04:30 PM to 07:10 PM W
Section Information for Fall 2019
“Hermeneutics” refers to the dynamics of interpretation, the activity of interpreting, and the implications of these for understanding such philosophical issues as the nature of truth, what is distinct to our humanity, and our sense of history. The word comes from Greek. “Hermeneuein,” in Greek, means “to interpret.” One of the philosophers whose contribution to the field we will study, Martin Heidegger, finds a relation between “hermeneuein” and Hermes, the name of the messenger god in Greece.
Hermeneutics originates in the ancient world, both in reference to the body of myths and the Homeric epics in the Greek context that provided means for understanding the world in which people found themselves and their place in it, as well as the Biblical context, both of the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament. Philosophical contributions included Aristotle’s treatise “On Interpretation” and Augustine’s study of the interpreting necessary for understanding the “Word of God,” given humans’ limited capacity. When, during the Medieval period, Islam appears on the scene, an interpretive practice and context develops regarding the sacred text of the Quran.
Two particularly important contributions from the nineteenth century are the turn by the Protestant theologian Schleiermacher to the study of understanding per se, rather than understanding as found in a specific field such as theology, and the proposal by the philosopher Dilthey that hermeneutics is the proper “methodology” of the newly established social sciences, which are largely concerned with understanding and meaning, in contrast to the primacy of explaining in the natural sciences.
Early in the twentieth century, hermeneutics re-emerged in a central way within philosophy itself. We will study major contributions to “philosophical hermeneutics” from Heidegger, his student Hans-Georg Gadamer, and the French philosopher Paul Ricoeur, who brought hermeneutics into the twenty-first century. Today, hermeneutics also contributes to literary studies and the study of law.
This course fulfills the requirement for a course in Continental Philosophy for the philosophy major, and is also of particular relevance to those studying literature, art, history, the social sciences, and law.