Annotation: Hermeneutics describes two things: first, a scientific method that will be described in this entry. Second, a branch of philosophy that revolves around the ontological question of how to understand not only texts and symbols, but life in general. It is a field that deals with the characteristics of knowledge. This meaning of Hermeneutics will not be dealt with in this entry. For more information, refer to sources (1) and (2) in the References.
The word hermeneutics derives from the Greek word hermeneuein, which basically means “to explain”. It is the art of interpreting texts and understanding the meaning of human creations and interactions. Speaking in methodological terms, hermeneutics is a pool of methods for interpreting and understanding texts, mostly used in the humanities and social sciences.
- "There has been a highly developed practice of interpretation in Greek antiquity, aiming at diverse interpretanda like oracles, dreams, myths, philosophical and poetical works, but also laws and contracts. The beginning of ancient hermeneutics as a more systematic activity goes back to the exegesis of the Homeric epics. (...) Such exegetical attempts were aiming at a deeper sense, hidden under the surface—*hypónoia*, i.e., underlying meaning. Allegorisis was practiced widely from the sixth century BCE to the Stoic and Neoplatonistic schools and even later (...). In the Middle Ages the most remarkable characteristic of the interpretative praxis was the so-called *accessus ad auctores*; this was a standardized introduction that preceded the editions and commentaries of (classical) authors. There were many versions of the *accessus*, but one of the more widely used was the following typology of seven questions (...):
1. Who (is the author) (*quis/persona*)? 2. What (is the subject matter of the text) (*quid/materia*)? 3. Why (was the text written) (*cur/causa*)? 4. How (was the text composed) (*quomodo/modus*)? 5. When (was the text written or published) (*quando/tempus*)? 6. Where (was the text written or published) (*ubi/loco*)? 7. By which means (was the text written or published) (*quibus facultatibus/facultas*)?
Johann Conrad Dannhauer was the first to present a systematic textbook on general hermeneutics (...), the *Idea boni interpretis et malitiosi calumniatoris* (1630) introducing the Latin neologism *hermeneutica* as the title of a general *modus sciendi*. The intention of this work was (...) to distinguish between the true and false meaning of any text (...). It is explicitly general in scope, relevant for all scientific domains (...) and applicable to the oral discourse and texts of all authors (...). A series of authors followed the lead of Dannhauer who established the systematic locus of hermeneutics within logic (...). Most remarkable is the work of Johann Clauberg (1654), who introduced sophisticated distinctions between the rules of interpretation with respect to their generality and clarified the capturing of the intention of the author as a valuable aim of interpretative praxis." (SEP)
- "Literary interpretation has its origins in the Greek educational system where it assisted in the interpretation and criticism of Homer and other poets. Its subdivision into rhetoric and poetics eventually merged into the art of textual verification. A second stage was reached in the formulation of a methodology for the interpretation of profane texts in the Renaissance and Humanism, where classical literary monuments were once again scrutinized. (...) This ethical-pedagogic interest was, however, even mor epronounced in biblical exegesis." (Bleicher, Chapter 1)
- Despite methodological considerations from as early as the early 17th century, Hermeneutics remained a method applied almost exclusively to religious texts. It was the work of Schleiermacher who widened...
more information on Dilthey? Schleiermacher?
- Schleiermacher widened the perspective on Hermeneutics in the early 19th century, declaring it an approach suitable not only for religious or legal texts, but to all human-made texts and communication forms. Although not being the first to offer a defined conception of Hermeneutics, Schleiermacher is seen as the father of today's understanding of the method, paving the methodological way for social scientists to apply hermeneutics in their work (SEP)
- During the last decades and centuries, Hermeneutics has emerged into a field of philosophy, whereas the origins of it lie in a rather methodological approach. Since this will be the focus of this entry, the more recent history of the term and concept Hermeneutics will not be elaborated in detail. - "It has recently emerged as a central topic in the philosophy of the social sciences, the philosophy of art and language and in literary criticism - even though its modern origin points back to the early ninteenth century." (Bleicher, Introduction)
- As a method, Hermeneutics is nowadays mostly used in the social sciences and humanities, including theology, law, psychology, philosophy and history, with diverging methodological characteristics. ([wikipedia..](https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hermeneutik_%28Methode%29).)
- Schleiermacher, Friedrich Daniel Ernst (1768-1834): After finishing his studies in theology, philosophy and philology, Schleiermacher worked as a private teacher, preacher, and later professor for theology. In Berlin he became friends with Friedrich Schlegel, he joined the academy of sciences and became its secretary of philosophy. Schleiermacher can be seen as the founder of methodological – also called systematic – hermeneutics, the new branch that dropped the traditional view of texts as keepers and producers of truth. He instead highlighted the importance of differentiating between grammatical and psychological interpretation.
- Dilthey, Wilhelm (1833-1911): Dilthey lived from 1833 to 1911 and was a German philosopher. He took up the theory of the hermeneutic circle which was first mentioned by Schleiermacher and Friedrich Ast: Each individual part is revealed through the whole, and the whole through the individual. This points out that every fact, observation, or statement is always already connected to certain preconceptions. In Dilthey’s opinion this was true not only for humanities but also for the theories of natural sciences. Dilthey influenced many other famous philosophers such as Husserl, Heidegger, or Cassirer.
- Heidegger, Martin (1889-1976): For Martin Heidegger, a German philosopher, hermeneutics is the existential basis of our human experience - according to him, being is itself shaped by understanding and interpretation. His philosophical concept of hermeneutics was and is important for the following theories and analyses.
- Gadamer, Hans-Georg: Gadamer (1900-2002) was one of the most influential German philosophers of the 20th century. He as highly influenced by Martin Heidegger and turned away from Schleiermachers and Diltheys methodological hermeneutics. Instead, he had a universal approach to the topic of understanding meaning. Hermeneutics for him is not only a method but the basis of human existence. In his main work – Wahrheit und Methode (truth and method) – Gadamer points out that to interpret, one needs to be open, willing to reflect, and conscious of any prejudices and presumptions.
- Habermas, Jürgen and Oevermann, Ulrich: The German philosopher and sociologist Habermas criticizes Gadamer’s universial view on hermeneutics. Oevermann, who is a German sociologist, used to be an assistant of Habermas at the Frankfurt School. He coined the term Objective Hermeneutics, a method that is predominantly used in social sciences and sociology.
- Hermeneutics as a method "(...) offers a toolbox for efficiently treating problems of the interpretation of human actions, texts and other meaningful material." (SEP) - "Hermeneutics can loosely be defined as the theory or philosophy of the interpretation of meaning." (Bleicher, Introduction) - The baseline of Hermeneutics is comparable to the qualitative approach in general: the meaning of any given text, symbol, statement or decision is not unanimously and independently 'true', and one cannot easily explain things as one could in the natural sciences. Instead, the historical, societal, cultural, political, religious context of any 'object' influences its meaning. This contextual impact must be recognized to properly understand the data gathered in any qualitative approach, and thus in Hermeneutics.
- There are three core strands of Hermeneutics as a scientific method - legal, philosophical and theological Hermeneutics. While Schleiermacher dealt with the latter, he attempted to establish a wider application of the method for all kinds of texts. (from [this](https://home.uni-leipzig.de/burdorf/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/Protokoll_19112012_.pdf) summary) - Schleiermacher distinguished between two types of Hermeneutics which, when combined, complete each other in a dynamic, oscillating manner:
- ethymological, focusing on the linguistic aspects of a text or word - psychological, revolving around the statement made by the author of a given text, which the context of the text genesis has a strong influence on - (from [this](https://home.uni-leipzig.de/burdorf/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/Protokoll_19112012_.pdf) summary)
3) Strengths & challenges
- The question of how subjective meanings can be rendered objective without imposing the interpreter's (= researcher's) subjectivity upon the content is a central challenge to Hermeneutics (2) -
6) Key publications
(1) Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 2016. *Hermeneutics.* Last accessed on 15.07.2020. Available at (https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/hermeneutics/#Intr)
(2) Bleicher, J. 2017. Contemporary Hermeneutics: Hermeneutics as Method, Philosophy and Critique. Routledge.
(3) Seebohm, T.M. 2004. Hermeneutics. Method and Methodology. Kluwer Academic Publishers, Dordrecht.