Meaning, Intention, And Application: Speech Act Theory In The Hermeneutics Of Francis Watson And Kevin J. Vanhoozer -- By: Scott A. Blue

Journal: Trinity Journal
Volume: TRINJ 23:2 (Fall 2002)
Article: Meaning, Intention, And Application: Speech Act Theory In The Hermeneutics Of Francis Watson And Kevin J. Vanhoozer
Author: Scott A. Blue


Meaning, Intention, And Application: Speech Act Theory In The Hermeneutics Of Francis Watson And Kevin J. Vanhoozer

Scott A. Bluea

I. Introduction

In the 1960s, two men in different academic fields each produced a work with varying degrees of initial acceptance and influence in the area of biblical hermeneutics. E. D. Hirsch Jr., an English professor at the University of Virginia, stirred the world of literary criticism with the 1967 publication of Validity in Interpretation. Although his stated purpose was to provide a means of validating individual interpretations of literary texts, it is clear that his was an attempt to confront New Criticism by arguing for the necessity of the author’s intention in any interpretive endeavor.1 Hirsch calls the notion that “a text means what its author meant,” a “sensible belief.”2 He further claims that when the author is banished from the interpretative process, subjectivity and relativism become prevalent and “no adequate principle [exists] for judging the validity of an interpretation.”3 Again, to remove the author as the determinant of meaning is “to reject the only compelling normative principle that [can] lend validity to an interpretation.”4 He therefore calls for the resurrection of the author’s meaning “on the fact that it is the only kind of interpretation with a determinate object, and thus the only

kind that can lay claim to validity in any straightforward and practical sense of the term.”5

Perhaps the most controversial aspect of Hirsch’s early work is his insistence upon a sharp distinction between meaning and significance. He claims that the failure to understand the difference between them “has been the source of enormous confusion in hermeneutic theory.”6 Meaning and significance are distinct items in the process of interpretation:

Meaning is that which is represented by a text; it is what the author meant by his use of a particular sign sequence; it is what the signs represent. Significance, on the other hand, names a relationship between that meaning and a person, or a conception, or a situation or indeed anything imaginable.7

Meaning and significance, therefore, represent a d...

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