The Development of Hermeneutics




The Development of Hermeneutics :


The Contribution of Friedrich Daniel Ernst Schleiermacher To The development of Hermeneutics


Friedrich Daniel Ernst Schleiermacher (1768 - 1834) SOSC 201


Friedrich Daniel Ernst Schleiermacher Born Nov. 21, 1768 Breslau died Feb. 12, 1834 Berlin Philosopher, theologian, pastor. As both of Schleiermacher´s parents came from vicarages, it was hardly surprising that he took up theology, too, at first at the seminary of the Brüdergemeine in Barby (near Magdeburg), then at the University of Halle. He passed his exam in 1790. Afterwards he worked as private tutor and curate. In 1796 he came to Berlin, where he met the leading personalities of the Berlin Romantic movement. After an unhappy love affair he left the city in 1802. In 1804 he became professor at the University of Würzburg, before moving on to Halle in October. There he met Henrik Steffens, who became famous in 1813, when he incited his students to take to arms against Napoleon´s troops in the liberation wars. I n 1807 Schleiermacher returned to Berlin, where he had great influence in the founding of the Berlin University. In 1809 he became pastor of the Dreifaltigkeits-Kirche (Trinity church), professor at the university in 1810, in 1818 finally rector.


Since 1811 he was a member of the Akademie der Wissenschaften (Academy of Sciences). He was very active in church politics, where he helped creating the Union of Protestant churches and worked towards a constitution of the synod. This put him into opposition to the government. Around 40,000 people took part at his funeral. His grave is on Dreifaltigkeits-Fried of Trinity cemetery.


Works : About Religion.


Speeches for the Educated among its Critics… (1799)


Secret Letters about Lucinde…. (1800)


Christian Faith, after the Principles of the Protestant Church… (1821-22)


"Understanding...is grasping the point or meaning of what is being done or said. This is a notion far removed from the world of statistics and casual laws…it is closer to the realm of discourse and to the internal relations that link the parts of ...a discourse." Winch, the Idea of a Social Science and its Relation to Philosophy, Routledge & Kegan Paul, London, 1958.


This is what hermeneutics is - understanding and the complexities behind this art form. Some would belief that hermeneutics itself is the art of understanding. In discussing Schleiermacher’s contribution to the development of hermeneutics, this essay will first attempt to define these complexities, the word hermeneutics, and understand how this art form has emerged. In understanding hermeneutics, one must also look at Schleiermacher, his theory itself and how he arose to create the first real set of rules for this kind of understanding - a framework.


Schleiermacher’s theory was considered a radical break from tradition. One new aspect was his creation of a distinction between the speaker and the interpreter in his explanation of how hermeneutics worked. This radical side to Schleiermacher’s theory created some historical debates on the subject, a discussion of these debates will be used to highlight some of the problem areas in Schleiermacher’s work. However the main focus of this essay will be how Schleiermacher’s theory created a new approach to the concept of the process of understanding, and how various theorists have reacted to his works. Derived from the Greek words hermeneutic (verb) meaning to say, to explain or to translate and the word hermeneia (noun) meaning explain or interpretation. One twentieth century philosopher Paul Rocher claims that hermeneutics can be traced back to Aristotle’s Peri hermeneias and in this classical work hermeneutics is a general theory of comprehension [Rocher, Paul 1974ã]. However traditionally, hermeneutics has evolved from a methodology in dealing with the interpretation of text and exegesis to a complex and in depth science. Prior to the Romantic era hermeneutics was defined into three main areas of interest outlined by Robert Holub. Biblical exegesis which was primarily concerned with applying rules in dealing with the interpretation of the Old Testament and the Torah and can be associated with such writers as Augistine and Origenes. In biblical exegesis the hermeutic consisted of a literal interpretation of the text and focuses on a higher source or almost mystical approach to exegesis interpretation. This approach to hermeneutics was to be challenged by Protestant theorists (including Schleiermacher) whom believed that texts should not be associated with such mystical assumptions. The second main area of interest was during the Renaissance period when there was an attempt to form a consistent interpretation to the code of Justinian. This secular life legal hermeneutic was used in carrying out justice from general laws where by judges have to interpret their meanings as they apply to specific instances. This form of interpretation is still used today in one form or another. The third area of interest I wish to introduce is that of philological hermeneutics. Originating from the Alexandrian School and focusing on the interpretation methodology of Homer. Philological hermeneutics was concerned with the authentic reconstruction of texts. This was instigated by a concern with the preservation and understanding of classical heritage.[Holub, Robert. Seldon, Raman (Ed) 1995ã]. The most influential period in the formation of modern hermeneutics was during the Romantic period (late eighteenth century to mid nineteenth century). This marked the beginning of new ideas and approaches to hermeneutics as theologians, philologists and philosophers began to question the methodology of classical theorists and their approach to interpreting texts and exegesis’s as new ideas began to arise. One influential philologist-theologian that emerged from this period was Friedrich Daniel Ernst Schleiermacher (1768-1834). Attributed as being the founder of modern Protestant theology and the founder of modern hermeneutics Schleiermacher’s interest in hermeneutics began with his associations with fellow romantic thinker Friedrich Schlegel. Schlegel was the first to apply principles of transcendental idealism to literature with his Philosophy of Philology. This influenced Schleiermacher to embark upon a quest into the realm of hermeneutic theory. Schleiermacher’s theory represents the first true attempt to form a frame-work for understanding as a specific hermeneutic.


Schleiermacher did this by critically uniting the hermeneutic traditions in Protestant theology and the rhetorical and philological traditions of classical scholarship with the new transcendental approach inherited from Kant and Fichte. Schleiermacher`s theory focuses on grammar and style and in keeping with his religious concern for themes and from this he created a general hermeneutics with principles independent of traditional interpretational principles. Schleiermacher achieved this by comparing the reader’s approach to a text with the contributions by both the author and reader in a dialogue to understand each other. He depicted the dialogue in terms of a speaker (author) who puts together words to express his/her thoughts and a listener (reader) who can comprehend the words and sentences because they are drawn from the vocabulary of a shared language and follow its grammatical rules. The listener can also recognize the intentions behind the words by being in the same situation and sharing a common human nature with the speaker. This theory forms the basis for the idea of Schleiermacher to understand what is spoken and this basis of understanding can be applied and modified to all texts as Palmer writes…


Schleiermacher outlines in the opening of his lectures in 1819…This art of understanding is in essence the same whether the text is a legal document, a religious Scripture or a work of literature.......Each discipline develops theoretical tools for its particular problems, differences lie with the fundamental unity" Schleiermacher went on to clarify this theory in relation to all texts by stating…The texts are in a language and thus grammar is used to find the meaning of a sentence…a general idea interacts with the grammatical structure to form the meaning, no matter what the type of document. If the principles of all understanding are formulated, these would comprise a general hermeneutics.


This formulation of understanding outlined by Schleiermacher attempts to empathize with the speaker as well as analysing the language of the text in relation to the speaker (author). Schleiermacher’s interpretation of text is therefor, built upon (as outlined) understanding and has a grammatical, as well as a psychological moment. Schleiermacher’s theory of understanding places the text within a particular literature (or language) and in return uses the text to redefine the character of that literature. The psychological aspect of understanding enables the listener (reader) to reconstruct and understand the motives and assumptions within the text.


Schleiermacher was the first to recognize this concept of understanding what is spoken as Palmer wrote…Schleiermacher was the first to theorize this fundamental distinguishing of speaking and understanding and formed the basis for a new direction in hermeneutics in the theory of understanding. He went on to say…Take the act of understanding as its starting point then hermeneutics becomes the art of understanding. This theory for its time was viewed as rather radical and there were many opposing parties concerned with upholding the classical hermeneutic methodology which was viewed as dogmatic by Schleiermacher.


One such opponent was Friedrich August Wolf as Palmer writes…Friedrich August Wolf asserted that a different hermeneutic was needed for history, poetry, religious texts and by extension for subvarieties within each classification. Palmer went on further to say…"Wolf viewed hermeneutics in a practical scene - A body of wisdom for meeting specific problems of interpretation. Tailored to a particular linguistic and historical difficulties posed by ancient texts in Hebrew, Greek and Latin." Wolf’s theory was in keeping with the norm of the time and is seen by Palmer as a theory purely to assist in the translation of ancient texts. Wolf’s theory was that general hermeneutics did not allow the use of specific methodology for a supposedly - privileged text such as the Bible. The only allowance made for a specific content consists in the variegated use made of the methods approved by the science of hermeneutics.


Schleiermacher’s theory opposed this as it seeks to specify specific interpretational methodology to all texts. The theory that one needs to understand what is spoken makes Schleiermacher’s hermeneutic revolutionary. Schleiermacher viewed the traditional hermeneutics that is based upon general reasoning as unacceptable. Palmer outlines this view…Hermeneutics was held by Schleiermacher to be related to the concrete existing, acting human being in the process of understanding dialogue. When we start with the conditions that pertain to all dialogue, when then turn away from rationalism, metaphysics and morality and examine the concrete, actual situation involved in understanding, then we have hermeneutics a starting point for a viable hermeneutics that can serve as a core for special hermeneutics. This is one of the main contributions by Schleiermacher in the development of hermeneutics, a new approach to the concept of the process of understanding. Understanding is now seen as Josef Bleicher writes…as a process of creative reformulation and reconstruction. Based upon the two traditions followed by Schleiermacher of transcendental philosophy and romanticism, Schleiermacher used these traditions to derive a form of questioning the possibility of a valid interpretation." Josef Bleicher goes on to write…This concept of questioning the possibility of a valid interpretation led Schleiermacher to the discovery of the hermeneutical law that every thought of the author has to be related to the unity of an active and organically developing subject". Bleicher went on to say…This relationship between the individuality and the totality became the focal point of romanticist hermeneutics. This systematic form of interpretation developed by Schleiermacher and outlined by Josef Bleicher contains two parts: The grammatical (outlined previously) and the psychological. With regards to the psychological aspect of interpretation Bleicher writes… Schleiermacher’s development of a system for psychological interpretation center around the investigation of the emergence of thought from within the totality of an author’s life.


The use of these hermeneutical rules allows for the understanding of the meaning of a given text." Bleicher went on further to outline a claim made by Schleiermacher that the benefit to hermeneutics of this new approach…"Given adequate historical and linguistic knowledge, the interpreter is in a position to understand the author better than he/she had understood him/herself." One famous writer on this subject Hans-Georg Gadamer critically attributes Schleiermacher’s theory to the differentiation of understanding and misunderstanding, in which the interpretation is seen to begin this process of understanding within his or her own misunderstandings. This critical analysis of Schleiermacher’s reciprocal approach is clarified by Chris Lang…The interpreter brings into the text his or her own set of presuppositions which cause him or her to misunderstand the text. The hermeneutical method was intended to secure a right understanding of the text preconceived understandings or misunderstandings. Thus there is a recognition that the mind does not necessarily act as a mirror reflecting exactly what is in the text. On a more positive side Chris Lang viewed Schleiermacher’s method of validation as more sophisticated than his predecessors. From this perspective the discipline of hermeneutics gradually moves from a methodological approach to the text toward the modern conception that hermeneutics is what happens when we interpret a text or how one comes to understand. Another major contribution by Schleiermacher to the development of hermeneutics was not actually made by Schleiermacher directly but by a student and avid follower of his work Whilhem Dilthey. Josef Bleicher addresses the importance of Schleiermacher’s methodology in relation to the work done by Dilthey…In retrospect, Schleiermacher’s stature in the history of hermeneutics rests mainly on the impetus with which it had provided Dilthey’s thinking. Bleicher goes on to outline this impact on hermeneutics…Within the span of fifty years hermeneutics developed from a system of interpretation relevant for theology and philology only into the methodology of a new science: Geisteswissenschaften. It claims to provide the precondition for all understanding shifted to the securing of objectivity in the methodical reconstructions of historical events and to provide the foundation on which the positivist incursion into the territory of the mind and its manifestations could be repelled. The importance Dilthey’s Work following on from Schleiermacher is important in that Dilthey applied Schleiermacher’s hermeneutics to all texts.


Dilthey actually set into practice the theory proposed by Schleiermacher. Dilthey went on to form the hermeneutic circle implementing Schleiermacher’s principle of understanding as a reconstructive process writes…In keeping with Schleiermacher’s hermeneutics.....Understanding (verstehen), the basis for methodological hermeneutics, involving a circle from texts to the author’s biography and immediate historical circumstances and back again.......Interpretation, or the systematic application of understanding to the text, reconstructs the world in which the text was produced and places the text in that world. Jcma@ai.mit.edu went on further to outline the importance of this…This circular process precludes and interpretation of a text being unique and scientifically objective, like the explanation of a chemical reaction, in as much as the knowledge of the author’s or agent’s world may itself critically depend upon the present interpretation. Here on can see Schleiermacher’s theory in the identification of understanding as empathy secured by the notion of a common human nature implemented by Dilthey. The importance of Dilthey’s work following on from Schleiermacher is important in the development of hermeneutics as Jcma@ai.mit.edu writes…Broadening Schleiermacher’s hermeneutics, Dilthey developed a philosophy of method for history and the human sciences that he believed could produce objective knowledge but avoid the reductionist, mechanistic, historical explanatory schema of the natural sciences......Dilthey argued that texts, verbal utterances, art and actions were meaningful expositions whose mental contents or intentions needed to be comprehended" Jcma@ai.mit.edu went on to enforce Dilthy’s claim; "He claimed that investigating human interactions was more like interpreting a poem or discourse, than doing physics or chemistry experiments.....Dilthey termed the desired comprehension of events and expressions understanding (verstehen) and attempted to distinguish it from the explanatory knowledge (erkennen) generated by the hypothetic-deductive method of the natural sciences."


The significance of Dilthey’s work in relation to Schleiermacher’s methodology is important in the overall contribution to hermeneutics because it is Dilthey whom uses Schleiermacher’s hermeneutics and sets out to apply it to all areas of interpretation. Also it is Dilthey’s attention to Schleiermacher’s hermeneutic methodology that ensured Schleiermacher place as one of the founders of modern hermeneutics. However the overall significance and contribution of Schleiermacher’s project of a general hermeneutics is best outlined by Richard Palmer; "Regardless of the psychologising element in the later Schleiermacher, his contribution to hermeneutics marks a turning point in its history. For hermeneutics is no longer seen as a specifically disciplinary matter belonging to theology, literature or law. It is the art of understanding any utterances of language.




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