Phenomenological movement

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-DD075-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved September 26, 2021, from

5. Hermeneutical phenomenology

According to the Logical Investigations, perception, recollection, imagination and so on have a sense or meaning prior to expressions in propositional form, and some consider this insight an anticipation of hermeneutical phenomenology. This fourth tendency also begins – and without the ‘existential’ interpretation – in Heidegger’s Being and Time. Traditional hermeneutics was chiefly interpretation of texts, but now all experience is seen as being affected by language and interpretation. Heidegger interprets ‘phenomenology’ as the logos of the phainomenon, these words being construed, respectively, as what makes matters manifest and what is made manifest, the latter including undisclosed as well as disclosed aspects. The phenomena of authenticity, death, care and above all Being itself are thus interpretable. Dasein always already has some understanding of Being that can be refined through philosophical interpretation, although the truth thus won conceals as well as reveals. The analysis of Dasein that so influenced existential phenomenology is actually a hermeneutics of Dasein that seeks to bring out hidden aspects. This includes self-interpretations, which refer back to earlier generations and are thus historical. The hermeneutical approach, especially to texts, continues in Heidegger’s later work, although the word hermeneutics does not.

The first phenomenological interpretation beyond Heidegger is Hans-Georg Gadamer’s Platons dialektische Ethik (Plato’s Dialectical Ethics) (1931) (see Gadamer, H.-G.). It accepts Heidegger’s notion of revealing and concealing truth as well as his focus on the active participant in life rather than the scientific observer. Its emphasis on the ethical aspects of the openness of one interlocutor to another is continued in his quite influential Wahrheit und Methode (Truth and Method) (1960). Not exclusively focused on texts, this is a ‘philosophical hermeneutics’ that is concerned with the general theory of understanding, that defends tradition and authority against Enlightenment attacks, and that is urged for use in law, literature and theology. It remains phenomenological in its use of Husserl’s notion of intentionality and theory of perception to oppose naturalism and relativism. Interpretations even of the unthought in a text seek to be fulfilled by the matters themselves referred to by the text.

Paul Ricoeur studied Marcel and Jaspers as well as Husserl and Heidegger while interned as a prisoner of war. In 1950 he published the translation of Husserl’s Ideen I, which he began in the camp; he subsequently played a central role in advancing French Husserl scholarship and regularly contended that his own evolving position was compatible with Husserl’s original inspiration, whereby meaning is transcendent of conscious life. The first expression of his own thought converged with realistic phenomenology in employing eidetic method to analyse the voluntary and involuntary (he had also studied Pfänder’s work). His concerns then with freedom, the other and evil converged with existential phenomenology, and, finally, he has focused on understanding as requiring texts or text-like structures and he thus joined hermeneutical phenomenology. He interprets not only religious symbols, for example, of the creation, but also the unconscious of psychoanalysis in works such as Le conflit des interpretations (The Conflict of Interpretations) (1969a). More recent work interprets metaphor, time, narrative, the ‘same’ or ‘self’ and the other.

Gadamer and Ricoeur have promoted hermeneutical phenomenology quite actively and this tendency has been strong in the United States. Calvin O. Schrag has contributed to the philosophy of language in Experience and Being (1969), Don Ihde to the philosophy of technology in Technics and Praxis (1979), Graeme Nicholson to the philosophy of perception in Seeing and Reading (1984), and then there is Patrick Heelan’s Space-Perception and the Philosophy of Science (1983) and Joseph J. Kockelmans’ Ideas for a Hermeneutic Phenomenology of Natural Science (1993). Other philosophical work has been done in aesthetics, ethics, history, language, law, literature, politics and religion. Hermeneutical phenomenology has extensively influenced not only the philosophy of the human sciences but the human sciences themselves.

Lest the debates within the movement and the structure of this essay give the impression that phenomenology went off in four separate ways, it must be emphasized that hermeneutical phenomenology draws nearly as much on existential and constitutive phenomenology as on the early Heidegger; that, while highly original, existential phenomenology is conscious of its central inspiration in Husserl and Scheler as well as Heidegger; that there has been from the outset extensive mutual borrowing as well as criticism between constitutive and realistic phenomenology; and that, by virtue of his effort reflectively to analyse and describe the matters themselves of conscious life and what is, in manifold ways, intended in it, Husserl is, as Ricoeur has said, not the whole of phenomenology, but he is ‘more or less its centre’ (see Hermeneutics).

Citing this article:
Embree, Lester. Hermeneutical phenomenology. Phenomenological movement, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-DD075-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2021 Routledge.

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