This dissertation uses the resources of philosophical hermeneutics to address problems that arise in holistic accounts of meaning. Holism holds that meaning is context-dependent, where ‘context’ is typically construed as one’s total theory of the world. Such a view makes communication difficult between total theories that differ even slightly, as slight differences within a total theory translate into global theory difference. The question the dissertation asks is whether one can retain a holistic view of meaning while avoiding such problematic consequences. I begin by considering Quine’s and Davidson’s versions of holism, arguing that the consequences of holism are in part due to the tendency of holists to think of total theories as consisting of sets of interconnected statements. I find an alternative to this view in the work of Hans-Georg Gadamer, and devote the middle three chapters of the dissertation to outlining his philosophy of interpretation. Total theories—worldviews—are for Gadamer networks of interrelated beliefs and questions. For the interpreter, questions open up the distinction between the being of the thing in question and its presentation in an interpretation. This distinction is in play in all interpretation, but it also collapses in all interpretation: the object of interpretation is always encountered as both distinct and non-distinct from the way in which it is understood. Interpretations directly access the object, but they do not do so exhaustively—they always capture an “aspect of the thing itself.” The consequences for meaning are that in a worldview I understand things that I understand to transcend that worldview. Indeed, content for Gadamer just is the presentation in an interpretation of a thing that transcends that interpretation. But if that is the case, then content cannot be strongly determined by the particular total theory that is its context. On this view, content is dependent, not on individual contexts, but on the potentially infinite number of contexts in which the thing itself can be interpreted. Since no single context determines content exhaustively, there need be no global communication failure between worldviews—and some of the worries about holism are alleviated.
|School:||State University of New York at Stony Brook|
|School Location:||United States -- New York|
|Source:||DAI-A 69/12, Dissertation Abstracts International|
|Keywords:||Gadamer, Hans-Georg, Hermeneutics, Holism, Semantic holism, Truth and method|
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