by Dave Maier
In the Third Essay of On the Genealogy of Morality, Nietzsche levels a powerful attack on the modern Platonistic conception of mind and nature, urging us to reject such “contradictory concepts” as “knowledge in itself,” or the idea of “an eye turned in no particular direction, in which the active and interpreting forces, through which alone seeing becomes seeing something, are supposed to be lacking.” More recently, Donald Davidson’s attack on the dualism of conceptual scheme and empirical content, and thus of belief and meaning, requires us to see inquiry into how things are as essentially interpretative.
This idea can seem to conflict with our natural conception of the world as objective, fundamentally independent of what we say or think. In a similar context, Wittgenstein has his imaginary interlocutor challenge him (Philosophical Investigations §241): “So you are saying that human agreement decides what is true or false?” The implication is clear: if your position requires that what we say makes things true, rather than simply mirrors it, then that is an unacceptably irrealist result; how the world is cannot depend on what we say about it.
The suspicion can also arise – especially when the relevant reflections about language come from those steeped in literary theory – that “interpretivists” have mistakenly extrapolated from what may very well be true in the specific case of artistic interpretation and its objects to any discourse about the world at all. Similarly, defenders of the traditional view of objectivity such as John Searle (following John Austin here) have suggested that it is the specific cases of “illocutionary acts” such as “I hereby pronounce you man and wife,” which do indeed cause their objects to be thus truly described, that have unwittingly led to the interpretivist heresy. Read more »