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Introduction to Philosophical Hermeneutics

Lecturer: Mammad Aidani

Originally Taught: Winter School 2019

Hermeneutics is concerned with ‘understanding’. Hermeneutics as a practice is universally recognised as the art and science of textual analysis and interpretation. In the traditional sense, hermeneutics is the systematic study and interpretation of written texts, especially religious, legal and literary ones. Modern hermeneutics embraces everything in the interpretative process from verbal and nonverbal forms of communication to other factors that influence communication, such as presuppositions, pre-understandings, perceived meanings and the philosophies of religion, language, culture, arts, sign and mind. In the past, the terms ‘exegesis’ and ‘hermeneutics’ were used interchangeably. However, hermeneutics is now a more widely defined discipline of interpretative theory, including the entire framework of the interpretive process. Exegesis, on the other hand, focuses only on the written text. 

The Aim 

This short course aims to focus primarily on this modern theory of knowledge as initiated by Martin Heidegger in the 20th century and further developed by Hans-Georg Gadamer in his seminal book Truth and Method, while also taking up the theories of Paul Ricoeur and others significant hermeneuticians. The course will also investigate and explicate the essential ideas of the key early thinkers of hermeneutics such as Friedrick Schleiermacher and Wilhelm Dilthey whose ideas greatly influenced Martin Heidegger and other Hermeneutics’ philosophers to set the ground for a close analysis of the ideas of these key modern thinkers in the field of philosophical hermeneutics. 

The course will primarily focus on the key concepts of these philosophers to introduce the students to this significant and influential brand of continental philosophy. 

Course Schedule 

Week 1: What is Hermeneutics? 

General Introduction to Hermeneutics and its keys modern philosophers  

Week 2: Friedrich Schleiermacher  

This presentation discusses Schleiermacher’s main ideas on reading, comparative and divinatory, the process of interpreting, language, understanding, creative process, grammatical and psychological interpretation and hermeneutic circle. 

Week 3: Wilhelm Dilthey 

Introducing Dilthey’s key concepts such as his methodology of using hermeneutics understanding in the human science, acculturation, inner meaning, understanding foreign cultures and people as well as hermeneutics as the science of understanding written monuments.  

Week 4: Martin Heidegger 

Discussing concepts of understating, facticity, Dasein, being- in -the- world, phenomenological hermeneutics, fore- structures of understanding, care and anxiety.  

Week 5: Hans–Georg Gadamer 

Examining his theory of understanding as dialogue, hermeneutic and the effect of history, prejudices, tradition, interpretation and how the interpreter applies the text to her or his situation for understanding what the text has to say and the fusion of horizons. 

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 concerning literary interpretation. 
  • Rudolf A. Makkreel (1975) Dilthey Philosopher of the Human Studies. Princeton, N: Princeton University Press.
    This is an excellent book that emphasises the importance of Dilthey’s psychology and aesthetic on his theory of understanding, with brief comparisons to Husserl and Heidegger. 
  • 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: Intermediary / advanced. 

About the Lecturer

Dr Mammad Aidani has a PhD in hermeneutics and phenomenological social psychology and an MA in sociolinguistics and identity. His research interests are in the genres of textual interpretation (hermeneutics) and lived narratives in the fields of history, culture, displacement, memory, trauma and suffering in diaspora communities as well as the history of thought, literature and theatre.