Conversational but constructive interpretation of

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conversational but constructive. Interpretation of works of art and social practices, I shall argue, is indeed essentially concerned with purpose not cause. But the pur - poses in play are not (fundamentally) those of some author but of the interpreter. Roughly, constructive interpretation is a matter of imposing purpose on an object or practice in order to make of it the best possible example of the form or genre to which it is taken to belong. It does not follow, even from that rough account, that an interpreter can make of a practice or work of art anything he would have wanted it to be, that a citizen of courtesy who is enthralled by equality, for example, can in good faith claim that courtesy actually requires the sharing of wealth. For the history or shape of a practice or object constrains the available interpretations of it, though the character of that constraint needs careful ac - counting, as we shall see. Creative interpretation, on the constructive view, is a matter of interaction between purpose and object. A participant interpreting a social practice, according to that view, proposes value for the practice by describing some scheme of interests or goals or principles the practice can be taken to serve or express or exemplify. Very often, perhaps even typically, the raw behavioral data of the practice what people do in what circumstances— ^will underdetermine the ascription of value: those data will be consistent, that is, with different and competing ascriptions. One person might see in the practices of courtesy a device for ensuring that re - spect is paid to those who merit it because of social rank or other status. Another might see, equally vividly, a device for making social exchange more conventional and therefore less indica tive of different ial ju dgments of respe^ct._df the raw data do not discriminate between these competing interpre - tations, each interpreter s choice must reflect his view of which interpretation proposes the most value for the prac -
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INTERPRETIVE CONCEPTS 53 tice— ^which one shows it in the better light, all things con - sidered. I offer this constructive account as an analysis of creative interpretation only. But we should notice in passing how the constructive account might be elaborated to fit the other two contexts of interpretation I mentioned, and thus show a deep ^ connection among all forms of interpretation. Undj^stand- ing another person s conversation requires using devices and presumptions, like the so-called principle of charity, that have the effect in normal circumstances of making of what he says the best performance of communication it can be.^ And the interpretation of data in science makes heavy use of standards of theory construction like simplicity and elegance and verifiability that reflect contestable and changing as - sumptions about paradigms of explanation, that is, about what features make one form of explanation superior to an - other.^ The constructive account of creative interpretation, therefore, could perhaps provide a more
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