History and Theory 30 (3):302-323 (1991)

Those who doubt the objectivity of historical interpretations of the meaning of texts either ignore the quite stringent conventional criteria by which such interpretations are justified, as Jacques Derrida did, or they overlook the cognitive significance of those criteria, as Hans-Georg Gadamer did. Historical interpretations of the meaning of old texts which satisfy five presented criteria are objective both in the sense of being rationally defensible and in the sense of being correct. The five criteria are that the interpretation does not violate any of the semantic and syntactic rules of the language in which it is written; resolves any obscurities of reference and ambiguities of meaning arising from these rules; provides a coherent body of information; performs the first three functions to a much greater degree than any other interpretation which the text warrants; and perhaps convincingly explains away any failure to perform the first three functions. To arrive at an interpretation which satisfies these criteria, an interpreter first studies the literal meaning of the text, according to the rules of its language, and if need be, then examines the literary and the historical contexts in which the text was produced, and finally may even find it necessary to reconstruct the author's intention in writing it. Secondary interpretations of a text are preferred which colligate a large number of facts about the text, and give a fair representation of its meaning as a whole. Numerous examples both illustrate and confirm the theory presented
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DOI 10.2307/2505560
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