The Propositional vs. Hermeneutic Models of Cross-Cultural Understanding

South African Journal of Philosophy 28 (3):312-331 (2009)
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Abstract

What the authors attempt to address in this paper is a Kantian question: not whether, but how is cross -cultural understanding possible? And specifically, what is a more effective approach for cross -cultural understanding? The answer lies in an analysis of two different models of cross -cultural understanding, that is, propositional and hermeneutic understanding. To begin with, the author presents a linguistic interpretation of culture, i.e., a culture as a linguistically formulated and transmitted symbolic system with its conceptual core as a scheme of basic cultural presuppositions, which it referred to as a cultural language. After exploring the essential role of cultural presuppositions in cross -cultural understanding, the author discusses the traditional model of cross -cultural understanding, namely, the propositional model. Through critically examining the two popular versions of the propositional model, i.e., the projective approach and the adoptive approach to cross -cultural understanding, it is found that cross -cultural propositional understanding is doomed to failure. To move us beyond the absolutism -relativism trap embedded within propositional understanding, the author first introduces and discusses Hans-Georg Gadamer’s hermeneutic understanding, and then applies Hans-Georg Gadamer’s hermeneutic model of understanding to cross -cultural understanding. It is finally concluded that cross -cultural understanding is essentially hermeneutic—including the case of cultural learning, not propositional. Therefore, cross -cultural understanding is hermeneutically possible

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Xinli Wang
Juniata College

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