Phenomenology Online

A Resource for Phenomenological Inquiry

Schleiermacher is born on November 21, 1768, in Breslau, Lower Silesia. His father is a Prussian army chaplain. Friedrich Schleiermacher attends Moravian boarding schools and later becomes a student at the University of Halle from 1787-1790, until he passes theological examinations in Berlin. He works first as a house tutor (1790-93), then as a pastor in Landsberg (1793-96), and next as a university preacher at Halle (1803-06). In 1799 he publishes On Religion: Speeches to its Cultural Despisers and in he begins publishing a German translation of Plato. In 1809 he associates with Wilhelm von Humboldt and he becomes a professor of theology at the newly founded University of Berlin. He continues to write on hermeneutics and publishes the Soliloquies. It was especially Wilhelm Dilthey who made Schleiermacher’s work known in his essay “The Origins of Hermeneutics” published in 1900.


Schleiermacher defined hermeneutics as “the art of understanding the discourse of another person correctly.” He is often misinterpreted as a Romantic theorist who considers the process of interpretation to consist of an “intuitive” and “empathetic” identification with the thoughts and feelings of the author of a text. But this psychological hermeneutics does not adequately represent Schleiermacher’s view. He sees “intuition” to be linked to a world which transcends both the cognitive and the practical life of the individual. The individual is organically connected to this world. There must be a method which gives access to the meaning of texts across generations. Schleiermacher distinguishes between “grammatical” (focus on language) and “technical” (focus on the person) interpretations. Successful interpretation requires an (ultimately impossible) integration of both dimensions but this is inherently an infinite task.