communication as normative, it bootlegs in a variety of suppositions about interpretation that don’t necessarily apply to non-verbal communication. If I’m right in supposing that all we do signifies, and that we can’t control signification, then one can’t simply hold up verbal communication as paradigmatic. . . .too sleepy to finish. . . .

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