SOAS University of London

Department of Religions & Philosophies, School of History, Religions & Philosophies

Anglo-European Philosophies and Critical Dialogue: Hermeneutics and Beyond

Module Code:
Year of study:
Year 2, Year 3 or Year 4
Taught in:
Full Year
Philosophical hermeneutics address questions that arise regarding the nature of understanding and interpretation and also, more specifically, those practices of interpretation that pertain to the very nature of philosophical inquiry itself. This course examines the Anglo-European tradition of philosophical hermeneutics, a tradition that has exercised enormous influence on both analytic and continental philosophy in Europe and beyond since the nineteenth century. However, in a programme on World Philosophies, it may seem that such a focus runs the risk of promoting a Eurocentric perspective. This course aims, however, to find within Anglo-European Philosophy and intellectual history those moments which signal a different direction to the point of challenging the theoretical foundations of, and the basis upon which Eurocentrism rests. Philosophy is not, by any means, the only academic discipline responsible for the promotion of Eurocentric ideas, but it is perhaps the one which has provided ‘rational’ support for Eurocentrism to flourish within many other disciplines, particularly, but not solely, in the humanities, encouraging an implicit academic imperialism. Prior to establishing the ability of this philosophy to engage in dialogue with other philosophical traditions, we must therefore establish the aptitude and willingness of Anglo-European philosophy to accept a ‘dialogical stance’ as a tool valid for interaction between differing philosophical traditions. We will begin, therefore, at that point in history that signals the ostensible beginning of Anglo-European philosophical hermeneutics in which Socratic and Platonic dialogue flourished, notwithstanding the presence within ‘dialogue’ of the very term, ‘logos’, which mostly represents the power—and at times the arrogance—of western and Anglo-European philosophy’s portrayal of itself as ‘universal’. By questioning the ‘power of logos’, and the connection of understanding to speech we also become aware of the limits of dialogue and the need to apply critical perspectives to dialogue as a tool of engagement.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

On successful completion of the course, you should:

  •    Have acquired a sound knowledge of core debates and key thinkers in philosophical hermeneutics.
  •    Have acquired a familiarity with the relationship between understanding, interpretation, voice, speech, and knowledge.
  •    Have understood the ways in which voice, interpretation, translation, and dialogue (or its refusal) are both ontological and political acts.
  •    Be able to assess critically the limits of the philosophical hermeneutic tradition and theories of dialogue from a variety of critical (feminist, critical race and post- or decolonial) perspectives.
  •    Be able to evaluate critically a variety of books, journals and other sources of information relevant to the topics studied on the course;
  •    Have produced detailed written work on a number of approved topics relevant to the course;
  •   Have developed core skills in evaluation, self-reflection, team work, and presentation. 

Scope and syllabus

The first term will be focused on an examination of philosophical hermeneutics that have promoted inter-philosophical dialogue and which have theorised the nature of understanding and interpretation as objects of philosophical interest and practice. Among the philosophers we will investigate are Schleiermacher, Dilthey, Nietzsche, Heidegger, Gadamer, Ricoeur, and Vattimo but we will be doing so thematically (looking at how philosophical hermeneutics examines questions of understanding, authority, knowledge, subjectivity, truth, sense and meaning, dialogue etc.). We will focus particularly on the extent to which their insights regarding the possibility of understanding among and between different philosophical traditions are viable. Once this groundwork is laid, in the second term we begin the task of critique and reformulation, examining the extent to which the apparent openness to dialogue promoted by these thinkers is undermined by the exclusions and normative assumptions (for example, of the universal nature of understanding) that their philosophies of dialogue and understanding may enact and sustain. Thus, we will turn to examine feminist, critical-race, and both postcolonial and decolonial challenges to and critiques of hermeneutics, looking, for example, at the work of Kristeva, Butler, and Cavarero, bell hooks, Lorde, Spivak, Bhabha, Mignolo, Dussell and Ouijano. In this portion of the course we will highlight in particular questions concerning the political dimensions of voice, speech, and silence, and of translation and understanding, the role of the ‘master’s voice’ in determining the limits of speech and understanding, and what may be at stake in moments where the refusal of dialogue is a necessary and productive gesture of resistance to normative configurations that trap interlocutors in a colonialist practice of monolingualism that repeats and consolidates the chauvinism and Eurocentrism that plagues philosophy.

Method of assessment

60% of the total mark is allocated to 4 detailed outlines of assigned readings (15% each)
Creative portfolio 40% of the total mark is allocated to the production of a summative group portfolio intended to enable you to demonstrate skills in critical reflection, communication, and imaginative interpretation.   


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules