Faculdade de Letras da Universidade do Porto - OCS, 15th INTERNATIONAL ISKO CONFERENCE

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Michael Kleineberg

Last modified: 2018-06-19


Objectives: The widely accepted epistemic pluralism calls for a “multi-perspective knowledge organization” (Kaipainen & Hautamäki 2011, 509) that is able to identify and interrelate different viewpoints on the same subject matter. Therefore, indexing theory is shifting the focus from traditional subject indexing that is concerned with the more or less explicit semantic content of documents towards a kind of viewpoint indexing that seeks to reconstruct the often only implicit point of view taken by the authors (Hutchins 1975; Crowe 1986; Andersen & Christensen 2001; Biagetti 2006; Kleineberg 2013). This contribution introduces Jürgen Habermas’s (1990) methodology of hermeneutic reconstructionism to the field of knowledge organization in order to provide an analytical and comparative tool for viewpoint analysis and indexing.

Methods: Indexing theory is about the meaning of a document and involves hermeneutics as the theory or methodology of interpretation of symbolic expressions. Habermas (1979) distinguishes two modes of explication of meaning. The first mode is concerned with the surface structure, that is, the semantic content of a symbolic expression or the author’s explicit know-that. In indexing theory, this traditional form of interpretation is related to subject analysis and the aboutness of a document. The second mode, however, deals with the deep structure, that is, the author’s implicit know-how like the intuitive rule consciousness of language use or the generative structures according to which a symbolic expression has been brought forth in terms of communicative competence. In indexing theory, this kind of “depth hermeneutics” (De Mul 1997, 240) refers to the underlying mode of thinking or viewpoint of documents. According to Habermas (1979), communicative competencies are the result of learning processes following “a rationally reconstructable pattern” (Habermas 1979, 20). One of the best-known examples is presented by Lawrence Kohlberg’s cognitive-developmental stages of moral consciousness derived from a “rational reconstruction of the ontogenesis of justice reasoning” (Kohlberg, Levine & Hewer 1983, 10). It will be shown in which way this hermeneutic-reconstructive kind of viewpoint analysis has been applied by historical and cross-cultural studies.

Main results: Although there are multiple perspectives on morality, the structural development of moral consciousness seems to follow an invariant sequence of stages across cultures and sex differences (Kohlberg, Levine & Hewer 1983; Gibbs et al. 2007). This offers a non-relativistic approach to a systematic organization of different points of view by (a) reducing the diversity of moral viewpoints to variation in the contents, in contrast to the universal forms, and (b) explaining the remaining structural differences between moral perspectives as differences in the stage of development. Accordingly, viewpoint analyses using Kohlberg’s moral stages are provided for interpretive systems like religious and philosophical ethics (Apel 1988; Roetz 1993; Minnameier 2005; Hallpike 2017) as well as institutionalized norms like codified laws or binding moral representations (Radding 1978; Schluchter 1981; Oesterdiekhoff 2014).

Conclusion: In opposition to strong contextualist and relativistic approaches, hermeneutic reconstructionism offers a context-transcending comparative framework for a multi-perspective knowledge organization. Different modes of thinking are not simply considered to be equally valid but to be amenable to an evaluation of reasoning according to existing rational reconstructions like Kohlberg’s moral stages as a specification of the more general organizing principle of integrative levels of knowing (Kleineberg 2014).



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