Published online by Cambridge University Press: 28 July 2009
Hegel played a large role in the development of modern hermeneutics (or interpretation-theory), inheriting richly from its past (especially from Herder) and bequeathing copiously to its future (especially to Dilthey and Gadamer).
Certain of Hegel's contributions in this area concern what one might call the scope and significance of hermeneutics, and are, I think, of unquestionable validity and importance. In this connection, he in particular championed several ideas which were to some extent already in the air, but to which he lent a new force and influence. Among these ideas are the following: First, he plausibly identified as expressions of mind or meaning requiring interpretation not only linguistic texts and utterances, but also nonlinguistic arts (especially architecture, sculpture, painting, and instrumental music), a broad set of social institutions and activities which he calls “objective mind,” and individual actions. For these positions, see, for example, respectively, Hegel's Aesthetics, his Encyclopaedia of the Philosophical Sciences, and his Lectures on the Philosophy of World History. Subsequent hermeneutics has largely taken over this broadening of focus. For example, the mature Dilthey and Gadamer take the meaningfulness, and hence interpretability, of nonlinguistic art for granteds; Dilthey adopts a version of Hegel's conception of “objective mind ” (explicitly singling this out as one of Hegel's most important contributions; and Dilthey stresses that in addition to intentional expressions of mind and meaning (such as linguistic texts and utterances, artworks, and social institutions), there are also unintentional ones, especially people's actions, which consequently stand just as much in need of interpretation in order to be understood.