HERMENEUTICS - Theory of the Interpretation of Textual Meaning

The art of interpretation of literary texts is as old as the Greeks. It was taught in connection with the study of the epics of Homer, while in later European culture, interpretation in the late Reformation centered on the Bible. Regarding the Bible as containing revealed truths, the varying interpretations of it gave rise to the attempt to develop a theory of interpretation to show how it should be interpreted as a whole. The various parts of the Bible that seem to conflict with one another are to be shown consistent in relation to the whole. Whether the Bible does express a meaningful whole, or whether it consists in separate historical writings that conflict in meaning with one another was not made an issue its unity was assumed.

P. Schleiermacher (1768-1834) developed a general theory of valid interpretation of any text in which he put forward 44 'canons' or principles a valid interpretation must fulfil.
The first two 'canons' are historically the more important. They are:
1. All that needs fuller articulation in any text may only be determined in reference to the field of language shared by the original author with his public.
2. The meaning of each word in a given passage must be determined in reference to the context.)

W. Dilthey (1833-1911), the German philosopher, developed a new interpretation of society and culture and the means of studying these, especially their influence on the history of intellectual development. Dilthey's 'historicism' was the attempt to explain the relation between any era's ideas (including meaningful texts) and the social and psychological circumstances in which they arose. He assumed that the meaning of any text is determined by the lived experience in which it arose and that the objective interpreter should re-construct this meaning by 'reliving' - as far as possible - from the original author's point of view. This assumes that a historical text objectively 'contains' its own meaning and that it is thus not influenced by, or should not be influenced by, the interpreter's own ideas. An important distinction made by Dilthey was that between understanding (Verstehen) and explanation (Erklärung).

Understanding is the process whereby the meaning of a text or a human action is grasped intuitively by empathy with the historical author's field of lived experience.

Explanation is the process whereby a meaning is demonstrated independently of the particular experience of any individual interpreter, such as in natural scientific theory. Explanation is the means whereby we make natural processes intelligible, through causal scientific descriptions.

Understanding and explanation are not the same, for Dilthey. The method of the human sciences (history, social science, psychology etc.) he held must be understanding, while explanation was suited to the natural sciences (i.e. study of inanimate and animate nature excluding specifically human nature).

Some aspects of meaning

So as to define hermeneutical theory further, a distinction between various aspects or types of meaning is required. On the basis of established insights in hermeneutics from Dilthey onwards, some main aspects can be defined:-

Linguistic meaning is that which is demonstrable from the rules of usage of any language. This is the meaning commonly derived from the signs and symbols of any language as established by usage, linguistic meaning is the subject of linguistics and of the study of grammar, syntax etc. A special branch of research into linguistic meaning, for example, is etymology or the study of facts relating to the formation of meaning of a word, especially its historical origin.

Linguistic meaning is what characterises language (Fr. langue, Ger. Sprache). Language is a system of forms and meanings following their own laws, whatever the speaker's skill in using them, and is distinguished from discourse (Fr. parole, Ger. Rede), which is actual speech or the employment of a language by some individual. In discourse one does not necessarily always follow the grammatical or other laws governing a language, for one uses the language to convey meaning within the context of one's immediate situation, often in new ways. It is to discourse that Wittgenstein is doubtless referring when pointing out that words and expressions do not so much have meanings as uses. The manner of use determines the actual meaning, rather than the 'standard' meaning fully determining the possible usages.

Intuited meaning is what one grasps from the use of language in discourse. Intuited meaning is therefore the significance any individual finds in an utterance or a text in respect of one's own experience and the lived world generally, which includes shared experiences (i.e. such as those which can be communicated in speech or writing). Intuited meaning may be only subjective, when one finds one's own peculiar meaning in another's words or writings. It may also be shared, which is to say inter-subjective meaning, such as when author and interpreter understand a text in the same way. That the meaning intuited is correct - the same as was intended by the originator - is often difficult to establish conclusively. Where entire texts are involved, such as Shakespeare's The Tempest, it is easy to see how different interpreters grasp different overall meanings in the play and hard to tell which would have been in accordance with Shakespeare's intentions because understanding of such a work is usually intimately tied up with one's view of the world or reality at large. So therefore intuited meaning is said to depend upon grasping the relations of any utterance or sentence within a fuller context, as part within a whole. Intuited meaning is therefore at what understanding (Verstehen) aims, as distinguished from causal explanation (Erklärung). By contrast, linguistic meaning is not the desired end-product when interpreting a text as a relation between its parts and the whole intent, only a means to grasping the intuited meaning. We see that there is a difference between the linguistic meaning of language and the intuited meaning of discourse, yet the dividing line between these is often difficult to draw in practice. The purpose of the distinction is to aid - discussion of the Interpretation of texts in the following.

A second pair of terms require definition to further the discussion of the difference in principle between the human and the natural sciences. The terms 'intentional meaning' and 'extensional meaning' are used in varying ways in logic, hermeneutics and philosophy, so the forthcoming definitions are developed here for the present overall purpose.

Intentional meaning arises only in or through human actions, not in natural occurrences. The essential point is that an act is intended, not unintentional, An intended act is meaningful in itself, whether it is a symbolic act (such as speaking, writing etc.) or non-symbolic (other forms of behaviour that serve to express its agent's purpose or aim). Accidental movements, sounds or bodily reactions are unintended behaviour and have no intentional meaning. In an act using symbols - say, stating something - it is the assertion of the originator that constitutes the intentional meaning of the act. A text is written to communicate the meaning intended.

Hermeneutics as the interpretation of textual meaning attempts to provide principles for elucidating the intended meaning of a text. By contrast, philosophical hermeneutics attempts to elucidate the pre-conditions or circumstances under which meaning arises altogether. This brings us to our second term:-

Extensional meaning is any other significance attached to any event (or act) than the meaning intended by the conscious agent.

Extensional meaning can be derived from any event whatsoever, including human behaviour, both unintentional and intended. It is here termed extensional because it is, in a sense, external to the intentional meaning of an act, and thus it depends upon regarding reality as extension (i.e. the primary attribute of matter that occupies space-time). The natural sciences, all of which study material phenomena, derive only extensional meanings. Phenomena are interpreted from the viewpoint of the external agent, the outside observer. A theory with extensional meaning only if a scientific explanation (Erklärung), not a case of understanding (Verstehen), because it takes no account of whatever subjective meaning is expressed in an act or social event. One does not put oneself 'in the shoes of subject being studied', but remains in one's own viewpoint so as to regard the act or event 'objectively' (in the meaning of 'objective' as 'impartial, impersonal, regarding events as objective occurrences and not as subjective acts with motives, reasons and purposes).

When observing human behaviour, an extensional theory employs a frame of reference that differs from that of the agent being studied. For example, a social economic theory that attempts to explain changing behaviour pattern on the basis of economic factors such as wages, prices, inflation, availability of goods, their manner of distribution through various social strata and so on... is an extensional theory because it takes no account of the motives, tastes or reasons that those who are changing their behaviour patterns give themselves. As soon as one interviews those who change their behaviour patterns and includes this among the data, the theory becomes partly dependent upon intentional meaning. If it nonetheless sets out to explain these intentions as attitudes that are caused by factors external to those stated by the agents being studied, it becomes exclusively extensional again. Scientific generalisations about human behaviour that rely on any causal model (whether single cause or multiple cause) are always extensional.

The Interpretation of Whole Texts

Texts contain symbols which convey meaning. Just as a single term can express different concepts and just as a single expression may convey different assertions, a whole text may convey different orders of meaning. Hot all texts are written to convey only one order of precise meaning. A literary or a religious text, for example, can purposively convey two or more different orders of meaning at once. World-famous works that do so include the Vedas, the Kabala, the Bible, the epics of Homer and the plays of Dante, Shakespeare and Goethe. Folk tales and traditional poetry are often rich in meaning, using so-called 'archetypal' symbols, or terms which at once can convey a variety of levels of meaning besides the ordinary sense. Many philosophical texts, particularly where ontological and metaphysical subjects are discussed, tend to convey more than one order of meaning in the same text. The dialogues of Plato, the works of Spinoza, Hegel or Heidegger and the writings of Ludwig Wittgenstein all exhibit this multiplicity of meaning.

With such examples in mind, the following can be asserted of the task of hermeneutics:-
A comprehensive understanding of any whole text does not only require making some sort of coherent sense of it as a whole, but also reconstructing the multiple orders of meaning it can express.

Betti's Hermeneutical Theory

A systematic attempt to state the principles necessary to reaching a comprehensive understanding of a whole text or series of texts is provided by the work of Emilio Betti (pub. from 1949 until 1968). Betti's theory of the interpretation of texts gives a good introduction to hermeneutics. However, as will later be shown, Betti's theory is incomplete and fails to deal satisfactorily with problems arising from the historical, cultural and social background of the interpreter.

Betti's theory sets out to clarify the assumptions and principles of interpretation of 'objectified meanings', which are the manifestations of mind in the form of symbolic expressions in general. For Betti, 'meaning' is fundamentally the act of recognition of value or importance in something. When one expresses meaning, it becomes objectified in that it receives expression in some material medium (eg. on paper as words or other ciphers, symbols or on magnetic tape as speech etc.). Betti insists:-

"Interpretation is only possible in respect of meaningful forms. 'Form' is understood here in the broad sense as homogenous structure in which a number of perceptible elements are related to one another and which is suitable for preserving the character of the mind which created it or ... which is embodied in it."

Further: "Interpreting... is to bring something to the understanding. To comprehend the unity of the process of interpretation we must refer to the elementary phenomenon of understanding as it is actualised through the medium of language."

Also: "... speech produced by our fellow men can not be regarded as a ready-made physical object simply to be received by us. Instead it is the material source of a stimulus directed at our insight to re-translate what has been perceived and to reconstrue its meaning from within." (From Teoria Generale della Interpretazione 2 vols. Betti 1955)

The main principles of Betti's theory are the four 'canons', to be followed in interpreting texts. The first two canons (A and B) concern the object (text) being interpreted, while the remaining two (C and D) pertain to the subject who is interpreting.

Canon A: Autonomy of the Object

Meaningful forms "have to be understood with reference to that other mind that has been objectified in them, not in relation to any meaning the form itself may acquire if abstracted from the representational function it had for that mind or thought".

In other words, it is what here has been termed the 'intentional meaning' that the interpreter should reconstrue, not any other possible meanings that could be applied to the text from another viewpoint, which thereby would introduce 'extensional' meanings (meanings not inherent in the author's expressed intention). Betti states this again as follows:-
"... meaningful forms have to be regarded as autonomous and to be understood in accordance with their own logic of development, their intended connection" and further:-
"... they should be judged in relation to the standards immanent in the original intention."

Canon B: Coherence of Meaning

"The relation between elements and the whole they constitute allows for the mutual illumination and clarification of meaningful forms in the relation between the whole and its parts, and vice-versa."

This principle requires one to assume that there is an overall unitary meaning in the whole text, one which it was the author's intention to convey. It is surely a useful principle to guide one's interpretative efforts, yet it may nevertheless not be possible to discover an overall unitary meaning, for reasons later to be considered. The principle requires that all the parts of a text - whether sentences, paragraphs or chapters etc. - should be accounted for in relation to the whole text, which is also to require that they be mutually consistent. Thus, the meaning of the whole text is derived from the overall inter-relationships of the parts.
This process has been called 'the fruitful circle of understanding'. The parts are progressively illumined by one's widening comprehension of the whole, and vice-versa. It may also be thought of as a widening l. circle, or as a spiral of understanding. The progress of interpretative understanding is a 'dialectical' process, whereby thought moves between part and whole, which are mutually dependent. The meaning of a part, such as a sentence, affects the meaning of the whole, such as a complete work, and vice-versa.
(Note: The above passages in quotes are adapted from translations of E. Betti's Teoria Generale della Interpretazione - 2 vols. 1955)

Canon C: Actuality of Understanding

"The interpreter's task is to retrace and reconstruct the creative process within himself, to transpose the extraneous thought of others, a past or remembered event, into the actuality of his own life, in other words, to adapt and integrate it into his own intellectual horizon within the framework of his own experiences..."

The assumption here is that one may interpret a test so as to preserve the original author's intention while 'actualising' it in a new or contemporary form. This amounts to 'up-dating' the text by re-expressing it in terms of one's present understanding of the contemporary world. To use a metaphor: one recants the old wine into a new bottle. This is possible, according to Betti, "by means of a kind of metamorphosis on the basis of the same sort of synthesis which allowed the recognition and reconstruction of that thought". Whether this assumption is valid or not will be discussed later.

Canon D: Adequacy of Meaning in Understanding

"The interpreter should strive to bring his own living actuality into the closest agreement with the stimuli he receives from the object so that they resonate in harmony."

In short, the interpreter must find within himself an affinity with the original author, if understanding is to be authentic. This affinity is the basis of any successful understanding and should be apparent in the interpretation.

This canon requires that one read a text exclusively from the perspective of the author. This involves ridding oneself of personal prejudices so that one remains 'open-minded' to what the author has to convey. The elimination of prejudices can be exemplified by the honest attempt to put aside resentments for ideas or viewpoints that differ from one's own or from those commonly accepted, by critically reviewing one's preconceived intellectual or emotional attitudes and by trying to regard the author's assertions from various viewpoints, rather than in terms of good or bad, black and white.

Objectivity in the interpretation of texts

Betti does not claim that objective interpretation of texts is possible, certainly not in the same sense that the natural sciences can be said to reach objective results. The method is not therefore one that leads only to subjective results, because interpretations that follow the four canons may be examined critically by other interpreters, the result being either that the interpretation's correctness is confirmed or rejected. If confirmed, the results are inter-subjectively verified. Betti accepts that final and absolute knowledge in the historical sciences such as hermeneutics is unattainable. Yet, even though an interpretation can never be perfected and completed for all times and peoples, this does not mean that one is able to understand the original meaning that was 'objectified' once and for all in the author's text, whatever significance this meaning may have for different eras and peoples. Thus far, a relative objectivity is attainable.

Critical Evaluation of Betti's Hermeneutics

As a contribution to clarifying important assumptions necessary to interpretation of texts and the principles required for understanding texts' original meaning. Betti's work is generally regarded as relevant. However, it has been shown to have limitations as a general theory of understanding. Betti regards understanding (Verstehen) only as being a method of interpreting the original author's intention. The chief problem with this is, as Paul Ricoeur has pointed out, that "with written discourse, the author's intention and the meaning of a text cease to coincide... the text's career escapes the finite horizon lived by the author." (Ricoeur 1971, p. 532). This is to say that a text from the past can convey information or meaning that it was not the author's intention to express. There are a number of ways in which this occurs, thereby making Betti's canons superfluous under certain conditions, as the following points should clarify:-

1. The language usage in a text may sometimes give rise to linguistically-valid interpretations that were not intended by the author.

Language, with its widely-generalising capacity and its potential ambiguities and inclarities, makes possible likely interpretations which were not intended by, nor happened to occur to the author. One cannot therefore always discover the original intention, because of the lack of sufficient precision of the text. The limitations of language hinder the author in conveying his or her 'vision' adequately. Both Wittgenstein and Heidegger were perhaps chiefly concerned with this problem. Both set out to show how there are limits to what can be expressed in discourse or written language. When the author attempts to surpass these limits, as so often is the case, the resultant text does not make clear the intention (or vision) of the author. This can give rise to interpretations other than the author would recognise, but which can be demonstrated as being founded in the text itself.

2. The assumption that a text expresses only the intended meaning of the author does not always hold true.

It is possible for a text to convey more about the author, his situation or the era in which he lived, than the author awarely meant to express. It is widely known how psycho-analytical interpretations of behaviour (including language behaviour) are sometimes quite revealing of so-called 'unconscious' or subconscious meanings which are not apparent to the speaker at the time. Likewise, a text can convey information to an outside observer about circumstances that the author has not thought about. For example, a student of social history or political economy may find revealing facts about the society in which the text was written - say, about underlying social and political conflicts of the time, of which the author has not been reflectively aware, Jean-Paul Sartre's social-historical studies of the literary works of Gustave Flaubert and of Jean Genet exemplify the above points.

3. That an author has expressed an unitary and coherent meaning can frequently be a mistaken assumption.

The author's understanding of his or her own main intentions may not have been clear and constant throughout the process of writing a long text. The original intention or overall aim may have been partly diverted or forgotten, or otherwise become distorted during the creative act. Such is a very commonly stated reason by writers who are not perfectly satisfied with their product) that they feel it fails to convey with sufficient clarity and balance the overall complexity of meanings that they wished to put into written form. Linguistic, semantical, logical or structural difficulties with which an author almost invariably must deal in working out his main intention can have diverted or altered it underway, giving rise to discrepancies of viewpoint or implicit contradictions. The result must be a lack of coherence and unitary meaning.

Even in major literary works, authors tend to have started from some interesting situation or problem complex and have let the plot develop from there onwards, not having any overall intention or plan. Only when the end is reached does the author review the work as a whole, often then seeing properly for the first time the variety of interpretations that are possible. As those who read interviews with authors will know, this is common with many major literary works, and it is often regarded as an advantage that no single interpretation is intended.

Probably all genuinely creative thinking, whether in philosophy, literature or the historical sciences, draws the author into his or her subject in an investigative manner so that a position adopted at the outset leads to unexpected discoveries, shifts of interest and emphasis as to what is most important etc., so one is dealing with a search for depth of meaning and new forms that can express it rather than with the expression of a pre-conceived meaning already fully-determined in the author's mind from the outset. Consequently, the resultant text may not always bear a wholly-consistent and unitary meaning.

Where a text purposely expresses different orders of meaning at once, such as in great works of literature, metaphysics and religion, one can seldom be certain that one has grasped the intended meanings of the originator, because of the richness of insights embodied in the text. When asked to tell the meaning of Faust, Goethe's famous reply was to the effect that, if he could have answered that question he would not have written Faust, This illustrates how literary creations that express a multiplicity of meaning and employ a wide range of archetypal symbols cannot be interpreted explicitly without losing the import of the work itself. Explanatory interpretation can help illumine the work for others but cannot replace it or successfully paraphrase it as a whole.

On the Application of Betti's Canons

After the above criticisms, one may ask to what extent Betti's hermeneutics is useful. Firstly, each of the four canons does provide a valid guideline at least for the initial interpretation of any text. It is only when these no longer prove helpful in dealing with encountered difficulties that one must look beyond them. Until that point is reached, it is necessary to work on the assumption that a coherent and unitary meaning nay be discovered and that this can primarily be found from adopting the author's perspective. In order to carry this out as successfully as possible it is further necessary to subject one's own preconceptions to critical evaluation and to remain open towards learning and intuiting the author's viewpoint as wholly as possible.

The four canons do not, however, provide any methodical technique for analysing or synthesising the meaning of a text as such. For this one must rely upon personal experience and intuition of meaning, supplemented by various linguistic, semantical and logical types of analysis, such as those provided in the first two parts of this book. Creative or imaginative 'intuition' is important. Such intuition cannot easily be defined, yet it is an essential in practically all types of understanding and tends to vary with individuals, their experience, knowledge and imagination.

Probably the main benefit of Betti's hermeneutics, therefore, is that it safeguards against arbitrary, partial and speculative interpretations without proper basis on the actual text concerned.

The chief lack in Betti's theory is that it confines all interpretive understanding to the author's intentional meaning, thus limiting the interpreter to reconstruction of original meaning. The interpreter's individual understanding necessarily involves more than reconstruction, for new meaning is created in the process too. This insight opens for the introduction of extensional meanings into the interpretive process.

In this case one departs from Betti's assumptions and the canons in favour of other methods. A wider view of the text may require research into factors external to the text. This can occur when one meets otherwise unsolvable difficulties in respecting the autonomy of the text (perhaps due to printing or editing errors etc.) in finding coherence of meaning between the whole and the parts (presuming exhaustive attempts have been made). Discrepancies within a text - or incompatibility between different and equally well-founded interpretations of it -will sometimes lead to a situation where competent interpreters cannot reach one acceptable version or interpretation. In such cases the only recourse in deciding the issue will be to external sources... other sources of information than the text itself. This can in principle include the introduction of causal and functional types of explanation such as can occur in the psychological and social sciences. Theories that might serve to exemplify this sort of explanation are the Freudian psychoanalytical theory concerning repression, sublimation, resistance and transference etc., the Marxian or neo-Marxian theories of ideology, such as in so-called 'critical theory' as introduced by the Frankfurt school (Horchheimer, Marcuse etc.), the sociological 'functionalist' theories, such as that of Robert K. Merton - which could in principle show what certain views are held or expressed in text on the basis of the requirements of a social system for its self-maintenance.

Intentional and Extensional Frames of Reference in Interpretation

It has already been indicated that a comprehensive understanding of and whole text (and this applies too to any series of texts) requires reconstructing the multiple orders of meaning it can express '.

The meanings a text can be said to express will be either intentional or extensional, corresponding respectively to 'the meaning the author(s) wished to express by it' and 'the meaning derived from it by interpreters (recipients), where this diverges from the intentional meaning'.

To confuse these two types of meaning is to commit what is widely known as the 'intentional fallacy'. This occurs, for example, where one assumes that meanings that appear to be inherent in a text and thus can reasonably be interpreted from its objective language expressions were not in fact intended by the author. The contrary occurs where one attributes meanings to an author which have arisen only from extensional interpretations made by others than the author. The intentional fallacy is frequently demonstrated in interpretations of the New Testament, according to those who criticise Catholic doctrinal interpretations. In this case the issue is additionally complicated by the fact that Jesus -whose intentions it is the purpose of the Gospels to convey - did not write the Gospels. (Note: The Intentional Fallacy (1946) by Wimsatt and Beardsley). Thus, one may suspect that meanings have been attributed both to the authors of the Gospels and to Jesus that were not intentional but represented orthodox theories or 'extensional' meanings. This appears even more likely when account is taken of the by now well-documented and established alternative Gospels that were suppressed by the Church; the so-called Gnostic Gospels (The Nag Hammadi Library ed. J. Robinson - publ. E.J. Brill, Netherlands. Note: The Gnostic Gospel of Thomas attributed to Jesus the doctrine that all humans are divine and can discover this by self-knowledge "For whoever has not known himself has known nothing, but whoever has known himself has simultaneously achieved knowledge about the depth of all things". This is heretical to Catholic doctrine). Insofar as Catholic doctrine interprets the words of Jesus as reported in ways which do not prove consistent with the series of original texts available (including the Nag Hammadi finds), the intentional fallacy is committed (i.e. the confusion of Jesus' intentions with those meanings imposed on the texts as a whole through early Church orthodoxy and the powers of bishops).

In general, four types of circumstance may be given to account for why an interpretation can diverge from the intentional meaning of the authors:-

1) The interpreter's fore-conceptions differ from the conception of the author

By 'fore-conceptions' is meant those ideas with which an interpreter approaches the understanding of a text (or, for that matter, of any object of study whatever). The term 'preconceptions' is almost synonymous with fore-conception, except that the prejudicial aspect must be subtracted from preconception. Fore-conceptions are not necessarily prejudicial, they are simply the conceptual or intellectual means that an interpreter possesses in virtue of previous knowledge and life experience. This may differ from the conceptions, assumptions and background knowledge available to the original author, either due to individual difference of personality or to factors of a more general sort, such as the social environments of the two, the differing cultural or societal backgrounds that may apply. Insofar as these differ radically in ways which affect the understanding process, different interpretations of a text can arise.

2) The text in no longer appropriate to the communication situation for efficient communication to a contemporary public

The principle of appropriateness is not satisfied due to obscurity of the terms and expressions used, antiquated phrases and grammar etc. Since every text assumes that some things can be left unsaid and yet be understood 'between the lines', as the saying goes, it relies on unwritten conventions. Such conventions change from culture to culture and era to era, such that a text that is appropriate in one time and place for one sort of recipient will not always be so for others. Various facts or insights, information about currently well-known states of affairs or persons etc. are frequently assumed in any but the most precise and systematic text. Such references and allusions may never occur to the contemporary interpreter of today, say, when trying to understand the writings of Dante or the classics of distant cultures. This will naturally give rise to extensional meaning in the interpretations because the original sense is just not fully appreciated.

3) The text may be interpreted for a specific purpose which introduces a normative framework differing from that in which the original was conceived

For example, a classroom interpretation of the first act of Hamlet will differ from that of a stage instructor's interpretation, at least in some important respects. The purposes of interpretation differ, so the interpretations will differ in varying emphasis on the same points, neglect of some potential meanings, excessive concentration on others. The classroom interpretation will probably be more etymologically, grammatically and linguistically oriented. That of the instructor will probably be more concerned with temporal and spatial relations between the characters on stage, elocutionary aspects for projection of the meaning of a replique, character study and so forth.

4) The interpretation of the text may rely largely or partially upon. causal or functional explanations in terms of theories unlikely to have been held therein by the author

Three general areas of theory that may be applicable have already been mentioned: psychoanalytic theory, the analysis of ideologies from the viewpoint of historical materialism and functional theory in sociology. These examples, of course, are far from exhausting the varieties of theory available in the social and historical sciences, yet they indicate three important areas from which the products of human creativity - including written texts along with all other sorts of artifact - can be interpreted or causally explained. Causal explanations can be forwarded in the biographical and sociological approaches to literary products, for example as regards the author's psychic condition or physically-influencing ailments at the time of writing or the effect of an author's familial, professional or other group affiliations upon the subject matter of the texts and so on.

Extensional meanings are hypothetical interpretations which require elucidation and testing in the manner of all scientific inductions. They may supplement interpretations of the intention meaning, or they may differ from them - even conflict with them. In the latter case, the strength of the evidence must be particularly good. Such an instance is possible, such as where a text was purposely written to deceive or to mislead for propaganda purposes. Thus, many of the astrological columns published in Britain and the U.S.A. during the 2'nd World War were direct falsifications to mislead the enemy, since Hitler believed in astrology and read sources in the English language. Many instances of falsification, both of artifacts and texts, are recorded historically. Scientific research - particularly the stringent testing of testimony and material evidence - can sometimes establish the authenticity at a text (or otherwise) where normal channels fail.

Paul Ricoeur's point quoted earlier is partially elucidated by the proceeding, namely that the author's intention and the meaning of a text cease to coincide and the text's career escapes the finite horizon lived by the author. Interpretations of Plato's dialogues can illustrate this point once more. Some philosophers find in Plato the origin of the concept of 'pure theory' and of scientific generalisation as founded on universal knowledge with mathematics as a model of rational clarity and axiomatic method. This interpretation surpasses the 'finite horizons' or the frame of reference of Plato in that science had not become a distinct set of disciplines in some way principally different, to our ethical and religious beliefs.