Rechtsnorm und Verstehen – Die methodischen Fol­gen einer allgemeinen Hermeneutik für die Prinzipien der Verfassungs­aus­le­gung

Georg Hinderling

Georg Hinderling, Rechtsnorm und Verstehen – Die methodischen Fol­gen einer allgemeinen Hermeneutik für die Prinzipien der Verfassungs­aus­le­gung (in: Abhandlungen zum schweizerischen Recht), Bern: Stämpfli, 1971, pp. 95-101 and 238-169.

Introduction/Historical Situation and Systematic Context

The invention of hermeneutics by Friedrich Daniel Ernst Schleiermacher originally consisted in a means to the end of reconciling different and divergent interpretation of the Holy Bible. It can be considered as the art of interpreting textual documents by relating the significance of each part to the whole that results from all the meanings of the parts it includes (leading to the so-called hermeneutical circle that is not at all vicious). Moreover, it also enables to situate a text within its context in a cultural view. In Wilhelm Dilthey this method has been enlarged and applied to cultural phenomenon (“Lebenskreise”, “Kultursysteme”). The difficulty, however, is how to interpret entities that are not concluded and represent an open and dynamic development or progress.

Hermeneutics, as a tool for inclusive interpretation, have been further developed by Hans-Georg Gadamer to a veritable hermeneutical approach to philosophy itself, i.e. broadened to provide a foundation for philosophical thought in the domain of human sciences. This current has been very influential for the progress of modern philosophy in the Twentieth Century.

Another aspect of hermeneutics has lead Emilio Betti to construct a comprehensive theory of legal interpretation (compare the essays in Vito Rizzo (Ed.): Emilio Betti e l’interpretazione (Università degli Studi di Camerino, vol. 14), Napoli: Edizioni Scientifiche Italiane, 1991; and in Vittorio Frosini/Francesco Riccobono (Eds.): L’Ermeneutica giuridica di Emilio Betti (Pubblicazioni dell’Istituto di Teoria della Interpretazione e di Informatica Giuridica dell’Università “La Sapienza”, Roma, vol. 10), Milano: A. Giuffrè, 1994). It is deplorable that this application of hermeneutics as a method for the interpretation of legal norms and legal order has not been widely adopted in jurisprudence, although eminent legal scholars have received inspiration by this current.

The core of the hermeneutical question, with respect to legal thought, consists therein, that the text of a legal norm has not only to be interpreted in general, but also to be applicated to a specific case (see the contributions in “Text und Applikation” as selected for further reading). This would be the very link between rule based and precedent orientated legal systems, and also be a key to a deeper understanding of the relation between more general legal rules or principles and more specific legal norms. Hermeneutics could enable to widen the methodological stricture in legal theory, when reconsidered in a creative manner, following the examples of historicism and hermeneutics (consult no 3.15 of this Legal Anthology).

Content, Abstracts/Conclusions, Insights, Evidence

Georg Hinderling counts to the first legal thinkers who have elaborated the implications of hermeneutics on legal interpretation in general, and especially on the interpretation of constitutional law. In his dissertation entitled “Rechtsnorm und Verstehen”, the author provides rich material to inform constitutional interpretation with hermeneutical principles. The discussion opens with a presentation of the similarities and differences between the approaches inaugurated by Hans-Georg Gadamer and Emilio Betti. A convincing argumentation in theological hermeneutics leads the author to the opinion that historical understanding tends to refer to existential truths. The question of whether there can be an existentialistic philosophical interpretation of legal order, however, is omitted. The crucial point seems to be, whether the interpretation is allowed to be creative, i.e. participate in the creation of the very meaning of the legal text, or whether it is restrained to be merely a comprehension in the sense of a reproduction. Critical reflection shows that interpreting a text is always and necessarily creative and even inventive, as the subject of cognition has to contribute to the recognised object, and such even in a considerable degree. If one is ready to accept this contribution, the according paradox or dilemma vanishes.

In a second part of this investigations, Georg Hinderling discusses the specific juridical aspects of hermeneutics, as the acclaimed method, the problem of vacancies within the legal order, and general legal principles as well as topical understanding. The author favours an existentialistic interpretation in general (see the passage selected for reading).

So to say as a direct consequence, the concept of substantialisation or concretisation is proposed by Georg Hinderling. In any given case of possible application, the norm included in the positive legal order has to be specified in order to be able to provide a rule of decision (Wolfgang Fikentscher) or a so-called case-norm (Friedrich Müller), i.e. jurisdiction will always take an active and creative part in the process of application. The normative density of constitutional norms is necessarily more abstract, and the necessity of such a procedure even increased or more evident. Therefore, these norms have to be made more concrete to serve as a starting point of interpretation and application. The whole process not only of interpretation, but rather of application can very well be conceptualised in terms of hermeneutics (this is also the case in the domain of theology, where the texts of the Holy Bible are applicated to the community by the priest’s sermon). Also in this specific respect of constitutional law, hermeneutical interpretation has an inclination towards existentialistic understanding, according to the author. In conclusion two special questions are addressed: constitutional rules form an order insofar as they are based on a certain set of valuations, and constitutional rights and freedoms demand for an adequate interpretation. In these two cases, the tool of hermeneutical insights enables to provide convincing solutions.

Philosophical Valuation and Jurisprudential Significance

In conclusion, hermeneutics do not stand for a sophisticated method of interpretation, but rather for a comprehensive and inclusive modality to understand the prescriptions of the legal order. It should occur that this art of hermeneutical interpretation eventually evolves to a veritable standard, to the state-of-the-art level. The province of hermeneutics, i.e. theology, can help to sharpen the consciousness of the absolute in the law on one side, and to bridge or overcome the tension between divergent possibilities of interpretations that refer to the very same text. It must be taken into consideration that legal interpretation has to tend to a unique and ascertained meaning or significance of legal texts.

Further Information About the Author

Hans Georg Hinderling received his doctorate in 1971 at the University of Basel, and in 1973 he also received an LL.M. of Harvard Law School. Since 1971, he is an independent advocate in Basel; he is chairman of the Swiss section (VDF) of the World Federation of Direct Selling Associations (WFDSA).

For Further Reading

Emilio Betti: Zur Grundlegung einer allgemeinen Auslegungslehre, Tübingen: J. C. B. Mohr, 1988 (first printing in: Geschichte der Antiken Recht und Allgemeine Rechtslehre, Festschrift für Ernst Rabel, ed. Wolfgang Kunkel and Hans Julius Wolff, 1954, vol. 2, pp. 79 ss.;

Dietrich Böhler: Philosophische Hermeneutik und hermeneutische Methode, in: Text und Applikation – Theologie, Jurisprudenz und Literaturwissenschaft im hermeneutischen Gespräch, ed. Manfred Fuhrmann (Poetik und Hermeneutik, vol. 9), München: Wilhelm Fink, 1981, pp. 483 ss.;

Rudolf Bultmann: Das Problem der Hermeneutik. In: Glauben und Verstehen – Gesammelte Aufsätze, Tübingen: J. C. B. Mohr, 1933/ 1952, vol. 2, pp. 211 ss.;

Ernst Forsthoff: Recht und Sprache – Prolegomena zu einer richterlichen Hermeneutik (Schriften der Königsberger Gelehrten Gesellschaft, Geisteswissenschaftliche Klasse, vol. 17 (1940), Nr. 1, Halle an der Saale: Max Niemeyer, 1940;

Hans-Georg Gadamer: Hermeneutik, in: Gesammelte Werke, vols. 1 and 2, Tübingen: J. C. B. Mohr, 6th ed. 1990 and 2nd ed. 1993; Idem: Hermeneutik als praktische Philosophie, in: Rehabilitierung der praktischen Philosophie, ed. Manfred Riedel, Freiburg im Breisgau: Rombach, 1974, vol. 1, pp. 325 ss.;

Martin Kriele: Besonderheiten juristischer Hermeneutik, in: Text und Applikation – Theologie, Jurisprudenz und Literaturwissenschaft im hermeneutischen Gespräch, ed. Manfred Fuhrmann (Poetik und Hermeneutik, vol. 9), München: Wilhelm Fink, 1981, pp. 409 ss.;

Odo Marquard: Frage nach der Frage, auf die die Hermeneutik die Antwort ist, in: Text und Applikation – Theologie, Jurisprudenz und Literaturwissenschaft im hermeneutischen Gespräch, ed. Manfred Fuhrmann (Poetik und Hermeneutik, vol. 9), München: Wilhelm Fink, 1981, pp. 581 ss.;

Dieter Nörr: Triviales und aporetisches zur juristischen Hermeneutik, in: Text und Applikation – Theologie, Jurisprudenz und Literaturwissenschaft im hermeneutischen Gespräch, ed. Manfred Fuhrmann (Poetik und Hermeneutik, vol. 9), München: Wilhelm Fink, 1981, pp. 235 ss.;

Paul Ricoeur: Zu einer Hermeneutik des Rechts – Argumentation und Interpretation, in: Die Gegenwart der Gerechtigkeit – Diskurse zwischen Recht, praktischer Philosophie und Politik, ed. Christoph Demmerling and Thomas Rentsch, Berlin: Akademie-Verlag, 1995, pp. 69 ss.;

Gunter Scholtz: Ethik und Hermeneutik – Schleiermachers Grundlegung der Geisteswissenschaften (Suhrkamp Taschenbuch Wissenschaft, vol. 1191), Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1995;

Oliver Robert Scholz: Verstehen und Rationalität – Untersuchungen zu den Grundlagen von Hermeneutik und Sprachphilosophie (Philosophische Abhandlungen, vol. 76), Frankfurt am Main: Vittorio Klostermann, 1999; Idem: Ius, Hermeneutica iuris und Hermeneutica generalis – Verbindungen zwischen allgemeiner Hermeneutik und Methodenlehre des Rechts im 17. und 18. Jahrhundert, in: Entwicklung der Methodenlehre in Rechtswissenschaft und Philosophie vom 16. bis zum 18. Jahrhundert – Beiträge zu einem interdisziplinären Symposium in Tübingen, 18. bis 20. April 1996, ed. Jan Schröder, (Contubernium, vol. 46). Stuttgart: Franz Steiner, 1998, pp. 85 ss.;

Joachim Wach: Das Verstehen – Grundzüge einer Geschichte der hermeneutischen Theorie im 19. Jahrhundert (vol. 1: Die grossen Systeme; vol. 2: Die theologische Hermeneutik von Schleiermacher bis Hofmann), Tübingen: J. C. B. Mohr, 1926/ 1929.


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