A Philosophical Portrait
Publication Year: 2013
Hans-Georg Gadamer (1900-2002), one of the towering figures of contemporary Continental philosophy, is best known for Truth and Method, where he elaborated the concept of "philosophical hermeneutics," a programmatic way to get to what we do when we engage in interpretation. Donatella Di Cesare highlights the central place of Greek philosophy, particularly Plato, in Gadamer's work, brings out differences between his thought and that of Heidegger, and connects him with discussions and debates in pragmatism. This is a sensitive and thoroughly readable philosophical portrait of one of the 20th century’s most powerful thinkers.
Published by: Indiana University Press
Series: Studies in Continental Thought
LIST OF ABBREVIATIONS
The name Hans-Georg Gadamer is intimately bound up with philosophical hermeneutics. Like only a few other contemporary currents, hermeneutics has exerted a widespread influence that goes well beyond the limits of philosophy and that has a depth and range difficult to evaluate. From aesthetics to literary criticism, from theology to jurisprudence, from sociology to psychiatry, there is almost no area of the “humanities” without a hermeneutic substratum. Not even epistemology has remained...
1 LIVING THROUGH A CENTURY
Hans-Georg Gadamer was born in Marburg on February 11, 1900. His father was a well-known professor of pharmaceutical chemistry; deeply convinced of scientific progress, he was, according to his son, authoritarian “in the worst way but with the best of intentions” (PA 3/PL 9). In 1902 he was called as a full professor to Breslau, in today’s Poland, where Gadamer spent his entire childhood and adolescence. At the age of only thirty-five, Gadamer’s mother, Emma Caroline Johanna Gewiese, died in the...
2 THE EVENT OF TRUTH
What does Truth and Method mean? The significance of the conjunction “and” has almost turned this title into an enigma. If “method” has a negative value in the title, then the “and” does not connect, but rather represents an alternative. The title could be revised accordingly as Truth or Method.1 In an even more radical version, one could think of the formulation: Truth against Method.2 If “method” is taken as a model and metaphor for the natural sciences, then truth occurs outside method. Thus it is possible...
3 LINGERING IN ART
It may seem surprising—and Gadamer himself admits this in retrospect—that Truth and Method, despite the title’s promise of a close examination of truth, begins with an extensive discussion of art (GR 195/GW8 373). However, art in particular plays a key role in philosophical hermeneutics, and this is because a new experience of truth can be achieved only from art; thus the need arises to free aesthetics from the quarrel with...
4 ON THE WAY TO PHILOSOPHICAL HERMENEUTICS
The importance of the question of understanding in the aesthetic realm requires a redefinition of hermeneutics, or a critical reconstruction of its history, which in the end amounts to its actual construction. It is not an exaggeration to say that hermeneutics, in a certain sense, was constructed in the middle of the 1950s. Those are the years in which, while Heidegger inquires into the meaning of the word “hermeneutics”...
5 THE CONSTELLATION OF UNDERSTANDING
Gadamer emphasizes the breaks more than the continuities in his reconstruction of hermeneutics. The decisive break occurs with “Heidegger’s disclosure of the forestructure of understanding” (TM 265/GW1 270). Heidegger conceives of understanding as the movement of Dasein itself, and he uncovers circularity as its basic character. Gadamer begins with Heidegger’s view, but reinterprets both the circle and understanding. He broadens the hermeneutic circle so fundamentally that it becomes the guiding...
6 AN ETHICS CLOSE TO LIFE
To understand means to apply; understanding is always put into practice and thus becomes a form of action in itself, in the world, and with others. It should come as no surprise that hermeneutics, as it recuperates the theoretical as well as practical value it has had since antiquity, develops in proximity to practical philosophy. Gadamer emphasizes this point in his 1972 essay, “Hermeneutics as Practical Philosophy” (RAS 88–112/VZW 78–109). Here the ethical dimension of hermeneutics becomes clearer: ...
7 THE ENIGMA OF SOCRATES: PHILOSOPHICAL HERMENEUTICS AND GREEK PHILOSOPHY
It is impossible to imagine philosophical hermeneutics without Greek philosophy. Nonetheless, hermeneutics is not a retreat from the questions of contemporary philosophy to the historical-philological study of Greek texts, nor should Gadamer’s project be reduced to a mere “application” of Greek ideas. Greek philosophy plays a decisive role for hermeneutics, which has not yet been sufficiently recognized. There is already an effective history of hermeneutics that must be deconstructed if...
8 THE HORIZON OF DIALOGUE
When Gadamer wrote the last part of Truth and Method, language had not yet reached the leading role on the philosophical stage that it would later come to have. The “linguistic turn” of the twentieth century, the point at which the most varied of philosophical currents run together, had not yet occurred. These currents go from logical positivism to Wittgenstein, from American pragmatism to structuralism and psychoanalysis, from Heidegger to the transcendental pragmatism of Apel and Habermas...
9 HERMENEUTICS AS PHILOSOPHY
What role does philosophy play today? What will be its future? Who is the philosopher in the age of technology? Gadamer was asked these questions more and more frequently, above all in his last years. This was because many saw him as the last philosopher, with whom a great century came to an end. He was conscious of the need to justify philosophy, and answered such questions in numerous essays and interviews. On these occasions he also made clear how hermeneutics should be understood as philosophy. ...
10 KEEPING THE DIALOGUE GOING
Following the publication of Truth and Method, hermeneutics moved quickly into the spotlight on the philosophical scene. Gadamer’s work found great resonance, insofar as it was soon recognized as one of the most significant contributions to twentiethcentury philosophy, which is evinced by the numerous reviews from the 1960s onward. 1 The widespread enthusiasm with which it was received in Europe, as well as in North America, gives a sense of its potential, which extends far beyond the horizon of...
INDEX OF NAMES
INDEX OF TERMS