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The hermeneutic circle describes the process of understanding a text hermeneutically. It refers to the idea that one's understanding of the text as a whole is established by reference to the individual parts and one's understanding of each individual part by reference to the whole. Neither the whole text nor any individual part can be understood without reference to one another, and hence, it is a circle. However, this circular character of interpretation does not make it impossible to interpret a text; rather, it stresses that the meaning of a text must be found within its cultural, historical, and literary context.
With Schleiermacher, hermeneutics begins to stress the importance of the interpreter in the process of interpretation. Schleiermacher's hermeneutics focuses on the importance of the interpreter understanding the text as a necessary stage to interpreting it. Understanding, for Schleiermacher, does not simply come from reading the text, but involves knowledge of the historical context of the text and the psychology of the author.
For postmodernists, the Hermeneutic Circle is especially problematic. Not only do they believe one can only know the world through the words one uses to describe it, but also that "whenever people try to establish a certain reading of a text or expression, they allege other readings as the ground for their reading" (Adler 1997: 321-322). For postmodernists, in other words, "All meaning systems are open-ended systems of signs referring to signs referring to signs. No concept can therefore have an ultimate, unequivocal meaning" (Waever 1996: 171).).
For other thinkers, the fact of demonstration as a method to define certain words, clearly is evidence of a degree of shared experience among all humans. For example, anyone can point to the sun, as it exists, and then name it any sound, symbol, or word that represents or literally points to that actual being, the sun. There might be some disagreement about what the sun is exactly, but there is agreement that it exists, and that to a human on Earth it looks like the drawings and pictures we see of it. Therefore, some concepts and ideas are universal.
Wæver, Ole (1996). "The rise and fall of the inter-paradigm debate" Steve Smith at al International Theory: Positivism and Beyond, Cambridge: Cambridge U. P..
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