1st Edition

The Ethics of Interpretation From Charity as a Principle to Love as a Hermeneutic Imperative

By Pol Vandevelde Copyright 2023

    This book discusses the ethical dimension of the interpretation of texts and events. Its purpose is not to address the neutrality or ideological biases of interpreters, but rather to discuss the underlying issue of the intervention of interpreters into the process of interpretation.

    The author calls this intervention the "ethical" aspect of interpretation and argues that interpreters are neither neutral nor necessarily activists. He examines three models of interpretation, all of which recognize the role that interpreters play in the process of interpretation. In these models, the question of the truth or validity of interpretation is dependent upon the attitude of interpreters. These three models are: (1) the principle of charity in interpretation in the two different versions defended by Hans-Georg Gadamer and Donald Davidson; (2) the production of truth, as developed by Paul Ricoeur and Michel Foucault; and (3) the regulative principle in interpretation as formal validity claims—as presented by Karl-Otto Apel and Jürgen Habermas—and as benevolence or love as an epistemic virtue—as defended by Friedrich Schlegel and Friedrich Schleiermacher. The critical discussion of these three models, which brings to the fore the different manners in which interpreters intervene in the process of interpretation as persons, lays the foundations for an ethics of interpretation.

    The Ethics of Interpretation will be of interest to scholars and advanced students working in hermeneutics, 19th- and 20th-century philosophy, literary theory, and cultural theory.

    Introduction: What is the Ethics of Interpretation?      

    Part 1: Two versions of the Principle of Charity in Interpretation: Gadamer and Davidson

    1. Gadamer’s Dialogical Interpretation      

    2. Davidson’s Radical Interpretation: Charity and Triangulation

    Part 2: Two Versions of a Poetics of Truth in Interpretation: Ricoeur and Foucault

    3. Ricoeur’s Interpretive Truth: Attestation

    4. Foucault’s Interpretive Truth: Parrhesia

    Part 3: Two Versions of What Regulates Interpretation: Validity Claims and Love

    5. The Ethics of Discussion: Karl-Otto Apel’s Program

    6. Benevolence or Love as both a Moral and Epistemic Virtue

    Conclusion: Love as a Hermeneutic Imperative


    Pol Vandevelde is Professor of Philosophy at Marquette University, USA. He specializes in 19th- and 20th- century European philosophy, theory of interpretation, critical theory, philosophy of knowledge, phenomenology, and hermeneutics. He is the author of three books including The Task of the Interpreter: Text, Meaning, and Negotiation (2005) and Heidegger and the Romantics: The Literary Invention of Meaning (Routledge, 2012, awarded the Prix Mercier from the Université de Louvain).