Friday, April 8, 2016

Gadamer's Philosophical Hermeneutics

Merold Westphal discusses Gadamer's Philosophical hermeneutics in chapters 6-9 of his book, Whose Community? Which Interpretation? The chapters are based on Gadamer's Truth and Method. Gadamer's basic thesis is that we "belong to tradition by virtue of our thrownness into it, our immersion in it, and our formation by it" (70). There are three points to mbe made here: 1. Tradition "plays a double role." It gives us the ability to interpret, and it also limits what we can see becaused we are situated in a certain tradition. 2. Traditions is plural. We are situated in multiple traditions. 3. "The result of our belonging to tradition is prejudice." Westphal's thesis is that "all interpretation is perspectival and no interpretation is presuppositionless." In other words, we all see from somewhere and this somewhere from where we see influences how we interpret.

Westphal argues that tradition "exercises authority in/over our thinking, our construals, and our seeings as." Basically, tradition shapes our interpretations and understanding. Westphal provides an example for those who doubt this thesis: If we doubt this theses, we can consider the history of Christian doctrine and four different groups: the desert fathers, the Geneva Calvinists, the American slaves, and today's Amish. What accounts for the different interpretations of these four different groups?

In chapter seven, Westphal explains why the author nor method cannot "rescue us from the reader's relativity." Gadamer notes, "Every age has to understand a transmitted text in its own way. . . . The real meaning of a text, as it speaks to the interpreter, does not depend on the contingencies of the author and his original audience. It certainly is not identical with them, for it is always co-determined also by the historical situation of the interpreter" (78). Westphal notes how Gadamer states that there is "less in the text than the author intended" and "more in the text than the author intended." Gadamer rejects the view that interpretation "reverses the process of authorial production by recreating or reconstructing and thus repeating the creative event by transposing ourselves into the mind of the author" (79). This is the psychologism theory argued for by Schleiermacher and Dilthey. Gadamer says what the interpreter seeks "to understand the something said (meaning) in order to understand that about which it is said (truth). Gadamer emphasizes that its the truth claim of the text and what it "offers as the truth of the subject matter." Westphal says there is room for method if all interpretation is is reproduction. "But insofar as interpretation is productive as well, there is, he claims, a truth beyond method."

In chapter nine Westphal shows how interpretation is performance, application, and conversation. Gadamer explains in his book that reading "is a kind of performing." He provides examples from drama and the theater. Westphal notes, "Gadamer's general thesis here is that understanding, and thus interpretation, belongs to the very being of the work that is understood." Gadamer, repeatedly, refers to interpretation as an event. Performance is part of interpretation. Gadamer provides the example of the performance of Shakespeare from his time to our own time. The play is the same, but it also changes. Gadamer says, "We ask what this identity is that presents itself so differently in the changing courses of ages and circumstances. It does not disintegrate into the changing aspects of itself so that it would lose all identity, but is there in them all. They all belong to it" (102-103). Gadamer is saying that the interpretation of a text changes with different circumstances. There is both a unity and a diversity within a text as it is interpreted through time.

Gadamer says that interpretation is also translation and application. The interpreter must translate "the meaning into the context in which the other speaker lives." There are limits on how the text can be interpreted. It must remain faithful to the text and some interpretations are more faithful to the text. In other words, not just any interpretation is faithful to the text. Westphal notes, "If, as Gadamer argues, every translation is an interpretation and conversely, every interpretation is a translation, that is, carrying meaning over from one context to another, then every theology is a translation. Accordingly, it would be foolish to claim that there is one 'definitive' theology that is right while all others are wrong (though theologies, like other interpretations/translations can be wrong." In addition, Gadamer says that interpretation is application. Some interpreters distinguish the meaning of a text from the application of the text. Gadamer does not agree with this distinction. He thinks interpretation is application. He sees interpretation as understanding, interpretation, and application. In addition, "Gadamer regularly insists that texts speak to us, address us, make claims on us. They are not objects to be seen but voices to be heard." The other is emphasized repeatedly in Truth and Method. Gadamer sees interpretation as a conversation between the author and reader.

There is many more points made by Westphal in regards, to Gadamer's Truth and Method. Gadamer's book is not an easy read, but it becomes clearer with repeated readings. Westphal's is a good guide for the reader working through Gadamer's great work.

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