South African Journal of Philosophy

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The Propositional vs. Hermeneutic Models of Cross-Cultural Understanding

X Wang, L Xu


What the authors attempts 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 authors 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. Such a symbolic system is referred to as a cultural language. After exploring the essential role of cultural presuppositions in cross-cultural understanding, the authors 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 authors 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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