Hermeneutics is the theory and methodology of interpretation, especially the interpretation of biblical texts, wisdom literature, and philosophical texts.
Modern hermeneutics includes both verbal and non-verbal communication as well as semiotics, presuppositions, and pre-understandings. Hermeneutics has been broadly applied in the humanities, especially in law, history and theology.
Hermeneutics was initially applied to the interpretation, or exegesis, of scripture, and has been later broadened to questions of general interpretation. The terms hermeneutics and exegesis are sometimes used interchangeably. Hermeneutics is a wider discipline which includes written, verbal, and non-verbal communication. Exegesis focuses primarily upon the word and grammar of texts.
Hermeneutic, as a count noun in the singular, refers to some particular method of interpretation (see, in contrast, double hermeneutic).
In religious traditions
Summaries of the principles by which Torah can be interpreted date back to, at least, Hillel the Elder, although the thirteen principles set forth in the Baraita of Rabbi Ishmael are perhaps the best known. These principles ranged from standard rules of logic (e.g., a fortiori argument [known in Hebrew as קל וחומר – kal v’chomer]) to more expansive ones, such as the rule that a passage could be interpreted by reference to another passage in which the same word appears (Gezerah Shavah). The rabbis did not ascribe equal persuasive power to the various principles.
Traditional Jewish hermeneutics differed from the Greek method in that the rabbis considered the Tanakh (the Jewish Biblical canon) to be without error. Any apparent inconsistencies had to be understood by means of careful examination of a given text within the context of other texts. There were different levels of interpretation: some were used to arrive at the plain meaning of the text, some expounded the law given in the text, and others found secret or mystical levels of understanding.
Vedic hermeneutics involves the exegesis of the Vedas, the earliest holy texts of Hinduism. The Mimamsa was the leading hermeneutic school and their primary purpose was understanding what Dharma (righteous living) involved by a detailed hermeneutic study of the Vedas. They also derived the rules for the various rituals that had to be performed precisely.
The foundational text is the Mimamsa Sutra of Jaimini (ca. 3rd to 1st century BCE) with a major commentary by Śabara (ca. the 5th or 6th century CE). The Mimamsa sutra summed up the basic rules for Vedic interpretation.
Buddhist hermeneutics deals with the interpretation of the vast Buddhist literature, particularly those texts which are said to be spoken by the Buddha (Buddhavacana) and other enlightened beings. Buddhist hermeneutics is deeply tied to Buddhist spiritual practice and its ultimate aim is to extract skillful means of reaching spiritual enlightenment or nirvana. A central question in Buddhist hermeneutics is which Buddhist teachings are explicit, representing ultimate truth, and which teachings are merely conventional or relative.
Biblical hermeneutics is the study of the principles of interpretation of the Bible. While Jewish and Christian biblical hermeneutics have some overlap, they have distinctly different interpretive traditions.
The early patristic traditions of biblical exegesis had few unifying characteristics in the beginning but tended toward unification in later schools of biblical hermeneutics.
Augustine offers hermeneutics and homiletics in his De doctrina christiana. He stresses the importance of humility in the study of Scripture. He also regards the duplex commandment of love in Matthew 22 as the heart of Christian faith. In Augustine’s hermeneutics, signs have an important role. God can communicate with the believer through the signs of the Scriptures. Thus, humility, love, and the knowledge of signs are an essential hermeneutical presupposition for a sound interpretation of the Scriptures. Although Augustine endorses some teaching of the Platonism of his time, he corrects and recasts it according to a theocentric doctrine of the Bible. Similarly, in a practical discipline, he modifies the classical theory of oratory in a Christian way. He underscores the meaning of diligent study of the Bible and prayer as more than mere human knowledge and oratory skills. As a concluding remark, Augustine encourages the interpreter and preacher of the Bible to seek a good manner of life and, most of all, to love God and neighbor.
There are traditionally fourfold sense of biblical hermeneutics: literal, moral, allegorical (spiritual), and anagogical.
Encyclopædia Britannica states that literal analysis means “a biblical text is to be deciphered according to the ‘plain meaning’ expressed by its linguistic construction and historical context.” The intention of the authors is believed to correspond to the literal meaning. Literal hermeneutics is often associated with the verbal inspiration of the Bible.
Moral interpretation searches for moral lessons which can be understood from writings within the Bible. Allegories are often placed in this category.
Allegorical interpretation states that biblical narratives have a second level of reference that is more than the people, events and things that are explicitly mentioned. One type of allegorical interpretation is known as typological, where the key figures, events, and establishments of the Old Testament are viewed as “types” (patterns). In the New Testament this can also include foreshadowing of people, objects, and events. According to this theory, readings like Noah’s Ark could be understood by using the Ark as a “type” of the Christian church that God designed from the start.
This type of interpretation is more often known as mystical interpretation. It claims to explain the events of the Bible and how they relate to or predict what the future holds. This is evident in the Jewish Kabbalah, which attempts to reveal the mystical significance of the numerical values of Hebrew words and letters.
In Judaism, anagogical interpretation is also evident in the medieval Zohar. In Christianity, it can be seen in Mariology.
Although the conceptual fixation of hermeneutics and its systematic development into its own field of scientific theory only fall into the early modern period, its historical roots go back much further. Hermeneutics as an art of interpretation has its origins in ancient exegesis, the Jewish interpretation of the Tanakh and in ancient Indian teachings. The interpretation of biblical texts then became the actual engine of the development of a differentiated hermeneutics as a scientific discipline.
Exploring the meaning
Hermeneutics had early applications in Greek religion, mythology and ancient philosophy. The art of divination explored the hidden meaning of an object and was called mantik (μαντεία). The interpretation theory dealt with the meaning behind the obvious meanings. Thus, the exegesis (exégesis = interpretation, explanation) of Homer’s works first commented on the meaning of the words and the sentences. Only on a deeper level was it necessary to discuss and interpret the allegorical meaning (αλληγορειν – to put it a little differently). Socratesprovoked his fellow citizens with the question of how it really is about their future destiny and their soul. He subjected their answers to a sharp critique of meaning and tried to show that everything had to be scrutinized in order to gain a solid starting floor.
According to Plato, the two sides of being, which must be understood, are the perceptible nature and essential being, which can not be sensed. The soul strives not for the sensible quality, but for the essential being. For each of the things, complete spiritual realization comes in five steps:
the name (which we pronounce aloud),
the linguistically expressed definition of terms (composed of words of meaning and meaning, eg “the circle is the same distance everywhere from its center”),
the perceptible by the five senses (eg made by the draftsman or the turner),
conceptual knowledge (comprehension by the reasoning mind, cognitive conception of such things),
that which can only be discerned through deepening in reason and which is the true archetype, the idea of the thing (ideal or intelligible reality or essence, the pure, non-sensuous truth, which was originally completely essential).
For Aristotle, in addition to the statement as an expression and as an elementary basis of logical thinking, any statement is always in the question relation to what is meant by it. Already the statements themselves were understood in classical Greece as an interpretation (ἑρμηνεύειν). The statement transforms an inner thought into a spoken language. The interpretation of what is spoken requires the opposite path from the utterance to the imaginary statement intention: “The ἑρμηνεύειν proves to be quite a process of meaning transfer, which goes back from the external to an inside of meaning.”
In the ancient interpretation of texts in both Greece and Judaism, the allegory was important. It is about the determination of a hidden meaning of the texts, which is different from the literal sense. An essential contribution to the development of allegorical methods of interpretation was provided by the Stoa, which in turn influenced the Jewish interpretation of the Bible, in particular the Philon of Alexandria. Even Origen as an early Christian commentator on the Bible assumed that in addition to the literal sense in the Scriptures above all a higher spiritual and emotional sense is present. The early Christian dogmaticsIt had to deal with the conflict of meaning between the special salvation history of the Jewish people as contained in the Old Testament and the universalistic proclamation of Jesus in the New Testament. Influenced by Neoplatonic ideas, Augustine taught the rise of the mind over the literal and the moral to the spiritual sense. In his view, things should also be understood as signs (res et signa). Even the realm of things requires, therefore, an exploration of the meaning of creation.
In the Christian Middle Ages, the tradition of ancient exegesis was continued in its basic structure of bipartition. The subject was the Bible. The patristic hermeneutics, which Origen and Augustine had summarized, was developed and systematically presented by Cassian as a method of fourfold scripture. The limits of textual criticism were determined by a doctrine, the exegetical code . The reason was the conflict between the dogmatic interpretation and the results of new research at that time. According to this doctrine, the Bible had an outer mantle, the cortex, which sheathed a deeper nucleus, the nucleus.
Reception of Roman Law
The tradition of juridical hermeneutics gained new meaning as jurisprudence became an economically and politically relevant art in the struggle of the rising urban bourgeoisie against the nobility. The struggle for the correct interpretation of legal texts led to a secularized hermeneutical methodology. It has become a design process for thinking products of the past. Relying on recognized historical authorities, legal processes should be influenced. It was not only about understanding the Roman jurists, but also about the dogmatics of Roman lawto apply to the modern world. From this, jurisprudence developed a close bond between hermeneutic and dogmatic tasks. The theory of interpretation could not be based solely on the intention of the legislator. Instead, it had to raise the “ground of the law” to its hermeneutic standard.
Recovery of the Relevant
The subject of hermeneutics, which redeveloped with reformation and humanism at the beginning of the sixteenth century, was the correct interpretation of such texts, which contain the actual essentials that must be regained. This was especially true for the biblical hermeneutics. The Protestant faith, which is essentially based on the validity and interpretation of the Bible for its legitimacyReformation has given hermeneutics sustainable new impulses. The reformers polemicized against the tradition of church doctrine and its treatment of the text with the allegorical method. They demanded the return to the text of the Scriptures. The exegesis should be objective, object-bound and free from all subjective arbitrariness.
Luther and Melanchthon
Martin Luther emphasized that the key to understanding the Bible is in itself (“sui ipsius interpres”). Every Christian person possesses the ability to interpret and understand the Scriptures themselves (sola scriptura principle). According to Luther, one should not meet Scripture with a preconceived opinion, but pay attention to its own wording. Scripture interpretation must not prevent the Scripture from saying its own thing, since otherwise the interpreter of Scripture will fall into the background.
Melanchthon’s pupil Matthias Flacius emphasized the dogmatic unity of the canon, which he played against the individual interpretation of the New Testament writings. He severely restricted the Lutheran principle “sacra scriptura sui ipsius interpres”. He emphasized the need for sound language skills to understand supposedly obscure passages in the Bible, which he clarified through the systematic use of parallel passages in Scripture. Often he was able to do research on Augustineand other church fathers. The difficulties that obstructed the understanding of the Bible in places were purely linguistic or grammatical: “Speech is a sign or a picture of things and, so to speak, a kind of spectacle through which we look at things ourselves. Therefore, if the language is obscure either in itself or for us, we laboriously recognize the things ourselves through them. ”
In the Renaissance, textual criticism (ars critica) developed as an independent discipline. She strove for the original form of the texts. The existing tradition was broken up or transformed by the discovery of its buried origins. The covert and disfigured meaning of the Bible and the classics should be revisited and renewed. In the decline to the original sources, a new understanding was to be gained for what had been corrupted by distortion and abuse: the Bible by the teaching tradition of the Church, the classics by the barbaric Latin of scholasticism. The revived study of the traditional classics of Roman, then Greek antiquityIn connection with the printing of letters led to a considerable extension of the interpretation and interpretation of texts. It awoke the need for a new methodology of the everywhere sprouting sciences. A new organon of knowledge should replace or complete the Aristotelian. Only now did hermeneutics come to terms.
Johann Conrad Dannhauer
Johann Conrad Dannhauer designed his hitherto neglected font ” Idea Boni Interpretis ” from 1630 as “hermeneutica generalis”. In 1654 he published his work “Hermeneutica sacra sive methodus exponendarum sacrarum litterarum”: To the true interpretation and “elimination of darkness” are required the incorruptibility of the judgment, the investigation of the preceding and following, the observance of the analogy, the key message (Scopus) and the purpose of the text, the knowledge of the language use by the author and the consideration of translation errors. Dannhauer has emphasized the importance of general hermeneutics:
The theological hermeneutics of the early Enlightenment rejected the doctrine of verbal inspiration and sought to gain general rules of understanding. At that time, historical biblical criticism found its first hermeneutic legitimacy.
Baruch de Spinoza
Spinoza’s hermeneutics defends the freedom of philosophy over theology. Freely and impartially the writing should be critically and historically examined. What can not be taken from her in full clarity is unacceptable. Spinoza’s Tractatus theologico-politicus, published in 1670, contains a critique of the notion of miracles and asserts the claim of reason that only rational, that is, possible, may be recognized. That in the Scriptures, to which reason takes offense, demands a natural explanation. It is not the intention of the Bible to teach science. Therefore, the distinction between reason and faith must not be removed. The Word of God teaches the love of God and charity. It is not identical with the script. This only conveys the knowledge required to understand the divine love commandment. The rest of the Bible’s speculation about God and the world does not constitute the core of revelation. The whole content of the Scripture is adapted to human comprehension and imagination.
Johann Martin Chladni / Chladenius
Johann Martin Chladni introduced in 1742 an aspect in the hermeneutic theory, which has remained current in various respects: “Those circumstances of our soul, of our body and of our whole person, which make or are cause, that we ourselves Let’s call it a thing in this way and not otherwise, let’s call the Sehe-Punckt. “According to Chladni, Leibniz has coined the term” Seehpunkt “to denote the irreducible Perspectives of the Monads. It is only the consideration of the point of view that makes objectivity possible, because only in this way does the opportunity arise to adequately take account of the individual “changes that people have of a thing”. Thus, Chladni is concerned with the correct understanding through repatriation to the leading point of view. A linguistic objectivism that would refrain from the point of view, would go completely past the things. This is the basic tenet of universal hermeneutics.
Georg Friedrich Meier
Like Chladenius, Georg Friedrich Meier, with his work on the art of interpretation in 1757, belonged to the Age of Enlightenment. Meier extended the hermeneutical claim far beyond the interpretation of the text to a universal hermeneutics which was directed to signs of all kinds, both natural and artificial. Understanding therefore means the classification into a world of sign enclosing. The harmony of the whole world in turn, according to Meier, takes up Leibniz’s idea of the best of all worlds, that each sign can refer to another, because in this world there is an optimal context of signs.
The fact that the hermeneutical approaches obligated to the concept of rationalization of the Enlightenment played no longer a role and completely forgot, goes back to the effect of Kant, whose critique of pure reason in epistemological terms led to the collapse of the Enlightenment-rational worldview. In Kant’s distinction between the world of phenomena, as mediated by the human apparatus of knowledge, and the “things in themselves,” lies “one of the secret roots of the romance and upswing that has since come to hermeneutics.” With the insight into the limits of human cognitive ability, which Kant has promoted, hermeneutics since the 19th century, among other things, has faced the problem of the historical attachment of human thinking and understanding.
The discipline of hermeneutics emerged with the new humanist education of the 15th century as a historical and critical methodology for analyzing texts. In a triumph of early modern hermeneutics, the Italian humanist Lorenzo Valla proved in 1440 that the Donation of Constantine was a forgery. This was done through intrinsic evidence of the text itself. Thus hermeneutics expanded from its medieval role of explaining the true meaning of the Bible.
However, biblical hermeneutics did not die off. For example, the Protestant Reformation brought about a renewed interest in the interpretation of the Bible, which took a step away from the interpretive tradition developed during the Middle Ages back to the texts themselves. Martin Luther and John Calvin emphasized scriptura sui ipsius interpres (scripture interprets itself). Calvin used brevitas et facilitas as an aspect of theological hermeneutics.
The rationalist Enlightenment led hermeneutists, especially Protestant exegetists, to view Scriptural texts as secular classical texts. They interpreted Scripture as responses to historical or social forces so that, for example, apparent contradictions and difficult passages in the New Testament might be clarified by comparing their possible meanings with contemporary Christian practices.
Friedrich Schleiermacher (1768–1834) explored the nature of understanding in relation not just to the problem of deciphering sacred texts but to all human texts and modes of communication.
The interpretation of a text must proceed by framing its content in terms of the overall organization of the work. Schleiermacher distinguished between grammatical interpretation and psychological interpretation. The former studies how a work is composed from general ideas; the latter studies the peculiar combinations that characterize the work as a whole. He said that every problem of interpretation is a problem of understanding and even defined hermeneutics as the art of avoiding misunderstanding. Misunderstanding was to be avoided by means of knowledge of grammatical and psychological laws.
During Schleiermacher’s time, a fundamental shift occurred from understanding not merely the exact words and their objective meaning, to an understanding of the writer’s distinctive character and point of view.
19th- and 20th-century hermeneutics emerged as a theory of understanding (Verstehen) through the work of Friedrich Schleiermacher (Romantic hermeneutics and methodological hermeneutics), August Böckh (methodological hermeneutics), Wilhelm Dilthey (epistemological hermeneutics), Martin Heidegger (ontological hermeneutics, hermeneutic phenomenology, and transcendental hermeneutic phenomenology), Hans-Georg Gadamer (ontological hermeneutics), Leo Strauss (Straussian hermeneutics), Paul Ricœur (hermeneutic phenomenology), Walter Benjamin (Marxist hermeneutics), Ernst Bloch (Marxist hermeneutics), Jacques Derrida (radical hermeneutics, namely deconstruction), Richard Kearney (diacritical hermeneutics), Fredric Jameson (Marxist hermeneutics), and John Thompson (critical hermeneutics).
Regarding the relation of hermeneutics with problems of analytic philosophy, there has been, particularly among analytic Heideggerians and those working on Heidegger’s philosophy of science, an attempt to try and situate Heidegger’s hermeneutic project in debates concerning realism and anti-realism: arguments have been presented both for Heidegger’s hermeneutic idealism (the thesis that meaning determines reference or, equivalently, that our understanding of the being of entities is what determines entities as entities) and for Heidegger’s hermeneutic realism (the thesis that (a) there is a nature in itself and science can give us an explanation of how that nature works, and (b) that (a) is compatible with the ontological implications of our everyday practices).
Philosophers that worked to combine analytic philosophy with hermeneutics include Georg Henrik von Wright and Peter Winch. Roy J. Howard termed this approach analytic hermeneutics.
Other contemporary philosophers influenced by the hermeneutic tradition include Charles Taylor (engaged hermeneutics) and Dagfinn Føllesdal.
Wilhelm Dilthey broadened hermeneutics even more by relating interpretation to historical objectification. Understanding moves from the outer manifestations of human action and productivity to the exploration of their inner meaning. In his last important essay, “The Understanding of Other Persons and Their Manifestations of Life” (1910), Dilthey made clear that this move from outer to inner, from expression to what is expressed, is not based on empathy. Empathy involves a direct identification with the Other. Interpretation involves an indirect or mediated understanding that can only be attained by placing human expressions in their historical context. Thus, understanding is not a process of reconstructing the state of mind of the author, but one of articulating what is expressed in his work.
Dilthey divided sciences of the mind (human sciences) into three structural levels: experience, expression, and comprehension.
Experience means to feel a situation or thing personally. Dilthey suggested that we can always grasp the meaning of unknown thought when we try to experience it. His understanding of experience is very similar to that of phenomenologist Edmund Husserl.
Expression converts experience into meaning because the discourse has an appeal to someone outside of oneself. Every saying is an expression. Dilthey suggested that one can always return to an expression, especially to its written form, and this practice has the same objective value as an experiment in science. The possibility of returning makes scientific analysis possible, and therefore the humanities may be labeled as science. Moreover, he assumed that an expression may be “saying” more than the speaker intends because the expression brings forward meanings which the individual consciousness may not fully understand.
The last structural level of the science of the mind, according to Dilthey, is comprehension, which is a level that contains both comprehension and incomprehension. Incomprehension means, more or less, wrong understanding. He assumed that comprehension produces coexistence: “he who understands, understands others; he who does not understand stays alone.”
In the 20th century, Martin Heidegger’s philosophical hermeneutics shifted the focus from interpretation to existential understanding as rooted in fundamental ontology, which was treated more as a direct—and thus more authentic—way of being-in-the-world (In-der-Welt-sein) than merely as “a way of knowing.” For example, he called for a “special hermeneutic of empathy” to dissolve the classic philosophic issue of “other minds” by putting the issue in the context of the being-with of human relatedness. (Heidegger himself did not complete this inquiry.)
Advocates of this approach claim that some texts, and the people who produce them, cannot be studied by means of using the same scientific methods that are used in the natural sciences, thus drawing upon arguments similar to those of antipositivism. Moreover, they claim that such texts are conventionalized expressions of the experience of the author. Thus, the interpretation of such texts will reveal something about the social context in which they were formed, and, more significantly, will provide the reader with a means of sharing the experiences of the author.
The reciprocity between text and context is part of what Heidegger called the hermeneutic circle. Among the key thinkers who elaborated this idea was the sociologist Max Weber.
Gadamer (1900–2002) et al.
Hans-Georg Gadamer’s hermeneutics is a development of the hermeneutics of his teacher, Heidegger. Gadamer asserted that methodical contemplation is opposite to experience and reflection. We can reach the truth only by understanding or mastering our experience. According to Gadamer, our understanding is not fixed but rather is changing and always indicating new perspectives. The most important thing is to unfold the nature of individual understanding.
Gadamer pointed out that prejudice is an element of our understanding and is not per se without value. Indeed, prejudices, in the sense of pre-judgements of the thing we want to understand, are unavoidable. Being alien to a particular tradition is a condition of our understanding. He said that we can never step outside of our tradition—all we can do is try to understand it. This further elaborates the idea of the hermeneutic circle.
Bernard Lonergan’s (1904–1984) hermeneutics is less well known, but a case for considering his work as the culmination of the postmodern hermeneutical revolution that began with Heidegger was made in several articles by Lonergan specialist Frederick G. Lawrence.
Paul Ricœur (1913–2005) developed a hermeneutics that is based upon Heidegger’s concepts. His work differs in many ways from that of Gadamer.
Karl-Otto Apel (b. 1922) elaborated a hermeneutics based on American semiotics. He applied his model to discourse ethics with political motivations akin to those of critical theory.
Jürgen Habermas (b. 1929) criticized the conservatism of previous hermeneutists, especially Gadamer, because their focus on tradition seemed to undermine possibilities for social criticism and transformation. He also criticized Marxism and previous members of the Frankfurt School for missing the hermeneutical dimension of critical theory.
Habermas incorporated the notion of the lifeworld and emphasized the importance for social theory of interaction, communication, labor, and production. He viewed hermeneutics as a dimension of critical social theory.
Andrés Ortiz-Osés (b. 1943) has developed his symbolic hermeneutics as the Mediterranean response to Northern European hermeneutics. His main statement regarding symbolic understanding of the world is that meaning is a symbolic healing of injury.
Two other important hermeneutic scholars are Jean Grondin (b. 1955) and Maurizio Ferraris (b. 1956).
Mauricio Beuchot coined the term and discipline of analogic hermeneutics, which is a type of hermeneutics that is based upon interpretation and takes into account the plurality of aspects of meaning. He drew categories both from analytic and continental philosophy, as well as from the history of thought.
Two scholars who have published criticism of Gadamer’s hermeneutics are the Italian jurist Emilio Betti and the American literary theorist E. D. Hirsch.
New hermeneutic is the theory and methodology of interpretation to understand Biblical texts through existentialism. The essence of new hermeneutic emphasizes not only the existence of language but also the fact that language is eventualized in the history of individual life. This is called the event of language. Ernst Fuchs, Gerhard Ebeling, and James M. Robinson are the scholars who represent the new hermeneutics.
The method of Marxist hermeneutics has been developed by the work of, primarily, Walter Benjamin and Fredric Jameson. Benjamin outlines his theory of the allegory in his study Ursprung des deutschen Trauerspiels (“Trauerspiel” literally means “mourning play” but is often translated as “tragic drama”). Fredric Jameson draws on Biblical hermeneutics, Ernst Bloch, and the work of Northrop Frye, to advance his theory of Marxist hermeneutics in his influential The Political Unconscious. Jameson’s Marxist hermeneutics is outlined in the first chapter of the book, titled “On Interpretation” Jameson re-interprets (and secularizes) the fourfold system (or four levels) of Biblical exegesis (literal; moral; allegorical; anagogical) to relate interpretation to the Mode of Production, and eventually, history.
Karl Popper first used the term “objective hermeneutics” in his Objective Knowledge (1972).
In 1992, the Association for Objective Hermeneutics (AGOH) was founded in Frankfurt am Main by scholars of various disciplines in the humanities and social sciences. Its goal is to provide all scholars who use the methodology of objective hermeneutics with a means of exchanging information.
In one of the few translated texts of this German school of hermeneutics, its founders declared:
Our approach has grown out of the empirical study of family interactions as well as reflection upon the procedures of interpretation employed in our research. For the time being we shall refer to it as objective hermeneutics in order to distinguish it clearly from traditional hermeneutic techniques and orientations. The general significance for sociological analysis of objective hermeneutics issues from the fact that, in the social sciences, interpretive methods constitute the fundamental procedures of measurement and of the generation of research data relevant to theory. From our perspective, the standard, nonhermeneutic methods of quantitative social research can only be justified because they permit a shortcut in generating data (and research “economy” comes about under specific conditions). Whereas the conventional methodological attitude in the social sciences justifies qualitative approaches as exploratory or preparatory activities, to be succeeded by standardized approaches and techniques as the actual scientific procedures (assuring precision, validity, and objectivity), we regard hermeneutic procedures as the basic method for gaining precise and valid knowledge in the social sciences. However, we do not simply reject alternative approaches dogmatically. They are in fact useful wherever the loss in precision and objectivity necessitated by the requirement of research economy can be condoned and tolerated in the light of prior hermeneutically elucidated research experiences.
In archaeology, hermeneutics means the interpretation and understanding of material through analysis of possible meanings and social uses.
Proponents argue that interpretation of artifacts is unavoidably hermeneutic because we cannot know for certain the meaning behind them. We can only apply modern values when interpreting. This is most commonly seen in stone tools, where descriptions such as “scraper” can be highly subjective and actually unproven until the development of microwear analysis some thirty years ago.
Opponents argue that a hermeneutic approach is too relativist and that their own interpretations are based on common-sense evaluation.
There are several traditions of architectural scholarship that draw upon the hermeneutics of Heidegger and Gadamer, such as Christian Norberg-Schulz, and Nader El-Bizri in the circles of phenomenology. Lindsay Jones examines the way architecture is received and how that reception changes with time and context (e.g., how a building is interpreted by critics, users, and historians). Dalibor Vesely situates hermeneutics within a critique of the application of overly scientific thinking to architecture. This tradition fits within a critique of the Enlightenment and has also informed design-studio teaching. Adrian Snodgrass sees the study of history and Asian cultures by architects as a hermeneutical encounter with otherness. He also deploys arguments from hermeneutics to explain design as a process of interpretation. Along with Richard Coyne, he extends the argument to the nature of architectural education and design.
Environmental hermeneutics applies hermeneutics to environmental issues conceived broadly to subjects including “nature” and “wilderness” (both terms are matters of hermeneutical contention), landscapes, ecosystems, built environments (where it overlaps architectural hermeneutics), inter-species relationships, the relationship of the body to the world, and more.
Insofar as hermeneutics is a basis of both critical theory and constitutive theory (both of which have made important inroads into the postpositivist branch of international relations theory and political science), it has been applied to international relations.
Steve Smith refers to hermeneutics as the principal way of grounding a foundationalist yet postpositivist theory of international relations.
Radical postmodernism is an example of a postpositivist yet anti-foundationalist paradigm of international relations.
Some scholars argue that law and theology are particular forms of hermeneutics because of their need to interpret legal tradition or scriptural texts. Moreover, the problem of interpretation has been central to legal theory since at least the 11th century.
In the Middle Ages and Italian Renaissance, the schools of glossatores, commentatores, and usus modernus distinguished themselves by their approach to the interpretation of “laws” (mainly Justinian’s Corpus Juris Civilis). The University of Bologna gave birth to a “legal Renaissance” in the 11th century, when the Corpus Juris Civilis was rediscovered and systematically studied by men such as Irnerius and Johannes Gratian. It was an interpretative Renaissance. Subsequently, these were fully developed by Thomas Aquinas and Alberico Gentili.
Since then, interpretation has always been at the center of legal thought. Friedrich Carl von Savigny and Emilio Betti, among others, made significant contributions to general hermeneutics. Legal interpretivism, most famously Ronald Dworkin’s, may be seen as a branch of philosophical hermeneutics.
Italian philosopher Gianni Vattimo and Spanish philosopher Santiago Zabala in their book Hermeneutic Communism, when discussing contemporary capitalist regimes, stated that, “A politics of descriptions does not impose power in order to dominate as a philosophy; rather, it is functional for the continued existence of a society of dominion, which pursues truth in the form of imposition (violence), conservation (realism), and triumph (history).”
Vattimo and Zabala also stated that they view interpretation as anarchy and affirmed that “existence is interpretation” and that “hermeneutics is weak thought.”
Psychoanalysts have made ample use of hermeneutics since Sigmund Freud first gave birth to their discipline. In 1900 Freud wrote that the title he chose for The Interpretation of Dreams ‘makes plain which of the traditional approaches to the problem of dreams I am inclined to follow… “interpreting” a dream implies assigning a “meaning” to it.’
The French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan later extended Freudian hermeneutics into other psychical realms. His early work from the 1930s–50s is particularly influenced by Heidegger, and Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s hermeneutical phenomenology.
Psychologists and computer scientists have recently become interested in hermeneutics, especially as an alternative to cognitivism.
Hubert Dreyfus’s critique of conventional artificial intelligence has been influential among psychologists who are interested in hermeneutic approaches to meaning and interpretation, as discussed by philosophers such as Martin Heidegger (cf. Embodied cognition) and Ludwig Wittgenstein (cf. Discursive psychology).
Hermeneutics is also influential in humanistic psychology.
Religion and theology
The understanding of a theological text depends upon the reader’s particular hermeneutical viewpoint. Some theorists, such as Paul Ricœur, have applied modern philosophical hermeneutics to theological texts (in Ricœur’s case, the Bible).
Mircea Eliade, as a hermeneutist, understands religion as ‘experience of the sacred’, and interprets the sacred in relation to the profane. The Romanian scholar underlines that the relation between the sacred and the profane is not of opposition, but of complementarity, having interpreted the profane as a hierophany. The hermeneutics of the myth is a part of the hermeneutics of religion. Myth should not be interpreted as an illusion or a lie, because there is truth in myth to be rediscovered. Myth is interpreted by Mircea Eliade as ‘sacred history’. He introduces the concept of ‘total hermeneutics’.
In the field of safety science, and especially in the study of human reliability, scientists have become increasingly interested in hermeneutic approaches.
It has been proposed by ergonomist Donald Taylor that mechanist models of human behaviour will only take us so far in terms of accident reduction, and that safety science must look at the meaning of accidents for human beings.
Other scholars in the field have attempted to create safety taxonomies that make use of hermeneutic concepts in terms of their categorisation of qualitative data.
In sociology, hermeneutics is the interpretation and understanding of social events through analysis of their meanings for the human participants in the events. It enjoyed prominence during the 1960s and 1970s, and differs from other interpretive schools of sociology in that it emphasizes the importance of both context and form within any given social behaviour.
The central principle of sociological hermeneutics is that it is only possible to know the meaning of an act or statement within the context of the discourse or world view from which it originates. Context is critical to comprehension; an action or event that carries substantial weight to one person or culture may be viewed as meaningless or entirely different to another. For example, giving the “thumbs-up” gesture is widely accepted as a sign of a job well done in the United States, while other cultures view it as an insult. Similarly, putting a piece of paper into a box might be considered a meaningless act unless it is put into the context of democratic elections (the act of putting a ballot paper into a box).
Friedrich Schleiermacher, widely regarded as the father of sociological hermeneutics believed that, in order for an interpreter to understand the work of another author, they must familiarize themselves with the historical context in which the author published their thoughts. His work led to the inspiration of Heidegger’s “hermeneutic circle” a frequently referenced model that claims one’s understanding of individual parts of a text is based on their understanding of the whole text, while the understanding of the whole text is dependent on the understanding of each individual part. Hermeneutics in sociology was also heavily influenced by German philosopher Hans-Georg Gadamer.
Jürgen Habermas criticizes Gadamer’s hermeneutics as being unsuitable for understanding society because it is unable to account for questions of social reality, like labor and domination.
Murray Rothbard and Hans Hermann-Hoppe, both economists of the Austrian school, have criticized the hermeneutical approach to economics.