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Through the Eyes of an Interpretivist: Hermeneutics and Social Science Methodology

The era of digital technology has brought a radical change to the work of translators, where the principle of translation shifted from a process of dialectic and cultural exchanges to a mere corresponding of texts. Such radical changes, to most humanitarian researchers, herald a bleak future to humanities in which the huge information flood only sweeps us away from the shore of civilization, and innovations all smacks of algorithm and cloud computing. However, does technological progress merely go down to a universal Utopian as predicted by Huxley’s Brave New World—a Fordism society full of homogeneity, inevitability, and mass production? The answer, lies in Nokia’s well-known tag line, “Technology comes from human nature”.

In Prof. Tomasz R. Szymczyński’s public lecture at college of social sciences, “Hermeneutics Of Multilinguisticality As An Art Of Interpretation Within The Field Of Humanities And Social Science Methodology”, he pointed out the entire civilization is based on mutual understandings. And Hermeneutics, which originates in Aristotle’s writing, is a science of reflective communications for both verbal and non-verbal expressions. Prof. Szymczyński further quoted Gadamer’s work to explicate that “understanding is not human behavior but his very mode of existence”. The term, “hermeneutic”, as he said, is a Latinized form of Greek “hermeneutikos” for interpreting. This shows that the basis of textual understandings is not limited within the presentation of texts per se but a result of communicative circle through reflections, refutation of arguments and identifications.

Thus, the beauty of translation, as Prof. Szymczyński put it, is an art of interpretation within the fields of history, culture, and philosophy multilingually. “Only through the reflections on the interpretation of texts, can we truly accomplish textual understandings”, he added. He then used coughing as an example to showcase how culture reflections can influence the interpretation of texts. Coughing, as we all know, may be a common expression signifying illness. However, coughing can also suggest disapproval or awkwardness in different contexts.

As a vanguard of Hans-Georg Gadamer, Prof. Szymczyński proposed life is mediated by language. The process of understanding second languages, therefore, resembles taking a pre-embodied capsule to an existing vein of experiences, history, and culture. The interpreter’s translation is consciously enriched and modified by the blending of two worlds, as in a dialogue between two people.

Prof. Szymczyński uses Hermeneutics as a methodology to convey the artistry required for translations— fidelity, fluency, and felicity. Translation cannot be a linear word to word configurations. Instead, it is a reflective loop wherein consciousness of one’s own ideas consistently perceive and debate with the particular message of the text. And this brought Prof. Szymczyński to conclude his speech with a philosophical big question, “What is the purpose of existence?”. In other words, “Can we be replaced by robots?”, he asked.

“I think we all know the answer to the question”, he said. “Cogito, ergo sum”, he translated, “I think therefore I am”.

Prof. Tomasz R. Szymczyński is the faculty of Political Science and Journalism at Adam Mickiewicz University in Poland. His major scientific interests include hermeneutical perspective in the field of Political Science. Recently he published in Polish language version the book devoted to the application of Hans-Georg Gadamers hermeneutic.