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Hermeneutics: Interpretation Theory in Schleiermacher, Dilthey, Heidegger, and Gadamer (review)

Rudolf A. Makkreel

Journal of the History of Philosophy, Volume 9, Number 1, January 1971, pp. 114-116 (Article) Published by The Johns Hopkins University Press DOI: 10.1353/hph.2008.1163

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Hermeneutics: Interpretation Theory in Schleiermacher, Dilthey, Heidegger, and Gadamer. By Richard E. Palmer. (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1969.
Pp. xviii+283. $9.00) This is a useful introduction for the English reader to hermeneutics, a field which is receiving much attention from G e r m a n philosophers today. While providing an extended historical account focused on the contributions to hermeneutics by Schleiermacher, Dilthey, Heidegger and Gadamer, Palmer also aims to give a more inclusive and systematic discussion of the nature of the theory of interpretation itself. In part I of the book, he deals with problems concerning the definition, scope and significance of hermeneutics. In part II, he treats the above mentioned thinkers and contrasts their respective theoretical foundations for hermeneutics. In the last part of the book, he gathers some of the different insights developed along the way into a "manifesto" of thirty theses designed to help solve a "crisis" of literary criticism in America. The one drawback in using both the historical and systematic approaches is that the actual development of Palmer's theme tends to be fragmentary. The same points of information are repeated in different contexts, and no systematic viewpoint is coherently worked out. Because the conceptual investigations precede the strictly historical exposition, they serve primarily as a schematism for understanding the history of hermeneutics. The six modern definitions of hermeneutics that Palmer fists in part I (p. 33) cannot be fully evaluated as genuine possibilities until we have concluded the historical p_art II. The first two definitions, that of hermeneutics as "(I) the theory of biblical exegesis," and as "(2) a general philological methodology," are dismissed outright as too narrow to provide an adequate characterization of hermeneutics. These definitions are brought in only to explain the origin of modern hermeneutics. By contrast, the last definition of hermeneutics, that provided by Paul Ricoeur in his recent work, De l'interprdtation: Essai sur Freud, is treated as something of a postscript. It defines hermeneutics as "(6) the systems of interpretation, both recollective and iconoclastic, used by man to reach the meaning behind myths and symbols." This definition is in effect regarded as being too broad since one of the alternatives offered by Ricoeur-iconoclastic demystification--is never seriously considered. In the final manifesto of the book, the other alternative---recollective interpretation, or "demythologizing" as Palmer calls i t - - i s claimed to be the task of literary criticism. (cf. p. 251) Palmer's most detailed analysis is reserved for definitions 3-5. Schleiermacher is discussed as a representative of the viewpoint that hermeneutics is "(3) the science of all linguistic understanding." His importance is attributed to the fact that he was able to widen the base of hermeneutics so that it became more than simply a philological aid for the classicist or a canonical guide for the Bible reader. Schleiermacher considered hermeneutics to be a fundamental study of the relation of textual interpretation to the understanding of all linguistic expressions. Dilthey continued Schleiermacher's work. His special contribution is seen to lie in having converted understanding from a purely psychological act into a psycho-historical method. Dilthey's great sense of history allowed him to redefine hermeneutics as "(4) the methodological foundation of Geisteswissenschaften." But this is still regarded as too limited a conception of hermeneutics, and Dilthey serves to introduce Heidegger and Gadamer, two theorists

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who define hermeneutics as "(5) phenomenology of existence and of existential understanding." Palmer is thus more sympathetic to Heidegger for whom hermeneutics i s no longer a special method but a general Interpretation of Being. HansG e o r g G a d a m e r is credited with developing the implications of Heidegger's views by making hermeneutics a strictly philosophical inquiry into the nature of interpretive understanding. The b o o k is dedicated to Gadamer, and more than fifty pages are devoted to an exposition of his major work, Wahrheit und Methode (1960), which Palmer views as "a decisive event in the development of modern hermeneutical theory." (p. 162) Palmer asserts that like the New Critics in America, G a d a m e r stresses the importance of focusing on the text and not on the author's intention. However, he differs from the New Criticism by not treating the text as an object to be analyzed, but insisting that it be experienced as a work that has accrued traditional meanings. To reduce the work to an object is to lose sight of its historical relativity. Being enclosed in our present historical horizon, we cannot hope to reproduce a text objectively, but only understand it to the extent that the tradition of the work still acts on us and applies to us. N o critical method can lead us to the true meaning of a text. Instead, as Palmer loves to say, we must be led by the text and its tradition. G a d a m e r ' s suspicion of method as an avenue to truth (he has written one of the strongest attacks on Dilthey's psycho-historical method) has led to a controversy concerning the possibility and desirability of developing critical standards of interpretation. Emilio Betti, a follower of Schleiermacher and Dilthey, has attacked G a d a m e r for having "failed to provide normative methods for distinguishing a right from a wrong interpretation . . ." (p. 58). M o r e recently, E. D. Hirsch, in his Validity in Interpretation, has assailed G a d a m e r for dismissing the author's intention, which he (Hirsch) thinks is the only basis for objective interpretation. Palmer seeks to meet these objections by arguing that a philosophical inquiry into interpretation does not exclude a logic validating interpretations. The two approaches are said to constitute "separate foci" within hermeneutics, the latter presupposing the former. He rightly notes that Hirsch passes over the problems of understanding by reducing it to arbitrary guesswork which is then tested by a logic of validation. Palmer suggests that Gadamer, with his phenomenological approach, is on m o r e solid ground than Hirsch by not opposing the subjective and the objective so crudely. G a d a m e r ' s account of understanding is based on the "facticity" of an encounter between a historically situated reader and a text having the force of tradition embodied in it. T h e question, however, is whether G a d a m e r ' s m o d e of philosophical inquiry leaves room for any logic of validation at all. Palmer's claim that they are two separate loci of hermeneutics really begs the question, since he is not considering just any mode of philosophical inquiry. Having adopted G a d a m e r ' s theory, he should not ignore the fact that Wahrheit und Methode was aimed at exposing method as the corrupter o f understanding, and that this entails the rejection of method both as a means of discovering meaning and as a means of validating discovered meaning. M o r e generally, Palmer's demand that understanding be a responsive surrender to that which speaks in a work places the status of literary criticism in doubt. Although he allows the reader to question the text, Palmer feels that "in a deeper sense, the text addresses a question to the interpreter" (p. 198). But as important as it is for

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the interpreter to have his own presuppositions challenged, unless he addresses equally fundamental questions to the text, his present interpretation is in danger of becoming too passive and at the mercy of traditional interpretations. It is unfortunate that a distrust of analytic literary criticism, which Palmer characterizes as aimed at the technological mastery of a text, should lead him to embrace another, more fundamental kind of mastery of the reader by tradition. As pernicious as the so-called neutrality of formalization may be to further reflection about a work of art, the force of tradition can cut off the possibility of criticism at its very roots. If Palmer has not successfuly demonstrated how phenomenology of understanding and methodology of interpretation are to be connected--as they should b e - - i t is because he has not adequately examined the nature of the tension between Ricoeur's alternatives of demythologizing and demystification. Palmer allows tradition to be demythologized, i.e., made relevant to our present situation, but makes no provision for its demystification, i.e., critical re-evaluation. If he thinks modes of demystification such as the psychoanalytic unmasking of latent meanings tend to do violence to works of literature, he must admit, however, that this is not intrinsic to criticism as such. Only an attempt to rethink Ricoeur's alternatives, so that the reader does not overwhelm the text and the text does not overawe the reader, can make true criticism possible. In the final analysis, the encounter between past and present discussed above is not enough to exhaust the meaning of a text. Creative criticism must do more than seek relevance or application of the tradition to the present. It must also confront the text and the reader with the not-yet. By bringing in the openness of the future, criticism can break through an old position without necessarily breaking it down, negate without destroying. RUDOLF A. MAKKREEL

University o[ Cali[ornia, San Diego

Linguistique et philosophie. By Etienne Gilson. (Paris: Librairie philosophique J. Vrin,


1969. Pp. 309. Paper, np) This is not just another b o o k on Linguistics and Philosophy; it is a book on Linguistics and Philosophy written by a French philosopher who has for twenty-four years been a member of the Acaddmie [raneaise. Gilson has clearly been marked by his experience as an Academician and one wonders whether the whom motivation for writing this book is not to be found in the concluding pages (pp. 283 ft.) in which he tells of his adventures as a member of that august body. If this is the case, even thoso of us who may not share his peculiar brand of gallic conservatism can nevertheless be grateful. The Acaddmie ]ranfaise was founded by Cardinal Richelieu in 1635 for the governance of French vocabulary, grammar, orthography and rhetoric. It has periodically produced grammars (the most recent in 1932) and dictionaries (the first in 1694 and the eighth in 1932-1935) which were meant to be "complete" and to canonize good usage. Unfortunately, the canons of usage must be established by "forty immortals" who represent very diverse competences (law, medicine, jurisprudence, military engineering