A Brief Sketch of Schleiermacher

March 29, 2012 — Leave a comment

Lived Nov 21, 1768 – Feb 12, 1834

“misunderstanding occurs as a matter of course, and so understanding must be willed and sought at every point.”

Schleiermacher was a student of Historical Criticism and theology. Historical Criticism seeks to ascertain the texts primitive or original meaning in its original historical context and its literal sense. It also seeks to reconstruct the historical situation of the author and recipients of the text.

Schleiermacher was also studied Kant and set out to apply ideas from the Greek philosophers to a reconstruction of Kant’s system.

“Faith is the regalia of the Godhead, you say. Alas! dearest father, if you believe that without this faith no one can attain to salvation in the next world, nor to tranquility in this — and such, I know, is your belief — oh! then pray to God to grant it to me, for to me it is now lost. I cannot believe that he who called himself the Son of Man was the true, eternal God; I cannot believe that his death was a vicarious atonement.”

B. A. Gerrish, A Prince of the Church: Schleiermacher and the Beginnings of Modern Theology (Philadelphia, PA: Fortress Press, 1984), 25.

In Schleiermachers philosophy the dualism of the ego and the non-ego is the foundation. The specific functions of the ego are in two categories: sense and intellect, and there are functions of the senses, functions of the intellect. Functions of the senses fall into two classes: feelings (subjective) and perceptions (objective). Functions of the intellect fall into two classes: cognition and volition. In cognition being is the object and in volition it is the purpose of thought. In the first category we receive the object of thought into ourselves, in the second we plant it out into the world.

Behind these two functions self-consciousness is permanently present, which is always both subjective and objective, of the ego (ourselves) and the non-ego. This is the third special function of thought, which is also called feeling and immediate knowledge.

This doctrine of knowledge accepts the fundamental principle of Kant that knowledge is bounded by experience. Knowledge is synonymous with scientific thought and takes the form of the concept or the judgement; the former conceiving the variety of being as a definite unity and plurality, and the latter simply connecting the concept with certain individual objects.

His influence on the philosophical hermeneutics rests on the way in which he generalized hermeneutics. For Schleiermacher, sacred scripture was a special case of the more general problem of interpretation. The task of hermeneutics, then, was to avoid misunderstanding and to discover the author’s intent.


1) Thought is dependent on and bounded by language.

2) Meaning is word usage.

3) There are deep linguistic and conceptual-intellectual differences between people. (the main task of Schleiermacher is to deal with this challenge)

4) Semantic Holism greatly intensifies this challenge.

5) Good knowledge of the texts historical context is important.

6) Two sides to interpretation: linguistic and psychological. (this arises from the deep linguistic and conceptual-intellectual differences between individuals)

7) Semantic Holism: any given piece of text needs to be interpreted in light of the whole text to which it belongs, and both need to be interpreted in light of the broader language in which they are written, their larger historical context, a broader preexisting genre, the author’s whole corpus, and the author’s overall psychology. Such holism introduces a pervasive circularity into interpretation, for, ultimately, interpreting these broader items in its turn depends on interpreting such pieces of text. (for Schleiermacher this is not a negative problem as all aspects need not be achieved at once. It is not an all or nothing matter but comes in degrees)

From the Stanford Encyclopedia:

Schleiermacher’s theories of interpretation and translation rest squarely on three of the Herder-inspired doctrines in the philosophy of language which were described earlier: (4) thought is essentially dependent on and bounded by, or even identical with, language; (5) meaning is word usage; and (7) there are deep linguistic and conceptual-intellectual differences between people. Doctrine (7) poses a severe challenge to both interpretation and translation, and it is the main task of Schleiermacher’s theories to cope with this challenge. Schleiermacher’s most original doctrine in the philosophy of language, (8) (semantic holism), is also highly relevant in this connection, for, as Schleiermacher perceives, semantic holism greatly exacerbates the challenge to interpretation and translation posed by (7).


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