In its most general sense, hermeneutics is the thoery of interpretation. Originally the term was limited to Biblical interpretation, but since the nineteenth century the term has been broadened to encompass interpretation of any text (literary, legal, ect.). The goal of hermeneutic theory work is to determine how best to discover the meaning of the text and many different hermeneutic theorists have proposed many different methodologies.

In the early nineteenth century, German theologian Friedrich Schleiermacher developed a theory which a later philosopher, Wilhelm Dilthy, named the Hermeneutic circle. The theory consisted of the idea that in order to understand the whole of a text, one must understand all of the constituent parts, but that in order to correctly interpret each of the constituent parts one has to be cognizant of the meaning of the whole. By continuously "filling in" the parts, and re-interpreting the whole, the reader comes to understand the text. In the twentieth century, Martin Heidegger shifted the concept of the hermeneutic circle to that of an open-ended discussion between each new reader and the history of interpretation surrounding the text. More recent theories divide the interpretation of texts into "hermeneutics of belief", which approaches text as containing truths to be illuminated and "hermeneutics of suspicion" - As practiced by Sigmund Freud , Karl Marx and Nietzsche - which approaches the text not so much to clarify it as to unmask its myths and contradictions.

American Critic E.D. Hirsch argues that the meaning of the text is grounded in the intention of the author. The reader of a text can approach an objective interpretation of the author's expressed meaning, by progressively testing hypotheses of interpretation against what is known of the text.

People of the Movement

Friedrich Schleiermacher
Wilhelm Dilthey
E.D. Hirsch
Hans Georg Gadamer

Related Movements

Hermeneutics was in part influenced by the work of Martin Heidegger and his work with the notion of "dasein".
Gadamer was particularly influenced by Phenomenological Criticism.
Deconstructive Criticism is an application of the hermeneutics of suspicion.

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