Russian Studies in Philosophy 37 (4):62-90 (1999)

The conception on which the affirmative philosophy of G.G. Shpet rests can be called hermeneutic phenomenology. The choice of this term demands explanation. Shpet's basic hermeneutic work, Hermeneutics and Its Problems [Germenevtika i ee problemy], was completed in 1918. At the time hermeneutics was understood usually as the art of grasping the meaning of a text. It is worth noting that this art was quite specific. It consisted mostly of a set of psychological techniques for "penetrating" into the internal world of the text's author. The techniques were empathy, sympathy, immersion in a historico-cultural world, and imaginative penetration into the author's creative "workshop." Understood in this way, hermeneutics was a psychologically loaded research method. And if it is treated only in that way, the recently coined term "hermeneutic phenomenology" is in respect to content internally contradictory. As I see it, Shpet fully realized what conclusions could follow from this. Nevertheless his fundamental aspirations are connected precisely with the idea of unifying hermeneutics and phenomenology. This is possible because words have a complex structure . The sense of a word is objective and can be known by nonpsychological methods. The art of comprehending the sense of a text must inevitably include semiotic methods as well as logical and phenomenological techniques. They are aimed at comprehending (studying, researching, but not "grasping" or "sympathizing with" the objective, internal sense of the text. All the other elements of the sensible structure of the text are overlaid with the psychological peculiarities of the author and historical and social conditions. They are external factors that influence the sense of the text in a distinctive way and, without question, must be taken into account and included in the investigation of texts under the general heading "conditions of understanding," which are comprehended by the historical method. The psychological and historical methods in hermeneutics were historically conditioned research techniques, scientific means of comprehending sense under conditions when semiotic means were not yet developed, contemporary logico-semantic techniques were not available, and the phenomenological method was not yet invented. For this reason hermeneutics is reducible conceptually to a mere psychological art: it was only forced into being this by the lack of technical instrumentation. Moreover, the psychological hermeneutics of the nineteenth century may be called without any exaggeration the historical variant of hermeneutics in general
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DOI 10.2753/RSP1061-1967370462
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