• Hermeneutics

    Intentionalism Defended

    Intentionalism is the view that the meaning of a text is just what the author meant by it. In the following, I am going to lay out a case for it given by E. D. Hirsch, perhaps its most well known recent proponent. First, a distinction: According to Hirsch, there is a difference between the meaning of a text and its significance. He writes, “Meaning is that which is represented by a text; it is what the author meant by his use of a particular sign sequence; it is what the signs represent. Significance, on the other hand, names a relationship between that meaning and a person, or a conception, or a situation,…

  • Hermeneutics

    Single Meaning View

    Does a literary work have one meaning or multiple meanings? Here is an argument in support of a singular view given by William Ames in 1629: “There is one meaning for every place in Scripture. Otherwise the meaning of scripture would not only be unclear and uncertain, but there would be no meaning at all–for anything which does not mean one thing surely means nothing.” (William Ames, 1629) This argument leaves much unsaid. What makes it the case that possessing any meaning, a text must possess only one meaning? How might the argument be elaborated? The argument for the singular meaning view has been elaborated by various philosophers and, with…

  • Hermeneutics

    Meaning, Knowledge, and ‘Culture’

    Culture In its broadest sense, a culture is a set of beliefs and norms held by groups of people and passed on from one generation to the next. When it comes to hermeneutics, the theory and practice of interpreting texts, culture is something the reader (and author) possesses. I can talk about my culture and your culture. What I mean by possession is that we possess beliefs and norms that are passed on to us by a previous generation in virtue of which we belong to a particular culture. What constitutes a group is unclear. Technically, a group is a collection of people composed of at least one person. As…

  • Hermeneutics

    Text and Intention

    Semantic autonomy is the view that literary works are independent objects that possess properties sufficient for determining their interpretations. One has no need to consult the author’s intentions. The view was defended in “The Intentional Fallacy” by Wimsatt and Beardsley in 1946. Its most prominent opponent was E. D. Hirsch whose book, Validity in Interpretation (1967), defended the view that the meaning of a literary work is determined by its author, specifically by the intentions of the author. Hirsch argues that if the author does not determine the meaning of a work, then nothing does. It would follow that there really is no such thing as the meaning of a…

  • Bible,  Epistemology,  Hermeneutics,  Jason Lisle,  Presuppositionalism

    A Hermeneutical Chicken and Egg

    While the truth of the scripture is guaranteed by its author, not all truths are found in scripture. I might know that Jesus is God because the Bible tells me, but I am pretty sure the Bible tells me nothing about algebra or the chemical composition of water. This is an important fact because a hermeneutic is developed partly prior to reading the Bible. A hermeneutic is a method of interpretation. We all develop a hermeneutic based on our intellectual faculties, background information, and skills. And we do so  whether we are conscious of it or not. A good hermeneutic will enable us to get the right interpretation of the…

  • Bible,  Hermeneutics

    Can We Know What an Ancient Writer Meant?

    In a recent post I argued that sentences carry single meanings and that meaning is determined by the intentions of the author. However, there is a further problem. Just because it is true that texts carry primary meanings intended by their authors, this does not entail that it is possible for a reader—especially a reader so removed chronologically, linguistically and culturally from the author—to understand the meaning of the text. In recent decades a “New Hermeneutic” has been proposed that assumes that any intended meaning is very difficult, if not impossible, to get at.[12] Given such a gulf between the author and reader, how could we possibly know what the author…

  • Bible,  Hermeneutics,  Language,  Philosophy of Language,  Propositions

    How Many Meanings Does a Sentence Have?

    A declarative sentence is said to express a proposition. Propositions have truth-values: they are either true or false.[4] Furthermore, the truth-value of a proposition is objective. It is true or false whether or not it is believed by anyone. The alternative to thinking that propositions have objective truth-value is self-refuting. This is clear from the following dilemma: Either propositions have objective truth values or the proposition expressed by the statement, “no propositions have objective truth values,” has no objective truth value.  Clearly, the proposition expressed by the statement “no propositions have objective truth values,” has an objective truth value. It cannot be both true and false, something in between or neither…