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Project description

Ceramic art, Tasapainoilua / Balancing Acts, 2018, Laura Pehkonen. Photo: Miikka Pirinen. Visit the page of the artist

The research project “Epistemological Aspects of ‘Dialogue’: Exploring the Potential of the Second-Person Perspective” (2021-2023) with Professor Claudia Welz as principal investigator is devoted to an exploration of ‘dialogue’ as a trans-disciplinary key concept that is crucial for any interreligious, intercultural and interhuman encounter. Despite an almost inflationary use of the word in a range of different disciplines, the very notion of dialogue lacks conceptual clarity. Therefore, ‘dialogue’ and the I-Thou-relation shall be investigated in a multi-approach analysis combining an array of traditions:

•       relational ontology of Reformation theology
•       existential philosophy from Kierkegaard onwards
•       philosophy of dialogue in the 20th century (Buber, Rosenzweig, etc.)
•       hermeneutics (e.g. Heidegger and Gadamer)
•       French phenomenology and deconstruction (particularly Levinas, Derrida, and Nancy)
•       literary theory (e.g. Bakhtin)
•       psychological theories of communication (e.g. Watzlawick, Bavelas & Jackson)
•       psychoanalysis and trauma studies (e.g. Rosenblum, Laub & Hamburger).

The philosophy of dialogue has often been accused of focusing too much on the ethical-existential significance of the interhuman encounter with another person – one’s being transformed by the embodied co-presence, voice and testimony of another – while neglecting the cognitive contents of the truth claims put forward. Yet, if we ignore that which is unique to dialogue, namely the performative, unforeseeable and surprising character of address and response in a shared space of reflection, we also miss the insights we can gain from this interactive process. For this reason, the current project will investigate precisely the neglected epistemological aspects of dialogue by concentrating on that through (dia) which it takes place: the event of an interrelation and intersection of different perspectives in an encounter that combines subjectivity and objectivity in a special way. This is the place where language and reason (logos) speak and where silence says more than words.

The second-personal encounter and dialogical relation exceeds what one person alone or what a neutral observer can see and compare; it differs fundamentally from both the insider-perspective of the first person and the outsider-perspective of the third person. Self-expression and the impression of otherness come together in the mutually binding sphere ‘in-between’ the interlocutors. The productive interplay of opposed orientations, where one’s own beliefs are challenged by alternatives, may result in the scientific ‘virtues’ of intellectual pluri-perspectivity and epistemic humility, which help us avoid one-sidedness and oversimplification. That is why the potential of the second-person perspective is worth being explored further in regard to methodological innovation.

The following shared questions bind together the individual project parts:

1.    What quality and status can be attributed to the ‘in-between’ that mediates the dialogical relation
       between self and other?
2.    How can the relation between epistemology and ethics be defined?
3.    In what ways are affective and intellectual dimensions of ‘dialogue’ conjoined?