Hermeneutics and Criticism and Other Writings. By Friedrich Schleiermacher. Translated and edited by Andrew Bowie. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998.

Hermeneutics and Criticism and Other Writings was first published as the edition of Friedrich Lücke, entitled Hermeneutics and Criticism, with Particular Reference to the New Testament, in 1838, as Volume 7 of the First Division, On Theology, of Schleiermacher’s Complete Works. Martin Frank published Hermeneutik and Kritik, along with a selection of other texts by Schleiermacher on hermeneutics from a variety of different sources in 1977. Frank omitted the majority of the passages directly referring to the New Testament in order to emphasize the more philosophical aspects. Andrew Bowie published this book following Frank’s procedure and his choice of passages to omit (xxxvii).

The book is divided into three parts. In the first part, Schleiermacher discusses his hermeneutics. Andrew Bowie edited this book, giving the most space to this part. In Schleiermacher’s view, the reason hermeneutics is important is that the individual is determined in his thoughts by the common language and can think only the thoughts which already have their designation in his language. Therefore, every language-user can only be understood from the totality of his environment, nationality, and era (9). The task of hermeneutics is to prevent difficulties in the reconstruction of the utterance and the sequence of thoughts (14). However, Schleiermacher acknowledges that the task is not to be accomplished in a general manner because the productions of a foreign language are always fragmentary for us. Nevertheless, Schleiermacher expresses the task of hermeneutics being “to understand the utterance at first just as well and then better than its author” (23).

He divides his discussion of hermeneutics into a grammatical explanation and a psychological explanation. He proposes two canons for grammatical explanation: (1) “Everything in a given utterance which requires a more precise determination may only be determined from the language area which is common to the author and his original audience” (30); and (2) “The sense of every word in a given location must be determined according to its being-together with those that surround it” (44). Meanwhile, the final objective of the psychological explanation is “nothing but the developed beginning, namely, to look at the whole of the act in its parts and in each part to look in turn at the material as that which moves and the form as the nature which is moved by the material” (91). Even though the task of hermeneutics cannot be completely accomplished, Schleiermacher concludes his hermeneutics section optimistically with this sentence: “Even if we can never achieve a complete understanding of the personal individuality of the New Testament writers, the highest aspect of the task is still possible, namely to grasp ever more completely the life they have in common, the being and the spirit of Christ” (157).

In the second part of the book, Schleiermacher explains criticism, through which, etymologically, two things come into consideration. The first is in the sense of a court of judgment, and another criticism is a comparison. Both types of criticism coincide at times, but they can also diverge (158). Schleiermacher compares three main critical tasks. Doctrinal criticism has a completely universal task that occurs everywhere in every state of humankind. It is concerned with the relationship of that which is determined as particular to the concept. Historical criticism is a task that also occurs everywhere that past and present confront each other. In this case, there is always a comparison to be made between the fact and the account. Philological criticism has to do with the gradual transformation that results from the play between taking up and giving back, between receptivity and spontaneity (165-166). He says that all operations of criticism are determined by the emergence of the suspicion that something is there which should not be. Therefore, “where there is no such suspicion, no critical procedure can be begun either (170).” He divides these suppositions into suppositions which suggest a mechanical mistake and those which suggest the interruption of a free action through which the difference between the fact and the account was occasioned or caused (171).

In the third part, Andrew Bowie introduces Schleiermacher’s two short writings. The first one is “General Hermeneutics,” written in the winter of 1809-10. In this writing, Schleiermacher explains the grammatical side of interpretation and the technical side of interpretation. The former is to understand the sense of an utterance from the language (232). The latter is to understand the particular part of a coherent utterance as belonging in the specific sequence of thoughts of the writer (254). Another writing of Schleiermacher is “Schematism and Language,” from Friedrich Schleiermachers Dialektik, edited by R. Odebrecht in 1942. From this writing, Schleiermacher intends for readers to grasp the general rules for the formation of concepts from the organic side, and thus the process of induction and how error must be avoided, how much knowledge is in this, and where the supplement of this knowledge lies (280).

Schleiermacher rejects an independent theological hermeneutics for the New Testament. He thinks that the New Testament should first of all be understood in the same way as early other book of literature. However, he cannot simply stop there. According to Martin Redeker, “Schleiermacher is forced by the content of the New Testament’s proclamation to alter the universal ground rules of hermeneutics as they apply to the New Testament and to recognize definite religious presuppositions of Christian existence in faith for its interpretation (Martin Redeker, Schleiermacher: Life and Thought, translated by John Wallhausser, Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1973, p. 177).” Schleiermacher wanted to make the unity and completeness of the New Testament the foundation for his hermeneutics.

Schleiermacher is called the founder of modern scholarly hermeneutics. He abandoned the older Protestant hermeneutics as well as the Enlightenment historical-critical disputation of biblical authority and the Enlightenment philosophy of language and history. Therefore, Redeker credits him for inaugurating a new beginning of understanding and its possibilities (Redeker 175). According to Andrew Bowie, who is an editor of this book, the significance of Schleiermacher’s philosophical conception really becomes apparent when it is considered in relation to the increasingly manifest deficiencies of some of the dominant trends in philosophical reflection on language and knowledge in the twentieth century, particularly in the analytical tradition (viii-ix). Therefore, studying hermeneutics and critics of Schleiermacher plays a pivotal role in understanding Schleiermacher’s philosophy as a whole. Moreover, since this book contains Schleiermacher’s lectures over a long period of time, we can see his thoughts in a balanced way.


Jaeho Jang
Boston University

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