Hermeneutics and the Ancient Philosophical Legacy: Hermeneia and Phronesis

In Niall Keane & Chris Lawn (eds.), The Blackwell Companion to Hermeneutics. Malden, MA: John Wiley & Sons. pp. 22-33 (2016)
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Hermeneutics as we understand it today is an essentially modern phenomenon. The chapter presents observations that illustrate some of the central ways in which the modern and late modern phenomena of philosophical hermeneutics relate to the ancient philosophical legacy. First, the roots of hermeneutics are traced to ancient views on linguistic, textual, and sacral interpretation. The chapter then looks at certain fundamentally unhermeneutic elements of the Platonic, Aristotelian, and Augustinian “logocentric” theory of meaning that philosophical hermeneutics and its heirs sought to call into question, reconsider, and deconstruct. Augustine's De doctrina christiana, can be regarded as an epitome and culmination of the ancient protohermeneutic heritage, theological as well as philological. Finally, Aristotle's practical philosophy, particularly the notion of phronesis, “practical insight”, is designated as an implicit ancient prototype of hermeneutic thinking, the reappropriation of which lay at the core of the Heideggerian and Gadamerian philosophical projects.
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