Critical Realism

In his book The New Testament and the People of God, N.T. Wright describes a critical-realist approach to reading and understanding texts. He outlines his theory as follows:

We (humans in general; the communities of which you and I, as readers, are part) tell ourselves certain stories about the world, and about who we are within it. Within this story-telling it makes sense, it ‘fits’, that we describe ourselves as reading texts…Within this text-reading activity it makes sense, it ‘fits’, that we find ourselves, at least sometimes and at least in principle, in contact with the mind and intention of the author. Discussing the author’s mind may or may not be an easy task; it is in principle both possible and, I suggest, desirable.

Wright continues:

What we need, then, is a theory of reading which, at the reader/text stage, will do justice both to the fact that the reader is a particular human being and to the fact that the text is an entity on its own, not a plastic substance to be moulded to the reader’s whim. It must also do justice, at the text/author stage, both to the fact that the author intended certain things, and that the text may well contain in addition other things-echoes, evocations, structures, and the like-which were not present to the author’s mind, and of course may well not be present to the reader’s mind. We need a both-and theory of reading, not an either-or one. Similarly, we need a theory which will do justice, still at the text/author stage, both to the fact that texts, including biblical texts, do not normally represent the whole of the author’s mind, even that bit to which they come closest, and to the fact that they nevertheless do normally tell us, and in principle tell us truly, quite a bit about him or her. Finally, we need to recognize, at the author/event stage, both that authors do not write without a point of view (they are humans, and look at things in particular way and from particular angles) and that they really can speak and write about events and objects…which are not reducible to terms of their own state of mind.

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