Tag Archives: hermeneutics

Chapter 3 and 4: palmer-Wild, John, ed. Northwestern University Studies in Phenomenology & Existential Philosophy. 3-71.

“Chapter 3: Six Modern Definitions of Hermeneutics” [Extension of Laura’s notes:]

Hermeneutics has been taken up in six different ways, highlighting six different kinds of interpretation:

1. theory of biblical exegesis—earliest—interpretation is about finding hidden meaning; system of interpretation was established out of which individual passages could be interpreted. System is rules, methods, theory of governing exegesis (commentary). Interpretation was also extended to investigate past biblical interpretations from ancient times. Meta-interpretation thus began. Move toward understanding the phenomenon of interpretation itself.

2. philological methodology—18th century—historical-critical method arose with grammatical and historical schools of biblical interpretation. In era of enlightenment, goal is to make biblical interpretations relevant to enlightened, rational people. Biblical interpretation were rational, moral truths revealed before their time. – 39. Task was to grasp spiritual nature of text and translate into terms acceptable to rational beings (demythologizing). -39 task of interpreter became a historical one as biblical interpretation grew committed to full knowledge of historical context of biblical accounts -39. Grammatical analysis also became useful technique. The grammatical and historical in interpretation soon became applied to secular texts. Classical philology=secular interpretation and Biblical interpretation = exegesis.

3. science of linguistic understanding-Schleiermacher – general hermeneutics—science for understanding all texts. -40
hermeneutics became concerned with the study of understanding itself. Hermeneutics can now be said to be a child of parents, biblical exegesis and classical philology.

4. methodological foundation of geistewissenschaftliche – Dilthey—late 19th century—hermeneutics is foundation for all disciplines focused on understanding man’s art, actions, and writings (geistewissenschaftliche). Interpretation necessitates historical understanding, which is very different from scientific grasp of natural world.

5. phenomenology of existential understanding – Heidigger – hermeneutics of Dasein—neither science or rules of text nor methodology for geistewissenschafthliche—instead, phemenological explication of human existence itself—ontology of understanding—Gadamer in Heidigger’s lead, developed Heidigger’s contributions into systematic work of philosophical hermeneutics—Gadamer conducted historical account of hermeneutics and tried to relate hermeneutics to aesthetics and to philosophy of historical understanding.

Hermeneutics took linguistic turn as hermeneutics is “encounter with Being through language” – 42. Hermeneutics took philosophical plunge into questions about relationship between language and being, understanding, history, existence, and reality. Understanding became epistemological and ontological matter.

6. system of recollective and iconoclastic interpretation—Ricouer—return to textual exegesis-pyschoanalysis as part of interpretation—hermeneutics is process of deciphering which goes from manifest content to hidden meaning- text is book, dream, myth, symbols of society – 43. Equivocal symbols (symbolic texts with multiple meanings) true concern of hermeneutics. Freudian hermeneutics—iconoclasm. Hermeneutics has double chore—uncover hidden meaning in symbols-demythologize- and destroy symbol as representation of false reality—demystification as seen in work of Marx, Freud, and Nietzsche– 44. Hermeneutics involves embracing suspicion and doubt. The tension between demythologizing and demystifiying is what comprises existential interpretation.

“Chapter 4: The Contemporary Battle over Hermeneutics: Betti versus Gadamer”

There are two camps of understanding hermeneutics: either it is a collection of principles (a method) used for interpretation of texts or it is a “philosophical exploration of the character and requisite conditions for all understanding” (46). The first proposes that a text can be interpreted on its own and the interpreter must try to understand the text in its own historical situation; the latter acknowledges that all understanding is historical and connected to the present, but is prone to relativism and questions historical knowledge itself.

Bultmann heads up debate about the subjective nature of history and thus interpretation. He points out that historical interpretations are based on preliminary understanding which influences which questions will be asked, which ultimately dictates what interpretation will be reached. All interpretation is guided by interpreter’s “pre-understanding” – 51. Interpretation are thus objective and subjective. “objective meaning in history cannot be spoken of, for history cannot be known except through the subjectivity of the historian himself” – 52.

According to Ebeling and Fuchs, hermeneutical problem is not just about subjectivity, it is also a linguistic concern. They claim hermeneutics “as theory of understanding must therefore be the theory of words” – 53. This point is driven by need to save biblical words from being renedered meaningless.

What is connection between language, thinking, and reality????

Betti objects to Gadamer’s work for its lack of methodology for humanistic studies, which in turn makes no correct interpretation possible to be validated, and undermines notion that interpretation is objective. Betti’s aim was to “differentiate among various modes of interpretation in the humane disciplines and to formulate a foundational body of principles with which to interpret human actions and objects” – 56 texts to have objectively verifiable meaning. Object is just not observer. Object is object. Interpretation is not “conferring meaning on the object” (Sinngebung) – 57. “it is fundamental and the first canon of all interpretation to affirm the essential autonomy of text” – 57. Second canon=hermeneutic circle=overall meaning based on individual parts. Third canon=interpreter’s own stance and interests in the present, is involved in every understanding. Still there are better interpretations of others, which objective investigation uncovers.

E.D. Hirsch comes in and claims author’s intent should determine meaning of text. Intent determines validity of interpretation and thus makes interpretation objective. Meaning and significance are separate. The integrity of philology depends on it. Determining verbal meaning is our objective, not significance of passage. – 60-61 verbal meaning is fixed, reproducible, and determinate. Hermeneutics should be about furnishing theoretical justification for determinacy object of interpretation and setting norms to determine fixed meaning. Hermeneutics is not literacy criticism nor should it be. It’s purely a philological endeavor. – 62

Author’s point: problem with philogical designation of interpretation is that hermeneutics becomes means applicable to all disciplines without concern for past developments in philosophy of language, phenomenology, epistemology, or ontology. Plus, hermeneutics for Hirsch is no longer theory of understanding; its logic of validation.- 64.

So debate goes on: “One the one side are the defenders of objectivity and validation, who look to hermeneutics as the theoretical source for norms of validation; on the other side are the phenomenologists of the event of understanding, who stress the historical character of this ‘event,’ and consequently the limitations of all claims to objective knowledge’ and ‘objective validity” (65).


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Ricouer: “What is text?” and “Metaphor and the problem of Interpretation”

Paul Ricoeur “What is a text? Explanation and understanding” from Hermeneutics and the human sciences. 1981.

In this article, Ricoeur attempts to deconstruct the binary between explanation and interpretation. Explanation, he explains, is thought to be borrowed from the natural sciences and is a central tool of positivism. Interpretation, on the other hand, as the main form of understanding, is thought to be specific to the human sciences and responsible for the division between the two sciences. Ricoeur explains, however, that for one, explanation is actually derived from the sphere of language and more specifically linguistics and two, explanation and interpretation are not opposites per se; rather, they have a complementary and reciprocal relationship and through reading are ultimately reconciled. By complicating the suppossed binary between scientific and philosophical interpretations of interpretation, Ricouer attempts to illustrate how interpretaton uses methodology to develop a hidden meaning of a text. Interpretation is thus both a scientific and philosophical practice.

In order to illustrate this point, Ricoeur begins by addressing the question, what is a text?. Asking this question allows him to explore the act of reading, an act where explanation and interpretation confront one another. Ricouer defines a text as “a discourse fixed by writing” (146). Several “upheavals” occur when writing replaces speech. One, unlike speech in which a speaker presents a “real” world to an interlocuter, the text, represents an imaginary world because of gaps in the text’s references, which ultimately must be filled by the reader. The author also becomes less distinct; the author of the text is constituted by the text rather than be self-designated and immediately identifiable as in speech. This distancing of the author from the text necessitates both explanation and interpretation in order to derive meaning from a text.

Structuralists claim that meaning is revealed through the structure of a text or more precisely, by analyzing the “logic of operations which interconnect” the relations between lower and higher units of language and the actants and actions within the narrative of the text (155). Text, in a sense, then is closed; it is both worldless and authorless. But Ricouer claims that explaining the structure of a closed text does not totally reveal the meaning of a text. Nor does it constitute reading. Reading is made possible because texts “opens out onto other things. To read is…to conjoin a new discourse to the discourse of the text. This conjuction of discourses reaveals, in the very constitution of the text, an original capacity for renewal which is its open character. Interpretaton is the concrete outcome of conjunction and renewal” (158).

Interpretation can be understood as appropriation in three senses. In one sense, the ultimate outcome of interpreting a text is self-understanding (158). In other sense, through interpretation, we make “one’s own what was initially alien” (159). In other words, interpretation overcomes cultural distance because we come to understand the world as well as the self. In the last sense, interpretation can be thought of as appropriation because we gain meaning from the text in the present. The subject of a text then is the world and the reader herself. Meaning is derived with a “realization of the discourse of the reading subject” and the culture around them (159). In this sense, a text takes on both a semiological dimension and a semantic dimension (159).

Ricouer thinks structural analysis is the first stage of constructing a critical interpretation. As he explains it: structural analysis can be regarded as “a stage—and a necessary one—between a naïve and a critical interpretation, between a surface and a depth interpretation, then it seems possible to situate explanation and interpretation along a unique hermeneutical arc and to integrate the opposed attitudes of explanation and understanding within an overall conception of reading as the recovery of meaning” (161).

He goes on to say that if we consider interpretation as revealing the here and now of the text’s intention, we must realize that we are not referring to the “presumed intention” of the author/writer but instead the text’s intention. Most simply then, “to explain is to bring out the structure, that is, internal relations of dependence which constitute the statistics of the text; to interpret is to follow the path of thought opened up by the text, to place oneself en route towards the orient of the text” (162). In this sense, a text objectively interprets itself through the process of signification. Drawing on Aristotle, Ricouer claims “interpretation is interpretation by language before being interpretation of language” (163).

Interpretation is not subjective in Ricouer’s eyes because it is possible to “depsychologise” interpretation and connect it with the text (164). Because of the relation between the text, the structure, and the realized meanings, interpretations are supported by the text. Appropriation as self-understanding, meaning-making, and cultural understanding is final act of reading derived through suspension of interpretation.

“Reading [in turn] is the concrete act in which the destiny of the text is fulfilled. It is at the very heart of reading that explanation and interpretation are indefinitely opposed and reconciled” (164).

“Metaphor and the central problem of hermeneutics” from same text

Ricouer begins by addressing two problems of hermeneutics concerning interpretation’s field of application and its epistemological specificity. Application is tricky because in written texts are autonomous (texts are independent of authorial intention, situaion of work, and original reader) and thus discourse must speak for itself. Epistemologically, interpretation is tricky because of its supposed opposition to explanation—the key to objective science. These two problems lead other scholars to believe in interpretation’s larger problem—that of subjectivity.

To get at this issue, Ricouer says we must go back to the binary of explanation vs. interpretation. Believing in the power of the hermeneutic circle, he explores metaphor as a “work in minature” (166). Work, by the way, according to Ricouer, is “the closed sequence of discourse which can be considered a text” (166). Ricouer explains that “all discourse is realized as an event but understood as meaning” (167) and since a living metaphor is both event and meaning, then it is justified to develop a deeper understanding of texts through exploration of metaphor.

Meaning of metaphor is dependent on context as well as on associations with commonplaces and cultural rules as well as semantic and syntactic rules. To understand new metaphors, we construct a network of interactions by directing our attention to the enitre semantic event, which is constituted by intersecting semantic fields (174). We construct meaning of text in a similar way.

Interpretation of text as well as metaphor is a dialectic of guessing and validating. Construction of interpretation in both cases depends on clues from the text and probability, which is determined both by facts from texts and connotations. Imagination comes into play.

“The world is the totality of references opened up by texts” (177). “Texts speak of possible worlds and of possible ways of orienting oneself in these worlds” (177). Interpretation thus becomes the apprehension of the proposed worlds which are opened up by the non-ostensive references of the text” (177). To interpret means to open one’s self to those possible worlds which texts discloses or opens up.

Ricoeur believes in the ability of the hermeneutic circle to make what is alien in a text familiar. The underlying principle of the hermeneutic circle according to the thinkers of Romanticism is that pre-understanding leads to interpretation leads to deeper self-understanding. Yet, “the hermeneutical circle is not correctly understood when it is presented, first, as a circle between two subjectivities, that of the reader and that of the author; and second, as the projection of the subjectivity of the reader into the reading itself” (178).

In terms of text, understanding parts leads to understanding of whole which leads to deeper understanding of parts. Therefore, according to Ricouer, the text directs itself to possible interpretations. Also, we need to think of a reader understanding herself “in front of a text, in front of the world of the work” (178). Standing in front of a text means that we do not project our own beliefs and prejudices onto the text; instead we “let the work and its world enlarge the horizon of the understanding which I have of my self” (178). Interpretation is ontological in this sense.

Essentially, what Ricouer aims to do is demonstrate that explanation of metaphor contributes to the interpretation of the whole text (180). He thus demonstrates through the hermeneutic circle and structural analysis that interpretation is to some extent methodolgical. Yet because of interpretation’s ontological nature, Ricouer also demonstrates the philosophical nature of interpretation. His scholarship, then, attempts to reconcile the long term debate between the natural and human sciences over the nature, role and potential of interpretation. Interpretation, in a sense, is both a science and an art, perhaps something in between….


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