hermeneutic circle
The problems in the process of interpretation that arise when one element, for instance in a text, can only be understood in terms of the meanings of others or of the whole text, yet understanding these other elements, or the whole text, in turn presupposes understanding of the original element. Each can only be understood in the light of the others. Similarly, we may hold that the past can only be understood in the light of the present, and the present only understood in the light of the past. The phenomenon has preoccupied German thinkers from Schleiermacher and Dilthey through to Heidegger and Gadamer . In Anglo-American philosophy a similar problem arises from the holism of meaning, but is not generally felt to pose a fundamental difficulty: as Wittgenstein said, light dawns gradually over the whole.

Philosophy dictionary. . 2011.

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