Gianni Vattimo

The End of Reality

June 2010

Professor Gianni Vattimo, Emeritus professor of Philosophy at the University of Turin presents four lectures for the Glasgow Gifford Series at the organised around the notion of the “End of Reality.” The four in-depth lectures begin with a careful and considered critique of Alfred Taski’s truth definition – that “P” is “P” if, and only if, “P.” Or, as Vattimo puts it, it is raining, if and only if, it is raining. This beginning paradox is broken down as Vattimo argues against the understanding of truth as relating to a concrete and external reality. Through a close analysis of Tarksi’s claim and all of the associated questions that arise from it Vattimo convincingly argues for a historically, socially and culturally situated and pragmatic vision of truth. 

This idea of truth is not something reducible to abstract philosophical theorisation – As Vattimo puts it, “the question of pre-existing reality, of who wants to be outside quotation marks is deeply political.” From there, the second lecture moves on to consider the question of Being within this idea of reality. Through a deep and sustained engagement with Heidegger, and to a lesser extent Husserl, Vattimo argues that not only is reality as socially and historically situated idea, but this too applies to the notion of Being. The advantage of Vattimo’s hermeneutic engagement with Heidegger’s position is that it allows for him to argue for participatory philosophy of Being rather than a descriptive one – alongside Heidegger Vattimo sees philosophy’s role as escaping from a kind of metaphysical totality, resisting a vision of philosophy as a metaphysical system of control. Concluding with a plea for a hermeneutic ontology Vattimo draws on Marx’s famous thesis on Feuerbach – by interpreting the world, not simply describing it can begin to realise our potential to transform it. 

In the latter half of the lecture series this idea of a hermeneutic ontology takes on more significance – in the lecture ‘Being and Event’ Vattimno returns to the theme of Heidegger and his work in Sein und Zeit (1927) to address the notion of how this idea of Being interacts with action in the world. The mediation and construction of selves and the culture in which they exist offers a degree of potential for freedom and even revolutionary political action. Through interpretation (and hermeneutics, that most dialogical of philosophical) there can be change and thus philosophy carries with it a grave responsibility. The final lecture brings the themes of the previous together as Professor Vattimo argues for the ethical Dissolution of Reality – the totalising system of external reality is to be seen as something deeply conservative. If we truly understand reality as something that requires constant interpretation, we may find in that vision, something of the divine truth which sets us free.

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