The issue of interpretation

Even if the task of historians of economic ideas is more prosaic than that of the god Hermes, it covers the same two aspects: to state and to interpret. And even when historians do not transmit the messages and orders of the gods, texts need to be explained and translated from the one into the other. In other words, they need to be interpreted. Thus, by revealing the many layers of a text, the historian of ideas transmits these texts through time. This work of exegesis shows some meanings among the many that the original author might have tried to convey to his contemporaries, and others that were unintended within the author’s own context, but that speak for example to the readers of our time.

Even when the meaning of a text results from a dialectic between text and reader and from the interpretative collaboration between them, there is a limit to possible interpretations. That is why members of the Centre work on editions of texts to stake out these limits. As in other fields of knowledge the question of how to qualify an interpretation is very present in the history of ideas. Beyond the conviction that not all interpretations are equally valid, the work of the Centre in the history of ideas is characterized by a wide spectrum of methodological approaches. To take up a well-known typology, interpretative work covers Geistesgeschichte, as well as historical and rational reconstructions. We consider such plurality natural, and one of the strengths of the work at the CWP.

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