What About Hermeneutics?

It is long over due, I know.

On occasions I have used the term “hermeneutics“, but so far refrained from explaining what hermeneutics is, and how is it to be understood as a barebones notion. I will do that now.

Some of you may remember the very basic barebones communication diagram (below), that I posted last year. No need to change that, and I will show it here once more. See the word “hermeneutics” on the horizontal cloud in the illustration? Why it is placed there in the same section as phenomenology, and not as a separate vertical cloud similar to semiology, gestalt psychology, et cetera?

The answer to these questions are easy to give: In the barebones universe hermeneutic is not considered as a special region of the communication area, is it considered as a communication fundamental.

Basic Barebones Communication Diagram. Copyright 2008/2009 Knut Skjærven.

Basic Barebones Communication Diagram. Copyright 2008/2009 Knut Skjærven.

Using the esoteric words of philosophy, you could say that hermeneutics here have an existential or even ontological status. Don’t let yourself be scared away from this area by these words. Existential means simply: that which fundamentally comes with human existence, and ontology is simply the science of that area. If you are in for an academic career, you are welcome to obscure this to a lesser and even larger extend (irony). You’ll find indications of such obscurities when you look these words up on Wikipedia 🙂

The barebones’ stand on hermeneutics has been phrased very well by David E. Linge in his in Editor’s Introduction to Hans-Georg Gadamer‘s “Philosophical Hermeneutics”, University of California Press, 1976. Here is what he says, and you are welcome to read this as a statement that goes along perfectly with barebones communication.

“The task of philosophical hermeneutics, therefore, is ontological rather then methodological. It seeks to throw light on the fundamental conditions that underlie the phenomenon of understanding in all its modes, scientific and nonscientific alike, and that constitute understanding as an event over which the interpreting subject does not ultimately preside.  For philosophical hermeneutics, “the question is not what we do or what we should do, but what happens beyond our willing and doing.” Hans-George Gadamer, Philosophical Hermeneutics, University of California Press, 1976, page ix.

To be continued …

Why is hermeneutics important?

Why is hermeneutics important? Why is it even very important? Here as some of the obvious reasons, spelled out:

1) If hermeneutics is fundamental, as we see it on barebones, it attach to every act of communication.

2) If hermeneutics attach to every act of communication, it a good idea to understand a bit of how it works.

3) If you have the idea, that you want to have a bit of control over what and how you are communicating (many people have that idea), you might want to use hermeneutics in an active way.

4) If you have the idea, that you want to understand some of the mechanisms at work at the receivers end of your message, verbal or visual or other, you may want to use hermeneutics in an active way, as well.

5) As advertising is not different from communication, but just a special branch of it, advertising people should take notice as well.

I good way of getting you there is to have a look at a new model of communication, and that will come up on this blog pretty soon. From this post on, there will be more posts on hermeneutics. I am sure that you want to know the basics of the hermeneutic circle, and the hermeneutic spiral.

So you need to stay tuned. Have a good day.


7 thoughts on “What About Hermeneutics?

  1. It’s funny how one’s focus determines one’s reality.

    I’d placed semiotics in the centre — as the master discpline.

    The universe is perfused with signs — if not made up of signs, in Peirce’s words.

    On another note, I think we’d all benefit from an explanation of why gestalt psychology, naturalism & semiotics are on the same axis.


  2. Hi Kasper

    Many thanks for your comment. Special thanks since you are the first Dane to comment on this blog :-).

    And yes, what you are saying is perfectly true. How focus is determine by one’s reality. And one could even say, that what you are stating is a perfect phenomenological statement, since is “an expression of intentionality”.

    Why phenomenology comes first – in my view? It is because phenomenology outlines the CONDITIONS FOR THE POSSIBILITY of doing semiotics, as well as phenomenology. In fact for doing anything at all.

    I have had semiotics in as A REGION of experience and science, since phenomenology operated with such regions. And this seems to make sense to me. But I admit that semiotics was never my prime interest, and that counts as well.

    I don’t think, like many others do, that everything is relative and dependent on “one’s reality”. Executing a phenomenological reduction would prove that wrong, since the statement that “everything is relative”, IS NOT RELATIVE.

    If you take your offset in semiotics you will eventually to brought to the same conclusion :-).

    And again, understanding is circular, as in hermeneutics, and it does not really matter where you start your investigations. Turn the barebones graphic upside down, and you will find that semiotics might be a perfect entrance to phenomenology. And it will even be more fundamental. Graphically that is :-).

    The main point is, however, that semiotics never leaves the natural attitude and thus are in no position to “ground” itself.

    Does this make sense at all?



  3. Hi Knut!

    What you’re saying is making perfectly sense, though I had to read it a couple of times.

    Semiotics, in my understanding, however, is not something we do – or choose to do. & that might be the point we disagree on.

    Semiosis — the generation of meaning — needs no intentional energy. It happens at the lowest level of human existence, as biosemiotics (and cognitive semantics/semiotics) has repeatedly documented through the last decade.

    However, I’d agree with you if semiotics is taken to mean a clearly stratified academic interpretational discipline.

    And agreed, not everything is releative, even though it might be releational. There are exceptionally clear lines of resistance in what has been termed the real world that we have to deal with cognitively, linguistically and epistemologically.

    All that said, I know we’re closing in on a chicken and egg discussion…

    Have a nice weekend!



  4. Hi Kasper

    I must admit that I find this an interesting discussion, and thanks, therefore, for your second comment. I will prepare a more substantial answer later, and post that as proper post on the blog. I am sure more people will be interested.

    I have a question. Rather provoking, I guess :-). Here we go:

    You say that semiosis – the generation of meaning – needs no intentional energy. Could you please explain that to me, bearing in mind that intentionality is NOT the projection of specific intentions towards a landscape of signs. It is much more of an initial openness directed towards such a landscape.

    If intentionality is such defined, would you then not agree then, that phenomenology and semiotics are complementary sources, and not competitive sources. I fail to see a possible conflict between the two. Biosemiotics and all :-).

    Looking, very much, forward to your answer. Have a good day.




  5. Peirce himself included phenomenology as one of three main branches of philosophy. He re-termed it as phaneroscopy.

    Agreed, semiotics and phenomenology are complementary sources. But if you were to ask me which comes first or which covers the widest spectrum, my reply would be semiosis/semiotics. And it’d be perfectly valid to disagree.

    However, in my opinion, signs cover domains that aren’t covered by traditinel, Western phenomenology.

    Re. the question of intentionality — from a semiotics perspective there can very well be a code for intention(ality) which is different from phenomenology’s understanding of intentionality. I might be wrong.

    Per Aage Brandt’s school of semiotics e.g. has a marked focus on the phenomenological realm of meaning. I’m somewhat affected by Derrida’s thinking and subscribe to a radical pansemiotic point of view.

    You might find this quatation from Brand interesting:

    In order not to do semiotics you would have to ignore intentionality and decide that all and every connection between two entities in the world is a sign. Pan-semiotics resembles pan-textualism (everything is a text) – both want to ignore the difference between phenomena related to consciousness, as intentionality is, and phenomena that are not; probably because they feel that taking consciousness into account would be philosophically problematic (dualistic). However, not taking it into account means not taking meaning into account at all. But why would we then bother to ask what a sign is?



  6. Your definition of “ontology” is wrong. Your reason for being wrong is wrong aswell.

    I will refrain from adding to the confusion though. But seriously dont you think the existence/ontology thing needs a bit of work up. If you think it through the implications of your definitions are quite severe.

    I am very interested in how hermeneutics are used in the bareboned comm sytem, but i must admit i simply dont understand it.

    To be honest i dont even see hermeneutics in the system. To me it seems to be something that is slapped on because it more or less covers what needs to be covered.
    The rather weak description of the theories of science in hermeneutics underlines this point.

    If thats the case i would recomend using some other theories of science instead. In my book hermeneutics are a gimped system. Its the predecessors of the more sytemic approaches.

    Luhmanns general systemic theories use communication as its basal unit. The core of the system. I would think that his thoughts might inspire.

    Be warned though Luhmann has always insisted that somethings are very hard to understand and you cannnot explain these thing in an easy way.


  7. Hi Morten

    Thanks for your comment, which I will be happy do deal with.

    1) You are absolutely right that the hermeneutic theme has not been elaborated enough on. I am quite aware of that. The good thing with a blog, and particularly this blog since I state this explicitly, it that barebones communication is a project in progress. There will definitely be much more on hermeneutics then you have seen this far.

    2) What I find of particular interest in your comment it the use of the notion “wrong”. This indicates that there are something being “right” as well. Right?

    “Right” or “wrong” are categories well (at least better) suited within the natural sciences or in formal logic, than within the human/social sciences. The reason for this is that it is not possible to disconnect or disregard the individual’s historic/social/psychological backpack when dealing with the understanding or interpretation of “human” phenomena.

    Alas it is always possible to come up with a set of theories about a matter and state that one is “right” and the others are “wrong”. But is it very immature, and it does not belong to the realm of human science’s argumentation at all.

    “Different” understandings of hermeneutics are perfectly legal. In fact, it is one of the core issues within phenomenological hermeneutics itself.

    3) I am sure that your book is very good. Please send me a copy, and I’ll be happy to read it, and comment upon it. From a hermeneutical perspective, that is :-). I don’t think it will be possible otherwise :-).

    Thanks for you comment, Morten.



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