Things Turned into Sounds: Aristotle
The first voice we ought to listen to is that of Aristotle. At the beginning of his text Peri hermeneias (On Interpretation) Aristotle distinguishes between three degrees of human understanding. There are, first, “affections in the soul” (en te psyche pathemátōn) that reflect within the soul, in alikeness, real things; secondly, “spoken sounds” (en te phōne) through which the affections in the soul are expressed, and, thirdly, “written marks” (graphōmena) that convey, in written form, what orally has been articulated.
In both enactments of representation – in the expression of affections in the soul by spoken sounds and in the setting down of the spoken sounds by written marks – Aristotle views manifestations of equivalence. While “spoken words” and “written marks” certainly are different from each other, and both something different from “affections in the soul”, the differences structurally to be observed do not signal differences in meaning. A line of equivalence passes through all three degrees of understanding. Consequently, Aristotle applies the term “symbol” twice: to the spoken sounds that he declares to be “symbols” of the affections of the soul and to the written marks that he declares to be “symbols” of the spoken sounds. “Now spoken sounds (en te phōne) are symbols (symbola) of affections in the soul (en te psyche pathemátōn) and written marks (graphōmena) symbols of spoken sounds.”
In further explicating what he holds to be the three degrees of human understanding, Aristotle shifts his attention from the one line of equivalence that passes through these degrees to the specific order of understanding at each degree. He considers first the circumstances of understanding at the stage of “written marks” and that of “spoken words”. And he states the obvious or, rather, what seems to be nothing but the obvious: “As just as written marks are not the same for all men, neither are spoken sounds”.
Of course, everyone knows that writings of human individuals vary from each other in a thousand ways, as do the sounds through which they speak, their languages. But the obvious is deceptive here, for the knowledge that it seems to hold is the surface only of that existential truth without the appreciation of which any analysis of the conditions of understanding for humans would have made a false start: Humans exist, through the separateness imposed by the physical form of their existence, as a multitude. They are not one, but many. Therefore, at the stage of both the spoken words and the written marks – hence twice – human understanding explodes into an immense plurality. And the perception of this twofold plurality easily overwhelms the observer.
Could here, thus one might anxiously ask, an order of understanding still be discerned? “Yes, certainly,” such could be, on the part of a typical contemporary thinker, the kind of response given, if by “order” the state of a universal intellectual relativism would be meant where all human understanding is a matter of general transaction not to transcend myriad opinions, convictions, Weltanschauungen, equally valued. And where to “truth”, that is the symbol in language for the recognition of real things such as they are, is conceded the status of a forlorn term from a foreign world.
This would be the ready-made response. Chosen under the impression of the infinitely different ways in which humans speak and write. And accompanied by the satisfaction of being right in avoiding all discrimination with respect to that immense plurality of tongues. The response, besides, is an exciting one. For it allows for a never-ending wondering about how to find an access to reality within the great plurality of tongues. In order to know, while all understanding is tied to the tongues, you continually proceed to discuss. And you remain, from “dialogue” to “dialogue”, a busy captive of the linguistic ropes.
For in the case of someone who has adopted the ready-made response, Aristotle’s line of equivalence would seem to be broken. The thousand different ways in which humans speak and write would have had the effect of having conduced to an awareness of linguistic symbols – Aristotle’s “spoken sounds” and “written marks” – that are detached from their source. What, now, could they mean? The question sounds familiar. We have been taught the lesson of the linguistic confinement just described by the hermeneutical exercises undertaken in the recent past. To attain a real answer to the question: What is it that words in human languages stand for?, has proved to be quite difficult, if not impossible, if one simply entrusts it to the plurality of tongues.
What is it that words stand for? The “spoken sounds” and the “written marks”? At their level we get, instead of meaning, the clouding interference of a great diversity (“Written marks are not the same for all men, neither are spoken sounds”). At the level of their source, namely the “affections of the soul”, however, there is, as regards a search for significance, the remarkable phenomenon of a complete unity. Words relate to reality and the connection can uniformly be perceived and be understood by all human beings. This is Aristotle’s response, given with the sentence that follows exactly the evocation of the “obvious”, namely the immense plurality of the “spoken sounds” and “written marks”. Aristotle proceeds in this sentence straightaway from the observation of a diversity to the recognition of a homogeneity. He considers the circumstances of understanding at the inception of human apprehension.
This is the first stage of human cognition and articulation in the theory of understanding that he developed at the outset of Peri hermeneias, and it is the crucial one. Humans, so we may delineate it, start to apprehend through “affections” of their soul, that is through imprints in the soul by things in the realm of reality that have affected it; through these imprints the reality of those things is represented in the soul, they “appear” there in their identity. Therefore, regardless of whose soul it is that has been affected by a particular thing, the identity of the thing appearing in that soul is not in any way different from the identity of the thing being represented in any other soul. Things in the realm of reality appear, at the inception of human apprehension, in all souls alike. The souls, when affections in them start an understanding, start with their understanding in a state of unity.
The unity, that is the specific order of understanding here, is still intact, Aristotle states, in the passage from the affections apprehended to the affections signified. “Spoken sounds” and then “written marks” are formed, but the critical quality of the “signs” that they are “in the first place”, is not lost in the vastly explosive production of human words and languages. Under their quality of being signs, signs remain to be just signs, regardless of any further specification. Consequently, they are, “in the first place”, general signs whose prime meaning, namely to be a symbol (a symbolon in the sense precisely of Aristotle’s term), can be understood homogeneously. While each expresses something specific, all carry in the same way the primary quality of signifying apprehended reality.
Lying “before” us “amidst” the great diversity of words and languages, there is a “language” common to all humans. It is through the symbolizing “signs” of this language, or, in more analytical terms, by virtue of a stratum of symbolic recognition in their cognizance, that humans can come to perceive a unity in their understanding of the significance of things. In grasping and communicating their experiences of things, they all proceed symbolically. And thus they can share symbolically what they have understood symbolically. To the sentence which states: “As just as written marks are not the same for all men, neither are spoken sounds”, Aristotle therefore added at once another sentence. He said: “But what these are in the first place signs (semeia prōtos) of – affections of the soul – are the same for all (tanta omoiōmata); and what these affections are likeness of – actual things (pragmata) – are also the same.”
The Hermeneutical Craft: Socrates in Plato’s Phaedrus
However, what happens when we take up reading some writing and wish, naturally, to understand the words written by the author of the text? What is it, we shall ask ourselves, that these words stand for? What do they tell? Is there something they disclose, and can we know it? Do they refer us, in enticing and guiding our curiosity, to matters in reality? Can we see through them those things by which, in Aristotle’s language, the author’s soul seemed to have been affected and which appear now to be represented in his words?
The process of apprehension and representation giving rise to written words – things turned into sounds – is a sophisticated, indeed artistic operation, as the explications in Peri hermeneias considered in the preceding section have shown. If we start with the process, as it were, at the other end, with the reading of some writing, the situation is in no way different. Nothing in effect will be “read”, if the reading just takes to the writing, to the telling that the written words seem to perform.
For such a reading, as we learn through the voice of Socrates in Plato’s Phaedrus, would, while it seems to impart something, simply glide over the text. We may think, in having a piece of writing before us and feeling a curiosity for fathoming it, that we do not need to concern ourselves with all the artful work that has produced it and makes up what indeed it tells. We may expect, besides, that the writing will readily accommodate us and be clear and certain. Well, we may not mind, but Socrates, considering the case of someone who holds such beliefs, passed on that person the unequivocal judgment: What an “utterly silly (ευηθης) person”! These are hardly pleasing words, and, being, in a way, their subject, we would certainly wish to know on what grounds Socrates has formed his judgment. In the conversation between Socrates and Phaedrus that Plato presents, the judgment is part of the reasoning pursued by Socrates in his characteristic manner. If we follow this reasoning, and that is what we shall do with our concern, hermeneutics, in mind, we shall not only understand why Socrates evoked the figure of an “utterly silly person”, but, more importantly, shall receive from him an exemplary introduction into that art of understanding written words, which teaches us to know what these words stand for. The art of hermeneutics.
Socrates doesn’t make it easy for us, though. He at first appears to confront the reader of a text who wishes to understand it with a condition that is impossible to fulfill. To have a chance to know what the text says, one should be the one who, so to speak, produced it – its “father” (πατήρ). It couldn’t be more restrictive. What is Socrates’ reason for this? Seemingly to set up, while considering how to accede to the meaning of a text, a roadblock for everyone except the author?
The access to the meaning of a text, Socrates says, hinges entirely upon one’s approach. If one should take the direct route, the roadblock will indeed materialize (the exception being the author who reads his own text). Writing, Socrates explains, has “this strange quality” which makes it similar to painting. For the products of art stand before us as if they were alive, “but if one asks them a question, they preserve a solemn silence”. This is also true for written words, he continues. They seem to speak as if they were intelligent. However, when asked about what they say, by someone who desires to know it, they just continue to signal “one and the same thing”.
That the roadblock materializes, Socrates suggests, is the reader’s fault. Not to be the “father” of a text, however, cannot really be held against anyone who although he has not authored the text, attempts to grasp what it tells. What, then, is exactly such a reader’s fault when the words of the text remain for him or her in a “solemn silence”, in just continuing to signal “one and the same thing”? The fault is, Socrates states, to have taken the direct route that is to have asked straightaway: What does the text say? In giving this explanation Socrates seems to imply, however, that there might be an alternative approach, and that in choosing it a reader might indeed accede to the meaning of a text. He hinted at it, actually, when he compared writing to painting. For in drawing this comparison, he intimated twice the possible experience of an encounter in the mode of knowing by saying of products of art that they “stand before us as if they were alive”, and of written words that they “seem to speak as if they were intelligent”. An appearance of meaning, in other words, is possible, in the realm of art as in that of writing, if something like a breath of the artistic or textual creation is perceived through which this creation portends itself. There is, as the observer, the reader might realize, a transmission to which he or she ought to be attentive.
An imaginary excursion into the room of a museum with paintings at the walls – and Socrates with his comparison of writing to painting has inspired it – might help to make out the appearance of meaning suggested here. We look at one of the paintings, it is a mosaic painting from ancient times, as stated by a sketchy note on a plate at the bottom of it. It pictures a female figure, in a scenery resembling a garden. The left arm of the woman is bent towards the middle of her body, and she holds in the palm of her hand what appears to us to be a bird. Of a vivid presence, the bird catches our attention, and we regard it more intently. The shape of the bird seems familiar to us. Musing over it, we conclude that this is a dove. Well, a dove. And we let our eyes wander again, and notice other things, in this painting, in a painting next to it. But what has the dove to do sitting in the palm of the woman’s hand? Isn’t it intriguing? The question has crept into our mind. It vexes us. We return to gazing at the dove sitting in the palm of the woman’s hand. Yet, we discern just the same. There is a dove. And it sits in the palm of a woman’s hand.
Someone has observed us, turns to us, and inquires: “Something in that mosaic is arousing your curiosity in particular, isn’t it? May I ask what it is?” As perplexed as we are, we readily respond: “It’s the dove there in the hand of the woman. I cannot see what it has to do sitting there.” Our interlocutor, a middle-aged woman, almost imperceptibly smiles, and says: “Please permit that I speak as the classical archaeologist that I am. The dove in this mosaic is an iconic symbol. It signifies a divinity of the female figure. She is a goddess. The dove in her hand serves to mark her divine status. The presence of the symbol – that is the dove – in the mosaic is therefore an essential element for the reading of the mosaic. In other words, if one should be unsatisfied with seeing a dove that is just a dove and doesn’t tell why it is there where it appears, some training in symbolic literacy might be advisable.” Our interlocutor pauses, as if to catch her breath, and then blurts out: “Oh, I got carried away. Please forgive me. You must find me overbearing. I didn’t want to teach you.” “That’s quite alright”, we reply. “To look at paintings and to see but pure figurations in colours is evidently disconcerting. A symbolic literacy, as you say, should indeed be desirable.”
An appearance of meaning, so it was stated above, is possible, in the realm of art as in that of writing, if something like a breath of the artistic or textual creation is perceived through which this creation portends itself. The story of the dove just related evolved around the problem of a symbolic awareness. When the classical archaeologist in the story brought such an awareness into play, the dove in the mosaic appeared to be more than just a dove, and for the observer, who had hitherto been ignorant of the symbolic significance of the dove, the mosaic started to “breathe”. A manifestation of meaning occurred. The “breath” which the observer finally perceived arose through the recognition of a symbol. In this recognition the mosaic could at last reveal what it meant and “speak” of itself.
Surely, we may say now that we have a notion of what we called the alternative approach to written words. If chosen, and the required symbolic literacy will be given, the approach will eventually allow an understanding of what the written words under consideration mean. However, all isn’t clear yet. For Socrates, to whose voice we continue to listen, has something further, something of critical importance, to say. “Every word”, he states, “when once it is written, is drifting around, equally among those who understand it and those for whom it is of no concern, and it doesn’t know to whom it should speak and to whom it should not.”
Written words do not only need to be well understood. They require a place besides where they are indeed understood, Socrates tells us. But, what could the setting be for written words to be freed from their predicament of not knowing to whom they could actually convey what they say? Socrates gives us this answer: It’s the mind of “him who knows the matter (ειδότος)”. This figure of the eidótos sharply differs from a figure that is already known to us: the utterly silly (ευηθης) person. In fact, Socrates introduced the eidótos when he spoke of the euéthes and definitively excluded any prospect for the latter to accede to the meaning of written words. For the euéthes, he explained, would just prove his ignorance, “if he thinks written words had more to convey other than only to remind him who knows the matter about which they are written.”
The setting for written words to be heard as to what they say is an anamnesis, a recognition. This encounter of words and their recipient happens in the recipient’s mind, far from the simple display of the written words, to which the euéthes would look , and it has to be the mind of someone who knows what those words are written about. The exposition of Socrates suggests a linear structure not unsimilar to the line of equivalence that we could speak of in our discussion of Aristotle’s Peri hermeneias. In a way, Socrates brings us to follow such a line backwards, from the mind that recognizes what written words mean, to the written words and, further, to what those words are written about, namely, in Aristotle’s language, the “actual things (pragmata)” which words symbolically represent. The eidótos hears in his (her) mind the sounds into which the pragmata were turned by the symbolizing process which passes through affections in the soul to “spoken sounds” and the expression of those in “written marks”. In such a performance – what things actually tell is perceived – lies the access to the meaning of written words.
However, Socrates, being the practitioner of a thinking unto care (epiméleia) that he is, has woven into his exposition three specifications. They serve to make us understand the mechanisms that must be at work for an appearance of meaning actually to occur. With regard to Socrates’ idea we could also formulate the question: What are the conditions for the required symbolic literacy to be at hand?
A The written words which indeed would speak of their meaning to the reader are not words that drift around, not knowing to whom they should speak and to whom they should not. Shouldn’t we look, then, for another kind of word, Socrates asks Phaedrus. And, while seemingly still asking his question, he gives himself the answer: it should be the “rightful brother” (αδελφος γνήσιος)” of the other one. The word which drifts around, we learned, can’t be helped except by its “father”. For anyone else a kind of word is needed that carries meaning and doesn’t drift around (and thus, with both of the two qualifications, is “rightful”).
B Phaedrus, understandably, poses the question: “What is this word and how is it formed?” Socrates evidently expected this question. He can now proceed to spell out a second specification. It is given by the sentence that he formulates in response to the question of Phaedrus. Thus, having been asked what the “rightful word” is, and how it appears, he answers: “The word which is written with scientific knowledge in the mind of the one who is engaged in a learning unto comprehension, and which therefore is able to take care of itself and knows to whom it should speak and before whom to be silent.” It is an elaborate answer, expressed by a compact sentence. If the sentence is scrutinized analytically, it can be said that it describes (1) a process not unlike a staging, (2) the conditions for this process to occur, and (3) the productive event in which it results. Let us reflect successively on these three parts of the sentence.
(ad 1) The word that is the subject of the sentence is presented as the matter of an emergence. It hasn’t been written yet, it is being written.
(ad 2) The performative nature becomes further evident by the indication of the place where the process of the word being written has to happen. We have noticed this condition already, when we discerned in the reasoning of Socrates the figure of the eidótos, and heard Socrates explain that words truly would know to whom to speak in the eidótos’ mind, that is the mind of “him who knows the matter”. In the sentence we are presently considering Socrates narrowed his description of the place to a precise definition: it has to be the mind (ψυχή) of the one who knows the matter because he (she) is “the one engaged in a learning unto comprehension”. And we should note again, as the Greek term for that person, μανθάνοντος, perfectly suggests, the processual wording. Unquestionably, in the mind of the manthánontos the “rightful” word is written. The precision with which Socrates proceeds becomes still more apparent, as he adds a second condition. A “learning unto comprehension” naturally cannot be achieved, if it is not done in the modus of “scientific knowledge” (έπιστήμη). The rightful word, therefore, is formed in the mind of the manthánontos by means of episteme.
(ad 3) In the event, nothing remains of the silence and the unsettled words, which the innocent reader of some writing, ridiculed by Socrates as an utterly silly person, encountered. Instead, there is now the knowledgeable reader who, in search of the meaning of the written words which he reads, proceeds scientifically, and begets in his mind the kind of words that are able to take care of themselves and therefore know to whom they should speak and before whom to be silent. In the mind of the manthánontos words and their meaning fully meet.
C However, the advent of a word’s meaning in the mind of the knowledgeable reader should not be thought of as a sheer coming together. A third specification therefore is intended by Socrates. Artfully induced by him, it is set forth by Phaedrus. He seems to have perceived that Socrates, in delving deeper and deeper into the problem of understanding written words, increasingly spoke of an enactment of understanding. Words and their meaning meet in the mind of the manthánontos by a performance of and through that mind. It is in this performance that words of the rightful kind appear and release their meaning; there and then they are the performative element which animates what in the mind of the manthánontōn is understood (and through the manthánontos eventually communicated). After he has listened to what Socrates had to say in response to his question: “What is this word and how is it formed?”, Phaedrus then aptly concludes that it is a “living and breathing word (λόγος ζων και ἔμψυχος)”.
With the enactment of understanding in his mind the knowledgeable reader reaches back to the actual things that are symbolized in the words which he reads. During this enactment the breath of reality, felt as a breath of recognition, moves his mind. Thus the “living and breathing word” emerging there is an immediate manifestation of something in reality that is understood. Meanwhile, however, the written words, which at first drew upon themselves the reader’s attention, are known as pure symbols through which the breath of recognition passes. The word that carries meaning is the “living and breathing word” in the mind of the knowledgeable reader. The written word, by contrast, fulfills another role, as Phaedrus, in line with the reasoning of Socrates, states. In the exegetical process which starts with a search for its meaning, the written word serves as the “icon” (είδωλον) of that living and breathing word through which, in the end, the meaning that the written word does not carry but symbolically represents is released.  Evidently, the episteme of the manthánontos largely consists of a symbolic literacy.
However, this episteme is, as we could understand by implication, also and, in a way, primarily, a manner of proceeding. It is meant to effect true knowledge. We wonder then what, methodologically, that episteme is of which Socrates spoke when he attributed it to the manthánontos. The knowledgeable reader, let us resume, attains the understanding he is seeking by means of the episteme that he applies. But, we may ask, what exactly is it that he is practising and that enables him to have his quest fulfilled? The answer is: He pursues a specific form (ἐιδος) of exercise in his thinking. Socrates dwells on the form, in his conversation with Phaedrus, when they speak about the art of rhetoric. It is that form, he states, in which we can recognize a craft that generally avails the activity of “speaking and thinking” (λέγειν και φρονειν).
The craft, of which he declares himself to be a “great friend” (ἐραστής), has two parts; Socrates describes one of them in referring at first to the common experience of things being numerously dispersed (τα πολλαχη διεσπαρμένα). With this first part of the craft the effort is made, in the matter of that common experience, to behold together the dispersed particulars of things and to bring them into one idea or, better, Gestalt of apprehension (εἰς μίαν τε ἰδέαν). With the help of the all-embracing Gestalt that has been apprehended, it will then be possible to ascertain each particular thing and thereby to make clear, in each instance, the explication of it that is intended to be given. The second part of the craft concerns the opposite course, the way back, as it were, from things seen in their Gestalt to the components they are made of. On this course, the practitioner of the craft will dissect things by concepts (κατ‘εἲδη), going after their limbs (κατ ‘ἄρθρα), to see how they are built.
In few words, concise and yet cogent words, Socrates has offered a paradigm for the practice of understanding things, an understanding in the modes of speech or writing. There is a craft, we were told, which avails the activity of speaking and thinking. Now Socrates has introduced us to the hermeneutical play that is set in motion by that craft and which brings things as they are to light, in putting on the stage of our apprehension alternatively their Gestalt and the “limbs” of it, the concepts for the perception of their components and the one idea of them to be beheld. What a craft indeed! What an art of understanding things. Socrates knows it, teaches it, he is the sagacious guide through the stages of the artistry by which it needs to be exerted. Yet this art exalts even his mind:
And if I consider any other man to be able to see what has grown into one
All Hemerneutics is Political: Friedrich Daniel Ernst Schleiermacher
We can attain to the meaning of words. We can attain to the meaning of things. There is a condition for this that makes it happen. The condition arises through the event of what has been called here the “hermeneutical play”. To enter into the play a specific craft has to be acquired. This craft is altogether an art of its own kind. Friedrich Daniel Ernst Schleiermacher, to whom we now turn, is generally regarded as a masterly theoretician of that art. All its intricacy and all the facets belonging to it were fully explored and explicated by him. And we find in him the great practitioner of it, as accomplished translator and commentator of Plato’s works.
What is the problem we are faced with when we wish to understand what someone else is saying, by means of either a speech or a written text? Schleiermacher starts his reflections on the art of hermeneutics with referring to the elementary problem of a “Verstehen fremder Rede” (an understanding of what another person is saying). There were no point in seeking any such understanding, he argues, if what others say were “utterly alien” (ganz fremd). Without something that all of us have in common (gemeinschaftlich), there were nothing to link with, as to coming to understand each other (kein Anknüpfungspunkt für das Verstehen). Any performance of comprehension, Schleiermacher concludes, presupposes forms of a primary understanding through which links are given between the one who wants to understand someone else and the other that he (she) wishes to understand. But what, we may ask, could these links be, what the Gemeinschaftliche, a primary understanding that supposedly all of us have in common from the very beginning, as it were?
Evidently, Schleiermacher views Verstehen as an intrinsically complex problem. However, he does anything but back off. On the contrary, he sets a goal for our understanding of others that is extremely ambitious. The main point of the activity of interpretation (Interpretieren), he tells us, is this: one has “to be able to leave the disposition of one’s own mind for that of the writer”. Understanding, then, is an act of replacement. It occurs through a journey from mind to mind at the end of which the interpreter, having undertaken the journey, has placed himself in the mind of the author whose writing he is interpreting, and ideally comprehends that writing as well as the author himself. Quite logically, Schleiermacher doesn’t hide his sympathy for a certain formula that pertains to the utmost consequence of the interpreter’s journey. The formula measures an author’s own knowledge of his work against the “highest perfection of exegesis” (höchste Vollkommenheit der Auslegung). There is some truth in the formula, Schleiermacher observes. An author, so the formula maintains, can of course account for what he says. But there might be someone – and that’s where the formula gains the sympathy of Schleiermacher – who understands still better what that author says. It is Schleiermacher’s interpreter who, in the course of his interpretive journey, has reached the “highest perfection” of his art.
These are soaring views, undoubtedly. To make them intelligible, Schleiermacher offers a series of analytical considerations on the Gemeinschaftliche, namely those modes of cognition and interrelation which, as he sees it, human beings have in common. He envisions a community of human minds that transcends all differences between epochs, cultures, writings, persons; it is transtemporal, transcultural, transtextual, transpersonal. For humans, he argues, think, speak and write, and understand each other in community.
The origin of this elementary community, Schleiermacher tells us, is given by the nature of human thought and, especially, by the relation between thought and language. Thought (das Denken), he observes, in line with Plato doubtlessly, is accomplished by “inner speech” (innere Rede), and therefore any finalized speech is the product of the thinking that has grown into that “outer” speech. For one’s thought, speech necessarily is the mediation (Vermittlung). While one thinks, one speaks in one’s mind. Through this “inner speech” one’s thinking happens and proceeds. And when, in the process of this mediation, the moment comes when one feels the need to fasten on one’s thoughts for oneself, the artistry of finalizing one’s speech arises. There occurs a” transformation” (Umwandlung) of the “original” (ursprünglich), not yet fastened flow of thoughts into a form of speech that is fixing one’s thoughts. Inevitably, there will be the “afterwards” (hernach) of interpretation. For the immediacy of the inner speech has been superseded by the art of a speech that has been moulded into form and, eventually, exposition. Behind this art and its modes the “inner speech” will have disappeared.
And there has emerged instead the challenge of interpretation. In a process of interpretation the inner speech – that is the flow of thoughts before its transformation into a finalized speech – has to be recovered. This is precisely what the exegesis of a speech or a written text has to do. “Every act of understanding is the reversion of an act of speaking (jeder Akt des Verstehens ist die Umkehrung eines Aktes des Redens)”, Schleiermacher states, “ in so far as the [interpreter’s] consciousness has to become aware of the thinking from which the speech has originated.”
Thought and language, this is the initial theme of Schleiermacher’s analysis of Verstehen, are intimately interwoven. Speaking is just the external side of thinking, he consequently notes. And it is the mediation (Vermittlung) for the “commonality of thought” (Gemeinschaftlichkeit des Denkens), he observes further. Therefore, an act of speaking or writing up a text is, in Schleiermacher’s view, anything but an autonomous act of the speaker or writer. On the contrary, the speaker/writer moves with his speaking/writing within a linguistic field that precedes, surrounds, and conditions the expression that he makes through language. “Every speech presupposes a given language”, indeed a “commonality of language (Gemeinschaftlichkeit der Sprache)”. Nor is the speaker/writer, while he sets forth thoughts that he actually entertains in his mind, in any way free of what he has thought before. “Every speech is based on previous processes of thinking.”
Considerable consequences follow from these two principles. Schleiermacher spells them out. Every speech/writing, he explains, is lodged within two relationships: (a) in a relationship with the totality of the language (Gesammtheit der Sprache) of its author, and (b) in a relationship with the entire thought (gesammte Denken) of its author. The interpretation of a speech or a written text, therefore, cannot be concerned with that speech or that text only. It rather has to be extended to the author’s particular language which he has formed or is forming to work out what he is saying. And, equally, it has to delve into the author’s thinking from which springs what he is saying and of which this is an expression. To understand the spoken or written words of another person clearly means, in Schleiermacher’s view, to aim fully to understand the “other” who is present in those words. Interpretation, truly done, is a vision of this presence.
The way towards such a vision was as vividly as precisely described by Schleiermacher in his First Discourse on the Notion of Hermeneutics (Über den Begriff der Hermeneutik. Erste Abhandlung) which he delivered on August 13, 1829 at the Academy of Sciences in Berlin. We retrace it here, analytically, step by step. The interpreter whom Schleiermacher imagines, has prepared himself for the practice of hermeneutics. He approaches his task only after having gradually learned the procedure for inquiring into “the manner how others have been creative”. A next step follows by which he makes himself ready for the act of replacement of which his interpretation consists (in understanding the author whom he interprets at least as well as the author himself or still better). Thus the interpreter fosters in his soul the inner agility (innere Beweglichkeit) necessary for his own creativity (eigne Erzeugung).
The goal, from the beginning, is the ability to receive others (Aufnehmen von Andern). The amount of mental energy devoted to the task is tremendous (ungeheuer), almost infinite (unendlich). However, the interpreter could not advance much further, after his initial steps, if his soul (Seele) would not have endowed him with a particular gift. This is the ability of the human soul generally to foresee, to presage (ahnden). It is a gift that is essential for the process of Verstehen. While the interpreter is about to put himself into the mind and the creative process of the speaker/writer whom he is interpreting, he can anticipate this replacement, by virtue of his ahnden. He is able to “divine” what he seeks to understand. Schleiermacher carefully expounds the intuitive perception of the interpreter. At first there is but a whole (Eines). Gradually (allmählich), however, the whole spreads out (tritt auseinander). Things appear (Gegenstände erscheinen), onto which, by an objectification (objectiviren) of his language, the interpreter can tack (heften) the appropriate words (Wörter), as on the icons (Bilder) which take shape by themselves ever brighter and more distinctly (sich selbst immer heller und sichrer gestalten) in the exegetical language which the interpreter has been able to develop.
With the “icons” that “take shape by themselves” the vision is in full swing. The interpreter is fully fathoming the creativity that is at the origin of human articulation through words and speech. Schleiermacher’s term for it, in the First Discourse we are discussing, is Denkthätigkeit – the activity of thinking. The icons that appear at the peak of the interpreter’s interpretation represent simultaneously the Denkthätigkeit of the speaker/writer whom he interprets and his own Denkthätigkeit while he interprets that speaker/writer. The visionary virtue of the exegesis engenders a confluence of an art and the interpretation of that art. The speaker/writer – the “other” – has been received by his interpreter, he is present in the latter’s mind. His creativity in the process of pursuing his art now concurs with the creativity of the interpreter in the process of his interpretation. The “inner agility” which the interpreter has fostered for his own exegetical creativity has resumed the productive inspiration and passion of the speaker/writer. In fully reflecting the reality of human thinking – thought and language are interwoven – , two different activities of thinking appear to have reached the supreme point of their interpenetration. They interlace in the mode of someone’s interpretation of thoughts that were articulated by someone else. Someone understands someone else so well, in interpreting what the other has said or written, that he can think that in his words now can be found what the other has thought.
Such a moment in the practice of the art of hermeneutics is magnificent. Towards the end of his description of it, Schleiermacher himself appears to be exalted. He seems to share the vision that his account conveys. However, he also hesitates. “Ich weiß nicht ob ich sagen soll” – “I don’t know whether I should say“, he starts to state, and then continues to express the uncertainty which is disconcerting him. It concerns the icons that have emerged in the vision of the interpreter. They capture a Denkthätigkeit, an activity of thinking. It is the Denkthätigkeit of a speaker/writer recurring in the Denkthätigkeit of his interpreter. Schleiermacher cannot but focus on this recurrence and it puzzles him. The eyes of the critical scholar discern a subtle distinction: a Denkthätigkeit is apperceived and it is represented. What, then do the icons capture? The Denkthätigkeit apperceived or the Denkthätigkeit represented? Certainly, in the thinking of one individual the thinking of another recurs. But, is it apperceived to be represented or is it represented to be apperceived? Schleiermacher himself “weiß nicht/doesn’t know”, as he states, whether the icons capture the Denkthätigkeit in order to represent it (auffassen um sie nachbilden) or represent it in order to capture it (nachbilden um sie auffassen zu können).
The magnificent moment of a seemingly full interpenetration of two activities of thinking can’t be analyzed in its entirety. The movement of interpretation may follow one vector – from the compelling thinking of a speaker/writer to the receiving one of his interpreter – or the other vector – from the disquisitive thinking of an interpreter to the imparting one of a speaker/writer – , or it may follow both, in ways to which we could best apply the word “play”. Schleiermacher’s “uncertainty” stands for an insight. In studying hermeneutically the speeches/writings of others we enact a play of understanding where to perceive the play in itself is part of the understanding.
Schleiermacher, finally, doesn’t fail to translate the vision of the exegetical act that he describes into methodological guidance and advice. In the course of his exposition of the hermeneutical art he deliberately dwells, at several moments, on the technique of that art (and we may think of the similar care with which Socrates explained the mechanisms of hermeneutical analysis). The essential element is of course the ahnden of the interpreter, his effort to divine what he seeks to understand. Concerning the effort, Schleiermacher shows himself to be a resolute adviser. One has to “grasp the coherence” of a text, he states, “from the very beginning” (beim ersten Anfang gleich den Zusammenhang auffassen). The “only possible way” for achieving such a conspectus, he continues, is to read the text “rapidly through” in order to get a preliminary, rough idea of the whole of it (durch cursorische Lection). There is a heuristic principle involved that Schleiermacher formulates distinctly. “Everything particular (alles Einzelne)”, he asserts, “can be understood only through the whole” (vermittelst des Ganzen), and we have to realize therefore that “to explicate something particular presupposes already the comprehension of the whole (also jedes Erklären des Einzelnen schon das Verstehen des Ganzen voraussetzt)”.
The “whole business of interpretation (das ganze Geschäft des Auslegens)“, Schleiermacher concludes, is provisional, albeit increasingly accurate. The interpretation progresses little by little from the beginning of a text onwards, towards “the gradual comprehension of everything particular (das allmählige Verstehen alles Einzelnen)” and, furthermore, towards the “parts of the whole” (Theile des Ganzen) that “therefrom [from the gradual comprehension of everything particular] organize themselves (sich daraus organisieren).” Now the interpreter can survey a greater part of the text, not without a new uncertainty, however, since he proceeds to dwell on another part of the text, and finds himself at a beginning of his interpretation again, although an inferior one. Still, the more the interpreter proceeds the more all the previous parts of the text that he has studied become “illuminated” (beleuchtet)” by the subsequent ones. Until, in the end, seemingly all of a sudden, the Verstehen is accomplished: Everything particular receives “its share of lavish light (sein volles Licht)” and presents itself “in pure and distinct contours (in reinen und bestimmten Umrissen)”. 
Evidently, to apply oneself to the art of hermeneutics is hard work. Aristotle, Socrates, Schleiermacher, to whose voices we have been listening, intensively speak to us about the great promise that the art of hermeneutics holds. It brings things as they are to light. Meaning appears. We understand. However, to allow for anything like that, as the three masters tell us too, the hermeneutical art has to be well and rightly practiced. There is an exacting craft to be learned and mastered. Moreover, a certain virtuosity has to be achieved in performing the hermeneutical play. Only then, but then indeed, will insight become the muse of the exegesis.
Understanding (Verstehen), we can now state, is the royal road to the experience of humanity. It makes appear what it means to be human. It is, as it fully happens, an act of social creativity. With the accomplishment of the exegesis a community is established. The minds that are meeting in the exegesis (of course, more than only author and interpreter can be involved in it) connect and form a common mental sphere. Through their hermeneutical act the participants in the exegesis bring an embryonic polis into being. Let us say it plainly (to the benefit of any cultured despisers of the theory of hermeneutics presented here): all hermeneutics is political.
Schleiermacher, as was said above, envisioned a community of human minds at the origin of all understanding between human beings. They can communicate with each other and, ultimately, know each other’s mind, because to them are given, with their existence, the Gemeinschaftliche, namely modes of cognition and interrelation which they all have in common. They can come together because they have already been brought together, existentially, through the primary existence of the Gemeinschaftliche. We shouldn’t be surprised, therefore, by the discovery that Schleiermacher knew a form of interpersonal exchange which, in comparison to the exegesis of speeches/writings, offers a much heightened mode for knowing the thoughts of others (that reflect their “inner speech”) and, indeed, for discerning who they are. To evoke and to describe it, Schleiermacher speaks of “an unmediated process of communication with others (unmittelbaren Verkehr mit Menschen)”, and he deems this “practice of the hermeneutical art (diese Ausübung der Hermeneutik)”, as he “avows”, to be “quite an essential part of a cultured life (sehr wesentlichen Theil des gebildeten Lebens)”. Consequently, Schleiermacher “strongly urges” the interpreter of written texts assiduously to practice that form of interpersonal exchange which, in his judgment, is so important: the “meaningful conversation (bedeutsames Gespräch)”.
In line with the empiricism strikingly characteristic of his work, Schleiermacher offers us a portrayal of a “meaningful conversation” that probably is inspired by personal experience and conveys a stunning enthusiasm. He acclaims (1) the “immediate presence [in the conversation] of the one who speaks (unmittelbare Gegenwart des Redenden)”, (2) the “vivid expression (lebendige Ausdruck)” that displays the “involvement of his whole spiritual being (Theilnahme seines ganzen geistigen Wesens)”, and (3) all that manner by which here “the thoughts develop themselves from the life that all of us share with one another (sich hier die Gedanken aus dem gemeinsamen Leben entwickeln)”. All this, Schleiermacher comments, fascinates far more than an interpreter’s “solitary consideration (einsame Betrachtung)” of “a text that has been written and thus is entirely detached from life (einer ganz isolierten Schrift)”.
A meaningful conversation – as envisioned by Schleiermacher – is the purest form of the hermeneutical act, a festiveness. And yet, Schleiermacher regretfully notes, the feast of hermeneutics is mostly a thing of neglect.
 See De interpretatione/Peri hermeneias 16a3-9. For reference the following edition is used here: The Complete Works of Aristotle, ed. Jonathan Barnes, (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1984), Vol. 1.
 This is the full passage at the beginning of Peri hermeneias considered here: “Now spoken sounds (en te phōne) are symbols (symbola) of in the soul (en te psyche pathemátōn) and written marks (graphōmena) symbols of spoken sounds. As just as written marks (grámmata) are not the same for all men, neither are spoken sounds. But what these are in the first place signs (semeia prōtos) of – affections of the soul – are the same for all (tanta omoiōmata); and what these affections are likeness of – actual things (pragmata) – are also the same.” (The Complete Works of Aristotle, 25 – Greek terms in brackets added by T.S.).
In The Works of Aristotle, ed. and transl. William David Ross, Vol. I, Categoriae and De Interpretatione, ed. and transl. Ella Mary Edghill, (Oxford: Oxford University Press 1928), we find the following translation of the Greek original: “Spoken words are the symbols of mental experience and written words are the symbols of spoken words. Just as all men have not the same writing, so all men have not the same speech sounds, but the mental experiences, which these directly symbolize, are the same for all, as also are those things of which our experiences are the images.” – Of interest too is the Latin translation provided by Johann Theophilus Buhle in his edition of the Opera Omnia of Aristotle (Vol. 2, Biponti, 1791), 14f.: “Sunt vero voce emisse passionum animae signa, & scripta eorum, quae voce emittuntur. Et quemademodem nec literae omnibus eaedem sunt, ita nec voces omnibus eadem: quorum tamen haec signa primo sunt, ea omnibus sunt eaedem passions animae; & quorum haec imagines sunt, ea quoque (omnibus) sunt res eaedem.”
 The Complete Works of Aristotle, 25. – Cf. the evidently parallel reflection formulated by Wilhelm von Humboldt in his short text “Über Denken und Sprechen (On Thought and Speech)”: “Language symbols necessarily are sounds, and, according to the mysterious analogy that exists between all the talents of human beings, a human being, at the moment he/she apprehended an object as separate from himself/herself, immediately had to articulate the sound destined to denote that object.” (Wilhelm von Humboldt, Kleine Schriften zur Sprachphilosophie, In Werke, vol. V, (Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1981), 98.
 Cf. Tilo Schabert, The Second Birth. On the Political Origins of Human Existence (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2015), 9ff. and Tilo Schabert: “The Paradise in Politics. A chapter in the story of negative cosmology” In The European Legacy , Vol. 7, No. 3, June 2002, 293-329.
 In her translation (see note 5) Ella Mary Edghill, it is worth noting, rendered this apprehending through affections in the soul by the term “mental experience”. This is a translation that seems to us to support our reading of Aristotle’s statements.
 In the section on “Aristoteles’ Lehre vom Satz und die Rede vom sprachlichen Zeichen” (Aristotle’s Peri Hermeneias and the theory of language signs) in his book Zeichen und Wissen. Das Verhältnis der Zeichentheorie zur Theorie des Wissens und der Wissenschaften im dreizehnten Jahrhundert (Münster: Aschendorffsche Verlagsbuchhandlung, 1990, 25 – 31), Michael Fuchs stongly asserts and emphasizes Aristotle’s view that the affections of the soul, while apprehending reality, are in all human beings alike. Quite interestingly, he interprets the alikeness in both mental and, indeed, political terms. To the similarity of affections in the soul corresponds, he explains, a similarity of thoughts – the noemata – in the human mind, and in this intellectual alikeness is of course the foundation of the polis to be seen. The science of semiotics and political science appear to be twins, so we may conclude, in following Fuchs’ astonishing and yet convincing reasoning.
 The Complete Works of Aristotle, 25. – Quite a diligent and detailed history of the reception of Peri Hermeneias is offered by: Jean Isaac, Le Peri Hermeneias en Occident de Boèce à Saint Thomas. Histoire littéraire d’un traité d’Aristote (Paris: Librairie Philosophique J. Vrin, 1953). We resume (on the basis of p. 33 of Isaac’s work): Peri Hermeneias was composed by Aristotle late in his life, in the form of simple notes. Theophrastos completed it shortly afterwards. During the following 200 years the text was ignored. After it had been published, though, around 50 BC by Andronicus of Rhodes, it was repeatedly explicated by the great Greek commentators, notably by Porphyrios (3rd century) and Ammonius (late 5th century). A Latin translation by Guillaume de Moerbeke was published in 1268, and Thomas Aquinas was the first who did benefit from this translation. Syrian philosophers studied the text too, since the 5th century, and transmitted it to the Arabs in the 9th century. Al Farabi, Avicenna and Al Ghazali (10th-12th century) used Peri Hermeneias for their studies on logic (which were taken up by Albert the Great in the 13th century), while Averroes (12th century) wrote a long commentary on the text. However, in the 4th century already Marius Vietorinus had produced a version in Latin, followed by Boethius who, at the end of the 6th century, painstakingly reworked the translation, in adding to it a commentary, and using it for writing the last two books of his Consolation of Philosophy. Thanks to Cassiodorus these two Latin editions of Peri Hermeneias and Boethius’ commentary were added to the Lateran Library, where the medieval dialecticians from the 9th century onwards read them in the light of the great Greek commentators.
 Plato, Phaedrus, 275c.
 Ibid., 275e.
 Ibid., 275d. (Translation by Harold North Fowler in the Loeb Classical Library edition).
 Ibid., 275e.
 Ibid., 275c-d.
 Ibid., 276a.
 Phaedrus, 265d ff.
 Ibid., 266b.
 Phaedrus, 265d-e.
 A similar expression appears in Odyssee, V, 193.
 Phaedrus, 266b. Toward the end of the dialogue Socrates returns to speaking about the hermeneutical craft and says: “A man must know the truth about all the particular things of which he speaks or writes, and must be able to define everything separately; then when he has defined them, he must know how to divide them by classes until further division is impossible.” (Ibid. 277b. Translation by Harold North Fowler in the Loeb Classical Library edition.)
 A fine example of the appreciation of Schleiermacher’s work is given by Jean Starobinski’s “Avant-Propos. L’Art de Comprendre”, In Friedrich Schleiermacher, Herméneutique, trans. Marianna Simon, (Geneva: Éditions Labor et Fides, 1986). See ibid., 10: “The thinking of Schleiermacher constitutes a point of reference which to ignore is unforgivable.” (Translation by T.S.). And further, ibid.,11: “To read today the Hermeneutics of Schleiermacher is by no means a capriciousness of scholarly curiosity, which would have only the objective to shed light on a closed episode in the history of ideas; it is serving, quite to the contrary, the purpose to catch up with, right at their origin, the modern ambitions in the field of historical and cultural knowledge.” (Translation by T.S.).
 Über den Begriff der Hermeneutik. Erste Abhandlung, 13. August 1829, In Friedrich Daniel Ernst Schleiermacher, Akademievorträge, eds. Martin Rössler and Lars Emersleben, Kritische Gesamtausgabe, Erste Abteilung, Schriften und Entwürfe, Bd. 11, (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 2002), 602. – Throughout his writings on hermeneutics Schleiermacher uses the term “Rede“ – literally: “speech“ – in a double sense: to denote “discourse“ and/or “writing“. I should like to express here my sincere thanks to Professor Kurt Victor Selge and Professor Andreas Arndt for their generosity in advising me in a most helpful way on editorial questions with regard to Schleiermacher’s notes and writings on the art of hermeneutics and the new authoritative edition of them (see note 34 below).
 Ibid., 607.
 Friedrich Daniel Ernst Schleiermacher, Vorlesungen zur Hermeneutik und Kritik, ed. Wolfgang Virmond and Hermann Palsch, Kritische Gesamtausgabe, Zweite Abteilung, Vorlesungen, Bd. 4, (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 2012), 7. – Cf. also Über den Begriff der Hermeneutik. Erste Abhandlung, Akademievorträge, 612, where Schleiermacher expresses the same idea in similar words.
 Compare to this the observation by Gaston Bachelard: “It seems that the joy of reading is a reflection of the joy of writing, as if the reader were the phantom of the writer.“ (La poétiqe de l’espace, Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1957), 10. (Translation by T.S.).
 Ina Schabert’s study In Quest of the Other Person. Fiction as Biography (Tübingen: Francke Verlag, 1990) represents a paradigmatic model of the art of hermeneutics, developed on the basis of detailed inquiries into “fictional biographies”, written by literary authors. In her “Conclusion” she writes: “Fictional biography is the genre of the altruistic imagination. With the altruistic desire of knowing, the discipline of hermeneutics is being reaffirmed as an epistemic method. . . . All reasoning from the general to the particular instance proves inefficient with regard to the aim of getting an insight into what is unique in real persons. Hermeneutics shows a way, with its notion of the process of interpersonal knowing as the coming together of two subjectivities, one that strives for knowledge and one to be known. The temporary merging of one’s own with another person’s different consciousness leads to a widening of one’s own mental horizon by virtue of the range of the other, and thus to an awareness of otherness. Hence, the act of reading as a paradigmatic significance for the enterprise of comprehending the other person. For “reading” the other person is like reading a book: the other, the author of a text, is for the time allowed to replace the self, before critical evaluation sets in – with the result that the self’s vision of reality is being enlarged and qualitatively changed.” (217).
 Cf. Über den Begriff der Hermeneutik. Erste Abhandlung, Akademievorträge, 618. – Cf. also Vorlesungen zur Hermeneutik und Kritik, 39: “Man muß so gut verstehn und besser verstehn als der Schriftsteller“ (One has to understand as well as and better than the author).
 Cf. Plato, Sophist, 263e: “Thus thought and discourse are the same thing, except that what we call thought is an inner conversation of the soul with itself without a voice.” Likewise, Sophist, 264b: “So, since there is true and false discourse, and, of the processes just mentioned, thought appeared to be the soul’s conversation with itself.”
 Cf. Vorlesungen zur Hermeneutik und Kritik, 120. – Cf. also Kritische Gesamtausgabe, I. Abteilung, Schriften und Entwürfe, Bd. 6, ed. Dirk Schmid (Berlin: De Gruyter, 1998), Historische Theologie, 276, where Schleiermacher states that the “objective of all interpretation” consists in the task “to reconstruct the act of writing (den Akt des Schreibens nachzuconstruiren)”.
 Schleiermacher takes the view, besides, that (a) the whole culture within which a text was produced, and (b) the life conditions of its author as well as those of the audience for which the text is meant ought to be taken into account in the process of interpreting that text. In his essay Historische Theologie (Historical Theology) he writes: “No text can be understood entirely if it is not studied in connection with the whole context of ideas from which it emerged, and by way of a knowledge of all the life conditions of the authors as well of those for whom they wrote.” (Kritische Gesamtausgabe, I. Abteilung, Schriften und Entwürfe, 377).
And: “Every text can fully be understood only by an acquaintance with the literature and the epoch to which it belongs, and with the audience in particular, for which it was written . . .” (Ibid., 276). – Finally, Schleiermacher addresses still “other difficulties” with regard to efforts of interpretation. A writer, he observes, may contradict himself in the course of expressing what he tells. “It is natural that someone presents an account of something differently, depending on his mood, his audience, his intentions.” The interpreter has to cope with it. For “everyone must have the right to change his opinion.” (Vorlesungen zur Hermeneutik und Kritik, 53).
 Cf. In Quest for the Other Person, 26f., concerning that vision.
 Über den Begriff der Hermeneutik. Erste Abhandlung, Akademievorträge, 620.
 Ina Schabert observes: “The procedure of appropriating the knowledge of the other includes phases of pure receptivity, of meditative leisure. At other times a voluntary effort is required to ‘reenact’ the knowledge. Gestures of ‘participatory reenactment’ range from a playful reconstructing of the other’s possibilities to moments of intuitive insight into the other’s existence.” (In Quest of the Other Person, 24f.). Cf. furthermore, Ibid., 28, 47, 168f.
 Über den Begriff der Hermeneutik. Erste Abhandlung, Akademievorträge, 620.
 Vorlesungen zur Hermeneutik und Kritik, 38f. (cf. also the parallel statements on pp. 29, 131, 133) and Über den Begriff der Hermeneutik. Erste Abhandlung, Akademievorträge, 621. (cf. for a parallel statement: Über den Begriff der Hermeneutik. Zweite Abhandlung, Akademievorträge, 627).
 Über den Begriff der Hermeneutik. Zweite Abhandlung, Akademievorträge, 627.
 See also above, note 12.
 Über den Begriff der Hermeneutik. Erste Abhandlung, Akademievorträge, 609 and 610.
 Ibid., 610.