Interpretation: Ways of Thinking about the Sciences and the Arts

Peter Machamer
Gereon Wolters
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    The act of interpretation occurs in nearly every area of the arts and sciences. That ubiquity serves as the inspiration for the fourteen essays of this volume, covering many of the domains in which interpretive practices are found. Individual topics include: the general nature of interpretation and its forms; comparing and contrasting interpretation and hermeneutics; culture as interpretation seen through Hegel's aesthetics; interpreting philosophical texts; methodologies for interpreting human action; interpretation in medical practice focusing on manifestations as indicators of disease; the brain and its interpretative, structured, learning and storage processes; interpreting hybrid wines and cognitive preconceptions of novel objects; and the importance of sensory perception as means of interpreting in the case of dry German Rieslings.In an interesting turn, Nicholas Rescher writes on the interpretation of philosophical texts. Then Catherine Wilson and Andreas Blank explicate and critique Rescher's theories through analysis of the mill passage from Leibniz'sMonadology.

    eISBN: 978-0-8229-7756-8
    Subjects: General Science, Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. 1 Some Cogitations on Interpretations
    (pp. 1-15)
    Peter Machamer

    Interpreting “things” is an activity that people (and maybe some animals) engage in. Sometimes we call this activity of interpreting trying to understand or trying to make sense of something. In some sophisticated circles, interpretation is called the search for meaning. What results from interpreting is an interpretation or, perhaps, some degree of understanding. Some people might say the interpreter has found out what the meaning of something is or has constructed a meaning.

    The use of the wordinterpretationitself carries an ambiguity between the process of interpreting, the activity, and the product, an interpretation that results from that...

  5. 2 The Logic of Interpretation
    (pp. 16-30)
    Ruth Lorand

    It is traditionally held that interpretation is the method of the humanities, while explanation is the method of the sciences. At the same time, it is widely accepted that interpretation is an all-embracing activity and thus all cognitions are modes of interpretation, and moreover, as Gadamer declared, “Alles Verstehen ist Auslegen” [All understanding is interpretation] (Gadamer 1965, 366). It is clear that both views cannot coexist. If explanation is distinct from interpretation, and thereby distinguishes the sciences from the humanities, interpretation cannot be the umbrella concept that covers all understanding.

    The idea of interpretation that is portrayed in hermeneutic theories...

  6. 3 Interpretation as Cultural Orientation: Remarks on Hegel’s Aesthetics
    (pp. 31-43)
    Annemarie Gethmann-Siefert

    If we treat the question of to what extent art can be an interpretation of our world, self-concept, and historical forms of life by referring to Hegel, it seems that we come to a dead end. The authoritative and original place for a connection between art and interpretation in the traditional philosophy of aesthetics is at best the aesthetics of reception. Its traditional version relies on the basic assumption that a piece of art is constituted each time in its reception, that is, in the multiple, historically varying interpretations of its meaning and sense.¹ Even a discussion of the impact...

  7. 4 Hermeneutics and Epistemology: A Second Appraisal—Heidegger, Kant, and Truth
    (pp. 44-65)
    Paolo Parrini

    Generally, we use the termhermeneuticsto refer to both the art of interpretation and the general theory of understanding and interpretation. In this second meaning, hermeneutics embraces various epistemological, ontological, and, broadly speaking, philosophical problems that stretch well beyond questions of the unity of the scientific method, the contrast betweenunderstandingandexplanation,and the distinction betweenGeistenwissenschaften… andNaturwissenschaften. In Heidegger’s hands, hermeneutics became a general philosophical theory of Being, truth, and objectivity and Hans-Georg Gadamer states that the ontological-hermeneutical approach gives an answer to the question of foundation not only in human sciences but also in...

  8. 5 Davidson and Gadamer on Plato’s Dialectical Ethics
    (pp. 66-90)
    Kristin Gjesdal

    Over the past twenty years, there has been an increasing interest in the relation between Donald Davidson’s theory of radical interpretation and Hans-Georg Gadamer’s philosophical hermeneutics. Whereas some of this interest has been geared toward the intellectual horizon and heritage of Davidson’s work,¹ philosophers such as Richard Rorty and John McDowell have taken Gadamer’s hermeneutics to suggest a possible avenue beyond what they perceive to be the limitations of Davidson’s theory.² This essay approaches the Davidson-Gadamer relation from a different point of view. My concern is not to ask about the proper location or possible limitations of Davidson’s philosophy, but...

  9. 6 The Interpretation of Philosophical Texts
    (pp. 91-99)
    Nicholas Rescher

    It should be made clear from the outset that when one speaks of interpreting a philosophical text in the setting of the present discussion it is specifically anexegeticalinterpretation that is at issue—an elucidation of what it maintains, a clarification of its claims and contentions.

    A good interpretation of this sort consists in providing a set of explanations that would facilitate a paraphrase of the text that gives a fuller restatement of the information and ideas that it conveys. In this way, an interpretation seeks to realize what is clearly one of the central missions of the enterprise,...

  10. 7 The Explanation of Consciousness and the Interpretation of Philosophical Texts
    (pp. 100-110)
    Catherine Wilson

    Let me begin by recapitulating Nicholas Rescher’s theory of historical interpretation as he presents it in his valuable and thought-provoking summary, “The Interpretation of Philosophical Texts.”¹ Rescher distinguishes first between three approaches to a historical text. The first iscreative or imaginative,and it is in this way that many nonprofessional philosophers read philosophical texts, finding suggestive ideas and images that are experienced subjectively as fitting into a conceptual framework. This framework is relatively personal; the meaning derived is not the sort that could be or needs to be discussed and debated in a scholarly community, though there is a...

  11. 8 On Interpreting Leibniz’s Mill
    (pp. 111-129)
    Andreas Blank

    In “The Interpretation of Philosophical Texts,” Nicholas Rescher outlines a coherentist theory of textual interpretation. At the heart of his theory lies an idea that he calls the “Principle of Normativity,” according to which “the better (the more smoothly and coherently) an interpretation fits a text into its wider context, the better it is as an interpretation.” The principle implies that, as Rescher puts it, interpretations are not “born equal.” Although there can be several initially plausible interpretations of a given passage, these interpretations can be evaluated according to the degree to which they maximize contextual coherence. This insight underlies...

  12. 9 How to Interpret Human Actions (Including Moral Actions)
    (pp. 130-157)
    Christoph Lumer

    In this article an instrumentalist conception of action interpretation will be developed. This conception shall be suitable for interpreting moral actions as well as other actions. The approach’s instrumentalism consists in the fact that interpretations here are conceived as means for fulfilling a certain function, in particular for providing a certain type of information about the action. After these preliminary remarks it will be explained which kind of information we expect from action interpretations (section 1). In the subsequent section it will be discussed which model of action and action interpretation in principle could provide this information (section 2). In...

  13. 10 Interpretive Practices in Medicine
    (pp. 158-178)
    Kenneth F. Schaffner

    This article develops some examples of interpretation in medical practice. I begin with medical data, but need to first provide some definitions to pave the way for more explicit development. Some of these defined terms have nontechnical meanings, but for our purposes they need to be clarified further. Examples will include manifestations (symptoms, signs, and laboratory results) as well as “disease.” I then explore the problem of noticing and interpreting a manifestation as “abnormal.” This will raise valuational issues for the interpretation, as well as allow us to briefly survey several approaches to the notion of disease in medicine. From...

  14. 11 Interpreting Medicine: Forms of Knowledge and Ways of Doing in Clinical Practice
    (pp. 179-202)
    Cornelius Borck

    Ars longa vita brevis—Hippocrates’ famous aphorism once acquired a surprising new meaning in the hands of a freshman at the University of Heidelberg’s Medical School.¹ Taking the compulsoryIntroduction to Medical Terminologyclass, the student translated: “The difficult art to shorten life.” Apparently, the student was lost in translation, proposing an audacious interpretation where the proper meaning had escaped him. Beyond the pun, the mistaken interpretation may offer a suitable starting point, a first hypothesis for entering a discussion about forms of interpretation in clinical practice: in the more than two thousand years since Hippocrates, the art of healing...

  15. 12 Concept Formation via Hebbian Learning: The Special Case of Prototypical Causal Sequences
    (pp. 203-219)
    Paul M. Churchland

    How does the brain manage to generate roughly accurate maps of the universe’s four-dimensional background structure? What is the process by which such abstract maps ofpossible-causal-processesare actually constructed?

    Training artificial networks to be selectively sensitive to typical kinds of temporal processes has proved to be relatively easy. But in biological creatures, the process of experience-dependent long-term adjustment of the brain’s synaptic connections is definitely not governed by the supervised back-propagation-of-errors technique widely used to train up the computer-modeled artificial networks familiar from the past two decades. That brute-force artificial technique requires that the “correct behavior” for a mature...

  16. 13 Interpreting Novel Objects: The Difficult Case of Hybrid Wines
    (pp. 220-233)
    George Gale

    Russ Hanson famously said, “All seeing isseeing as.” While Hanson’s focus was upon the interaction between scientific theories and their corresponding observations, his dictum clearly applies in everyday contexts as well. As he noted, “seeing a bird in the sky involves seeing that it will not suddenly dovertical snap rolls” (Hanson 1965, 20; emphasis added).¹ To see an object in the skyas a birdis to see the object knowingly, to see it as potentially flapping its wings, but not as potentially maneuvering like a fighter plane. His point is completely general: we do notseepatches...

  17. 14 Classifying Dry German Riesling Wines: An Experiment toward Statistical Wine Interpretation
    (pp. 234-260)
    Ulrich Sautter

    Reflection on olfactory and gustatory perceptions and their epistemological status has not been playing a major role in the philosophical tradition. Most classical philosophers deal with the senses of smell and taste rather parenthetically and with a sense of flippancy—if at all.¹ Sometimes philosophical texts cite phenomena of smell and taste where exemplification in factually unrelated, particularly abstract contexts is needed²—as if the difficulties of abstraction might be evened out by choosing examples from an area of life that is surrounded by a sense of light-heartedness and concreteness. But almost no classical text of philosophy has dealt with...

  18. Index
    (pp. 261-266)