Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Hermeneutics, Folk Etymology, Aristotle & Plato..

Hermeneutics is the theory of text interpretation, especially the interpretation of biblical texts, wisdom literature, and philosophical texts. The terms "hermeneutics" and "exegesis" are sometimes used interchangeably. Hermeneutics is a wider discipline that includes written, verbal, and nonverbal communication. Exegesis focuses primarily upon texts. Hermeneutic, as a singular noun, refers to a single particular method or strand of interpretation (see, in contrast, double hermeneutic). The understanding of any written text requires hermeneutics.
Hermeneutics initially applied to the interpretation, or exegesis, of scripture. It emerged as a theory of human understanding beginning in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries through the work of Friedrich Schleiermacher and Wilhelm Dilthey. Modern hermeneutics includes both verbal and nonverbal communication as well as semiotics, presuppositions, and preunderstandings. Hermeneutic consistency refers to the analysis of texts to achieve a coherent explanation of them. Philosophical hermeneutics refers primarily to the theory of knowledge initiated by Martin Heidegger and developed by Hans-Georg Gadamer in his work Truth and Method. It sometimes refers to the theories of Paul Ricoeur.


Hermeneutics is derived from the Greek word ἑρμηνεύω (hermeneuō, 'translate' or 'interpret'). It was introduced into philosophy mainly through the title of Aristotle's work On Interpretation, commonly referred to by its Latin title De Interpretatione. It is one of the earliest (c. 360 B.C.) extant philosophical works in the Western tradition to deal with the relationship between language and logic in a comprehensive, explicit, and formal way.
The early usage of "hermeneutics" places it within the boundaries of the sacred. A divine message must be received with implicit uncertainty regarding its truth. This ambiguity is an irrationality; it is a sort of madness that is inflicted upon the receiver of the message. Only one who possesses a rational method of interpretation (i.e., a hermeneutic) could determine the truth or falsity of the message.


Folk etymology


Folk etymology places its origin with Hermes, the mythological Greek deity who was the 'messenger of the gods'. Besides being a mediator between the gods and between the gods and men, he led souls to the underworld upon death.
Hermes was also considered to be the inventor of language and speech, an interpreter, a liar, a thief, and a trickster. These multiple roles made Hermes an ideal representative figure for hermeneutics. As Socrates noted, words have the power to reveal or conceal and can deliver messages in an ambiguous way. The Greek view of language as consisting of signs that could lead to truth or to falsehood was the essence of Hermes, who was said to relish the uneasiness of those who received the messages he delivered.


Aristotle and Plato

In De Interpretatione, Aristotle offers a theory which lays the groundwork for many later theories of interpretation and semiotics:
Words spoken are symbols or signs (symbola) of affections or impressions (pathemata) of the soul (psyche); written words are the signs of words spoken. As writing, so also is speech not the same for all races of men.
But the mental affections themselves, of which these words are primarily signs (semeia), are the same for the whole of mankind, as are also the objects (pragmata) of which those affections are representations or likenesses, images, copies (homoiomata).  [De Interpretatione, 1.16a4]
Equally important to later developments are some ancient texts on poetry, rhetoric, and sophistry:
However, these texts deal with the presentation and refutation of arguments, speeches, and poems rather than with the understanding of texts per se. As Ramberg and Gjesdal note, "Only with the Stoics, and their reflections on the interpretation of myth, do we encounter something like a methodological awareness of the problems of textual understanding."
Some ancient Greek philosophers, particularly Plato, vilified poets and poetry as harmful nonsense. In The Republic, Plato denied poets entry into his "ideal state" until they could prove their value. In Ion, Plato famously portrayed poets as possessed:
You know, none of the epic poets, if they're good, are masters of their subject; they are inspired, possessed, and that is how they utter all those beautiful poems. The same goes for lyric poets if they're good: just as the Corybantes are not in their right minds when they dance, lyric poets, too, are not in their right minds when they make those beautiful lyrics, but as soon as they sail into harmony and rhythm they are possessed by Bacchic frenzy.  [ Plato, Ion, 533e–534a]
The meaning of the poem thus becomes open to ridicule. Whatever hints of truth it may have, the truth is covered up by madness. However, another line of thinking arose with Theagenes of Rhegium, who suggested that, instead of taking poetry literally, it ought to be taken as allegories of nature. Stoic philosophers further developed this idea, reading into poetry both allegories of nature and allegories of ethical behavior.
Aristotle differed with his predecessor, Plato, about the worth of poetry. Both saw art as an act of mimesis, but where Plato saw a pale, essentially false, imitation of reality, Aristotle saw the possibility of truth in imitation. As critic David Richter points out, "For Aristotle, artists must disregard incidental facts to search for deeper universal truths." Thus, instead of being essentially false, poetry may be universally true. [Richter, The Critical Tradition, 57]

(Source Wikipedia)

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