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Last week’s post was a bit incohesive, my apologies. To compensate, here’s this blog’s first two-partner.
Today we’re going to talk about Truth and Method, Hans-Georg Gadamer’s major work.[1] In this work Gadamer, a German philosopher, is mighty concerned with hermeneutics.

Origins

What is hermeneutics? Put bluntly, it is the art (or science?) of interpretation. Originally hermeneutics was a method for deciphering sacred texts. In medieval Europe, this meant exegesis, the interpretation of Biblical stories.

Not until the 15th century, with the advent of humanism, did hermeneutics develop into something more. Through the work of humanists and nominalists, a step was taken away from biblical interpretation and towards secular texts.

Modern Hermeneutics

In the 18th and 19th century, several philosophers developed a tradition that we call modern hermeneutics.

Schleiermacher began by questioning understanding. He claimed that there was no super-historical reason, but that every text could only be understood in relation to its own historical period of production. Thus, every problem of interpretation was a problem of understanding. You had to find the correct context of a text to understand and interpret it correctly.
Dilthey followed by further developing a certain method for text interpretation. He stated that texts are media for the understanding of experiences of others.
Heidegger radically altered hermeneutics by stating that understanding is a crucial component in human existence. He formulated an ontological approach, that considered understanding as a real sharing in the experience of the author.

Gadamer

Gadamer, Heidegger’s student, developed his theory further. He begins with Heidegger’s hermeneutic circle. To simplify Gadamer’s argument: When you read a text, you have a certain fore-meaning, the whole of assumptions and images you have about a subject. While reading a text, certain new insights are projected back upon your fore-meaning, altering it. This altered fore-meaning is then again projected upon the text, resulting in a better understanding. Gadamer calls it a “dialectic of question and answer”: taking a fore-meaning as the thesis, the text produces a conflicting anti-thesis, which then leads to a synthesis, leading to new questions, a new anti-thesis (or answer) and a new synthesis.

That’s all for this time, ’cause my time is precious. Anyway, next time there’ll be more about fore-meaning and such. Until then.


[1] Hans-Georg Gadamer, Truth and Method (1960; London & New York, 2004).