“Hermeneutics” was used used as a way to describe Biblical interpretation in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, when archaeological discoveries cast doubt on the literal truth of many accounts in the Bible, creating the necessity for non-literal interpretation of such texts. In the twentieth century, “philosophical hermeneutics” was developed by thinkers influenced by Martin Heidegger, including Hans-Georg Gadamer and Paul Ricoeur, as a full-fledged philosophy of how humans interpret the world that they are thrown into. Although the scientific view of how the world works still dominates, hermeneutics provides a way to look at areas of interpretation where science is not so helpful, such as how to interpret a text, a work of art, or another human being.
I have written two books that use modern hermeneutics to interpret literature: William Wordsworth and the Hermeneutics of Incarnation and The Challenge of Coleridge: Ethics and Interpretation in Romanticism and Modern Philosophy, both on Penn State Press’s Literature and Philosophy Series.
I am now writing a book, tentatively titled Reading Philosophy and Practicing Leadership, that presents the relationship between interpretation and ethics as a challenge to modern ego-based instrumental reason, and that uses “ethical hermeneutics” as a practical foundation for best practices in leadership and management. This book combines my academic background in literature and philosophy with 20 years’ experience in academic administration, which I sometimes call “applied hermeneutics.” See an abstract of the book here.
The video below is of a talk on “Leadership as Applied Hermeneutics” that I presented to students and faculty at Centenary University’s School of Professional Studies in 2016. In this talk I show how hermeneutic concepts have practical value for supporting organizational health as well as effective leadership and management. The talk was part of the “Leather Apron” series of lectures, hosted by professor Anthony Yacullo. Thanks to Boris Gavrilovic for shooting the video.