Understanding Hermeneutics

Understanding Hermeneutics

Understanding Hermeneutics

Understanding Hermeneutics

Synopsis

This series provides short, accessible and lively introduction to the major schools, movements and traditions in philosophy and the history of ideas since the beginning of the Enlightenment. All books in the series are written for undergraduates meeting the subject for the first time. Hermeneutics concerns itself with the theory of understanding and the interpretation of language. The question of how to correctly interpret and understand others remains one of the most contested branches of philosophy. In Understanding Hermeneutics Lawrence Schmidt provides an introduction to modern hermeneutics through a systematic examination of the ideas of its key philosophical proponents. Chapter 1 examines the ideas, of the Protestant theologian, Friedrich Schleiermacher, who argues that misunderstanding is always possible so we must always employ interpretation if we are to understnad correctly. Chapter 2 discusses the ideas of Dilthey, who maintains that understanding in the humanities is fundamentally different from explanation in the natural sciences, and who presents a methodology to judge what another person means or feels by means of their language and also their gestures, facial expressions, and manners of acting. Chapter 3 explores the ideas of Heidegger who radicalizes the concept by shifting its focus from interpreting texts to an existential interpretation of human being. In Chapter 4 the recent ideas of Gadamer are examined, which extend to examining the structures of hermeneutic experience and to question the supremacy of the natural sciences as models for truth. The final chapters consider some of the criticisms and controversies surrounding hermeneutics, including the work of Habermas, Hirsch, Ricoeur and Derrida, and the prospects for the future of hermeneutics.

Excerpt

When someone asks me what hermeneutics means, I usually just say that it means interpretation. Sometimes I continue by adding that hermeneutics concerns theories for correctly interpreting texts. “Hermeneutics” and “interpretation” are derived from the same Greek word. While “hermeneutics” is not a common word in English, “interpretation” is. We are well aware that there are interpreters and interpretations in many fields of study. One interprets novels, poems, plays and movies. One interprets the Bible, the Torah, the Koran, the Tao Te Ching and the Brahmasutra. Should one interpret these texts? Can one do anything but interpret them? One interprets the law. the Supreme Court is supposed to interpret the Constitution of the United States. An actor interprets the role she has to portray. a conductor interprets a piece of music. We are also well aware of different theories of interpretation. Aristotle’s Poetics tells us how to interpret Greek tragedy; he even states some rules. Literary criticism has developed many theories for interpreting literary texts. It would seem we know more about hermeneutics than we thought.

Do natural scientists interpret nature or do they explain it? Do they interpret the data collected from experiments? Do you interpret or just understand the motives of your best friend? Do you interpret a sculpture and, if so, how do you go about that? Is there only one correct interpretation of that sculpture or can there be several? Consider Hamlet; are there one or several correct interpretations? When you see a stop sign and stop, is that an interpretation? What if you drove through without stopping? Is that an interpretation? Is Pythagoras’ theorem an interpretation?

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