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Hermeneutics (/hɛrməˈntɪks/ or /hɛrməˈnjtɪks/)[1] is the theory and methodology of text interpretation,[2][3] especially the interpretation of biblical texts, wisdom literature, and philosophical texts.[4][5]

Hermeneutics was initially applied to the interpretation, or exegesis, of scripture. It emerged as a theory of human understanding through the work of Friedrich Schleiermacher, Wilhelm Dilthey, Martin Heidegger, Hans-Georg Gadamer, Paul Ricoeur, Northrop Frye, Walter Benjamin, Jacques Derrida and Fredric Jameson.[6] Modern hermeneutics includes both verbal and nonverbal communication as well as semiotics, presuppositions, and preunderstandings.

The terms "hermeneutics" and "exegesis" are sometimes used interchangeably. Hermeneutics is a wider discipline which includes written, verbal, and nonverbal communication. Exegesis focuses primarily upon texts.

Hermeneutic, as a singular noun, refers to some particular method of interpretation (see, in contrast, double hermeneutic).

"Hermeneutic consistency" refers to the analysis of texts to achieve a coherent explanation of them. "Philosophical hermeneutics" refers primarily to the theory of knowledge initiated by Martin Heidegger and developed by Hans-Georg Gadamer in his Truth and Method (1960). It sometimes refers to the theories of Paul Ricœur.[7]

The field of Marxist hermeneutics has been developed by the work of, primarily, Walter Benjamin and Fredric Jameson. Benjamin outlines his theory of the allegory in his monumental Ursprung des deutschen Trauerspiel ("Trauerspiel" literally means "Mourning Play" but is often translated as "Tragic Drama").[8] Fredric Jameson draws on Biblical hermeneutics, and the work of Northrop Frye, to advance his theory of Marxist hermeneutics in his influential The Political Unconscious. Jameson's Marxist hermeneutics is outlined in the first chapter of the book, titled "On Interpretation"[9] Jameson re-interprets (and secularizes) the fourfold system (or four levels) of Biblical exegesis (literal; moral; allegorical; anagogical) to relate interpretation to the Mode of Production, and eventually, history.[10]


Hermeneutics is derived from the Greek word ἑρμηνεύω (hermeneuō, "translate, interpret"),[11] from ἑρμηνεύς (hermeneus, "translator, interpreter"), of uncertain etymology (R. S. P. Beekes has suggested a Pre-Greek origin).[12] The technical term ἑρμηνεία (hermeneia, "interpretation, explanation") was introduced into philosophy mainly through the title of Aristotle's work Περὶ Ἑρμηνείας ("Peri Hermeneias"), commonly referred to by its Latin title De Interpretatione and translated in Engish as On Interpretation. It is one of the earliest (c. 360 B.C.) extant philosophical works in the Western tradition to deal with the relationship between language and logic in a comprehensive, explicit and formal way.

The early usage of "hermeneutics" places it within the boundaries of the sacred.[13] A divine message must be received with implicit uncertainty regarding its truth. This ambiguity is an irrationality; it is a sort of madness that is inflicted upon the receiver of the message. Only one who possesses a rational method of interpretation (i.e., a hermeneutic) could determine the truth or falsity of the message.[14]

Folk etymology

Hermes, messenger of the gods.

Folk etymology places its origin with Hermes, the mythological Greek deity who was the 'messenger of the gods'.[15] Besides being a mediator between the gods and between the gods and men, he led souls to the underworld upon death.

Hermes was also considered to be the inventor of language and speech, an interpreter, a liar, a thief and a trickster.[15] These multiple roles made Hermes an ideal representative figure for hermeneutics. As Socrates noted, words have the power to reveal or conceal and can deliver messages in an ambiguous way.[15] The Greek view of language as consisting of signs that could lead to truth or to falsehood was the essence of Hermes, who was said to relish the uneasiness of those who received the messages he delivered.

Aristotle and Plato

In De Interpretatione, Aristotle offers a theory which lays the groundwork for many later theories of interpretation and semiotics:

Equally important to later developments are some ancient texts on poetry, rhetoric, and sophistry:

However, these texts deal with the presentation and refutation of arguments, speeches, and poems rather than with the understanding of texts per se. As Ramberg and Gjesdal note, "Only with the Stoics, and their reflections on the interpretation of myth, do we encounter something like a methodological awareness of the problems of textual understanding."[16]

Some ancient Greek philosophers, particularly Plato, vilified poets and poetry as harmful nonsense. In The Republic, Plato denied poets entry into his "ideal state" until they could prove their value. In Ion, Plato famously portrayed poets as possessed:

The meaning of the poem thus becomes open to ridicule. Whatever hints of truth it may have, the truth is covered up by madness. However, another line of thinking arose with Theagenes of Rhegium, who suggested that, instead of taking poetry literally, it ought to be taken as allegories of nature. Stoic philosophers further developed this idea, reading into poetry both allegories of nature and allegories of ethical behavior.

Aristotle differed with his predecessor, Plato, about the worth of poetry. Both saw art as an act of mimesis, but where Plato saw a pale, essentially false, imitation of reality, Aristotle saw the possibility of truth in imitation. As critic David Richter points out, "For Aristotle, artists must disregard incidental facts to search for deeper universal truths." Thus, instead of being essentially false, poetry may be universally true. [Richter, The Critical Tradition, 57]

Talmudic hermeneutics

Rabbinical Eras

A common use of the word hermeneutics refers to a process of scriptural interpretation. Its earliest example is, however, found not in the written texts but in the Jewish Oral Tradition [dated to the Second Temple era, 515 BCE – 70 CE] that later became the Talmud.

Summaries of the principles by which Torah can be interpreted date back to, at least, Hillel the Elder, although the thirteen principles set forth in the Baraita of Rabbi Ishmael are perhaps the best known. These principles ranged from standard rules of logic (e.g., a fortiori argument [known in Hebrew as קל וחומר —  kal v'chomer]) to more expansive ones, such as the rule that a passage could be interpreted by reference to another passage in which the same word appears (Gezerah Shavah). The rabbis did not ascribe equal persuasive power to the various principles.[17]

Traditional Jewish hermeneutics differed from the Greek method in that the rabbis considered the Tanakh (the Jewish bibilical canon) to be without error. Any apparent inconsistencies had to be understood by means of careful examination of a given text within the context of other texts. There were different levels of interpretation: some were used to arrive at the plain meaning of the text, some expounded the law given in the text, and others found secret or mystical levels of understanding.

Vedic hermeneutics

Vedic hermeneutics involves the exegesis of the Vedas, the earliest holy texts of Hinduism. The Mimamsa was the leading hermeneutic school and their primary purpose was understanding what Dharma (righteous living) involved by a detailed hermeneutic study of the Vedas. They also derived the rules for the various rituals that had to be performed precisely.

The foundational text is the Mimamsa Sutra of Jaimini (ca. 3rd to 1st century BCE) with a major commentary by Śabara (ca. the 5th or 6th century CE). The Mimamsa sutra summed up the basic rules for Vedic interpretation.

Buddhist hermeneutics

Buddhist hermeneutics deals with the interpretation of the vast Buddhist literature, particularly those texts which are said to be spoken by the Buddha (Buddhavacana) and other enlightened beings. Buddhist hermeneutics is deeply tied to Buddhist spiritual practice and its ultimate aim is to extract skillful means of reaching spiritual enlightenment or nirvana. A central question in Buddhist hermeneutics is which Buddhist teachings are explicit, representing ultimate truth, and which teachings are merely conventional or relative.

Biblical hermeneutics

Biblical hermeneutics is the study of the principles of interpretation of the Bible. While Jewish and Christian biblical hermeneutics have some overlap, they have distinctly different interpretive traditions.

The early patristic traditions of biblical exegesis had few unifying characteristics in the beginning but tended toward unification in later schools of biblical hermeneutics.

Augustine offers hermeneutics and homiletics in his De doctrina christiana. He stresses the importance of humility in the study of Scripture. He also regards the duplex commandment of love in Matthew 22 as the heart of Christian faith. In Augustine’s hermeneutics, sign has an important role. God can communicate with the believer through the signs of the Scriptures. Thus, humility, love, and the knowledge of signs are an essential hermeneutical presupposition for a sound interpretation of the Scriptures. Although Augustine endorses some teaching of the Platonism of his time, he corrects and recasts it according to a theocentric doctrine of the Bible. Similarly, in a practical discipline, he modifies the classical theory of oratory in a Christian way. He underscores the meaning of diligent study of the Bible and prayer as more than mere human knowledge and oratory skills. As a concluding remark, Augustine encourages the interpreter and preacher of the Bible to seek a good manner of life and, most of all, to love God and neighbor.[18]

There are four different types of biblical hermeneutics, literal, moral, allegorical (spiritual) and anagogical.[according to whom?]


Encyclopædia Britannica states that literal analysis means “a biblical text is to be deciphered according to the ‘plain meaning’ expressed by its linguistic construction and historical context.” The intention of the authors is believed to correspond to the literal meaning. Literal hermeneutics is often associated with the verbal inspiration of the Bible.[19]


Moral interpretation searches for moral lessons which can be understood from writings within the Bible. Allegories are often placed in this category. This can be seen in the Epistle of Barnabas, which explains the dietary laws by stating which meats are forbidden but is interpreted as forbidding immorality with animals.[19]


Allegorical interpretation states that biblical narratives have a second level of reference that is more than the people, events and things that are explicitly mentioned. One type of allegorical interpretation is known as typological, where the key figures, events, and establishments of the Old Testament are viewed as “types”. In the New Testament this can also include foreshadowing of people, objects, and events. According to this theory readings like Noah’s Ark could be understood by using the Ark as a “type” of Christian church that God expected from the start.[19]


This type of interpretation is more often known as mystical interpretation. It purports to explain the events of the Bible and how they relate to or predict what the future holds. This is evident in the Jewish Kabbalah, which attempts to reveal the mystical significance of the numerical values of Hebrew words and letters.

In Judaism, anagogical interpretation is also evident in the medieval Zohar. In Christianity, it can be seen in Mariology.[19]

Apostolic Age

The earliest Christian period of biblical interpretation was the Apostolic Age. Traditionally, that was the period of the Twelve Apostles, dating from the Great Commission until the death of John the Apostle (about 100 A.D.). Because John lived so long and was the last of the apostles to die, there is some overlap between the Apostolic Age and the first Apostolic Fathers. (See Deaths of the Twelve Apostles.)

The operative hermeneutical principle in the New Testament was prophecy fulfillment. The Gospels, particularly the Gospel of Matthew, make extensive use of the Old Testament for the purpose of demonstrating that Jesus was the Messiah. Examples include Matthew 1:23, 2:15–18, 3:3, 21:42, Mark 1:2–3, 4:12, Luke 3:4–6, 22:37, John 2:17, 12:15, and notably Luke 4:18–21. Jesus read extensively from Book of Isaiah and said that the prophecy was fulfilled in the crowds who heard it. The Pauline epistles also employ the principle of prophecy fulfillment, as evidenced by 1 Corinthians 1:19 and Ephesians 4:8–10.

Apostolic Fathers

The Apostolic Fathers were followers of the Apostles. This period is sometimes called the sub-apostolic period.

The principle of prophecy fulfillment was carried over from the Apostolic Age and was continued up to the beginning of the 3rd century A.D. For example, Irenaeus dedicates an entire chapter of Against Heresies to the defense of Isaiah 7:14, which was one of the chief prophecies used to validate Jesus as the Messiah. [20] This is consistent with Irenaeus' other writings.

Even more than Irenaeus, the second century apologists tended to interpret and utilize most scripture as if it were primarily for the purpose of showing prophecy fulfillment. Prominent among these was Justin Martyr, who made extensive use of scripture to this end. Examples of prophecy fulfillment can be seen in his Apology, in which chapters 31–53 are specifically dedicated to proving through prophecy that Jesus was the Messiah. He uses scripture similarly in Dialogue with Trypho.

Here Justin demonstrates that prophecy fulfillment supersedes logical context in hermeneutics. He ignores the Christological issues that arise from equating Jesus with the golden calf of Bethel, which is the "him" that is being brought to the king in Hosea 10:6.

It is likely that the preeminence of prophecy fulfillment was a product of the circumstances of the early church. The primary intent of early authors was a defense of Christianity against attacks from paganism and Judaism, as well as suppressing what were considered to be schismatic or heretical groups. To this end, Martin Jan Mulder suggested that prophecy fulfillment was the primary hermeneutical method because Roman society placed a high value upon both antiquity and oracles.[22] By using the Old Testament (a term linked with supersessionism) to validate Jesus, early Christians sought to tap into both the antiquity of the Jewish scriptures and the oracles of the prophets.

Late antiquity

Two divergent schools of thought emerged during this period, which extends from 200 A.D. to the medieval period. Historians divide this period into the Ante-Nicene Period and the First seven Ecumenical Councils.

Ante-Nicene period

The Ante-Nicene Period (literally meaning "before Nicaea") of the history of early Christianity extended from the late 1st century to the early 4th century. Its end was marked by the First Council of Nicaea in 325 A.D. Christianity during this time was extremely diverse, with many developments that are difficult to trace and follow. There is also a relative paucity of available material, and this period is less studied than the preceding Apostolic Age and the historical ages following it. Nevertheless, this part of Christian history is important because it had a significant effect upon the development of Christianity.

First seven ecumenical councils

This era begins with the First Council of Nicaea, which enunciated the Nicene Creed that, in its original form and as modified by the First Council of Constantinople of 381 A.D., was seen as the touchstone of orthodoxy for the doctrine of the Trinity.

The first seven Ecumenical Councils, from the First Council of Nicaea (325 A.D. ) to the Second Council of Nicaea (787 A.D. ), represent an attempt to reach an orthodox consensus and to establish a unified Christendom.

The first scholar to study this time period as a whole was Philip Schaff, who wrote The Seven Ecumenical Councils of the Undivided Church, first published after his death in 1901. The topic is of particular interest to proponents of paleo-orthodoxy, who seek to recover the church as it was before the schisms.

Schools of Alexandria and Antioch

As early as the third century, Christian hermeneutics began to split into two primary schools: the Alexandrian and the Antiochene.

The Alexandrian biblical interpretations stressed allegorical readings, often at the expense of the texts' literal meaning. Origen and Clement of Alexandria were two major scholars in this school.

The Antiochene school stressed the literal and historical meaning of texts. Theodore of Mopsuestia and Diodore of Tarsus were the primary figures in this school.

Medieval period

Medieval Christian biblical interpretations of text incorporated exegesis into a fourfold mode which emphasized the distinction between the letter and the spirit of the text. This schema was based on the various ways of interpreting text that were utilized by the patristic writers.

  • The literal sense (sensus historicus) of scripture denotes what the text states or reports directly.
  • The allegorical sense (sensus allegoricus) explains text in the light of the doctrinal content of church dogma, so that each literal element has a symbolic meaning (see also Typology (theology)).
  • The moral application of a text to the individual reader or hearer is the third sense (the sensus tropologicus or sensus moralis).
  • The fourth sense (sensus anagogicus) draws out of the text the implicit allusions it contains to secret metaphysical and eschatological knowledge, called gnosis.

Biblical hermeneutics in the Middle Ages witnessed the proliferation of nonliteral interpretations of the Bible. Christian commentators could read Old Testament narratives simultaneously:

  • as prefigurations of analogous New Testament episodes,
  • as symbolic lessons about church institutions and current teachings,
  • and as personally applicable allegories of the Spirit.

In each case, the meaning of the narrative was constrained by imputing a particular intention to the Bible, such as teaching morality. But these interpretive bases were posited by the religious tradition rather than suggested by a preliminary reading of the text.

A similar fourfold mode is found in rabbinic writings. The four categories are:

  • Peshat (simple interpretation)
  • Remez (allusion)
  • Derash (interpretive)
  • Sod (secret or mystical)

It is uncertain whether the rabbinic categories of interpretation predate those of the patristic version. The medieval period saw the growth of many new categories of rabbinic interpretation and of exegesis of the Torah. Among these were the emergence of Kabbalah and the writings of Maimonides.

The customary medieval exegetical technique commented on the text in glossae or annotations that were written between the lines or at the side of the text (which was left with wide margins for this purpose). The text might be further commented on in scholia, which are long, exegetical passages, often on a separate page.

Modern period

The discipline of hermeneutics emerged with the new humanist education of the 15th century as a historical and critical methodology for analyzing texts. In a triumph of early modern hermeneutics, the Italian humanist Lorenzo Valla proved in 1440 that the Donation of Constantine was a forgery. This was done through intrinsic evidence of the text itself. Thus hermeneutics expanded from its medieval role of explaining the true meaning of the Bible.

However, biblical hermeneutics did not die off. For example, the Protestant Reformation brought about a renewed interest in the interpretation of the Bible, which took a step away from the interpretive tradition developed during the Middle Ages back to the texts themselves. Martin Luther and John Calvin emphasized scriptura sui ipsius interpres (scripture interprets itself). Calvin used brevitas et facilitas as an aspect of theological hermeneutics.

The rationalist Enlightenment led hermeneutists, especially Protestant exegetists, to view Scriptural texts as secular classical texts. They interpreted Scripture as responses to historical or social forces so that, for example, apparent contradictions and difficult passages in the New Testament might be clarified by comparing their possible meanings with contemporary Christian practices.

Schleiermacher (1768–1834)

Friedrich Schleiermacher explored the nature of understanding in relation not just to the problem of deciphering sacred texts but to all human texts and modes of communication.

The interpretation of a text must proceed by framing its content in terms of the overall organization of the work. Schleiermacher distinguished between grammatical interpretation and psychological interpretation. The former studies how a work is composed from general ideas; the latter studies the peculiar combinations that characterize the work as a whole. He said that every problem of interpretation is a problem of understanding and even defined hermeneutics as the art of avoiding misunderstanding. Misunderstanding was to be avoided by means of knowledge of grammatical and psychological laws.

During Schleiermacher's time, a fundamental shift occurred from understanding not merely the exact words and their objective meaning, to an understanding of the writer's distinctive character and point of view.[24][16]

Dilthey (1833–1911)

Wilhelm Dilthey broadened hermeneutics even more by relating interpretation to historical objectification. Understanding moves from the outer manifestations of human action and productivity to the exploration of their inner meaning. In his last important essay, "The Understanding of Other Persons and Their Manifestations of Life" (1910), Dilthey made clear that this move from outer to inner, from expression to what is expressed, is not based on empathy. Empathy involves a direct identification with the Other. Interpretation involves an indirect or mediated understanding that can only be attained by placing human expressions in their historical context. Thus, understanding is not a process of reconstructing the state of mind of the author, but one of articulating what is expressed in his work.

Dilthey divided spiritual science into three structural levels: experience, expression, and comprehension.

  • Experience means to feel a situation or thing personally. Dilthey suggested that we can always grasp the meaning of unknown thought when we try to experience it. His understanding of experience is very similar to that of phenomenologist Edmund Husserl.
  • Expression converts experience into meaning because the discourse has an appeal to someone outside of oneself. Every saying is an expression. Dilthey suggested that one can always return to an expression, especially to its written form, and this practice has the same objective value as an experiment in science. The possibility of returning makes scientific analysis possible, and therefore the humanities may be labeled as science. Moreover, he assumed that an expression may be "saying" more than the speaker intends because the expression brings forward meanings which the individual consciousness may not fully understand.
  • The last structural level of spiritual science, according to Dilthey, is comprehension, which is a level that contains both comprehension and incomprehension. Incomprehension means, more or less, wrong understanding. He assumed that comprehension produces coexistence: "he who understands, understands others; he who does not understand stays alone."

Heidegger (1889–1976)

Since Dilthey, the discipline of hermeneutics has detached itself from spiritual science and has broadened to include all texts and multimedia.[25] In the 20th century, Martin Heidegger's philosophical hermeneutics shifted the focus from interpretation to existential understanding, which was treated more as a direct, non-mediated — and thus more authentic — way of being in the world than merely as "a way of knowing."[26] For example, he called for a "special hermeneutic of empathy" to dissolve the classic philosophic issue of "other minds" by putting the issue in the context of the being-with of human relatedness. (Although Heidegger himself did not complete this inquiry.)[27]

Advocates of this approach claim that some texts, and the people who produce them, cannot be studied by means of using the same scientific methods that are used in the natural sciences, thus drawing upon arguments similar to those of antipositivism. Moreover, they claim that such texts are conventionalized expressions of the experience of the author. Thus, the interpretation of such texts will reveal something about the social context in which they were formed, and, more significantly, will provide the reader with a means of sharing the experiences of the author.

The reciprocity between text and context is part of what Heidegger called the hermeneutic circle. Among the key thinkers who elaborated this idea was the sociologist Max Weber.

Gadamer (1900–2002) et al.

Hans-Georg Gadamer's hermeneutics is a development of the hermeneutics of his teacher, Heidegger. Gadamer asserted that methodical contemplation is opposite to experience and reflection. We can reach the truth only by understanding or mastering our experience. According to Gadamer, our understanding is not fixed but rather is changing and always indicating new perspectives. The most important thing is to unfold the nature of individual understanding.

Gadamer pointed out that prejudice is an element of our understanding and is not per se without value. Indeed, prejudices, in the sense of pre-judgements of the thing we want to understand, are unavoidable. Being alien to a particular tradition is a condition of our understanding. He said that we can never step outside of our tradition — all we can do is try to understand it. This further elaborates the idea of the hermeneutic circle.

Bernard Lonergan's (1904–1984) hermeneutics is less well known, but a case for considering his work as the culmination of the postmodern hermeneutical revolution that began with Heidegger was made in several articles by Lonergan specialist Frederick G. Lawrence.[28]

Paul Ricœur (1913–2005) developed a hermeneutics that is based upon Heidegger's concepts. His work differs in many ways from that of Gadamer.

Karl-Otto Apel (b. 1922) elaborated a hermeneutics based on American semiotics. He applied his model to discourse ethics with political motivations akin to those of critical theory.

Jürgen Habermas (b. 1929) criticized the conservatism of previous hermeneutists, especially Gadamer, because their focus on tradition seemed to undermine possibilities for social criticism and transformation. He also criticized Marxism and previous members of the Frankfurt School for missing the hermeneutical dimension of critical theory.

Habermas incorporated the notion of the lifeworld and emphasized the importance for social theory of interaction, communication, labor, and production. He viewed hermeneutics as a dimension of critical social theory.

Andrés Ortiz-Osés (b. 1943) has developed his symbolic hermeneutics as the Mediterranean response to Northern European hermeneutics. His main statement regarding symbolic understanding of the world is that meaning is a symbolic healing of injury.

Two other important hermeneutic scholars are Jean Grondin (b. 1955) and Maurizio Ferraris (b. 1956).

Mauricio Beuchot coined the term and discipline of analogic hermeneutics, which is a type of hermeneutics that is based upon interpretation and takes into account the plurality of aspects of meaning. He drew categories both from analytic and continental philosophy, as well as from the history of thought.

Two scholars who have published criticism of Gadamer's hermeneutics are the Italian jurist Emilio Betti and the American literary theorist E. D. Hirsch.

Objective hermeneutics

In 1992, the Association for Objective Hermeneutics (AGOH) was founded in Frankfurt am Main by scholars of various disciplines in the humanities and social sciences. Its goal is to provide all scholars who use the methodology of objective hermeneutics with a means of exchanging information.[29]

In one of the few translated texts of this German school of hermeneutics, its founders declared:

Our approach has grown out of the empirical study of family interactions as well as reflection upon the procedures of interpretation employed in our research. For the time being we shall refer to it as objective hermeneutics in order to distinguish it clearly from traditional hermeneutic techniques and orientations. The general significance for sociological analysis of objective hermeneutics issues from the fact that, in the social sciences, interpretive methods constitute the fundamental procedures of measurement and of the generation of research data relevant to theory. From our perspective, the standard, nonhermeneutic methods of quantitative social research can only be justified because they permit a shortcut in generating data (and research "economy" comes about under specific conditions). Whereas the conventional methodological attitude in the social sciences justifies qualitative approaches as exploratory or preparatory activities, to be succeeded by standardized approaches and techniques as the actual scientific procedures (assuring precision, validity, and objectivity), we regard hermeneutic procedures as the basic method for gaining precise and valid knowledge in the social sciences. However, we do not simply reject alternative approaches dogmatically. They are in fact useful wherever the loss in precision and objectivity necessitated by the requirement of research economy can be condoned and tolerated in the light of prior hermeneutically elucidated research experiences.[30]



In archaeology, hermeneutics means the interpretation and understanding of material through analysis of possible meanings and social uses.

Proponents argue that interpretation of artifacts is unavoidably hermeneutic because we cannot know for certain the meaning behind them. We can only apply modern values when interpreting. This is most commonly seen in stone tools, where descriptions such as "scraper" can be highly subjective and actually unproven until the development of microwear analysis some thirty years ago. Of course, one could argue that only the individual lithic being examined was ever used as a "scraper", and that all the many thousands of near-identical instances were something else entirely, which is where this kind of approach leads us. All attempts at systematic materialist classification become nonsense. (NPOV rewrite needed.)

Opponents argue that a hermeneutic approach is too relativist and that their own interpretations are based on common-sense evaluation.


There are several traditions of architectural scholarship that draw upon the hermeneutics of Heidegger and Gadamer, such as Christian Norberg-Schulz, and Nader El-Bizri in the circles of Phenomenology (architecture). Lindsay Jones examines the way architecture is received and how that reception changes with time and context (e.g., how a building is interpreted by critics, users, and historians).[31] Dalibor Vesely situates hermeneutics within a critique of the application of overly scientific thinking to architecture.[32] This tradition fits within a critique of the Enlightenment[33] and has also informed design-studio teaching. Adrian Snodgrass sees the study of history and Asian cultures by architects as a hermeneutical encounter with otherness.[34] He also deploys arguments from hermeneutics to explain design as a process of interpretation.[35] Along with Richard Coyne, he extends the argument to the nature of architectural education and design.[36]


Environmental hermeneutics applies hermeneutics to environmental issues conceived broadly to subjects including "nature" and "wilderness" (both terms are matters of hermeneutical contention), landscapes, ecosystems, built environments (where it overlaps architectural hermeneutics[37][38] ), inter-species relationships, the relationship of the body to the world, and more.

International relations

Insofar as hermeneutics is a basis of both critical theory and constitutive theory (both of which have made important inroads into the postpositivist branch of international relations theory and political science), it has been applied to international relations.

Steve Smith refers to hermeneutics as the principal way of grounding a foundationalist yet postpositivist theory of international relations.

Radical postmodernism is an example of a postpositivist yet anti-foundationalist paradigm of international relations.


Some scholars argue that law and theology are particular forms of hermeneutics because of their need to interpret legal tradition or scriptural texts. Moreover, the problem of interpretation has been central to legal theory since at least the 11th century.

In the Middle Ages and Italian Renaissance, the schools of glossatores, commentatores, and usus modernus distinguished themselves by their approach to the interpretation of "laws" (mainly Justinian's Corpus Juris Civilis). The University of Bologna gave birth to a "legal Renaissance" in the 11th century, when the Corpus Juris Civilis was rediscovered and systematically studied by men such as Irnerius and Johannes Gratian. It was an interpretative Renaissance. Subsequently these were fully developed by Thomas Aquinas and Alberico Gentili.

Since then, interpretation has always been at the center of legal thought. Friedrich Carl von Savigny and Emilio Betti, among others, made significant contributions to general hermeneutics. Legal interpretivism, most famously Ronald Dworkin's, may be seen as a branch of philosophical hermeneutics.

Political philosophy

Italian philosopher Gianni Vattimo and Spanish philosopher Santiago Zabala in their book Hermeneutic Communism, when discussing contemporary capitalist regimes, stated that, "A politics of descriptions does not impose power in order to dominate as a philosophy; rather, it is functional for the continued existence of a society of dominion, which pursues truth in the form of imposition (violence), conservation (realism), and triumph (history)."[39]

Vattimo and Zabala also stated that they view interpretation as anarchy and affirmed that "existence is interpretation" and that "hermeneutics is weak thought."


Psychologists and computer scientists have recently become interested in hermeneutics, especially as an alternative to cognitivism.

Hubert Dreyfus's critique of conventional artificial intelligence has been influential among psychologists who are interested in hermeneutic approaches to meaning and interpretation, as discussed by philosophers such as Martin Heidegger (cf. Embodied cognition) and Ludwig Wittgenstein (cf. Discursive psychology).

Hermeneutics is also influential in humanistic psychology.[40]

Religion and theology

The understanding of a theological text depends upon the reader's particular hermeneutical viewpoint. Some theorists, such as Paul Ricœur, have applied modern philosophical hermeneutics to theological texts (in Ricoeur's case, the Bible).

Safety science

In the field of safety science, and especially in the study of human reliability, scientists have become increasingly interested in hermeneutic approaches.

It has been proposed by ergonomist Donald Taylor that mechanist models of human behaviour will only take us so far in terms of accident reduction, and that safety science must look at the meaning of accidents for human beings.[41]

Other scholars in the field have attempted to create safety taxonomies that make use of hermeneutic concepts in terms of their categorisation of qualitative data.[42]


In sociology, hermeneutics is the interpretation and understanding of social events through analysis of their meanings for the human participants in the events. It enjoyed prominence during the 1960s and 1970s, and differs from other interpretive schools of sociology in that it emphasizes the importance of both context[43] and form within any given social behaviour.

The central principle of sociological hermeneutics is that it is only possible to know the meaning of an act or statement within the context of the discourse or world view from which it originates. Context is critical to comprehension; an action or event that carries substantial weight to one person or culture may be viewed as meaningless or entirely different to another. For example, giving the "thumbs-up" gesture is widely accepted as a sign of a job well done in the United States, while other cultures view it as an insult.[44] Similarly, putting a piece of paper into a box might be considered a meaningless act unless it is put into the context of democratic elections (the act of putting a ballot paper into a box).

Friedrich Schleiermacher, widely regarded as the father of sociological hermeneutics believed that, in order for an interpreter to understand the work of another author, they must familiarize themselves with the historical context in which the author published their thoughts. His work led to the inspiration of Heidegger's "hermeneutic circle" a frequently referenced model that claims one's understanding of individual parts of a text is based on their understanding of the whole text, while the understanding of the whole text is dependent on the understanding of each individual part.[45] Hermeneutics in sociology was also heavily influenced by German philosopher Hans-Georg Gadamer.[46]


Murray Rothbard, an economist, had this to say in his 1989 article, The Hermeneutical Invasion of Philosophy and Economics:

So why then does the present author ... have the temerity to tackle a field as arcane, abstruse, metaphysical, and seemingly unrelated to economics as hermeneutics? Here my plea is the always legitimate one of self-defense. Discipline after discipline, from literature to political theory to philosophy to history, has been invaded by an arrogant band of hermeneuticians, and now even economics is under assault.... The essential message of deconstructionism and hermeneutics can be variously summed up as nihilism, relativism, and solipsism. That is, either there is no objective truth or, if there is, we can never discover it. With each person being bound to his own subjective views, feelings, history, and so on, there is no method of discovering objective truth.[47][48]

See also


  1. Random House Unabridged Dictionary
  2. American Heritage Dictionary
  3. Merriam-Webster Dictionary
  4. Audi, Robert (1999). The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy (2nd ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 377. ISBN 0521637228.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. Reese, William L. (1980). Dictionary of Philosophy and Religion. Sussex: Harvester Press. p. 221. ISBN 0855271477.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. International Institute for Hermeneutics About Hermenutics. Retrieved: 2015-11-08.
  7. Grondin, Jean (1994). Introduction to Philosophical Hermeneutics. Yale University Press. ISBN 0-300-05969-8.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles> p. 2
  8. Benjamin, Walter (2009). Origin of the German Tragic Drama. Verso. ISBN 978-1844673483.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. Jameson, Fredric (1982). The Political Unconscious: Narrative as a Socially Symbolic Act. Cornell University Press. ISBN 978-0-8014-9222-8.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles> p. 17 - 102
  10. Dowling, William C (1984). Jameson, Althusser, Marx: Introduction to the Political Unconscious. Cornell University Press. ISBN 978-0801492846.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. Klein, Ernest, A complete etymological dictionary of the English language: dealing with the origin of words and their sense development, thus illustrating the history of civilization and culture, Elsevier, Oxford, 2000, p. 344.
  12. R. S. P. Beekes, Etymological Dictionary of Greek, Brill, 2009, p. 462.
  13. Grondin, Jean (1994). Introduction to Philosophical Hermeneutics. Yale University Press. ISBN 0-300-05969-8. p. 21.
  14. Grondin, Jean (1994). Introduction to Philosophical Hermeneutics. Yale University Press. ISBN 0-300-05969-8. pp. 21–22.
  15. 15.0 15.1 15.2 Hoy, David Couzen (1981). The Critical Circle. University of California Press. ISBN 978-0520046399
  16. 16.0 16.1 Bjorn Ramberg and Kristin Gjesdal. "Hermeneutics". Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved 2007-12-04.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  17. see, e.g., Rambam Hilkhot Talmud Torah 4:8
  18. Woo, B. Hoon (2013). "Augustine's Hermeneutics and Homiletics in De doctrina christianae". Journal of Christian Philosophy. 17: 97–117.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  19. 19.0 19.1 19.2 19.3 'Hermeneutics' 2014, Encyclopædia Britannica, Research Starters, EBSCOhost, viewed 17 March 2015
  20. Irenaeus, Against Heresies, III.21, http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/anf01.ix.iv.xxii.html?scrBook=Jer&scrCh=22&scrV=24#ix.iv.xxii–p34.1. See also as examples II.34 and IV.9.
  21. Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, 103, http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/anf01.viii.iv.ciii.html?scrBook=Hos&scrCh=10&scrV=6#viii.iv.ciii–p4.1. See also 111, http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/anf01.viii.iv.cxi.html?scrBook=Isa&scrCh=53&scrV=7#viii.iv.cxi–p2.1.
  22. Martin Jan Mulder, ed., Mikra: Text Translation, Reading and Interpretation of the Hebrew Bible in Ancient Judaism and Early Christianity (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1990), 743.
  23. Ebeling, Gerhard, The New Hermeneutics and the Early Luther, page 38
  24. Forster, Michael. "Friedrich Daniel Ernst Schleiermacher". Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  25. Reeves, Byron & Clifford Nass (1996). The Media Equation: How People Treat Computers, Television, and New Media Like Real People and Places. CSLI Publications and Cambridge University Press.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles> p. 301
  26. Heidegger, Martin (1962) [1927]. Being and Time. Harper and Row.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles> p. H125
  27. Agosta, Lou (2010). Empathy in the Context of Philosophy. Palgrave Macmillan.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles> p. 20
  28. Frederick G. Lawrence, "Martin Heidegger and the Hermeneutic Revolution", "Hans-Georg Gadamer and the Hermeneutic Revolution", "The Hermeneutic Revolution and Bernard Lonergan: Gadamer and Lonergan on Augustine's Verbum Cordis – the Heart of Postmodern Hermeneutics", "The Unknown 20th-Century Hermeneutic Revolution: Jerusalem and Athens in Lonergan's Integral Hermeneutics", Divyadaan: Journal of Philosophy and Education 19/1–2 (2008) 7–30, 31–54, 55–86, 87–118.
  29. Association for Objective Hermeneutics website. Accessed: January 27, 2014.
  30. Oevermann, Ulrich; Tilman Allert, Elisabeth Konau, and Jürgen Krambeck. 1987. "Structures of meaning and objective Hermeneutics." Pp. 436–447 in Modern German sociology, European Perspectives: a Series in Social Thought and Cultural Criticism, edited by Volker Meja, Dieter Misgeld, and Nico Stehr. New York: Columbia University Press.
  31. Jones, L. 2000. The Hermeneutics of Sacred Architecture: Experience, Interpretation, Comparison, p.263;Volume Two: Hermeneutical Calisthenics: A Morphology of Ritual-Architectural Priorities, Cambridge Mass.: Harvard University Press
  32. Vesely, D. 2004. Architecture in the Age of Divided Representation: The Question of Creativity in the Shadow of Production, Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.
  33. Perez-Gomez, A. 1985. Architecture and the Crisis of Modern Science, Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.
  34. Snodgrass, A., and Coyne, R. 2006. Interpretation in Architecture: Design as a Way of Thinking, London: Routledge, pp 165–180.
  35. Snodgrass, A., and Coyne, R. 2006. Interpretation in Architecture: Design as a Way of Thinking, London: Routledge, pp. 29–55
  36. Snodgrass, A.B., and Coyne, R.D. 1992. "Models, Metaphors and the Hermeneutics of Designing." Design Issues, 9(1): 56 74.
  37. Mugerauer, Robert (1995). Interpreting Environments. University of Texas Press.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  38. Mugerauer, Robert (1994). Interpretations on Behalf of Place. SUNY Press.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  39. Gianni Vattimo and Santiago Zabala. Hermeneutic Communism: From Heidegger to Marx Columbia University Press. 2011. Pg. 12
  40. David L. Rennie (2007). "Hermeneutics and Humanistic Psychology" (PDF). The Humanistic Psychologist. 35 (1). Retrieved 2009-07-07.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  41. Donald Taylor (1981). "The hermeneutics of accidents and safety". Ergonomics. 24 (6): 487–495. doi:10.1080/00140138108924870. Retrieved 2009-10-09.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  42. Wallace,B., Ross, A., & Davies, J.B. (2003). "Applied Hermeneutics and Qualitative Safety Data". Human Relations. 56 (5): 587–607. doi:10.1177/0018726703056005004. Retrieved 2009-07-10.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  43. Willis, W. J., & Jost, M. (2007). Foundations of qualitative research; Interpretive and critical approaches. London: Sage. Page 106
  44. Kris Rugsaken, "Body Speaks: Body language around the world"
  45. http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/schleiermacher/#4
  46. see Gadamer, Hans-Georg, Truth and Method, 1960
  47. https://mises.org/library/hermeneutical-invasion
  48. Rothbard, Murray N. 1989. The Hermeneutical Invasion of Philosophy and Economics. Retrieved from http://rationalargumentator.com/hermeneuticalinvasion.html


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