April: Is It All In The Interpretation?

“Six bagels, a pound of hamburger, a spool of number one white sewing thread”

At our April 23 meeting, we discuss issues raised in “hermeneutics,” the philosophy of interpreting “texts,” such as the one quoted above. Within hermeneutics “texts” can include any human work that is created for the purpose of eliciting understanding of some kind. Thus, “texts” may include not only writings, but also oral speech, music, theater, dance, art and architecture, etc. However, for the purpose of simplifying an already difficult task, we hope the discussion will focus primarily on interpretation of writings.

HERMENTEUTICS—WHAT DOES IT MEAN? Is it not remarkable that purely arbitrary symbols, such as these letters, arranged in equally arbitrary words and sentences can convey meaning? What are the preconditions necessary for that to happen? What do we mean by the “meaning” of a text? Clearly, the “meaning” is more than the words themselves, an even the definitions of the words, or even the particular definitions that apply to the particular text. Some suggest that the “meaning” necessarily includes an understanding of other elements, such as the general intent of the author in writing, the audience to whom the text is directed, the historical and cultural context of the writer’s audience, the tone of the text, the author’s knowledge, belief’s, ignorance or even confusion, the author’s desire to convey something explicit or specific or to suggest something implicit or ambiguous.  Is the “meaning” of a text something objective, which may be “discovered” with proper application of the “right” methods? What are the philosophical, as opposed to the technical and empirical problems in interpreting texts?  Indeed, what is it that is interpreted—the words of the text, the context in which the words were written, some inherent, determinable “meaning” of the text?

Bob Muir will moderate the discussion, which will open by taking a look at some sample texts and then discussing some of the problems of interpretation that we see in them. After this, Bob will spend a few minutes outlining some key issues and themes in hermeneutics.  Most of the meeting will be spent discussing our own experiences in interpreting texts, the problems we have encountered and techniques we have learned to solve such problems, when we can do so at all. Below are some resources, which you may wish to look at to prepare for the meeting.

http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/hermeneutics/

http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/gadamer/

http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/ricoeur/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/E._D._Hirsch,_Jr.

We also suggest that you print a copy of the following diagram and bring it to the meeting.

 

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  • A former member
    A former member

    Bob Muir led a spirited discussion on hermeneutical analysis of various texts and quotes.

    April 25, 2012

  • A former member
    A former member

    Bob Muir, in his usual manner, gave us much to think about this evening, and there were great contributions all around. A pleasure to be in the company of so many bright, interesting people. Thank you, all.

    April 23, 2012

  • A. Colin F.

    lunch went too late...

    April 23, 2012

  • Bob M.

    Colin, there are several interpretations of "Six bagels," etc. You have provided one. Another is that it is a test of some kind. I will explain the words at the meeting. When I do, its meaning may change from what it is now. Bring a snack; it need not be bagels, etc

    April 22, 2012

  • A. Colin F.

    Not sure I understand this text "Six bagels, a pound of hamburger, a spool of number one white sewing thread” Is that what we should bring? ')

    April 22, 2012

  • Brent

    On another note: I'll be bringing a cheese danish ring. Probably lots of animals products in it, so it's eminently edible! <G>

    April 17, 2012

  • A former member
    A former member

    In all these cases, with all "texts," we are, inevitably, I think, confronted with the hermeneutic circle. We have to accept that state of affairs. The question is, then, what can we do about that if a) we want to try to understand others as they are, not as we would have them be; b) we want real cultural transmission; and c) we want to grow by having transformative experiences with that which is very unlike us.

    March 20, 2012

  • A former member
    A former member

    These are profound questions not only because they apply to texts like poems and paintings but also to "texts" like the actions and statements made by other people. Do we have available to us only our own "readings" of others, or can we somehow step outside those and have what is really an encounter with that which is really Other?

    March 20, 2012

  • A former member
    A former member

    Another way to think of that: Can we by some process "recover" the original intent of a text or an author? Or are we forced to conclude that there are no better or worse readings, only my reading, your reading, etc.?

    March 20, 2012

  • A former member
    A former member

    Here's the second problem: We seem to all agree that we can only understand things from some perspective, looking through our own tinted glasses. What happens, then, when we look at a text--an ancient Greek poem, say? Don't we inevitably read by our own light? Does it make any sense to talk of the independent meaning of a text "in and of itself"? Does it make any sense to talk of the author's intention? Are the postmodernists right in saying that "There are no texts, only readings?" (Barthes)

    March 20, 2012

  • A former member
    A former member

    Here's are a couple problems to consider to begin thinking about hermeneutics. Suppose you want to figure out what art is. The way to do that is to bring together some works of art and become acquainted with them. But to do that, you already have to have an idea of what constitutes a work of art. There's no escaping this "vicious circle." That example is from Heidegger.

    March 20, 2012

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