• Bacchus
    11
    Very often, one hears about a philosopher's work being "misused" by a person or a political movement, or one is told what a thinker really meant when he said something. One sees this a lot with Nietzsche, especially, people always seem to invoke his political views or tell others "what he really meant" when he said that God is dead, and I feel compelled to ask, does it really matter what he meant to say or how he felt about something?

    I say no, it doesn't matter what the philosopher intended to say or how he felt about something, what matters is what meaning is derived from his work by the consumer. In literary studies there is this idea called the Death of Author, which essentially says that the intent of the author, and the context in which he wrote isn't relevant to interpreting his work, that whoever wrote a text isn't an author as much as he is a scribe, who came into existence with the text, does not exist outside of writing the text, and ceases to exist with the completion of the text and it's subsequent dissemination — who and what he is doesn't matter, he was nothing more than a vehicle for the transcription of the text, which should be interpreted in isolation, as if we don't know who wrote it or anything about him.

    I've always been fond of this, because it releases us from the idea that the only correct meaning that a text has is the intended meaning of the author, and all other meanings derived are incorrect. The easiest example of the literary utility of the Death of the Author is in the interpretation of the book Fahrenheit 451; when I read the book, I interpreted it as a clear parable against censorship, and that seems to be the most common reading. However, the author, Ray Bradbury, would get angry and walk out of interviews when that interpretation was brought up, he said that the book was about the dangers of television. Does that mean that everyone who interpreted it as I did was wrong? No, it means that we derived a different meaning from the text than Ray Bradbury did, and either interpretation is equally right and equally wrong, the meaning that one person derives from a text is no more or less than the meaning another derives from a text, if that other was the vehicle for the dissemination of that text.



    Back to philosophy, do you think that the intent of the philosopher matters? Is the meaning that one derives from a work of philosophy invalid if it differs from the meaning that the man who wrote that work derived from it?
  • Mitchell
    133
    Is the meaning that one derives from a work of philosophy invalid if it differs from the meaning that the man who wrote that work derived from it?Bacchus

    Depends on whether you can give an argument about why the author is mistaken about the meaning of what he wrote.
  • Bacchus
    11
    @Mitchell


    I don't think that it's a matter of the author being mistaken or not, the meaning that he derives from a text is certainly right for him, and the meaning that I derive from a text is certainly right for me. My problem is considering his interpretation, the meaning that he derives from the text, as the authoritatively correct interpretation, as the "real" meaning, to the the exclusion of all other intepretations and meanings derived.

    You seem to be putting this in binary terms, someone is authoritatively right and someone is authoritatively wrong. Whereas I'm saying that nobody is authoritatively right or wrong, his interpretation might be right to and for him, but that doesn't mean that my interpretation, or your interpretation is not just as right to and for me.
  • Mitchell
    133
    that doesn't mean that my interpretation, or your interpretation is not just as right to and for me.Bacchus

    No, but some interpretations are better than others. For example, someone, on a FB philosophy group, claimed that Nietzsche believed in God, but was critical of the churches. There are some interpretations that are mis-interpretations.
  • Bacchus
    11
    @Mitchell

    That's not an interpretation of his work, that's a statement about the man himself. It seems to me that you're having difficulty separating a person them-self, from a person's work — frankly, that's baffling to me, you refer to yourself as a "retired" philosophy professor in your bio but you seem unfamiliar with some very basic concepts. Curious.

    I'm not talking about the man, I'm separating the man from the work when talking about the work. For instance, I've heard people say things like "this is what Nietzsche really meant when he said that 'God is Dead'" and what I'm saying is that it doesn't really matter what he intended to say, what he meant when he wrote 'God is Dead,' what matters is how you and I interpret 'God is Dead.' The meaning that he derived from those words is just that, the meaning that he derived, it is not the authoritative meaning, or of any more value than the meaning derived by others.
  • T Clark
    4.2k
    I say no, it doesn't matter what the philosopher intended to say or how he felt about something, what matters is what meaning is derived from his work by the consumer.Bacchus

    Here's an example that drove me crazy. Verse 48 of the Tao Te Ching (Stephen Mitchell) says

    In pursuit of knowledge,
    every day something is added.
    In the practice of the Tao,
    every day something is dropped.
    Less and less do you need to force things,
    until finally you arrive at non-action.
    When nothing is done,
    nothing is left undone.


    I was looking at a daily inspirational calendar. The quote for the day was In pursuit of knowledge,
    every day something is added.
    That partial quote made exactly the opposite point than Lao Tzu did.

    So, yes, people's work can be misused, misunderstood.

    On the other hand, the rule I've always understood is that the art speaks for itself. I guess the truth is somewhere in between.
  • Mitchell
    133
    That's not an interpretation of his work, that's a statement about the man himself. It seems to me that you're having difficulty separating a person them-self, from a person's workBacchus

    No, it was offered by the student as an interpretation of Nietzsche's "Death of God" speech in The Gay Science.
  • Mitchell
    133

    Do you not agree that there can be MIS-interpretations of a thinker's work? If not, why not? If so, what makes an interpretation mistaken?
  • Mitchell
    133
    The best example that I know of on this issue is the question whether the fact that Heidegger was a Nazi (for a time) permanently "taints" his work. There is quite the disagreement in the philosophical community about this.
  • Bacchus
    11
    @Mitchell

    Well, the way that you worded it, made it seem like a statement about Nietzsche the man. However, even though Nietzsche the man was anti-religious and an atheist, that doesn't preclude a reading of Nietzschean philosophy that isn't incompatible with a belief in God or Gods. His intent was to speak against religion, but I've always interpreted his work as more anti-Christian than anti-religion, that's not wrong or right, it's just what it says to me.


    I don't think that there as such a thing as a misinterpretation of a philosophy, a work of literature, a song, a painting etc. For there to be misinterpretations, interpretations that are wrong, there has to be an authoritatively correct interpretation, and usually that is considered synonymous with the interpretation that the author has of his work. This is wrong, it arbitrarily makes the author's feelings about a work the "right" feelings to have, when his feelings are no more right or wrong than anyone else reading the text. It's fallacious to ascribe an objective meaning to works of this nature anyway, but it's even more fallacious to say that not only is there an objective meaning, it's whatever the author says it is.


    On Heidegger, it doesn't whether he was or wasn't a National Socialist, it doesn't matter if he ate live children for breakfast. What matters is the work, which should be viewed in isolation from him and everything that he did or was. The work is a separate entity that is only connected to him on the basis that the words were put on the page by a pen in his hand. Everything about him, from who and what he was, to what he intended to say, is in my view wholly irrelevant to the words on the page, which say whatever you or I or anyone else perceive and interpret them to be saying.


    We shouldn't be slaves to the meanings ascribed to things by others, we should decide and create our own meanings for things, based on what we feel and perceive.
  • Bacchus
    11
    @T Clark

    Your point seems to rest on the idea that the intention of the author is the authoritative meaning, and to that I ask — why? Why is what Lao Tzu intended to say any more correct than what I perceive it to say? It seems incredibly arbitrary to say that the author's feelings about the work are the only correct feelings to have about the work?


    Too much authority is given to authors, there is this idea that they own the words and truly know what they mean, but that isn't true. They don't own the words, theirs just happens to be the hand that puts the words to paper. What they think the words mean, means no more than what you or I or anyone else think that they do.
  • Cavacava
    2.4k
    The authorial intent is the meaning found in the work, it exists separate from the author as soon the work is published.

    The meaning of a text is what is in it, which is what is available for all to interpert. That does not mean that the author can't clarity what he meant, it means that any such clarification is extraneous to the text, that it is one interpretation among other interpretations.

    Sure some interpretations can be better, more useful, more insightfull or more educated but they are all in response to the same text.
  • T Clark
    4.2k
    Your point seems to rest on the idea that the intention of the author is the authoritative meaning, and to that I ask — why? Why is what Lao Tzu intended to say any more correct than what I perceive it to say? It seems incredibly arbitrary to say that the author's feelings about the work are the only correct feelings to have about the work?


    Too much authority is given to authors, there is this idea that they own the words and truly know what they mean, but that isn't true. They don't own the words, theirs just happens to be the hand that puts the words to paper. What they think the words mean, means no more than what you or I or anyone else think that they do.
    Bacchus

    I read Lao Tzu, John LeCarre, Stephen Jay Gould, Joseph Conrad, Alan Furst ..... because I want to know their ideas, their stories. It matters because I know and trust them. It matters because, generally, if I get something from what they have written, it's likely I will get something from something else they've written. It's them I want to know.

    Are my words mine? They are me.
  • T Clark
    4.2k
    I don't think that there as such a thing as a misinterpretation of a philosophy, a work of literature, a song, a painting etc. For there to be misinterpretations, interpretations that are wrong, there has to be an authoritatively correct interpretation, and usually that is considered synonymous with the interpretation that the author has of his work. This is wrong, it arbitrarily makes the author's feelings about a work the "right" feelings to have, when his feelings are no more right or wrong than anyone else reading the text. It's fallacious to ascribe an objective meaning to works of this nature anyway, but it's even more fallacious to say that not only is there an objective meaning, it's whatever the author says it is.Bacchus

    When he taught me poker, my father taught me the cards play themselves. Similarly, as I said elsewhere in this thread, the art speaks for itself. It is true that artists of any kind can be enormously inarticulate about their work. Saying the artists interpretation is not definitive is fine. That's not the same thing as saying that all interpretations are equal or that a work of art doesn't mean anything definitive. My son gave me a really nice pepper mill for Christmas, but I already have a good pepper mill, so I decided to use it as a hammer. If I fall asleep on the floor, that doesn't mean the floor is a bed.

    If your point were only that the author's intent is not definitive, ok. But you mean much more than that. I've said this on another thread about another idea recently - this is the kind of discussion that gives philosophy a bad name. It is a jumble of words tied in knots around themselves spiraling into nothing. Which isn't to say it isn't welcome here. I have nothing against giving philosophy a bad name.
  • Bacchus
    11
    @T Clark


    Those are the things that are important to you, and that's fine. That's not the issue, the issue is why is the interpretation of the author more authoritative than my interpretation, or anyone else's? If the intent of the author is right to you, then that is right for you, but why should it be considered authoritative for anyone else?


    There is a difference between "the way that I've interpreted this text is such that the intent of the author is important to me, and right for me" and "this is what the author meant to say, so if you interpret it differently then you're wrong." I don't think that there is a wrong or a right in this context, every interpretation is equally right for the person making that interpretation and everyone who agrees with him, and equally wrong for everyone who doesn't, just like food can be equally and simultaneously delicious and disgusting, depending on whose tasting it — if I cook you dinner and say that it tastes Italian, and you take a bite and say that it tastes Chinese, are you wrong because I cooked it and my interpretation of how it tastes is authoritative, or are we both equally right and wrong, it tastes Italian to me and Chinese to you, I'm right for me and you're right for you.



    I'm getting the sense, from your comments, that you're not very familiar with what I'm talking about, and that you've never studied philosophy or literary theory at a high level at a university or on your own time. I say that because your reasoning is very much of the fallacious "folksy appeals to common sense" type, as if you've no versing in any sort of higher material. If that's so, there's nothing wrong with that, but the discussion will not be fruitful because I'm necessarily going to be talking past you.
  • T Clark
    4.2k
    Those are the things that are important to you, and that's fine. That's not the issue, the issue is why is the interpretation of the author more authoritative than my interpretation, or anyone else's? If the intent of the author is right to you, then that is right for you, but why should it be considered authoritative for anyone else?Bacchus

    To oversimplify, art is the artist communicating something. She's trying to tell me something whether or not she can articulate it. You and I can disagree on exactly what she is trying to say, but if we cannot at least get somewhere in the same ballpark, then language has failed as a medium of communication. That could be the artist's fault, yours, mine, or the language's.

    I don't think that there is a wrong or a right in this context, every interpretation is equally right for the person making that interpretation and everyone who agrees with him, and equally wrong for everyone who doesn't.....Bacchus

    Obviously, you and I disagree on this. On the other hand, I have no problem with the idea that different people get different things out of a specific piece of art than other people.

    I'm getting the sense, from your comments, that you're not very familiar with what I'm talking about, and that you've never studied philosophy or literary theory at a high level at a university or on your own time. I say that because your reasoning is very much of the fallacious "folksy appeals to common sense" type, as if you've no versing in any sort of higher material. If that's so, there's nothing wrong with that, but the discussion will not be fruitful because I'm necessarily going to be talking past you.Bacchus

    Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha....wait, let me catch my breath....Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha.Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha... no, please.....Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha. Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ....oh, dear God, help....ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha.....
  • Bacchus
    11
    To oversimplify, art is the artist communicating something. She's trying to tell me something whether or not she can articulate it. You and I can disagree on exactly what she is trying to say, but if we cannot at least get somewhere in the same ballpark, then language has failed as a medium of communication. That could be the artist's fault, yours, mine, or the language's.

    @T Clark

    Sure, we're all trying to say something, but it doesn't matter what the author is trying to say, what matters is what you or I or anyone else perceive him to have said. If someone comes up to you and punches you while intending to show you how much he respects you — it doesn't matter that he intended to show respect, it matters what you interpreted his gesture to mean. If you interpret the punch in the face as a gesture of hatred for you, when he intended to show you how much he respected you, would you say that you "misinterpreted" his gesture on the basis of his intentions, or would you hold that your interpretation was valid for you based not on what he intended to say — which is irrelevant — but what he said?



    Obviously, you and I disagree on this. On the other hand, I have no problem with the idea that different people get different things out of a specific piece of art than other people.

    Why only art? Isn't it sort of arbitrary to "this is subjective, but not this"?


    Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha....wait, let me catch my breath....Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha.Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha... no, please.....Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha. Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha.....


    This is sort of a non-response, but I came to my conclusion on the basis of your seeming lack of understanding of simple things like Barthes' Death of the Author.
  • T Clark
    4.2k
    Why only art? Isn't it sort of arbitrary to "this is subjective, but not this"?Bacchus

    I'm not trying to limit the applicability of what I was saying to just what we call art. So what then? Communication? Language?

    This is sort of a non-response, but I came to my conclusion on the basis of your seeming lack of understanding of simple things like Barthes' Death of the Author.Bacchus

    Aw shucks. Me, my paw, and my Uncle Herman was sitting up on the porch drinking Royal Crown Colas mixed with moonshine. Uncle Herman showed us pitchers of his new Blue Tick Hounds so we spent the rest of the afternoon talking about Herman's new ticks.
  • Bacchus
    11


    I'm not trying to limit the applicability of what I was saying to just what we call art. So what then?Communication? Language?


    I'd say that near-everything is subjective, certainly including language. Think of a word, any word, it's a collection of sounds that we use symbolic to refer to something in some way. The letters h o r s e aren't inherently representative of what Linnaeus called Equus ferrus caballus, we ascribe that meaning to those letters and sounds on a completely subjective basis.
  • T Clark
    4.2k
    I'd say that near-everything is subjective....Bacchus

    There have been many long threads about subjectivity vs. objectivity on this forum. I think that's different than the interpretation of texts. Or am I misunderstanding what you're saying?

    Think of a word, any word, it's a collection of sounds that we use symbolic to refer to something in some way. The letters h o r s e aren't inherently representative of what Linnaeus called Equus ferrus caballus, we ascribe that meaning to those letters and sounds on a completely subjective basis.Bacchus

    Sure, the sounds of words are more or less arbitrary, but that's at a completely different level of analysis than saying that the meaning of a text is arbitrary.
  • Janus
    8.5k
    Back to philosophy, do you think that the intent of the philosopher matters? Is the meaning that one derives from a work of philosophy invalid if it differs from the meaning that the man who wrote that work derived from it?Bacchus

    You frame that question tendentiously. it should be "Is the meaning that one derives from a work of philosophy invalid if it differs from the meaning that the man who wrote it intended?"

    Surely you are not going to deny that people can intend to say certain things? Of course they can also more or less fail to say what they want to say clearly, which may lead to misinterpretations. None of this is to say that misinterpretations have no value; there may be cases of important works that find their inceptions in creative misreadings of other texts.
  • Bitter Crank
    8.4k
    The Marshall McLuhan scene from Woody Allen's Annie Hall in which pontificating poops are punctured...

  • Bitter Crank
    8.4k
    I say no, it doesn't matter what the philosopher intended to say or how he felt about something, what matters is what meaning is derived from his work by the consumer. In literary studies there is this idea called the Death of Author, which essentially says that the intent of the author, and the context in which he wrote isn't relevant to interpreting his work, that whoever wrote a text isn't an author as much as he is a scribe, who came into existence with the text, does not exist outside of writing the text, and ceases to exist with the completion of the text and it's subsequent dissemination — who and what he is doesn't matter, he was nothing more than a vehicle for the transcription of the text, which should be interpreted in isolation, as if we don't know who wrote it or anything about him.Bacchus

    This takes me back a ways. I remember this idea from college days back in the late 1960s.

    It is possible to put too much emphasis on the author, his or her particulars, his or her motivation, his or her intention, and so on. The author's biography may not explain anything about the author's work. Or it may explain a great deal.

    Divorcing the author from the text, on the other hand, strikes me as... what, stupid? Ill advised? Out of touch with reality? An act of "consumer" hubris to suppose that the reader can know more about the author's book than the author? It is one thing to read a book and say to one's self, "I don't care when, where, what, why, or how about the author--this was a great book" or "This book is just trash". Quite often we don't know anything about the author (usually because we didn't look for any information) and quite often it doesn't matter. It's a different thing to pick up a given book and say, "Hell, I don't need to know anything about the author. He was just the typist. Whatever he thought he was saying, he was deluded anyway, so... screw it. I'll just decide what this means, and it will be right as rain.

    So, let me bring the average elevation of this discussion down to earth. The typical pulp porn title (like the "In Hand" series of cheap paperbacks from the 1950s) actually works in the manner that Barthes proposes. The text has no significant relationship to the author. Indeed, there may not even be an "author". The text may have been written by a series of temporary typists who were following formulas such as Use words "Levis", "zipper", "cock", "bulging basket", "throbbing", "hot" ... 3 times per page, and so forth.

    The series of gay novels by Phil Andros, on the other hand, were not written by temporary typists. They were written in the 1970s-1980s by Samuel Steward, a gay professor of English in Chicago, aficionado of extremely rough S&M sex (he the slave), and a famous tattoo artist and tattoo innovator who became the "official" tattoo artist of the Hells Angels in Oakland--their choice, not his.

    Had one graduated from one-handed reading matter or text (you can guess what the other hand was doing) to Phil Andros, it would have added depth and perspective to know something about the author. Same thing with John Rechy who wrote of gay hustlers in Los Angeles.

    Back to the mountain top:

    We don't know anything about the authors of Gilgamesh or Genesis, and that's the way it's going to stay, for better or worse. Some people are pretty sure Shakespeare was not the author of the plays ascribed to William Shakespeare, and maybe it just doesn't matter who the author was. There was a definite author, however, and the author of Shakespeare's plays had intentions that shaped his work, especially the historical plays. Was Richard III a villain, or not? Shakespeare had reasons for the role he was given in his namesake play. There was authorial intent and understanding the text requires some background.

    This poem can be enjoyed without knowing who the author was, or what his concerns were. It isn't necessary to know what literary references are contained in the lines (like, "I opened to my beloved, but my beloved had with drawen himself") but it helps IF one understand the author's intent, and his method.


    Love bade me welcome: yet my soul drew back,
    Guiltie of dust and sinne.
    But quick-ey’d Love, observing me grow slack
    From my first entrance in,
    Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning,
    If I lack’d any thing.

    A guest, I answer’d, worthy to be here:
    Love said, You shall be he.
    I the unkinde, ungratefull? Ah my deare,
    I cannot look on thee.
    Love took my hand, and smiling did reply,
    Who made the eyes but I?

    Truth Lord, but I have marr’d them: let my shame
    Go where it doth deserve.
    And know you not, sayes Love, who bore the blame?
    My deare, then I will serve.
    You must sit down, sayes Love, and taste my meat:
    So I did sit and eat.

    If philosophy is not quite the same as pornographic texts or 16th and 17th century poets, it isn't entirely different. Antecedents and relationships need to be considered, especially if you think of philosophy as a long conversation. Who is the author talking to? Himself? Probably not.
  • Cavacava
    2.4k
    Surely you are not going to deny that people can intend to say certain things? Of course they can also more or less fail to say what they want to say clearly, which may lead to misinterpretations. None of this is to say that misinterpretations have no value; there may be cases of important works that find their inceptions in creative misreadings of other texts.

    Sure, but what the author fails to say is not part of what the author did say, and therefore it is not part of the work. The author's intent is exactly the same as the meaning of the work.
  • T Clark
    4.2k
    The Marshall McLuhan scene from Woody Allen's Annie Hall in which pontificating poops are punctured...Bitter Crank

    My favorite scene from one of my favorite movies.
  • Sam26
    1.3k
    Suppose we applied this idea to our everyday speech. It doesn't matter what you meant, only how I interpret it. This a bit strange to me.
  • Cavacava
    2.4k


    That's one of those things about the written text, while speech acts are generally directed at certain people, written texts are there for all to read.
  • Sam26
    1.3k
    What about when a speaker is before a large audience? Besides certain written texts are directed at certain people. This is a joke right, this thread is meant to be a joke? Oh, I get it :-$ haha.
  • Cavacava
    2.4k


    A written text, letter or whatever is available for anyone to read, assuming they can get to read it. Whatever it means it is contained in the work, it is the same as the writer's intention.

    Sure an author can read his work, but that work, unless he changes it, is what it is. Speech acts are different than written works. No joke.
  • Sam26
    1.3k
    I understand that speech is different from the written works of individuals. My point is that it's important to understand what someone is trying to communicate, so to allow any interpretation of a printed work, in some ways destroys what the author may be trying to accomplish. You may add to the work or expand the thinking of the ideas in the work, but for me to allow for any interpretation in some ways destroys the work. It destroys the ideas behind the work, and in some cases we may be the lesser for it.
  • BlueBanana
    917
    With books, the thoughts of the author are a means to generating the text. In philosophy, the text is a means to understanding the thoughts of the author. Frankly, it's only the ideas of the author that matter, not anyone's interpretation.
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