- Introduction to Philosophical Hermeneutics
Introduction to Philosophical Hermeneutics, a commissioned study for the Yale Studies in Hermeneutics, provides a comprehensive historical survey of interpretive theory from antiquity to the present. In addition it has a sixty-page bibliography subdivided into no fewer than thirty categories. Unfortunately, the translator, Joel Weinsheimer (himself the translator of Gadamer and general editor of the series) has not added English translations to the bibliography, though he does cite from English translations. The index is inadequate—especially for a quasi-textbook.
Grondin sets out to revise and correct the standard view of the development of philosophical hermeneutics: that it began with the formulation of fragmentary hermeneutic rules in the classical and patristic period, was refined with the systematic hermeneutics of Protestant theologians, then broadened into a universal methodology of the human sciences by Schleiermacher and Dilthey, culminating in Hans Georg Gadamer’s philosophical hermeneutics, which extended its reach into a critique of ideology, theory of science, and practical philosophy (p. 3).
In place of this story, Grondin presents a single aperçu, “the ancient and perhaps antiquated doctrine of the verbum interius: the ‘inner word’ that is never spoken but nevertheless resounds in everything that is said,” and which he traces to the Stoics via St. Augustine (p. 119). Grondin reveals in his preface that he learned of the centrality of the inner word from Gadamer himself in a Heidelberg pub in the fall of 1988 while he was working on this book (pp. xiii–xiv). Gadamer told him that the claim to universality of philosophical hermeneutics is founded on the recognition of the primordiality of the inner word, to which the uttered word must strive to be adequate (pp. xiv and 123). This interior meaning can never be fully grasped, but it nonetheless provides a prophylactic against relativism. As Grondin puts it in a happy phrase, “original meaning . . . remains at best the asymptote of understanding, the telos that the interpreter is trying to reach behind the words” (p. 127). In this way philosophical hermeneutics turns philosophy away from epistemology—the concern with the outside, that to which language points, its propositional content—toward hermeneutics—the concern with that from which language emerges, “the conversation of the soul with itself” (p. 139), and the question (p. 119). If Grondin’s account is accepted, Richard Rorty is explicitly renouncing Gadamer when he asserts in Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity (p. 21) that “it is essential to my view that we have no pre-linguistic consciousness to which language needs to be adequate.”
The historical survey is broken down into seven chapters: the first four cover [End Page 249] Classical, Patristic, Protestant, Romantic, and Historicist hermeneutics. Heidegger, Gadamer have one each, while Betti, Habermas, and Derrida are discussed in the last chapter. The historical survey is subdivided into authors too numerous to list. Grondin’s explication is uniformly clear and cogent; both novices and experts will find material for thought in his story.
Grondin might be faulted for ignoring the Dutch, Italian, and English humanists, and for leaving Paul Ricoeur largely out of account. The only post-Medieval non-Germans to receive extended consideration are Emilio Betti and Jacques Derrida; the former because his hermeneutic theory precedes Gadamer’s by a few years, and the latter because he is a Heideggerean.
Grondin sees deconstruction as “a regression into the propositional logic of metaphysics that dominated the entire West” because it is founded on a destructive critique of propositional logic—whereas Gadamerian philosophical hermeneutics is founded upon its replacement by the doctrine of the verbum interius (p. 138). Interestingly, he is also hostile to “historicism,” which—in contrast to Karl Popper—he sees as a positivistic effort to overcome the historicity of understanding (pp. 107–11).