Hermeneutic cycling

The hermeneutic circle is a semantic expansion of the ‘syntactic bootstrapping’ which is part of the language-learning process for every child (Tomasello 1999, 122).

And this sort of circle, according to which language, in the presence of those who are learning it, precedes itself, teaches itself, and suggests its own deciphering, is perhaps the marvel which defines language.… In a unified whole of this kind, the learned parts of a language have an immediate value as a whole, and progress is made less by addition and juxtaposition than by the internal articulation of a function which is in its own way already complete.

— Merleau-Ponty (1960, 39-40)

In the same way, science does not advance by addition of completely new knowledge (Kuhn 1969), but by the transformation of a knowledge which is already complete as a guidance system for continuing inquiry, yet incomplete with respect to the questions which are still open. Likewise the evolution of bodily form: each organism is complete and ‘perfect’ enough to live and reproduce, yet the lineage keeps on perfecting its form as it carries itself forward in an evolving world.

The hermeneutic circle is also embodied in perception, i.e. in reading the world:

Even if in the last resort I have no absolute knowledge of this stone, and even if my knowledge regarding it takes me step by step along an infinite road and cannot ever be complete, the fact remains that the perceived stone is there, that I recognize it, that I have named it and that we agree on a certain number of statements about it. Thus it seems that we are led to a contradiction: belief in the thing and the world must entail the presumption of a completed synthesis—and yet this completion is made impossible by the very nature of the perspectives which have to be inter-related, since each one of them, by virtue of its horizons, refers to other perspectives, and so on indefinitely. There is, indeed, a contradiction, as long as we operate within being, but the contradiction disappears, or rather is generalized, being linked up with the ultimate conditions of our experience and becoming one with the possibility of living and thinking, if we operate in time, and if we manage to understand time as the measure of being.

— Merleau-Ponty (1945, 385)

Merleau-Ponty’s ‘completed synthesis’ is Edelman‘s ‘closure’; ‘time as the measure of being’ recalls Dogen’s ‘being-time’ (‘Uji’). The physical side of all this is explicated in Terrence Deacon’s Incomplete Nature.

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