Ktismatics

4 July 2007

Paul and the Hermeneutical Horizon

Filed under: Christianity, Language, Psychology — ktismatics @ 7:42 am

I beg of you, brethren, become as I am, for I also have become as you are. (Galatians 4:12)

Paul doesn’t command, like a Master imposing a new Law; he begs. “Become like me.” Should Paul’s Galatian readers accede to his request, or should they resist it?

Gadamer talks about the hermeneutical horizon (pp. 301-304 in my edition of Truth and Method):

The horizon is the range of vision that includes everything that can be seen from a particular vantage point. Applying this to the thinking mind, we speak of narrowness of horizon, of the possible expansion of horizon, of the opening up of new horizons, and so forth. Since Nietzsche and Husserl, the word has been used in philosophy to characterize the way in which thought is tied to its finite determinacy, and the way one’s range of vision is gradually expanded. A person who has no horizon does not see far enough and hence over-values what is nearest to him. On the other hand, “to have a horizon” means not being limited to what is nearby but being able to see beyond it. A person who has an horizon knows the relative significance of everything within this horizon, whether it is near or far, great or small.

Gadamer says that, in conversation, trying to discover where the other person is coming from is necessary for understanding the other. But it’s not enough if you’re trying to arrive at some sort of agreement with the other.

By factoring the other person’s standpoint into what he is claiming to say, we are making our own standpoint safely unattainable… Acknowledging the otherness of the other in this way, making him the object of objective knowledge, involves the fundamental suspension of his claim to truth.

Instead of regarding the other from a distance, like a professor giving a student an oral exam, Gadamer insists that it’s necessary to “transpose ourselves” into the other’s horizon.

For what do we mean by “transposing ourselves”? Certainly not just disregarding ourselves. This is necessary, of course, insofar as we must imagine the other situation. But into this other situation we must bring, precisely, ourselves.

In putting ourselves in the other’s shoes we don’t just make ourselves like the other, thereby eliminating the differences between us. Instead, by putting ourselves in the other’s position we become more acutely aware of the individuality and otherness of the other.

Transposing ourselves consists neither in the empathy of one individual for another nor in subordinating another person to our own standards; rather, it always involves rising to a higher universality that overcomes not only our own particularity but also that of the other.

Here Gadamer explicitly deviates from the modern. scientifically-inspired hermeneutic that seeks to understand a text objectively by explicating the historical horizon within which it was written but that succeeds only in alienating the modern reader from other truths. He also disagrees with Nietzsche, for whom the multiplicity of other horizons is an irreducible source not only of difference, but also of mutual isolation and the loss of one’s own distinct horizon. What Gadamer wants is for both self and other to broaden their limited and prejudiced points of view by transposing themselves into one another’s different horizons. Understanding, insists Gadamer, is always the fusion of these horizons supposedly existing by themselves. But Gadamer doesn’t envision ultimately collapsing all individually distinct perspectives into a single universal horizon. Instead it is the tension between different limited horizons that makes new understanding possible. The hermeneutic task consists in not covering up this tension by attempting a naive assimilation of the two but in consciously bringing it out. In this way the two separate horizons don’t just converge and merge into a single point of view; rather, they are both simultaneously superceded.

“Become as I am, for I also have become as you are.” Is Paul being Gadamerian in his plea to the Galatians, or is Gadamer explicitly rejecting what seems to be Paul’s empathic blurring of distinct horizons? By transposing himself into the Galatians’ horizon did Paul learn something? Did he expand his own horizon, superceding his prior understanding, making it more universal?

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25 Comments »

  1. “Become as I am, for I also have become as you are.” Is Paul being Gadamerian in his plea to the Galatians, or is Gadamer explicitly rejecting what seems to be Paul’s empathic blurring of distinct horizons? By transposing himself into the Galatians’ horizon did Paul learn something? Did he expand his own horizon, superceding his prior understanding, making it more universal?

    These are good questions. As you know I am a big fan of Gadamer and even now I am in the process of utilizing some of his insights into an essay on the recontextualization/application of the OT by the author of Hebrews.

    Sometimes, however, I think the “horizon” metaphor can be misleading by its oversimplification of the process of understanding. And I do think that Gadamer would agree on that.

    So, to the point of your question on Paul…I think that what we observe in the Epistles is the process of dialogue and understanding at work. First, Paul is grappling with the process of trying to enter into the horizon of his congregation. Yet he is also distinctly concerned with re-shaping that same horizon. Hence, as you point out, Paul pleads. The issues are critical, in Paul’s eyes, so there is tension in the dialogue. And there is a blurring of horizons. However, it is interesting b/c in various places in T&M (I don’t have a copy here with me to cite, but I think your quotes go to the same point) Gadamer talks about how if we are simply manipulating the conversation then there is no true dialogue. True dialogue must involve openness and vulnerability.

    I think Paul’s letters display openness and vulnerability, but also closedness and violence:

    1You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. 2I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard? 3Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort? 4Have you suffered so much for nothing—if it really was for nothing? 5Does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you because you observe the law, or because you believe what you heard? 3:1-5

    12As for those agitators, I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves! 5:12

    My question is this: Is it truly possible to be “open” in dialogue? Without having an agenda? Or without trying to win/manipulate?

    Maybe we supplement Gadamer a bit at this point with some Derridean-Qohelet-type thought: Pure “Dialogue” is impossible. Like “The Gift” or “Pure Forgiveness.” It is an ideal that is never achieved. Always out there as something to pursue: Like a “chasing after the wind.” This, too, I say, is hebel!

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    Comment by Erdman — 4 July 2007 @ 1:32 pm

  2. By the way….venturing out into a dialogue on Gadamer-Derrida might be a risky venture for us, no???

    Like

    Comment by Erdman — 4 July 2007 @ 1:33 pm

  3. Jon, these subjects are inherently risky and yet so much fun! Let’s dig in please.

    i just wanted to let you know that someone is trying to get me to copy your title pics, but there’s just that something missing that convinced me that they were fakes! I’ rather do my own fakes, thanks!

    Like

    Comment by samlcarr — 4 July 2007 @ 1:57 pm

  4. Pleeeeez be on guard for fakers.

    They are everywhere.

    Even worse than the fakers are the non-fakers!

    Like

    Comment by Erdman — 4 July 2007 @ 2:42 pm

  5. “Paul is grappling with the process of trying to enter into the horizon of his congregation. Yet he is also distinctly concerned with re-shaping that same horizon.”

    It makes you wonder whether Paul is just trying to keep a lid on: “I’ve been patient, I’ve tried to see things from your perspective, but now just put a sock in it and LISTEN! Otherwise I’ll cut off your signifier.” Maybe it’s just this sort of authoritarian tone that helped Paul sound inerrant to the canonizers.

    “Is it truly possible to be “open” in dialogue? Without having an agenda? Or without trying to win/manipulate?”

    I think it’s certainly possible to learn something new from other people: that’s how we learn most of the stuff we know, starting in infancy. I don’t think it’s true that already having knowledge makes you more resistant to acquiring additional knowledge — in fact I’d say it’s the reverse. Opinion is a different matter. It’s possible to change your mind based on evidence or persuasive argumentation, but surely the more persuaded you are of your own opinion the more resistant you are to alternatives.

    I only just got my Gadamer book and looked up only that bit that seemed relevant to today’s Scriptural reading, so I don’t know whether he regards his ideas about transposing and horizons as ideals or praxis. It seems that he’s suggesting a kind of orientation toward the other that keeps one’s mind open to unconsidered possibilities. He also seems to endorse the idea of expanding or improving or superceding one’s own limited horizon, continually and progressively extending one’s horizon toward a relatively more universal perspective (though without ever achieving anything like an end of the process). So if you adopt Gadamer’s stance toward the other you might be able to achieve greater openness toward actually accepting what the other has to say.

    Gadamer says that this whole horizons thing only works if you operate from within your own perspective and extend outward, rather than being entirely open and uncommitted to any particular viewpoint of your own. So this opening outward always takes place in the context of a prior closedness, the gradually increasing universality moving from a biased tribal parochialism. This is consistent with the “being-there” ontology of Heidegger, in which there is never a possibility of transcending the self to objective and open universal understanding. Is that roughly your understanding of Gadamer?

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    Comment by ktismatics — 4 July 2007 @ 3:25 pm

  6. “By the way….venturing out into a dialogue on Gadamer-Derrida might be a risky venture for us, no???”

    Hey, are you saying my horizon is closed? Why don’t you go mutilate yourself!

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    Comment by ktismatics — 4 July 2007 @ 3:26 pm

  7. I don’t think that the Mysterious Erdman is talking about your horizon as much as those of some others who have built walls all around within easy sight to effectively block out any signs of their own horizons.

    Again, a theme that Paul likes. Being willing to be everyman for the sake of communicating the gospel.

    Jumping the immediate context, in Romans 1, Paul speaks first of desiring to bring the Romans a gift, then suenly makes that mutual, wishing to receive what they have to offer. Is it just a rhetorical ploy to draw them into his argument? I read it as genuine. Paul struggles with this. He knows that he has the truth to tell but keeps reminding himself that he also needs to keep learning and to keep receiving.

    In Galatians 4:13-15 Paul goes on to speak of how he was received and accepted despite his (physical?) problems, reinforcing the mutuality that he shares with his spiritual chilren and later he speaks of again being in the ‘travails’ of childbirth for them. So it’s a complicated combination of horizons that had been joined and then torn apart and now trying to deal with the differences all over again.

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    Comment by samlcarr — 5 July 2007 @ 2:33 am

  8. suddenly

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    Comment by samlcarr — 5 July 2007 @ 2:34 am

  9. “He knows that he has the truth to tell but keeps reminding himself that he also needs to keep learning and to keep receiving.”

    Ah the struggles of the unpublished author and the unacknowledged expert. In Gadamer there seems to be a dialectical movement between closedness and openness, resulting in incremental changes in one’s understanding and beliefs. We influence each other, but it’s hard to put a finger on exactly how and when it happens. I wonder whether a conversion experience, constituting a radical “reterritorialization of one’s thinking, operates according to a qualitatively different process. Or perhaps eventually the incremental shifts reach the “tipping point,” precipitating a reorganization of the whole structure that seems wholly discontinuous but is actually just the last straw.

    It’s hard to tell from the textual evidence how much Paul’s own thinking changed during the course of his ministry. Certainly you see him adapting his message to different local contexts, but we tend to regard the content as invariant. Let’s presume that Paul was divinely inspired: is it permissible for his inspired message to have been influenced, universalized, improved through what he learned from others? Even if those others were speaking from human wisdom and personal experience rather than as conduits of special revelation? Could Jesus too have been so influenced in his ministry?

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    Comment by ktismatics — 5 July 2007 @ 7:15 am

  10. “suddenly”

    Two d’s — is your keyboard fixed, or are you an impostor?

    Like

    Comment by ktismatics — 5 July 2007 @ 7:16 am

  11. So this opening outward always takes place in the context of a prior closedness, the gradually increasing universality moving from a biased tribal parochialism. This is consistent with the “being-there” ontology of Heidegger, in which there is never a possibility of transcending the self to objective and open universal understanding. Is that roughly your understanding of Gadamer?

    That makes sense to me. Gadamer cites Heidegger approvingly on several occasions in TM, although G wasn’t as “open” to Facism, Hitler and the Nazi’s as Heidegger was!

    There is this sense that each encounter to understand and interpret is unique in its own right and cannot be predetermined, so in a sense we will run into a wall if we try to develop a Gadamerean Method for interpretation/understanding. G uses the concept of “play” and “game” to describe hermeneutics.

    Like

    Comment by Erdman — 5 July 2007 @ 7:21 am

  12. “n a sense we will run into a wall if we try to develop a Gadamerean Method for interpretation/understanding.”

    I remember a post at Theos Project in which you expressed skepticism about teaching people how to read the Bible. Were you being explicitly Gadamerian? I get the sense that if there is a Gadamerian method it would be something more directed at one’s own abilities to keep the channels open, to transpose oneself into others’ horizons, and so on. More of a psychological project rather than mastering the formal exegetical tools for parsing oral and written discourses. I wonder whether moving consciously toward Gadamer’s orientation
    makes one more or less likely to be influenced by marketing, popular opinion, groupthink, etc.

    “G wasn’t as “open” to Facism, Hitler and the Nazi’s as Heidegger was!”

    There’s a seed of fascism in valorizing the community as the foundation for authentic being in the world. Heidegger recognized this danger when he talked about “the they” and the sense of the self being stretched along through the others — which may be what happened to Heidegger in his Nazi phase. He proposed that authentic being-in requires hanging onto one’s own angsty separate individualism while being engaged in the social world — which is the direction the existentialists took Heidegger. I think Gadamer might have been trying to reconcile the individual-collective dialectic, looking for a way of being separate individuals who are open to the other without ever trying to overwhelm otherness through totalizing community.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 5 July 2007 @ 7:48 am

  13. I remember a post at Theos Project in which you expressed skepticism about teaching people how to read the Bible. Were you being explicitly Gadamerian?

    Right. I believe that biblical interpretation should be “taught” through “doing.” As far as I know only in biblical literature do we determine systems of meaning prior to engaging the text. How many studies of Homer do you know where we determine how to take the meaning of Homer at the outset and then read the text to confirm what we already more-or-less know?

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    Comment by Erdman — 5 July 2007 @ 8:01 am

  14. “How many studies of Homer do you know where we determine how to take the meaning of Homer at the outset and then read the text to confirm what we already more-or-less know?”

    But our hermeneutical system for reading Homer isn’t sacred to us…
    :)

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    Comment by Jason Hesiak — 5 July 2007 @ 10:51 am

  15. “I believe that biblical interpretation should be “taught” through “doing.””

    DIY exegesis, punkrock ethos. I agree that reading and listening shouldn’t become the exclusive domain of the technical virtuoso. At the same time I don’t think people are all that great at hearing what other people are saying. There’s the risk always of using the other person’s writing/speech as either a reaffirmation what you already think or a stimulus for launching into your own observations. Practice with feedback seems like a good idea, again focusing on the reader/hearer’s openness and so on rather than technical exegetical skills.

    This approach assumes that the other’s discourse can readily be understood, doesn’t it? The obstacle to understanding isn’t in the strangeness of the other’s words but in your own inability to hear. If you can project yourself out of your prejudices and open yourself up to the other, then what is there will become clear. Take the log out of your own eye first.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 5 July 2007 @ 10:58 am

  16. I for one am always happy to have my pet ideas confirmed and reconfirmed. But I have also come to realise that if I don’t sense a tension, a difference, then I am doubtless only trotting around inside my own little head.

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    Comment by samlcarr — 5 July 2007 @ 1:33 pm

  17. Jason, I’m puzzled by your comment. What exactly is this ‘sacred’ hermeneutical system?

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    Comment by samlcarr — 5 July 2007 @ 3:22 pm

  18. Sam…I was being viscesious…and very much not referring to you. I think many folk in Christian circles hold their hermeneutical system sacred over the God and His Word, who it supposedly interprets. That’s all. So with The Odyssey, folks don’t mind going on the Odyssey with Odyssius. But then they read the Bible, and they miss their journey with the God whose Word it us supposed to be. The Word would otherwise illume their own journey, if only they would go on it. I don’t think I just characterized you, though. You seem to be on your own journey. And you don’t seem to hold some hermeneutical system over the Word that it is supposed to interpret.

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    Comment by Jason Hesiak — 5 July 2007 @ 6:49 pm

  19. Sam…make sense?

    Like

    Comment by Jason Hesiak — 5 July 2007 @ 6:58 pm

  20. Thanks Jason, I think I get your meaning. Was that “facetious” by any chance? I even tried googling it and google has two refs, both by you (one here and another replying to Thomistguy) and the online dictionary is just stumped. But, it looks and feels like a really meaningful word and since you are the creator, a definitive definition would be helpful!

    Like

    Comment by samlcarr — 5 July 2007 @ 10:53 pm

  21. I have such a lost idea of how to spell the word that I can pronounce quite readily…that you don’t even know the word or meaning of it! But yes, you still somehow managed to find the correct word, spelling…and meaning. I don’t know if its some strange formation of the Southern draw of my Aunt or what, but I could have sworn that you pronounce it “va-cetious.”

    Only I am capable of sumping the online dictionary. Muahahahaha…

    :)

    Like

    Comment by Jason Hesiak — 5 July 2007 @ 11:34 pm

  22. Jason, there’s no need to stump anyone, all we have to do is to define the word and voila, you have added something quite invaluable to the English language!

    Check out Jason’s New Word

    Like

    Comment by samlcarr — 6 July 2007 @ 1:34 am

  23. Comedic musings on the hermeneutical difficulties of encounters with the “other”:

    http://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/20070706/us_nm/space_life_dc

    “‘The purpose of this whole report was to be able to look for life on other planets and moons with an open mind … and not maybe miss some other life form because we looking for some obvious life form,’ said John Baross, professor of oceanography…’We wanted to actually think outside of that box a little bit and at least try to articulate some of the other possibilities besides water-carbon life,’ Baross said…’The exploration that could lead to a novel life form … would be the most profound discovery ever made,’ Baross said. Stumbling past it or worse, destroying it because it did not look like life, would be an equally profound tragedy, he said.”

    :) Oh the layers of meaning!

    Like

    Comment by Jason Hesiak — 7 July 2007 @ 3:04 am

  24. So an individual or society’s hermeneutical horizon might be so limited it doesn’t even recognize the other, let alone understand what the heck the other is talking about. On a more limited scale this happens among us humans with some frequency I think.

    Like

    Comment by ktismatics — 7 July 2007 @ 5:15 am

  25. Hence my giggling heartily to myself as I read the article. NASA and whoever is getting all excited over maybe not recognizing other life forms, but we never even recognize ourselves or others like us.

    Like

    Comment by Jason Hesiak — 7 July 2007 @ 11:52 am


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