Philosophies of Interpretation and Understanding

Key information

Start date
End date
Year of study
Year 2, Year 3 or Year 4
Module code
FHEQ Level
Department of Religions and Philosophies

Module overview

This course examines the nature, theories, interests and critical reflections on interpretation and understanding in different philosophical traditions. The philosophy of interpretation and understanding often called philosophical hermeneutics, takes an important place in philosophical discourses, and philosophy, by its very nature and essence, is interpretative and an attempt to understand and interpret being, knowledge and action. Therefore, an important metaphilosophical perspective is the conception of philosophy as interpretation and understanding. But the philosophy of, and philosophy as, interpretation and understanding has often been conceived, approached, and taught in several HE curricula from a purely Western, Anglo-European perspective. This deprives students of a richer multi-cultural, multi-place perspectives from various philosophical traditions such as theories and concepts of interpretation and understanding from African philosophy, Buddhist philosophy, Chinese philosophy, Indian philosophy, and Islamic philosophy. This course is designed to fill this gap by focusing on philosophies (rather than philosophy) of interpretation and understanding. In term 1, we will focus on several philosophical traditions of interpretation and understanding and the dialogue and intersection between these traditions. In term 2, we will pay a close attention to applying theories in philosophical hermeneutics covered in term 1 to some important issues and lived experiences such as race, alterity, social media, queerness, healthcare and gender.

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

  • Week 1: Philosophical Hermeneutics; Key Themes and Course Overview
  • Week 2: The Western Tradition of Hermeneutics I: Schleiermacher and Dilthey
  • Week 3: The Western Tradition of Hermeneutics II: Heidegger and Gadamer
  • Week 4: The Western Tradition of Hermeneutics III: Habermas and Derrida
  • Week 5: The Hermeneutic Paradigm in African Philosophy
  • Week 6: Tsenay Serequeberhan's Liberative Hermeneutics
  • Week 7: Hermeneutic Openness in Chinese Philosophy: I Ching and Shijing
  • Week 8: The Four Reliances and the Golden Speech in Buddhist Hermeneutics
  • Week 9: Islamic Hermeneutics: Al-Farabi and Avicenna, and Hermeneutics of the Qur'an
  • Week 10: Term Highlight, Discussion and Feedback
  • Week 11: Horizons and Approaches to Intercultural Hermeneutics
  • Week 12: The East-West Encounter and Orientalism
  • Week 13: The West and Africa: Kant, Hegel and Racism
  • Week 14: The Politics of Interpretation
  • Week 15: The Ethics of Interpretation
  • Week 16: Agency and Manipulated Understanding: Hermeneutics and Social Media
  • Week 17: The Hermeneutics of Health and Gender
  • Week 18: Ambiguous Bodies and Sexualities: Corporeal and Queer Hermeneutics
  • Week 19: Interpreting the (Un)beautiful: Aesthetic Hermeneutics
  • Week 20: Summary, General Discussion and Feedback

Method of assessment

  • AS1 Essay (1,500 words) 30%
  • AS2 Infographics (1,000 words) 30%
  • AS3 Creative Portfolio (2,000 words) 40%


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules