Archives For Schleiermacher

Understanding the meaning of history requires both an inner articulation of the temporal structures of our own experience and the interpretation of the external objectifications of others. Dilthey’s reflections on history and hermeneutics influenced thinkers in the twentieth century, especially Ortega, Heidegger, Gadamer and Ricoeur.

Dilthey’s essay “The Rise of Hermeneutics” (19..) makes a connecting link between philosophy and history.

“the inner experience through which I obtain reflexive awareness of my own condition can never by itself bring me to a consciousness of my own individuality. I experience the latter only through a comparison of myself with others”

These others are accessible only from the outside. It is the task of understanding to compare/confer “an inside” to what is first given as “a complex of external sensory signs”. So rather than lived experience giving us an understanding of ourselves, it is our objectifications that is the means by which we understand ourselves. This is approaching the inside from the outside.

“The process of understanding, insofar as it is determined by common conditions and epistemological means, must everywhere have the same characteristics” (Dilthey 1996, 237). To the extent that rules can guide the understanding of the objectifications of life it constitutes interpretation. Hermeneutics is the theory of interpretation that relates to all human objectifications—that is, not only speech and writing, but also visual artistic expressions, more casual physical gestures as well as observable actions or deeds.

The interpretation of history must deal with all manifestations of life. Dilthey categories three classes of life-manifestation:

1) concepts, judgements and larger thought formations (to communicate states of affairs not states of mind) (theoretical)

2) actions (not meant to communicate anything yet reveal something about intentions of the actor) (practical)

3) expressions of lived experience (range from simple exclamations and gestures to personal self descriptions to reflections of works of art – again disclose more about the individual uttering them) (disclosive)

From the Stanford Encyclopedia:

In using words we do not represent them as words but fulfill their meaning by representing their objects. There is a triadic structural relation between the intuitive content of a linguistic expression, an act that gives it meaning and the object that embodies that meaning as what is expressed. But whereas Husserl’s phenomenology focused in the conceptual structures of objective apprehension, Dilthey gives equal attention to the structures of what he calls “objective having” In objective apprehension we progress from attitude to objects, in objective having we regress from objects to attitude. This regressive structure is characteristic of our lived experiences of feeling and tends to “lose itself in the depth of the subject”

Dilthey’s category of Wirkung or productivity is at the root of Gadamer’s theory of effective history (Wirkungsgeschichte).

As in the essay “The Rise of Hermeneutics,” understanding is said to involve a process of referring back from outer sensory phenomena to a reality that is inner. But now in The Formation of the Historical World in the Human Sciences Dilthey recognizes that this inner reality need not be psychological in nature. He uses the example of how the statutes of a state express the common will of a community. The inner content of the laws on the books is a legal meaning formation. The expressions we read in law books articulate an inner relation among legal imperatives. What is expressed in these laws is not the mental states of individual legislators, but a general way of regulating human relations. Dilthey makes the same claim for individual poetic creations. What is expressed in a drama is “not the inner processes in the poet; it is rather a nexus created in them but separable from them. The nexus of a drama consists in a distinctive relation of material, poetic mood, motif, plot, and means of presentation”

Gadamer parts with this through his conception of (influenced by Heideggeer) phronesis:

being-in-the-world over and against theoretical apprehension
a mode of insight into our own concrete situation (self-knowledge)

Understanding and interpretation is a practically oriented mode of insight which:
has a rationality irreducible to rules
cannot be directly taught
is always oriented to the case at hand

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).