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Extra info for Between Description and Interpretation: The Hermeneutic Turn in Phenomenology

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The “whatness” (quidditas) of things is thus a function of the way in which, by means of language, we interpret them (for whatever purpose), and the “essential relationships” (Wesenszusammenhänge) between things (that metaphysicians believe are simply “there,” waiting to be discovered) are a function of the particular point of view with which we approach them. ”137 To allude to an ancient maxim (sapientia est ordinare), the function of interpretation is precisely that of discerning, amid what is often a welter of confusing detail, the non-apparent, yet essential, order or logic in things.

Intersubjectively verifiable, knowledge of the “subjective” meaning structures that guide and inform the action of individual agents. The reason why the social scientist must have recourse to second-order constructs, such as these, is because, as Ricoeur would say, the consciousness actors have of themselves is often a false consciousness, and the meaningful consequences of human action are often not the ones consciously intended by these actors. Because we are not sovereign consciousnesses (“a pure consciousness is capable of anything except being ignorant of its intentions,” as Merleau-Ponty said [PP, 440]), we do not have full control over the meaning of what we do and are liable to be surprised (often unpleasantly so) by the consequences of our own actions.

42 However great the difficulties of achieving a genuine understanding of things may be, the nature of the hermeneutic task as regards any historical/cultural community was nonetheless clearly stated by Merleau-Ponty.

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