Thursday, 2 August 2012

Holism without Skepticism… Circular Interpretation

BOHMAN, J.F. (1991) Holism without Skepticism: Contexualism and the Limits of Interpretation. In: D.R. HILEY, J.F. BOHMAN, and R. SHUSTERMAN (Eds.) The Interpretive Turn. Cornell University Press. pp129-154

“The universality of interpretation, they argue, is a direct consequence of the fact that no cognitive activity can privilege a particular content as ‘given’ or ‘self-verifying’ apart from the context of all other contents and activities. If this is true, then it follows that all such activities are interpretive and that any belief or practice can be understood only in light of all other beliefs and practices. Hence, sceptical contextualism is a two-step thesis: first, that interpretation is universal and hence ubiquitous in every cognitive activity; and second, that it is holistic and hence takes place only against the background of all our beliefs and practices. Together these two theses imply that no interpretation can be singled out as uniquely correct, since the assertion that it is so would itself be an interpretation within a particular context. Thus, this conclusion is but one way of expressing the famous ‘hermeneutic circle:’ everything is interpretation, and interpretation is itself indeterminate, contextual, and circular.” (p130)

As interpretation itself is mediated through socio-cultural contexts and personal experiences what is interpreted makes sense to the interpreter but may not be ‘correct’ when compared to the interpretations of others. If it is accepted that interpretation in itself is contextual and circular, and open to revision and change with fresh insights then the hermeneutic circle offers a way to manage any individual and collective interpretation. In the circle the individual interpretation is examined phenomenologically, and referred back to the interpretations of the collective mass to reveal commonalities in the interpretations. Only then can a real sense of what is the agreed interpretation be arrived at. 

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