Friday, January 13, 2012

Hermeneutics For The Blogosphere

The definition of "hermeneutics" is "the theory and practice of interpretation" (Hermeneutics).

It is said that originally the notion of hermeneutics was a way to interpret scripture.

In the western world in general, that would mean interpreting the Bible (ibid).

In the realm of jurisprudence, lawyers and judges utilize "legal hermeneutics" when they analyze, for example statutes, and it has even been said by some writers that they have refined the practice of hermeneutics:
In the larger field of hermeneutics, legal hermeneutics is characteristically described as exemplary.
(SSRN, The Distinctiveness of Legal Hermeneutics). Notice that there is a "larger field of hermeneutics", and that the field of legal hermeneutics is "exemplary", that is, a good example for the other fields of hermeneutics.

I can think of one technique immediately that brings out one exemplary dynamic of legal hermeneutics:
... canons of construction are no more than rules of thumb that help courts determine the meaning of legislation, and in interpreting a statute a court should always turn first to one, cardinal canon before all others. We have stated time and again that courts must presume that a legislature says in a statute what it means and means in a statute what it says there ... When the words of a statute are unambiguous, then, this first canon is also the last: “judicial inquiry is complete.”
(Connecticut Nat. Bank v. Germain, 503 U.S. 249, 253-254, 1992). It seems like a "no brainer", after even minimal analysis, that if there is only one unambiguous meaning to a text, "interpretation" is not necessary.

But remember that the definition given in the first link in this post was that hermeneutics was all about "interpretation."

Still, "interpretation" would be perverse to meaning if there was nothing about the subject text that could be "interpreted".

So, in the practice of "exemplary" legal hermeneutics, the exercise is first called "statutory construction", rather than "statutory interpretation", because the first exercise is to determine whether or not any "interpretation" is necessary.

Remember the oft repeated statement "what is it about 'no' that you don't understand?"

The implication is that "interpretation" is unnecessary to determine what "no" means.

Those who can find their way around the blogosphere know that misunderstanding of both blog posts, and of comments on those blog posts, are regularly confused and/or conflated as to their meaning.

We bloggers would do well to follow good canons of textual inquiry, that is, good blogging hermeneutics.

Using good hermeneutics does not mean that we have to agree with any text, once it has been analyzed for meaning, but it does mean that we won't be arguing or debating incoherently over that text.

One has to wonder if improper hermeneutics could be the reason that some experts disagree on the same body of evidence --- they have not developed sound hermeneutics?

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