Hermeneutics (method)

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The hermeneutics as a method is a systematized, practical method to texts reflected understand manner and to interpret. The hermeneutic method is used in philosophy, theology, law as well as in social and literary studies. Hermeneutics as a method is only partially congruent with philosophical hermeneutics .

Basic features of hermeneutics as a method

Hermeneutics is the art or theory of proclaiming, translating, explaining and interpreting. While the word meaning “art of interpretation” prevailed until the beginning of the modern era, in the 17th century it developed increasingly into a theory and practical method of interpretation.

In its long tradition, the hermeneutic method first appeared in the discipline within theology and philology as a method for interpreting sacred ( exegesis , dogmatic-theological hermeneutics, pastoral and spiritual-mystical hermeneutics ) or philosophical texts and poems ( literary or poetic hermeneutics ) first to be extended to laws ( legal hermeneutics ), and finally to transition to a general method of science at the beginning of modern times.

Under the influence of the new methodological awareness of modern times, which declared the objectivity and freedom of the sciences from all subjective arbitrariness to be their basic principles, various efforts arose to further develop the technical aspects of hermeneutics and to draft a general theory of interpretation. Christian Wolff's volume “Philosophia rationalis sive logica” (1728) and Georg Friedrich Meier's “An attempt at a general art of interpretation” (1757) were particularly groundbreaking for this development . Nevertheless, the hermeneutic method remained limited to theology until the 18th century and, with its basic methodological rules, mainly adopted from ancient rhetoric, served only didactic purposes.

Only Friedrich Schleiermacher established hermeneutics as a comprehensive understanding of theory: With its definition of hermeneutics as "art teaching of understanding", he paved the way for a universal teaching of understanding that was subsequently the methodological basis for all historical humanities.

Hermeneutics as a method of science


Hermeneutics looks back on a long tradition as a genuinely theological method. As the art of the correct interpretation of the Holy Scriptures , it originally conveyed a dogmatic claim.

A first systematic investigation from a Christian perspective was provided by Origen , who transferred the late antique interpretation method of allegory to the sacred interpretation. In analogy to Plato's theory of layers, which divides people into body, soul and spirit, he differentiates between a somatic (literal), a psychic (moral) and a pneumatic (spiritual) sense of writing. For the early church, this pattern of interpretation was the essential guide for interpreting the Bible.

The reflections of the ancient Church on hermeneutics, continued by Tertullian , reached their zenith with Augustine . Particularly through Augustine's volume “ De doctrina christiana ”, hermeneutics reached a high degree of methodical awareness even in the patristic era. Overall, medieval hermeneutics remained within the framework of the philosophical-theological conception of understanding given by Augustine.

At the core of the theological hermeneutics of modern times was the search for a new understanding of the original sources. Their hidden or distorted meaning should be sought again and renewed. In the early Enlightenment , theological hermeneutics therefore endeavored to develop its own general rules of understanding and to apply them to biblical texts.

Hermeneutics, as a theological method, took central impulses for this from the Reformation with its return to the word of the Holy Scriptures. In place of the dogmatic tradition, the traditional principle, Martin Luther uses the written principle . After initially applying allegory , Luther referred exclusively to the literal sense and, like Calvin, preferred classical philological methods in interpreting the Holy Scriptures. Parallel to the rejection of the doctrine of verbal inspiration , the historicization of the Bible began, with which profane literature increasingly came into the focus of hermeneutics. Hermeneutics was thus developed into a historical-philological working method in the wake of the Reformation. The work of the lawyer Hugo Grotius , who was the first to differentiate between historical and dogmatic text interpretation , and the theologian Johann Jakob Wettstein , who strived for a general historical-philological method, should be emphasized in particular.

With Schleiermacher , an expansion of hermeneutic theology took place beyond its specialist boundaries, in the wake of which theological hermeneutics only formed a sub-category of general hermeneutics. Thereto socialize in subsequently Friedrich gap Schleiermacher, a student, David Friedrich Strauss , Ferdinand Christian Baur , Albrecht Ritschl , Johann Christian Konrad von Hofmann , Ernst Troeltsch and Harnack at.

A turning point within theological hermeneutics finally marked the dialectical theology , in the context of which v. a. Rudolf Bultmann stood. Bultmann followed up Schleiermacher and Wilhelm Dilthey and combined historical and scientific biblical criticism with theological questions. He emphasized that the condition of the interpretation lies in the fact that the interpreter and the author live as humans in the same historical world and are together in an understanding relationship with objects and fellow human beings.


The task of hermeneutics in the field of philosophy is the practice and theory of interpretation related to philosophical texts. This is to be distinguished from the hermeneutic philosophy, which asks about the conditions of the possibility of understanding and communication in speaking and acting.

The Greek term hermeneutiké or hermeneias was already used in Plato and Aristotle , but was not systematically chosen by either of them as the starting point for a doctrine of understanding and did not find its way into the Latin language. Rather, it was only Johann Konrad Dannhauer who translated the term into Latin and included it in the title of his work, "Hermeneutica sacra sive methodus exponendarum sacrarum litterarum" (1654), which was central to the development of hermeneutics .

In the 17th and 18th centuries, philosophers such as Johann Heinrich Alsted , Franciscus de Sancto, Martin Chladenius and Georg Friedrich Meier shaped the further development of a hermeneutic method in the field of philosophy. At the transition from the 18th to the 19th century, Friedrich Schleiermacher contributed significantly to the expansion of the hermeneutic method to include broad areas of knowledge. He understood hermeneutics as a systematic art teaching of understanding that seeks to transcend the boundaries of philosophy and theology. His thesis that an author can only be understood by comprehending his entire life situation forms an important reference point for Wilhelm Dilthey's approach. Dilthey aimed at the systematic re-establishment of the idea of ​​the humanities as an understanding and descriptive psychology. With this psychological turn in hermeneutics, the normative claims of the previous tradition are abandoned. Dilthey is considered the founder of the humanities and with his hermeneutics has made an important contribution to its methodological foundation. He conceived hermeneutics as a doctrine of understanding, the subject of which are all expressions of life. The hermeneutic method is thus expanded beyond all subject boundaries to in principle all "objectivations of life".

Especially within phenomenology , against the background of hermeneutical considerations, there was an intensive reception of Dilthey's writings. Even Hans-Georg Gadamer linked with his work " Truth and Method. Principles of a Philosophical Hermeneutics ”(1960) to Dilthey. Gadamer conceives his hermeneutics against the background of the idea that the understanding of meaning with the living and the understanding of the meaning of the past are embedded in a history of effects that encompasses the life and knowledge horizon of the understanding and the object horizon.

Jürgen Habermas developed Gadamer's hermeneutics critically. On the one hand, he criticizes hermeneutics as an uncritical method, but on the other hand affirms that it is closely related to life. Together with Gadamer's contribution, Habermas' conception had the greatest impact on current considerations on a hermeneutic method in the context of philosophy.

law Sciences

The starting point of legal hermeneutics is the legal work of Emperor Justinian I , which reached Italy and Western Europe in the Middle Ages and was summarized there under the name " Corpus iuris civilis ". In the 14th century, the reception of Roman law began in today's German areas. With humanism , the criticism of the Justinian legal sources began, to which the historical-critical method made an important contribution. Since the reception of Roman law , legal hermeneutics have existed alongside theological ones. She shared the dogmatic task with theological hermeneutics, because she was concerned not only with understanding Roman law, but also with grasping its dogmatics. In contrast to theological hermeneutics, however, legal hermeneutics works with documents that are not - like the Bible - written down, but can change as legislation changes.

In the 16th century a phase of intensive revision of the original sources and the development of new laws began, in the context of which the " Constitutio Criminalis Carolina " (1532) was created. In particular, following the natural law theorists of the 17th century, who took a systematic-productive perspective and aimed to develop new legal systems, various new laws were conceived in the 18th century, such as: B. the general land law in Prussia (1794) or the French Code civil (1804).

With the creation of modern legal codifications, the hermeneutics of law lost its formerly dogmatic task and was increasingly integrated into the field of legal history . The " historical school of law " around Carl von Savigny contributed to this as early as the Romantic era, aiming to combine the historical with the systematic method in order to develop a "positive legal science".

Social sciences

Hermeneutics as a method is also present in the social sciences. This is not about the understanding of texts as such, but on the one hand the interpretation of interaction processes and on the other hand the understanding of texts, stories, works of art, everyday activities, etc., that have been created and conveyed in a social and situational context, i.e. their interpretation as products of interaction and communication processes (so-called hermeneutic sociology of knowledge ). Since this communication process can no longer be shown in texts, its hermeneutic analysis is based e.g. B. a participatory observation and / or recording of these interaction processes. Approaches that try to meet this methodological claim can be found in ethnomethodology and intercultural hermeneutics . One of the forerunners can be counted symbolic interactionism , which, like objective hermeneutics, does not reduce the meaning structures of the objectifications of human action to subjective intentions .


At the beginning of the 20th century, William Stern made a fundamental distinction between the hermeneutic task of the biographer, who is supposed to draw and convey a sensitive and holistic picture of a personality who is uniform in experience and behavior, and the analytical task of the psychologist, who is the totality and diversity of the in one Countless individual characteristics and character traits applied to the person (see differential psychology ). Modern biography research makes use of different methods, most of which are based on the reconstruction of the linguistic utterances in the interaction process with the biographer (i.e. in an interview situation).

Psychoanalysis in particular has developed methods for the hermeneutic development of the other psychic beyond the manifest, i.e. linguistically mediated and socially shared level of meaning , which are of course controversial ( dream interpretation ). Alfred Lorenzer's so-called deep hermeneutics for understanding cultural objectivations is linked to psychoanalysis as well as to critical theory .

Literary studies

see literary hermeneutics

See also



  • Axel Bühler: Hermeneutics. Basic texts for an introduction to the theoretical principles of understanding and interpretation. Synchron, Heidelberg 2003
  • Günter Figal : The sense of understanding. Contributions to hermeneutic philosophy. Reclam, Stuttgart 1996
  • Günter Figal: Questions of understanding. Studies on phenomenological-hermeneutic philosophy. Mohr Siebeck, Tübingen 2009
  • Günter Figal (Ed.): International Yearbook for Hermeneutics (IJH). Mohr Siebeck, Tübingen 2002 ff.
  • Hans-Georg Gadamer , Gottfried Boehm : Seminar: Philosophical Hermeneutics. Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt am Main 1979
  • Hans-Georg Gadamer: Truth and Method. Basic features of a philosophical hermeneutics. Mohr Siebeck, Tübingen 1960
  • Martin Gessmann : On the future of hermeneutics. Paderborn 2011
  • Jean Grondin: Introduction to Philosophical Hermeneutics. 2nd edition, Darmstadt 2001.
  • Vittorio Hösle : Critique of Understanding Reason: A Foundation of the Humanities. CH Beck, Munich 2018.
  • Hans Ineichen: Philosophical Hermeneutics. In: Elisabeth Ströker , Wolfgang Wieland (Hrsg.): Handbuch philosophy. Alber, Freiburg im Breisgau / Munich 1991
  • Matthias Jung: Hermeneutics as an introduction. Hamburg 2001
  • Jörg Schreiter: Hermeneutics - Truth and Understanding. Berlin 1988
  • Helmut Seiffert : Introduction to Hermeneutics. The teaching of interpretation in the specialist sciences. Tübingen 1992
  • Albert Veraart, Reiner Wimmer: Hermeneutics. In: Jürgen Mittelstraß (Hrsg.): Encyclopedia Philosophy and Philosophy of Science. 2., rework. and substantially supplementary edition. Metzler, Stuttgart 2008, ISBN 978-3-476-02102-1 . Vol. 3, pp. 364-370
  • Helmuth Vetter : Philosophical Hermeneutics. On the way to Heidegger and Gadamer. Frankfurt am Main 2007


  • Marcus Döbert: Post-Hermeneutic Theology. A plea for a new paradigm. Kohlhammer, Stuttgart 2009
  • Ernst Feil : The theology of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Hermeneutics, Christology, understanding of the world. 3rd edition Munich 1979
  • Dietrich Korsch: Concept of religion and belief in God. Dialectical theology as the hermeneutics of religion. Mohr Siebeck, Tübingen 2005
  • Theodor Lorenzmeier: Exegesis and Hermeneutics. A comparative presentation of the theology of Rudolf Bultmann, Herbert Braun and Gerhard Ebeling. Furche, Hamburg 1968


  • Ernest Buschendorf: Right, Meaning, Faith. Preliminary studies on a hermeneutics of law. Hamburg 1962
  • Ernst Forsthoff : Law and Language. Prolegomena to a judicial hermeneutics. Darmstadt 1971
  • Rainer Hegenbarth: Legal hermeneutics and linguistic pragmatics. Shown using the example of the doctrine of wording as the limit of interpretation. Königstein im Taunus 1982
  • Friedrich Müller : Norm structure and normativity. On the relationship between law and reality in legal hermeneutics, developed on questions of constitutional interpretation. Duncker & Humblot, Berlin 1966

Social and literary studies

  • Rainer Greshoff (Ed.): Understand and explain. Social and cultural science perspectives. Munich u. a. 2008
  • Ronald Hitzler , Anne Honer : Social science hermeneutics. An introduction. Leske & Budrich, Opladen 1997
  • Roberto Simanowski : Text Machines - Kinetic Poetry - Interactive Installation. Studies on a hermeneutics of digital art. Transcript, Bielefeld 2010
  • Tim Trzaskalik: Literary Hermeneutics. Hamburg 2010

Individual evidence

  1. a b c d e f g h Albert Veraart, Reiner Wimmer: Hermeneutik. In: Jürgen Mittelstraß (Hrsg.): Encyclopedia Philosophy and Philosophy of Science. Metzler, Stuttgart 2008, Vol. 3, pp. 364-367.
  2. a b c d e f g h i j Helmut Seiffert: Introduction to Hermeneutics. The teaching of interpretation in the specialist sciences. Tübingen 1992, pp. 17-34.
  3. Jochen Fahrenberg: Psychological intepretation. Bern u. a. 2002, p. 110 ff.
  4. Alfred Lorenzer: Deep Hermeneutic Culture Analysis. In: Alfred Lorenzer (ed.): Culture analyzes. Frankfurt am Main 1986, pp. 11-98.