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Philosophical Topics

Volume 45, Issue 2, Fall 2017

Philosophy of Language

Luvell Anderson
Pages 1-19
DOI: 10.5840/philtopics201745211

Hermeneutical Impasses

When people respond to chants of “Black lives matter” with “All lives matter” or excoriate Colin Kaepernick for being “anti-military” or “anti-American” when he sits or kneels during the playing of the national anthem, there appears to be a break in understanding. BLM protestors and Kaepernick understand their actions and messages in one way, detractors in quite a different way. This seems to present what we might refer to as an interpretive challenge. In this essay, I aim to explore the nature of this interpretive challenge by illuminating the various obstacles that leave us without understanding. I will refer to such breaks in understanding as hermeneutical impasses. First, I sketch a taxonomy of hermeneutical impasses. I then discuss various ways of describing the notion of ‘understanding’ that may be at issue in impasses. Next, I discuss the relation between power and hermeneutical impasses, showing some of the ways power relations constrain our discursive practices. I conclude by arguing the structures of our environment make hermeneutical impasses difficult to avoid, if not inevitable.

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