Gadamer and Foucault's Dialogue: Play, Ethics and the SelfChristopher Mayes (University of Sydney)
221 Burwood Hwy
Burwood, Australia 3125
ABSTRACT: This paper reads Gadamer and Foucault alongside each other and examines their respective uses of Socrates to develop an approach to dialogue that rejects polemics and fosters a moral bond that cultivates humble listening and serious play. Gadamer and Foucault are uncommon companions to be sure. While Gadamer details his understanding of dialogue in his magnum opus Truth and Method, Foucault outlines his approach in fragments of interviews and seminars late in his life. However, they both have an approach to dialogue that is sensitive to the historical forces shaping political reality. They also recognise the need for dialogue participants to adopt a particular attitude that is playful. For Gadamer, play is the structure of genuine dialogue. Gadamer says that entering a dialogue is like being absorbed by the to-and-fro or ‘sacred seriousness’ of the play of a game. This requires those engaged in the play of dialogue to establish a moral bond in which they risk something of themselves, to place their self into the dialogue and risk being transformed. Foucault makes a series of surprisingly similar remarks in a 1984 interview with Paul Rabinow. In contrast to polemics, Foucault elaborates that in a dialogue ‘a whole morality is at stake, the morality that concerns the search for the truth and the relation to the other’. In ‘the serious play of questions and answers’, Foucault outlines a reciprocity of rights between the interlocutors that is immanent to and depends ‘only on the dialogue situation’ – by which he means that the right to ask questions and to be sincerely answered depends on and occurs only in the context of the moral bond of a dialogue. In bringing these two philosophers into conversation with each other, this paper seeks to explore an approach to dialogue that may be useful for developing a model of public discourse that resists the lure of polemic.
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