Friday, November 30, 2012

Hirsch, Meaning, and Hermeneutics – Part 2

Part 1 is here.

By taking Hirsch’s two categories of meaning/implication and significance and dividing them into three categories of meaning, implication, and significance, all of the necessary components of interpretation are maintained, the willed type of meaning is not required to be an affair of the unconscious and thereby possibly fuller than the author intends, and the relationship of meaning to any given situation is allowed to remain limitless. Therefore, I proposes the following structure.

Meaning should be defined narrowly to be what the (human) author intended consciously to communicate in a given utterance through his choice of signs. It does not demand that the author understand or be conscious of all or any of the implications of his statement (though he might be). It only demands that he be conscious of, at the least, his primary truth intention. Meaning is discernable by considering the text itself, in light of the author’s historical context. It is determined solely by reference to the author’s immediate sitz im leben, (i.e., his historical particularity)[1] at the time of his writing. Meaning should be the same for every interpreter.

Implication would be the array of ramifications (Hirsch’s submeanings) that a particular meaning has. Implications are inseparable from the meaning. They are necessary corollaries and are consistent with meaning. The author may or may not be aware of implications. Implications however are not themselves drawn from the text (for then they would be meaning). Nor are they necessarily connected with his historical particularity though they might be. They are the necessary ramifications that a text has and are determined by the text itself. This distinction between meaning and implication allows for meaning to be an affair of consciousness and does not jeopardize the very concept of intentionality by including the possibility of non-intentionality. This allows for a text to have implications that an author might not be aware of and at the same time prevents having multiple or an additional unintended or unconscious meanings. Similar to meaning, the field of possible implications should be the same for every interpreter though two individual interpreters might find two differing yet equally valid implications.

Significance would be the application of a meaning and its implications to any given situation to which it might have relevance. It is determined within the reader/interpreter’s sitz im leben. It is limited to what can be drawn out of the legitimate meaning and implications of the text (legitimate interpretation). It is arrived at by determining the timeless value of a given utterance and its related implications and extracting those principles to the current situation. Significance is limited only by the interpreter’s sitz im leben. It does not have to be the same for every interpreter.

The benefit of such a solution is summed up easily. Contra Hirsch, this solution does not have to equivocate on “unconscious intentionality.” It can assert that meaning is an affair of the consciousness (a willed type) while preserving the innate existence of implications that the author might not be aware of. Significance remains largely unchanged.

“Why it Matters” still to come.

[1] “Historical particularity” is borrowed from Gordon Fee (Gordon D. Fee and Douglas Stuart, How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1993), p. 17. It is used to indicate the occasioning context of a particular utterance.

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