Validity in Interpretation

Validity in Interpretation

E. D. Hirsch
Copyright Date: 1967
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 302
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  • Book Info
    Validity in Interpretation
    Book Description:

    By demonstrating the uniformity and universality of the principles of valid interpretation of verbal texts of any sort, this closely reasoned examination provides a theoretical foundation for a discipline that is fundamental to virtually all humanistic studies. It defines the grounds on which textual interpretation can claim to establish objective knowledge, defends that claim against such skeptical attitudes as historicism and psychologism, and shows that many confusions can be avoided if the distinctions between meaning and significance, interpretation and criticism are correctly understood. It provides perhaps the first genuinely comprehensive account of hermeneutic theory to appear in English and the first systematic presentation of the principles of valid interpretation in any language.

    Mr. Hirsch, associate professor of English at the University of Virginia, is the author ofWordsworth and SchellingandInnocence and Experience: An Introduction to Blake.

    "Here is a book that brings logic to the most unruly of disciplines, literary interpretation. Viewing this subject within the tradition of hermeneutics, Mr. Hirsch is able to trace its origins and development with brilliant insight. The result is a lucidly systemic and authoritative account of the premises and procedures applicable to the interpretation of a literary text. Mr. Hirsch has performed a monumental service thereby that of reinstating the credentials of objectivism and defining the limits of the aesthetics of truth. This study is a necessary took for anyone who wants to talk sense about literature."-Virginia Quarterly Review"Professor Hirsch demonstrates convincingly that objectivity is attainable in humane studies, and that it is not identified with the subject but with the evidence. A valid interpretation is not necessarily a correct one, but one which is more probably than any other on the basis of existing evidence. He makes a subtle and important distinction between a text's 'meaning' (which does not change) and its 'significance' (which does), and brilliantly relates meaning to understanding (the necessary preliminary to interpretation) and interpretation to explanation…" In short, this is a work which future students of literary theory cannot afford to neglect."-Notes and QueriesE.D. Hirsch, Jr., is professor of English at the University of Virginia.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-15739-0
    Subjects: Philosophy, Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Preface
    (pp. vii-xii)
    E. D. H., Jr.
  3. Table of Contents
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
    (pp. 1-23)

    It is a task for the historian of culture to explain why there has been in the past four decades a heavy and largely victorious assault on the sensible belief that a text means what its author meant. In the earliest and most decisive wave of the attack (launched by Eliot, Pound, and their associates) the battleground was literary: the proposition that textual meaning is independent of the author’s control was associated with the literary doctrine that the best poetry is impersonal, objective, and autonomous; that it leads an afterlife of its own, totally cut off from the life of...

    (pp. 24-67)

    Since it is very easy for a reader of any text to construe meanings that are different from the author’s, there is nothing in the nature of the text itself which requires the reader to set up the author’s meaning as his normative ideal. Any normative concept in interpretation implies a choice that is required not by the nature of written texts but rather by the goal that the interpreter sets himself. It is a weakness in many descriptions of the interpretive process that this act of choice is disregarded and the process described as though the object of interpretation...

    (pp. 68-126)

    For the sake of clarity, I have been emphasizing one side of a complex process that is by nature two-sided and reciprocal. Speech is not simply the expression of meaning but also the interpretation of meaning, each pole existing through and for the other, and each completely pointless without the other. When interpretation is the main subject of consideration, a theorist is likely to leap into categories like “public norms,” “traditions,” “contexts,” and “linguistic necessities.” On the other hand, when meaning is the primary subject, he is driven to recognize the necessity of the author’s determining will. Furthermore, when his...

    (pp. 127-163)

    The analyses and arguments of the preceding chapters have paid scant attention to the practical exigencies of textual commentary. Those chapters were concerned broadly with the conditions that make valid interpretation possible and with the unchanging theoretical principles that underlie the interpretation of all verbal texts. I have tried to show that the immense universe of verbal meaning stretching from casual conversation to epic poetry is uniformly governed by the social principle of linguistic genres and by the individual principle of authorial will. Both principles are formally necessary to the determination of verbal meaning and to its correct interpretation. In...

    (pp. 164-208)

    The activity of interpretation can lay claim to intellectual respectability only if its results can lay claim to validity. On the other hand, its claims need to be moderated to suit the peculiarities and difficulties attending the interpretive enterprise. Aristotle made the appropriate remark on this point in hisEthics, where he observed that no conclusion should arrogate to itself a greater certainty or precision than its subject matter warrants. In this section I shall describe a fundamental difficulty of interpretation which hinders any neat formulation of correct methodology and must sober any self-convinced interpreter of a text. The fact...

  9. Appendix i. Objective Interpretation
    (pp. 209-244)
  10. Appendix ii. Gadamer’s Theory of Interpretation
    (pp. 245-264)
  11. Appendix iii. An Excursus on Types
    (pp. 265-274)
  12. Index
    (pp. 275-287)