Friedrich Schleiermacher’s views on translation are an integral part of his thinking on communication, language and understanding. The chapter explores these views with reference not only to their immediate context, Schleiermacher’s work on hermeneutics, but also to his lectures and writings on ethics, dialectics and psychology, and to his translation of Plato. While in his ethics and dialectics Schleiermacher developed his ideas on human community and the possibility of achieving certain knowledge first within one language and then across languages, his epoch-making and often daring translation of Plato marked the starting point of his hermeneutic thought. His lectures and manuscript notes on hermeneutics explore the interconnection between language and thought, the dual movement needed to understand utterances, and the impossibility of ever reaching full understanding.

The 1813 lecture ‘On the Different Methods of Translating’ applies the principles of hermeneutics to interlingual translation. At its core is not the choice between the translator either bringing the author to the reader or taking the reader to the author, but the formidable difficulty faced by the hermeneutic translator who, having glimpsed the otherness of the foreign writer, has only the translating language to articulate the understanding gained. Translation, for Schleiermacher, cannot overcome difference, since the modes of thinking and feeling that are embodied in different languages remain unique to themselves. However, as an historical project, translation can take us closer to the metaphysical ideal of absolute shared knowledge even as it marks the vast distance still to be travelled.