(11/5/31 - )
-Noted philosopher on modern ethics and humanities
-Could be called a "post-analytic" philosopher, for his use of analytic method on subjects classically deemed inappropriate
-Well known for works such as The Ethics of Authenticity and Sources of the Self
Those Who are Definitely Wrong - Naturalists
Positions Defended - A Science of Interpretation for Humans
Work to be Discussed - Interpretation and the Sciences of Man
Hermeneutics - A way to investigate ideas/phenomena through interpretations of related works, data, history and other topics relevant to investigation
Holism - Theory that parts of the whole cannot be understood except in relation to the whole itself; to study nature/existence as a unified whole
Epistemology - Claim that all knowledge about the world is related to sensory experience or observation
Naturalism - Doctrine that all reality is based on the laws of nature, usually explaining humans through genetic/biological/environmental terms
-In his essay, Interpretation and the Sciences of Man, Taylor seeks to draw a divide between the Naturalistic sciences and the study of human beings. It is a growing trend, especially since Newton and Darwin, to discuss human actions/behavior in naturalistic terms. Taylor attempts to show that there is a fundamental difference between the way we should study a science like physics and how we should approach an understanding of humans.
Verification and Interpretation
-Taylor seeks to draw a distinction between sciences that depend on verification and those that draw on interpretation.
When scientists accurately predict the appearance of a comet able to be seen from earth, they have exhibited verification of their hypothesis. Astronomers use empirical data to determine the orbit of a comet and can extremely accurately predict its arrival. These are what we traditionally think of as "science", tested hypotheses that can accurately predict future phenomenon based on it's findings.
People, on the other hand, are tougher to study in this respect. There is not core data to study and predict future events/actions/behavior. There is a serious lack of empirical data that can accurately predict what humans will do exactly. Even if you knew Pee Wee had dark secrets, even if you knew he was gay, even if you knew he really liked the movies, it would be impossible to completely accurately predict him whacking off, publicly, in a theater. Humans do things that can only be "interpreted", not predicted based on scientific verification.
-Taylor believes we can look at a person's or group's actions and, using a hermeneutic method, interpret their actions based on a whole series of previous signals and related works on the topic. But we cannot apply the stringent methodology of an empirical science to the study of humans, no matter how much psychologists or biologists wish we could.
-Before diving into Taylor's plan for a Science of Interpretation, we must explore his thoughts on Meaning and how it applies to the human predicament.
-First, Taylor draws the distinction between Meaning and its Expression.
"The meaning...is one which admits of more than one expression...It can be plausibly argued...that this is the normal and fundamental condition of meaningful expression, that exact synonymy, or equivalence of meaning, is a rare and localized achievement of specialized languages or uses of civilization."
-So there is usually a distinction between the meaning of something and how it is expressed.
When our Vice President says "the insurgency is in its last throes", we aren't supposed to take that literally, for the meaning of what he said in this situation can't be clearly implied in his expression of it. The nature of the term "last throes" has no exact synonymy; it is inherently vague. Therefore, you cannot judge his statement in a verification-like sense. Silly liberal media!
Now when we discuss "amoebic dysentery", that exactly correlates to a specific thing. And if you tried to get vague about it, insinuating that what you really meant was "Ebola" or something, it would be objectively possible to distinguish.
-Taylor puts other distinguishing features on his use of Meaning.
"(1) Meaning is for a subject: it is not the meaning of the situation in vacuo, but its meaning for a subject, a specific subject, a group of subjects...(2) Meaning is of something; that is, we can distinguish between a given element - situation, action, or whatever - and its meaning. But this is not to say that they are physically separable. Rather we are dealing with two descriptions of the element, in one of which it is characterized in terms of its meaning for the subject. (3) things only have meaning in a field, that is, in relation to the meaning of other things. This means that there is no such thing as a single, unrelated meaningful element."
-This is a call for a holistic approach to Meaning. It must be thought of in a hermeneutic sense. Meanings are all inter-related and cannot be considered independently. Also, meaning must be of something, that is, its attached to an object or idea, but not the same exact thing as that object or idea. So the description of all its parts is not an accurate depiction of the Meaning of something. (For an interesting discussion of Meaning in this respect, see Quine's "Two Dogmas of Empiricism")
Science of Interpretation
-Considering that we have to take a hermeneutic approach to studying humans, how can we consider this a science? Science is usually thought to be based on facts and data, and all Taylor supposes we can get is interpretation.
-Taylor doesn't believe that studying humans can result in this type of science, but it should not be considered void of any study at all. He wants to apply a different type of science, that of Interpretation. This could be used effectively to determine the human condition within the complicated realm of human meaning.
-The only way to do this, according to Taylor, is to come to agreement on things underlying the hermeneutic discussion:
1. You and others studying a human phenomenon must agree on the terms in which you speak. That is, the words you say must be understood in the same manner. This seems simple enough till you look at a word like "meaning" or "being" or "jackass". These words cannot be confused if you wish to successfully complete a hermeneutic investigation.
2. You and your hermeneutic partners must be in the same "Meaning World". That is, you have to not only speak the same language, but also understand the same "certain language of mutual action and communication, by which we blame exhort, admire, esteem each other. In the end we are in on this because we grow up in the ambit of certain common meanings." Basically, you have to understand a similar culture and its values.
3. You must first understand and accept "inter-subjective meanings". Inter-subjective Meanings are based on the notion that we are all unique agents and self-defining/self-interpreting animals.
-The job of the Hermeneutic Human Scientist then becomes to piece together related meanings based on human interactions/thoughts/theories/mindset and other human "data sets".
Our new Human Scientist would have to take into account a whole plethora of cultural/societal/personal/interpersonal relations in order to make sense of this phenomenon. Some of the important aspects to be explored in this situation for relevant meaning might include:
A. the Hollywood/liberal culture of divorce when the least bit unhappy
B. the thoughts of Brad that Jenn was hot, but not as hot as Angelina
C. Angelina's natural desire for the best genes to reproduce her own children
D. the culture of paparazzi
E. Hollywood relationships straining due to the constant media pressure and stress on looks/money/celeb news
F. the findings of media study people
G. the effects of tits on men
H. the effects of ass on men
I. the effects of sexy tattoos on men
-All of these expressions would have to be investigated for their meanings in relation to our society and the people involved. This would turn the separate inter-personal meanings into a study of the meaning of the event within the time and place. This Human Science "would not be founded on brute data; its most primitive data would be readings of meanings, and its object would have the three properties mentioned (above)"
-Thus you might come to a conclusion about the Meaning of the Brad and Angelina situation. Of course, the conclusion may not be any more enlightening than the commonly held theory: "They're both super hot and wanted each other".
-The real problem with Hermeneutics is the "Hermeneutic Circle". This is the objection that in a hermeneutic discussion, all you can do is interpret things based on other things, but those other things need to be interpreted themselves, and so on and so on. Thus, your interpretations are based on nothing but other interpretations. There is a serious lack of any foundational data from which to base your investigation.
-Taylor understands this dilemma, but states that there is no way to avoid it in a hermeneutic investigation; you must accept it and move on: "We have to be within the circle."
What's the Use?
-A legitimate criticism based on the problems of the hermeneutic circle is that nothing can really be established using this method. All you will get is more opinionated critique and it won't have any real value as a "science".
-It seems that Taylor is proposing what he believes to be the best system for discovering Meaning in human action, despite said criticisms. The best we can hope for is a better understanding of Meaning.
"If we are to understand men by a science of interpretation, we cannot achieve the degree of exactitude of a science based on brute data. The data of natural science admit of measurement to be virtually any degree of exactitude. But different interpretations cannot be judged in this way."
The fundamental problem with dealing with humans in classical scientific terms is that there is too much input into the human experience. Scientists love the idea of a closed system for controlled data collection. Humans are never in a closed system, at least not one comprehensible by us. There is no way to control the thoughts/inputs/environments of people in order to get a naturalistic grasp on their nature. Who knows what was in PeeWee's head?
-Furthermore, humans are "self-defining" entities. We are continually in a state of flux due to our self-defining nature. "With changes in his self-definition go changes in what man is, such that he has to be understood in different terms. But the conceptual mutations in human history can and frequently do produce conceptual webs which are incommensurable, that is, where the terms cannot be defined in relation to a common stratum of expressions."
-The answer to both these questions is No, not with any sort of certainty that Natural Science enjoys. Thus we are stuck with studying human history in retrospect. "Human science is largely ex post understanding. Or often on has the sense of impending change, of some big reorganization, but is powerless to make clear what it will consist in."
-Taylor proposes the next best alternative: a hermeneutic investigation of the inter-related meanings of human history and behavior.