Re: Hermeneutics (was Public Funding vs Free Inquiry)

Daniel Fabulich (
Wed, 20 May 1998 14:47:24 -0400 (EDT)

On Wed, 20 May 1998, Mark Crosby wrote:

> An interesting overview article on hermeneutics is
> Extropian Nick Szabo's "Commentaries on Hermeneutics"
> at where
> he notes:
> "There have been several superficial (aka 'radical')
> crypto-Marxist philosophies constructed using a gloss
> of Heideggerian language, such as Sartre, Derrida,
> et. al., but I take these only as a cautionary tale
> to balance Heidegger's influence on Gadamer, who is
> probably the most eloquent and thoughtful defender of
> tradition in our time."

I wonder if Mr. Szabo mightn't be surprised to find that the radicals have
taken over our universities. :) Ultimately, yes, hermeneutics can be
formulated with information theory as an algorithmic analysis of something
which is objective: the authorial intent. However, many modern thinkers
have all but completely eschewed the idea of authorial intent governing
the meaning of a text; it's their own form of anti-authoritarianism.
Derrida is probably the most historically prominent writer to advocate
this view; radical though he may be, he is also awfully popular.

> Another very useful but longer article is
> "Hermeneutics: From Textual Explication to Computer
> Understanding?" by MIT AI Lab's John C. Mallery,
> Roger Hurwitz, Gavan Duffy published in The
> Encyclopedia of Artificial Intelligence, Stuart. C.
> Shapiro, editor, John Wiley &Sons, New York, 1987 at
> . They summarize their interpretation of this as
> follows:
> "In sum, lexical-interpretive semantics differs from
> approaches relying on semantic universals because
> meaning equivalences are determined dynamically at
> reference time for specific language users with
> individual histories rather than statically in
> advance for an idealized language user with an
> unspecific background knowledge but who is
> 'semantically and pragmatically competent'."

Or, more relevant to our earlier discussion about hermeneutics and
objective truth:

"...philosophical hermeneutics is not concerned with verifiable accounts
and, as noted above, it denies the possibility of objective knowledge.
Instead, it argues that only a person who stands in history, subject to
the prejudices of his age, can hope to understand it. A valid
understanding of an event, interaction or text is one that bridges history
or socio-cultural differences to highlight the inquirer's situation."

The problems with both of these philosophies for capitalism is apparent;
it's impossible to enforce a contract as law if meaning does not
ultimately spring from authorial intent or if the referent of the contract
varies, depending on the reader's background and upbringing. We might be
able to make a little headway if we were to assert that legal contracts
are necessarily written in a formal meta-language remarkably LIKE English,
a language designed in such a way as to be infinitely more precise than
our own. However, even this formulation is not without problems, and
doesn't help us to get around the greater problems presented to us by
philosophical hermeneutics, which I think we ultimately must reject if we
are to accept the existence of an objective reality impervious to