Schleiermacher, Friedrich

Assigned: Schleiermacher, Friedrich. From Hermeneutics, from “Outline of the 1819 Lectures,” Introduction (533-43); Part Two. “The Technical Interpretation” (543-45). Also read the editors’ introduction (531-33).

From Hermeneutics (1819/1828, 1959/1974)                            

From “Outline of the 1819 Lectures”


1. On 533-34 (“Hermeneutics as the art of understanding…”), Friedrich Schleiermacher offers an  initial sense of what hermeneutics is and what purpose it should serve. Try to convey that sense in straightforward language of your own. Moreover, in what sense is hermeneutic interpretation an art rather than a cut-and-dried mechanical exercise? Why can’t hermeneutics be subsumed neatly into other disciplines, such as rhetoric, philosophy, or philology?

2. On 534-35 (“Discourse is the mediation…”), how does Schleiermacher define “discourse” (in German, Reden?) How does the interpretation of discourse go beyond scanning the words on a given page, and instead involve a sort of “mediation” (534) between an author and his or her readers? What does Schleiermacher appear to mean by his term “understanding” (Verstehen)? How is hermeneutics also dependent upon the connection between “discourse” and “language” (535 top) as what today we would call a system of meaning, a “whole language” rather than what is particular to a given author and text?

3. On 535 (“Understanding is only an interaction…”), Schleiermacher wrestles with the question of whether “psychological” interpretation or “grammatical” interpretation should be given priority within hermeneutics. What is meant by these two terms “psychological” and “grammatical” in context, and what response does he give to the question he has posed? What is his rationale for that response? Following on this explanation, how (in §8) does Schleiermacher describe the “essential hermeneutical task” as a combination of the kinds of reading he has been discussing?

4. On 536-37 (“Exposition [Auslegung] is an art…”), in what sense, according to Schleiermacher, is exposition or interpretation an “art” (536)? This is a question he has raised before, but what does he say about it at this point in the text? In what sense is it also, according to him, a “commonsense endeavor” (536)? What limitations are imposed on the quality of interpretation by the relative capacity of the interpreter? How, too, does Schleiermacher approach the adaptations needed for proper interpretation of different species of discourse—history, epic literature, “commercial discussions” (537) and didactic texts, for example?

5. On 537-39 (“There is no other diversity in…”), how does Schleiermacher approach the interpretation of sacred texts such as the New Testament? Why, according to him, must the same basic interpretative methods he has been discussing be used to arrive at their meaning? At the same time, what is genuinely different about the assumptions that may guide the reading of such “holy” texts, in Schleiermacher’s view, and how can one guard against certain errors that beset scriptural interpretation?

6. On 539-40 (“The difference between artful and crude…”), how does Schleiermacher distinguish between “artful” and “crude” exposition or interpretation, between “artful” and “careless” interpretation? (539) What is the hallmark of careless interpretation, and why so? How does Section 16, Paragraph 2 (as paraphrased by the editors in footnote 1, pg. 540) go to the heart of Schleiermacher’s optimism about the possibility of excellent (if not necessarily “perfect”) interpretation?

7. On 540 (“Two things should be avoided…”), when, according to Schleiermacher, is one apt to fall prey to “qualitatively misunderstanding” a given text, and when might one end up “quantitatively misunderstanding” it? How can these errors be avoided?

8. On 540-41 (“The art can only develop its rules…”), what are “objective historical reconstruction” and “subjective historical reconstruction” (540), respectively, and how are these two activities both related and necessary if error is to be avoided? Why, in addition, must an interpreter “understand the discourse just as well and even better than its creator” (540)? How is that possible, or at least approachable as a task? (540-41)

9. On 541 (“One must first equate oneself with…”), how, according to Schleiermacher, can one “equate oneself with the author by objective and subjective reconstruction” before beginning the process of interpretation proper? How does he go on to describe what we have come to call the “hermeneutic circle” that besets any thorough interpretative task? Unlike some modern theorists, Schleiermacher does not seem overwhelmed or paralyzed by this circle’s existence; what grounds for optimism do you find in his explanation in Section 20?

10. On  541-43 (“If the knowledge of the particular…”), when dealing with very old texts, what makes “self-sufficient exposition” impossible? (541; presumably Schleiermacher means “exposition that doesn’t go outside the text to explain grammar, vocabulary, etc.”) Essentially, what kind of linguistic, historical and other research might a judicious and skilled interpreter need to do when dealing with a text whose language is obscured by time, as with ancient Greek and even Latin? Moreover, why, according to Schleiermacher, are introductions often necessary for texts such as the New Testament?

From “Outline of the 1819 Lectures”

Part Two. The Technical Interpretation

11. On 543-44 (“The common beginning for both…”), by “technical interpretation” as opposed to “grammatical interpretation” (543), Schleiermacher apparently means interpretation that tries to arrive at the author’s intentions, inner purpose, and conceptual or linguistic innovations in writing a given text. He writes that “Good interpretation can only be approximated” (544). Why is that the case, and why is it not cause for dissatisfaction with hermeneutics?

12. On 544-45 (“Before beginning the technical exposition…”), Schleiermacher offers a final look at what is required if one is to arrive at a reasonable approximation of a unified or complete reading of a given text. Going into a “technical exposition” (544), what three goals must be kept in mind by way of preparation to understand the author’s meaning? What assumptions does Schleiermacher make in Section 6 about common human capacities or human nature, and how do these assumptions ground his remarks about the viability of “divination” (544 and 545), and interpretation more broadly?

13. General question: Friedrich Schleiermacher (as evidenced in our excerpts from his masterwork Hermeneutics) and some of his contemporary “hermeneuticists” were determined to arrive at an adequate account of how best to understand and interpret texts. How would you describe your own methodology, practice, and underlying assumptions when you go about analyzing a literary text? Is your process of interpretation in some respects fairly close to the one Schleiermacher sets forth? If so, in what respects? If not, how do your assumptions and process differ from his?

Edition: Leitch, Vincent B. et al., eds. The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. 3rd ed. New York and London: W. W. Norton & Company, 2018. ISBN-13: 978-0-393-60295-1.

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