LAW214-LAWS805_TBa_45-86.pdf

Conversational interpretation is purposive rather

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Conversational interpretation is purposive rather than causal in some more mechanical way. It does not aim to ex - plain the sounds someone makes the way a biologist explains a frog s croak. It assigns meaning in the light of the motives and purposes and concerns it supposes the speaker to have, and it reports its conclusions as statements about his inten - tion in saying what he did. May we say that all forms of in - terpretation aim at purposive explanation in that way, and that this aim distinguishes interpretation, as a type of ex - planation, from causal explanation more generally? That description does not seem, at first blush, to fit scientific T
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INTERPRETIVE CONCEPTS 51 4 interpretation, and we might feel compelled, if we are at - tracted to the idea that all genuine interpretation is pur - posive, to say that scientific interpretation is not really interpretation at all. The phrase scientific interpretation, we might say, is only a metaphor, the metaphor of data speaking to the scientist in the way one person speaks to another; it pictures the scientist as straining to understand what the data try to tell him. We can dissolve the nietaphor and speak accurately, we might well think, only by elim - inating the idea of purpose from our final description of the scientific process. Is creative interpretation also, then, only a metaphorical case of interpretation? We might say (to use the same meta - phor) that when we speak of interpreting poems or social practices we are imagining that these speak to us, that they mean to tell us something just the way a person might. But we cannot then dissolve that metaphor, as we can in the sci - entific case, by explaining that we really have in mind an or - dinary causal explanation, and that the metaphor of purpose and meaning is only decorative. For the interpreta - tion of SQcial practices and works of art is essentially con - cerned with purposes rather than mere causes. Jbe citizens of courtesy do not aim to find, when they interpret their practice, the various economic or psychological or physiolog- ical determinants of their convergent behavior. Nor does a critic aim at a physiological account of how a poem was written. So we must find some way to replace the metaphor of practices and pictures speaking in their own voices that recognizes the fundamental place of purpose in creative in - terpretation. One solution is very popular. It dissolves the metaphor of poems and pictures speaking to us by insisting that creative interpretation is only a special case of conversational inter - pretation. We listen, not to the works of art themselves as the metaphor suggests, but to their actual, human authors. 'Creative interpretation aims to decipher the authors pur - poses or intentions in writing a particular novel or main-
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52 INTERPRETIVE CONCEPTS taining a particular social tradition, just as we aim in con - versation to grzisp a friend s intentions in speaking as he does.^ I shall defend a different solution: that creative inter - pretation is not
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