Hermeneutics is Not Easy

Today I was intending to say something more about the debate on free will versus determinism, but I got sidetracked by a discussion about hermeneutics. Then I was asked by a "dear friend" to postpone the treatment of free will/determinism until some later time.

The "hermeneutics" difficulty was caused by the attempt to understand what exactly it was in the first place, since the definition I found merely said it was the science of textual interpretation. I would have said that every time we read anything, we are involved in interpretation, so that the question arises as to how we can ever speak of a "separate" science or discipline of hermeneutics. How can we isolate an activity as being distinct from that which we do all the time?

Besides, and once again, we find the word used to mean several different things. In theology, it refers to the interpretation of sacred texts, many of which are about as obscure and cryptic as it is possible to be, and furthermore, since they are usually old, they are subject to the suspicion of falsification either by deliberate means or by copyist's errors. This seems a reasonable definition of hermeneutics as a distinct activity.

But apparently, the word "hermeneutics" can also be used to describe the attempt to interpret human behaviour and the workings of human institutions.

As if that were not bad enough, it is also in some accounts mentioned as being used by existentialists to denote the activity of examining the purpose of life.

It could be argued that this overloading of a single word with so many different meanings is such as to render it almost useless, particularly as the meanings themselves are anything but sharply defined.

Perhaps my time would have been better employed if I had, after all, concentrated on the free will/determinism debate. If it had not been for the intervention of my "dear friend" I would have done so today. But I shall return to it, perhaps tomorrow.

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