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Chapter 3 and 4: palmer-Wild, John, ed. Northwestern University Studies in Phenomenology & Existential Philosophy. 3-71.

“Chapter 3: Six Modern Definitions of Hermeneutics” [Extension of Laura’s notes:]

Hermeneutics has been taken up in six different ways, highlighting six different kinds of interpretation:

1. theory of biblical exegesis—earliest—interpretation is about finding hidden meaning; system of interpretation was established out of which individual passages could be interpreted. System is rules, methods, theory of governing exegesis (commentary). Interpretation was also extended to investigate past biblical interpretations from ancient times. Meta-interpretation thus began. Move toward understanding the phenomenon of interpretation itself.

2. philological methodology—18th century—historical-critical method arose with grammatical and historical schools of biblical interpretation. In era of enlightenment, goal is to make biblical interpretations relevant to enlightened, rational people. Biblical interpretation were rational, moral truths revealed before their time. – 39. Task was to grasp spiritual nature of text and translate into terms acceptable to rational beings (demythologizing). -39 task of interpreter became a historical one as biblical interpretation grew committed to full knowledge of historical context of biblical accounts -39. Grammatical analysis also became useful technique. The grammatical and historical in interpretation soon became applied to secular texts. Classical philology=secular interpretation and Biblical interpretation = exegesis.

3. science of linguistic understanding-Schleiermacher – general hermeneutics—science for understanding all texts. -40
hermeneutics became concerned with the study of understanding itself. Hermeneutics can now be said to be a child of parents, biblical exegesis and classical philology.

4. methodological foundation of geistewissenschaftliche – Dilthey—late 19th century—hermeneutics is foundation for all disciplines focused on understanding man’s art, actions, and writings (geistewissenschaftliche). Interpretation necessitates historical understanding, which is very different from scientific grasp of natural world.

5. phenomenology of existential understanding – Heidigger – hermeneutics of Dasein—neither science or rules of text nor methodology for geistewissenschafthliche—instead, phemenological explication of human existence itself—ontology of understanding—Gadamer in Heidigger’s lead, developed Heidigger’s contributions into systematic work of philosophical hermeneutics—Gadamer conducted historical account of hermeneutics and tried to relate hermeneutics to aesthetics and to philosophy of historical understanding.

Hermeneutics took linguistic turn as hermeneutics is “encounter with Being through language” – 42. Hermeneutics took philosophical plunge into questions about relationship between language and being, understanding, history, existence, and reality. Understanding became epistemological and ontological matter.

6. system of recollective and iconoclastic interpretation—Ricouer—return to textual exegesis-pyschoanalysis as part of interpretation—hermeneutics is process of deciphering which goes from manifest content to hidden meaning- text is book, dream, myth, symbols of society – 43. Equivocal symbols (symbolic texts with multiple meanings) true concern of hermeneutics. Freudian hermeneutics—iconoclasm. Hermeneutics has double chore—uncover hidden meaning in symbols-demythologize- and destroy symbol as representation of false reality—demystification as seen in work of Marx, Freud, and Nietzsche– 44. Hermeneutics involves embracing suspicion and doubt. The tension between demythologizing and demystifiying is what comprises existential interpretation.

“Chapter 4: The Contemporary Battle over Hermeneutics: Betti versus Gadamer”

There are two camps of understanding hermeneutics: either it is a collection of principles (a method) used for interpretation of texts or it is a “philosophical exploration of the character and requisite conditions for all understanding” (46). The first proposes that a text can be interpreted on its own and the interpreter must try to understand the text in its own historical situation; the latter acknowledges that all understanding is historical and connected to the present, but is prone to relativism and questions historical knowledge itself.

Bultmann heads up debate about the subjective nature of history and thus interpretation. He points out that historical interpretations are based on preliminary understanding which influences which questions will be asked, which ultimately dictates what interpretation will be reached. All interpretation is guided by interpreter’s “pre-understanding” – 51. Interpretation are thus objective and subjective. “objective meaning in history cannot be spoken of, for history cannot be known except through the subjectivity of the historian himself” – 52.

According to Ebeling and Fuchs, hermeneutical problem is not just about subjectivity, it is also a linguistic concern. They claim hermeneutics “as theory of understanding must therefore be the theory of words” – 53. This point is driven by need to save biblical words from being renedered meaningless.

What is connection between language, thinking, and reality????

Betti objects to Gadamer’s work for its lack of methodology for humanistic studies, which in turn makes no correct interpretation possible to be validated, and undermines notion that interpretation is objective. Betti’s aim was to “differentiate among various modes of interpretation in the humane disciplines and to formulate a foundational body of principles with which to interpret human actions and objects” – 56 texts to have objectively verifiable meaning. Object is just not observer. Object is object. Interpretation is not “conferring meaning on the object” (Sinngebung) – 57. “it is fundamental and the first canon of all interpretation to affirm the essential autonomy of text” – 57. Second canon=hermeneutic circle=overall meaning based on individual parts. Third canon=interpreter’s own stance and interests in the present, is involved in every understanding. Still there are better interpretations of others, which objective investigation uncovers.

E.D. Hirsch comes in and claims author’s intent should determine meaning of text. Intent determines validity of interpretation and thus makes interpretation objective. Meaning and significance are separate. The integrity of philology depends on it. Determining verbal meaning is our objective, not significance of passage. – 60-61 verbal meaning is fixed, reproducible, and determinate. Hermeneutics should be about furnishing theoretical justification for determinacy object of interpretation and setting norms to determine fixed meaning. Hermeneutics is not literacy criticism nor should it be. It’s purely a philological endeavor. – 62

Author’s point: problem with philogical designation of interpretation is that hermeneutics becomes means applicable to all disciplines without concern for past developments in philosophy of language, phenomenology, epistemology, or ontology. Plus, hermeneutics for Hirsch is no longer theory of understanding; its logic of validation.- 64.

So debate goes on: “One the one side are the defenders of objectivity and validation, who look to hermeneutics as the theoretical source for norms of validation; on the other side are the phenomenologists of the event of understanding, who stress the historical character of this ‘event,’ and consequently the limitations of all claims to objective knowledge’ and ‘objective validity” (65).


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