Whose Community? Which Interpretation?

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Whose Community? Which Interpretation?

Realism:  claim that the world (the real) is “out there” and is what it is independent of whether or what we might think of it (18).  Plato intimated as much when he said the philosopher apprehends the purely intelligible structures (Phaedo 66e). 

immediacy:  “the object is given to the subject without any mediating input from the subject” (20).  

But Kant said we don’t perfectly mirror the world, we apprehend it mediately through the forms and categories we bring with us to experience.  

Historical Background

Schlieiermacher:  sought to apply a general hermeneutics that would apply to all culturally relevant texts.  Hermeneutical circle. Also advocated historical method about author.  

Psychologism:  language is primarily to be understood as the outer expression of the inner psychic life (29).  Project oneself into the experiences of the text (ala Romanticism).  

Against Romantic Hermeneutics

Relativist hermeneutics:  1) we are always somewhere and never nowhere when we interpret; 2) We never escape from hermeneutical circularity.

Speech-Act Theory

Words are performative.

Wolterstorff argues that speaking does not necessarily have self-revelation as its primary function for either human or divine discourse.  Divine discourse usually comes to us in the form of promises and command (covenant).  authorial discourse interpretation: per Wolterstorff to interpret the bible correctly is to ask what speech acts did the author perform (40).  

Revoking Authorial Privilege

Even the French trio doesn’t think the author is truly dead.  “To deny that the author is the unilateral source of a text’s meaning is not to deny that the author plays an important role” (58).  Westphal explains, “For our French trio, the finitude of the author in relation to the text is expressed in a double relativity. In the first place, human authors ‘create meaning’ only relative to the language available to them…this language shapes and conditions their thought in ways of which they are unaware and over which they do not preside” (59).  

To say it yet another way: “The author is not a godlike, infinite creator of meaning” (65).  Humans are finite and our sub-creations (what Milbank would call mythopoesis) are always within the realm of the finite and conditioned.

Rehabilitating Tradition

Gadamer.  Fundamental thesis about tradition is “belonging.”  p. 70. Tradition plays a double-role. It gives us a place to stand and it is is plural.  We do not belong to a single, universal tradition. “All interpretation is relative to traditions that have formed the perspectives and presuppositions that guide it” (71). 

“To be historically means that knowledge of oneself can never be complete” (Gadamer, Truth and Method, 301-302).  

Alterity Thesis.  Tradition as other.  Tradition will set before us what it has already done within us.

Authority Thesis.  We acknowledge tradition as a “sub-authority” over us.  “My conscience is a grounded opacity that allows a richly mediated knowledge of its object” (Westphal 74).  

Fallibility Thesis.  Question of critique:  “How can we distinguish the true prejudices–by which we understand–from the false prejudices (by which we misunderstand” (75).   Tradition must be open to this critique. Even worse, the difference between true and false is not always either/or but a matter of degree. 

Back to authorial intent

It’s important but maybe not the main point.  When I read a text I am only interested in the author to a certain degree (unless it’s an autobiography).  This is a bad problem in a lot of conservative introductory surveys to the Bible (cf Carson, Moo, Morris). One gets a lot of different theories on authorship and place (important, no doubt) but the meaning of text gets sidelined. 

Authorial intent is important in understanding a text, but only to a degree. Authors themselves are wirkungsgeschichtliches Bewusstein, historically effected consciousness.  They don’t have absolute self-transperancy either.  Westphal has an interesting suggestion: “there is a power at work in finite authorial creation–for Gadamer, tradition–of whose agency and effects the author is never fully aware” (81).  

Truth Beyond Method

Art as the location.  Classic texts of literature.

It should read “Truth Beyond Scientific Method.”

“Language is at once a primary bearer of tradition and an ever-changing form of tradition” (90).  

Bildung/education as formation…training in the sensus communis. 

Performance and Application

Interpretation is not so much a completed object but an event (102).  It is performative.



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