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Hermeneutic Circle

Edited: June 10, 2020 (v0.0.7)

On the topic of cycles of software design and implementation, a peer of mine brought up the term Hermeneutic Circle 1, which aptly described the process we should follow.

The hermeneutic circle describes the process of understanding a text hermeneutically. It refers to the idea that one’s understanding of the text as a whole is established by reference to the individual parts and one’s understanding of each individual part by reference to the whole. Neither the whole text nor any individual part can be understood without reference to one another, and hence, it is a circle.

Every project I have worked on I find myself iterating on. Design some, implement some, learn some more about the deisn, and start rethinking. Go back and fix the errors. Adjust to new assumptions that came with greater understanding of the whole. The cycle repeats until I’m left with something that satisfies my current problem.

Can the hermeneutic circle be used to explain why prototyping works well in the workplace, or in an environment of unknown or changing requirements?

I think so.

Prototype often. Google frequently rewrites their software. [1]. Just because Google does it doesn’t make it right, but it’s still a data point.

Keep a reading list, periodically (re)read it. Does your understanding of the topic change over time?


  1. [1]F. Henderson, “Softare Engineering at Google.” 2017 [Online]. Available at: https://arxiv.org/ftp/arxiv/papers/1702/1702.01715.pdf. [Accessed: 28-May-2020]