Hermeneutics, also known as the ‘art of interpretation’ is a term used to describe the theory and methodology of text interpretation. Although primarily about understanding written text, it can also be applied to cultural products. It is the knowledge, ability and technology of understanding.
As our understanding is already inherent in existence, there is no understanding prior to interpretation, objective understanding does not exist.
"If language appears to come to [the child] first as receptivity, this only refers to the particular language which surrounds it; spontaneity with regard to being able to speak at all is simultaneous with that language’ (Ethik (1812-13) p. 66). The regress these ideas are intended to circumvent will be what leads Schleiermacher in [Hermeneutics and Criticism] to his notion of ‘divination’, the ability to arrive at interpretations without definitive rules, and to his terming hermeneutics an ‘art’, because it cannot be fully carried out in terms of rules. We live, then, in a world which is bound by deterministic laws that also apply to our own organism, yet are able to choose between alternative courses of action and generate new ways of understanding." (Bowie, 1998)
One who chooses to specialise in hermeneutics is a mediator, an interpreter with the capacity to improve and adapt that which is unclear into that which is comprehensible. As we understand our world through interpretation, it always takes place in the present, within our particular era (historically), which causes influential biases, prejudices and preconceptions. It is impossible for us to understand or interpret outside of such biases but through educating ourselves historically or linguistically for such a purpose, it is possible to try.
"In fact history does not belong to us but rather we to it." (Gadamer, 1975) We first understand ourselves in a self-evident way through our roles in society, the environment in which we live and through our family, traditions and culture. This happens prior to developing an understanding ourselves through self-examination. Studying one’s own motivation and behaviour must come from awareness and understanding of that which is obvious. By reading and concentrating on specific works or periods in time, we deepen our understanding and some of the biases and prejudices which come with our own present, begin to shift.
Our own prejudices are not negative in the sense that we must all start somewhere and by viewing our biases or prejudices as a starting point, we are able to base our current understanding and sense of meaning upon them. Interpretation cannot exist without a framework, so even if it were possible to remove personal biases, it would not make anything clearer.
Schleiermacher, F. trans. Bowie, A. (1998) Hermeneutics and Criticism and Other Writings New York: Cambridge University Press.
Gadamer, H. G. trans. Weinsheimer, J. et al. (1975) Truth and Method London: Continuum.