Objective Interpretation and the Metaphysics of Meaning

Maria E. Reicher

Abstract


In some sense, everything can be interpreted, but some things virtually seem to call on us to interpret them, notably those things that are products of In some sense, everything can be interpreted, but some things virtually seem to call on us to interpret them, notably those things that are products of intentional human actions, i.e., artifacts. This holds in particular for sequences of linguistic signs, i.e., texts. In this paper, three closely interrelated questions concerning the interpretation of texts shall be explored: 1. What does it mean to interpret a text in the first place? 2. Can interpretations be right or wrong? In other words, can interpretive claims be true or false? 3. Is there such a thing as an objective meaning of texts (i.e., a meaning that exists independently of interpretations)? There is not one single activity that is called “interpretation” but various distinct ones. All of them are in some way or another related to what one may call the “meaning” of the text. However, the concept of (textual) meaning is ambiguous too. It shall be argued that there is at least one kind of interpretation which indeed can be right or wrong. Consequently, there are interpretive claims that are true or false. These are interpretations that aim at a description of the objective meaning of a text. An interpretation of this sort is right if it corresponds to the text’s objective meaning, and it is wrong if it fails to do so. This objectivist position shall be defended against some popular objections, and the notion of an objective meaning shall be clarified. ntentional human actions, i.e., artifacts. This holds in particular for sequences of linguistic signs, i.e., texts. In this paper, three closely interrelated questions concerning the interpretation of texts shall be explored: 1. What does it mean to interpret a text in the first place? 2. Can interpretations be right or wrong? In other words, can interpretive claims be true or false? 3. Is there such a thing as an objective meaning of texts (i.e., a meaning that exists independently of interpretations)? There is not one single activity that is called “interpretation” but various distinct ones. All of them are in some way or another related to what one may call the “meaning” of the text. However, the concept of (textual) meaning is ambiguous too. It shall be argued that there is at least one kind of interpretation which indeed can be right or wrong. Consequently, there are interpretive claims that are true or false. These are interpretations that aim at a description of the objective meaning of a text. An interpretation of this sort is right if it corresponds to the text’s objective meaning, and it is wrong if it fails to do so. This objectivist position shall be defended against some popular objections, and the notion of an objective meaning shall be clarified.

Keywords


20th century philosophy; metaphysics; philosophy; Wittgenstein Ludwig; authorship; intentionalism; interpretation; meaning; metaphysics; ontology; text; type

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