Orientation and Judgment in Hermeneutics

Orientation and Judgment in Hermeneutics

by Rudolf A. Makkreel

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This book provides an innovative approach to meeting the challenges faced by philosophical hermeneutics in interpreting an ever-changing and multicultural world. Rudolf A. Makkreel proposes an orientational and reflective conception of interpretation in which judgment plays a central role. Moving beyond the dialogical approaches found in much of contemporary hermeneutics, he focuses instead on the diagnostic use of reflective judgment, not only to discern the differentiating features of the phenomena to be understood, but also to orient  us to the various meaning contexts that can frame their interpretation.
Makkreel develops overlooked resources of Kant’s transcendental thought in order to reconceive hermeneutics as a critical inquiry into the appropriate contextual conditions of understanding and interpretation. He shows that a crucial task of hermeneutical critique is to establish priorities among the contexts that may be brought to bear on the interpretation of history and culture. The final chapter turns to the contemporary art scene and explores how orientational contexts can be reconfigured to respond to the ways in which media of communication are being transformed by digital technology. Altogether, Makkreel offers a promising way of thinking about the shifting contexts that we bring to bear on interpretations of all kinds, whether of texts, art works, or the world. 

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780226249452
Publisher: University of Chicago Press
Publication date: 05/04/2015
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 248
File size: 818 KB

About the Author

Rudolf A. Makkreel is the Charles Howard Candler Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at Emory University. He is the author of Dilthey: Philosopher of the Human Studies and Imagination and Interpretation in Kant, the latter published by the University of Chicago Press, and coeditor of Dilthey’s Selected Works

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Orientation and Judgment in Hermeneutics

By Rudolf A. Makkreel

The University of Chicago Press

Copyright © 2015 The University of Chicago
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-226-24945-2


Philosophical Hermeneutics: Reassessing the Tradition in Relation to Dilthey and Heidegger

According to a widely accepted view, there are two types of hermeneutics: 1) the "exegetical" theory of interpretation that was codified by Schleiermacher and Dilthey, and 2) "philosophical" hermeneutics as first articulated by Heidegger and Gadamer. Exegetical hermeneutics is characterized as primarily philological and concerned to methodologically reconstruct the meaning of texts. Philosophical hermeneutics, by contrast, is ontological and regards method as an obstacle to the disclosure of truth. Whereas the Schleiermacher-Dilthey school is said to be overly concerned with authorial intentions and the epistemological issues raised by trying to understand them, philosophical hermeneutics, the argument goes, conceives understanding in terms of its ontological presuppositions.

This chapter will show that Dilthey's contributions to hermeneutics are not confined to the reconstructive, methodological interests of philological theories of interpretation. While taking careful note of philological problems, he adopts a philosophical approach capable of being developed into a reflective hermeneutics that explores not only the epistemic, but also the normative conditions of historical understanding and interpretation. Indeed there is a distinction between cognition and knowledge at work in Dilthey that discloses the limits of the pure cognitive perspective of epistemology and will contribute to the fuller, multilevel analysis of the interpretive process provided in later chapters as well. This more encompassing view of Dilthey's hermeneutics will then be used to supplement Heidegger's ontological grounding of hermeneutics. Without denying important differences between Dilthey and Heidegger, I will explore some points of convergence in their philosophical approaches to hermeneutics and their bearing on issues that need to be addressed by a contemporary critical hermeneutics.

But before allowing Dilthey and Heidegger to encounter each other, let us consider a brief historical review of some earlier hermeneutical developments to give a preliminary indication that there are various ways in which hermeneutics and philosophy have been able to work together and can continue to do so.

The Interrelations of Philosophy and Hermeneutics in the Tradition

In his prize essay of 1860, "Schleiermacher's Hermeneutic System in Relation to Earlier Protestant Hermeneutics," Dilthey sketches a history of hermeneutics in which theological constraints are replaced by philosophical and historical considerations. This early Preisschrift demonstrates that even in the working out of technical problems in interpreting Biblical texts, philosophical ideas often proved to be operative and influential. One of the reasons Matthias Flacius was successful in developing a key to the interpretation of the Bible for Lutheran readers is that he could rely on certain changes that Philipp Melanchthon had introduced in the Aristotelian canon of rhetoric. Similarly, Dilthey claims that "traces of the Wolffian School are visible ... everywhere" in the universal hermeneutics of Johann Martin Chladenius.

Considerable attention is given to Kant, who is said to deserve "an epoch-making place in the history of hermeneutics." According to Dilthey, Kant's Religion within the Boundaries of Mere Reason provides a coherent approach to interpreting the Bible as a whole that is "equal in importance to the philological approach to individual writings." Just as "facts, dogmas, and articles of faith have significance only insofar as they manifest the moral-religious idea," so Scripture is explained as "the expression of a single, omnipresent spirit pervading the whole." Thereby, Kant's work marks a "decisive turning point" in the conception of Scripture.

Dilthey acknowledges that Kant was not the first Enlightenment thinker to locate the value of Christianity primarily in its moral element. However, while others, like J. S. Semler, had explained away extramoral biblical claims as accretions of contemporary ways of thinking, Kant attempted to incorporate them into a cohesive account by interpreting beliefs about Christ, heaven and hell, etc., as forms of representing moral ideas inherent in spirit. "He explains the entire dogmatic content of Scripture," Dilthey writes, "partly as the representation of moral principles in the form of powers and persons external to man, and partly as a schematism of analogy deriving from the unity of the fundamental moral idea."

We can add that Kant's views on biblical hermeneutics are formulated in light of his philosophical position that the basis for approaching the supersensible lies in practical reason and its moral postulates rather than in theoretical reason. Biblical representations of superhuman powers are endorsed as imaginative schemata to enliven our moral reflection, not to enable us to intuit some higher reality. The schematism of analogy produces a symbolical relation that can illustrate the significance of our moral ideas in aesthetic terms. Whereas Dilthey focused on this aesthetically enlivened moral symbolism for its relevance to the subsequent nineteenth-century "mythological approach to Scripture," I will give equal attention in chapters 3 and 4 to Kant's theoretical philosophy to also consider its import for hermeneutics more generally.

Turning to the romantic hermeneutics formulated by Friedrich Ast and Friedrich Schleiermacher, Dilthey makes much of the way they borrow from idealistic philosophy as they expand special (for example, biblical) hermeneutics into universal hermeneutics. Ast conceived the hermeneutical process in terms of a speculative model based on Schelling's philosophy. Thus interpretation proceeds through the three stages of 1) a unity of meaning that is merely anticipated, 2) a plurality that relates particulars to each other, and finally 3) a totality in which unity and plurality are fused. Ast's theoretical philosophical model with its use of the three Kantian categories of quantity is suggestive, but Dilthey criticizes it as still too formal and abstract. By comparison, Schleiermacher's hermeneutics constitutes a considerable improvement in that its theoretical base is enriched by 1) relating all content of consciousness to language and 2) conceiving human creativity as much in terms of action and practice as of thought. Dilthey sees Schleiermacher's hermeneutical principle as interrelating the universality of language with the creativity of individual striving.

Schleiermacher distinguished two main modes of interpretation: the grammatical and the psychological. Grammatical interpretation is analytical and explicates those elements in a work that are "identical," or shared with other works. Psychological interpretation attempts to discern what is "distinctive," or individual, in a text and does so synthetically. Dilthey goes to great lengths to show that Schleiermacher's attempt to synthetically reconstruct the individuality of the author of a work follows the dialectical method of Fichte's practical philosophy. But Schleiermacher also gives content to the originality of individual striving by relating it to the communal sphere of language. If the creative genius of a work is to be captured, it is necessary for the psychological and the grammatical modes of interpretation to cooperate.

Schleiermacher's move to locate hermeneutics in practical philosophy opened up a significant realm of philosophic discourse for articulating interpretive principles. Dilthey, for one, wrote approvingly of how the understanding of human speech and communication finds its more proper horizon in the world of ethical action and praxis. Looking back in light of subsequent developments, we can say that Schleiermacher's lasting achievement centered on his recognition that the individuality of human products is inseparable from the universality of the human project, whether understood in terms of a linguistic or ethical community. The words used by individuals to express what they think, feel, and strive for, can do so only because those words already explicate (darstellen) the human project in general. It is interesting to note that in his ethics Schleiermacher speaks of explicative action (darstellendes Handeln) as a kind of action which is suggestive of Habermas's communicative action. Instead of expressing something distinctively personal, explicative action manifests the human spirit, which, like reason, is assumed to be the same in all of us. Just as Kant can be seen to relate what is directly expressed in a symbol to what it indirectly explicates about our rational ideas of universal moral ends, so we find in Schleiermacher's hermeneutics a concern to explicate the meaning of a specific ethical community in the most universalpossible terms. Every human expression that needs to be interpreted has some larger meaning that constitutes a challenge.

Like Kant before him and Dilthey after him, Schleiermacher does not limit himself to understanding authors just as they understood themselves. His hermeneutical maxim is to understand authors better than they understood themselves. However, this maxim has a somewhat different significance in each of these three thinkers. For Kant it involves the conceptual clarification of the language used by an author. For Schleiermacher it is psychological clarification rooted in the romantic assumption that the work of an artist stems from an unconscious, seminal decision that must be made conscious. In his Preisschrift, Dilthey is concerned that Schleiermacher's idea of an underlying seminal decision imposes a closed explanative schema on interpretation. To leave open the possibility of external influences on a work of art, psychological interpretation must be contextualized. For Dilthey, interpreters have the opportunity to understand a work of art better than its creator if they can gain some distance, especially historical distance. By relating the work to its sociohistorical context, it becomes possible to arrive at a better understanding of its complexity and overall meaning.

While he found much to admire in Schleiermacher's hermeneutics, Dilthey's concern for historical understanding marks a significant point of difference between them. Idealistic influences on Schleiermacher encouraged an ahistorical conceptualism that led him to explicate the reconstruction of the authorial creative act in terms of a dialectic of such concepts as the "identical" and the "distinctive." For Dilthey any attempt to account for historical outcomes by means of relations among such abstract concepts is bound to prove unsatisfactory. A more appropriate hermeneutics should be based on a philosophy primarily concerned with the functions of judgment. This will involve an approach in which concepts are related, not just to each other, but to the actual particulars of historical life. Only such a judgment-oriented philosophy can provide an understanding of historical change. This is one of the first indications given by Dilthey that instead of being restricted to exegetical techniques, hermeneutics should be made integral to the project of historical understanding and the human sciences in general.

In a much later essay, "The Rise of Hermeneutics" (1900), Dilthey looks back to the exegetical and rhetorical theories of the Greeks with a view toward their suitability for a philosophical hermeneutics conducive to critical historical understanding. He shows how the conflicts between the Alexandrian and Pergamene schools of philology set the stage for later interpretive controversies. In order to identify spurious works in their great library and exclude inauthentic passages, the Alexandrians developed an art of textual verification and criticism based on linguistic and historical research. By contrast, Pergamene philology resorted to speculative thought in adopting the Stoic principle of allegorical interpretation to resolve the contradictions between inherited religious texts and philosophical worldviews.

Dilthey uses this contrast between philological criticism and speculative thought to distinguish two general hermeneutical approaches, one rooted in the linguistic considerations found in Aristotle's Rhetoric and Poetics, the other in the spiritual concerns of Platonic and Stoic philosophy. Aristotle's contributions to hermeneutics lie in his ability to organize our understanding of texts through the analysis of narrative structures and linguistic means. The Aristotelian approach to the metaphorical use of language is to see it as a modification of a literal use by means of a kind of transference. Although Dilthey himself adheres to Giambattista Vico's view that poetic meaning is more original than literal meaning, he finds Aristotle's approach to metaphor attractive in that it exhibits "similarity in dissimilars." Whereas Aristotle allows us to see a continuity between literal and figurative meaning, the Platonic and Stoic approaches tend to separate them as the sensuous versus the spiritual. Their allegorical interpretations can be ingenious in overcoming anomalies and contradictions in a text by appealing to higher spiritual senses, but they do not resolve these problems in ways that promote historical understanding. For Dilthey, the Aristotelian linguistic-grammatical approach comes closer to the kind of critical understanding that is necessary for the philosophical interpretation of history.

The Extent to Which Dilthey's Hermeneutics Relates to the Cognitive Aims of the Human Sciences

Dilthey characterizes his initial task as the articulation of a Critique of Historical Reason that examines the conditions that make the cognition of history possible while differentiating it from our cognition of nature. In the "Rise of Hermeneutics," he states that the main purpose of hermeneutics is

to preserve the universal validity of historical interpretation against the inroads of romantic caprice and skeptical subjectivity, and to give a theoretical justification for such validity, upon which the reliability of historical cognition is founded. Seen in relation to epistemology, logic and the methodology of the human sciences, the theory of interpretation becomes an important connecting link between philosophy and the historical sciences, an essential component in the foundation of the human sciences.

Here hermeneutics turns to philosophy for the epistemological and methodological guidance it can give to the human sciences, but this link merely sets the stage for a more comprehensive relation between philosophical reflection and interpretation, as we will see in due course. The initial methodological task of the human sciences is to gain an understanding of the meaning of historical events and human activities in relation to their specific contexts. Only secondarily, if at all, are they to seek the kind of explanation characteristic of the natural sciences, where processes are subsumed under general causal laws. Although Dilthey makes a methodological distinction between understanding and explanation, he is opposed to any metaphysical divide whereby history is defended as the realm of freedom and singularity over against nature as the realm of universal determination. German historicists, who assumed such a sharp opposition between the historical and the natural, developed philological methods only for the interpretation of what is singular in history. A critical approach to history must go further, however, and balance the interpretation of historical singularity with an awareness of universality. This means that historical understanding must be related to the ways in which understanding functions in the other human sciences, some of which are systematic and seek to articulate universal structures in social, political, economic, or cultural life. The human sciences are not simply idiographic in Wilhelm Windelband's sense and must concern themselves with the problem of universal validity or objectivity.

The epistemological objectivity that Dilthey aims to preserve for the human sciences is not attainable by following the Rankean admonition that historians should efface themselves in their research. Instead of presenting a supposed neutral narrative, historians must examine the interests and needs that drive not only their human subjects, but also their own inquiry. Dilthey writes that the historian's longing for objective reality cannot be satisfied "by mere contemplation or intuition, but only through analysis." The analysis he has in mind is that of the various human sciences. Before looking for overall generalizations about history at large, we must focus on the special systems of relations that have been analyzed by the human sciences. Each such system, whether it be social, economic, or cultural, can delineate certain shared interests and context-specific patterns of human action. Some of the human sciences such as sociology and economics may arrive at uniformities of behavior and development in their spheres of interest. This means that the scientific ideal of historical objectivity will have to be refracted through the generalizations and structural relations specified by the different human sciences.


Excerpted from Orientation and Judgment in Hermeneutics by Rudolf A. Makkreel. Copyright © 2015 The University of Chicago. Excerpted by permission of The University of Chicago Press.
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Table of Contents


Part One: The Hermeneutic Situation

Chapter 1 Philosophical Hermeneutics: Reassessing the Tradition in Relation to Dilthey and Heidegger
The Interrelations of Hermeneutics and Philosophy in the Tradition
The Extent to Which Dilthey’s Hermeneutics Relates to the Cognitive Aims of the Human Sciences
Moving from Conceptual Cognition to Reflective Knowledge
Heidegger’s Ontological Hermeneutics
Ontico-Ontological Understanding of Historical Time

Chapter 2 Dialectics, Dialogue, and Communication
Feeling, Aesthetic Erlebnis, and Artistic Erfahrung
Hegel on Interpretation and Dialectics
Gadamer on Interpretation and Dialogue

Part Two: Interpretive Contexts, Judgment, and Critique

Chapter 3 Reflective Orientation and the Bounds of Hermeneutics
Royce: Cognitive Exchange and Communal Conspectus
Reflective Judgment and Orientation
Kant’s Transcendental Topic
Reflective Topology and Judgmental Contexts
Philosophy and the Reflective Specification of Bounds
An Amphiboly of Reflective Orientation
Worldly Orientation

Chapter 4 The Hermeneutics of Attaining Knowledge: The Role of Judgmental Assent
From Conceptual Classification to Judgmental Articulation
Interpreting as Cognizing Meaning and Knowing Truth
Kant on Opining, Believing, and Knowing
Preliminary Judgments and the Provisionality of Reflective Judgments

Chapter 5 Aesthetic Consensus and Evaluative Consent
Levels of Aesthetic Consensus in Kant
Reflective Schematization and Contextual Configuration
Exemplarity and Emulation
Typification and the Intuitive Presentation of Meaning

Chapter 6 Validity, Legitimacy, and Historical Attribution
Knowledge and Legitimacy
Hermeneutics and Adjudication
Ascriptive and Attributive Modes of Imputation
The Legitimacy of Interpretations
Authentic Interpretation and Intersubjective Legitimacy
Pragmatic Characterization
Conscientiousness and Truthful Interpretation

Chapter 7 A Reflective and Diagnostic Critique
Critique as Constitutive and Categorial
Critique as Regulative and Emancipatory
Critique as Reflective and Judgment-Centered
From Reflection to Reflexivity
A Responsive Hermeneutics and a Transformative Critique
Completeness in Critical Hermeneutics

Part Three: Applications and Adaptations

Chapter 8 Genealogy, Narrative History, and Hermeneutic Transmission
Nietzsche’s Challenge to the Objectivity of Historical Interpretation
Narrative Approaches to History
Incommensurable Contexts and the Possibility of Universalist History
Delimiting the Appeal to Causes in Historical Interpretation
Causes and Influences
Intentionalist Explanation and Hermeneutical Contextualization
Normative Judgment or Normalizing Genealogy
Hermeneutics and Historical Transmission

Chapter 9 Contextualizing the Arts: From Originating to Medial Contexts
Meier on Representational Signs and Their Intentional Context
Kant and Expressing What Was Inexpressible
Dilthey on Manifestations of Life and Their Interpretive Contexts
The Earth-World Conflict in Heidegger’s “The Origin of the Work of Art”
The Medial Contexts of Works of Art
The Medial Presentation of the Commonplace in Contemporary Art
Transitional Modes of Understanding


What People are Saying About This

Jean Grondin

“In this insightful inquiry, seasoned scholar Makkreel reassesses and refines Dilthey’s conception of the human sciences—but also Kant’s hermeneutically relevant theory of reflective judgment—in order to develop an orientational and reflective form of hermeneutics that addresses the new challenges of interpretation in our multicultural and digital age.”

Angelica Nuzzo

“In this book, Makkreel offers fresh and new insights into the problems of philosophical hermeneutics. What we need today more than ever is ‘orientation’ in our judgments on an increasingly complex and differentiated world. On the basis of his long-standing hermeneutic work on philosophy’s classics, he takes us on an unprecedented backwards journey through texts of Gadamer, Heidegger, Dilthey, Hegel, and Kant.”

Rodolphe Gasché

Orientation and Judgment in Hermeneutics is a momentous and significant book, not only for the philosophical discipline of hermeneutics but also, because of its impeccable clarity, for a much larger audience. It is, above all, a synthetic work, Makkreel’s own original contribution to hermeneutics in the global world of the twenty-first century.”

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