Hermeneutics concerns the study of understanding and interpretation. While this study includes considerations of the art, techniques, methods, and foundations of interpretative research in the humanities and related disciplines, philosophical inquiry into hermeneutics characteristically focuses on questions raised by the phenomena of understanding and interpretation in epistemology, the theory of meaning, the ontology of human beings, and the philosophy of language and history. Philosophical interest in hermeneutics may be traced back to ancient Greek and Judeo-Christian sources, but the philosophical tradition of modern hermeneutics originates in the early nineteenth century. The principal figures associated with this modern tradition of hermeneutics are Friedrich Schleiermacher, Wilhelm Dilthey, Martin Heidegger, Hans-Georg Gadamer, and Paul Ricoeur. Notable developments in the post-war ear include debate that arose between hermeneutics, on the one hand, and deconstruction and critical theory on the other. More recently, hermeneutics has come to be associated with figures in the continental tradition such as Gianni Vattimo, John Caputo, and Günter Figal, and figures in the anglophone context such as Richard Rorty, Charles Taylor, and John McDowell. The philosophical study of hermeneutics both draws from and is of consequence for several related areas of humanistic research, perhaps especially biblical hermeneutics, legal hermeneutics, the philosophy of medicine and nursing, and the philosophy of education.
Although philosophical study of hermeneutics has a history that reaches back to ancient Greek and Judeo-Christian sources, the major figures and works associated with modern hermeneutics date from the turn of the nineteenth century. Of nineteenth century sources, an introduction to the contributions of Friedrich Schleiermacher, often characterized as the principal proponent of Romantic hermeneutics, may be found in Hermeneutics and Criticism. Main lines of Wilhelm Dilthey’s thought may be discerned from his first important theoretical work, Introduction to the Human Sciences. Heidegger’s radicalization of hermeneutics in the first part of the century is developed in an important 1923 lecture course, published as Ontology—the Hermeneutics of Facticity as well as in his masterwork Being and Time. The major work of Hans-Georg Gadamer, the name perhaps most associated with hermeneutics in our time, is Truth and Method. Indications of the some of the most important developments in Gadamer’s later thought may be found in The Gadamer Reader: A Bouquet of The Later Writings. Many of the main lines of Paul Ricoeur’s contributions to hermeneutics may be found in The Conflict of Interpretations: Essays in Hermeneutics. For a broader overview of figures and works associated with modern hermeneutics, see, for example, Kurt Mueller-Vollmer, ed., The Hermeneutics Reader: Texts from the German Tradition from the Enlightenment to the Present and Gayle L. Ormiston and Alan Schrift, eds., The Hermeneutic Tradition from Ast to Ricoeur. Jean Grondin's notable Introduction to Philosophical Hermeneutics includes an extensive bibliography of primary and secondary sources in ancient and modern hermeneutics. Two important companions to the philosophical study of hermeneutics are Niall Keane and Chris Lawn, eds.,The Blackwell Companion to Hermeneutics and Jeff Malpas and Hans-Helmut Gander, eds., The Routledge Companion to Hermeneutics.
|The editor and assistant editor of this page have written an historical and conceptual introduction to hermeneutics in the postwar period: "Hermeneutics in Post-War Continental European Philosophy". Further, of the many good introductions to hermeneutics available in English, those highly recommended include, in alphabetical order by author:
Bruns, Gerald, Hermeneutics Ancient and Modern.
Forster, Michael N. and Gjesdal, Kristin, eds. The Cambridge Companion to Hermeneutics.
Grondin, Jean, Introduction to Philosophical Hermeneutics.
Keane, Niall and Lawn, Chris, eds. The Blackwell Companion to Hermeneutics.
Malpas, Jeff and Gander, Hans-Helmut, eds., The Routledge Companion to Hermeneutics.
Ramberg, Bjorn and Gjesdal, Kristin, “Hermeneutics”.
Schmidt, Lawrence, Understanding Hermeneutics.
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