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The opening exercises of the Leland Stanford Junior University took place on Thursday, 1 October 1891. After Mozart's chorus "Glory be to God on High," a prayer, and a reading from Scriptures IV, the founder of the University, Leland Stanford, one of the great railroad-magnates of the nineteenth century and a former Governor of the State of California who was then serving his first term as a United States Senator, delivered an address to a large crowd of students, professors, and guests of honor, among whom were "many of the state's most distinguished citizens."(1) Stanford described his view of a moral, spiritual, and material progress of mankind, facilitated through the "wonderful improvements in inventions and machinery,"(2) to which he hoped that the new school would one day make a substantial contribution. His expectations toward faculty and students of Stanford University were expressed in words which, at first glance, may look to us like nothing more than an example of a long gone age's standard rhetoric for academic celebrations:
Your past record as educators is a sufficient guarantee for your work here, but we desire to remind you that it is our hope that the young women and the young men who graduate from Palo Alto shall not only be scholars, but shall have a sound practical idea of common-place every-day matters, a self-reliance that will fit them, in case of emergency, to earn their own livelihood in an humble as well as an exalted sphere. Added to this, we wish them to go out into the world with a lofty sense of men's and women's responsibility on earth....
All that we can do for you is to place the opportunities within your reach; it rests with you to grasp and to improve them. Remember that life is, above all, practical; that you are here to fit yourselves for a useful career. (OD 11 ff.; emphasis mine) Yet how unusual it was to define the teaching of "a sound practical idea of common-place every-day matters" as a goal for an academic institution around 1890 and to stress, in the same context, the opinion that life was "above all, practical," becomes clear from the address of Stanford University's first president, David Starr Jordan, who was the fourth speaker on that opening day. Only a few months before, following the advice of their friend Andrew Dickson White, the retired president of Cornell University, Leland and Jane Stanford had hired the forty-year-old ichthyologist, who was going to teach a course on "Laws of Organic Life" (including a discussion of the writings of Darwin and Spencer) during the academic year 1891 - 92,(3) for an annual salary of $10,000, more than three times above his previous income as president of Indiana University. But although both sides declared themselves to be deeply impressed by the convergence of their ideas about higher education,(4) Jordan's statement about the University's main tasks by no means reflected the preeminence which Senator Stanford had given to "practical life." Much more traditionally, Jordan grounded the importance of knowledge in the concept of truth, in the overwhelming evidence of objective observation: "Every influence which goes out from these halls should emphasize the value of truth. The essence of scholarship is to know something which is absolutely true; to have, in the words of Huxley, |some knowledge to the certainty of which no authority could add or take away, and to which the tradition of a thousand years is but as the hearsay of yesterday.'. . . We may teach the value of truth to our students by showing that we value it ourselves" (OD 22; emphasis mine). On what was then the extreme periphery of the Western intellectual world, with both speakers probably unaware of the striking difference between their positions, we can read the contrast between Leland Stanford's sound practical idea of common-place everyday matters and David Starr Jordan's emphatic concept of truth as a symptom for an important epistemological shift which took place in the late nineteenth century and which articulated itself in the philosophical discourse as a split between the notions of truth and reality.(5) It was accompanied, on an institutional level, by the academic dignification of engineering as a field of academic teaching and by the foundation of "technical universities" or "polytechnical schools," of whose spirit, without sharing their name, Stanford's first program of "Courses of Instruction" was a typical example.(6)
My main concern in the following pages will be to show that the concepts everyday-world and life-world, which have been playing a considerable role in phenomenological philosophy and sociology since the 1920s, originated in the very intellectual constellation for which the opening day of Stanford University happened to be a marginal staging. This intention implies a double restriction of my article in relation to the topic "Problematics of Daily Life." It excludes, in the first place, the philosophical prehistory of the split between truth and reality, which could obviously be considered a further chapter in the prehistory of the contemporary fascination with the quotidian. Secondly, the phenomenological concepts everyday-world and life-world constitute only one out of several lines of thinking which are converging in this fascination with the quotidian.(7) They are identical neither with a certain politically motivated interest in the "grain of the everyday" found among Marxist intellectuals nor with the bodily dimension of the "touch" which Michael Taussig discovers in Walter Benjamin's work, nor with some areas of research which became prominent in the publications of the French Annales-School after 1930. From this perspective, the specifically philosophical prehistory of the fascination with the quotidian is just one element in a complex amalgamation of lines of thought which still remains to be analyzed.
Before this background, I would like to inscribe my essay on the notions everyday-world and life-world into the academic genre of Begriffsgeschichte (conceptual history) which has become a German specialty over the past decades.(8) Such histories of certain concepts can be written either with a predominantly sociohistorical motivation (as contributions to the project of histoire des mentalitis) or with the more philosophical interest of clarifying the hidden implications and recuperating the forgotten semantic potential of notions in current systematical use. Trying to emphasize the second of these two functions can be labeled as the genealogical function(9) of conceptual history. It neither leads necessarily to a legitimation of the concepts in question nor implies the obligation to analyze integrally all those texts in which they are found quoted. In the following pages I will first go back to the epistemological situation of the 1890s and try to show how that new notion of reality which was no longer synonymous with the notion of truth emerged from a changing view …