“Hermeneutics in Real Life” – Report on a New Project

“Consequently, hermeneutics cannot remain a technique for specialists—the technē hermēneutikē of those who interpret oracles and marvels; rather hermeneutics involves the general problem of comprehension.”

—Paul Ricoeur

“The principle of hermeneutics simply means that we should try to understand everything that can be understood.”

—Hans-Georg Gadamer

One of the most prominent misunderstandings about philosophy I encounter time and again is that philosophy is esoteric and does not apply to “real” life. As with any discipline there are aspects for the specialist, to be sure, but philosophy has far more to do with so-called real life than it does with the esoteric. Those who believe philosophy has no worth in day-to-day life simply do not understand what philosophy is in the first place.

If what I just wrote is true about philosophy generally (spoiler alert: it is true), then it is even more so with a particular field of philosophy known as hermeneutics, which, going back to Aristotle at least, hermeneutics has a history as old as philosophy itself. Hermeneutics studies what it is when we interpret the world—that is, when we comprehend meaning and gain understanding. Questions such as the universality of interpretation, the role and function of language, and the conditions for understanding are all things hermeneutics engages.

As such, hermeneutics has a broad application to any number of things. In my years of studying hermeneutics, I have seen hermeneutics brought to bear on several different disciplines. I have read, for instance, articles on the application of hermeneutical principles to medical professionals communicating with comatose patients. I have read (and written a few) texts about hermeneutics and environmental issues. The more you understand hermeneutics, the more obvious it becomes that there is almost no human activity that does not involve interpretation and, thus, can benefit from hermeneutical insights.

The foregoing is why I am particularly excited about a new project from Dr. Todd Mei called Hermeneutics in Real Life (HINRL). The HINRL project is aimed at the application of hermeneutics to life outside of academia. There are several resources already available. Of particular interest and value are the upcoming “Conversation Sessions” on a variety of topics beginning March 7 with Professor Richard Kearney of Boston College. Professor Kearney will be talking about The Guestbook Project, which is an initiative aimed at peacebuilding and conflict resolution throughout the world through storytelling (i.e., narrative).

In subsequent months, other topics will be discussed from a variety of speakers. Everything from “What is Sex?” (that got your attention) to “Narrative Medicine” to “Meaningful Work” and others. The sessions are free to attend via Zoom but require pre-registration to get the Zoom link.

I encourage those interested to look at the HINRL website and explore the pages and resources there. If you are wondering what this business of “hermeneutics” is all about, take a look at the “New to Hermeneutics?” page on the site.

I hope this new project has great success!


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