The First Canon and the Philological-Historical Method

Part of the Contributions to Phenomenology book series (CTPH, volume 50)

A text ought to be understood according to the historical context of the contemporary addressees and their understanding of the text. It has been mentioned in chapter 6 that this formulation for the first canon (I.2) is prima facie not circular, and it does not refer to the subjective intentions, i.e., the psyche, of the author. But there are two serious shortcomings. (1) The formulation presupposes that we have some access to the context of the contemporary addressees of a text. In other words, the canon seems to presuppose the possibility of some mysterious traveling through past time and space. Such an assumption is probably not included in the real intention of the canon, but the formulation gives us no hint toward how we can understand the understanding of the contemporary addressees. (2) The canon says nothing about the borders of the realm of “contemporary.” Are, for instance, all people living together within thirty or forty or fifty years contemporaries? Do they all share the same perspective within their cultural context? How far does “contemporary” reach into the past and the future seen from the viewpoint of a text? Seen from a methodological point of view, however, this means that the formulation is not very useful. Moreover, a closer consideration indicates, that shortcoming (1) leads to a circle if we add, with Droysen and Dilthey, that we know about a cultural context in the past only via texts and other fixed life expressions. According to the first canon, all of them must be understood with the aid of our knowledge of the contemporary context. Thus we have a circle. Nothing is gained if “contemporary” and “addressee” is dropped. The formulation, “A text ought to be understood according to its context and not the context of the interpreter“ does not tell us what type of context is meant.

Keywords

Cultural Object Historical Interpretation Future Horizon Past Living Technical Terminology 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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© Kluwer Academic Publishers 2004

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