Friday, 10 August 2012

Beneath Interpretation… No Understanding is Foundational

SHUSTERMAN, R. (1991) Beneath Interpretation. In: D.R. HILEY, J.F. BOHMAN, and R. SHUSTERMAN (Eds.) The Interpretive Turn. Cornell University Press. pp102-128

“Since our current hermeneutic turn derives in large part from the rejection of foundationalism, it is not surprising that the central arguments for hermeneutic universalism turn on rejecting foundationalist ideas of transparent fact, absolute and univocal truth, and mind-independent objectivity. For such ideas underwrite the possibility of attaining some perfect God’s-eye grasp of things as they really are, independent of how we differently perceive them, a seeing or understanding that is free from corrigibility and perspectival pluralities and prejudices that we willingly recognize as intrinsic to all interpretation. I think the universalists are right to reject such foundational understanding, but wrong to conclude from this that all understanding is interpretation. Their mistake, a grave but simple one, is to equate the nonfoundational with the interpretive. In other words, what the universalists are successfully arguing is that all understanding is nonfoundational; that is always corrigible, perspectival, and somehow prejudiced or prestructured; that no meaningful experience is passively neutral and disinterestedly nonselective. But since, in the traditional foundationalist framework, interpretation is contrasted and designated as the form of nonfoundational understanding, the inferior foster home of all corrigible, perspectival perception, it is easy to confuse the view that no understanding is foundational with the view that all understanding is interpretive. Yet this confusion of hermeneutic universalism betrays an unseemly residual bond to the foundationalist framework, in the assumption that what is not foundational must be interpretive.” (pp108-109)


There are intrinsic prejudices within interpretation as we all perceive within our own reality, collectively mediated within the socio-cultural conditions we share. Hermeneutic interpretation rejects any foundationalist ideas that there is an absolute truth, for a pluralism of perspectival truth that can be corrected, rectified, or reformed with fresh data. But there is a danger in assuming that all understanding that does not have a foundational base has to be interpretive. Prof. Shusterman (1991) cautions that a pragmatic universalist perspective on understanding as nonfoundational should not confuse “the view that no understanding is foundational with the view that all understanding is interpretive (pp108-109). Equating the interpretative with the nonfoundational has a danger of seeing all understanding as interpretation. Palmer (1969) does have the distance to see understanding as a preliminary act of interpretation, and Bohman (1991) from a holistic perspective acknowledges that a ‘correct’ functionalist or deterministic interpretation cannot explain how humans process and experience the world.

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