How Can We Know What God Means?

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How Can We Know What God Means? Given the variety of approaches one could take when interpreting a text, should special interpretive treatment be given to texts believed to be divinely inspired? What approach is most appropriate when interpreting revealed texts? Do we take into consideration features of the language or the cultural context in which the text was written? Perhaps there are significant psychological characteristics of the human author that are relevant for understanding the meaning of the text; or perhaps we should just address the text as it stands and hope for divine inspiration where the text is most obscure. Of course introducing divine inspiration itself introduces a number of other problems. Religious traditions include interpretive traditions and include theories on how to read sacred texts. So should these theories guide our interpretations? Or need an interpretation be neutral with respect to these traditions to provide for the possibility of adjudicating among conflicting traditions. And if we are reading texts from within theological traditions, are there any definitive interpretations of texts? Wouldn't such contextualization invite relativism? These are the issues at the center of Jorge Gracia's book How Can We Know What God Means? I hope you can see very quickly that Gracia has embarked upon a series of questions of tremendous intellectual richness and importance. These are not simply questions of theology. Take as a particularly relevant example the debate about "intentionalism"-the view that the meaning of a text is shaped if not determined by the author's intentions when writing the text. There are a number of classic arguments for and against that view, however, clearly, the deb... ... middle of paper ... ...the aim is to communicate propositions. To properly interpret Descartes we have to understand how his writings form a contribution to an ongoing philosophical tradition of inquiry where certain questions are understood as significant and requiring answer, where certain theoretical tools are considered useful for that purpose, and where certain terms and definitions are taken for granted. Sociological interpretations may help, but they can't replace philosophical interpretations-interpretations that interpret the text as a contribution to a philosophical tradition. In the end then, I suspect that the modesty of Gracia's project actually, extends his results beyond their intended scope and leaves the question of the interpretation of revealed texts as a corollary of a more general theory of the interpretation of texts written to convey prepositional content.
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