Tuesday, 18 July 2017

How does your interpretation help you understand yourself more?

Yesterday we began to draw some of the connections between Paul Ricoeur's work and the methodologies underlying some of the historical quests for the Trinity. I attempted this in both English and French, which was a big effort at over 2300 words in total, something I won't be able to maintain. It was also one of my least visited posts recently - possibly a coincidence, possibly English readers hadn't realised that the post was also in English, I don't know. Anyway, today I will keep it mainly in English with a couple of French summaries, using the same colour codings as yesterday. Citations will continue in both languages, the English being my own translation.

Aujourd'hui je me contenterai de faire la plupart de l'article en anglais, avec quelques remarques et citations en français.

Yesterday we saw Ricoeur distinguish two types of ontological inquiry: the short route, which I translated as "ontological comprehension", is very black and white. The longer route is more arduous and involves semantics. It does not attempt what I coined as "historical surgery", is more nuanced, personal, intentional and multi-faceted. I'm going to fast-forward a few pages now to arrive at a key citation that brings in the concept of symbolism, which is important when insisting, as I do, that the fourth-century discussions around the doctrine of God, despite the ontological packaging, were also deeply symbolic. Here's Ricoeur on p. 35:

I am calling a symbol any structure of meaning where a direct, primary, literal meaning also provides an indirect, secondary, figurative meaning behind it that can only be apprehended via the first. These two-layered structures constitute the hermeneutic scope ... I suggest we afford [the concept of interpretation] the possibility of the same layering as the symbol. Thus let us assert that interpretation is the mental task in which the hidden meaning is distilled from the apparent meaning and to deploy the various layers of meaning implied in the literal meaning.

J'appelle symbole toute structure de signification où un sens direct, primaire, littéral, désigne par surcroît un autre sens indirect, secondaire, figuré, qui ne peut être appréhendé qu'à travers le premier. Cette cironscription des expressions à double sens constitue proprement le champ herméneutique. Je propose de donner [au concept d'interprétation] même extension qu'au symbole; l'interprétation, dirons-nous, est le travail de pensée qui consiste à déchiffrer le sens caché dans le sens apparent, à déployer les niveaux de signification impliqués dans la signification littérale.

More dynamite! I've been saying this for a while, but the more we look at the Triune-God process - let's call it the "triunification", the intelligent minds that were involved in that process, the more improbable it gets that this was an illogical, unbiblical or crazed invention. Something I breezed over to get to this crucial quote was a very brief treatment of Edmund Husserl, factoring in personal intention. Husserl is focussed on phenomenology, which is this curious sub-world in philosophy that attempts to look at human experiences experientially without reference to metaphysics and theories. All this is very interesting, but where we still need to join some dots is by asking the following the question: can we consider an institution to be a person with intentionality? Chad McIntosh argues compellingly that we can as "corporate personalities", provided we designate them as functional persons and not "intrinsicist" persons. Like most intrinsic persons, these corporate personalities meet the conditions first of agency....:

An agent is anything that has representational states about how reality is, motivational states
about how it wants reality to be, and the ability to rationally process and act on those states so as
to attempt to get reality to fit its desires. Insects, animals, men and even robots may all qualify as
agents on this account. Houseplants, rocks, stuffed animals, and screwdrivers do not.
That groups, too, can be agents in this sense is standard fare among many philosophers.
Once it is recognised that groups can meet conditions of agency, it is natural to consider next
whether they might meet conditions sufficient for personhood, such as being morally
responsible, having free will, and having a first-person perspective. The most travelled route from
group agency to group personhood is via the first of these, moral responsibility.
(CA McIntosh, God of the Groups, p. 2)

Je fais le lien entre Ricoeur et McIntosh, puisque cela me permet de proposer que les collectivités d'évêques qui sont représentées par les documents historiques des concils écuméniques sont, à mon sens, dotées des conditions nécessaires pour l'herméneutique dans le sens où il y a une signification apparente et aussi des significations cachées à en déchiffrer. 

And McIntosh will indeed conclude that such an "adoption" into personhood is not only possible but full, along with some notable philosophical support. All that is relevant to establish a development that I want to make from Ricoeur's insistence that hermeneutics is about teasing out the hidden layers of meaning behind the more literal or apparent meaning. Since we are such social creatures, preprogrammed to work in social structures, we have to step beyond a simple individual's examination of an ancient-yet-meaningful text. The individual's focus and drive are part of a wider-held concern (or lack thereof as perceived by the individual), but so also are the Biblical texts themselves and the later great ecumenical councils, which especially need to be seen as interpretative in the sense brought to us by Ricoeur, and as a collective in the sense brought to us by McIntosh.

When the church said that God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit were of one substance, three Persons in One God, the question is not what could that mean in the apparent, ontological comprehensive sense, but what else did she mean, in the fuller interpretative sense? What were her concerns, her worries, her goals, her injuries, her loyalties, her priorities? How did "she" interpret the biblical texts to join her horizon with the horizons of the New (and Old) Testament texts? I have already shared how insightful I find the Sirmium II Council to be into this question in my post Hermeneutic Circle and Asking Better Why Questions.

Let's return to Ricoeur, who wants to widen our understanding of interpretation not just as something we do with the knowledge that we have, but as interwoven into the fabric of our being, our deep semantic field of reference out of which we derive our meaning - albeit still on an individual level. Here on p. 40, our author is having another go at Dilthey's hermeneutic problem we examined yesterday:

The exegete can appropriate the meaning of an outsider, she wants to make it her own...; it's then the expansion of her understanding of herself that she is pursuing via the understanding of the other. All hermeneutics are thus, be it explicitly or implicitly, understanding of oneself via understanding the other.

L'exegète peut s'approprier le sens: d'étranger, il veut le rendre propre...; c'est donc l'agrandissement de la propre compréhension de soi-même qu'il poursuit à travers la compréhension de l'autre. Toute herméneutique est ainsi, explicitement ou implicitement compréhension de soi-même par le détour de la compréhension de l'autre.

So, next time you want to understand "what Paul was really saying", you are really trying to understand more of who you are via that understanding - amazing, huh? Would you agree? What about the "great" ecumenical councils - what do you see the purposes and meanings are behind the scenes? Think beyond controversy A, B or C - unless you can answer why those controversies might have shed light on some deeper concern. We need to watch carefully. Let's ask a new question: not what, but who does the Church understand herself to be and how does she understand herself better through her "triunification" of God? That's probably enough to chew on for tonight :)

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