Hermeneutics Again!

Technotranscendence (neptune@mars.superlink.net)
Sat, 23 May 1998 07:37:54 -0400 (EDT)

At 02:47 PM 5/20/98 -0400, Daniel Fabulich <daniel.fabulich@yale.edu> wrote:
>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.

I don't want to appear to be an all out defender of hermeneutics, but
here goes...

I agree authorial intent should be part of literary criticism, though it should
not be the do all be all of it. The influence a text (or anything for that
matter) often goes well beyond what the author intended. A writer's goal
is not always clear -- hence the debates on the meaning of Homer's epics
that go on to this day. There is also open deception. Thirdly, unintended
consequences creep in, as they creep into every intended thing, e.g.,
welfare policies. Should we not apply the same idea to literature? Surely,
the writers of the Bible did not intend for Ayn Rand to use their symbolism
in her novels -- as the late Ronald Merrill proclaimed in his _The Ideas of
Ayn Rand_?

>"...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

I agree, though some of the methods of hermeneutics are transplantable
and useful outside the above quoted context. The problem of
interpretation, if consistently applied, also makes non-capitalist systems
unviable. How can the people vote for central planners in democratic
socialism IF each individual is so mired in her context that she can't
communicate with others? How can Marxists or Fascists interpret the
forces of history -- be they embodied by the proletariat or the nation --
correctly, IF no objective rendering is possible? This extreme position
-- that any interpretation is equal and inconmensurable with any other
interpretation -- is obviously false, but it does not help anyone to support
any political or social system.

The only reason, I believe, many academics support anticapitalist systems
is just that they traditionally have done so. Despite all these radical
philosophies, the university has always been a very conservative place.


Daniel Ust