hermeneutics, the theory and practice of interpretation. During the Reformation hermeneutics came into being as a special discipline concerned with biblical criticism. The Protestant theologian Friedrich Schleiermacher expanded the discipline from one concerned with removing obstacles preventing readers from gaining the proper understanding of a text to one concerned in addition with analyzing the necessary conditions for readers coming to any understanding of a text. The philosopher Wilhelm Dilthey expanded the discipline still further by conceiving of all of the human and social sciences as hermeneutical enterprises and trying to construct a method uniquely for them, instead of borrowing one from the natural sciences. In the 20th cent. hermeneutics has been developed by the philosophers Hans-Georg Gadamer and Paul Ricoeur.
See D. Hoy, The Critical Circle: Literature, History, and Philosophical Hermeneutics (1978); K. Mueller-Vollmer, ed., The Hermeneutics Reader (1985).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.