I love Stanley Fish, and I was thrilled to find this morning in my podcast feed that he has showed up again on Al Mohler’s “Thinking in Public.” I was even more thrilled as I listened on the bus—at single speed, so I didn’t miss a thing, an honor I rarely show my podcasters—that Mohler asks him some of the questions we all want to ask.
Mohler does a great job bringing out of Fish an introduction to his thought and his critique of liberalism. He also leads Fish to distinguish himself from the anything-goes textual relativism that he often gets unfairly accused of.
I’d push back a little bit against Mohler and for Fish on one issue, though I really want to dig deeper into it and I’m not ready to issue any pronouncements: Mohler argues for the hermeneutical textualism of Scalia against the intentionalism of Fish (though both agree that the two positions are part of the overall “mother ship” of originalism). This means that Scalia says, according to Fish, that we have no reliable access to the intentions of the framers of any law except through the texts they produced. Fish says we necessarily form up some idea of the intentions of the framers of any law; they were not writing from nowhere and nowhen but wrote as part of a history, a story. So we might as well, he says, make the search for their intentions an explicit part of our hermeneutical inquiry.
Mohler says, in his customary wrap-up comments after the guest is off-air, that in the case of the Bible all we have is the text. This is the only access we have to the mind of the Author. And I see what he’s saying. But the Bible is a special book: we do have some access (though still largely through the Bible) to the historical circumstances and likely intentions of the human authors God guided to form the Bible.
I need to dig deeper into this. I really need to sit down and do the requisite reading. I’ve read Fish. Now I need to finish this: