La bible

Friedrich Daniel Ernst Schleiermacher

1. Life and Works

Friedrich Daniel Ernst Schleiermacher (1768–1834) was born in
Breslau as the son of a clergyman of the reformed church. His earlier
education took place in institutions of the Moravian Brethren
(Herrnhuter), a strict pietist sect. However, while there he also
pursued broader humanistic interests. Largely as a result of
skepticism about certain Christian doctrines taught there, he moved to
the more liberal University of Halle in 1787. However, he continued in
theology (with philosophy and classical philology as minor fields). He
passed his theological examinations in Berlin in 1790. This was
followed by a period as a private tutor, which ended in 1793, partly,
it seems, due to friction caused by his sympathy with the French
Revolution, to which his employer was opposed.

During the periods just mentioned he was heavily occupied with the
study and criticism of Kant’s philosophy. This work culminated
in several unpublished essays—On the Highest Good
(1789), On What Gives Value to Life (1792–3), and
On Freedom (1790–3)—which rejected Kant’s
conception that the “highest good [summum bonum]”
requires an apportioning of happiness to moral desert, and
Kant’s connected doctrine of the “postulates” of an
afterlife of the soul and God, while also developing an anti-Kantian
theory of the thoroughgoing causal determination of human action and
of the compatibility of this with moral responsibility. In
1793–4 he wrote two essays about Spinoza: Spinozism and
Brief Presentation of the Spinozistic System. A major
catalyst for these essays was Jacobi’s work On the Doctrine
of Spinoza, in Letters to Mr. Moses Mendelssohn
(1785), which had
been highly critical of Spinozism. But they also show the influence of
Herder’s work God: Some Conversations (1787), which
championed a modified form of Spinozism. In his two essays
Schleiermacher himself embraces a modified form of Spinoza’s
monism similar in character to Herder’s (in particular, like
Herder, he is inclined to substitute for Spinoza’s single
substance the more active principle of a single fundamental
force). He also attempts to defend this position by showing
it to be reconcilable with central features of Kant’s
theoretical philosophy (notably, Kant’s doctrine of things in
themselves). This neo-Spinozistic position (developed before
Hölderlin’s in Judgment and Being or
Novalis’ in Fichte-Studies, it should be noted) would
subsequently be fundamental to Schleiermacher’s most important
work in the philosophy of religion, On Religion: Speeches to Its
Cultured Despisers
(1799). However, in thus rejecting
Jacobi’s anti-Spinozism, Schleiermacher seems also to have
absorbed something from Jacobi that would be equally important for his
future philosophy of religion: the idea (for which his pietist
background no doubt made him receptive) that we enjoy a sort of
immediate intuition or feeling of God.

During the period 1794–6 Schleiermacher served as a pastor in
Landsberg. In 1796 he moved to Berlin, where he became chaplain to a
hospital. In Berlin he met Friedrich and August Wilhelm Schlegel, as
well as other romantics, became deeply engaged in the formation of the
romantic movement, and collaborated with the Schlegel brothers on the
short-lived but important literary journal Athenaeum
(1798–1800). Among Schleiermacher’s contributions to this
journal was the short feminist piece Idea for a Catechism of
Reason for Noble Ladies
(1798). During the period 1797–9,
he shared a house with Friedrich Schlegel. Encouraged by the romantic
circle to write a statement of his religious views, in 1799 he
published his most important and radical work in the philosophy of
religion, On Religion: Speeches to Its Cultured Despisers
(revised editions followed in 1806, 1821, the latter including
significant “explanations”, and 1831). This work sought to
save religion in the eyes of its cultured despisers (prominent among
them some of the romantics, including Friedrich Schlegel) by,
inter alia, arguing that human immortality and even God are
inessential to religion; diagnosing and excusing current
religion’s more off-putting features in terms of its corruption
by worldly bourgeois culture and state-interference; and arguing that
there are an endless multiplicity of valid forms of religion. The book
won Schleiermacher a national reputation. In the same year (1799) he
also published an essay on the situation of the Jews in Prussia,
Letters on the Occasion of the Political-Theological Task and the
Open Letter of Jewish Householders
. In this work he rejected an
expedient that had been proposed for ameliorating the condition of the
Jews in Prussia of effecting their civil assimilation through baptism
(which would, he argues, harm both Judaism and Christianity) and
instead advocated full civil rights for Jews (on certain reasonable
conditions). The same year also saw Schleiermacher’s composition
of the interesting short essay Toward a Theory of Sociable
, which is important as his first significant discussion
of the art of conversation (an art that would later be central to his
discipline of dialectics). Finally, 1799 also saw his publication of a
very critical review of Kant’s Anthropology. The review
in particular implies criticism of Kant for his dualistic philosophy
of mind and his superficial, disparaging attitude toward women and
other peoples.

During the following several years Schleiermacher complemented On
with two substantial publications that were more ethical
in orientation: the especially important Soliloquies (1800;
second edition 1810) and the Outlines of a Critique of Previous
Ethical Theory
(1803). In 1800 he also defended his friend
Friedrich Schlegel’s controversial and arguably pornographic
novel Lucinde from the same year in his Confidential
Letters Concerning Friedrich Schlegel’s Lucinde
shared feminism constituting a large part of his reason for
sympathizing with Schlegel’s book. During the period
1799–1804 Schleiermacher developed with Schlegel the project of
translating Plato’s dialogues. As time went on, however,
Schlegel left this work to Schleiermacher, which contributed to
increasingly difficult relations between the two men after 1800.
Schleiermacher’s translations appeared during the period
1804–28 (though not quite all of the dialogues were translated
in the end), and are still widely used and admired today.

While in Berlin Schleiermacher developed romantic attachments to two
married women, Henriette Herz and Eleonore Grunow—the latter of
which attachments led to scandal and unhappiness, eventually causing
Schleiermacher to leave the city. He spent the years 1802–4 in
Stolpe. By 1804 he was teaching at Halle University. During the period
1804–5 he began lecturing on ethics (as he would do again
repeatedly until 1832). In 1805 he also began delivering his famous
and important lectures on hermeneutics (which he repeated regularly
until 1833). In 1806 he began lecturing on the history of philosophy,
in particular, ancient philosophy (adding lectures on modern
philosophy in 1810, and then continuing to lecture on the history of
philosophy repeatedly in subsequent years). In 1806 he also published
the short book Christmas Eve, a literary work that explores
the meaning of Christian love by depicting a German family’s
celebration of Christmas Eve. This is in keeping with On
’s ideal that (Christian) religion should be
family- rather than state-centered. In 1806–7 he left Halle as a
result of the French occupation, and moved back to Berlin. From this
time on he began actively promoting German resistance to the French
occupation and the cause of German unity. In 1808 he published
Occasional Thoughts on Universities in a German Spirit, together
with an Appendix on One about to be Founded
, a work written in
connection with plans for founding a new university in Berlin (now
known as the Humboldt University), a project to which Wilhelm von
Humboldt likewise contributed theoretically soon afterwards as well as
playing the leading role in its practical implementation. In 1808
Schleiermacher married a young widow, Henriette von Willich, with whom
he had several children. In 1808–9 he became preacher at the
Dreifaltigkeitskirche, in 1810 professor of theology at the University
of Berlin, and by 1811 also a member of the Berlin Academy of

After becoming a member of the Academy he often delivered addresses
before it. Among these several on ethics, one on translation from
1813, one on the philosophy of Socrates from 1815, and one on
Leibniz’s idea of a universal language from 1831 are especially

In 1811 he lectured on dialectics for the first time (as he would do
again regularly until his death, at which time he was in the early
stages of preparing a version for publication). In 1813 he delivered
as an address, and then published as an essay, On the Different
Methods of Translation
—an extremely important work in
translation theory deeply informed by his own experience as a
translator. In 1813–14 he lectured on pedagogy, or the
philosophy of education, for the first time (as he would do on two
subsequent occasions: 1820–1 and 1826). In 1818 he lectured on
psychology for the first time (as he would again repeatedly until
1833–4). In 1819 he lectured on aesthetics for the first time
(as he subsequently did on two further occasions, the last of them in
1832–3). In the same year he also began lecturing on the life of
Jesus (as he did again on four further occasions over the following
twelve years)—thereby inaugurating an important genre of
literature on this subject in the nineteenth century.

In 1821–2 he published his major work of systematic theology,
The Christian Faith (revised edition 1830–1). In 1829
he published two open letters on this work (nominally addressed to his
friend Lücke), in which he discusses it and central issues in the
philosophy of religion and theology relating to it in a concise and
lucid way.

Schleiermacher died in 1834. As can be seen even from this brief
sketch of his life and works, a large proportion of his career was
taken up with the philosophy of religion and theology. However, from
the secular standpoint of modern philosophy it is probably his work in
such areas as hermeneutics (i.e., the theory of interpretation) and
the theory of translation that is most important. Accordingly, this
article will begin with these more interesting areas of his thought,
only turning to his philosophy of religion briefly at the end.

2. Philosophy of Language

Since the topics of language and human psychology are central to
Schleiermacher’s hermeneutics and theory of translation, it is
appropriate to begin with some discussion of his philosophies of
language and mind. Schleiermacher nowhere presents his philosophy of
language separately; instead, it is found scattered through such works
as his lectures on psychology, dialectics, and hermeneutics. The
following eight positions—all but the last of which are heavily
indebted to Herder—are especially worth noting:

  1. In his lectures on psychology, Schleiermacher takes the
    following position on the question of the origin of language
    (virtually identical to Herder’s position in the Treatise on
    the Origin of Language
    [1772]): The origin of language is not to
    be explained in terms of a divine source. Nor is it to be explained in
    terms of the primitive expression of feelings. Rather, the use of
    inner language is simply fundamental to human nature. It is the
    foundation of, and indeed identical with, thought. It is also the
    foundation of other distinctively human mental characteristics, in
    particular self-consciousness and a clear distinguishing of perception
    from feeling and desire.
  2. Language (and hence thought) is fundamentally social in
    nature. More precisely, while inner language is not dependent on a
    social stimulus (so that even in the absence of this children would
    develop their own languages), it does already involve a tendency or an
    implicit directedness toward social communication.
  3. Language and thought are not merely additions over and
    above other mental processes that human beings share with the animals.
    Rather, they are infused throughout, and lend a distinctive character
    to, all human mental processes. In particular, they structure human
    beings’ sensory images in distinctive ways.

The next five of the eight positions are especially important for
Schleiermacher’s hermeneutics and theory of translation (to be
discussed below):

  1. Schleiermacher already in early work postulated an
    identity of thought with linguistic expression. He often equates
    thought more specifically with inner language (e.g., he
    already does so in his 1812–13 lectures on ethics). His main
    motive behind this refinement can be seen from the lectures on
    psychology, where he discusses cases in which thought occurs without
    arriving at any outward linguistic expression. It has been claimed by
    some of the secondary literature that he eventually gave up this whole
    position (e.g., by Heinz Kimmerle). He does seem to retreat from it
    somewhat, but in his psychology lectures of 1830 we still find him
    writing of “the activity of thought in its identity with
    language” (SW 3/6: 263).
  2. Schleiermacher adopts a view of meaning that equates
    it—not with such items, in principle independent of language, as
    the referents involved (Augustine), Platonic forms, or the subjective
    mental “ideas” favored by the British Empiricists and
    others, but instead—with word-usage, or rules for the use of
    words. For example, in the hermeneutics lectures he says that
    “the … meaning of a term is to be derived from the unity
    of the word-sphere and from the rules governing the presupposition of
    this unity” (HHM 50).
  3. In his psychology lectures, Schleiermacher argues that
    although thought and conceptualization are not reducible to
    sensuous images (since that would conflict with the position that the
    former require, or are indeed identical with, language), the latter
    are an essential foundation for the former. This position is
    also reflected in his strong attraction, in some of his later
    hermeneutics and dialectics lectures, to Kant’s theory of
    empirical schemata—according to which empirical concepts are
    grounded, or consist, in unconscious rules for the generation of
    sensuous images—and to turning this into an account of the
    nature of all concepts. (This prompts the question whether there do
    not also exist strictly a priori concepts, as Kant had held. In his
    psychology lectures Schleiermacher vacillates in his answer to this
    question: sometimes implying yes, but at other points instead
    implying—more consistently with the position just
    described—that it is merely the case that some concepts are
    more distantly abstracted from sensory images than others.
    The latter is his normal answer in the dialectics lectures as
  4. Human beings exhibit, not only significant linguistic
    and conceptual-intellectual similarities, but also striking linguistic
    and conceptual-intellectual differences, especially between different
    historical periods and cultures, but even to some extent between
    individuals within a single period and culture. (In this connection,
    Schleiermacher argues, plausibly, that the phenomenon of the
    linguistic and conceptual-intellectual development of cultures over
    time can only be explained in terms of linguistic and
    conceptual-intellectual innovations performed by individuals, which
    then get taken over by the broader culture, becoming part of its
    common stock.)
  5. Importantly, Schleiermacher develops a much more
    holistic conception of meaning than his predecessors had held
    (this is the one major respect in which his philosophy of language
    goes beyond Herder’s). At least three aspects of his semantic
    holism can be distinguished: (a) As can already be seen from a passage
    quoted earlier, he espouses a doctrine of “the unity of the
    word-sphere”. This doctrine in effect says that the various
    specific senses that a single word typically bears, and which will
    normally be distinguished by any good dictionary entry (e.g., the
    different senses of “impression” in “He made an
    impression in the clay”, “My impression is that he is
    reluctant”, and “He made a big impression at the
    party”), always in fact form a larger semantic unity to which
    they each essentially belong (so that any loss, addition, or
    alteration among them entails an alteration in each of them, albeit
    perhaps a subtle one). (b) He holds that the nature of any particular
    concept is partly defined by its relations to a “system of
    concepts”. In this connection, the dialectics lectures emphasize
    a concept’s relations as a species-concept to superordinate
    genus-concepts, relations as a genus-concept to subordinate
    species-concepts, and relations of contrast to coordinate concepts
    falling under the same genus-concepts. However, other types of
    conceptual relationships would no doubt be included here as well
    (e.g., those between “to work”, “worker”, and
    “a work” or those between physis and
    nomos). (c) He holds that the distinctive nature of a
    language’s grammatical system (e.g., its system of
    declensions) is also partly constitutive of the character of the
    concepts expressed within it. (This last position was also developed
    at around the same period by Friedrich Schlegel, for whom it
    constituted one of the main rationales for a new discipline of
    “comparative grammar” that he introduced in his On the
    Language and Wisdom of the Indians
    [1808]. Shortly afterwards, it
    was taken over and used to similar effect by another of the founders
    of modern linguistics, Wilhelm von Humboldt.) Among these aspects, (b)
    is especially noteworthy as a distinctive contribution of
    Schleiermacher’s; it had been overlooked not only by Herder but
    also by Friedrich Schlegel, and it constitutes the origin of the
    twentieth-century theory of the “semantic field”.

As was mentioned earlier, with the sole exception of this final
feature (semantic holism), Schleiermacher’s entire philosophy of
language is heavily indebted to Herder. However, while it refines
Herder’s philosophy of language with this final feature, it also
weakens it in other respects. For example, whereas Herder’s
version of doctrine
normally restricted itself to a claim that thought is essentially
dependent on and bounded by language, Schleiermacher’s version
asserts the outright identity of thought with language, or
with inner language. But even in the latter, more cautious version,
such a strong form of the doctrine is philosophically
problematic—vulnerable to counterexamples in which thought
occurs without any corresponding (inner) language use, and vice versa.
Again, as we noted, in later works Schleiermacher tends to add to the
Herderian doctrine
a thesis that concepts are empirical schemata à la Kant (see
This is likely to seem problematic to modern readers because of its
inclusion of sensory images in meaning. But that is arguably not so:
Herder had already included them in a way as well; contrary to first
appearances, doing so need not conflict with a suitably interpreted
doctrine that meanings are word-usages; and the currently popular
rejection of such “psychologism” in modern philosophy of
language influenced by Frege and Wittgenstein, which is likely to make
such a position seem suspect, may well itself be misguided. What
is problematic about Schleiermacher’s thesis is rather
that Kant’s theory of empirical schemata had implied that there
is a sharp distinction between meanings, which he conceived as
something purely psychological, and word-usages, so that
Schleiermacher’s unmodified reintroduction of the theory implies
the same, and hence conflicts with doctrine
the doctrine that meaning is word-usage. Finally, whereas for Herder
was merely an empirically established rule of thumb and admitted of
exceptions, Schleiermacher in his lectures on ethics and dialectics
attempts to give a sort of a priori proof of linguistic and
conceptual-intellectual diversity even at the level of individuals as
a universal fact—a proof that is dubious in its very a
priori status, in its specific details, and in its extremely
counterintuitive implication (often explicitly asserted by
Schleiermacher) that, strictly speaking, no one can ever understand
another person.

3. Philosophy of Mind

Schleiermacher’s philosophy of mind is found mainly in his
lectures on psychology. It is too extensive to present in detail here.
But the following four central principles—all of which have
their roots in Herder, and especially in Herder’s main work on
the philosophy of mind, On the Cognition and Sensation of the
Human Soul
(1778)—are especially striking and

  1. Schleiermacher argues for a strong dependence of the soul (or
    mind) on the body, and indeed for their identity. However, he resists
    reductionism in either direction, arguing that both what he calls
    “spiritualism” (i.e., the reduction of the body to the
    mind) and “materialism” (i.e., the reduction of the mind
    to the body) are errors. He refers to the sort of non-reductive unity
    of mind and body that he instead champions as “life”.
  2. Schleiermacher also identifies the soul (or mind) with
    “force”. Thus already in On Freedom
    (1790–3) he writes that the soul is “a force or a
    composite of forces”.
  3. Schleiermacher also argues strongly for the unity of the soul (or
    mind) within itself: the soul is not composed of separate faculties
    (e.g., sensation, understanding, imagination, reason, desire). He
    himself often works with a twofold distinction between what he calls
    the mind’s “organic” (i.e., sensory) and
    “intellectual” functions, but he holds these too to be at
    bottom identical.
  4. Schleiermacher argues that human minds, while they certainly share
    similarities, are also deeply different from each other—not only
    across social groups such as peoples and genders, but also at the
    level of individuals who belong to the same groups. He holds that the
    deep distinctiveness of individual minds sometimes exercises an
    important influence on the development of society at large—both
    in the political-ethical sphere (where he calls the individuals who
    play such a role “heroes”) and in the sphere of thought
    and art (where he calls them “geniuses”). He argues that
    the distinctiveness of individual minds cannot be explained by any
    process of calculation (in particular, that it is a mistake to suppose
    that all human minds begin the same and only come to differ due to the
    impact of different causal influences on their development, which
    might in principle be calculated). It can, however, be understood by
    means of “divination” (concerning which more anon).

Finally, one feature of Schleiermacher’s philosophy of mind that
distinguishes it from Herder’s, and from other German
predecessors’, is also worth noting: Schleiermacher says
relatively little about unconscious mental processes, and
when he does mention them often seems skeptical about them. For
example, he argues that thought cannot be unconscious, and that
so-called “obscure representations” are in fact merely
sensuous images that do not involve thoughts.

4. Hermeneutics (i.e., Theory of Interpretation)

Some of Schleiermacher’s most important philosophical work
concerns the theories of interpretation (“hermeneutics”)
and translation. Friedrich Schlegel was an immediate influence on his
thought here. Their ideas on these subjects began to take shape in the
late 1790s, when they lived together in the same house in Berlin for a
time. Many of their ideas are shared, and it is often unclear which of
the two men was the (more) original source of a given idea. But since
Schlegel’s surviving treatments of these subjects are much less
detailed and systematic than Schleiermacher’s, the latter
inevitably take on prime importance.

Schleiermacher’s theories of interpretation and translation rest
squarely on three of the Herder-inspired doctrines in the philosophy
of language that were described above:
thought is essentially dependent on and bounded by, or even identical
with, language;
meaning is word-usage; and
there are deep linguistic and conceptual-intellectual differences
between people. Doctrine
poses a severe challenge to both interpretation and translation, and
it is the main task of Schleiermacher’s theories to cope with
just this challenge. Schleiermacher’s most original doctrine in
the philosophy of language, doctrine
(semantic holism), is also highly relevant in this connection, for,
as Schleiermacher recognizes, semantic holism greatly exacerbates the
challenge to interpretation and translation that is posed by

Schleiermacher lectured on hermeneutics frequently between 1805 and
1833. The following are his main principles:

(a) Hermeneutics is strictly the theory of understanding
linguistic communication—as contrasted, not equated, with
explicating, applying, or translating it.

(b) Hermeneutics should be a universal discipline—i.e.,
one that applies equally to all subjects areas (such as the Bible,
law, and literature), to oral as well as to written language, to
modern texts as well as to ancient ones, to works in one’s own
language as well as to works in foreign languages, and so forth.

(c) In particular, the interpretation of sacred texts such as the
Bible is included within it. This may not rely on special
principles, such as divine inspiration (either of the author or of the

(d) Interpretation is a much more difficult task than is generally
realized: contrary to a common misconception that “understanding
occurs as a matter of course”, in fact “misunderstanding
occurs as a matter of course, and so understanding must be willed and
sought at every point” (HHM 109–110;
HC 21–22). (This position derives from
Schleiermacher’s version of principle
deep linguistic and conceptual-intellectual diversity.)

How, then, is interpretation to be accomplished?

(e) It is essential to distinguish clearly between the question of the
meaning of a text or discourse and the question of its
truth. If an interpreter assumes that a text or discourse
must be true, this will often lead to serious misinterpretation.

(f) Before the interpretation proper of a text or discourse can even
begin, the interpreter must acquire a good knowledge of its historical
context. (The suggestion found in some of the secondary literature
that Schleiermacher thinks that historical context is
irrelevant to interpretation is absurd.)

(g) Interpretation proper always has two sides: one linguistic, the
other psychological. Linguistic interpretation’s task (which
rests on principle
lies in inferring from evidence that consists in particular actual
uses of words to the rules that are governing them, i.e., to their
usages, and thus to their meanings; psychological interpretation
instead focuses on an author’s psychology. Linguistic
interpretation is mainly concerned with what is common or shared in a
language; psychological interpretation mainly with what is distinctive
to a particular author.

(h) Schleiermacher implies several reasons why an interpreter needs to
complement linguistic interpretation with psychological in this way.
First, he sees such a need as arising from the deep linguistic and
conceptual-intellectual distinctiveness of individuals. This
distinctiveness at the level of individuals leads to the problem for
linguistic interpretation that the actual uses of words that are
available to serve as evidence from which to infer an author’s
exact usage or meaning will usually be relatively few in number and
poor in contextual variety—a problem which an appeal to
authorial psychology can help solve by providing additional clues.
Second, an appeal to the author’s psychology is also required in
order to resolve ambiguities at the level of linguistic meaning that
arise in particular contexts (i.e., even after the range of meanings
available to the author for the word(s) in question is known). Third,
in order fully to understand a linguistic act one needs to know not
only its linguistic meaning but also what more recent philosophers
have called its “illocutionary force” or intention. For
example, if I encounter a stranger by a frozen lake who says to me,
“The ice is thin over there”, in order fully to understand
his utterance I need to know not only its linguistic meaning (which in
this case is clear) but also whether the utterance is being made as a
factual observation, a threat, a joke, or whatnot. (Schleiermacher
himself places most emphasis on the first of these three
considerations. However, if, as he does, one wants to argue that
interpretation needs to invoke psychology generally, and if,
as I hinted earlier, linguistic and conceptual-intellectual
distinctiveness is not in fact the pervasive phenomenon that
Schleiermacher usually takes it to be, then it is arguably the latter
two considerations that should be considered the more fundamental

(i) Interpretation also requires two different methods: a
“comparative” method (i.e., a method of plain induction),
which Schleiermacher sees as predominating on the linguistic side of
interpretation, where it takes the interpreter from the particular
uses of a word to the rule for use that governs them all; and a
“divinatory” method (i.e., a method of tentative, fallible
hypothesis based on but also going well beyond the empirical evidence
available; the etymology to keep in mind here is not so much Latin
divinus, which would point toward prophecy, but rather French
deviner, to guess or conjecture), which he sees as
predominating on the psychological side of interpretation. (The
widespread conception in the secondary literature that
“divination” is for Schleiermacher a process of
psychological self-projection into texts contains a grain of truth, in
that he does think that interpretation requires some measure
of psychological common ground between interpreter and interpretee,
but is nonetheless basically mistaken.)

(j) Ideal interpretation is of its nature a holistic activity (this
principle in part rests on, but also goes well beyond,
Schleiermacher’s semantic holism). In particular, any
given piece of text needs to be interpreted in light of the whole text
to which it belongs, and both need to be interpreted in light of the
broader language in which they are written, their larger historical
context, a broader pre-existing genre, the author’s whole
corpus, and the author’s overall psychology. Such holism
introduces a pervasive circularity into interpretation, for,
ultimately, interpreting these broader items in its turn depends on
interpreting such pieces of text. Schleiermacher does not see this
circle as vicious, however. Why not? His solution is not that all of
these tasks should be accomplished simultaneously—for that would
far exceed human capacities. Rather, it essentially lies in the (very
plausible) thought that understanding is not an all-or-nothing matter
but instead something that comes in degrees, so that it is
possible to make progress toward full understanding in a piecemeal
way. For example, concerning the relation between a piece of text and
the whole text to which it belongs, Schleiermacher recommends that we
first read through and interpret as best we can each of the parts of
the text in turn in order thereby to arrive at an approximate overall
interpretation of the text, and that we then apply this approximate
overall interpretation in order to refine our initial interpretations
of each of the particular parts, which in turn gives us an improved
overall interpretation, which can then be re-applied toward still
further refinement of the interpretations of the parts, and so on

Schleiermacher’s debts to Herder in this theory of
interpretation extend well beyond the framework-principles
(5), and
mentioned earlier. Indeed, Schleiermacher’s theory as it has
just been described is almost identical to Herder’s. Some of the
common ground here is admittedly due to the fact that they were both
influenced by the same predecessors, especially J.A. Ernesti. But
Schleiermacher’s theory owes the two central moves (often
wrongly thought to have been original with Schleiermacher) of
supplementing “linguistic” with
“psychological” interpretation and of identifying
“divination” as the predominant method of the latter
exclusively to Herder. (Herder had already made these two moves,
especially in On Thomas Abbt’s Writings [1768] and
On the Cognition and Sensation of the Human Soul [1778].)
Schleiermacher’s theory as it has just been described in essence
merely draws together and systematizes ideas that already lay
scattered through a number of Herder’s works.

There are some significant exceptions to this rule of continuity,
however—respects in which Schleiermacher’s theory deviates
from Herder’s. But it is precisely here that
Schleiermacher’s theory tends to become philosophically
problematic. To begin with two deviations that are not
problematic, but instead advantageous: First, as was previously
mentioned, Schleiermacher exacerbates the challenge to interpretation
that principle
already poses by introducing principle
semantic holism. Second, Schleiermacher’s theory explicitly
introduces principle (b), the ideal of the universality of
hermeneutics. This principle is very much in the spirit of
Herder’s theory, but does go beyond its letter. (There were,
however, some clearer precedents for it—for example, in van der
Hardt, Chladenius, Pfeiffer, Grosch, and Meier.) Turning now to
deviations that are problematic, we have already noted
several examples of such problematic deviations concerning the exact
force of the three principles in the philosophy of language that
underpin Schleiermacher’s theory of interpretation, principles
(5), and
But the following are some further examples. Whereas Herder rightly
emphasizes the vital importance in interpretation of correctly
identifying a work’s genre, and also the great difficulty of
doing so in many cases, especially due to the constant changes in
genres that take place and the consequent pervasive temptation falsely
to assimilate unfamiliar genres to more familiar ones, Schleiermacher
pays relatively little attention to this subject. Again, unlike
Herder, Schleiermacher, especially in his later work, more closely
specifies psychological interpretation as a process of identifying,
and tracing the necessary development of, a single authorial
“seminal decision [Keimentschluß]” that
lies behind a work and unfolds itself as the work in a necessary
fashion. However, this seems an unhelpful move, for how many works are
actually composed, and hence properly interpretable, in such a way?
Again, whereas Herder includes not only an author’s linguistic
behavior but also his non-linguistic behavior among the evidence that
is relevant to psychological interpretation, Schleiermacher normally
insists on a restriction to the former. But this too seems misguided;
for example, the Marquis de Sade’s recorded acts of
cruelty seem no less potentially relevant to establishing the (as we
now put it) sadistic side of his psychological make-up, and hence to
interpreting his texts accurately, than his cruel statements. Again,
unlike Herder, Schleiermacher regards the central role of
“divination”, or hypothesis, in interpretation as a ground
for sharply distinguishing interpretation from natural science, and
hence for classifying it as an art rather than a science. However, he
should arguably instead have seen it as a ground for considering
interpretation and natural science similar. (His mistake here
was caused by a false assumption that natural science works by a
method of plain induction—i.e., roughly: this first a
is F, this second a is F, this third
a is F, … therefore all as are
F—rather than by hypothesis.)

Schleiermacher’s theory also tends to downplay, obscure, or miss
certain important points concerning interpretation that Friedrich
Schlegel had already made. Schlegel’s treatment of hermeneutic
matters—in texts such as his Philosophy of Philology
(1797) and the Athenaeum Fragments
(1798–1800)—largely resembles Schleiermacher’s. But
it also includes the following four points which are either less
emphatic, obscured, or altogether missing in Schleiermacher: (i)
Schlegel notes that texts (at least superior ones) often express
unconscious meanings in addition to their conscious ones:
“Every excellent work … aims at more than it knows”
(On Goethe’s Meister [1798] [PJ
2:177]). Schleiermacher sometimes seems to imply a similar view, most
famously in his doctrine that the interpreter should aim to understand
an author better than he understood himself. However, given
Schleiermacher’s general skepticism about the unconscious, he
probably means little more by this than that the interpreter should
achieve an explicit knowledge of linguistic rules that the author
himself only grasped implicitly. By contrast, Schlegel’s version
of such a position is more radical, envisaging indeed an
“infinite depth” of meaning that is largely unknown to the
author himself. (ii) Schlegel emphasizes that a work sometimes
expresses important meanings, not explicitly in any of its parts, but
rather through the way in which these are put together to form a
whole. This is a very important point. Schleiermacher perhaps in a
makes it as well, but if so, then only as incorporated into
and obscured by his more dubious doctrine of the “seminal
decision”. (iii) Unlike Schleiermacher, Schlegel emphasizes that
works typically contain confusions that the interpreter needs not only
to identify but also to explain:

It is not enough that one understand the actual sense of a confused
work better than the author understood it. One must also oneself be
able to know, characterize, and even construe the
confusion even down to its very principles. (KFSA

This is another very important point. (iv) Schlegel recognizes that
not only linguistic texts and discourse have meanings that require
interpretation, but also non-linguistic art (instrumental music,
sculpture, painting, architecture, and so on), and he therefore covers
this in his theory of interpretation as well. Schleiermacher fails to
do so, instead confining himself to linguistic texts and discourse.
This is a serious omission.

Despite these significant shortcomings in the details of
Schleiermacher’s hermeneutics, it at least had the advantages
over Herder’s and Schlegel’s versions of the discipline of
being consolidated, systematic, and somewhat comprehensive.
Schleiermacher’s pupil August Boeckh, an eminent classical
philologist, subsequently developed a largely faithful and even more
systematic re-articulation of Schleiermacher’s hermeneutics in
lectures that he delivered during the period 1809–1866 and which
were eventually published posthumously as his Encyclopedia and
Methodology of the Philological Sciences
(1877). (Boeckh’s
only major departure from Schleiermacher was his devotion of a new
part of the discipline to genre, very much in the spirit of Herder and
Schlegel.) Through the combined influence of Schleiermacher’s
and Boeckh’s presentations of it, Schleiermacher’s
hermeneutics achieved something very much like the status of the
official hermeneutical methodology of nineteenth-century classical and
biblical scholarship.

5. Historiography of Philosophy

Schleiermacher applied his scrupulous hermeneutic method fruitfully to
several areas of scholarship that centrally require interpretation.
One example of this is the series of lectures on the life of Jesus
that he delivered between 1819 and 1833. Another—for
philosophers probably more significant—example is his work as a
historiographer of philosophy. For further discussion, see the
supplementary document
Schleiermacher and the Historiography of Philosophy.

6. Theory of Translation

As was already mentioned, Schleiermacher also develops his theory of
translation on the foundation of the Herder-influenced principles in
the philosophy of language
(5), and
together with
his own semantic holism, which exacerbates the challenge to
translation already posed by (7).

Schleiermacher was himself a masterful translator, whose German
translations of Plato are still widely used and admired today, about
two hundred years after they were done. So his views on translation
carry a certain prima facie authority. He explains his theory
of translation mainly in the brilliant essay On the Different
Methods of Translation
(1813). The following are some of his main

(a) Translation usually faces the problem of a conceptual gulf between
the source language and the target language (as the latter currently
exists). (This is an application of principle

(b) This situation makes translation an extremely difficult task,
posing a major obstacle to the attainment of translation’s
traditional primary goal, that of faithfully reproducing the original
meaning in the target language. In this connection, Schleiermacher in
particular notes the following problem (which might be dubbed the
paradox of paraphrase): If, faced with the task of translating an
alien concept, a translator attempts to reproduce its intension by
reproducing its extension with the aid of an elaborate paraphrase in
his own language, he will generally find that as he gets closer to the
original extension he undermines the original intension in other ways.
For instance, faced with Homer’s color word
chlôros, a word that Homer sometimes applies to things
that we would classify as green (e.g., healthy foliage) but at other
times to things that we would classify as yellow (e.g., honey), a
translator might attempt to reproduce the extension correctly by
translating the word as “green or yellow”. But in doing so
he would be sacrificing the original intension in other ways—for
Homer did not have either the concept green or the concept
yellow (only the concept chlôros), and in addition for
Homer chlôros was not a disjunctive

(c) Schleiermacher also identifies a number of further challenges that
commonly exacerbate the difficulty of translation. For example, he
notes that in the case of poetry it is necessary to reproduce not only
the semantic but also the musical aspects of the original, such as
meter and rhyme—and this not merely as a desideratum over and
above the main task of reproducing meaning, but also as an essential
part of that task, because in poetry such musical features
serve as essential vehicles for the precise expression of meaning. And
he argues that in addition to reproducing meaning a translation should
attempt to convey to its readership where an author was being
conceptually conventional and where conceptually original—for
example, by using older vocabulary from the target language in the
former cases and relative neologisms from it in the latter. But he
also notes that in both of these connections the added requirement or
desideratum involved will frequently stand in tension with that of
finding the closest semantic fit—since, for example, it will
turn out that the word that would best reproduce a rhyme or best
reflect a concept’s vintage is not the one that is closest in
meaning to the word in the original.

(d) Because of this great difficulty, the translator needs to possess
real interpretive expertise, and to be an “artist”, if he
is to cope with the task of translation at all adequately.

(e) The conceptual gulf that poses the central challenge here might in
principle be tackled in one of two broad ways: either by bringing the
author’s linguistic-conceptual world closer to that of the
reader of the translation or vice versa. The former approach had been
championed, among others, by Luther in his classic Letter on
(1530) and had been practiced by him in his
translation of the Bible (he called it Verdeutschung,
“Germanizing”, in a strong sense of the term). However,
Schleiermacher finds it unacceptable, mainly because it inevitably
distorts the author’s concepts and thoughts. Schleiermacher
therefore champions the alternative approach of bringing the reader
toward the linguistic-conceptual world of the author as the only
acceptable one.

But how can this possibly be accomplished?

(f) According to Schleiermacher, the key to a solution lies in the
plasticity of language. Because of this plasticity, even if the usages
of words, and hence the concepts, expressed by the target language
as it currently exists are incommensurable with the
author’s, it is still possible for a translator to

bend the language of the translation as far possible toward that of
the original in order to communicate as far as possible an impression
of the system of concepts developed in it. (DM

(This solution presupposes principle
in the philosophy of language.) For instance, the translator faced
with the task of translating Homer’s word chlôros
would select the closest counterpart in the target language, say
“green”, but then modify its usage over the course of the
translation so that it is applied not only to things that are green
(e.g., healthy foliage) but also to things that are yellow (e.g.,

(g) This approach entails a strong preference for translating any
given word in the original in a uniform way throughout the translation
rather than switching between two or more different ways of
translating it in different contexts.

(h) This approach also makes for translations that are considerably
less easy to read than those that can be achieved by the alternative
approach (Verdeutschung). However, this is an acceptable
price to pay given that the only alternative is a failure to convey
the author’s meaning at all accurately. Moreover, the offending
peculiarities have a positive value in that they constantly remind the
reader of the conceptual unfamiliarity of the material that is being
translated and of the “bending” approach that is being

(i) In order to work at all effectively, though, this approach
requires that large amounts of relevant material be translated, so
that the reader of the translation becomes habituated to it and
acquires enough examples of a particular word’s unfamiliar use
in enough different contexts to enable him to infer the unfamiliar
rule for use that is involved.

(j) Even this optimal approach to translation has severe limitations,
however. In particular, it will often be impossible to reproduce the
holistic aspects of meaning—the several related usages of a
given word, the systems of related words/concepts, and the distinctive
grammar of the language. And since these holistic features are
internal to a word’s meaning, this will entail a shortfall in
the communication of its meaning by the translation. Reading a
translation therefore inevitably remains only a poor second best to
reading the original, and the translator should think of his task as
one of striving to approximate an infinite, never fully realizable,

(k) Translation is still amply justified, though—not only for
the obvious reason that it is necessary in order to make works
available to people who want to read them but are not in the fortunate
position of knowing the original languages, but also for the less
obvious reason that through its “bending” approach it
effects a conceptual enrichment of their language (and through its
reproduction of musical features a musical enrichment).

(l) Nor (Schleiermacher adds in answer to a worry that Herder had
expressed) need we fear that this enrichment will deprive our language
of its authentic character. For in cases where a real conflict with
that character arises, the enrichments in question will soon wither
from the language.

(m) Schleiermacher also argues that the sort of approach to
translation that he advocates can only be successful under certain
very specific historical circumstances (which he takes to be present
in the Germany of his own day), including a widespread interest in
foreign cultures and a high degree of flexibility in the language.

Here again (as in the case of interpretation), not only the framework
(5), and
but most of these ideas about translation come from Herder.
In particular, Schleiermacher’s central strategy of
“bending” the target language in order to cope with
conceptual incommensurability, and his point that it is also important
to convey the musical aspects of an original (poetic) text in order to
convey its meaning accurately, both do so. (Relevant Herderian sources
here are the Fragments on Recent German Literature
[1767–8] and the Popular Songs [Volkslieder]
[1774 and 1778/9].)

However, unlike Schleiermacher’s theory of interpretation,
which, as was mentioned earlier, often worsens Herder’s, this
theory of translation tends to refine Herder’s in some modest
but significant ways. Among the ideas just adumbrated, examples of
this occur in (b), where Schleiermacher’s paradox of paraphrase
is largely novel; (c), where his ideal of making clear in a
translation at which points the author was being conceptually
conventional and at which points conceptually original is novel; (h),
where his idea that the oddities that result from the
“bending” approach are not only an acceptable price to pay
but can actually serve a positive function is novel; (i), which is a
novel point; (j), where the point that semantic holism imposes
principled limitations on the successfulness of translations is novel;
(l), which plausibly contradicts Herder; and (m), which is a novel

Indeed, Schleiermacher’s theory of translation constitutes a
great landmark in the subject, and his 1813 essay is arguably the
single most important work on it ever written. Not only are the
theory’s central claims important and defensible, but it has
also exercised an enormous influence on subsequent translation
theories, such as those of Walter Benjamin or, more recently, Antoine
Berman and Lawrence Venuti with their “foreignizing”
approach. Moreover, it is often superior to these descendant theories
(e.g., avoiding the religious mysticism that Benjamin adds and
preserving the traditional concern with meaning that Berman and Venuti

7. Aesthetics

Schleiermacher tended to be quite self-deprecating about his
sensitivity to and knowledge of art, and hence about his aptitude for
aesthetics (e.g., in On Religion and the
Soliloquies, where he is clearly rather in awe of the greater
talent and expertise in this area that such romantic friends as the
Schlegel brothers enjoyed), and accordingly tended to shy away from
discussing the subject in detail in his earlier work. However, he did
eventually bring himself to confront the subject systematically,
namely, in his lectures on aesthetics (first delivered in 1819, and
then again in 1825 and 1832–3).

Part of his motivation behind this eventual confrontation with the
subject—and part of the reason why it remains interesting
today—derives from the fact that the phenomenon of art, and in
particular the phenomenon of non-linguistic art (e.g., painting,
sculpture, and music), prompts a certain theoretical question that is
of fundamental importance, not only for the philosophy of art itself,
but also for hermeneutics, or the theory of interpretation, and for
the philosophy of language that underlies it: Do non-linguistic arts
such as painting, sculpture, and music express meanings and thoughts,
and if so how? This question is obviously important for the philosophy
of art. But it is also important for hermeneutics, or the theory of
interpretation, because it carries in its train such further questions
as whether the theory of interpretation ought not to treat additional
forms of expression besides the linguistic ones that
Schleiermacher’s own hermeneutics treats, what the appropriate
methods of interpretation might be in such additional cases, and how
such additional cases and their interpretive methods might relate to
linguistic ones. Moreover, the question mentioned is also important
for the philosophy of language that underpins Schleiermacher’s
theory of interpretation, as embodied in principles
For a positive answer to this question might threaten those two
principles, or at least show that they need significant revision.

In his last cycle of aesthetics lectures (1832–3) Schleiermacher
initially pursued a very simple strategy for dealing with these issues
concerning non-linguistic art. However, he soon realized that the
strategy in question was untenable, and abandoned it for a more
promising but also more ambiguous position.

His whole train of thought there closely followed one that Herder had
already pursued in the Critical Forests (1769), so it may be
useful to begin with a brief sketch of the latter. By the time of
writing the Critical Forests Herder was already committed to
his own versions of principles
Accordingly, in reaction to the phenomenon of the non-linguistic arts
the book initially set out to argue for a theory of their nature that
would preserve consistency with those principles, and it did so in a
very straightforward way, denying the non-linguistic arts any the
ability to express thoughts or meanings autonomously of
language by denying them any ability to express thoughts or meanings
at all: whereas poetry has a sense, a soul, a force, music is
a mere succession of objects in time, and sculpture and painting are
merely spatial; whereas poetry not only depends on the senses but also
relates to the imagination, music, sculpture, and painting belong
solely to the senses (to hearing, feeling, and vision, respectively);
whereas poetry uses voluntary and conventional signs, music,
sculpture, and painting employ only natural ones. However, as
Herder proceeded with his book he came to realize that this simplistic
solution was untenable: in the third part of the book he stumbled upon
the awkward case of ancient coins, which, though normally
non-linguistic, clearly do nonetheless often express meanings and
thoughts in pictorial ways. This realization did not lead him to
abandon his versions of principles
however. Instead, it brought him to a more refined account of the
non-linguistic arts which was still consistent with those principles:
the non-linguistic arts do sometimes express meanings and thoughts,
but the meanings and thoughts in question are ones that are
parasitic on a prior linguistic expression or expressibility of
them by the artist
. In the fourth part of the book (which was not
published until the middle of the nineteenth century, and was hence
unknown to Schleiermacher) Herder already extended this solution from
coins to painting; and in subsequent works he extended it to sculpture
and music as well.

Schleiermacher’s aesthetics lectures follow a strikingly similar
course. He at first sets out to develop a version of the theory that
Herder had initially developed in the Critical Forests,
correlating the several non-linguistic arts with the different senses
as Herder’s theory had done (his only significant revision here
consists in modifying Herder’s correlation of sculpture with the
sense of touch to include vision as well as touch). Like
Herder’s initial theory, Schleiermacher’s is largely
motivated by his prior commitment to principles
which, again like Herder’s initial theory, it seeks to
vindicate in a naive way: non-linguistic arts, such as music and
sculpture, do not express meanings or thoughts autonomously
of language because they do not express them at all. For
example, Schleiermacher argues that music merely expresses
physiologically based “life-conditions
[Lebenszustände]”, not representations or
thoughts. However, rather like Herder with his ancient coins, in the
course of developing this naive solution Schleiermacher stumbles upon
a case that forces him to the realization that it is untenable: He
develops his naive solution smoothly enough for the cases of music and
painting, but then in the middle of his discussion of sculpture he
suddenly recalls Pausanias’s account that the very earliest
Greek sculptures were merely rough blocks whose function was to serve,
precisely, as symbols of religious ideas (oops!). He
subsequently goes on to note that an analogous point holds for other
non-linguistic arts, such as painting, as well. Accordingly, at this
stage in his lectures he changes tack. He now acknowledges that
non-linguistic arts do (at least sometimes) express meanings
and thoughts after all, and he goes on to vacillate between two new,
and mutually conflicting, accounts of that fact: (a) The arts in
question do so in such a way that the meanings and thoughts involved
are at least sometimes not (yet) linguistically articulable. (In
particular, he suggests that the early Greek sculpture just mentioned
expressed religious ideas that only later got expressed
linguistically.) This account would entail abandoning or at least
severely revising principles
(b) The arts in question do so in virtue of a pre-existing linguistic
articulation or articulability of the same meanings and thoughts in
the artist. (Schleiermacher actually only says in virtue of
“something universal”, “a representation”, but
a dependence on language seems clearly implied.) This account is
similar to Herder’s final account, and, like it, would preserve
In the end, then, having renounced his initial—clearly
untenable—position, Schleiermacher is left torn between these
two more plausible-looking positions, which, however, contradict each

The eighteenth- and nineteenth-century German hermeneutic tradition as
a whole was similarly torn between these two positions. As has already
been mentioned, (b) was the considered position at which Herder
eventually arrived. But (a) had strong champions as well—in
particular, Hamann, Wackenroder and Tieck, Hegel (concerning
architecture and sculpture), and the later Dilthey. The choice between
these two positions is a genuinely difficult one, philosophically

Where does this leave Schleiermacher in relation to the several issues
bearing on his hermeneutics and his philosophy of language that, I
suggested, encouraged him to undertake this investigation of
non-linguistic art in the first place? Concerning the primary
question, whether the non-linguistic arts express meanings and
thoughts and if so how, he has now realized that they do indeed (at
least sometimes) express meanings and thoughts, but he remains torn on
exactly how they do so. Concerning his theory of interpretation, that
realization is already important, because it shows that interpretation
theory does indeed need to extend its coverage beyond linguistic cases
to include at least some cases of non-linguistic art. But he remains
torn on the further issues in this area—in particular, on
whether, as (a) implies, there will be cases in which the
interpretation of non-linguistic art will transcend the interpretation
of any associated language or, as (b) implies, it will always be
dependent on and restricted by the interpretation of associated
language. Finally, concerning the philosophy of language that
underpins his theory of interpretation, he remains torn about whether
the meanings and thoughts that are expressed by non-linguistic art are
always parasitic on language (position (b)), so that principles
can be retained without any qualification or modification, or they
are instead sometimes independent of language (position (a)), so that
will either have to be abandoned or (with Hamann in his
Metacritique [1784]) (re)construed in a way that stretches
their reference to “language” and “words” to
include not-strictly-linguistic-or-verbal symbol use in the
non-linguistic arts.

Another motive behind Schleiermacher’s treatment of art in his
late aesthetics lectures concerns its cultural status, especially
relative to religion. It was an abiding concern of
Schleiermacher’s from early in his career until the very end of
it—one that set him at odds with the predominant tendency of
early German romanticism—to subordinate art to religion. The
final cycle of the aesthetics lectures from 1832–3 is just the
last in a long line of attempts to achieve this goal. It seems to me,
however, that, partly for reasons already touched on, this last
attempt turns out to be oddly and interestingly self-subverting.

Let us first briefly survey Schleiermacher’s broader series of
attempts to subordinate art, and then consider how this last one
proves self-subverting. It was already one of the early
Schleiermacher’s main goals to turn contemporary culture, and
especially the romantic movement, away from the then fashionable idea
that art was the highest possible type of insight toward the idea that
religion was. This is an important part of the project of On
(1799), where he criticizes the sort of elevation of art
above religion that Goethe and Schiller had begun and the romantics
had then accentuated, complains of the trivial nature of modern art,
and argues that art ought to subserve religion, as Plato had thought.
(The early Schleiermacher was in a way strikingly successful in
achieving his goal: after 1799, largely under his influence, the
leading romantics did increasingly turn away from art toward religion,
and to some extent the same was also true of German culture more
generally.) The ethics lectures of 1812–13 continue the same
project in a certain way. There Schleiermacher represents art as of
its very nature a collective expression of religious feeling (one that
differs in accordance with the differences between religions). In
other words, he represents art as only true to its own nature when it
subserves religion. The 1830 psychology lectures develop an
interesting variation on the same theme. There Schleiermacher argues
that the perception of beauty is a feeling but one that has a certain
sort of deep cognitive content in that it expresses the relation of
intelligence to Being. This makes it sound very much like religious
feeling, and indeed in these lectures it is treated as a sort of close
second-in-command to religious feeling. It might seem as though, from
Schleiermacher’s standpoint, there was a danger here of art
acquiring too independent and exalted a status. However, that danger
is in part averted by the fact that he is here talking primarily about
natural beauty, and only secondarily about artistic

The 1832–3 aesthetics lectures continue this sort of
art-demoting project, but in a different way. Schleiermacher’s
initial intention there, it seems, was to demote art (in comparison
with religion) in two respects: First, as we saw, the lectures
initially set out to give an account of non-linguistic arts (music,
painting, and sculpture) that represents them as merely expressive of
sensuous feelings and non-cognitive in character. Second, the lectures
give an account of poetry that represents it as merely national and
indeed individual in nature, not universal like science and (at least
in a way) religion. Thus the lectures argue that art generally, and
therefore poetry in particular, is national in nature, not universal,
and more radically that it indeed has the function of expressing
individuality, of resisting even the commonality of a national
language (thereby making explicit a potential that is also present,
though less fully realized, in normal language use).

However, as I suggested, this twofold strategy for demoting art turns
out to be curiously self-subverting. For one thing, as we saw, the
model of non-linguistic art as merely sensuous and non-cognitive in
the end proves to be unsustainable. Moreover, not only does
non-linguistic art turn out to have a cognitive content after all, but
in addition that fact becomes clear from a case (the earliest Greek
sculpture) in which the content in question is not trivial but deeply
religious in character. Furthermore, this self-subversion would be
even more extreme if position (a) won out over position (b) in the
end. For another thing, poetry’s function of expressing
individuality implies that for Schleiermacher it represents the
highest ethical value (for more on individuality’s high
status in Schleiermacher’s ethics, see below). In short, what
was intended as a demotion of art turns willy-nilly into a sort of
cognitive-religious and ethical exaltation of it.

8. Dialectics

Most of Schleiermacher’s earliest philosophical work as part of
the romantic movement was in areas of the subject that might
reasonably be described as peripheral in comparison with such central
areas as metaphysics and epistemology (in particular, philosophy of
religion, ethics, and hermeneutics). This fact, together no doubt with
the imposing presence of several intellectual competitors who had
recently made or were making contributions in those central areas
(including Kant, Fichte, Schelling, and Hegel), seems to have spurred
him to develop his own treatment of them. The result was his
“dialectics”, which he began presenting in lecture-form in
1811. (This subject-title calls to mind relevant approaches not only
in Plato and Aristotle, but also in Kant and Hegel.)

Accordingly, Schleiermacher’s dialectics in some ways carries
the marks of a discipline that he felt forced to develop, rather than
one for which he had a clear, compelling vision (as he had for his
philosophy of religion and his hermeneutics, for example). For one
thing, the nature of the discipline undergoes a striking shift between
its two earliest versions (the lectures of 1811 and
1814–15)—which have the character of fairly conventional
treatments of metaphysical and epistemological issues, already
concerned to some extent with resolving disagreements indeed, but in a
purely theoretical way—and its two main later versions (the
lectures of 1822 and the book-fragment from 1833), which make the art
of resolving disagreements through conversation the core of the
discipline (albeit that “conversation” here includes not
only the paradigm case of oral communication but also written
communication and even dialogue internal to a single person’s
mind). This shift might be roughly described as one from a more
Aristotelian to a more Socratic-Platonic conception of

For another thing, in all of its versions Schleiermacher’s
dialectics has an oddly rag-bag appearance, including as it does not
only material that would naturally be classified as metaphysics and
epistemology, but also large helpings of philosophy of mind, logic
(especially the logic of concepts and judgments; Schleiermacher treats
the logic of syllogism in a reductive and rather deprecatory way),
philosophy of science, and philosophy of religion.

In its final versions (on which I shall focus here), the discipline
has the following character: Its concern is with what Schleiermacher
calls “pure thought”, as distinguished from the thought of
everyday affairs or of art—that is, with thought that aims at
truth, rather than merely at achieving practical ends or inventing
fictions. (Schleiermacher denies, though, that the former is sharply
separated from the latter two; rather, it is to some degree implicit
in them as well as vice versa.)

According to Schleiermacher, genuine knowledge of its very nature
requires, not only (1) correspondence to reality, but also (2)
systematic coherence with all knowledge, and (3) universal
agreement among people. The main motive behind this elaborate position
seems to be the thought that there is in principle no way to determine
the fulfillment of condition (1) directly, so that believers
need to rely on guidance by the fulfillment of conditions (2) and (3).
(The German scholar Manfred Frank, in a well known early
interpretation of Schleiermacher’s dialectics that he gave in
his book Das individuelle Allgemeine (1985), accentuated
condition (3), attributing to Schleiermacher on the strength of it a
consensus theory of truth. However, in his subsequent edition of
Schleiermacher’s dialectics lectures Frank rightly admitted that
this interpretation had overlooked the realism implied by condition
(1). Incidentally, Frank’s self-correction of the reading of
Schleiermacher’s dialectics that he had given in Das
individuelle Allgemeine
also undercuts his equally well known
early reading of Schleiermacher’s hermeneutics there, which
built upon this ascription to Schleiermacher of a consensus theory of
truth an ascription to him of a—roughly
Gadamerian—conception of interpretation as an ongoing
construction of facts about meaning through the development of

Not surprisingly given how strong the three conditions just mentioned
are, Schleiermacher considers genuine knowledge to be only an
“idea” toward which we can make progress, not something
that we can ever actually achieve. (Not coincidentally, this position
resembles his official positions in hermeneutics and translation
theory that the correct understanding of another person and the
correct translation of a text are only goals to which we can
approximate, not ones that we can ever actually achieve. This is a
characteristically romantic pattern.)

Schleiermacher’s dialectics is largely conceived as a
methodology for making such progress. This project proceeds relatively
smoothly in connection with conditions (1) and (2). For example, in
connection with (1), Schleiermacher develops certain principles
concerning how to form concepts correctly rather than incorrectly
(i.e., in such a way that—as a more recent idiom would put
it—they, their superordinate genus-concepts, their subordinate
species-concepts, and their contrasting coordinate concepts
“carve nature at the joints”). And in connection with (2),
while he acknowledges that the task of forming a totality of knowledge
is of its nature incompletable, he nonetheless prescribes what he
calls “heuristic” and “architectonic”
procedures for, respectively, amassing pieces of knowledge and forming
them together into a coherent whole.

However, the project runs into deeper difficulties in relation to
condition (3). There are two main problems here. First, besides the
obvious and avowed impossibility of actually accessing all people in
order to come to agreement with them, Schleiermacher also identifies a
further obstacle in the way of reaching, or even making significant
progress toward, agreement with them: the deep differences that exist
between different languages and modes of thought. The dialectics
lectures fail to find any promising way of coping with this problem.
The 1822 version attempts to do so in two ways, but neither of them
looks hopeful. Its first approach consists in hypothesizing a domain
of “innate concepts” that are common to everyone (with
certain qualifications, for example, that these concepts require
sensations in order to be actualized). This would certainly solve the
problem, but only by contradicting Schleiermacher’s normal, and
more plausible, position, from which the problem arose in the first
place, that there is no such conceptual common ground between
all languages (or even, Schleiermacher normally adds, between all
individuals who in some sense share a given language). The second
approach that the 1822 version tries is an argument that we need to
develop a complete history of the differences in question and of how
they arose. However, this proposal seems beside the point—a
distraction from the problem rather than a solution to it.

In his 1833 book-fragment Schleiermacher at some points seems close to
giving up on this problem, saying in one place that because of it
dialectics must restrict itself to a specific “linguistic
sphere”. But at other points he evidently still clings to the
hope of finding common ground that unites different “linguistic
spheres”. What sort of solution does he have in mind? The answer
can perhaps be seen from an 1831 address that he delivered on
Leibniz’s idea of a universal language. In this address he in
effect argues that it was a mistake on Leibniz’s part to suppose
that there was already conceptual common ground shared by
everyone, which could be captured in a universal language (this also
amounts to a rejection of his own dubious idea in the 1822 lectures of
common “innate concepts”), but that the sort of conceptual
common ground that Leibniz had thus wrongly envisaged as
already existing can nonetheless be achieved (or at
least approached) for the sciences in the future, namely, by
cultivating an attitude of openness to the borrowing of conceptual
resources from other languages when such resources prove themselves
useful for the sciences (a process that, according to Schleiermacher,
is in fact already strongly underway, and which is realizable either
through borrowing the foreign words in question outright or by
translating them into one’s own language in the sort of
scrupulous way that his theory of translation advocates).
Schleiermacher notes that this solution requires an (in any case
healthy) shedding of prejudices about the superiority of one’s
own language, mode of thought, and people over others. This looks like
Schleiermacher’s most promising solution to the problem in
question. He did not, however, live long enough to develop it in
detail or to build on it toward a more complete method for resolving
interlinguistic disagreements.

The second, and perhaps more surprising, problem is that
Schleiermacher’s dialectics lectures do not even develop a
substantive account of how to resolve disagreements through
conversation within a “linguistic sphere”.
However, here again it is fortunately possible to supplement the
dialectics lectures with additional material that goes further in such
a direction. One important text in this connection is
Schleiermacher’s early essay Toward a Theory of Sociable
(1799), which is precisely concerned with the art of
conversation within a linguistic sphere. This early essay emphasizes
the importance of finding (conceptual) “content” that one
shares with one’s interlocutor(s), and restricting one’s
conversation to this. Schleiermacher accordingly recommends that one
begin a conversation guided by a sort of minimal estimate of such
content arrived at from one’s knowledge of such things as the
profession, the educational background, and the class of one’s
interlocutor(s), and that one then tentatively and experimentally work
outwards toward identifying and exploiting further shared
content—a process that he recommends one should undertake, not
by the heavy-handed method of introducing doubtfully shared content
directly, but rather by the subtler method of introducing it
indirectly in the form of a dimension of allusion and satire that one
adds to one’s treatment of already established shared content
(after which, if the response from the interlocutor(s) is positive, it
can join the previously established shared content as a proper
subject-matter for direct treatment).

Another helpful text in this connection is Schleiermacher’s
hermeneutics lectures, which implicitly revise the earlier account
just described in two respects: (a) In that account conversation was
to be restricted to conceptual content that was already shared between
interlocutors. But as we saw previously, by the time Schleiermacher
delivers the hermeneutics lectures he is skeptical that people
ever really share conceptual content. Consequently, he would
presumably now set the bar for fruitful conversation somewhat lower
than strict sharing. (b) Also, it seems reasonable to infer from his
conception of hermeneutics that he would now place less emphasis on
discovering pre-existing commonalities, or even near-commonalities,
and more on refining those found and establishing further
ones—in both cases, with the help of an adept use of the art of

Finally, Schleiermacher’s hermeneutics lectures also supply an
additional part of his seemingly missing solution to the problem of
reaching agreement through conversation, both in inter- and in
intra-linguistic contexts. Clearly, any art of reaching agreement
through conversation is going to depend on an art of interpreting
interlocutors. Accordingly, the dialectics lectures explicitly assert
that dialectics is dependent on hermeneutics (as well as vice versa),
Schleiermacher’s conception of hermeneutics as a universal
discipline ensures its applicability to conversations, and
Schleiermacher indeed mentions in the hermeneutics lectures that he
sometimes applies his own hermeneutical principles in conversational
contexts. In short, Schleiermacher’s hermeneutics itself
constitutes an important component of his art of reaching agreement
through conversation.

In sum, whereas Schleiermacher’s final conception of dialectics
as a discipline leads one to expect it to provide a fairly detailed
set of procedures for resolving both inter- and intra-linguistic
disagreements in conversation (analogous to the detailed set of
procedures for interpretation that one finds in his hermeneutics),
this expectation is largely disappointed by the dialectics lectures
themselves. However, one can supplement them from other texts in order
to see how Schleiermacher might have envisaged a fuller solution to
this task.

One last point that should be mentioned in this connection is the
following. Schleiermacher’s most prominent motive for developing
such an art of conversation is the epistemological one described
above. That may or may not be a good motive in the end. However,
Schleiermacher also has further, independent motives behind this art
that are more obviously attractive. Thus, his 1831 address on Leibniz
implies two additional motives behind the intercultural side of the
art: first, Schleiermacher’s cosmopolitan concern for humanity
as a whole in all of its diversity constitutes a moral reason for
promoting fruitful intercultural dialogue; and second, his sense that
insight, far from being a monopoly of ours, is dispersed among many
cultures constitutes another reason for us to engage in such dialogue.
Schleiermacher would presumably say that analogous considerations help
to justify the intracultural side of the art as well. In addition, the
essay Toward a Theory of Sociable Conduct emphasizes yet
another motive behind the intracultural side of the art. In this essay
Schleiermacher does not yet mention his later epistemological motive
at all, but instead focuses on more direct benefits that he expects to
accrue from fruitful conversation between members of society, in
particular the individual’s enrichment of his own limited
perspective through an incorporation of the different perspectives of
other people. Schleiermacher would presumably say that an analogous
consideration helps to justify the intercultural side of the art as
well. In short, even if it were to turn out that
Schleiermacher’s predominant epistemological motive for
developing an art of inter- and intra-cultural conversation were
unpersuasive, such an art might still be valuable for other reasons
that he also has in mind such as these ones.

Finally, a few further positions that Schleiermacher develops in his
dialectics should also be mentioned, albeit more briefly. One rather
striking position is a denial that any concepts, thoughts, or
cognitions are either purely a priori in character or purely
empirical—either the product of the “intellectual”
function alone or of the “organic” function alone. Rather,
all are the product of both functions—though the
proportions in which they are involved vary from case to

More specifically, as Schleiermacher conceives the situation, all are
located on a continuum that stretches between the maximally
“intellectual” ideas of Being or God and the maximally
“organic” chaos of sensations. These two extremes do not
themselves involve mixture: Being or God is purely intellectual, while
the chaos of sensations is purely organic. However, they do not for
that reason constitute counterexamples to the position just mentioned,
because they are not themselves strictly speaking concepts, thoughts,
or cognitions.

As was mentioned previously, Schleiermacher’s theory of concepts
also says that these are in each case defined by relations of
subsumption under higher concepts, contrast with correlative concepts
similarly subsumed, and subsumption of further concepts under them.
Subsumption under the non-concept Being and the subsumption of a class
of primitive judgments concerning sensations constitute special cases
at the two extremes of this conceptual hierarchy.

Another position that Schleiermacher holds is that the (Kantian)
distinction between analytic and synthetic judgments is a merely
“relative” one. Part of his reason for this position seems
to lie in his view that all judgments are partly empirical in nature
(a consideration that anticipates Quine). But what he mainly seems to
have in mind here is that it is always in some sense up to us to
decide how many and which characteristic marks to build into any given
subject concept, and therefore how many and which judgments in which
that subject concept features will count as analytic or as

A last feature of Schleiermacher’s dialectics is more puzzling.
Schleiermacher notes at one point that he wants to chart a sort of
middle course between ancient dialectics, which had the virtue of
openness but the vice of courting skepticism, and the dogmatism of the
scholastics, for whom everything of importance was pre-decided in a
religious principle that they presupposed. His concession to the
former position has in effect already been described above. But what
about his concession to the latter? This takes the form of positing a
“transcendental ground” or God which is (1) beyond all
oppositions, including those of thought/reality, thought/volition, and
concept/judgment, (2) beyond Being (even though Being is itself beyond
such oppositions), (3) an essential impulse behind, and accompaniment
of, all attempts to know, and (4) not thinkable or linguistically
expressible but instead felt. This is all rather mysterious. For
example, the philosophical rationale for positing such a
“transcendental ground” or God as beyond rather than
identical with Being is obscure, and so too is the exact way in which
it is supposed to be the impulse behind, and accompaniment of, all
attempts to know.

9. Ethics

Schleiermacher’s ethical thought divides into two overlapping
chronological phases. The first phase—which stretched from the
late 1780s until about 1803—was mainly critical in character.
Early in this phase, the three unpublished essays On the Highest
(1789), On What Gives Value to Life (1792–3),
and On Freedom (1790–3) mounted a sustained attack on
Kant’s ethical theory, and at the end of this phase the longer
published work Outlines of a Critique of Previous Ethical
(1803) developed that attack into a more comprehensive and
systematic critique of previous ethical theories. The second
phase—which began around 1800—was by contrast mainly
constructive in character. To this phase belong the
Soliloquies (1800), the Draft of an Ethics
(1805–6), and Schleiermacher’s mature ethics lectures
(including the complete draft from 1812–13, as well as a number
of later partial drafts).

The three early essays On the Highest Good, On What Gives
Value to Life
, and On Freedom criticize and reject
central tenets of Kant’s moral philosophy: in particular,
Kant’s inclusion of an apportioning of happiness to moral desert
in the “highest good [summum bonum]”;
Kant’s position that this must be believed in as a
presupposition of morality, so that its own implicit presuppositions,
an afterlife of the soul and a God, must be so as well (the doctrine
of the “postulates”); and Kant’s incompatibilism
concerning causal determinism and the freedom that is required for
moral responsibility, and consequent recourse to the causally
indeterministic noumenal realm as the locus for freedom (On
argues to the contrary that all human actions are
causally determined, but that this is compatible with the freedom that
is required for moral responsibility).

A further area of disagreement with Kant forms the hinge on which
Schleiermacher’s development of his own constructive ethical
theory turns. Kant’s fundamental moral principle, the
“categorical imperative”, consisted, according to its
central formulation, in a requirement that an agent’s moral
maxim (or intention) be consistent when universalized, and was
conceived by Kant to be shared by all human beings.
Schleiermacher rejects this position in two ways. First, already in
On What Gives Value to Life, and then especially in the
Soliloquies, he argues against the latter idea of uniformity
in ethics—instead asserting, in the spirit of Herder (and others
influenced by Herder, such as Goethe, Schiller, and fellow romantics),
the fact and value of diversity or individuality
even in the moral sphere. In this connection, Schleiermacher champions
not only a (moral) distinctiveness of different human societies
vis-à-vis the human species as a whole (this had been
Herder’s main cause), but also a (moral) distinctiveness of the
individual vis-à-vis his society (this had also been a cause of
Herder’s). (In On Religion Schleiermacher makes an
analogous case for both societal and individual diversity in religion.
His positive evaluation of societal and individual diversity naturally
also extends beyond morals and religion to other domains.)

Second, Schleiermacher also rejects the content of Kant’s
“categorical imperative” as specified by its central
formulation: the requirement of consistency of a maxim under
universalization. In On Religion and the Soliloquies
Schleiermacher is rather inclined to champion Kant’s subordinate
formula of a commitment to the welfare of humanity, though
not in Kant’s sense of a common rational nature, but instead in
Herder’s sense of all human beings in their diversities as well
as their commonalities. (In On Religion he also discusses the
historical dimension of this principle of humanity in a Herderian
spirit, like Herder in Ideas for the Philosophy of History of
[1784–91] emphasizing the important role that has
been played by (Christian) religion in advancing it, and interpreting
history as its progressive realization.)

Schleiermacher’s commitment to humanity implies a commitment to
moral cosmopolitanism, or moral respect for all human beings. But, as
we have just seen, he espouses this commitment despite, or even in
part because of, a recognition of their moral diversity. This
constitutes a novel form of moral cosmopolitanism: a
pluralist cosmopolitanism that sharply contrasts with the
homogenizing cosmopolitanism of the philosophical tradition
(e.g., the Stoics and Kant), which had instead been predicated on an
assumption of moral uniformity. This innovation had already been
anticipated by Herder, but Schleiermacher embraces it even more
clearly. It is arguably the single most important contribution to
philosophical reflection on cosmopolitanism of the eighteenth and
nineteenth centuries.

This position of Schleiermacher’s might seem to court the
following sort of problem, though: What if the moral values of a
society or an individual conflict with the ideal of humanity? What if,
for example, the society is Nazi Germany or the individual Hitler? In
the Soliloquies Schleiermacher tries to forestall this sort
of problem by limiting the forms of moral distinctiveness and
individuality that he supports to those that are compatible with, or
even conducive to, the ideal of humanity. Thus he expresses his
commitment to moral distinctiveness or individuality in such formulas
as that a person should be an individual “without violating the
laws of humanity”, that “each human being should represent
humanity in his own way”, and that what is valuable is a
person’s “distinctive being and its relation to
humanity”. Similarly, his championing of (moral) diversity or
individuality is always combined with requirements of a measure of
conformity with a broader species-wide or societal whole.

This constructive tension between “distinctive
[eigentümlich]” and “universal” sides
of morality survives to constitute the central principle of
Schleiermacher’s mature ethics lectures. There he begins by
arguing that very general versions or analogues of such a constructive
tension exist as universal facts of nature—that all finite
beings exhibit such a tension; more specifically, that all life does
so in the form of a tension between autonomy and social commonality;
and more specifically still, that all human mental life does so in
that same form. He then goes on to derive from this a moral duty to
realize such a tension in one’s own person.

This position prompts further questions, to which the answers are not
entirely clear. First, is Schleiermacher not here guilty of the
so-called “naturalistic fallacy”, i.e., the fallacy of
undertaking to deduce an “ought” from an “is”?
The answer would depend on the exact nature of his derivation of the
moral duty involved from the universal facts of nature, which is
obscure. Second, how can a synthesis of commonality with individuality
be both an unavoidable fact about human nature (e.g., since we can
never quite share any concepts, we also can never quite share
any moral concepts in particular) and a moral duty? There are two
possible answers to this puzzle. One would appeal to
Schleiermacher’s determinism and compatibilism: that a mode of
existence or behavior is inevitable does not for him preclude its
moral obligatoriness. The other would instead appeal to the fact that
the sort of synthesis in question can come in varying degrees: it
might be that some degree of moral individuality is indeed
inevitable for the reason mentioned but that the degree that is
morally required is greater.

In addition to the central principle just discussed, three further
aspects of the mature ethics lectures are worth mentioning briefly:
(a) As was reflected in the argument just sketched,
Schleiermacher’s mature conception of ethics is that it is
fundamentally ontological rather than merely prescriptive in
character: it is based on the immanence of “reason” in
“nature”, and is hence more fundamentally a matter of an
“is” than of an “ought”. (b) Accordingly (with
an eye to the role of “reason” just mentioned), for
Schleiermacher ethics is not fundamentally a matter of
sentiments—which, he says, simply vary—but instead of
cognitions, or more exactly, of something that grounds both ethical
sentiments and ethical cognitions. (Here Schleiermacher is close to
agreement with Kant.) (c) Accordingly again (but this time with an eye
to the predominance of ontology over prescription just mentioned),
Schleiermacher divides his ethics into a Doctrine of Goods, a Doctrine
of Virtue, and a Doctrine of Duties, treating them in this sequence in
order to reflect what he takes to be the priority, or greater
fundamentalness, of goods over virtues and of virtues over duties.

Despite all of these intriguing lines of thought,
Schleiermacher’s mature ethics lectures are not one of his
greatest successes. They contain a rather unholy mixture of, not only
ethics in the usual sense, but also political philosophy, metaphysics,
epistemology, and philosophy of mind; lurch back and forth between
claims of startling dubiousness and claims of startling banality (with
too little in between); and hold all of this together with a thick
stain of obscurantism and a thin varnish of systematicity. One is
often left with the impression that, having put the more critical
phase of his work in ethics behind him, Schleiermacher found that he
did not really have enough constructive to say about the subject to
fill up the hours in the lecture hall.

10. Political and Social Philosophy

Schleiermacher’s political and social philosophy is found
scattered through a considerable number of works from different
periods. Its most systematic, though not necessarily most interesting,
statement occurs in his lectures on the theory of the state, which
were delivered between 1808–9 and 1833.

Concerning international politics, Schleiermacher’s fundamental
position is thoroughly Herderian: a cosmopolitan commitment to equal
moral respect for all peoples in all their diversity. This position is
already articulated in On What Gives Value to Life
(1792–3); it is central to On Religion (1799) and the
Soliloquies (1800), in the form of a commitment to the
Herderian ideal of “humanity”; and it survives in later
works as well (for example, in the 1831 address on Leibniz’s
idea of a universal language).

Concerning domestic politics: Schleiermacher was always somewhat
reticent about fundamental constitutional questions (no doubt due to a
certain aversion to the state as such, a greater concern to protect
against it than to develop it). To judge from his early enthusiasm for
the French Revolution, his republican-democratic model of an ideal
church in On Religion, and his advocacy of the democratic
nature of the university in Occasional Thoughts on Universities in
a German Spirit, together with an Appendix on One about to be
(1808), the early Schleiermacher was strongly attracted
to republicanism and democracy (like Herder and the young Friedrich
Schlegel). However, his later position—while it still makes
consent a conditio sine qua non of any genuine state—is
more sympathetic to aristocratic and monarchical forms of government.
Thus in his lectures on the theory of the state from 1829–33 he
argues that whereas smaller and “lower” states are
naturally democratic, larger and “higher” ones are
naturally aristocratic or monarchical.

However, Schleiermacher’s domestic politics is more consistently
radical in another respect: liberalism. (Here again he is probably
indebted to Herder.) This ideal is already prominent in two works from
1799: the essay Toward a Theory of Sociable Conduct argues
that there should be a sphere of free (by which Schleiermacher means
especially: state-free) social interaction, in order to make possible
the development and communication of individuality; and On
argues strongly against state-interference in religion,
making the liberation of religion from such interference a fundamental
part of its program for developing individualism in religion, and
diagnosing some of the worst vices of current religion and churches in
terms of such interference. This liberalism remains prominent in the
ethics lectures of 1812–13, which add to the positions just
mentioned a proscription of state interference in the universities.
And it is still central to Schleiermacher’s political thought in
his (otherwise much more conservative) late lectures on the theory of
the state from 1829–33, where he argues that the three spheres
of sociality, religion, and science (e.g., the universities) lie
beyond the legitimate power of the state, and notes critically that
the current (Prussian) state falls short of this ideal. His Augsburg
Confession sermons from 1830 are likewise still liberal.
Schleiermacher has several reasons for this broad liberalism, but one
of his most fundamental ones lies in the need to free up a domain in
which the basic good of individuality can develop.

Schleiermacher devotes especially close attention to the question of
religion’s proper relation to the state (and to other
socio-political institutions). As was mentioned, in On
he indicates two main reasons why religion should be
liberated from state interference: first, because individualism in
religion, the autonomous development of a multiplicity of forms of
religion, is valuable; and second, because state-interference corrupts
the nature of religion, in particular by attracting the wrong sorts of
people into leadership positions within the church (men with worldly
skills and motives rather than religious ones) and foisting alien
political functions onto religious mysteries such as baptism and
marriage. He argues that the true socio-political center of religion
should instead be the family—a position that he subsequently
goes on to illustrate in Christmas Eve (1806), a work that
depicts in a literary way a sort of ideal interweaving of (Christian)
religion with family life.

One especially important and interesting case to which he applied his
general insistence on the freedom of religion from state-interference
was that of Prussia’s Jews. (Once again, Herder had already set
an example here—by not only developing a very sympathetic
interpretation of ancient Judaism but also forcefully criticizing
modern anti-semitism.) In an early work on the subject of Jewish
emancipation in Prussia, Letters on the Occasion of the
Political-Theological Task and the Open Letter of Jewish
(1799), Schleiermacher argues that Jews should
receive full citizenship and civil rights, provided only that they
compromise in their religious observances to a point that allows them
to meet their duties to the state and that they give up such
politically threatening commitments as those to a coming messiah and
to their status as a separate nation. He in particular argues that
Jews should not have to resort to the expedient of baptism as a means
of achieving citizenship and civil rights (as some (Jewish)
contemporaries had proposed), on the grounds that this expedient would
be detrimental both to the Jews and their religion themselves and to
Christianity. In the latter connection his main concern is that it
would further water down an already rather watery church. But another
of his concerns is that it would in effect amount to yet more
interference by the state in a religious mystery (baptism). It is
significant to note that Schleiermacher adopts this strikingly liberal
position concerning the Jews despite himself being rather critical of
Judaism as religion: in On Religion he argues that
Reimarus’s conception that there are deep continuities between
Judaism and Christianity is mistaken, and that although Judaism was a
beautiful religion in its day it has long since become corrupted and
is now effectively moribund (unlike vibrant Christianity).

A further important aspect of Schleiermacher’s socio-political
philosophy, especially in its earlier phases, is his feminism (in
which he is again influenced by Herder, who was a pioneer in this
area, but even more so by Friedrich Schlegel). His feminism has
several sides. First, he encourages women to strive for goods that
have traditionally been the monopoly of men. For example, in his short
Idea for a Catechism of Reason for Noble Ladies, he enjoins
women, “Let yourself covet men’s culture, art, wisdom, and
honor”. Second, as a special case of this, he encourages women
to seek sexual fulfillment, and to free themselves from inhibitions
about discussing sex. This is one of the central themes of his
Confidential Letters Concerning Friedrich Schlegel’s
(1800). Third, he identifies women as valuable moral and
intellectual resources for the benefit and improvement of society as a
whole. One example of this lies in their natural aversion to the sorts
of insensitivity and violence to which men are commonly prone, and
their potential for restraining instead of encouraging or permitting
these. In this vein the Idea for a Catechism enjoins women,
“You should not bear false witness for men. You should not
beautify their barbarism with words and works”. Another (less
morally urgent and more localized) example, discussed in Toward a
Theory of Sociable Conduct
, concerns the ability of women, due to
their broad education but their freedom from the narrow confines of
the professions, to direct social conversation away from limited
professional concerns toward deeper, and more widely shared ones
(Schleiermacher is thinking here especially of the hostesses of salons
of the period that he himself attended). Yet another example can be
found in an argument that Schleiermacher develops in his ethics
lectures to the effect that women are by nature more attuned to
recognizing and respecting individuality, whereas men are more attuned
to recognizing and respecting abstract generalizations, and that
accordingly one of the key functions of marriage is to bring about a
valuable blending of these (equally important) intellectual-moral
qualities in each partner. (It should be noted, however, that
Schleiermacher in his later years tended to become more conservative
in his views about women.)

At the risk of repetition, it is worth underscoring that in its broad
cosmopolitan concern for other peoples, Jews, and women
Schleiermacher’s socio-political philosophy was continuing a
paradigm that was above all the achievement of a single predecessor:

Another noteworthy feature of Schleiermacher’s socio-political
philosophy, especially prominent in the works from 1799–1800, is
a broad critique of some central modern socio-economic institutions
and a set of proposals for remedying their harmful effects. (The
Soliloquies casts this critique in the form of an attack on
the self-satisfaction of the Enlightenment very reminiscent of
Herder’s attack on the same in This Too a Philosophy of
(1774).) Three parts of Schleiermacher’s case are
especially interesting: First, in Toward a Theory of Sociable
he implicitly criticizes modern division of labor on the
grounds that it blinkers people, inhibiting their development of their
own individuality and their sense for the individuality of others. His
proposed solution here is the development of a sphere of
“sociability”—that is, a sphere of free conversation
and social intercourse, in which such one-sidedness can be overcome.
Second, in On Religion he criticizes the deadeningly
repetitive labor that is typical of modern economies as an obstacle to
spiritual, and in particular religious, self-development. His proposed
solution in this case is mainly an expectation that advances in
technology will free people from the sort of labor in question. Third,
in On Religion and the Soliloquies he criticizes the
hedonism, utilitarianism, and materialism of the modern age for
preventing people’s spiritual and religious self-development.
His proposed solution here is primarily the sort of revival of a
vibrant religious and moral life for which On Religion and
the Soliloquies plead.

A final noteworthy aspect of Schleiermacher’s socio-political
philosophy is his philosophy of education, a subject with which he
engaged throughout his career. Especially interesting in this regard
is a work that he published in 1808 in connection with the plans for
founding a new university in Berlin (now known as the Humboldt
University): Occasional Thoughts on Universities in a German
Spirit, together with an Appendix on One about to be Founded
This work preceded Wilhelm von Humboldt’s better known pieces on
the same topic, which date from 1809–10, and evidently had a
strong influence on them. Schleiermacher and Humboldt both write in a
very liberal and progressive spirit with only modest differences
between their positions. They thereby not only collectively generated
the model of the university that Humboldt actually implemented in
Berlin and which thereby became the main inspiration of the modern
university tout court, but also developed many principles on the
subject that would still repay serious consideration today (for
example, Britain could still learn a lot from them). Among the
principles that Schleiermacher developed and which Humboldt took over
are: a conception that the university should promote not only
knowledge but also individuality; a principle that this requires the
greatest possible independence of the university from the state
(something that will ultimately also serve the state’s own
interests better); a principle that it also requires that there should
be as much freedom as possible within the university for both
faculty and students; a principle that students should be admitted to
university regardless of their class background provided only that
they are academically qualified; a principle that philosophy should
replace theology as the top faculty; a principle of combining research
with teaching; and a principle (based on a philosophy of language that
Schleiermacher shares with Humboldt according to which language is
fundamental to thought and moreover oral language is more fundamental
than written) that the teaching in question should be primarily oral
in character (for Schleiermacher the lecture, for Humboldt the
seminar). Indeed, Schleiermacher is in certain ways even more radical
and progressive than Humboldt in that he, for example, explicitly
calls for the university to be run on a democratic model and
demands that students from the lower classes not only be admitted to
university but also receive financial support from the state in order
to enable them to attend.

Schleiermacher also gave more general lectures on pedagogy, or the
philosophy of education, namely, in 1813–14, 1820–1, and
1826—among which those from 1826 are most fully developed.
However, by the time he delivered this last cycle of lectures his
views had become much more politically conservative and orthodoxly
Christian, so that the radical edge of his earlier work on the subject
was blunted, the interests of the state and the church were now
assigned greater weight as goals of education, and such principles as
freedom in education accordingly underwent heavy qualification.

11. Philosophy of Religion

Schleiermacher’s most radical and important work in the
philosophy of religion is On Religion: Speeches to Its Cultured
from 1799. (Later editions of this work, and his later
theological treatise The Christian Faith, strive for greater
Christian orthodoxy, and are consequently as a rule less interesting
from a philosophical point of view.)

As its title implies, the project of On Religion is to save
religion from the contempt of enlightenment and especially romantic
skeptics about religion, “its cultured despisers”. At
least where the romantics were concerned, the work was strikingly
successful in this regard, in that several of them, especially
Friedrich Schlegel, did turn to religion following the book’s
publication (though admittedly not to quite the sort of religion that
Schleiermacher had envisaged). Schleiermacher’s later philosophy
of religion has a similar motivation. In his 1829 open letters to
Lücke he especially emphasizes the pressing need to defend
religion against the twin threats posed to it by modern natural
science and modern historical-philological scholarship.

This project of defending religion against educated skeptics is
reminiscent of Kant’s similarly motivated critical philosophy.
Schleiermacher is also sympathetic to Kant’s general strategy in
connection with religious matters of “deny[ing] knowledge in
order to make room for faith” (Critique of Pure Reason,
Bxxx), and in particular to Kant’s attack on the traditional
proofs of the existence of God; Schleiermacher himself denies that
religion is a form of knowledge or can be based on metaphysics or
science. However, as can already be seen from his early unpublished
essays On the Highest Good (1789) and On What Gives Value
to Life
(1792–3), Schleiermacher’s approach is in
other respects defined more by opposition to than by agreement with
Kant’s. In particular, Schleiermacher sharply rejects
Kant’s alternative moral proof of an otherworldly God
and human immortality (i.e., Kant’s proof of these by showing
them to be necessary presuppositions of morality); for Schleiermacher
religion can no more be based on morality than on metaphysics or

As this stance already suggests, Schleiermacher has considerable
sympathy with the skeptics about religion whom he means to answer.
But, at least in his early period, his sympathy with them also goes
much deeper than that. In On Religion he is skeptical about
the ideas of God and human immortality altogether, arguing that the
former is merely optional (to be included in one’s religion or
not depending on the nature of one’s imagination), and that the
latter is downright unacceptable. Moreover, he diagnoses the modern
prevalence of such religious ideas in terms of the deadening influence
that is exerted by modern bourgeois society and state-interference on
religion. He reconciles this rather startling concession to the
skeptics with his ultimate goal of defending religion by claiming that
such ideas are inessential to religion. This position strikingly
anticipates such later radical religious positions as Fritz
Mauthner’s “godless mysticism”.
(Schleiermacher’s own later religious thought tended to
backtrack on this radicalism, however, restoring God and even human
immortality to a central place in religion.)

This naturally leaves one wondering what the content and the
epistemological basis of religion are for the early
Schleiermacher. As can already be seen from the 1793–4 essays
Spinozism and Brief Presentation of the Spinozistic
, and then again from On Religion, he follows
Spinoza in believing in a monistic principle that encompasses
everything, a “one and all”. However, he also modifies
Spinoza’s conception in certain ways—partly under the
influence of Herder (whom he mentions by name in the essays on
Spinoza). In particular, whereas Spinoza had conceived his monistic
principle as a substance, Schleiermacher follows Herder in thinking of
it rather as an original force and as the unifying source of a
multiplicity of more mundane forces. (Later on Schleiermacher
distanced himself from this neo-Spinozistic position. Indeed, he
explicitly denied that he was a follower of Spinoza. Accordingly, in
the dialectics lectures he argued that there was an even higher
“transcendental ground” beyond the Spinozist
natura naturans or the Herderian highest force. His main
motive behind this change of position seems to have been a desire to
avoid the heavily charged accusations of Spinozism and
pantheism—which is not an impressive motive philosophically

So much for the early Schleiermacher’s conception of the content
of religion. What about its epistemological basis? As was mentioned,
for Schleiermacher religion is founded neither on theoretical
knowledge nor on morality. According to On Religion, it is
instead based on an intuition or feeling of the universe:
“Religion’s essence is neither thinking nor acting, but
intuition and feeling. It wishes to intuit the universe”
(OR Second Speech: 22).

The term “intuition” here is both revealing and
problematic. As Kant had defined it, “intuition is that
through which [a mode of knowledge] is in immediate relation to
[objects]” (Critique of Pure Reason, A19). So part of
what Schleiermacher means to convey here is evidently some sort of
immediate cognitive relation to some sort of object, namely, the
universe as a single whole. On the other hand, the term
“intuition” also imported certain implications that
Schleiermacher in fact wanted to avoid. In particular, Kantian
intuition, whether pure or empirical, required the addition of
concepts in order to constitute any sort of real insight
(“intuitions without concepts are
blind”—Critique of Pure Reason, A51), whereas
Schleiermacher had in mind a sort of insight that is unmediated by
concepts. In the later editions of On Religion he therefore
retreated from speaking of “intuition” in connection with
religion (instead reserving this term for science), and instead spoke
simply of “feeling”. In accordance with this change,
The Christian Faith went on to define religion more
specifically as a feeling of absolute dependence, or what
Schleiermacher also described in his open letters to Lücke as the
immediate consciousness of “an immediate

A further aspect of the “feeling” on which Schleiermacher
bases religion should also be mentioned: its inclusion of
motivating force, its self-manifestation in actions.
The wish to include this aspect was one of Schleiermacher’s
reasons for supplementing religious “intuition” with
“feeling” even in the first edition of On
. And his later work emphasizes this dimension of
religious “feeling” as well.

This whole epistemological position looks suspiciously like
philosophical sleight-of-hand, however. “Feelings” can be
of at least two very different sorts: on the one hand, non-cognitive
“feelings”, such as physical pains and pleasures; on the
other hand, “feelings” that incorporate beliefs, for
example, a feeling that such and such is the case. Whereas the
possession and awareness of non-cognitive feelings such as pains and
pleasures may indeed be conceptually unmediated, beyond the reach of
reasons for or against, and hence in a sense infallible, the
possession and awareness of feelings that incorporate beliefs, for
instance, the feeling that such and such is the case, does require
conceptual mediation, is subject to reasoning for or against, and is
fallible. As can be seen from the neo-Spinozistic content that
Schleiermacher’s religious intuition or feeling was originally
supposed to have, his original characterization of it as an intuition
in the Kantian sense of an immediate cognitive relation to an object,
his later characterization of it as representing “an immediate
existence-relationship”, and so on, he does not mean religious
feeling to be merely non-cognitive, but rather to incorporate some
sort of belief. However, he also helps himself to the apparent
epistemological advantages that belong only to non-cognitive feelings:
non-mediation by concepts, transcendence of reasons for or against,
and infallibility. In short, it looks as though his epistemological
grounding of religion in “feeling” depends on a systematic
confusion of these two crucially different sorts of cases.

Turning more briefly to some additional features of
Schleiermacher’s philosophy of religion in On Religion:
He recognizes the validity of a potentially endless multiplicity of
forms of religion there, and strongly advocates religious toleration.
However, he also arranges the various types of religion in a
hierarchy, with animism at the bottom, polytheism in the middle, and
monotheism or otherwise monistic religions at the top. This hierarchy
is understandable given his fundamental neo-Spinozism.

More internally problematic, though, is a further elaboration of this
hierarchy that he introduces: he identifies Christianity as the
highest among the monotheistic or monistic religions, and in
particular as higher than Judaism. His rationale for this is that
Christianity introduces “the idea that everything finite
requires higher mediation in order to be connected with the
divine” (i.e., the higher mediation of Christ)
(OR Fifth Speech: 120). However, this looks
contrived. For one thing, it is left unclear why “higher
mediation” is supposed to be a good thing. Moreover, even if one
were to grant that it is, why do other monotheistic religions such as
Judaism not share in this putative advantage as well, namely, in the
form of their prophets? And if the answer is that this is because
prophets are not themselves divine, then why is the mediator’s
divinity supposed to be such a great advantage?

In addition, Schleiermacher remarks insightfully on the distinctively
polemical nature of Christianity, the striking extent to
which Christianity’s religious and moral standpoint is defined
by a hostile opposition to other standpoints, and even to dissenting
positions within Christianity itself. This observation recalls that of
another well-informed and honest Christian, Montaigne, who had noted
in his Apology for Raymond Sebond (1580) that “there is
no hostility quite as perfect as Christian hostility”. And it is
amply borne out by the historical evidence—for example, the
bloody early history of Christianity, the Crusades, the
Inquisition’s treatment of Jews and witches, the Wars of
Religion during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and many
other, similar horrors (all of which only stopped, or at least
diminished, when Christianity was rendered politically impotent by the
Enlightenment and the American and French Revolutions in the
eighteenth century). Moreover, this striking feature of Christianity
has since received deeper explanations—including Jan
Assman’s observation that unlike most other religions
Judeo-Christian-Muslim religion was from the start a sort of
“anti-religion [Gegenreligion]”, defined by its
opposition to other religions and cultures, and Nietzsche’s
observation that Christianity and its morality in particular were from
the beginning a reaction against Greek and Roman culture motivated by
resentment against Greek and Roman imperial oppression in Palestine
and elsewhere, so that, for example, the Greeks’ most general
word for a god, daimôn, became the Christian concept of
a demon, and Christian moral values performed a systematic
inversion of traditional Greek and Roman values. So
Schleiermacher’s observation is an insightful one. But then how
can a proponent of religious pluralism and toleration like
Schleiermacher consistently see this striking trait of Christianity as
anything but a serious vice?

On the (flimsy) basis of his perception of Christianity’s
superiority as a religion, Schleiermacher also tries to reconcile his
neo-Spinozism with traditional Christian doctrines as far as possible.
This project already begins in a modest way in On Religion,
where, for example, he tries to salvage the Christian doctrine of
miracles in the modified form of a doctrine that classifies
all events as miracles (insofar as viewed from a religious
perspective). A similar project is pursued more elaborately (and
tediously) in The Christian Faith.

Finally, a more fruitful contribution of Schleiermacher’s to the
study of Christianity was the series of lectures on the life of Jesus
that—under the influence of two late works of Herder’s:
On the Savior of Mankind according to our First Three Gospels
(1796) and On God’s Son, the World’s Savior, according
to John’s Gospel
(1797)—he began to deliver in 1819
and which were published posthumously as The Life of Jesus.
Schleiermacher tried in these lectures to combine an interpretation of
Jesus as a mere human being with a claim that his extraordinary level
of awareness of God nonetheless amounted to a sort of presence of God
in him. This compromise was strained and implausible. But
Schleiermacher’s project nonetheless constituted an important
first step toward much more consistently naturalistic and plausible
treatments of the life of Jesus by subsequent scholars, especially
David Friedrich Strauss’s The Life of Jesus, Critically

Guide to the Literature

Life and Works

Arndt 2013; Berner 1995; Dilthey [1870] 1966–1970; Haym [1870]
1920 (ch. 3); Mariña 2005; Redeker 1973; Scholtz 1984.

Philosophy of Language

Coseriu 2015 (vol. 2, ch. 8) (a detailed, helpful treatment); Forster
2011b, 2014; Gipper and Schmitter 1985 (92–98) (an excellent
book on this as well as other subjects).

Philosophy of Mind

Coseriu 2015 (vol. 2, ch. 8) (Coseriu pays close attention to
Schleiermacher’s lectures on psychology); Sigwart 1857.

Hermeneutics (i.e., Theory of Interpretation)

Arndt 2013; Berner 1995; Boeckh 1877; Bowie 1997; Dilthey 1860, 1900;
Forster 2010b, 2011c; Frank 1985, 1990 (these two books, especially
the former of them, are arguably the most important secondary
literature on Schleiermacher’s hermeneutics available); Gadamer
[1960] 2002 (part 2) (a decidedly hostile but nonetheless important
treatment of Schleiermacher’s hermeneutics); Hirsch 1967 (a
significant Anglophone appropriation of Schleiermacher’s
hermeneutics); Kimmerle 1957 (an important and influential
contribution that counteracts Dilthey’s overemphasis of the
psychological, as opposed to linguistic, side of interpretation in
Schleiermacher’s hermeneutics); Palmer 1969 (ch. 7) (helpful on
Schleiermacher as well as on other figures); Patsch 1966 (a learned
and important article that discusses Schleiermacher’s
hermeneutics in relation to Friedrich Schlegel’s); Ricoeur 1973,
1977 (helpful though dull); Szondi [1970] 1986 (like most of
Szondi’s writings, thoughtful and helpful); Wach 1926–1933
(learned and informative, though not exciting). Also useful are the
introductory materials in the two German editions of
Schleiermacher’s hermeneutics (H,
HK) as well as in their English translations
(HHM, HC).

Historiography of Philosophy

Bréhier 1963; Forster 2012; Geldsetzer 1968; Gueroult 1984
(vol. 2); Zeller 1843.

Theory of Translation

Berman 1984 (an excellent and influential treatment of the translation
theories of Schleiermacher and some of his contemporaries); Berman and
Berner 1999 (very helpful not only for Schleiermacher’s own
texts but also for the editors’ introduction); Berner 2015
(especially helpful on the relation of Schleiermacher’s theory
to his other disciplines); Cercel and Serban 2015 (an important and
valuable volume of articles on this subject); Forster 2010c, 2015,
2021; Huyssen 1969; Thomas 2015 (an excellent treatment of
Schleiermacher’s translation theory that also takes the
competing French tradition of translation theory that preceded it into
account); Thouard 2015 (especially helpful on the political context of
Schleiermacher’s theory); Venuti 1995 (helpfully touches on, but
especially still works in the spirit of, Schleiermacher’s


Lehnerer 1987; Odebrecht 1932.


Arndt 2013; Berner 1995; Burdorf and Schmücker 1998; Kaulbach
1968; Wagner 1974; Wehrung 1920. Also helpful is Frank’s
introduction to his edition of Schleiermacher’s dialectics


Arndt 2013; Berner 1995; Louden’s introduction to Lectures
on Philosophical Ethics
(LPE: vii–xxx);
Scholtz 1995.

Political and Social Philosophy

Beiser 2020 (a helpful though controversial account of
Schleiermacher’s relation to anti-semitism); Faull 1995; Forster
2013 (mainly focuses on Humboldt’s model of the university, but
also contains some discussion of Schleiermacher’s Occasional
Thoughts on Universities in a German Spirit
); Guenther-Gleason
1997; Thomas 2020 (a helpful treatment of Schleiermacher on
cosmopolitanism and national identity). Also helpful are M. Winkler
and J. Brachmann’s introduction and commentary to Texte zur
Pädagogik. Kommentierte Studienausgabe


Philosophy of Religion

Brandt [1941] 1968; Lamm 1996; Niebuhr 1964. Also helpful is Richard
Crouter’s introduction to On Religion: Speeches to Its
Cultured Despisers
(OR: xi–xxxix).