Interpreting the “other” in democracy : towards a deliberative ethic

22 Apr 2016

This article cautions against underestimating the complexity of the intersubjective interpretation involved in deliberation between citizens in a democracy. The subjective nature of interpretation potentially sabotages the possibility of truly hearing, or reading, others on their own terms, which, in turn, undermines the democratic ideal of basing decisions on the actual will of the interlocutors. Authentic deliberation can in fact only follow on from a ‘good reading’ of the other, based on the actual rather than the interpreted views of the various parties. I argue that literary theory’s long engagement with such interpretive complexity can be employed to illuminate an interpretive stance that would do justice to both deliberation and democracy. In particular, C.S. Lewis’s and Mikhail Bakhtin’s arguments point to a reading of the other that, while acknowledging our subjectivity, also envisions the possibility of engaging with the other on his or her own terms.