Saturday, November 24, 2018

Gadamer's Truth and Method: Introduction (1960)

A couple years ago I started to translate Hans Georg Gadamer's Wahrheit and Methode, a classic in hermeneutics and philosophy. Way more than I have the time to do. But I am starting ahead on a renewed New Year's resolution for next year--to read through it. Over thanksgiving I read the introduction again. Here is a summary.
In his introduction, Hans-Georg Gadamer indicates that his book is about hermeneutics, not in the sense of a method of interpretation but the nature of interpretation itself. Indeed, he argues that the question of interpretation is not a matter of method. The key is to understand the role that tradition plays in interpretation. Gadamer's question is about the nature of knowledge and truth (xx). [1]

In the modern age, science thinks that its scientific method is objective and stands outside such traditions, but even science cannot avoid the nature of understanding. There is no domain of understanding that transcends the nature of the experience of truth. There is a tendency, even in philosophy, to think the thinkers of the past as inferior to contemporary philosophical insights. Nevertheless, "That in the understanding of the texts of these great thinkers, truth is known that would not be attainable in another way" (xxi).

"Truth comes to speech" by way of historical tradition (xxii). "The experience [Erfahrung] of the historical tradition [Überlieferung] reaches fundamentally beyond that which [objectively] explorable." There is an event involved in all understanding, an event that presupposes the traditions in which we stand. Historical consciousness weakens those presuppositions very little. This dynamic is true of "the whole of our hermeneutical experience."

There was a radical rupture [Einschnitt] with the past in the emergence of historical consciousness [geschichtliches Bewusstsein] in the last century. "The naive innocence has been been lost with which one made the ideas of tradition [Tradition] servants to one's own thinking" (xxiii-xxiv). Nevertheless, it cannot overcome the nature of hermeneutics. "To be conscientious in our thinking, we must become aware of these presuppositions" (xxiv).

[1] Although the page numbers correlate to the English translation by Joel Weinsheimer and Donald G. Marshall, Truth and Method, 2nd ed. (London: Bloomsbury, 2013 [1989]), the translations are my own.

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