Hermeneutics originated at the beginning of the modern age in three main contexts. Within European humanism it developed as the art of resolving philological problems that arose in the reading of classical works, e.g., where the textual corpus transmitted from Antiquity was uncertain. With the beginning of the implementation of generally binding legal norms, it arose with the juridical problem of applying general legal principles appropriately to specific concrete situations. And in the context of disputations during the Reformation and Counter-Reformation, in particular following the end of the European civil war between 1618 and 1648, it acquired the role of a means of deciding upon the 'correct' interpretation of the Christian Bible.
With regard to its historical origins, hermeneutics was a form of reflection on a crisis of the understanding of disparate things and, simultaneously, was the attempt to master this crisis. Even today, this more or less holds true. From the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries through to the nineteenth and twentieth, the main change overcoming hermeneutics was its transformation from an art of understanding into a philosophical discipline making the same kind of foundational claims as had been made formerly by the transcendental philosophy of the German classical tradition. Chiefly representative of this 'foundational-ontological turn' are the works of Martin Heidegger and Hans-Georg Gadamer. Within the educational sciences, 'hermeneutics' primarily signifies reflection upon and illumination of the concepts we use in daily life or in science to talk about things. It investigates the judgements that we have already made when we turn to things. To this extent, hermeneutics is an analysis of the 'pre-judgements' we bring to the consideration of things. Since these pre-judgements are only in relatively few cases our own individual inventions, hermeneutic analysis also means the analysis of the nexus of the historical origins and the context of the concepts we apply. The goal of hermeneutic analysis is to come to terms with the matter with which we are concerned. Edmund Husserl's slogan for this goal of inquiry was: 'Back to the things themselves'.