Is hermeneutics primarily descriptive or prescriptive?

I sometimes hear (particularly on this site) of hermeneutical "methods", such as the grammatico-historal approach, or literal-historical approach, or sensus plenior. These all seem to be tools or approaches that one can employ in the work of interpreting a text.

But in the past, I've been more familiar with hermeneutics as a study of how we interpret the text, and what we are doing when we do so. This is more of a philosophical endeavor, and more tightly linked with fields like epistemology and semiotics, yielding "approaches" to hermeneutics like the hermeneutical circle, horizons of understanding, the new hermeneutic, etc.

Are these both valid uses of the term? Is one more directly in the field hermeneutics, and the other an extension? Or is one a misuse of the term? In other words, are we primarily dealing with methodology or philosophy?

Posted here on the main site

I can't decide whether this needs to be on meta, main or both...

If you post an answer please include your reasons as well as your suggestion :)

1 Answer 1


There are some questions that apply to both main and meta. I believe this is one such question.

Other examples that we've had in the past that also fits this form:

All of these questions help us define the field and bind the scope of the site, however, all of them are just as valid on main, since they are questions about hermeneutics itself.

I think that all sites have questions that are similar to these: questions about the main topic can be on-topic for the main site but the answers can help define the site itself.

As long as the question is on-topic for the main site, I believe that it should stay. As long as it doesn't degenerate into conversations about how the site should operate, it really is a question for the main site. If the comments and answers start talking about the site itself, it should probably be migrated to meta.

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