Making Meaning: an Introduction to Hermeneutics
What are we doing when we interpret? What do we mean when we say that we understand—be it a text, a work of art, or even the sense of our own lives? How do acts of interpretation undertake to arrive at something true? Hermeneutics—or, the science of interpretation—began as a mode of biblical exegesis. But its scope quickly expanded in the 19th century. For interpretation itself aimed at something else, a kind or sense of understanding, and hence a kind or sense of truth, that was different from the knowledge aimed at in the natural sciences. Far surpassing its earlier cultural and linguistic objects, hermeneutics came to be understood as the elaboration of the mode of understanding offered by the human sciences themselves—with their irreducible reference to human intentions, beliefs, and action. Since the advent of Heidegger’s “hermeneutic phenomenology,” the scope of contemporary hermeneutics has expanded to encompass nothing less than unique and finite human being and the special role of human self-interpretation in history, in art and aesthetic experience, and in human language—metaphor, symbol, and narrative in particular. In this course, we will read the classics of the modern hermeneutic tradition, from Friedrich Schleiermacher and Wilhelm Dilthey in the 19th century, to Hans-Georg Gadamer, Heidegger, and Paul Ricoeur in the 20th and 21st. We will ask: What is unique to the way in which phenomena are interpreted within the human sciences, as distinct from the experimental methods of the natural sciences? Do prejudices and preconceptions always distort our interpretations, or are they a necessary element of understanding? How is the hermeneutic tradition linked with other intellectual movements—such as Romanticism, historicism, and phenomenology? And how does an understanding of our mode of understanding help us to examine, and critique, our own lived experiences and self-conceptions?
Course ScheduleTuesday, 6:30-9:30pm ET
November 15 — December 13, 2022
4 sessions over 5 weeks
Class will not meet Tuesday, November 22nd.