T. N. Osoro. Hermeneutics: A Road to Intercultural Dialogue and Coexistence
Hermeneutics: A Road to Intercultural Dialogue and Coexistence
Thomas Ndonyo Osoro, B. A in Philosophy, B.A in Theology, M.A in Education
All things come out of the One and the One out of all things. ... I see nothing but Becoming. Be not deceived! It is the fault of your limited outlook and not the fault of the essence of things if you believe that you see firm land anywhere in the ocean of Becoming and Passing. You need names for things, just as if they had a rigid permanence, but the very river in which you bathe a second time is no longer the same one which you entered before. (Heraclitus, 500 B.C.)
This paper is a bibliographic study into the understanding of hermeneutics and its value in interpretive processes of written cultural contents of a given society as a key path towards a better understanding and a gradual evolution of one’s culture for a better interaction and exchange of inter-cultural values in our highly sophisticated contemporary society. It deals with three main themes: hermeneutics of intercultural dialogue, hermeneutics of language and hermeneutics of the symbol as key concepts to applying hermeneutics towards an intercultural dialogue and coexistence.
Key Words: hermeneutics, understanding, interpretive process, inter-cultural exchange, dialogue, language, symbolism, philosophy
Our contemporary society is marked with both positive and negative elements. On one hand, all world cultures want to develop into a contemporary world civilization heralded by the current and sophisticated information and communication technologies that have permeated through different social-cultural and politicalreligious realms. In this socialization process, there is the question as to if there is a proper dialogue among different cultures and cultural mindsets before accepting some cultural contents from another.
In this article, I discuss three main points which have got to do with requisites for an intercultural socialization process based on the understanding of one’s own culture, the language use, and the understanding of a culture’s symbolism. It is then after a well established interpretive processes leading to self-awareness as persons in a culture that people of a given culture can open up to the others for a for and coexistence. This is a challenging issue as some culture which consider themselves as superior to others may manipulate the process or simply requires that other cultures assimilate their style of life. Nevertheless, hermeneutics as a science of interpretation serves a useful tool in dealing with inter-cultural exchange processes within the realm of the symbolic language use and the power of symbolism it shrouds.
T. N. Osoro. Hermeneutics: A Road to Intercultural Dialogue and Coexistence
The Word hermeneutics comes from a Greek Word hermeneuein, which means to interpret (Hernandez, 2008), a task proper to human beings in order to meaningfully understand the world they inhabit. Gonzalez (1996: 146) holds the same thought when he asserts, “on the basis of experience, and on the prevention of a possible future, I make an option, take an attitude, decision or stand, which automatically go adjusting themselves according to the new experiences that I encounter in communication in which we organize our possibilities and impossibilities” (author’s translation). Hence, to interpret implies learning to live, through the raising of “Socratic questions” in pursuit of the sense of the reality that circumscribe our constant search for understanding.
According to Arráez, Calles, & Tovar (2006), the word Hermeneutics is not new in the human history as it has been used since the time of Aristotle (384-382 B.C) who used it in his work Organum in which he wrote Peri hermenais as an instrument for the correct and certain thought. However, it is until the Renaissance period and the time of Protestant Reformation when the hermeneutic work became welll articulated especially by the German Protestant Philosopher and Theologian, Friedrich Schleiermacher (1768-1834) who established a general pedagogical theory of interpretation.
Schleiermacher developed two poles on which interpretation depended: a grammatical interpretation which focussed itself in breaking down the meaning of words according to their linguistic context (Gutiérrez, 2002: 22-25), and, a psychological interpretation that closely connects words and the life process of those who used them. In a word, Schleiermacher’s hermeneutics seeks to exhaustively understand the language of the author and his personality in order to understand the message of his or her text.
In Gadamer (1900-2002), hermeneutics is understood as a dialogue between two human beings living or rather, who have lived in two distinct worlds separated by history. This German Philosopher sought to clarify, in his book Truth and Method, that truth cannot be limited to human formulas of understanding reality but rather the intentionality that directs the conscience of the reader towards the objects under study. Hence, Gadamer, relies on two realities that he calls noema and noesis to emphasise on the inseparability of the cogito from its cogitatum, the object from its subject. This indelible relationship ceases when one discontinues the task of reading or in other words, when one stops to investigate.
The author also emphasises on the necessity of developing a mental structure that should guide the reader at the time he or she confronts a text reading. This is the only way through which there a possibility to reflect on two realities: that of the author of the text, and the one of the reader who assumes the task of dialoguing with the text. Consequently, two different realities meet in the reading and interpretive acts to the far that, in penetrating the world of the author, the reader becomes transformed in some way. His or her transformation affects the reality he or she lives even though cannot modify or change the historical context and the
T. N. Osoro. Hermeneutics: A Road to Intercultural Dialogue and Coexistence reality the text represents. This encounter is true with all kinds of texts we come across like the bible, literature, scientific reports and any other scholarly writings. Hence, in as much as we do not experiment this antagonistic encounter of the two historical realities, there is no interpretive understanding of our world.
On his part, Dilthey opines that hermeneutics deals with the understanding of the reality itself and its historical connections with what the author describes which then is taken as a necessary and useful document for human consumption. Hence, Dilthey, just as Schleiermacher, also analyses the psychology of the author of a text during the interpretive process. Nevertheless, Heidegger presents a different vision of this interpretive process in which he compares three elements in his analysis of being in general, the being of dasein (being-there, a person in context) and co-being-there (the other person in context). Accordingly, to understand refers to an enlightenment, “not referred to concrete objects but to the world in its totality; to understand does not have to do with the appropriation of particular contents but with the possibilities to exist according to the possibilities of being-there and its mode of existence in the universe” Gutiérrez (2002: 183). In a word, this process involves understanding the openness of all that we come across.
Now then, after having seen the meaning and extension hermeneutics, it is worthwhile asking ourselves the sense hermeneutics has in our contemporary society today. our springboard towards understanding the academic and practical import to our society today lies in the words of Gutiérrez (2002) who propounds that, “understanding is the original way in which the being-there manifests itself the way it is and does; it is the style in which we exist, understand and have always understood”. Hermeneutics, therefore, becomes an ongoing process to attend to ever coming inquisitive search for meaning. It is in this continuum “wonder” that we understand other people’s texts and as well, discover different ways to respond to the diversity of human conditions on the earth’s surface. This is the backbone of any scientific study into understanding our nature, the things that surround us and our universe in general.
We can see, then, that hermeneutics serves us a method to understand ourselves and the universe we inhabit and mostly in the specific areas of interest I discuss below.
Hermeneutics of Inter-cultural Exchange
We live in a world marked with different cultures and cultural idiosyncratic visions and ideologies. This reality makes it challenging in our attempts to live peacefully in the common spaces like cities, scholarly and working environments that exhibit multicultural values. Nevertheless, regardless of cultural upbringing, we are condemned to interact with different persons and peoples from other cultures for reasons that may range from political, religious, economic and educational to technological ones. In this realm, no culture is or should be superior to another to such far as to legitimise the imposition of its style of life over another without a proper inter-cultural exchange or dialogue which, according to Cam (1996: 3), can help us “overcome a blind attachment to our own culturally induced commitment”