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I want to join Gadamer and Taylor in their plea to move away from such an analysis of the past, because it is in itself an illusionary construct based on the premise that humanity is on an ever progressing path to intellectual and moral maturity.

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In principle, the same caution is needed in comparing philosophical hermeneutics with theological interpretation: It is important to realize that the basic world-view of the Puritans, based on a Judeo-Christian world view, is not less plausible because it lies in the past. To judge it inferior on this ground alone would mean to follow uncritically the Enlightenment view of the past.

For any genuine dialogue it is important to let the other horizon present itself. For such a project it is important to remain open to the past; thus the modernist attitude of superiority to earlier tliinkers, especially when they are theologians, must be overcome if a genuine dialogue is to occur.

The framework of philosophical hermeneutics and modernist biblical criticism7 has no more intrinsic claim to validity than do the basic principles outlined by the theological hermeneutical framework. There is, of course, no doubt that much scientific data was unknown to the thinkers of the sixteenth and seventeenth century. However, when it comes to theoretical hermeneutics, including the interpretation of human existence and moral action, the Puritan writers have to be approached as equals, or perhaps even as superiors, since they lived at a time when tough physical conditions automatically weeded out impractical theories.

Let us not forget that the two thinkers who most profoundly influenced hermeneutics, Kant and Schleiermacher, lived quiet and uneventful lives in comparison to many Puritan theologians. In his later years the most exciting activity of Kant was his daily stroll in Konigsberg Copleston , and Schleiermacher's social work consisted mostly in seeking the company of cultured dialogue-partners in Berlin's Cafes.

The point is that we should regard these thinkers as equal partners in a dialogue with philosophical hermeneutics, and not as inferior by default, merely because they held a different world view, or lived at an earlier time.


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It is in fact the difference of their hermeneutical presupposition which may help to show the weaknesses of philosophical hermeneutics. However, even then he was not in danger of his life or deprivation of livelihood ibid. The principal purpose of this project is from a theological perspective to re-tell the change from pre-critical theological to philosophical hermeneutics in an effort to complement current accounts of hermeneutical history.

In this short section I want to substantiate the usefulness of such a work by briefly looking at some recent examples that demonstrate the need for a different bias.


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  • Jean Grondin, in the introduction to his hermeneutical survey, Introduction to Philosophical Hermeneutics. He states that until the end of the nineteenth-century [hermeneutics] usually took the form of a theory that promised to lay out the rules governing the discipline of interpretation. Its purpose was predominantly normative, even technical. Hermeneutics limited itself to giving methodological directions to the specifically interpretative sciences, with the end of avoiding arbitrariness in interpretation as far as possible.

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    Philosophical hermeneutics, by contrast, is universal. This universality means that, "hardly limited to such purely interpretative sciences as scriptural exegesis, classical philology, and law, the horizon of interpretation comprehends all the sciences and modes of orienting one's life" Grondin summarizes the contrast between philosophical hermeneutic theory and earlier approaches as follows: We will take interpretation as referring to what occurs when a really or apparently unfamiliar meaning is made intelligible.

    Hermeneutic theory concerns itself with just this process of interpretation. This seems unimportant enough if interpretation were taken to be merely a tiny fraction of human experience. It assumes universal relevance, however, as soon as we become aware that all human behaviour is based on making sense of things, even if only consciously; and ultimately this is the 9 All further references to this work will be abbreviated as PhH.

    Beginning in the twentieth century this universality penetrated philosophical consciousness, whereas earlier, apart from a few exceptions, the process of interpretation was treated as a special and local problem, governed by auxiliary normative disciplines within the individual interpretative sciences. It is wrong for Grondin to assume, however, that earlier hermeneutics were less universal because they were not conscious of this principle. Rather than there being "a few exceptions," the general outlook of the reading culture that involved biblical literature realized very well that human behavior must be based on understanding one's existence.

    To mention only one example, in the biblical wisdom literature it is constantly pointed out that how one understands the world will deeply influence one's behavior. The book of Proverbs, for instance, opens with the lines: " Likewise, Augustine makes clear in his Confessions that the universal hermeneutical project of humankind is to find happiness and "true happiness is to rejoice in the truth. As we have already seen and as we will learn further from the works of hermeneuts like Flacius, Perkins and Owen, theological 1 0 According to Augustine, the desire for truth is universal: "This is the happiness that all desire.

    All desire this, the only state of happiness. All desire to rejoice in truth. All knowledge and understanding were predicated on the assumption of a created universe. But it was especially in the understanding of moral and spiritual things that understanding was regarded as a gift from God existing in a conversion, or change of perspective. Since the whole human race was regarded as contaminated by sin, every human being required regenerating grace in order to gain access to God's perspective.

    And even then, knowledge was seen as a continuous growth universally dependent on God's grace.

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    Baxter puts it this way: "Moreover, it is most certain that when God calls us at first to the knowledge of his truth, he findeth us in darkness; and though he bring us thence into a marvellous light Acts xxvi. He implies that the latter is more concerned with universality than the former: "What is correct in the classical representation of hermeneutic history, is the idea that early hermeneutics resembled a technical theory, and as a rule such theory was of much less universal application than present-day philosophical hermeneutics" 3.

    Contrary to Grondin's claim, however, theological hermeneutics is not merely technical but clearly universal in application, since application is its primary motivation. If a revelation from the divine creator of all things exists, then its teachings are to be read because they concern the reader in every sphere of life. Certainly, the rules for interpretation that were comprised under the category of hermeneutics prior to "philosophical hermeneutics" are technical, but only in the sense that the pre-philosophical hermeneutic recognized a certain 1 1 Baxter goes on to say that "we are in the beginning but babes of knowledge.


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    • It cannot be expected, that a man that was born blind, with an indiposition of understanding to spiritual things, and that hath lived in blindness long, should presently know all things as soon as he is converted. They do not come so to knowledge in earthly things, which they are more disposed to know, and which are nearer to them, much less in heavenly things.

      The dispositive blindness of the best convert, is cured but in part, much less his actual blindness" ibid. Yet this reading was, as Gadamer himself admits, always performed with an eye to application. And each reading affected the complete horizon of the reader TM What exactly Grondin means by the term "universalist hermeneutic" is not entirely clear, and this ambiguity is caused by Grondin's neglect of the strong theological background according to which his proto-universalists such as, for example, Jacob Spener's teacher Johann Dannhauer have to be understood.

      For one, Dannhauer did not come up with anything innovative when he used rhetoric and logic for scriptural interpretation, as well as for other texts IPH The majority of academically trained theologians in both Germany and England did exactly the same. As recent scholarship has shown cf.

      Mueller and Preus , these men used philosophical terms to defend a biblical world view Leube Orthodoxie und Pietismus. AGP Another problem with Grondin's approach is that on the one hand he wants to draw a distinction between universal philosophical and local pre-philosophical i. H If the verbum interius is indeed to be equated with reason, and reason is what "liberates us for the possibility of being human; is the realm of free and measured reflection," then not only have we returned to the unfounded Enlightenment trust in human reason despite its now recognized finite perspective , but we also do violence to Augustine, who formulated the notion of the inner word in the context of human depravity.

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      This notion includes the fallenness of man's rational faculty, so that to take recourse to that faculty for a better self-understanding and "possibility of being human" would, at least in Augustine's view, lead to self-delusion, because the sin-affected human mind is in need of illumination from the divine light On the Position of the Pelagians 3,7. In other words, Gadamer's and Grondin's use of the Augustinian logos-doctrine in their approach to hermeneutics is based on a certain assumption about human nature and ability that seriously stretches, if not distorts, Augustine's teaching.

      We shall return to this point when describing Gadamer's use of the dialogical in hermeneutic endeavours, but suffice it to say for now that their use of Augustine's "inner word" secularizes a concept which is firmly grounded in a biblical framework. Augustine could claim that understanding was possible, because God has endowed humans with a structure of rationality patterned after the divine ideas in his own mind so that we can know truth, because God has made us like himself.

      A harmony or correlation exists therefore between the mind of God, the human mind, and the rational structure of the word Nash Moreover, for Augustine the whole idea of the inner reason is imbedded in a context of 1 3 The reference is in book XIV ofDe trinitate, mainly paragraph 9 and following, where Augustine speaks about the production of the inner word as the memory of the image of God: "Here then is the mind, remembering itself, understanding itself, loving itself. This short examination of the two interpretive frameworks shows that the perspective from which hermeneutics is described is very important.

      It matters "who tells the story. Grondin's assessment lacks the theological context within which ideas such as Augustine's "inner word" must be understood. Rather than proving the usefulness of separating theological from philosophical hermeneutics according to their degrees of universality, Grondin demonstrates the difficulty of such an approach. Also, one cannot so easily dismiss pre-philosophical hermeneutics as mere technical views, as Grondin does in his work.

      Upon close examination we will find that not only did philological and narrative criticism play a role in their exegesis, but the exegetes of the Bible also dealt in great depth with the problem of understanding. Hermeneutics, even long before the philosophical hermeneutic, has always been concerned with self-understanding.

      John Calvin summarized this position well when he stated that "without knowledge of self there is no knowledge of God" I, i , 1.

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      Conversely, true self-knowledge can be derived only from reading the Bible: "we 1 4 Grondin's very clear and highly readable presentation of the material makes this lack especially noticable. In chapter seven of his Sources of Hermeneutics entitled "Gadamer and Augustine: On the Origins of the Hermeneutical Claim to Universality", one finds the best description to date of Gadamer's debt to a secularized Augustine. Despite Grondin's claim to the contrary, it becomes strikingly clear that Gadamer's language theory needs a theological grounding both in respect of the dialogical aspect of hermeneutics and the concept of "the inner word.

      The inner word 'behind' the expressed word is nothing other than this dialogue or this intimate connection of language with our inquiring and self-mquiring existence. Augustine could. It was the natural urge of a creature created in the image of God. Furthermore, Augustine saw the ultimate use of inner reason in conversing with the greatest rational mind, God, while maintaining also the experiential side of hermeneutics.

      Philosophical hermeneutics, by contrast, has lost this goal.