Music Hermeneutics


Hans-Georg Gadamer (1900–2002)

What is ‘Hermeneutics’?

‘Hermeneutics’ is a tradition of thinking concerned with the art of interpretation. The term is derived from the Greek verb hermēneuein, (‘to interpret’) and the noun hermēneia (‘interpretation’). In early history hermeneutics was divided into three traditions: 1) The critical examination of ancient Greek literature; 2) The assessment of Hebrew Scriptures and Christian interpretations of the Old and New Testaments through biblical hermeneutics; 3) The interpretation of the law and justice through juridical hermeneutics. During the Romantic era these individual fields of study were amalgamated into one single philosophical discipline by basing hermeneutics on the concept of understanding. The work of the German philosopher Hans-Georg Gadamer in the 1960s established the concept of a purely philosophical hermeneutics. No longer relegated to text, hermeneutics expanded to include art and experience.

For more information on the development of the term ‘hermeneutics’ from Ancient Greece onwards see the following select sources: Richard E. Palmer, Hermeneutics: Interpretation Theory in Dilthey, Heidegger and Gadamer (Evanstown: Northwestern University Press, 1969), pp. 12–32; Kurt Mueller-Vollmer, The Hermeneutics Reader: Texts of the German Tradition from the Enlightenment to the Present (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1986); Jean Grondin, ‘On the Prehistory of Hermeneutics’, in Introduction to Philosophical Hermeneutics (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1994), pp. 17–44; and Thomas M. Seebohm, Hermeneutics: Method and Methodology (Dordrecht, Boston and London: Kluwer Academic, 2004), pp. 10–34.

For a more general overview of philosophical hermeneutics see the following select list of sources: Leo Treitler, ‘On Historical Criticism’, MQ, 53/2 (1967), pp. 188–205; Wilhelm Dilthey and Frederic Jameson, ‘The Rise of Hermeneutics’, New Literary History — On Interpretation: I, 3/2 (1972), pp. 229–244; Hans Peter Rickman, ed., W. Dilthey: Selected Writings (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1976); Paul Ricoeur, Hermeneutics and the Human Sciences: Essays on Language, Action and Interpretation, ed. by John B. Thompson (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981); Gerald L. Bruns, Hermeneutics: Ancient and Modern (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1992); Andrew Bowie, Friedrich Schleiermacher: Hermeneutics and Criticism and Other Writings (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998); Thomas Sheehan, ‘Heidegger, Martin (1889–1976)’, in Concise Routledge Encyclopaedia of Philosophy, ed. by Edward Craig (London: Routledge, 2000), p. 340; and Andrew Bowie, Aesthetics and Subjectivity: From Kant to Nietzsche (Manchester and New York: Manchester University Press, 2nd edn 2003).

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