Philosophy, Theory and the ‘Contest of Faculties’: Saving Deconstruction from the Pragmatists

  • Christopher Norris


Literary critics interpret texts. By and large they get on without worrying too much about the inexplicit theories or principles that underwrite their practice. Some of them very actively resist the idea that such theories can be found, or that bringing them to light could serve any useful purpose. At its most obscurantist this attitude takes the Leavisian form of a downright refusal to engage in such discussion. Elsewhere distinctions are drawn between ‘theory’ and ‘principle’, the latter conceived as a realm of tacit values and assumptions beyond reach of further analysis. At a more philosophical level, the issue is joined by those in the ‘hermeneutic’ camp who argue that each and every act of understanding is embedded in a context of cultural meanings and presuppositions which can never be exhausted by rational explanation.l From this point of view there is simply no appeal to a higher ‘theoretical’ order of knowledge independent of cultural conditioning. To interpret a text is to enter, willingly or not, into the ‘hermeneutic circle’ which constitutes the basis of all understanding. Theory is deluded if it thinks to get a hold upon texts from some ideal vantage-point of pure disinterested knowledge.


Literary Critic Literary Theory Pragmatist Argument Hermeneutic Circle Cultural Consensus 
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© Rajnath 1989

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  • Christopher Norris

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