Hermeneutics, not Erotetics

After writing the outline I presented in the last post, I was reading Sherrat’s Continental Philosophy of Social Science and had the following thought, which might focus the whole essay: what I like most about Risjord’s approach is that he is trying to provide a methodology that would allow social scientists and philosophers alike to make flexible use of the various sorts of research that we all perform on ourselves and each other — intentional, causal, and otherwise. It struck me near the end of the hermeneutics section of Sherrat’s book that, though this goes against some tenets of the hermeneutic tradition, I see no reason why hermeneutics could not provide just such a methodology. That is to say, in interpreting others’ behavior (and my own), I attempt to make sense of that behavior as a unified whole, synthesizing the various components by moving back and forth from part to whole. Traditionally this approach has confined itself to synthesizing those components that are meaningful to those being interpreted, but that need not be the case. And in practice, of course, contemporary human beings do actually perform just the sort of synthesis I’m talking about, though typically not systematically or even very carefully. That is, in trying to make sense of ourselves and each other, we mix together disparate sorts of analysis and anecdote. For instance, if someone is acting irritable we might explain her behavior by noting that she has been ill, that this is the time of year that her child died, or that the pressures on women in her profession are much greater than those on men, and furthermore that the same behavior from a man in her position would not even be considered an outburst. The “logic of everyday ethnography” can be extraordinarily heterogeneous.

The question is, Can hermeneutics do this work rigorously?

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2 Responses to Hermeneutics, not Erotetics

  1. Obiwanky says:

    Someone should write the book “The Logic of Everyday Ethnography.” Or have they and I missed it. Yes, we use all sorts of things to explain a person’s behavior. But what kind of behavior is explaining behavior?

  2. mrsaturdaypants says:

    I just made the phrase up — glad you liked it. I think it’s fair to say that ethnomethodology studies the logic of everyday ethnography, though I have in mind something a little different.

    Generally speaking, I find philosophers a little too distinterested for my taste in the way people employ explanations, justifications, anecdotes, and other rhetorical and logical devices to make intelligible and normative sense of their world. This might be a blind alley — it may be that close attention to the logic of everyday ethnography would only show how messy our reasoning is (and I do think it’s very messy). But I have some suspicion that looking carefully at the way we actually reason would provide some clue to how we can avoid certain puzzles that appear at the level of philosophical abstraction.

    And now that I say this, I see that I’m just running on a standard late Wittgensteinian impulse here: “ordinary argumentation is alright!” would be the Ludwiggy thing to say here, I guess.

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