Hermeneutics of Transposition vs Hermeneutics of Recovery



To move toward an initial understanding about what could be meant by a “transposition of meaning,” one can look at what Matthew Lamb says in “Lonergan’s Transpositions of Augustine and Aquinas: Exploratory Suggestions,” The Importance of Insight: Essays in Honour of Michael Vertin, eds. John J. Liptay Jr nd David S. Liptay (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2007): 3-21.  As Lamb cites Lonergan about what happens in transposition, it is one thing to understand or to come to grips with a theological understanding which had been enjoyed by someone like Augustine or Aquinas and which they had spoken about within an earlier context of meaning.  But, after one has truly and properly understood what another has understood and said in the context of their own day, one must find a way to take this same understanding and meaning and bring it into a newer context of understanding and meaning – a new, broader context of understanding and meaning which is the result of later achievements in the history of science and philosophy.  Cf. Lonergan, “Horizons and Transpositions,” Philosophical and Theological Papers 1965-1980, p. 410.  By means of what is new, one takes hold of the old (the old refers to the valid insights of previous acts of understanding) and, by a second step, one raises these true insights to a greater degree of perfection (working with “new notions” present in “science, scholarship, [and] philosophy.”  Cf. Lonergan, Philosophical and Theological Papers 1965-1980, p. 298.  Amid shifts of horizon and changes in philosophical and cultural perspective, a legitimate line of development can be traced as one speaks about the meaning of certain truths in a way which adds to the meaning of the truth that is known in previously known truths.  In this context, one can speak about new meanings being added to old meanings.


In a certain sense then, one might say that, in the language of Paul Ricoeur, through a “hermeneutics of recovery” which goes back and looks for what is “best in the speech, writing, and action” of persons and groups who had lived and worked at earlier times, one engages in a work of interpretation which is akin to what happens in a “hermeneutics of transposition.”  In both cases, one brings meanings into a new context of meaning (into a larger context).  Cf. Lance Grigg and Hugo Meynell, “Reflections on the Essence of Critical Thinking,” Divyadaan: Journal of Philosophy & Education 21/3 (2010): 372.  However, while a “hermeneutics of recovery” can be used as an agent of cultural transmission (bringing meanings from an earlier cultural context and tradition into a new current cultural context and tradition through a kind of conversation which can create a fusion of horizons between two different points of view), the creation of a fusion across cultural and historical divides needs to be distinguished from a “hermeneutics of transposition” which seeks not only or merely to bring old meanings into a new cultural context in the hope that changes will fruitfully occur within a given cultural matrix.


Yes, initially, the bringing of old meanings into a new cultural context is what happens and, initially, this is all to the good.  However, more importantly, at a higher level, what is needed is a representation (a new articulation of truths) which, in some way, are already known.  They exist, for instance, within the reception of a given theological tradition or in the reception of a tradition of belief and faith.  But, in their day, these truths had been known through a conceptuality that differs from the kind of conceptuality which is currently operative in a changed cultural order.  The good then which needs to be achieved through transposition refers to a new, higher synthesis of meaning (a new, higher synthesis which urges the necessity of expanding or growing in the depth and width of one's understanding and judgment).  As Pope Leo XIII had urged in his encyclical Aeterni Patrisvetera novis augere et perficere.  One best proceeds in one's thinking and understanding of things if one can augment and perfect what is old by means of what is new.  Cf. Lamb, “Lonergan’s Transpositions of Augustine and Aquinas: Exploratory Suggestions,” p. 4; Lonergan, Philosophical and Theological Papers 1965-1980, p. 298.  To understand what is meant by a “fusion of horizons,” see Gadamer, Truth and Method, pp. 306-307, and other relevant texts in this same work.