Hans-Georg Gadamer on being aware of your bias as a reader (Truth and Method, 271-272):
…a person trying to understand a text is prepared for it to tell him something. That is why a hermeneutically trained conciousness must be, from the start, sensitive to the text’s alterity. But this kind of sensitivity involves neither “neutrality” with respect to the content nor the extinction of one’s self, but the foregrounding and appropriation of one’s own fore-meanings and prejudices. The important thing is to be aware of one’s own bias, so that the text can present itself in all its otherness and thus assert its own truth against one’s own fore-meanings.
What is great about this is that unlike Schleiermacher, and many who live in his hermeneutical paradigm, the reader doesn’t have to buy into the lie of objectivity. Hermeneutics demands engagement that includes the reader which includes the presuppositions of the reader. What cannot be missed is that the reader must be self-aware, if possible, acknowledging prejudice brought to the text.
Once again, we see “self” involved! “Self-aware”, humm.. here is the real essence of this so-called hermeneutic! Seems like I have heard this before, just in different dress. (See John chapter 8)
Fr. Robert: Why is it wrong to be aware of one’s own bias when reading?
That can be such a subjective thing, and “we” can thus carry “it” over into the Text, or theological work also. We must “know” ourselves before God, and this really is only known by God, “In Christ”. Like as Rom. 7: 13-25, etc. (The “I” of ourselves!) Indeed we need wisdom and true piety, I could quote Calvin on the need for rhetorical tradition; but simply he said: Doctrine stated generally does not move us.
Let me clarify because I am not sure what that response has to do with what I asked: If I pick up the NY Times, and I read a story on politics, is there anything wrong with being aware of my own prejudices and presuppositions regarding concepts and meanings? Would not being aware help me to be a better reader who listens to the text?
But Brian, the Holy Writ and Text is not like any other “Text”, simply! One can approach it as mere literature, but it is always more!
I don’t disagree that it is more, but it is also nothing less than literature. So again, what is wrong with knowing one’s own presuppositions and prejudice in preparation for hearing a text?
So you believe there is a so-called literary meaning, and also a reliigious or spiritual meaning of the Text? And somehow knowing your political or human prejudice (from yourself alone), your gonna understand the text better?
I would say that if we are aware of our prejudices we likely will understand a text better, but I don’t think this necessitates doing so alone. In fact, interaction with community will likely expose preconceptions and prejudices better than reading alone. Does this clarification help?
As far as the difference between a literary and a spiritual/religious meaning is concerned I am warm to that differentiation. What would you say this means? For instance, what is the difference between a literary and religious reading of Gen 1.1 as you understand these terms. Such an analogy would be helpful to me.
The first question or comment is not the issue, i.e. the community. But the so-called “human” existential. I thought this was your first issue? Postmodernity first starts with the human subjective, note Heidegger’s rejection of western ontology, etc.
Let me think about the second question and Genesis 1:1 overnight. The old Irishman needs some rest time. I had a busy day for me. 🙂
I wouldn’t start with the human subject alone thought the human subject is part. I like how Gadamer speaks of “play”. Meaning is not grounded in the subject or the object but the play within which these participate–the communicative act.
Love this quote Brian. Gadamer is calling for all human beings from every culture, to take humble approach to reading texts. For some folks, humility is too much to ask.
Humility is a great word. I have read articles that said Gadamer was a very humble man who tries his hardest to understand and learn from others. Good insight Rod!
Moisés Silva makes pretty much the same point in his essay “The Case for Calvinistic Hermeneutics” (which can be found in both An Introduction to Biblical Hermeneutics: The Search for Meaning and Revelation and Reason: New Essays in Reformed Apologetics). I won’t flood your combox with extensive quotations but those interested can read more here. His basic point is that not only do we need to be aware of our presuppositions; we must embrace them and interpret the text according to them. When something gives us problems and doesn’t fit with our presuppositions then we need to consider reshaping them.
Silva is a good man and “Christian” exegete, this is simply good Christian hermeneutics to my mind. And here one must have the “Spirit” of Christ. (1 Cor. 2:10-16)
You might want to check out Martin Buber’s I/Thou work here. Buber of course is a Hasidic Jew (was). Simply a great Jewish philosopher & theolog! Btw, also here you might want to check out the great Jewish professor, David Flusser (died 2000). He was also like Buber a devout Orthodox Jew. He wroked closely with the Jewish roots of textual Christianity. And his understanding of Jesus was as a “tsadik”, one with profound spiritual being.. and a “Teacher of Righteousness.” See his book: ‘Jesus’.
@Nick: I need to read Silva as soon as I get a chance. He seems to be an honorable interpreter of Scripture and I have seen both Esteban and youself mention his work.
@Fr. Robert: I have wanted to read Buber. Thank you for the recommendation. I hope to get to him someday (if only there were more hours in a day and more days in a week!). I will point out that Gadamer is also a Christian. While he did philosophy proper more than theology proper he does emerge from the Lutheran tradition.
I did not want to get into the personal life or work of Gadamer. For I see him as a student really (by method) of Heidegger. And Heidegger is/was of course a humanist existentialist. And I must confess that in my time and young philosophy years, that existentialism was the “thing”! And I am only closer to both Pascal and Kierkegaard here. Though certainly Christian existentialism has affected a host of Christian thinkers and scholars. Like Emil Brunner and even Barth for example, who I like somewhat too.
I would take issue with Gadaner’s “philosophical hermeneutics”. And would strongly disagree with Gadamer’s idea that “truth” and “method” are at odds with each other. Note the rather famous debate with Jurgen Habermas over the idea of the transcendence of history & culture to find and an objective for human society. But the only real “objective” will always be the Transcendent Word & Text! Note here I would follow Schleiermacher and Dilthey, etc. and better Van Til. Note Gadamer’s statement: “My real concern was and is philosophic: NOT WHAT WE DO OR WHAT WE OUGHT TO DO (Caps mine), but what happens to us over and above our wanting and doing.” This is certainly commendable, but not really possible.. at least by some human method, in itself. My thoughts anyway.
I can understand that approach but I think Gadamer’s approach is more realistic. Schleiermacher and Dilthy seem, to me, to try to achieve something that simply cannot be done.
That’s why I recommend reading some Van Til. He is not just some fire-breathing Calvinist (Neo-Calvinist really). And his Transcendental doctrine is really toward the ontological Trinity. Talk about “realism”, here it is with the Holy Spirit leading the way, at least somewhat. My belief anyway. 🙂
Finally I think the difference here is in the approach and belief in what the Holy Writ is, and that is always the very central doctrine of the Church (the soli Deo gloria…which leads to all of the Sola’s), along with the very doctrine and nature of God. Simply always transcendent and immanent…here is Traditional Theism. We cannot touch a part of revelation, without touching the whole!
Comments are closed.