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Rensberger’s hermeneutic approach was an eclectic one based upon textual hermeneutics that could be described as quite moderate. The philosophers have taken a more structured approach and have attempted to extend the applicability of hermeneutic theory to other disciplines. Through review of some the basic theories their implications for archaeology can be examined. According to Donald R. Kelley, hermeneutics probably began with civilization itself. He wrote:

What hermeneutics proposes is to accommodate both the inquiring subject and his intransigent object in its interpretative scope, to find a place in the routine of question-and-answer for the questioner-and-answerer, no matter what his perspective or scientific equipment.
    "Interpretation" is pre- if not nonscientific, as old as literature, older then philosophy; and the theory of interpretation goes almost as far back. Indeed its origins are mythical, hermeneia being associated with the messenger-god Hermes and with the priests of the Delphic oracle, hence with the process of divination. From the beginning the aim of interpretation was to give human expression to superhuman, or general, truth; and philosophically, from Aristotle’s Peri Hermnias, it was regarded as the primary function of the intellect, that is, the formulation of statements preliminary to logical reasoning. But almost from the beginning, too, there was interest in finding the general "meaning" of human creations,... (Kelley 1983:644-645.)

Contemporary theory includes quite qualified systems such as the postmodern hermeneutics of suspicion and retrieval advocated by Paul Riceur, the less restrictive hermeneutics of metacriticism of Hans-Georg Gadamer resting on the boundary-line between modern and post-modern thought, and the hermeneutics of understanding illustrated in the modernist thinking of Emilio Betti.

"Intellectual fashion aside," wrote Donald R. Kelley, "the main attraction of hermeneutics seems to be its promise of alternatives to intimidating behaviorist, quantitative, or abstract-structuralist approaches to the human sciences" (Kelley 1983:644).

Shaun Gallagher proposed a four-fold topology of hermeneutics -- conservative (associated with Schleiermacher, Dilthey, and Betti), moderate (from Gadamer and Ricoeur), critical (from Haberman and Karl-Otto after Marx, Freud, and the Frankfort School of social criticism), and radical (derived from Nietzsche and Heidegger) (Gallagher 1992:9-10).

Page last edited: 01/24/06 09:08 PM

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