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Philosophische Hermeneutik.

DM62--Handbuch Philosophie is a series edited by Elisabeth Stroker and Wolfgang Wieland, the purpose of which is to present various fields and themes in contemporary thought. The author of the present work, who teaches philosophy in Erlangen and Heidelberg, has previously published two books in the history and theory of interpretation. The study is divided into two parts: the first adopts a systematic approach to its theme; the second develops a historical perspective. Using the Gadamerian term "philosophical hermeneutics," the author wishes to summarize three different fields or levels of questioning: the interpretation of texts, the understanding of human deeds and actions in general, and the idea of understanding as an ontological determination of man. The first level relates to the traditional art of hermeneutics as developed within theology and jurisprudence and, eventually, philology; the second refers primarily to the work of Dilthey and to different modern theories of human action and behavior; the third, finally, concerns the ontological turn that hermeneutics undergoes in Heidegger and Gadamer. Thus, "philosophical hermeneutics" is not the designation of a clearly delimited discipline, but the rather arbitrary name for a conglomerate of thinkers, questions, and disciplines which could be said to converge around the problem of human understanding. Ineichen's study is a handbook intended to serve as an introduction to this amorphous field. Despite its basically pedagogical intention, however, it is guided throughout by a highly critical spirit.

The first thematic section of the book is divided into ten short chapters dealing with various general aspects of human understanding. Undoubtedly, the most fundamental concept in this context is that of "sense" or "meaning" (Sinn). The starting point and condition for any hermeneutic endeavor is that there is such a phenomenon as sense, which the interpreter can eventually extrapolate from whatever material configuration is at hand (texts, actions, artifacts, and so forth). As every philosopher of language knows, sense is a very elusive concept. Ineichen elegantly avoids the deeper complications connected to this notion by stating, simply, that sense is something objective (or intersubjective), that its primary seat is language (which is said to convey sense in virtue of being a rule-governed practice), and that sense, in the context of actions and artifacts, is generally synonymous with the intention (explicit or implicit) of the doer or maker. The objectivity of sense, for which he argues with reference to both Husserl and Frege, is the key to his subsequent exposition. If sense were subjective or tied to individual events or intentions, understanding would simply not be possible, or understanding would at least remain essentially uncertain. Instead, the fact that there is a distinct, objective, and repeatable sense makes it possible to perform interpretation in a scientific mode, with a claim to truth that can be rationally assessed.

In the historical section, which covers the larger second portion of the book, the author tells the story of hermeneutical thinking from Ast, Wolf, and Schleiermacher to Gadamer and Ricoeur in brief but concise sketches. In a separate chapter he also discusses a number of thinkers from the school of analytic philosophy, such as Popper, Dray, and von Wright, who have contributed in various ways to the theory of understanding and of human action. The historical presentation follows the standard account, focusing on the work of Schleiermacher, Dilthey, and Heidegger. In an original contribution to this historical development, however, Ineichen also stresses the importance of one of Schleiermacher's students, A. Boeck. The most generous treatment in this critical overview is granted to Paul Ricoeur. In Ricoeur Ineichen sees a thinker not only able to bridge the gap between various schools of thought, but also attentive to the multifacetedness of the hermeneutical enterprise--attentiveness demonstrated not the least in Ricoeur's theory of the symbol.

The most admirable trait of Ineichen's book is the broadness of its scope. Despite its limited size the work manages to incorporate presentations not only of all the leading theorists of interpretation and understanding in the Continental tradition up to Ricoeur, but also of a number of related Anglo-American thinkers. In addition, the critical approach of the book could have been advantageous had it not been for the brevity of the critical presentations. With its short summaries of vast theoretical explorations, followed by often sweeping critiques of the particular philosophers under discussion, the book betrays a lack of sensitivity that contradicts its hermeneutic intentions. This is true of its treatment of Heidegger, and even more so of Gadamer, to whom it is indebted for large parts of its account (which Ineichen also initially acknowledges). Ineichen criticizes Gadamer on points which Gadamer himself has repeatedly treated of, notably concerning the accusation that his hermeneutics somehow undermine the possibility of a critique. Gadamer (as well as Heidegger) is guided in his thinking by an evaluation of Western philosophical thought, whose critical potential should be obvious. The most important question, then, is not whether his theory of truth and understanding gives due credit to the critical function of reason, but whether one approves of the critical consequences implied by this theory. Ineichen obviously does not approve.
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Author:Ruin, Hans
Publication:The Review of Metaphysics
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 1, 1993
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