Hermeneutics and Personality Assessment

  • Marvin W. Acklin, Ph.D. Department of Psychiatry John A. Burns School of Medicine University of Hawaii at Manoa Honolulu, Hawaii


The scientific and philosophical background of personality assessment is examined, including review of hermeneutic methods in the human sciences. Following a keyword search and psychological test usage surveys, it was concluded that the nomothetic scientific orientation predominates in forensic psychology. A topic debated since the middle 19th century, the triumph of the nomothetic has implications for personality assessment models, interpretive methods, and description of human lives. This paper contextualizes personality assessment in 19th and 20th century hermeneutical philosophy, including the status of the nomothetic/idiographic divide. Hermeneutic philosophy--represented in the work of Schleiermacher, Dilthey, Heidegger, Bultmann, Gadamer, and Ricoeur--offers rich and relevant foundations of the art and science of personality assessment. The paper advances a research program and integrative methodology for interpreting human lives. Accommodations for an interpretive personality assessment are proposed, utilizing traditional and innovative applications. Hermeneutic praxis informs personality assessment methods reflecting the dialogical and recursive process of interpretation, application of the hermeneutic circle to assessment data, and the self-understanding of the practitioner. Forensic personology fosters epistemological and methodological integration with a focus on the whole person in the legal context.

Author Biography

Marvin W. Acklin, Ph.D., Department of Psychiatry John A. Burns School of Medicine University of Hawaii at Manoa Honolulu, Hawaii
Marvin W Acklin is a licensed psychologist in the State of Hawaii in fulltime independent clinical and forensic psychology practice.


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