Tuesday, June 27, 2006

In one's own words

In "Hermeneutic Practice and Theories of Meaning" Brandom asks a pair of questions: what can hermeneutics tell us about theories of meaning and what can theories of meaning tell us about hermeneutics. Theories of meaning are those things that Dummett, Davidson, (some readings of) Frege, and Montague were interested in, theories of truth-conditions and compositional construction of sentence meaning from their parts. I'm not as clear about hermeneutics since that tradition didn't feature much in my time at Stanford. The key hermeneutic figure in the essay is Gadamer. The essay is interesting because it asks how these two traditions can inform each other. I suppose this is done with different traditions in different places.

Part of the answer that Brandom gives (at least what seems like part of an answer after a quick reading) is that theories of meaning can serve as an input to hermeneutic practice although they will not exhaust it. This seems basically right. There are interesting phenomena that come to light when you start looking at passages rather than sentences, e.g. inter-sentential anaphora, discourse anaphora. There are much more interesting pragmatic effects. Really, pragmatics doesn't even start until you get beyond the single sentence in isolation. As I've said before, single declarative sentences have gotten too much attention. John Perry and Stanley Peters have floated the idea that answerhood for questions is intrisically pragmatic, relativized to information available to the speaker and interlocutor as well as the speaker's intended aims.

This is all well and good, but what does the input do for hermeneutics? It constrains the sorts of interpretations that can be placed on the texts. It does this by specifying conceptual and propositional content. Interpretation is acheived by supplying auxiliary premises (the context) to supplement the text to form de re ascriptions. These ascriptions will be liscensed just in case the premises justify them together with the text. De dicto ascriptions are also allowed and provide contrast to the de re ascriptions. By navigating between the web of inferential consequences de re and the web de dicto, the interpreter can figurer out where the conceptual differences lie and where everyone is in agreement. So, this is more or less a consequence of the theory in Making It

If I understand the essay correctly, the theories of meaning tradition supplies constraints to interpretation and the hermeneutic tradition supplies problems for interpretation.

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