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An Introduction to Philosophical Hermeneutics

Lecturer: Mammad Aidani

Originally Taught: Winter School 2016

Philosophical Hermeneutics is concerned with ‘understanding’. Hermeneutics as a practice is universality recognized as the art and science of textual interpretation. In the traditional sense hermeneutics is the study by interpretation of written texts, especially religious, legal and literary texts. Modern hermeneutics embraces everything in the interpretative process including verbal and nonverbal forms of communication as well as other aspects that affect communication, such as presuppositions, pre-understandings, perceived meanings and the philosophy of language, culture and signs. In the past the terms exegesis and hermeneutics were used interchangeably. However, hermeneutics is now a more widely defined discipline of interpretation theory, including the entire framework of interpretive process. Exegesis, on the other hand, focuses only on the written text.

The Aim

The aim of this short course is to focus primarily on this modern theory of knowledge as initiated by Martin Heidegger and further developed by Hans-Georg Gadamer in his seminal book Truth and Method as well as to take up the theories of Paul Ricoeur. The course will also investigate and explicate the essential ideas of the key thinkers of an earlier hermeneutics, Fredrik Schleiermacher and Wilhelm Dilthey in order to set the ground for a close analysis of these key modern thinkers in the field of philosophical hermeneutics.

The course will concentrate on the key concepts of these philosophers in order to introduce the participants to this significant and influential brand of continental philosophy.

Course Schedule

Lecture 1: What is Hermeneutics?

Lecture 2: Friedrich Schleiermacher

Lecture 3: Wilhelm Dilthey

Lecture 4: Martin Heidegger

Lecture 5: Hans–Georg Gadamer

Recommended Reading

  • Richard E. Palmer (1969) Hermeneutics: Interpretation Theory in Schleiermacher, Dilthey, Heidegger, and Gadamer. Evanston, IL: North-western University Press.
    This is a useful initial English Language introduction, particularly with reference to literary interpretation.
  • Rudolf A. Makkreel (1975) Dilthey Philosopher of the Human Studies. Princeton, N: Princeton University Press.
    This is an advanced book that emphasizes the importance Dilthey’s psychology and aesthetic on his theory of understanding, with brief comparisons to Husserl and Heidegger.
  • Richard Polt (1999) Heidegger: An introduction. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.
    It is a clearly written introduction to Heidegger’s thoughts.
  • Kathryn Plant (2003) The Philosophy of Gadamer (trans.) Chesham: Acumen.
    This book is a significant and readable introduction to Gadamer's thoughts and analysis of Truth and Method.

Level of Difficulty: Intermediate