Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Guideline for Concrete Philosophical Interpretation

(In reply to a discussion I wrote this description of my method. I will modify it and represent it here. The original is here.)

   My practice of interpretation has been the most concrete result of any of my work in philosophy. The individuals who have had the greatest impact have been teachers, philosophers, and particular revelations from philosophical methods I have encountered (critical method of Kant and Phenomenology of Heidegger being two of the most important). The following is a description of my interpretive process in some general terms. I hope that it can do something to reveal what is at stake when I engage with a text. I also hope that this can help me to continue to develop explicitly what interpretation entails as certain holes in my process are inevitably pointed out to me. (I have tried to put my assumptions in bold as they occur.)
   I am studying Philosopher X who has position Y.  I am interested in interpreting position Y.  This means I already have an interpretation which is called into question.  Some key assumptions I make as I proceed in my reinterpretation are as follows: first, that position Y was actually maintained by Philosopher X; second, that positions that are internally contradictory cannot be maintained by anyone.
   My next move is to consider if position Y is making an a priori or a posteriori claim. If a posteriori, then I can see what sorts of empirical knowledge would be required to maintain the point. I can usually determine if some relevant facts were not available or overlooked, but in this case I can easily understand how position Y was maintained with the outstanding evidence. If, however, I take the claim to be a priori, then I will continue considering the position in a different manner.
   A proof of something a priori always has a starting point that is analyzed as regards what is necessary for it. For our example, this starting point will be called 'object' Z.  (The result of such analysis can be a priori and still involve empirical concepts, or purely a priori and contain no empirical concepts; I will assume that we are dealing with a purely a priori case.)  There are two general ways that an analysis of 'object' Z, regarding what is purely a priori in it, can err: first, that the analysis may mistakenly included empirical concepts as part of its purely a priori result, and then used them in the derivation of position Y; second, that the 'object' Z was not fixed, and changed over the course of the analysis.  The analysis of Philosopher X's analysis burdens me with an additional question now. What is Z?
   Z is the 'object' that Philosopher X analyzed such that they were constrained to maintain position Y.  Now, this still leaves open the possibility that position Y is maintained in error, but if I am to understand the error I need to have a clear interpretation of Z in order to characterize the error as one of analysis (including empirical concepts as a priori ) or inconsistency in the object (first analyzing one thing, then later another, for the purposes of one conclusion).  Unless it is very clear that one of these errors has been committed, I will assume that it has not pending further consideration.  (Incidentally, I find these errors are rarely committed.)
   In order to have found position Y to be false, we must implicitly have an interpretation of 'object' Z that leads to an inconsistency with our understanding of position Y.  We could have misinterpreted position Y, or we could have misinterpreted 'object' Z, or both (usually if one is off, the other is too). Because of my first two assumptions (first, that position Y was actually maintained by Philosopher X, second, that positions that are internally contradictory cannot be maintained by anyone) I have at least a misinterpretation of 'object' Z or position Y (and in either case a misunderstanding of Philosopher X).
   From here comes a series of interpretive experiments and data gathering. I will re-examine definitions, look for hints of what 'object' Z is, look at explicit statements about what is being attempted in the section and even work and corpus, examine position Y again, consider in relation to similar positions, consider comments that Philosopher X makes concerning positions they mean to contradict, look at how they address criticisms of their position.
   Depending on what my experimenting uncovers, I may deem it necessary, ex hypothesis, to reinterpret position Y in a way that makes it consistent with 'object' Z as its starting point, or reinterpret 'object' Z such that position Y is a valid conclusion from it. Both of these scenarios leave open the possibility of position Y being ultimately something I would not maintain, though I will understand clearly on what basis I do not maintain it. If this is the case, then I consider further what it is about these (usually 'object' Z) that I have difficulty maintaining. What has gone unsaid about 'object' Z or position Y that I can further derive with my current understanding? Do any of these conflict with what Philosopher X has said? If so, I should probably reconsider something.
   New evidence can cause me to re-evaluate any of these steps I have mentioned from the very start. This sort of interpretation takes a considerable amount of effort and patience, but I have also found it to be very rewarding. This has been my procedure while studying Kant, and it has resulted in what I find to be a very good reading that I would not consider charitable, but rather consistent with, and mindful of, what has been said. Kant is really the most complete interpretation I have of any thinker, but it is still incredible to me how much room there is still to re-evaluate it. Also, there are many other figures in the history of philosophy who are involved in such an interpretive process: Plato, Heidegger, Gelven, Descartes, Leibniz, Nietzsche, Hegel, as well as countless others. These figures I frequently compare, not to belittle any position by something similar that came before, but as a way of letting philosophers clarify each other, both where they seem to agree and where they seem to disagree.
   My interpretations do not advance with a goal of vindicating a philosopher or not, but with enabling myself with the highest quality interpretations I can so I can continue my own work in the presence of these thinkers. At the end of the day, my work involves being thoughtful about my own life, and for this I will take as many friends as I can while trying not to lean on any of them.
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