Proceedings of the American Catholic Philosophical Association

Volume 94, 2020

The Good, the True, the Beautiful: Through and of the Ages

Pol Vandevelde
Pages 91-107

The Romantic Hermeneutic Ideal of “Understanding Better” as an Ethical Imperative

I argue that the romantic notion of “understanding better,” as the ideal of interpretation according to Schleiermacher and Schlegel, is not a “meliorative” understanding, retrospectively situating the work in a broader conceptual or historical context and thus surpassing what the original author meant. The qualification “better” is ethical insofar as it indicates a future-oriented task of responding for the authors and contributing to the continued life of their work. What guides interpreters in such an ethical task is benevolence or love, both toward the object of interpretation—the work—and the author of the work. Love is a hermeneutic imperative that has two sides: first, interpretation “augments” the work or brings it to its “second power;” and, second, interpreters need to put themselves in a certain attitude of non-understanding so that the work will not be constricted in pre-established categories and, instead, susceptible to challenge interpreters.