Gemma Corradi Fiumara: A Philosophy of Listening within a Tradition of Questioning

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Fiumara, Gemma Corradi. “A Philosophy of Listening within a Tradition of Questioning.” In The Other Side of Language: A Philosophy of Listening, 28-51. London:” Routledge, 1990.

Key Words: open listening, Gadamer, question, risk

Other Words: anomalies, logic, hermeneutics, epistemology, interdisciplinarity, the questioning of questioning

For all its ubiquity and apparent simplicity, “listening” remains a largely unexplored dimension of (logocentric) philosophy, a discipline that tends to emphasize the virtues of being heard over hearing. (Assuming, that is, there's a relation between listening and here - this may not be the case.) Listening is thus explored in this chapter philosophically—through the philosophical method of questioning: the questioning of questioning.
Questioning, argues Fiumara, is tantamount to logocentric territorialization. Questions circumscribe meaning; they draw borders around answers limiting where they can and cannot go, what they can and cannot say. This makes questions more efficient in the short term but often less productive in the long term. Fiumara frames this compromise in terms of a double and irreconcilable movement identified by Gadamer. On the one hand, questions imply openness with limits; on the other hand, they pry open their objects of interest. This leads Fiumara to conclude that the openness of listening cannot be seen from a logical point of view (I think this means there are perhaps more productive approaches to listening than with specific questions). Instead, the challenge in acheiving authentic listening is to overcome the Platonistic tradition according to which any action that is not based on verifiable knowledge is necessarily irrational. In short: there are many knowledges but their diversity can be missed when one sticks to a particular perspective, which may be toned by questions.

After exploring the difference between hermeneutics and epistemology as methods of listening-cum-understanding, and after concluding the latter may, with its attitude of humility and inadequacy, provide a model for listening as a fundamentally open activity, Fiumara concludes that a useful measure for genuine listening is the degree of risk it involves. She writes:

Listening actually impoverishes us from a rational point of view because if we seriously engage in paying heed we may even come to a state of helplessness and disorientation. And yet, even though in some respects the challenge pulls us away from the articulations of real knowledge, on the whole and in the long run it may contribute to a new (and not an alternative) style of philosophical work; a sort of work which seeks neither to comply with standard rationality nor to shape the world according to its views; we no longer know what discourse we ought to reproduce mimetically in accordance with certain basic meta-rules and no longer wish to shape culture according to certain principles of current rationality. "Reality," "nature", "the world" thus escape any restrictive construction and almost exclusively turn to renegotiate the relationship. (43)

In other words, if listening doesn’t risk some kind of fundamental shift in understanding, it’s not genuine listening. This may be what makes listening is so difficult in the first place.

Critically, Fiumara makes a distinction between short term and long-term value. To repeat the above: asking specific questions may be more efficient but more interesting answers often emerge if we listen to Heidegger, who says, “the authentic attitude of thinking is not a putting of questions—rather it is listening to the grant, the promise of what is to be put in question.” (39)


  • February 26, 2010: Is the questioning of questioning akin to meta-dialogue?
  • January 25, 2011: There's good fodder here for why NOT using a research question may be a better approach - This may be a terrific tool for getting a handle of Future Reflections and what were trying to do...The question for me becomes: When do we recognize knowledge? Years later?

Return to Dialogue * Return to Some Characteristics of Dialogue

return to Annotations Language:

  • logocentrism of philosophy
  • questioning as logocentric territorialization
  • Hans-Georg Gadamer
  • hermeneutics
  • epistemology
  • risk
  • genuine listening risks a fundamental shift in understanding.
  • Martin Heidegger