Pragmatic presequence

I just connected two of my favorite ideas, the hermeneutic priority of the question, and the pragmatic maxim.

Both are attempts to account for meanings of ideas.

The principle of the hermeneutic priority of the question (as Hans-Georg Gadamer puts it) conceives understanding of any idea (or text) as a matter of hearing it as a response to an implied or explicit question. If a reader hears the idea as the response to the question intended by the author of the idea, the idea is properly understood. If the idea is heard as a response to some other question unrelated to the one implicitly asked by the author, it is misunderstood, even if the misunderstanding is a productive one.

The pragmatic maxim (originally conceived by C. S. Peirce) sees the meaning of an idea as the consequences that follow from the idea if it is believed to be true. William James called these consequences the “cash value” of the idea. (One excellent application of the pragmatic maxim is religious. Instead of asking whether God exists or not, ask what follows from your belief or disbelief in God. In this, and many other cases, “therefores” are far more clarifying than definitions.)

These two ideas snap together with irresistible elegance, as the complementary upstream and downstream of meaning — the pragmatic presequence and consequence of ideas.

To fully understand the meaning of any idea, first, conceive it as a response to the question or problem that actually engendered it, then develop the consequences that follow from it.

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