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Contemporary Hermeneutic Philosophy and Theological Studies

  • Randy L. Maddox (a1)


The purpose of this essay is to summarize the contemporary discussion of hermeneutic philosophy and to suggest some possible applications of this discussion to theological studies. To facilitate this summary, we will first clarify the general nature of hermeneutic philosophy and provide the historical background to its theological evaluation.



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page 517 note 1 While this reaction is not clearly manifest in Friedrich Schleiermacher, who is traditionally seen as the Father of Modern Philosophical Reflection on Hermeneutics, it became evident in his disciple Wilhelm Dilthey, who felt it necessary to supplement Kant's, Critique of Pure Reason and Critique of Practical Reason with a Critique of Historical Reason. As hermeneutic philosophy has developed, the reaction has become increasingly explicit.

page 517 note 2 E.g. Howard, Roy J., Three Faces of Hermeneutics (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1982), p. 8.

page 518 note 1 This distinction was first made by Dilthey. (The best treatment of Dilthey is Makkreel, Rudolf A.. Dilthey, Philosopher of the Human Studies (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1975).

page 518 note 2 Gadamer, Hans-Georg, Truth and Method (New York, NY: Seabury, 1975), p. 230. Paul Ricoeur has suggested a complex interaction of explanation and understanding in his theory of interpretation. See Ricoeur, Paul. Interpretation Theory (Fort Worth, TX: Texas Christian University Press, 1976), p. 74.

page 518 note 3 Cf. Gadamer, , Truth and Method, pp. 310–11, 317.

page 518 note 4 Rorty, Richard, ‘Philosophy as a kind of writing – An essay on Derrida’, New Literary History X (1978), 143.

page 519 note 1 E.g. Cornelius VanTil has suggested that many such uses of modern hermeneutics are inspired by Satan! (The New Hermeneutic (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1974), p. 53). More temperately, Helmut Thielicke has characterized the preoccupation with hermeneutics a heresy in the classical sense of overemphasizing a particular point. (The Evangelical Faith, volume I (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1974), p. 116).

page 519 note 2 Cf. his claim that the most subjective interpretation is the most objective interpretation. Bultmann, Rudolf. Essays: Philosophical and Theological (London: SCM Press, 1955), p. 256.

page 519 note 3 Lehman, Karl, ‘Hermeneutics’, Encyclopedia of Theology (New York, NY: Seabury, 1975), p. 615.

page 519 note 4 Bleicher, Josef, Contemporary Hermeneutics (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1980). Besides Bleicher the other major surveys of contemporary hermeneutic reflection are: Howard, Roy, Three Faces of Hermeneutics; Palmer, Richard, Hermeneutics (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1969);Thiselton, Anthony, The Two Horizons (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1980); and Hoy, David CouzensThe Critical Circle (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1978).

page 520 note 1 Analysis of the hermeneutical tenor of analytical philosophy can be found in Howard, , Hermeneutics; Thiselton, , Two Horizons; and Apel, Karl-Otto, Analytic Philosophy of Language and the Geistenwissenchaften (Dordrecht: Reidal, 1967).

page 520 note 2 Betti's major work is Allgemeine Auslegungslehre als Methodik der Geistenswissenschaften (Tübingen: J. C. B. Mohr, 1967). A convenient summary of his position can be found in English translation: Batti, Emilio. ‘Hermeneutics as the General Methodology of the Geisteswissenschaften’, in Bleicher, Contemporary Hermeneutics, pp. 5194.

page 520 note 3 Hirsch, Erich, Validity in Interpretation (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1967);The Aims of Interpretation (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press) 1976.

page 520 note 4 Betti, , ‘Hermeneutics’, p. 73.

page 520 note 5 Ibid pp. 58–62, 84.

page 520 note 6 This emphasis on the intention of the author is the central point of Hirsch's program.

page 521 note 1 Bleicher, , Contemporary Hernumeutics, pp. 121–2.

page 521 note 2 Gadamer's, major work is, of course, Truth and Method. One should also consult Philosophical Hermeneutics (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1976); and Reason in the Age of Science (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1982).

page 521 note 3 Gadamer, , Truth and Method, p. 263.

page 521 note 4 Gadamer, , Reason, p. 114; Truth and Method, pp. 230, xvi.

page 522 note 1 Cf his discussion of this tension in ‘Von Zirkel des Verstehens’, in Kleine Schriften IV, pp. 5461, (Tübingen: J. C. B. Mohr, 1977). See especially p. 60.

page 522 note 2 Gadamer, , Truth and Method, p. 239.

page 522 note 3 Ibid Cf. his fundamental doubt about the legitimacy of objective self–consciousness in Reason, p. 105.

page 522 note 4 Ibid pp. 246, 266. See Hoy, , Critical Circle1, p. 77.

page 522 note 5 Ibid pp. 237, 266.

page 522 note 6 Ibid p. 238; cf. p. 422.

page 522 note 7 Fuchs, Ernst, ‘The Hermeneutical Problem’, The Future of Our Religious Past, ed. by Robinson, J. M. (London: SCM Press, 1971), p. 277.

page 523 note 1 Gadamer, , Truth and Method, pp. 264–6.

page 523 note 2 Ibid, p. 273. See Hoy, , Critical Circle, pp. 9598.

page 523 note 3 Cf. Thiselton, , Two Horizons, p. 201.

page 523 note 4 Gadamer, , Truth and Method, p. 149.

page 523 note 5 Ibid pp. 89, 269.

page 523 note 6 Ibid p. 258. It should be noted that this dethroning of the authorial intention of the text is not a necessary implication of Gadamer's basic idea of the ‘fusion of horizons’. However, it is a central part of his own approach to interpretation.

page 523 note 7 Ricoeur's writings on hermeneutics are numerous. His most concise summary is: Ricoeur, Paul, Interpretation Theory (Fort Worth, TX: Texas Christian University Press, 1976). A good secondary summary can be found in Lewis Mudge's introductory essay in: Ricoeur, Paul, Essays on Biblical Interpretation (Philadelphia, PA: Fortress, 1980).

page 523 note 8 Ricoeur, , Interpretation Theory, p. 29.

page 523 note 9 Ibid pp. 31, 87. Cf. Hoy, , Critical Circle, pp. 8592.

page 524 note 1 Two important hermeneutical reflections of Jürgen Habermas are: Knowledge and Human Interests (Boston: Beacon, 1971); and “The Hermeneutical Claim to Universality,” in Bleicher, , Contemporary Hermeneutics, pp. 181211. An excellent secondary summary of Habermas can be found in McCarthy, Thomas, The Critical Theory of Jürgen Habermas (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1978).

page 524 note 2 Cf. Habermas, Jürgen, Zur Logik des Sozialwissenschaften (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1967), p. 289.

page 524 note 3 Ibid p. 303.

page 525 note 1 Note how his talk of negativity in interpretation is always directed towards one's preunderstandings rather than toward tradition (Gadamer, , Truth and Method, p. 422).

page 525 note 2 Godamer, , Truth and Method, p. 495.

page 525 note 3 In fact, he explicitly argues that a fundamental distortion of communication is, at best, a rare occurrence (Godamer, , Reason, pp. 108–9).

page 525 note 4 Habermas, , ‘The Hermeneutic Claim’, pp. 205–7.

page 525 note 5 Habermas, , Knowledge, p. 198.

page 525 note 6 Ibid, p. 228.

page 526 note 1 A good summary of Habermas' steps in this develgopment can be found in McCann, Dennis. ‘Habermas and the Theologians’, Religious Studies Review VII (1981), 1421.

page 526 note 2 E.g. Sandkühler, Hans–Jörg, Praxis and Geschichtsbewusstsein. Fragen einer dialectischen and historisch–materialistischen Hermeneutik (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1973).

page 526 note 3 Maddox, Randy L., ‘Hermeneutic Circle – Vicious or Victorious?Philosophy Today XXVII (1983), 6676. See especially pp. 72–4.

page 526 note 4 E.g. Mickelsen, A. Berkeley (Interpreting the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1963)) devotes only four pages to the subject, most of which is spent in critiquing Bultmann.

page 526 note 5 Cf. Thiselton, , Two Horizons, pp. xix–xx

page 526 note 6 See Sider's probing analysis of how economic self–interests have distorted Christian interpretation of Scripture's teachings on economic justice. Sider, Ron, Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 1977). See especially p. 77.

page 526 note 7 Swartley has used case studies on the interpretation of passages dealing with slavery, Sabbath observance, war and the role of women to highlight the effects of preunderstanding and then suggest a methodology that affirms the primacy of the text and helps make these preunderstandings self–conscious. Swartley, Willard, Slavery, Sabbath, War and Women (Scottsdale, PA: Herald Press, 1983). See especially pp. 22–3, 63, 95.

page 526 note 8 A philosophical vindication of this reassessment of the hermeneutic circle can be found in Maddox, ‘Hermeneutic Circle’.

page 527 note 1 A similar assessment can be found in Swartley, , Slavery, pp. 92–5.

page 527 note 2 See especially Hilberath, Bernd Jochen, Theologie zwischen Tradition and Kritik. Die philosophische Hermeneutik Hans–Georg Gadamers als Herforderung des theologischen Selbstverständnis (Dusseldorf: Patmos, 1978); and Stobbe, Heinz Günther, Hermeneutik: ein öKumenisches Problem. Eine Kritik der katholischen Gadamer Rezeption (Gerd Mohn: Gütersloher Verlaghaus, 1981).

page 527 note 3 Ommen, Thomas B., The Hermeneutics of Dogma (Missoula, MT: Scholar's Press, 1975), p. 155.

page 527 note 4 Ibid, p. 201. Stobbe appears to have missed this point when he accuses Gadamer of an illegitimate prejudgment of completeness concerning Scripture. Stobbe, , Hermeneutik, p. 168.

page 528 note 1 Hilberath, , Theologie, p. 327.

page 528 note 2 Cf. the encyclopedic reflections of Ott, Heinrich. ‘What is Systematic Theology?’ in The Later Heidegger and Theology, ed. by Robinson, J. M. and Cobb, J. B. (New York, NY: Harper and Row, 1963), pp. 71111. See especially pp. 79–81. Of course, these divisions are quite abstract. Individual theologians will often move back and forth between the moments of the hermeneutic ‘arch’.

page 528 note 3 Cf. Thiselton, , Two Horizons, p. 307.

page 528 note 4 E.g. Cobb, John B. Jr, ‘Review of David Tracy's The Analogical Imagination’, Religious Studies Review, VII, (1981), 283.‘What if we recognize that all our Christian classics are anti–Jewish and supportive of male values… What if our need is for really new thinking and practice’.

page 529 note 1 Metz, Johann Baptist, Faith in History and Society (New York, NY: Crossroad, 1980), pp. 8891, 110.

Contemporary Hermeneutic Philosophy and Theological Studies

  • Randy L. Maddox (a1)


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