SOPhiA 2018

Salzburgiense Concilium Omnibus Philosophis Analyticis

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Programme - Talk

Text Interpretation as a Source of Knowledge
(Epistemology, English)

Readers frequently find themselves wondering what a piece of text means. They seek to find out the meaning of particular words, sentences, and stories. They try to characterize the locutionary, illocutionary, or perlocutionary intentions of a text's author. They aim to find out what argument exactly is propounded by a text, to characterize the genre of a text, to characterize the structure of a text, or to describe implied assumptions of the author (e.g. conversational implicatures). These examples provide us with an ostensive definition of processes called 'text interpretation'. The result of such processes we may call 'interpretive statements', and, when believed, 'interpretive beliefs'.
Interpretative statements are often considered to be non-factual and merely representing one out of many perspectives on some issue. 'Room for interpretation' is, in common parlance, due to absence of known facts, and 'matters of interpretation' are such in part because they are not 'matters of fact'. In contrast, however, some interpretive statements seem to be claims for knowledge, for example: 'Rex' means 'king' in particular context C, and neither 'queen' nor 'strawberry'. Or: 'Anselm assumed a neo-platonic metaphysics in developing his ontological argument for the existence of God'. This warrants further inquiry into the epistemology of text interpretation.
This paper addresses two questions concerning the epistemology of text interpretation. (1) Suppose we want to consider the question whether these kinds of interpretive statements could amount to knowledge; what would an account of interpretational knowledge look like? And (2) can text interpretation be a source of knowledge?
An account of interpretational knowledge can align with a standard analysis of knowledge: S knows p based on the interpretation of text T iff (i) S believes p based on the interpretation of text T, (ii) p is true, and (iii) S belief p based on the interpretation of text T is warranted (with 'warrant' referring to that on which true belief is knowledge). On this approach 'interpretational knowledge' is understood to be knowledge from interpretation, with interpretation as a source of knowledge. But interpretation is not included among the standard knowledge sources, like perception, reasoning or intuition, memory, introspection, and testimony, and even not among the less commonly suggested sources, such as proprioception, reading, aesthetic sense, moral sense, and the sensus divinitatis. Assuming interpretive statements can be objects of knowledge, should we individuate the process of text interpretation as a knowledge source?
I argue that a 'source of knowledge' is something x yielding propositional content (or: a proposition) that, in virtue of being yielded by x, can amount to knowledge, namely when the conditions for a propositional knowledge are met. For the individuation of knowledge sources (the 'something x' in our definition) there only are pragmatically motivated criteria. It seems reasonable not to individuate x as a knowledge source if (I) x does not cover an interesting number of belief and potentially knowledge forming processes, if (II) x is a token of a single type of knowledge source already acknowledged, or if (III) x is reducible to a combination of other, already acknowledged types of sources of knowledge. I argue that interpretation is a source of knowledge because even if it consists in a combination of other, more commonly individuated knowledge sources, it is only a very specific range of combinations of such sources that would account for processes of text interpretation.

Chair: Victoria Lavorerio
Time: 18:20-18:50, 12 September 2018 (Wednesday)
Location: SR 1.004

Wout Bisschop 
(Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, Netherlands)

I obtained BA and MA degrees in both Theology as well as Philosophy, did a non-degree year graduate work in philosophy in the US, and am currently a PhD candidate at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam with a project on the epistemology of text interpretation.

Testability and Meaning deco