By demonstrating the uniformity and universality of the principles of valid interpretation of verbal texts of any sort, this closely reasoned examination provides a theoretical foundation for a discipline that is fundamental to virtually all humanistic studies. It defines the grounds on which textual interpretation can claim to establish objective knowledge, defends that claim against such skeptical attitudes as historicism and psychologism, and shows that many confusions can be avoided if the distinctions between meaning and significance, interpretation and criticism are correctly understood. It provides perhaps the first genuinely comprehensive account of hermeneutic theory to appear in English and the first systematic presentation of the principles of valid interpretation in any language.
Mr. Hirsch, associate professor of English at the University of Virginia, is the author of Wordsworth and Schelling and Innocence and Experience: An Introduction to Blake.
“Here is a book that brings logic to the most unruly of disciplines, literary interpretation. Viewing this subject within the tradition of hermeneutics, Mr. Hirsch is able to trace its origins and development with brilliant insight. The result is a lucidly systemic and authoritative account of the premises and procedures applicable to the interpretation of a literary text. Mr. Hirsch has performed a monumental service thereby that of reinstating the credentials of objectivism and defining the limits of the aesthetics of truth. This study is a necessary took for anyone who wants to talk sense about literature.”—Virginia Quarterly Review
“Professor Hirsch demonstrates convincingly that objectivity is attainable in humane studies, and that it is not identified with the subject but with the evidence. A valid interpretation is not necessarily a correct one, but one which is more probably than any other on the basis of existing evidence. He makes a subtle and important distinction between a text’s ‘meaning’ (which does not change) and its ‘significance’ (which does), and brilliantly relates meaning to understanding (the necessary preliminary to interpretation) and interpretation to explanation…” In short, this is a work which future students of literary theory cannot afford to neglect.”—Notes and Queries
E.D. Hirsch, Jr., is professor of English at the University of Virginia.