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DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-P023-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved March 22, 2018, from

Article Summary

Hermeneutics, the ‘art of interpretation’, was originally the theory and method of interpreting the Bible and other difficult texts. Wilhelm Dilthey extended it to the interpretation of all human acts and products, including history and the interpretation of a human life. Heidegger, in Being and Time (1927), gave an ‘interpretation’ of the human being, the being that itself understands and interprets. Under his influence, hermeneutics became a central theme of continental philosophy. Hermeneutics generates several controversies. In interpreting something do we unearth the author’s thoughts and intentions, imagining ourselves in his position? Or do we relate it to a wider whole that gives it meaning? The latter view gives rise to the hermeneutic circle: we cannot understand a whole (for example, a text) unless we understand its parts, or the parts unless we understand the whole. Heidegger discovered another circle: as we inevitably bring presuppositions to what we interpret, does this mean that any interpretation is arbitrary, or at least endlessly revisable?

Citing this article:
Inwood, Michael. Hermeneutics, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-P023-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2018 Routledge.

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