Phenomenology Online

A Resource for Phenomenological Inquiry

Hermeneutical phenomenology

Basic themes of hermeneutic phenomenology are “interpretation,” “textual meaning,” “dialogue,” “preunderstanding,” and “tradition.”


Heidegger, Gadamer, and Ricoeur are the foremost representatives of the movement of hermeneutic phenomenology. Phenomenology becomes hermeneutical when its method is taken to be interpretive (rather than purely descriptive as in transcendental phenomenology). This orientation is evident in the work of Heidegger who argues that all description is always already interpretation. Every form of human awareness is interpretive. Especially in Heidegger’s later work he increasingly introduces poetry and art as expressive works for interpreting the nature of truth, language, thinking, dwelling, and being.


Heidegger’s student, Hans-Georg Gadamer, continued the development of a hermeneutic phenomenology, expecially in his famous work Truth and Method. In it, he carefully explores the role of language, the nature of questioning, the phenomenology of human conversation, and the significance of prejudice, historicality, and tradition in the project of human understanding.


Paul Ricoeur also studied Husserl, and he too does not subscribe to the transparency of the self-reflective cogito of Husserl. He argues that meanings are not given directly to us, and that we must therefore make a hermeneutic detour through the symbolic apparatus of the culture. Ricoeur’s hermeneutic phenomenology examines how human meanings are deposited and mediated through myth, religion, art, and language. He elaborates especially on the narrative function of language, on the various uses of language such as storytelling, and how narrativity and temporality interact and ultimately return to the question of the meaning of being, the self and self-identity.