There’s a Word for That: Eisegesis

atkins-bookshelf-wordsIf you send and receive texts or Tweets often enough you have most likely encountered or committed eisegesis (pronounced “ahy si JEE sis”): interpreting text in such a way to introduce one’s own biases, ideas, or beliefs. It is often to referred to as “reading into the text.” The word is derived from the Greek root eis meaning (“in or into”) and hegeisthai (“to lead, guide”).

Eisegesis is a perfect example of a form of cognitive bias known as confirmation bias — the tendency to search for, interpret, favor, and recall information in a way that confirm’s an individuals presumptions or beliefs. As historian Barbara Tuchman, who won two Pulitzer Prizes, observed in her book, The March of Folly: From Troy to Vietnam (1984), the danger with confirmation bias, as with most forms of cognitive bias, is that it contributes to overconfidence in beliefs and can maintain or fortify beliefs even when presented with contrary evidence. Tuchman focuses on four famous historical incidents where governments pursued policies that were contrary to their own interests. Many Biblical scholars accuse fundamental Christians and evangelists of engaging in eisegesis because they often take Biblical sentences or entire passages out of context and interpret them to make a very specific point — even when it is the opposite of the author’s intent.

The opposite of eisegesis is exegesis: to interpret text by thoroughly analyzing it content and understanding its context and discoverable meaning or intent of the author. While exegesis is objective; eisegesis is subjective.

A person who practices eisegesis is known as an eisegete, which as you can imagine, has derogatory connotations.

A related word is epexegesis: the adding of words or sentences to clarify a word or sentence.

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Read related posts: There’s a Word for That: Esprit de l’escalier
There’s a Word for That: Jouissance
There’s a Word for That: Abibliophobia
There’s a Word for That: Petrichor
There’s a Word for That: Deipnosophist
There’s a Word for That: Pareidolia
There’s a Word for That: Macroverbumsciolist
There’s a Word for That: Ultracrepidarian
There’s a Word for That: Cacology

For further reading: The March of Folly: From Troy to Vietnam by Barbara Tuchman
http://www.dailyinfographic.com/cognitive-bias-danger


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