The Approach of Hermeneutics

The approach of hermeneutics does not assume that all reasoning can be considered within some foundational belief, but rather must be interpreted in their own terms. Hermeneutics is therefore in conflict with many current cultural traditions descended from the dialectic. It is also directly contrasted with deconstruction, which has radically different conclusions about the results of textual analysis.

To read and understand a text of Ricoeur is not to understand it in one way, now and forever. There is no “science” of interpretation, which affords the one correct, true reading. The possibility of understanding arises from “the totally positive relation of belonging.” The “world” of the text and the “world” of the reader come across each other in a “fusion of horizons” that occurs in front of the text. Because in written discourse there is a distance in time and space separating the author and potential readers, there is a radical alienation that separates the reader from the sense of the author and the reference of the text.

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This distance functions like the dissimilarity in metaphor and the conflict of meanings in symbols. By reducing the conflict in meanings between the dissimilar “worlds” of the text and the reader, new meanings, new models, and new realities arise in front of the text. Reading becomes a kind of work, of rendering a text as meaningful. For example “the light shines upon you” by trying to understand this phrase one can break it down by defining the words light, shine, upon, and you. By defining these words the reader can get a general idea of the message the writer is trying to produce not just a specific, this may also be known as the hermeneutical circle. Ricoeur writes that:

. . . [I]n explanation we ex-plicate or unfold the range of propositions and meanings, where as in understanding we comprehend or grasp as a whole the chain of partial meanings in one act of synthesis (Ricoeur 1976, 72.)

Explanation corresponds to critical thinking, in science terms, that brakes down the elements or principles of the composition. A reader stands ready at a distance in order to objectify the text, to analyze link patterns and structures, as well as, the historical, social, and psychological contexts, which give rise to a text and previous interpretations of that text. However powerful these investigative lenses may be in interpreting a text, they are not “a presuppositionless grasp of a pregiven being” — the reader will not be able to see the full message the writer is trying to communicate, there is no transparent, direct reading of the text in itself. The reader will only receive the information that relates to the reader were as some information might affect at a stronger level between other readers.

Romanticist hermeneutics opposes the understanding and explanation on epistemological and “on the whole” grounds by opposing two metaphors and two spheres of reality — nature and mind. Hermeneutics seeks to abstract explanation from the interplay process and establish the enlightenment of causal relationships as a singular interpretative move. Ricoeur seeks to link explanation and understanding as a dialectic whole.

In interpretation, we approach a text with some kind of prior understanding or prejudgement. We then move to reading and analyzing the text in the stage of explanation, seeking to discover how and why the text works. From Ricoeur critical reading, we then move to comprehension, which is really just a new level of understanding, which can lead to new critical readings and new understandings. The first time, understanding was a naive grasping of the meaning of the text as a whole. The second time, comprehension help give me a sophisticated mode of understanding, supported by clarifying procedures. In the beginning of the text, understanding is a guess.

At the end, it satisfies the concept of appropriation . . . as the rejoinder to the kind of distanciation linked to the full objectification of the text. Explanation, then, will appear as the mediation between two stages of understanding. If isolated from this concrete process, it is a mere abstraction, an artifact of methodology (Ricoeur 1976, 74-75.)

Misusing the text at a new level of understanding supported by clarifying procedures is the aim of a hermeneutical reading that seeks to overcome the special, activist and cultural distances that separate the written discourse from the reader. This dissociation is what makes possible the objectifying movement of explanation. Explanation can work either to expand a given pre-understanding or to criticize a given pre-understanding. The move to enlightenment ideally involves a “suspension of judgment,” which allows the text to “speak for itself.” This suspension of judgment, however, is always romanticize, because the reader belongs to the world of language, culture and interpretation therefore necessarily use prejudgments or pre-understandings in interpreting a text.

While understanding makes a claim on explanation, explanation can also make a claim on understanding. The process leads to misuse or appropriation, the aim of hermeneutical reading, which seeks to struggle against cultural, spatial, and temporal distance to make one’s own, what was initially alien belongs to everyone.

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The Approach of Hermeneutics. (2018, Sep 12). Retrieved from