Why Hermeneutics?
eBook - ePub

Why Hermeneutics?

An Appeal Culminating with Ricoeur

Anthony C. Thiselton

  1. 142 pagine
  2. English
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eBook - ePub

Why Hermeneutics?

An Appeal Culminating with Ricoeur

Anthony C. Thiselton

Dettagli del libro
Anteprima del libro
Indice dei contenuti
Citazioni

Informazioni sul libro

In this little volume, Anthony Thiselton makes an impassioned appeal for closer attention to the philosophy of hermeneutics. Emilio Betti provocatively observes that hermeneutics ought to constitute an obligatory course for most degrees in the humanities. Hermeneutics, he insists, teaches patience, tolerance, respect for other views, understanding, and humility, while holding one's own views with firmness and generosity. Yet many teaching institutions do not yet recognize this. With this in mind, Thiselton first considers and responds to those who argue that hermeneutics is not necessary. Then he considers anew more sophisticated thinkers on the subject. Types of texts and hermeneutical models, he argues, are almost infinite, a fact many biblical scholars do not recognize. In the field of biblical hermeneutics, too many view the Bible as one thing, or as a monochrome landscape--it is not. The culmination of Thiselton's case consists in a sustained reflection on the impressive work of Paul Ricoeur, selecting thirteen points of genuine advance his work makes. With a glossary of fifty technical terms this is a volume that will prove helpful to student and scholar alike.

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Informazioni

Anno
2019
ISBN
9781532664373
Chapter 1

The Case for and against Hermeneutics

1. The Universal Relevance of Hermeneutics and the Case against This
For nearly twenty centuries the practice of hermeneutics was largely confined to the interpretation of the Bible and to the interpretation of ancient Greek poetry and literature. Although, later poetry and literature also raised and included hermeneutical problems. From the twenty-first century, however, hermeneutics became extended to other areas. In academic terms, this has been partly due to the spread of pluralism and postmodern notions. At a more popular level, it is also because many articles and newspaper reports speak of “taking” a report, message, or story to mean whatever people want it to mean. It is as if everything has tended to become entirely a matter of personal, subjective interpretation. Those who favor this approach may well speak of “the democratization of hermeneutics,” or the de-privileging of the tyranny of elite specialists in the subject.
It is as if reader-response hermeneutics has moved the focus of interpretation entirely from the text to readers, and as if there are no limits to what a text may be said legitimately to communicate. Is everything really how we choose to “take” it? This is one of the most persistent questions in hermeneutics, which has now become extended into cultural studies. It is as if my Chester Inaugural Lecture Can the Bible Mean Whatever We Want It to Mean? (2005) now applies to almost everything in a very wide range of literature.1
The distinction between historical, legal, and theological or biblical hermeneutics on one side and literary or poetic texts on the other side has now become a huge chasm. Claims are often made for purely literary or fictional texts that few traditional biblical or theological thinkers could readily accept as applicable to Holy Scripture. Certainly the role of the reader is important, and reader-response theories of interpretation have shed much light on communication. Nevertheless, reader-response theories of a radical or extreme nature remain plausible mainly to those who hold no particular commitment to Scripture. To be more exact, the argument of chapter 3, below, is that very much depends on the particular type of text in view. Sometimes a given belief-system relates to the text under consideration. When some Christians approach the Bible, they may commit themselves (even tacitly) to a covenant of obedience and direction to the one who, they believe, speaks to them through the biblical text. They come to the text as readers who are already committed to listening and being directed. When they approach a biblical text, they do not wish to hear only themselves or their own opinions bounced back from the text.
This gives a new twist to historic debates about “the authority of the biblical text.” These often became akin to technical discussions of “theories of biblical inspiration and authority.”2 A broader approach would consider whether some people take an implicitly or tacitly covenantal stance in which they pledge themselves to take seriously the standpoint of the text and the one who stands behind the text. If this tacit stance is absent, however, reader-response approaches may seem to need qualification or caution. In some extreme versions of reader-response theories, “truth” becomes local, ethnocentric, and pragmatic.3 Critics would say “relativist” and “pluralist.” This is not to suggest that such theories can never have a legitimate place. Once again, it all depends on what type of text is under consideration, and what the reader’s commitments and beliefs are. In the absence of firm commitments and beliefs, and in the case of purely literary or poetic texts, the appeal for the relevance of hermeneutics is not strong. We shall see that Rorty, Fish, and Lyotard do not have these constraining factors to take into account. Our question is whether their approach applies to all kinds of texts and to all kinds of readers.
2. The Undermining of Traditional Hermeneutics: Rorty, Fish, and Lyotard.
Richard M. Rorty (19312007) was born in New York and studied in the University of Chicago and at Yale. His position is transparent. In his introduction to his book, Truth and Progress, he writes, “Nobody should even try to specify the nature of truth. . . . Davidson has helped us realize that the very absoluteness of truth is a good reason for thinking ‘true’ indefinable and for thinking that no theory of the nature of truth is possible. . . . There is no truth.”4 He adds, “As long as we try to project from the relative and conditioned to the absolute and unconditioned, we shall keep the pendulum swinging between dogmatism and skepticism.”5 He writes that we “can perfectly well agree with Goodman, Putnam, and Kuhn that there is . . . No Way the World Is” (his capitals).6 He quotes William James as saying, “‘This is true’ . . . just as ‘the right,’ is only the expedient in the way of our behaving.”7 Put starkly, he does not believe in truth in the traditional sense. This is no surprise for those who are uncommitted to any system of truth.
Rorty is certainly not alone in his skepticism about traditional notions of truth. Although many reader-response theorists held moderate views (for example, Wolfgang Iser and Umberto Eco), Stanley Fish (b. 1938) might also be called a social pragmatist with a postmodern mind. Especially in his volume Doing What Comes Naturally (1989) he insists that texts cannot transform readers “from outside.” In his essay “Going Down the Anti-Formalist Road” Fish observes, “Once you start down the anti-formalist road, there is no place to stop.” In other words, as soon as we grasp the pragmatic relativity of criteria of meaning to social presupposition, “The general conclusion that follows is that the model in which a practice is altered or reformed by constraints brought in from the outside never in fact operates. . . . Theory has no consequences.”8 His earlier works Self-Consuming Artifacts: The Experience of Seventeenth-Century Literature (1972) and Is There a Text in This Class? The Authority of Interpretative Communities (1980) prepare the way for this conclusion, which is close to Rorty’s. Both dismiss the “truth” of traditional metaphysics and hermeneutics.
Fish is just as transparent as Rorty. Textual meanings, he declares, “do not lie innocently in the world; rather, they are themselves constituted by an interpretive act. The facts one points to are still there (in a sense that would not be consoling to an objectivist) but only as a conse...

Indice dei contenuti

  1. Title Page
  2. Preface
  3. Chapter 1: The Case for and against Hermeneutics
  4. Chapter 2: More Sophisticated Contributions to the Case
  5. Chapter 3: Different Types of Texts
  6. Chapter 4: The Culmination of the Appeal
  7. Glossary of Fifty Technical Terms
  8. Bibliography