Per Caritatem

My husband and I recently watched an excellent movie by Khaled Hosseini entitled, “The Kite Runner,” about which my husband gives his reflections here.  If you have a soft spot for orphans (as we do) and love films that speak to issues of friendship, loyalty, the value of human beings, and the possibilities of the transforming power of love, then this movie is a must see. 

gadamer_02.jpg Is interpretation primarily about a relation between the reader and the subjective intentions of the author?  Might it be the case that the hermeneutical method that E.D. Hirsch espouses in his book, Validity in Interpretation, lands us right back into the egocentric predicament, as the sole goal of interpretation becomes re-producing the original subjective meaning of the author?  According to Hans-George Gadamer, Hirsch’s method misses the essential dialogical character of interpretation.  (The very fact that Hirsch proffers a “method” seems to harmonize more with modern rather than premodern or postmodern hermeneutical practices). For Hirsch, the text becomes an object of scientific investigation rather than an occasion for the interpreter to be changed by the subject matter of the text through locating its question and then being himself/herself questioned by the subject matter of the text.  Gadamer, by contrast, has a more dynamic view of understanding.  According to Gadamer, 

the real event of understanding…goes continually beyond what can be brought to the understanding of the other person’s words by methodological effort and critical self-control.  It is true of every conversation that through it something different has come to be (“Universality of the Hermeneutical Problem,” p. 58).  

In addition to his focus on the dialogical character of a text (emphasizing the text’s flexibility or dynamism, yet still affirming the text’s identity), Gadamer develops what he calls a “phenomenology of the game” to highlight the inadequacy of a theory of understanding that focuses solely and exclusively on the subjectivity of the author or the interpreter.[1]  In his editorial introduction to Gadamer’s Philosophical Heremeneutics, David Linge describes how, in the phenomenon of play, the player, so to speak, “loses himself” in the game-he or she is “absorbed into the back-and-forth movement of the game, that is, into the definable procedure and rules of the game.”[2] The game is not understood as an “action of subjectivity,” but rather as a “release from subjectivity.”  As Linge explains, “what is essential to the phenomenon of play is not so much the particular goal it involves but the dynamic back-and-forth movement in which the players are caught up-the movement that itself specifies how the goal will be reached.  Thus the game has its own place or space (its Spielraum), and its movement and aims are cut off from the direct involvement in the world stretching beyond it.”[3]

The structures that Gadamer finds in the phenomenology of play are then put in service of Gadamer’s attempt to develop an alternative theory of understanding–one that neither confines the meaning of the text solely to the subjective intention of the author, nor construes the project of understanding as merely an attempt to re-produce the original intention of the author.  As Linge observes, the customary authorial intention hermeneutical approach is fashioned in the image of the methodology of modern science. “Just as scientific experiments can be repeated exactly any number of times under the same conditions and mathematical problems have but one answer, so the author’s intention constitutes a kind of fact, a ‘meaning-in-itself,’ which is repeated by the correct interpretation.”[4]


[1] David E. Linge (ed.), Hans-George Gadamer, Philosophical Hermeneutics, (Berkeley:  Univ. of California Press, 1977) p. xxii.

 [2] Philosophical Hermeneutics, p. xxiii.

[3] Philosophical Hermeneutics, p. xxiii[4] Philosophical Hermeneutics, p. xxiv.