Interpreting Philosophy: The Elements of Philosophical Hermeneutics

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Convert currency. Add to Basket. Book Description Ontos Verlag , Condition: Very Good. Books is in very good condition. Seller Inventory DS More information about this seller Contact this seller. Book Description Ontos Verlag, Condition: Used: Good. Nicholas Rescher. Publisher: Ontos Verlag , This specific ISBN edition is currently not available. View all copies of this ISBN edition:. Statists and libertarians do not clash about what desires individuals have, but about the weight these should carry in public policy deliberations.

All such controversies flow from agreement about the range of jurisdiction or desirability of certain factors with respect to whose nature there is little or no disagreement. If we cannot in principle relate the thought of distinct philosophers by way of identity and similarity, if we cannot say that here they are discussing the same or similar questions and that there they are offering consonant or conflicting answers, then we shall be in bad straits indeed. We are locked into mutual incomprehension. And worse! A cognitive solipsism of the present moment looms before us here.

A crucial factor for interpretation lies in the fact that in writing philosophy one has no sensible alternative but to proceed on the supposition that others can understand us in the sense we intend—if they are willing to make a sufficient effort which we are well advised to make as undemanding as possible. And we do well to explain, develop, and substantiate our own position in terms of its relationships with the ideas and doctrines to which it is linked by way of affinity or opposition.

To be sure, this can be overdone.


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Philosophical writers frequently indulge negative explanations. But they often seem insufficiently aware of how unproductive this can be. Guarding against misinterpretation is all very well, but the range of things one may not mean is usually so large that it is not particularly enlightening to be presented with a few items that can safely be stricken from the list.

It is perhaps more painful for the author, but certainly more helpful to a reader, when writers take the via positiva and set out, plainly and explicitly, what they are prepared to assert. Authors who have not thought things through to the point of feeling comfortable about accentuating the positive have apparently not yet managed to develop their ideas to a point where they merit the exposure of publication. The realm of fact and reality just does not have the neat sequential structure of written exposition.

The Art of Interpretation of Sacred Texts

A philosophical exposition must be logical: it must present its ideas in a rational and coherent way. But this does not mean that it will exhibit a predestined sequential order, proceeding along an inexorable line of development from a starting point in unavoidable first principles. In giving an account of the nature of things, philosophers must impose a certain rational order on the materials at issue—exactly as with those who set out to provide an account of a city or of a country.

And—within limits—they are free to do this in many different ways.


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  • Moreover, philosophical problems frequently make demands of their own. Often they will not allow one to work in the way one would prefer, but insist that the discussion proceed in their way.

    Hermeneutics and health: reflections on the thinking of Hans-Georg Gadamer

    And when this occurs, there is no use struggling against the inevitable. A philosophical position, like a defended city, will have some sectors more weakly protected than others. The writer of philosophical deliberations can be quite sure that readers will probe for such weak spots—to say nothing of referees and reviewers.

    Chapter 4.2: Wilhelm Dilthey, the importance of hermeneutics

    One is well advised to take preventive measures to bolster them in advance—enlisting the aid of friends and colleagues insofar as possible. No position is totally invulnerable to objection, but there is no point in making things more difficult for oneself than necessary. In philosophy, perhaps more than in any other mode of writing, criticism is a boon—provided it comes before rather than after publication.

    Of course, philosophical excellence is not a matter of tight reasoning alone— or even primarily. But loose thinking certainly does not advance its cause. Philosophy does not furnish us with new ground-level facts; it endeavors to systematize, harmonize, and coordinate the old into coherent structures in whose terms we can meaningfully address our larger questions. The prime mover of philosophizing is the urge to systemic adequacy—to achieving consistency, coherence, and rational order within the framework of what we accept.

    Two prime injunctions regarding the mission of rational inquiry accordingly set the stage for sensible philosophizing: 1. Answer the questions! Say enough to satisfy your curiosity about things. Keep your commitments consistent!

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    To be sure, there is a tension between these two imperatives—between the factors of commitment and consistency. We find ourselves in the discomfiting situation of cognitive conflict, with different tendencies of thought pulling in divergent directions. The task is to make sense of our discordant cognitive commitments and to impart coherence and unity to them insofar as possible. Few and far between is the sentence able at one and the same time to state a claim and to present explicitly the reason for its acceptance—to make an assertion and at the same time to offer a reason for accepting it.

    Claims do not—nay, generally cannot—be self-validating in concurrently presenting the grounds for their own acceptance. What they achieve is not to state the grounds for their acceptability, but at best to suggest them to the perceptive reader.

    Gadamerian philosophical hermeneutics as a useful methodological framework for the Delphi technique

    And here, once again, the writer is well advised to be helpful to readers, for cogent legitimation is the requisite of philosophical adequacy. It is this aspect of philosophical exposition that marks the discipline as a venture in rational inquiry. No matter how pretty the story, or no matter how much it appeals to our imagination or our admiration—however much it enlists our approval—it can make no claims on our understanding save through the instrumentality of reason.

    A substantial divide apparently separates the issues that intrigue philosophers themselves from those that nonphilosophers think philosophers ought to discuss. The principal reason why the non-specialist obtains this impression is that contemporary philosophical writing is in great measure technical and addressed to the specialist alone. But why should this be? Is it perhaps simply a matter of the fashion of the day? By no means!

    Hans-Georg Gadamer

    There is good reason for it. Contemporary philosophers generally do—and surely always should—deal with technical issues in the field because they are constrained to do so. They address this technical issue to resolve another in order to resolve yet another and so on until finally one reaches what is needed to resolve some probably significant presystematic, nontechnical issue. A thread of means-ends filiation should always link philosophical technicalities to the nontechnical big issues of life, the universe, and everything with which philosophy traditionally deals.

    Philosophical technicalities can be unavoidable means to sensible ends—and should, in fact, only be there when this is so. They matter when—but only when—they are required for the satisfactory handling of something nontechnical.

    go site Regrettably, however, people sometimes become entranced by technicalities for their own sake. They are unwilling to take the time and trouble to explain to their colleagues let alone to laymen why those technicalities matter, how they arise out of the fundamental issues of the field, and why they are needed to resolve problems satisfactorily.

    They talk—and want to talk—only with fellow specialists, fellow technicians whose concern for technical issues can be taken for granted. And then those complaints about irrelevancy will clearly be legitimate. The cardinal principle is that technicalities should be minimized: they should never be multiplied praeter necessitatem but only be resorted to insofar as necessary. It is true that technicalities may become unavoidable in the adequate treatment of philosophical issues, but it is no less true that they should never be deployed beyond the point where they indeed are unavoidably required.

    A considerable host of philosophers from Hume to Russell and beyond show that it is possible to do both technical philosophy and popular communication—occasionally even in one and the same book. Unfortunately, too few philosophical writers are willing to make the effort. They are imbued with the fear of being accused of reinventing the wheel or rediscovering the North Pole. From Socrates onward, there are encouraging precedents for creative work in philosophy with only modest attention to the burdens of the past. And there is something to be said for such an approach. If we are too fearful of doing injustice to the past, we shall have to preoccupy ourselves with it to an extent that makes it hard to get one with the work of the present.

    If we become too heavily burdened with the freight of the books of bygone thinkers, we shall lack the time and the energy to think for ourselves. Unable to get on with our proper task, we shall become becalmed—with various colleagues and some entire university departments—in the sterile waters of ancestor worship.

    The philosopher who is unduly afraid of making wrong claims, of making mistakes, is in grave difficulty through an excess of caution. But so is the philosopher who is overly afraid of making anticipated claims, of making repetitions. The former is condemned to skepticism, to saying nothing.

    The latter is condemned to retreating into history, to rehearsing what has been done to the detriment of creative innovation. Every generation must do its own philosophical work, must find its own answers to the big questions that crowd in on it from many sides. But this is eminently improbable. The history of philosophy can be a useful tool for philosophical work. But historical studies are no substitute for philosophizing. The retreat into history mongering and the withdrawal into skepticism both represent a comparable failure of nerve in philosophizing, an unwillingness to take the cognitive tasks of the day into hand in the face of the difficulties and risks that are inherent in the enterprise.

    In particular, the writer of philosophy should constantly be asking: Just why is it that the reader should accept this claim of mine? With philosophical discussions, the reader can and should engage in a constant dialogue with the text, at each step challenging it with the question: On what sort of basis can the author expect us to accept the assertion at issue? Is it as a matter of scientific fact, of common sense—of what everybody should realize—of accepting the assertion of some expert or authority, of drawing a suitable conclusion from previously established facts, or just what?

    In reading—or writing—a philosophical discussion one is well advised to step back from the text and consider the prospects of such a legitimation commentary. Ultimately, the issue of acceptability is always one of considerations we are expected to endorse or concede because of the plausibility of their credentials. And this has many ramifications.