Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Granting Department


Major Professor

Charles B. Guignon


Heidegger, Hermeneutics, Improvisation, Ironist, Rorty, Sublation


This dissertation offers a phenomenology of that mode of self-interpretation in which it becomes possible for an interpreter to intentionally participate in the production of moral norms to which the interpreter himself or herself feels bound. Part One draws on Richard Rorty's notion of the "ironist" in order to thematize the phenomenon I call "moral friction"; a condition in which an interpreter becomes explicitly aware of the historical and cultural contingencies of their own moral vocabularies, practices, and concerns and as a result find themselves incapable of feeling the normative weight implicit in these. Part Two draws on Heidegger's existential analytic of human being, Gadamer's development of Hermeneutic Phenomenology, and Hegel's notion of "sublation" in order to map how novel interpretations can irreversibly displace the coherence of older interpretations. I call this form of interpretation "moral phenomenology." Finally, in Part Three, I utilize a selective phenomenology of musical improvisation to plot the unique temporal orientation of self-interpretation that results from intentionally deploying this irreversible displacement of older interpretations that involve normative moral implications. I call the form of life that is marked by this hermeneutic mode the "improviser." The result is a description of a form of life in which it becomes possible to explicitly participate in the production of moral norms within a historical and culturally contingent context that nevertheless preserves standards of rational justification for normative moral judgment without the need for atemporal first principles. The availability of this mode of self-interpretation displaces the sharp distinction between non-normative descriptive phenomenology and normative moral reasoning by placing the latter within a non-teleological historical practice that engages in the production of interpretations which irreversibly displace older interpretations--a practice that is governed by the critical cultivation of contingent moral norms within the open investigation into the good life for human being.