Understanding a text

We often forget that our interpretation of a text is influenced by our preexisting beliefs, knowledge and expectations.

Hermeneutics theory describes the method and interpretation of a text. The hermeneutic circle encourages us to read in the context of a cultural, historical, and literary context and with our own personal context.

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Problem Solving

The hermeneutic circle: a key to critical reading


Interpreting a text doesn't happen out of context. The concept of the hermeneutic circle is to understand the whole by seeing how the parts interact with each other, and how they interact with the whole.

When we first read a text, we gain an initial understanding. As we move through the text, we keep on updating our understanding based on the new knowledge. In turn, the new context will inform the way we interpret the text.

When practising critical reading, it is crucial to be aware of the context of the text.

Before reading a text, ask :

  • What do you want to gain from reading this topic?
  • What are your existing beliefs?
  • What do you think you know about the topic already?
  • What philosophical movement does the author belong to?
  • How does this text fit within their main work?
  • Take into account the historical and cultural context of the text, the author, and yourself.

It is not practical to go through this process every time you read, but keeping these questions in mind will help you to understand the text.

To allow for the hermeneutic circle to be effective, re-read the text a few times or at least read the parts that are most interesting to you.

Keep on considering the context as you re-read, particularly if the first reading gave you a better understanding of it.

Allow your initial understanding to change. If your first interpretation improved, it's a good sign of critical reading.

The hermeneutic circle will continue to refine your interpretation.

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