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My Hermeneutical Stance

We see hermeneutics as the new mind that we live in and through it as well. No one can stop himself from applying hermeneutics in daily life because no one cannot stop the understanding process. We see two types of minds; the first is the old mind that tries to understand but without trying to see the world in a new and unusual way, depending mainly on our limitations of hermeneutics application. The second mind is the new mind considering the era of modernity and postmodernity. The new mind opens horizons to understand. We first understand our inner world to help us to understand the external world in which we live. Hermeneutics are tools in our hands that we share and disclose the world and our prior understanding of the world.  In this paper, we will introduce our hermeneutical journey. We say it is a journey because it never ends. Where have we been during this journey? Furthermore, where are we now after studying this course?

We were first introduced to the hermeneutics theories when we had read to Ibn Rushd (1126-1198), one of the most famous Muslim philosophers who lived in Spain, and what he wrote on hermeneutics in the twelfth century. Ibn Rushd has a famous quotation stuck in our minds about hermeneutics. He said, “If the text contradicts reason, then the text must be interpreted[1].” This quotation formed our understanding of hermeneutics, especially while reading the Bible. Since then, we have realized the importance of applying hermeneutics in every aspect of our life, our outlook on life, the world around us, the history we read, and reading any scripture text, especially when it contradicts our reason.

First, when we look at the history of hermeneutics’ use, we found it is associated with a theory of interpretation of the Bible. It entered everyday use when there was a need for a new study that presents the rules necessary for the correct interpretation of the Holy Bible. Hermeneutics is distinguished from Exegesis in that it is the method, origins, and rulings of this interpretation. These are the rules, methods, or theories that govern this interpretation. If this definition originated in theology and grew with its requirements, it was later expanded to include literature and include texts of all kinds. With the emergence of the Reformation, the need to interpret the Bible without the Church’s help. The evangelicals’ reformers, having cut off their connection with the Catholic Church’s authority, had to lean on themselves in interpreting the Bible without the Church’s authority. Martin Luther called for freedom in reading the Bible, and he is the first to engage in applying hermeneutics to find different and new meanings in the text of the Bible.[2]

In its classic definition, Hermeneutics is “the theory and methodology of interpretation; it is the Art of Understanding.”[3] After that, Friedrich Schleiermacher (1768–1834) is considered one of the first to make the art of understanding and interpreting texts an independent science under the title of hermeneutics. He tried to transfer Greek philosophy, such as Aristotle’s philosophy, towards language and interpretation, moving from the outward to the subconscious, to the horizon of his study of the ways of understanding texts (hermeneutics).[4] Schleiermacher saw hermeneutics having no previous existence before as an independent field. There were only in its branches, such as philological hermeneutics. Hence, he worked hard to establish the hermeneutics field that did not exist before.  Schleiermacher took hermeneutics out of its religious framework. He took care of it as a method for working on texts, whatever the type of text, clarifying its internal and descriptive structure, its architectural and cognitive function, and searching for hidden facts in it that perhaps obscured by historical, religious, or other considerations. Schleiermacher emphasized the linguistic and historical aspect of the text because he saw that the misunderstanding of a particular discourse generates the need for understanding. Schleiermacher’s hermeneutics was based on the fact that the text is a linguistic medium that transmits the author’s thoughts to the reader. Thus, he refers to the linguistic aspect of the entire language and the psychological aspect to the subjective thought of its creator, and the relationship between the two sides is a dialectical relationship, according to Schleiermacher.[5]  

After the death of Schleiermacher in 1834 AD, the project of general hermeneutics retreated to become once again a historical interpretation instead of being a general hermeneutics as the art of understanding as Schleiermacher wanted it to be. However, in the late nineteenth century, one of the greats of philosophers in the late nineteenth century Wilhelm Dilthey (1833-1911), began to see hermeneutics as the basis of all human sciences. Dilthey is “best known for his epistemological analysis of the human sciences, and as one of the first to stress the distinction between the human sciences, including philology, religion, psychology, politics, economics, etc., and the natural sciences.”[6] He saw hermeneutics as the central subject that could provide the basis for all essential nature of the entire human or social sciences. His central claims that “the human sciences have a distinct subject matter just as experimental, objective, and scientifically valid as the natural sciences. Even so, unlike the natural sciences, the human sciences take on their methodological starting point from the historical world constituted and formed by the human mind.”[7] Dilthey argued that the human sciences need another critique of reason that presents to historical understanding what Kant had presented in the criticism of pure reason for the natural sciences, which is the critique of historical reason. At an early stage in his intellectual development, Dilthey tried to base his criticism on a modified form of psychology that was a non-historical subject.[8] That is why his attempts were hampered from the beginning. He found in the historical subject the most humanistic and historical basis for his attempt to formulate a truly humanistic approach to the human sciences that “take on their methodological starting point from the historical world constituted and formed by the human mind.”[9] The foundations that Schleiermacher laid in the process of understanding opened the door to more comprehensive theories at the hands of Dilthey, as hermeneutics knew with him a new dimension. Suppose the interpretation is concerned with linking the observed events to each other according to the laws of nature. It does not tell us about the inner nature of things or the processes of studying them. In that case, the understanding tries to penetrate to the meanings that exist within things: the meanings that enable us to know our inner states, In the sense that understanding is based on what we call the inner view of human nature all to possess.[10]

Edmund Husserl (1859-1938) is a German philosopher who influenced many philosophers and his evident influence on Martin Heidegger. Husserl criticized historicism and psychologism schools. He called for the need to reform philosophy and returned to its basis.[11] He founded Phenomenology in the early years of the 20th century. It is a philosophical method. We could consider it a movement in the history of philosophy. The phenomenon is anything that exists of which the mind is conscious. Phenomenology is the investigations or analysis of the essence of the nature that appears to us. Phenomenology is essentially the study of lived experience or the lifeworld that is understood as what we experience pre-reflectively without categorizing or conceptualizing. The study of these phenomena intends to return and re-examine these taken-for-granted experiences and perhaps uncover new and forgotten meanings. Husserl proposed that one must bracket out the outer world and individual biases to achieve contact with essences successfully. Reduction is suspending one’s judgment or bracketing particular beliefs about the phenomena to see it. Husserl focused on understanding beings or phenomena.[12] Therefore, Husserl’s phenomenology supposes, as is the hermeneutics of Schleiermacher and Dilthey, is to arrive at the subject’s correct hermeneutics. To do that, we need a correct context or mental framework. However, it does not concern itself with historical and cultural external frameworks and considers that the text reflects its mental framework. Interpretation means isolating the text from everything alien to it, including the subject’s biases, and allowing the text to convey its meaning to the subject. The goal of phenomenology is to capture the text truth as it is, without any coloring from the self or projection from the reader. Hermeneutics from a phenomenological point of view is not something the reader does but rather something that happens to him. It pays close attention to bracketing, the process of careful consideration, detailed description, and deep contemplation of the text to stand on the truth of the text as it is.[13]

Just as Dilthey viewed hermeneutics in the context of his project of a historically oriented theory of the social sciences approach, so Heidegger was using the term hermeneutics in the larger context of his search for a more basic ontology, Heidegger, like Dilthey, was searching for a method that would make he reveals life in the light of life itself. In his book Being and Time, he quoted Heidegger, supporting Dilthey’s goal in understanding life through life itself. From the beginning, Heidegger set out to search for a method that transcends Western conceptions of existence and investigates it to its roots. To reveal the presuppositions on which these perceptions are based, he wanted, like Nietzsche before him, to put the entire Western metaphysical heritage into question.[14] In Edmund Husserl’s Phenomenology, Heidegger found conceptual tools that were not available to Dilthey or Nietzsche. He found a method that can shed light on human existence to reveal existence itself and not just its whims, prejudices, and ideology because phenomenology has opened a new world. The understanding of phenomenology provided an understanding that preceded mental perceptions that this new world had a different significance for Heidegger than Husserl’s. While Husserl was approaching this world to reveal the work of consciousness as a transcendental subjectivity, Heidegger saw in it the vital medium of historical human existence. In the world, he saw in its history and temporality keys to understanding the nature of existence. As it reveals itself in lived experience, existentialism rejects mental perception and the necessary categories of cognitive thinking centered on ideas alone.[15] Heidegger believed that understanding is a basic form of human existence in that understanding is not a way we know the world but rather the way we are.[16] Heidegger also used the phenomenological method to explain human existence in a direct experience, which is the experience of being in the world. Man lives in a state of understanding that he calls “dasein,”[17] the ontological understanding of being. This understanding is not just a piece of theoretical knowledge, but it is an aspect of existence; it is itself existence. On this basis, Heidegger establishes a hermeneutics of human existence related to the ontological dimensions of understanding and through a language mediator. Language is not just a tool owned by a man and other tools, but rather it guarantees existence appearing and revealing after it was hidden; it is existential of the world.[18] Heidegger emphasized the historicity of understanding. It is the meaning or organization of a present culture before we understand and become part of our historical background. It is not something a person can step outside of or put aside, as it is understood as already being with us in the world.[19] Both Husserl and Heidegger were convinced that scientists believed that the world, based on Cartesian dualism, is simply one lifeworld among many worlds. Both men called for a fresh look at our world and ourselves.[20]

Heidegger’s contribution to hermeneutical theory is a truly multifaceted contribution to Being and Time. Heidegger has reformulated the conception of understanding itself in an entirely new context. He defined the term hermeneutics itself, making it similar to phenomenology as he saw it and to the primary function of words in creating understanding. Heidegger is the process of revelation and manifestation by which existence is revealed and comes to light, and in this core hermeneutic way, Heidegger tackled the themes of language, artwork, philosophy, and existential understanding itself.[21] Heidegger has gone beyond Dilthey’s broad concept of hermeneutics as a methodological basis for all human sciences. Heidegger’s hermeneutics refers to understanding as it is, not to the historical method of interpretation as opposed to the scientific method. Heidegger abandoned the duality of the Scientific, historical approach that Dilthey dedicated his entire life to and considered all understanding to be inherent in the historical nature of existential understanding. Thus, Heidegger paved the way for his student Gadamer and his philosophical hermeneutics.[22] The German philosopher Professor Hans-Georg Gadamer (1900-2002 AD), Heidegger’s pupil, ensured that Heideggerian hermeneutics both in Being and Time and other works into a systematic work in the Philosophical Hermeneutics.[23] Gadamer introduced the detailed historical description of hermeneutics that reflects Heidegger’s revolutionary contribution to this field. Gadamer takes hermeneutics one step further, to the linguistic stage, advancing his thesis according to which the being can understand is language. Hermeneutics is the meeting of existence through language, and Gadamer confirms the linguistic nature of human reality itself. Hermeneutics is immersed in purely philosophical questions about the relationship of language, understanding, history, and reality. Hermeneutics stands at the center of philosophical problems today. It cannot avoid epistemological questions or Ontology since understanding itself is defined as an epistemological issue and hermeneutics as a system of interpretation.[24] Gadamer considered language to be the primary mode of our being in the world. Language is the form that involves the formation of existence. He said, “Nothing exists except through language.”[25] Humans find themselves, thanks to language, face to face with their finite situation, and language represents a tool for self-expression and a means of understanding what surrounds them. However, instead, the supreme possibility of his existence and ability made him worthy of inhabiting the world and taking care of being. According to Gadamer, understanding is a historical dialectical linguistic event, and hermeneutics is an ontology of understanding and phenomenology of understanding.[26] Finally, hermeneutics is an endless philosophical and existential journey trying to understand the problem of the text and goes beyond human and his experience. Hermeneutics is characterized by a holistic view of everything in the universe. It is not something new. We can associate its emergence with the emergence of human thinking. Then there was a significant development of this term with the development of the stages of human thinking. With each stage, hermeneutics takes a definition that matches the characteristics of that thinking.


Ahmed, Ibrahim. Language Ontology According to Martin Heidegger. Beirut: Arab House of Sciences, 2008.

Barsoum, Essam. 2021. “Wilhelm Dilthey (1833-1911).” Presentation, 21s research M & PM, Evangelical Theological Seminary in Cairo, EG, February 25, 2021.

Bowie, Andrew. Schleiermacher: Hermeneutics and Criticism: And Other Writings. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998.

Dascal, Marcelo. Interpretation and Understanding. Amsterdam: J. Benjamins, 2003.

E Palmer, Richard. Hermeneutics: Interpretation Theory in Schleiermacher, Dilthey, Heidegger, and Gadamer. Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1969.

Louis, Joseph. 2021. “Phenomenology, Hermeneutics, Reception Theory.” Presentation, 21s research M & PM, Evangelical Theological Seminary in Cairo, EG, March 18, 2021.

Mustafa, Adel. An Introduction to Hermeneutics: Theory of Interpretation from Plato to Gadamer. Windsor: Hindawi Foundation, 2018.

Raheef, Sameh. 2021. “Hermeneutics.” Presentation, 21s research M & PM, Evangelical Theological Seminary in Cairo, EG, February 18, 2021.

Sayed, Mahmoud. falsafat al-ḥayāh: diltaa namudhaja, Philosophy of life: Dilthey as a model. Cairo: Egyptian Saudi House, 2005.

[1] In Arabic we have the verb of hermeneutics which Ibn Rushd used in this quote. The verb of hermeneutics in Arabic is “tawilih,” which the nearest verb to it in English is “interpreted.”

[2] Richard E Palmer, Hermeneutics: Interpretation Theory in Schleiermacher, Dilthey, Heidegger, and Gadamer (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1969), 34-35.

[3] Sameh Raheef, 2021, “Hermeneutics,” presentation, 21s research M & PM, Evangelical Theological Seminary in Cairo, EG, February 18, 2021.

[4] Andrew Bowie, Schleiermacher: Hermeneutics and Criticism: And Other Writings (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), vii.

[5] Richard E Palmer, Ibid., 40.

[6] Essam Barsoum, 2021, “Wilhelm Dilthey (1833-1911),” presentation, 21s research M & PM, Evangelical Theological Seminary in Cairo, EG, February 25, 2021.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Richard E Palmer, Ibid., 41.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Mahmoud Sayed, falsafat al-ḥayāh: diltaa namudhaja, Philosophy of life: Dilthey as a model (Cairo: Egyptian Saudi House, 2005), 61.

[11] Joseph Louis, 2021, “Phenomenology, Hermeneutics, Reception Theory,” presentation, 21s research M & PM, Evangelical Theological Seminary in Cairo, EG, March 18, 2021.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Adel Mustafa, An Introduction to Hermeneutics: Theory of Interpretation from Plato to Gadamer (Windsor: Hindawi Foundation, 2018), 103.

[14] Ibid., 121.

[15] Ibid., 122.

[16] Joseph Louis, Ibid.

[17] That is translated as ‘the mode of being human’ or ‘the situated meaning of a human in the world.’

[18] Ibrahim Ahmed, Language Ontology According to Martin Heidegger (Beirut: Arab House of Sciences, 2008), 65-66.

[19] Joseph Louis, Ibid.

[20] Ibid.

[21] Adel Mustafa, An Introduction to Hermeneutics, 155.

[22] Ibid.

[23] Adel Mustafa, An Introduction to Hermeneutics, 44.

[24] Ibid.

[25] Marcelo Dascal, Interpretation and Understanding (Amsterdam: J. Benjamins, 2003), 427.

[26] Adel Mustafa, An Introduction to Hermeneutics, 200.

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