A recent post by Elisabeth Barnes raised a discussion in several blogs about philosophy’s “casual cruelty”. Philosophers, it is said, argue about basic human rights in an abstract way, with thought experiments daring to ask whether it would be ethical to let die disabled children/abort disabled foetuses/prohibit disabled people to have children/… . Philosophers do not even stop speculating about the suppression of disabled people, Barnes continues, when they have a real disabled person in front of them.
This reminds me of Richard Rorty’s discussion of the value of literature. Literature, Rorty argued, makes one identify with single persons, and not just with humankind in general. One sees Lolita’s perspective and Humbert’s one and one cannot fully condemn in a crude, rationalising way, because one sees the human side of the story.
In this view, I look forward for Marco Lauri‘s presentation at our panel on Testimony at the Atiner Conference (here is the program), since he will focus on the epistemological value of story telling. Story telling is not just the frame, it alters the meaning of the content communicated, it adds shades of meaning and depth to the content communicated —so that the listener’s belief or lack thereof in the content presented is intrinsically dependent on the story in which it is embedded (think of the Cretan paradox as the utterance of a repented lier and it is no longer a paradox). Story telling can even have a transformative value, insofar as it changes the listener (and perhaps through her also the speaker). Thus, the ideal situation of a listener, a speaker and a content is possibly much more muddled in actual reality and the three can be reciprocally linked. However, let me add that the investigation of this hermeneutic circle does not need to lie outside the precinct of philosophy (although it has often lain outside analytic philosophy), as shown by Ancient Greek (Plato, Aristotle’s attention to poetical structures) and Arabic philosophy (Lauri will refer to Ibn Ṭufayl), by the fact that Rorty and Gadamer were also philosophers, by the usage of poetry and story telling in the works of well-known philosophers such as Derrida, Nietzsche (and Veṅkaṭanātha).