By Peter Stamm
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Obvious examples here would include ‘democracy’, ‘freedom’ and ‘justice’, or outside politics, ‘art’. The most commonly accepted general definition of ‘democracy’, for example, is ‘rule by the people’, but who ‘the people’ are and how their ‘rule’ is exercised in practice has varied considerably from time to time and place to place. In ancient Athens, where the concept originated, ‘democracy’ was exercised directly, rather than through representatives, with the electorate being restricted to adult males who were full citizens, defined as those whose parents were both themselves Athenian: immigrants, slaves and women were excluded.
84. Cf. the conclusion of ‘Motives, Intentions and Interpretation’: ‘We need, in short, to be ready to take as our province nothing less than the whole of what Cornelius Castoriadis has described as the social imaginary, the complete range of the inherited symbols and representations that constitute the subjectivity of an age’ (RM, 102). Towards a Multi-Contextualist Approach 21 As in ‘Meaning and Understanding’, however, Skinner rejected crude social contextualism, arguing that the ‘intellectual context’ of the major texts also needed to be studied: ‘the context of earlier writings and inherited assumptions about political society, and of more ephemeral contemporary contributions to social and political thought’ (Preface, p.
Towards a Multi-Contextualist Approach 23 Refining Skinner’s Approach In an article published three years before the Foundations, but not included in either Meaning and Context or Regarding Method, Skinner explicitly acknowledged the logical priority of textual over contextual interpretation. In so doing, he identified a contextualist version of the hermeneutic circle, according to which we understand the meaning of a text as a whole by understanding the meaning of its parts, and the meaning of those parts in relation to the whole.