Hermeneutics would seem to be enjoying an unprecedented vogue in America today. A colleague of mine opined somewhat cynically at the hermeneutics symposium earlier this year in Lawrence, Kansas, that hermeneutics owed this popularity in part to the fact that it was a term vague enough to serve as a rallying point in the common battle against scientific reductionism, literary formalism, and positivist modes in sociology — or whatever else one might be against. This was borne out by Richard de George's remark introducing the final panel at the meeting, that hermeneutics seemed to be many things to many people — "a theory, a philosophy, a view of reality, a methodology, an approach, a hope, a promise, an ideology … it's probably all of those, and more depending on which speaker we turn to and how we interpret what they say." He might have added hermeneutics as a slogan, as battle cry. Then he goes on to ask, "In which of its guises does it have a future?" He might have asked: "In which of its guises is it a thing of the past?" Significantly, his enumeration omitted precisely the sense of hermeneutics I will be advocating in this paper: hermeneutics as a field of study, a discipline, as general theory of interpretation. But just this definitional vagueness also makes it difficult to know what is being asserted in the claim of those who in the face of our enthusiasm demand that we go "beyond hermeneutics." In what sense is it really possible to go beyond hermeneutics at all?


Presented at the 11th Annual Philosophy Colloquium of the Department of Philosophy of the University of Dayton, held in March 1982.



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