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