B.     A Brief Review of Hermeneutics


1.      Defining Hermeneutics

a.       Hermeneutics may be described as the development and study of theories of the interpretation and understanding of texts. In contemporary usage in religious studies, hermeneutics refers to the study of the interpretation of religious texts. [w] From Greek and Latin word meaning interpretation.

b.      Who was Hermes?

c.       “Even the term hermeneutics itself is frequently found to have contradictory or at least ambiguous connotations. For some it designates a movement in twentieth century philosophy (Heidegger, Gadamer) or theology (Bultmann and the ‘New Hermeneutic’). Others, literary students for the most part, see in it a special method of interpreting literary texts, while still others use the term to those disciplines in the human and social sciences which make use of the methods of understanding and interpretation.” [mv pp. ix-x]

d.      A Typology [c pp. 5-6]

i.     “Naïve or Natural Hermeneutics—The spontaneous, everyday, mostly unreflective interpretations necessary when intersubjective understanding breaks down.

ii.    “Normative Hermeneutics—The art of text interpretation as a deliberate and deliberating discipline for a ‘priestly’ caste of specialists.

iii.   “Scientific Hermeneutics—Conceived as the foundational discipline of the human or historical sciences.

iv.   “Philosophical or Ontological Hermeneutics—A general philosophy of human existence, which holds that interpreting is not so much what human beings or some class of human beings do, but rather what all human beings are, namely, interpreters.

v.    “Negative or Depth Hermeneutics—The hermeneutics of distrust or suspicion, a continuation of the Enlightenment’s effort to liberate us from the dogma, error, and superstition of the past. . . It is called ‘negative’ because of its undermining intent, and is sometimes styled ‘depth hermeneutics’ because it purports to sound beneath linguistic surfaces to the unconscious (Freud) or to the economic-political conditions, the regimes of power, that control human communication (Marx, Nietzsche, Foucault).” [c with some style changes]


2.      Religious Hermeneutics

a.     Torah Exegesis (515  bce-70ce.): “A common use of the word hermeneutics refers to a process of scriptural interpretation. Its earliest example is however found not in the written texts, but in the Jewish Oral Tradition dated to the Second Temple era (515 BCE - 70 CE) that later became the Talmud.” Codified by Hillel the Elder and Rabbi Ishmael, which constituted “the first record of hermeneutic rules in the world, through the exegetic interpretation of Biblical texts.” [w]

b.      Aristotle of Stageira (384-322 b.c.)— “’Words spoken are symbols or signs (symbola) of affections or impressions (pathemata) of the soul (psyche); written words are the signs of words spoken. . . As writing, so also is speech not the same for all races of men. . . But the mental affections themselves, of which these words are primarily signs (semeia), are the same for the whole of mankind, as are also the objects (pragmata) of which those affections are representations or likenesses, images, copies (homoiomata).’—Aristotle, On Interpretation, 1.16a4” [w] or the Greek Peri Hermeneiasor Latin De Interpretatione.

c.       “Against the Catholic insistence on church authority and tradition in matters of understanding and interpreting the Holy Scriptures, which was reaffirmed at the Council of Trent in 1546, the Protestant reformers advanced the principles of perspicuity—perspicuitasand of the self-sufficiency of the holy text.” [mv p. 2] (perspicuous = clearly expressed)

3.      Other Renaissance Developments

a.       Philology—“The resurgence of interest in the study of the classical texts from Greek and Roman antiquity [and Arabic in Hebraic texts] . . . to establish the authenticity of a given text . . . and . . . reconstruct as much as possible its original and correct version.” [mv p. 2]

b.      JurisprudenceThe revival of interest in Roman law, which began during the so-called twelfth-century Renaissance in Italy with the concomitant efforts of scholars to elucidate the Code of Justinian (A.D. 533), led to the development of a special hermeneutics of jurisprudence.” [mv p. 3]

c.       Philosophy—“Finally, with the desire of Enlightenment philosophers to proceed everywhere from certain principles and to systematize all human knowledge, hermeneutics became a province of philosophy. [following Aristotle who] viewed hermeneutics . . . as belonging to the domain of logic. . . . Although the claim for universality of twentieth-century philosophical hermeneutics radically differs from the Enlightenment position, thinkers like Heidegger and Gadamer in some fundamental respect still follow the example of their eighteenth-century predecessors. Thus, for Gadamer general hermeneutics is part of philosophy because it transcends the confines of individual discipline and deals instead with their foundations.” [mv pp. 3-4]


4.      Philosophical Hermeneutics—begins explicitly with the primacy of Being, with our dependency on ‘the given,’ on nature, language, culture, tradition, and social practices. This starting point accords well with the social and ecological concerns of the age. Its basic postulate, human finitude, the limitations of temporal existence, recalls a broadly religious awareness.” [c p. 7]

a.       Basic Features

i.     “The energy once devoted to a science of interpretation has been dissipated by the failure of its proponents to advance a compelling method for stabilizing text interpretation. Too many of its key categories—‘intention,’ for example—have become marginal in an intellectual climate very much aware of the impact of the un-, non-, and pre-conscious on all human activities. Moreover, the aspirations for certain knowledge in the human sciences to rival the natural sciences appears misplaced now that natural science itself is generally construed as a succession of paradigms, not a progressive refining of a single interpretation. Post-Kuhnian thought is no longer in awe of the natural sciences.” [c p. 7]

ii.      “. . . with its stress on dialogue rather than system, is filling the void left by philosophy’s foundational project—its attempt to establish an unshakeable ground of certain knowledge, now for the most part abandoned. In the absence of ultimates and absolutes, we are left with what Gadamer, echoing the German poet Hölderin, called ‘the conversation that we ourselves are’.” [c p. 8; g. p. 378]

b. Dasein, Existenz

i. Heidegger: The word Dasein was used by several philosophers before Heidegger, [e.g. he probably initially got the idea from Kakuzō], with the meaning of "existence" or "presence". It is derived from da-sein, which literally means being-there/there-being, though Heidegger was adamant that this was an inappropriate translation of Dasein. In German, Dasein is the German vernacular term for existence, as in I am pleased with my existence (ich bin mit meinem Dasein zufrieden). For Heidegger, however, it must not be mistaken for a subject, that is something definable in terms of consciousness or a self. Heidegger was adamant about this distinction, which carried on Nietzsche's critique of the subject. Dasein, as a human being that is constituted by its temporality, illuminates and interprets the meaning of Being in Time. Heidegger chose this term as a synonym for "human entity" in order to emphasize the critical importance "being" has for our understanding and interpretation of the world. Some scholars have been confused on this issue, arguing that for Heidegger "Dasein" denoted some sort of structured awareness or an institutional "way of life"[1] but the textual evidence for this claim is not strong.” [w]

ii. Jaspers: For Jaspers, the term Existenz is used for this idea, not dasein.
“Jaspers gave his view of the history of philosophy and introduced his major themes. Beginning with modern science and empiricism, Jaspers points out that as we question reality, we confront borders that an empirical (or scientific) method can simply not transcend. At this point, the individual faces a choice: sink into despair and resignation, or take a leap of faith toward what Jaspers calls Transcendence. In making this leap, individuals confront their own limitless freedom, which Jaspers calls Existenz, and can finally experience authentic existence.
But if Existenz is a subjective state of being, how can it be evaluated and analyzed by the individual? Jaspers suggests social interactions offer guidelines that individuals either adopt or reject. In other words, Existenz is a solitary state derived from the values of society. As with Sartre’s idea of “mirrors” (“Hell is other people!”), Jaspers writes of the self as “reflection in someone else’s authentic self.” Unless we know what others think and expect of us, we cannot decide who we are or want to be.
Jaspers, therefore, presents a view in which all people depend upon society for self-definition, even if the act of definition is a rejection of society’s values. No one is truly apart from society. In the extreme, a hermit defines his or her self as a complete rejection of social structures, but there is no “hermit” without a society from which to seek shelter. As a result, individuals experience a constant sensation of conflict: a desire to define the self freely while requiring society for that definition.[2] [w]

iii. Kakuzō ”According to Tomonobu Imamichi, Heidegger's concept of Dasein in Sein und Zeit was inspired — although Heidegger remains silent on this — by Okakura Kakuzo's concept of das-in-der-Welt-sein (to be in the being of the world) expressed in The Book of Tea to describe Zhuangzi's philosophy, which Imamichi's teacher had offered to Heidegger in 1919, after having followed lessons with him the year before. [1].” [w]

c.      Sources of alienation and domination 

i.         “For [Nietzsche, Heidegger, and Derrida], the problem is metaphysics. . .Truth for Plato is the ancient ideal of theory, . . . the eternal, the eidos (form). Here is the source of the dispassionate Western onlooker and the object or thing concept of being—of the subject-object dichotomy, prominent in Western thought to this day. Scientific method is wholly dependent on it, as is the applied science of technology. For modern thought the source is Descartes, whose philosophy turns on a finally unbridgeable hiatus between mind and thing.” [c p. 12]

ii.      Note feminist theory has changed not only how we view gender, but also has revolutionized psychology to transcend this split. [ma] Contemporary explorations of quantum consciousness (relationship between mind and matter via quantum mechanics) also transcend the split, as do trends in humanistic psychology.

iii.   Alienation is the result of the subject-object split “for the earth is a realm of alteration and anything that changes can at best be a shadow of the real. The earth is appearance . . . [recall this from the PreSocratics] . . . the contemplative mind is self-alienated . . . a mind purified for pure reason cannot fully acknowledge its bodily home either. The flesh is transitory and therefore of little consequence, or it is the source of weakness and evil.” [c pp. 12-13] This theme is repeated in cyberpunk literature, to which we will return later [a3]

iv.   “’The’ one Truth, the foundational project of Western philosophy; the lesser imperatives are abstract and analyze, explain, predict, and where possible, shape and manipulate to satisfy human desires. Method and technique, the god-terms of mastery, are the idols of the West, especially the modern West, yielding, in our time the cult of the expert, the bureaucratic Leviathan, global domination by international business, and lives dedicated to self-improvement (even the self is manipulatable) and temporary arrangements, rootlessness made of almost obligatory and certainly normal . . . a flitting here and a flitting there in the cause of business or recreation). [c p. 13]

d.       Gradual Change: Philosophical Hermeneutics as Conservative

i.         “For Heidegger, Gadamer, and Ricoeur . . . there can be no sudden break with the past . . . Whatever possibilities we have reside in understanding our own history, not in leaping to somewhere else. It is accurate, then, to call philosophical hermeneutics conservative. But its critique of metaphysics also reveals an emancipatory interest . .: [c p. 14]

ii.      “All philosophical hermeneutics can hope to do, therefore, is hold open an alternative, constantly pointing to ways of living and thinking less destructive of the earth and the human spirit. . . . [It] is an effort to rethink what we are and how we might relate ourselves to the world. It is preparation for and complicity with the turning [Heidegger’s term for change] when perhaps we can learn to heed the claims of Being. [c p14-15]

e. Ontology and Hermeneutics [Malpas, 2009, sep]

Traditionally, hermeneutics is taken to have its origins in problems of biblical exegesis and in the development of a theoretical framework to govern and direct such exegetical practice. In the hands of eighteenth and early nineteenth century theorists, writers such as Chladenius and Meier, Ast and Schleiermacher, hermeneutics was developed into a more encompassing theory of textual interpretation in general—a set of rules that provide the basis for good interpretive practice no matter what the subject matter. Inasmuch as hermeneutics is the method proper to the recovery of meaning, so Wilhelm Dilthey broadened hermeneutics still further, taking it as the methodology for the recovery of meaning that is essential to understanding within the ‘human’ or ‘historical’ sciences (the Geisteswissenschaften). For these writers, as for many others, the basic problem of hermeneutics was methodological: how to found the human sciences, and so how to found the science of interpretation, in a way that would make them properly ‘scientific’. Moreover, if the mathematical models and procedures that appeared to be the hallmark of the sciences of nature could not be duplicated in the human sciences, then the task at issue must involve finding an alternative methodology proper to the human sciences as such—hence Schleiermacher's ambition to develop a formal methodology that would codify interpretive practice, while Dilthey aimed at the elaboration of a ‘psychology’ that would elucidate and guide interpretive understanding.

Already familiar with earlier hermeneutic thinking, Heidegger redeployed hermeneutics to a very different purpose and within a very different frame. In Heidegger's early thinking, particularly the lectures from the early 1920s (‘The Hermeneutics of Facticity’), hermeneutics is presented as that by means of which the investigation of the basic structures of factical existence is to be pursued—not as that which constitutes a ‘theory’ of textual interpretation nor a method of ‘scientific’ understanding, but rather as that which allows the self-disclosure of the structure of understanding as such. The ‘hermeneutic circle’ that had been a central idea in previous hermeneutic thinking, and that had been viewed in terms of the interpretative interdependence, within any meaningful structure, between the parts of that structure and the whole, was transformed by Heidegger, so that it was now seen as expressing the way in which all understanding was ‘always already’ given over to that which is to be understood (to ‘the things themselves’—die Sachen selbst). Thus, to take a simple example, if we wish to understand some particular artwork, we already need to have some prior understanding of that work (even if only as a set of paint marks on canvas), otherwise it cannot even be seen as something to be understood. To put the point more generally, and in more basic ontological terms, if we are to understand anything at all, we must already find ourselves ‘in’ the world ‘along with’ that which is to be understood. All understanding that is directed at the grasp of some particular subject matter is thus based in a prior ‘ontological’ understanding—a prior hermeneutical situatedness. On this basis, hermeneutics can be understood as the attempt to ‘make explicit’ the structure of such situatedness. Yet since that situatedness is indeed prior to any specific event of understanding, so it must always be presupposed even in the attempt at its own explication. Consequently, the explication of this situatedness—of this basic ontological mode of understanding—is essentially a matter of exhibiting or ‘laying-bare’ a structure with which we are already familiar (the structure that is present in every event of understanding), and, in this respect, hermeneutics becomes one with phenomenology, itself understood, in Heidegger's thinking, as just such a ‘laying bare’.

It is hermeneutics, in this Heideggerian and phenomenological sense, that is taken up in Gadamer's work, and that leads him, in conjunction with certain other insights from Heidegger's later thinking, as well as the ideas of dialogue and practical wisdom, to elaborate a philosophical hermeneutics that provides an account of the nature of understanding in its universality (where this refers both to the ontologically fundamental character of the hermeneutical situation and the all-encompassing nature of hermeneutic practice) and, in the process, to develop a response to the earlier hermeneutic tradition's preoccupation with the problem of interpretive method. In these respects, Gadamer's work, in conjunction with that of Heidegger, represents a radical reworking of the idea of hermeneutics that constitutes a break with the preceding hermeneutical tradition, and yet also reflects back on that tradition. Gadamer thus develops a philosophical hermeneutics that provides an account of the proper ground for understanding, while nevertheless rejecting the attempt, whether in relation to the Geisteswissenschaften or elsewhere, to found understanding on any method or set of rules. This is not a rejection of the importance of methodological concerns, but rather an insistence on the limited role of method and the priority of understanding as a dialogic, practical, situated activity.”

5.      Philosophy of Science—Science deals with making statements about observable events in nature. [see w for elaborations and critiques of these traditional points of view, and a introduction to the literature.]

a.       Observable events are those that can be observed with unaided sensory abilities (eg, observing the sky with the eyes: Blanchard bone, Stonehenge, Ptolemy, Brahe, Copernicus) or with the use of instruments (e.g., the telescope: Galileo, Hubble).

b.      Science generalizes these observations into ‘sets’ or ‘variables’ on the basis of common properties abstracted from repeatable, reliable, and verifiable properties.

c.       Science tries to find functional relationships between these variables (e.g., the relationship between the position of the stars and planets and moons as a function of time).

d.      Most statements in science are probabilistic rather than absolute. Other constraints on establishing absolute truth

e.       Operationism and logical positivism limit that which can be stated securely to those laws yielded by a-d. It thus places certain areas of inquiry as beyond the scope of science (e.e., things that cannot be observed, like the beginning of time, the end of space, deities, etc.)

f.        Theoretical statements may try to elaborate those functional relationships with the use of additional variables interposed between observable variables. These have been considered of two types [mm]:

i.         Intervening variable: those whose existence is not reified, that is assumed to have a foundation as real events or variables in the world.

ii.      Hypothetical variables: those whose existence is assumed to be real even though not directly observed.

g.       Theories are more convincing when they are found to apply to a larger class of events than that from which they were derived (prediction).

h.       Other constraints on establishing absolute truth of scientific propositions besides their probabilistic nature are posed by the difficulty of stating propositions in a falsifiable manner due to their complexity which enables them to be tweaked to fit observable phenomena [o, a].

i.         Charges of the critics of operationism, who include many postmodern writers, and such philosophers of science as Fyerabend and Dennett, as reductionistic and dehumanizing overlook the fact that operationism defines its limits knowledge. The excesses of some (some behaviorists for example) should not be assumed to hold for general principles of human knowledge. Some behaviorists (e.g., Skinner) sought both the extension of principles of behavior to the mind, as well as being great humanists.

j.         Science should strive to assist cultures toward furthering the human condition, equality, and the promotion of human rights. No science is conducted without an interaction with cultural values and practices. [n]



 Abraham, F.D. (1995). A Postscript on Language, Modeling, and Metaphor. In F.D. Abraham & A.R. Gilgen (eds.), Chaos Theory and Psychology. Westport: Greenwood/Praeger. [a]

Abraham, F.D. (2001). Topoi and Transformation. The Journal of Psychospiritual Transformation. Also: http://www.blueberry-brain.org/chaosophy/Topoi3.html  [a2]

Abraham, F.D. (2007). Cyborgs, Cyberspace, Cybersexuality: The Evolution of everyday Creativiy. In R. Richards (Ed.), Everyday Creativity and New Views of Human Nature. Washington: American Psychological Association. Updated as Cybersexuality at http://www.blueberry-brain.org/chaosophy/Cybersexuality/Cybersexuality-creativity-bbi-v6a2.htm [a3]

Alhazen (Ibn al-Haytham). (1011-1021). Book of Optics (7 vols.) Cairo: while under house arrest. (Probably in Farsi.)

Bizzell, P., & Herzberg, B. (1990). The Rhetorical Tradition. Boston: Bedford of St. Martin’s. [bh]

Crusius, T.W. (1991). A Teacher’s Introduction to Philosophical Hermeneutics. Urbana: National Council of Teachers of English. [c]

Feigl, H., & Brodbeck, M. (Eds.). (1953). Readings in the Philosophy of Science. New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts.

Gadamer, H-G. (1976). Philosophical Hermeneutics. Berkeley:UCP.

Gadamer, H-G. (1989). Truth and Method. 2nd ed. Translated by Garrett Barden and Johjn Cummming; revised translation by Joel Weinsheimer and Donald G Marshall. New Yourk: Crossroads. [g]

Heidegger, M. (1962). Being and Time. Translated by John Macquarrie and Edward Robinson. New York: Harper & Row.

Heidegger, M. (1977). The Question Concerning Technology and Other Essays. W. Lovitt (trans.) New York: Harper & Row.

Jaspers, K. (1932). Philosophie (3 Vols.) Springer, Berlin 1932, 1973 [see w]

Kakuzō, O. (2006). The Book of Tea [see w, quote retrieved 10/30/2009] Bibliographic details for "The Book of Tea"

·         Page name: The Book of Tea

·         Author: Wikipedia contributors

·         Publisher: Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.

·         Date of last revision: 26 October 2009 02:13 UTC

·         Date retrieved: 30 October 2009 11:55 UTC

·         Permanent link: http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=The_Book_of_Tea&oldid=322058802

·         Primary contributors: Revision history statistics

·         Page Version ID: 322058802

Kuhn, T. (1972). The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. New York:Houghton Mifflin.

MacCorquodale, K., & Meehl, P.E. (1948). On a Distinction Between Hypothetical Constructs and Intervening Variablaes. Psychological Review, 55, 95-107. [mm]

Malpas, J. (2009) Hans-Georg Gadamer. In E. N. Zalta (Ed.), The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/sum2009/entries/gadamer/ retrieved 10/28/2009.

Mueller-Vollmer, K. (1992). The Hermeneutics Reader. New York: Continuum. [mv]

Murphy, P.L., & Abraham, F.D. (1995). Feminist Psychology: Prototype of the Dynamical Revolution in Psychology. In F.D. Abraham & A.R. Gilgen (eds.), Chaos Theory and Psychology. Westport: Greenwood/Praeger. [ma]

 Neurath, O. (1938). Unified Science as Encyclopedic Integration. In. O. Neurath, R. Carnap, & C. Morris (Eds.), International Encyclopedia of Unified Science. Chicago: Chicago. [n]

Oreskes, N., Shrader-Frechette, K., & Belitz, K. (1994). Verification, Validation, and Confirmation of numerical models in the Earth Sciences. Science, 263, 641-646.

Ricoeur, P. (1970). Paul Ricoeur: Hermeneutics and the Human Sciences: Essays on Language, Action, and Interpretation. Ed. & trans. By J. B. Thompson. New York: Cambridge.

Sahakanian, W.S. (1968). History of Philosophy. New York: HarperCollins. [s]

Salmon, Merrilee; John Earman, Clark Glymour, James G. Lenno, Peter Machamer, J.E. McGuire, John D. Norton, Wesley C. Salmon, Kenneth F. Schaffner (1992). Introduction to the Philosophy of Science. Prentice-Hall. ISBN 0136633455. 

Skinner, B.F. (1953). Science and Human Behavior. New York: Macmillan.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greek_philosophy [wg]

Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Main_Page [w]

The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy http://www.utm.edu/research/iep/ [iep]

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy http://plato.stanford.edu/ [sep]

Bibliographic details for "Dasein" (for quotes on Heidegger and Jaspers, retrieved 10/30/2009)

·         Page name: Dasein

·         Author: Wikipedia contributors

·         Publisher: Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.

·         Date of last revision: 27 October 2009 21:35 UTC

·         Date retrieved: 30 October 2009 12:00 UTC

·         Permanent link: http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Dasein&oldid=322414997

·         Primary contributors: Revision history statistics

·         Page Version ID: 322414997



 1.      Crusius, Chapters 1 & 2;

2.      Mueller-Vollmer, Introduction, Part I, pp. 1-5.

3.      Abraham, Topoi, introduction (up to Cosmographia).

4.      Googling and Wikipedia as useful [w, iep, sep, etc.]

5.      Check out Alhazen. 


 1.      “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of man has nowhere to lay his head” What can you make of this quotation? What does it mean? What might it mean? What does it mean to you?

2.      Pick an idea from these topics and critique it in a page or two. Turn it in typewritten. Keep an electronic copy, and turn in the electronic copy by thumbnail drive or email. As an alternative to a written essay, you might wish to develop a short PowerPoint or other visual presentation.


21 January 2009. updates: 10 October 09, 30 October 09