Truth and Method

Hans-Georg Gadamer


Gadamer, Hans-Georg. Truth and Method. 1960. Translated by Joel Weinsheimer and Donald G. Marshall. London, UK: Bloomsbury, 2013. Paperback: 9781780936246.


“Truth and Method is a landmark work of 20th century thought which established Hans Georg-Gadamer as one of the most important philosophical voices of the 20th Century. In this book, Gadamer established the field of ‘philosophical hermeneutics': exploring the nature of knowledge, the book rejected traditional quasi-scientific approaches to establishing cultural meaning that were prevalent after the war. In arguing the ‘truth' and ‘method' acted in opposition to each other, Gadamer examined the ways in which historical and cultural circumstance fundamentally influenced human understanding. It was an approach that would become hugely influential in the humanities and social sciences and remains so to this day in the work of Jurgen Habermas and many others.”


Part One: The Question of Truth as it Emerges in the Experience of Art

1 Transcending the Aesthetic Dimension

1.1 The Significance of the Humanist Tradition for the Human Sciences

1.1.1 The Problem of Method

Human sciences = science of Geist (spirit)

Aim of human sciences is to understand how what is has become, or, how it happened that it is so.

Historical study (has been) grounded in Bildung

1.1.2 The Guiding Concepts of Humanism Bildung (culture)

Bildung = self-formation, education, or cultivation

Bildung = rising up to humanity through culture

Von Humboldt: Bildung is “something both higher and more inward [than Kultur], namely the disposition of mind which, from the knowledge and the feeling of the total intellectual and moral endeavour, flows harmoniously into sensibility and character”

Bildung (German) = Formatio (Latin), Formation (English)

Bild = form; generates Nachbild (image, copy) and Vorbild (model)

Bildung is the result of the process of becoming. Bildung is a state of continual self-formation.

In Bildung “that by which and through which one is formed becomes completely one’s own”; “everything is preserved.”

Hegel: Bildung is “rising to the universal”

Man’s “particular being is determined in measure and proportion”

Bildung is a task for man. Bildung is the work of sacrifice, because it requires restraining desire for the sake of the universal.

The essence of work is to form the thing rather than consume it.

Work is restrained desire. The “working consciousness raises itself above the immediacy of its existence to universality”—by forming the thing it forms itself.

Bildung “includes overcoming the element in it [the work of self-sacrifice] that is alien to the particularity which is oneself, and making it wholly one’s own”

This work is also the character of the historical spirit: “to reconcile itself with itself, to recognize oneself in another being”

Bildung leads beyond what man knows and experiences immediately.

Bildung “consists in learning to affirm what is different from oneself and to find universal viewpoints from which one can grasp the thing, “the objective thing in its freedom,” without selfish interest”

To recognize one’s own in the alien … is the basic movement of spirit, whose being consists only in returning to itself from what is other

Bildung is “getting beyond [one’s] naturalness”

The essence of Bildung is thus return to oneself from alienation


Bildung is the element in which the human sciences move.

The “human sciences presuppose that the scholarly consciousness is already formed [gebildet, my translation] and for that very reason possesses the right, unlearnable, and inimitable tact that envelops the human sciences’ form of judgment and mode of knowledge as if it [tact] were the element in which they [judgment and knowledge] move”

Tact [aesthetic feeling] presupposes this element of Bildung

For tact memory is required, but not memory as a mere piece of “psychological equipment”

Memory is a part of the “historical constitution of man”—his history and his Bildung. Memory as technique or faculty is still alienated, it is not absolutely [one’s] own”

Memory must be formed; for memory is not memory for anything and everything

Memory is “an essential element of the finite historical being of man”

To keep in mind, to remember, is also to forget, or rather, to pass over and leave unsaid. This is the character of tact, the “tacit and unformulable”

Tact in the human sciences is “a mode of knowing and a mode of being”

Bildung requires this “tact” which is the consciousness for or sense of “distinctions and evaluations”


The human sciences require Bildung [formation]. Bildung is work; work is alienation, but Bildung is always the return to oneself from this alienation. However, underlying this process is a particular” consciousness” or “sense”—tact.

What is in question for the historical sciences, then, is what has come into being, because the historical sciences move in Bildung, and Bildung requires sensation of what is, and by this sensation is necessarily observed, objective, other than.

Thus: the “general charcteristic of Bildung” is keeping oneself open to what is other

Bildung “embraces a sense of proportion and distance in relation to itself, and hence consists in rising above itself to universality”

To distance oneself from oneself and from one’s private purposes means to look at these [self; purpose] in the way that others see them

The particular is not determined by a universal; it is open to “the viewpoints of possible others”


The cultivated consciousness (the historical consciousness moving in Bildung) has the character of a sense.

It is a universal sense.

Bildung itself is this “universal and common sense”

The “science” of the human sciences can be understood “from the tradition of the concept of Bildung”

To understand the tradition, Gadamer delves into the humanistic tradition and its resistance to modern science. Sensus Communis

Aristotle distinguishes sophia (theoretical wisdom) from phronesis (practical wisdom)

Phronesis requires training in the sensus communis (common sense), “which is not nourished on the true but on the probable, the verisimilar”

Sensus Communis = the sense that founds community

Vico: “what gives the human will its direction is not the abstract universality of reason but the concrete universality represented by the community of a group, a people, a nation, or the whole human race. Hence developing this communal sense is of decisive importance for living”

Sensus communis “enables one to discover what is evident (verisimile)”

Youth demands images for its imagination and for forming its memory

Phronesis is directed towards the concrete situation; it must grasp the “circumstances” in their infinite variety

Phronesis “lies outside the rational concept of knowledge”

Phronesis requires subsuming what is given under the universal—that is, the goal the one is pursuing so that the right thing may result

Practicing phronesis “means that one distinguishes what should be done from what should not”

Phronesis = moral attitude

Thomas Aquinas: “sensus communis is the common root of the outer senses—i.e., the faculty that combines them, that makes judgements about what is given, a capacity that combined them, that makes judgments about what is given, a capacity that is given to all men”

Vico: “sensus communis is the sense of what is right and of the common good that is to be found in all men; moreover, it is a sense that is acquired through living in the community and is determined by its structures and aims”

The moral and historical existence of humanity is decisively determined by the sensus communis

What is decisive is the circumstances—“human passions cannot be governed by the universal prescriptions of reason”

“The mode of being of moral knowledge … is operative”

Sensus communis = sympathy; moral sense (contra Kantian ethics)

Sensus communis = le bon sens

Bergson: “while the other senses relate us to things, ‘good sense’ governs our relations with persons”

Sensus communis or le bon sens is a kind of genius for practical life

Oetinger: “the true basis of the sensus communis is the concept is the concept of vita, life”; and, sensus communis is “the vivid and penetrating perception of objects evident [versimile] to all human beings, from their immediate contact and intuition, which are absolutely simple”

Nous = sense of the true = Oetinger’s sensus communis

Communal sense is a complex of instincts

Instincts are not affects but “deeply rooted tendencies”

Sense and ratio are different

Thus, intuition = “the structure of living, organic being in which the whole is in each individual”

But the German enlightenment intellectualized this concept [sensus communis; phronesis; le bon sens; nous; intuition] and reduced it to a mere corrective Judgment

The sensus communis in 18thC Germany was “decisively characterized by judgment”

But judgment, in Germany, was not “subsuming  a particular under a universal” but the judgment of perfection or imperfection in the sensible individual—for Kant, taste

This is the aestheticization of judgment. Because the sensus communis was equated with judgment in Germany, and because judgment cannot be demonstrated from concepts (i.e. reasoned), it must be like unto a common sense (i.e. an intuition or feeling), and thus is reduced by Kant to taste Taste

The original role of the sensus communis was as “an element of social and moral being”, but because Kant’s moral imperative is detached from the “subjective, private conditions of one’s own judgment” the intuitive, affective, and sensible are replaced by the rational

Taste was not always narrowed to the aesthetic. With Balthasar Gracian, the “sense of taste is able to gain the distance necessary for choosing and judging what is the most urgent necessity of life”

Taste is a spiritualization of animality, the capacity to rise above narrow interests and private predilections to the title of judgment

Taste is not private but a social phenomenon of the first order


  1. “is something like a sense”

  2. “has no knowledge of reasons”

  3. “is an intellectual faculty of differentiation”

  4. “operates in a community, but is not subservient to it”

  5. “observes measure”

  6. “has an eye to the whole”

  7. “constitutes a special way of knowing”

  8. “evaluate[s] the object” to determine “whether it is ‘fitting’”

  9. and thus: “embraces the whole realm of morality and manners”

All moral decisions require taste

Taste is not the ground but the supreme consummation of moral judgment”—thus, in Greek and Christian moral philosophy you see “ethics of measure” and “ethics of the mean,” which Gadamer would simply call “ethics of good taste”

Kant’s restriction of the “phenomenon of judgment” to the “beautiful (and sublime) … shifted the more general concept of the experience of taste, and the activity of aesthetic judgment in law and morality, out of the center of philosophy”

1.2 The Subjectivization of Aesthetics through the Kantian Critique

1.2.1 Kant’s Doctrine of Taste and Genius The Transcendental Distinctness of Taste

The Critique of Judgment is a “critique of critique”: it asks, how is such judgment (i.e. taste) possible?

“Aesthetic judgment cannot be derived and proved from a universal principle”

Taste must be ones very own

Kant’s aesthetics/judgment of taste requires both empirical non-universality and a priori claim to universality, but this “denies taste any significance as knowledge”

With taste nothing of the object is known; taste is “a feeling of pleasure connected with [the object] in the subjective consciousness”

This feeling is based on the fact the representation of the object is suited to our faculty of knowledge

It is a free play of imagination and understanding

The “suitedness” of the object to its perception by the subject is universal and thus the principle of pure aesthetic judgment for Kant The Doctrine of Free and Dependent Beauty

Free beauty = naturally beautiful, beautiful in themselves

Dependent beauty = requiring concept, representational art, manufactured for an ends

One can judge from both perspectives: (freely) the thing “in itself” or (dependently) the contingent, conceptualized thing

Nevertheless, Kant’s “ideal arbiter of taste … seems to be he who judges according to what he has present to his senses and not according to what he has present to his thoughts The Doctrine of the Ideal of Beauty

It seems Gadamer is arguing that Kant’s ideal of beauty (which should be the greet beautiful) paradoxically appeals to something beyond “mere taste” in its very “non-conceptuality”

It would appear, then, that Gadamer discusses Kant’s distinction between free and dependent beauty, and then moves to ideal beauty, to show that, although Kant reduces taste to the sensible or felt, and the most natural to the non-conceptual, that nevertheless judgment here appeals to something beyond all of this, something not quantifiably rational The Interest Aroused by Natural and Artistic Beauty

“The fundamental problem that motivates Kant’s aesthetics is that the beautiful engaged our interests”


Kant emphasizes “the advantage of natural over artistic beauty”

Natural beauty possesses no significance of content, and thus manifests the judgment of taste in its unintellectualized purity

Because “in nature we find no ends in themselves and yet find beauty … nature gives us a “hint” that we are in fact the ultimate end”

“This is the significant interest of the naturally beautiful: that it is still able to present man with himself in respect to his morally determined existence”

This is the confirmation of man by another.

Gadamer agrees, but he thinks that Kant evaluated art incorrectly.

“[C]ontrariwise, one can see that the advantage of art over natural beauty is that the language of art exerts its claims, and does not offer itself freely and indeterminately for interpretation according to one’s mood, but speaks to us in a significant and definite way”

This definiteness is not a fetter but opens up room for play, for the free play of our cognitive faculties

The measure of significance (its concept) becomes “aesthetically expanded”

For Kant, art is the presentation of aesthetic ideas—i.e., of something that lies beyond all concepts

So, the “beautiful is grasped without a concept and yet at the same time has a binding force”

This force is genius

Genius is crucial to aesthetic rate, facilitating the play of one’s mental powers, increasing the vitality that comes from the harmony between imagination and understanding, and inviting one to linger before the beautiful The Relation Between Taste and Genius

“Kant considers that taste should prevail”

But taste = judgment and is concerned with pleasure, and genius is conceptual judgement and thus pleasure in the artistically beautiful, and so is just a limited version of taste

The critique of taste (aesthetics) is a preparation for teleology

Gadamer argues that Kant basically downplays art and privileges nature to justify teleology, but his arguments ultimately allow for an equating of art with nature, and thus a critique of art from genius (contingent, dependent) on the same terms of Kant’s (free, natural) taste

1.2.2 The Aesthetics of Genius and the Concept of Experience (Erlebnis) The Dominance of the Concept of Genius

Gadamer moves to explain the change that occurred after Kant

“Kant’s main concern … was to give aesthetics an autonomous basis freed from the criterion of the concept, and not to raise the question of truth in the sphere of art, but to base aesthetic judgment on the subjective a priori of our feeling of life, the harmony of our capacity for ‘knowledge in general,’ which is the essence of both taste and genius”

“All of this was of a piece with nineteenth-century irrationalism and the cult of genius”

“Kant’s doctrine of the ‘heightening of the feeling of life’ (Lebensgefühl) in aesthetic pleasure helped the idea of ‘genius’ to develop into a comprehensive concept of life (Leben), especially after Fichte had elevated genius and what genius created to a universal transcendental position”

“Hence, by trying to derive all objective validity from transcendental subjectivity, neo-Kantianism declared the concept of Erlebnis to be the very stuff of consciousness”

Essentially, Gadamer identifies the inversion of the Kantian dialectic of nature/art, taste/genius, and shows how Kant’s successors used Kant in this inverted way to argue for an “all-enclosing” standpoint for art, and thus the rendering of Erlebnis equivalent with experience On the History of the Word Erlebnis

The verb Erleben means “to be still alive when something happens”, suggesting the immediacy with which something real is grasped

The form das Erlebte is also used, meaning “the permanent content of what is experienced”, the yield or result that achieves permanence, weight, and significance from out of the transience of experiencing

The newer term Erlebnis is both

Especially gains this meaning in relation to biographies of poets: “something becomes an “experience” not only insofar as it is experienced, but insofar as its being experienced makes a special impression that gives it lasting importance”

Erlebnis was probably introduced to classical Germany by Rousseau, to describe the “world of inner experiences” expressed in his writing

But Erlebnis and Erleben don’t really fit this usage, but mean rather what is directly given, the ultimate material for all imaginative creation

Erlebnis, then, is a criticism of Enlightenment rationalism, which, following Rousseau, emphasized the concept of life (Leben): [see outcome of neo-Kantian application of genius to art and formalization of Leben by Fichte]

Thus, the Germans, taking up Rousseau’s “Erlebnis”, or rather, using Erlebnis to discuss Rousseau, critiqued and transformed Rousseau’s life (in German Leben), through the Germanic associations of their concepts. So Rousseau’s work influenced the use of Leben and Erlebnis in Germany, but the original content of the terms, derived from Kant and transformed by his successors, changed the thinking of those terms from how Rousseau’s enlightenment rationalism originally employed them

With Fichte, Hegel, Schleiermacher: “In contrast to the abstractness of understanding and the particularity of perception or representation, this concept [Erlebnis] implies a connection with totality, with infinity”

Every act, as an element of life, remains connected with the infinity of life that manifests itself in it. Everything finite is an expression, a representation of the infinite

Dilthey on Schleiermacher: “Each one of his experiences (Erlebnisse) existing by itself is a separate picture of the universe taken out of the explanatory context” The Concept of Erlebnis

Dilthey’s Erlebnis “contains two elements”: the pantheistic and the positivist, the experience (Erlebnis) and still more its result (Erlebnis)

Dilthey wants to legitimate the human sciences, and since they are concerned with life (Leben), and Erlebnis is the experience of life, then the question of what is truly given becomes central to him

Erlebnis was brought into general usage by the hunger for experience caused by the alienating force of the Industrial Revolution

The age of mechanics felt alienated from nature; human sciences felt a similar alienation from the world of history

Because of the interpretive function of Erlebnis requiring givens (products) of experience for interpretation, art and history, the spiritual creations of the past … no longer belong self-evidently to the present

Art and history are “given up to research, they are data or givens (Gegebenheiten) from which part can be made present”

Thus, Dilthey is trying to grasp “the special nature of the given in the human sciences”

What is given? Uses Descartes res cogitans and defines experience by reflexivity and interiority

This is a special mode of being given

Thus, Dilthey’s “primary data” for the human sciences are “unities of meaning”: “the structure of meaning we meet in the human sciences, however strange and incomprehensible they may seem to us, can be traced back to ultimate units of what is given in consciousness, unities which themselves no longer contain anything alien, objective, or in need of interpretation”

These units of experience are themselves units of meaning

Dilthey’s Erlebnis is the ultimate “unit of consciousness” and NOT sensation, “as was automatic in Kantianism”

“Dilthey circumscribed the ideal of constructing knowledge from atoms of sensation and offers instead a more sharply defined version of the concept of the given”

Dilthey “restricts the mechanistic model” of experience (i.e. sensation)

This concept of life is conceived teleologically

“[L]ife, for Dilthey, is productivity”

“Since life objectifies itself in structures of meaning, all understanding of meaning consists in “translating the objectifications of life back into the spiritual life from which they emerged.” Thus the concept of experience is the epistemological basis for all knowledge of the objective”

In Husserl, the “unit of experience is not understood as a piece of the actual flow of experience of an “I,” but as an intentional relation”

Erlebnis is primarily purely epistemological

“That life (Leben) manifests itself in experience (Erlebnis) means simply that life is the ultimate foundation”

Erlebnis is condensing, intensifying

“If something is called or considered an Erlebnis, that means it is rounded into the unity of a significant whole”

Experience is meant as a unity and thus attains a new mode of being one

“What can be called an experience constitutes itself in memory. By calling it such, we are referring to the lasting meaning that an experience has for the person who has it”

“Experience has a definite immediacy which elided every opinion about its meaning”

Everything that is experienced is experienced by oneself, and part of its meaning is that it belongs to unity of this self and thus contains and unmistakable and irreplaceable relation to the whole of this one life

Experience cannot be exhausted in what can be said of it or grasped as its meaning

The meaning of experience remains fused with the whole movement of life and constantly accompanied it

The mode of being of experience is precisely to be so determinative that one is never finished with it

Erlebnis is unforgettable, irreplaceable

But: Gadamer states that this understanding of Erlebnis is itself not exhausted. It is more than the “ultimate datum and basis of all knowledge”, and this “more” yields a “set of problems”: its [Erlebnis’s] relation to inner life

The “far-reaching theme”: the relationship between life and experience

Two thinkers:

  1. Dilthey

  2. Husserl

Crucial: Kant’s critique of the substantialist doctrine of the soul, and the importance of the transcendental unity of self-consciousness/the synthetic unity of apperception

Natorp (1888): Bewußtheit, the “immediacy of experience”

Basic idea: “the concreteness of primal experience—i.e. the totality of consciousness—represents an undifferentiated unity, which is differentiated and determined by the objectivizing method of knowledge”

“But consciousness means life—i.e., an indecomposable interrelationship”

“Consciousness is not given as an event in time, but time as a form of consciousness”

Bergson (1888): Les données immédiates de la conscience

Durée: “the absolute continuity of the psychic”

“Bergson understands this as “organization”—i.e., he defines it by appeal to the mode of being of living beings (être vivant), a mode in which every element is representative of the whole (représentatif du tout)”

Schleiermacher: every experience is “an element of infinite life”

Simmel: in experience, “the objective not only becomes an image and idea, as in knowing, but an element in the life process itself”

Experience is an adventure, a venturing out into the uncertain, with a return to the everyday

“Every experience is taken out of the continuity of life and at the same time related to the whole of one’s life” 

“Because it [experience] is itself within the whole of life, the whole of life is present in it too”

Aesthetic experience is not just one kind of experience among others, but represents the essence of experience per se. As the work of art as such is a world for itself, so also what is experienced aesthetically is, as an Erlebnis, removed from all connections with actuality.

the power of the work of art suddenly tears the person experiencing it out of the context of his life, and yet relates him back to the whole of his existence

“In the experience of art is present a fullness of meaning that belongs not only to this particular content or object but rather stands for the meaningful whole of life”

An aesthetic Erlebnis always contains the experience of an infinite whole. Precisely because it does not combine with other experiences to make one open experiential flow, but immediately represents the whole, its significance is infinite

“The work of art is understood as the consummation of the symbolic representation of life, and towards this consummation every experience already tends”

“Erlebniskunst (art based on experience) is art per se” The Limits of Erlebniskunst and the Rehabilitation of Allegory

Erlebniskunst: “art comes from experience” but also “art that is intended to be aesthetically experienced”

Symbol and Allegory: originally same thing

“something whose meaning does not consist in its external appearance or sound but in a significance that lies beyond it”

One thing stands for another; the non-sensory is made apparent to the senses

Allegory: “belong[s] to the sphere of talk”; “logos”; “a rhetorical or hermeneutical figure”

Symbol: “not limited to the sphere of the logos”; “not related by its meaning to another meaning”; “its own sensory existence has ‘meaning’”; is “something shown” and so “enables one to recognize something else”; is “produced”; “a document by means of which the members of a community recognize one another”

In Neo-Platonism and Pseudo-Dionysius, the “symbolon [] acquired an anagogic function”

The allegorical procedure of interpretation and the symbolic procedure of knowledge are both necessary for the same reason: it is possible to know the divine in no other way than by starting from the world of the senses

The “concept of symbol” is metaphysical: symbols go “beyond the sensible to the divine”

The world of the senses is not mere nothingness and darkness but the outflowing and reflection of truth … the symbol is not an arbitrarily chosen or created sign, but presupposes a metaphysical connection between visible and invisible

vs. Allegory: “co-ordination created by convention and dogmatic agreement”


Symbol: has something inherently and essentially significant

Allegory: has external and artificial significance

The symbol is coincidence of the sensible and the non-sensible; allegory, the meaningful relation of the sensible to the non-sensible

Genius - Victory of symbol over allegory

Kant: symbolic vs schematic representation: symbolic is non-conceptual

Kant uses analogyto relate the beautiful to the morally good (beauty is SYMBOL OF (=/-) moral good)

Schelling: symbol (Sinnbild) (meaning image): “as concrete, resembling only itself, like an image, and yet as universal and full of meaning as a concept”

A symbol is the coincidence of sensible appearance and supra sensible meaning … and not a subsequent co-ordination, as in the use of signs, but the union of two things that belong to each other

Symbolon: “the dividing of what is one and reuniting it again” 

Symbols points to the disproportion between form and essence, expression and content: the finite and the infinite

“The demotion of allegory was the dominant concern of German classicism”: because of the fight against rationalism

“However ambiguous and indeterminate the symbol still remains, it can no longer her characterized by its private relation to the concept. Rather, it has its own positivity as a creation of the human mind”

It is the perfect consonance of appearance and idea which is now … emphasized in the concept of symbol, whereas dissonance is reserved for allegory or mythical consciousness

Cassirer: aesthetic vs mythical symbolism

Aesthetic symbol equilibriates the tension between image and meaning (finite/infinite)

But: symbol-making activity [is] in fact limited by the continued existence of a mythical, allegorical tradition

the contrast between symbol and allegory becomes relative, whereas the prejudice of the aesthetics of Erlebnis made it appear absolute

“the difference between aesthetic consciousness and mythical consciousness can hardly be considered absolute”

Gadamer wants to revise the basic concepts of aesthetics, because the concept of aesthetic consciousness has been shown to be dubious, and thus also the standpoint of art to which it belongs

1.3 Retrieving the Question of Artistic Truth

1.3.1 The Dubiousness of the Concept of Aesthetic Cultivation (Bildung)

Gadamer inquires into the historical development of the concept of “aesthetic consciousness”

Kant: “transcendental aesthetics”; taste transitions from “sensory pleasure to moral feeling”

Schiller: the transcendental idea of taste becomes a “moral demand”/”imperative”: “Live aesthetically!”

Schiller drew on Fichte’s “theory of impulses” to synthesize his thought with Kant’s taste and genius as “the free play of the faculties of knowledge”: the play impulse was to harmonize the form impulse and the matter impulse. Cultivating the play impulse is the end of aesthetic education

The “art of beautiful appearance” is so contrasted with “practical reality”

In Kant, aesthetics is used to reconcile the dualism of “is” [reality] and “ought” [ideality]. The aesthetic pleasure in nature that presents itself without thought of man and yet evokes pleasure in man indicates the givenness of reality to man and thus his moral responsibility to it (as discussed by Gadamer above)

Schiller reversal, his privileging of art, opens up a new problematic where reality remains alien from the conscious self

Even though Schiller aesthetics is no longer Kantian, it is, nevertheless, born of Kant’s work (also as Gadamer demonstrated earlier: the kernel of the reversal after Kant already existed in Kant)

Gadamer sees phenomenological criticism of nineteenth century psychology and epistemology as the liberator from poor concepts of aesthetics

Before, the aesthetic was the experience of reality and a modification of reality, assuming that art is related to something different from itself: real being

But Erfahrung is different

Erfahrung regards what it experiences as genuine truth

In this way, aesthetic experience “cannot be disappointed by any more genuine experience of reality”, whereas the previous “modifications of the experience of reality” referred to (i.e. Erlebnis) always disappoint

Aesthetic consciousness includes and alienation from reality (Hegel’s “alienated spirit”)

But eventually, taste which obeyed a “criterion of content” and served to bind together society became so abstracted, so alienated, that it became entirely divorced from content, making possible the “pure work of art”

The function that makes an experience “aesthetic” Gadamer calls “aesthetic differentiation”

Taste differentiates—i.e. selects and rejects

Taste becomes aesthetic consciousness, and aesthetic consciousness differentiates by abstraction, by aesthetic quality as such

Aesthetic differentiation “distinguishes the aesthetic quality of a work from all the elements of content that induce us to take up a moral or religious stance towards it, and presents it solely by itself in its aesthetic being”

Aesthetic consciousness makes everything it values simultaneous, [while] it constitutes itself as historical at the same time

“the dissolution of all taste determined by content, as proper to aesthetic taste, is also seen explicitly in the creative work of artists who turn to the historical”

Aesthetic consciousness “resist[s] denigrating any taste that differs from one’s own “good” taste. In place of the unity of a taste we now have a mobile sense of quality”

“Thus through “aesthetic differentiation” the work loses its place and the world to which it belongs insofar as it belongs instead to aesthetic consciousness”

Society demands from its artists a new consecration with the elevation of the aesthetic consciousness above the tradition of religion and myth

1.3.2 Critique of the Abstraction Inherent in Aesthetic Consciousness

Gadamer considers the form of aesthetic differentiation in Bildung and its development

Hamann: “perception is significant in itself”

Gadamer notes Aristotle: “aisthesis tends toward a universal, even if every has has its own specific field and thus what is immediately given in it is not universal. But the specific sensory perception of something as such is an abstraction”

So pure [psychological] perception is an ideal response to this stimulus as abstractly perceived


“Even perception conceived as an adequate response to a stimulus would never be a mere mirroring of what is there. For it would always remain an understanding of something as something. All understanding-as is an articulation of what is there, in that it looks-away-from, looks-at, sees-together-as. All of this can occupy the center of an observation or can merely ‘accompany’ seeing, at its edge or in the background. Thus there is no doubt that, as an articulating reading of what is there, vision disregards much of what is there, so that for sight, it is simply not there anymore. So too expectations lead it to “read in” what is not there at all. Let us also remember the tendency to invariance operative within vision itself, so that as far as possible one always sees things in the same way.”

Aesthetic observation is not “presence-at-hand” [pure immanence]

We must recognize an artwork as such before understanding it

Seeing means articulating

Pure seeing and pure hearing are dogmatic abstractions that artificially reduce phenomena. Perception always includes meaning.

The “unity of the work of art solely in its form” is “perverse formalism” and “cannot invoke the name of Kant”

“In order to do justice to art, aesthetics must go beyond itself and surrender the “purity” of the aesthetic”

It must go beyond genius, do away with the cult of genius

“The self-knowledge of the artist remains far more down to earth [than bourgeois society does]. He sees possibilities of making and doing, and questions of “technique,” where the observer seeks inspiration, mystery, and deeper meaning”

Gadamer questions artistry without genius:

“The work is finished if it answers the purpose for which it is intended”

How do we judge this?

“Does not the work’s existence, then, appear to be the breaking-off of a creative process that actually points beyond it? Perhaps in itself it cannot be completed at all?”

“it follows that it must be left to the recipient to make something of the work”

“There is no criterion of appropriate reaction”

“every encounter with the work has the rank and right of a new production”

Gadamer calls this an untenable hermeneutic nihilism

“genius in understanding is, in fact, of no more help than genius in creation”

Georg von Lukács: “The Subject-Object Relation in Aesthetics”

“He ascribes a Heraclitean structure to the aesthetic sphere, by which he means that the unity of the aesthetic object is not actually given. The work of art is only an empty form, a mere nodal point in the possible variety of aesthetic experiences (Erlebnisse), and the aesthetic object exists in these experiences alone. As is evident, absolute discontinuity—i.e., the disintegration of the unity of the aesthetic object into the multiplicity of experiences—is the necessary consequence of an aesthetics of Erlebnis.”

“Following Lukács ideas, Oskar Becker has stated outright than “in terms of time the work exists only in a moment (i.e., now); it is ‘now’ this work and now it is this work no longer!” Actually, that is logical. Basing aesthetics on experience leads to an absolute series of points, which annihilates the unity of the work of art, the identity of the artist with himself, and the identity of the person understanding or enjoying the work of art.”

Gadamer sees Kierkegaard as the “the first to show the untenablility of this position”

Thus, Gadamer sets “the task of preserving the hermeneutic continuity which constitutes our being, despite the discontinuity intrinsic to aesthetic being and aesthetic experience”

The pantheon of art is not a timeless present that presents itself to a pure aesthetic consciousness, but the act of a mind and spirit that has collected and gathered itself historically

Our experience of the aesthetic too is a mode of understanding

“Self-understanding always occurs through understanding something other than the self, and includes the unity and integrity of the other”

“Since we meet the artwork in the world and encounter a world in the individual artwork, the work of art is not some alien universe into which we are magically transported for a time. Rather, we learn to understand ourselves in and through it, and this means that we sublate (aufheben) the discontinuity and atomism of isolated experiences in the continuity of our own existence. For this reason, we must adopt a standpoint in relation to art and the beautiful that does not pretend to immediacy but corresponds to the historical nature of the human condition. The appeal to immediacy, to the instantaneous flash of genius, to the significance of “experiences” (Erlebnisse), cannot withstand the claim of human existence to continuity and unity of self-understanding. The binding quality of the experience (Erfahrung) of art most not be disintegrated by aesthetic consciousness.”

The experience (Erfahrung) of art is a mode of knowledge of a unique kind, certainly different from that sensory knowledge which provides science with the ultimate data from which it constructs the knowledge of nature, and certainly different from all moral rational knowledge, and indeed from all conceptual knowledge—but still knowledge, i.e., conveying truth?

Hegel: aesthetics becomes a history of worldviews—i.e., a history of truth, as it is manifested in the mirror of art”; “historical multiplicity cannot en superseded through progress towards the one, true art”

All encounter with the language of art is an encounter with an unfinished event and is itself part of this event

Speculative idealism sought to overcome Kant’s aesthetic subjectivism from the standpoint of infinite knowledge [i.e., the inexhaustibility of the “pure work of art”]; “We, instead, will have to hold firmly to the standpoint of finiteness”

The question: what is the being of self-understanding?

“In disclosing time as the ground hidden from self-understanding, it does not preach blind commitment out of nihilistic despair, but opens itself to a hitherto concealed experience that transcends thinking from the position of subjectivity, an experience that Heidegger calls being”

“In the experience of art we see a genuine experience (Erfahrung) induced by the work, which does not leave him who has it unchanged, and we inquire into the mode of being of what is experienced in this way. So we hope to better understand what kind of truth it is that encounters is there”

understanding belongs to the encounter with the work of art itself, and so this belonging can be illuminated only on the basis of the mode of being of the work of art itself

2 The Ontology of the Work of Art and its Hermeneutic Significance

2.1 Play as the Clue to Ontological Explanation

2.1.1 The Concept of Play

Play is the “mode of being of the work of art itself”

Play is not serious; that is why the player plays

Aristotle: “we play ‘for the sake of recreation’”

In playing, all those purposive relations that determine active and caring existence have not simply disappeared, but are curiously suspended

“Play fulfills its purpose only if the player loses himself in play

Seriousness is commitment to an aim; play is activity without aim; but, play can only be “wholly play” if one seriously commits to the abandon of play itself

Play is not just an object to be perceived, but something to be lost within; there is no subject/object distinction

So: the work of art is not an object that stands over against a subject for itself. Instead the work of art has its true being in the fact that it becomes an experience that changed the person who experienced it

Play reaches presentation through the players

In play there is “to-and-fro movement that is not tied to any goal that would bring it to an end”

it renews itself in constant repetition

“The movement of play as such has … no substrate”

So: the primordial sense of playing is the medial one

“play is not to be understood as something a person does”; play is something that goes on, that happens

Thus play is over the consciousness of the player

“Play clearly represents an order in which the to-and-fro motion of play follows of itself … without goal or purpose but also without effort. It happens, as it were, by itself”

The structure of play absorbs the player into itself, and thus frees him from the burden of taking the initiative, which constitutes the actual strain of existence. This is also seen in the spontaneous tendency to repetition that emerges in the player and in the constant self-renewal of play, which affects its form

The meaning of [human] play … is a pure self-presentation

The mode of being of nature is presentation (i.e. it presents itself by virtue of its being, its thereness): thus, “man too plays” because man is part of nature, and his play (i.e. his self-presenting) is fundamentally natural

“the being of the work of art is connected with the medial sense of play”

Inasmuch as nature is without purpose and intention, just as it is without exertion, it is a constantly self-renewing play, and can therefore appear as a model for art

Play is always with “something else with which the player plays and which automatically responds to his move with a countermove”

The risk inherent to the openness of the game (i.e. that it navigates between seriousness and frivolity and that the frivolous can potentially impact or even determine the serious) indicates that all playing is a being-played

The attraction of a game, the fascination it exerts, consists precisely in the fact that the game masters the players

The real subject of the game … is not the player but instead the game itself

“What holds the player in its spell, draws him into play, and keeps him there is the game itself”

“The particular nature of a game lies in the rules and regulations that prescribe the way the field of the game is filled”

The playing field on which the game is played is, as it were, set by the nature of the game itself and is defined far more by the structure that determines the movement of the game from within than by what it comes up against—i.e., the boundaries of the open space—limiting movement from without

Characteristic of human play is that “it plays something

“That means that the structure of movement to which it submits has a definite quality which the player ‘chooses’”

First, he expressly separates his playing behaviour from his other behaviour by wanting to play. But even within his readiness to play he makes a choice. He chooses this game rather than that. Correlatively, the space in which the game’s movement takes place is not simply the open space in which one “plays oneself out,” but one that is specially marked out and reserved for the movement of the game

Human play requires a playing field

“Setting off the playing field … sets off the sphere of play as a closed world, one without transition and mediation to the world of aims”

“Every game presents he man who plays it with a task”

What is the task? To be presented/for the man to present it

Play is really limited to presenting itself

Remember: “self-presentation is a universal ontological characteristic of nature”

Play is self-presentation

in spending oneself on the task of the game, one is in fact playing oneself out. The self-presentation of the game involves the player’s achieving, as it were, his own self-presentation by playing—i.e., presenting—something

“Only because play is always presentation is human play able to make representation itself the task of a game”

All presentation is potentially a representation for someone

Representation is directed; this directed was is “constitutive of the being of art”

Most games however are “not aimed at an audience”: play is for itself

So: “openness toward the spectator is part of the closeness of the play. The audience only completes what the play as such is”

Thus, play is not a representation directed at a spectator, or a spectator viewing an object, but a “process that takes place ‘in between’”

“play draws [the player] into its dominion and fills him with its spirit”

“The player experienced the game as a reality that surpasses him”

So: when representation is intended—i.e. what is presented is directed at an audience—the play still “remains a game” (is a “world wholly closed within itself”) but also “it is as if open toward the spectator, in whom it achieves its whole significance”

“The way [the players] participate in the game is no longer determined by the fact that they are completely absorbed in it, but by the fact that they play their role in relation and regard to the whole of the play, in which not they but the audience is to become absorbed”

“in that the play is presented for [the spectator], it becomes apparent that the play bears within itself a meaning to be understood and that can therefore be detached from the behaviour of the player”

2.1.2 Transformation Into Structure and Total Mediation

The “true consummation” of human play is in being art

In being art, play is transformed into structure, and as structure, the activity of the players consists in the appearance (Erscheinung) of what they are playing

As such, play is “repeatable” and “hence permanent”

Cites Aristotle’s tripartite division of human activity: theoria (thinking), poiesis (making), and praxis (doing); these each have an end goal, respectively, of truth, production, and action

Gadamer lines this up with the concepts of potentiality and actuality from Aristotle. Potentiality comes from the Greek dunamis. But here Gadamer is concerned with actuality, which in Aristotle is energeia (n. energy, action), which is itself derived from ergon (n. deed, doing, action; labour, work, task)

What Gadamer is getting at here is that play, in its repeatability and consequent permanence, has the character of a work (ergon) over some work (energeia): this distinction does not appear to be in Aristotle, but Gadamer creates it to emphasize the structural quality of the being of play in being art, and thus consisting in pure appearance

The end of play is thus “disassociated” from any representation it might undertake, but is, nevertheless, linked to representation; representation may occur on the part of the players, but in relation to the whole, the play as such has an “absolute autonomy” from representation

The player himself might seek his own alteration, his becoming-as-another, denying his “continuity with himself” to his audience while holding on to it for himself; in the play as the whole, however, whatever personal representative work the player undertakes (and so disguise, alteration) is caught up in the total transformational change of the play-structure: what existed previously exists no longer

In this, that what now exists, what represents itself in the play of art, is the lasting and true: the playing, the players, the audience—these no longer exist, only what they are playing, the play as such

Thus the action of play “exists as something that eats absolutely within itself”

The pleasure of drama … is the joy of knowledge

The transformation is a transformation into the true

Hold up! Let’s trace some logic:

  1. The mode of being of nature is self-presentation

  2. Self-presentation is really just “being-there” or “being-as-such” or “presence”

  3. Man as a natural being is naturally self-presenting and this is his default mode

  4. This natural play is for itself and in itself: it is limited to presenting itself, and is therefore fundamentally closed

  5. But man can also represent: his presenting can be of something not-there, or as-other, or absent

  6. This representation thus requires an interprer to understand the meaning of the representation

  7. Representation is thus directed, or we could say, for another, contrary to self-presentation which is for itself

  8. But Gadamer argues that the subjectivity of representation in its directedness is not so in fact: “the audience only completes what the play is as such”

  9. Thus play as art, as representation, exists as a totality of player, play, and audience

  10. This totality is a structure which is repeatable and permanent, and so absolutely autonomous of the subsidiary acts of playing and spectating

  11. This totality is transformative, bring all the parts involved (again: player, play, audience) into a whole that is “lasting and true”

  12. Thus, the play, though directed at an audience, still, as a whole, “rests absolutely within itself”

  13. Because of this, the pleasure of play is “the joy of knowledge,” and the transformation is a “transformation into the true”

  14. Why is this pleasure in knowledge a transformation into the “true”? What is the “true”? Because representation, as the uniquely human act of presentation (the mode of being of nature), captures in itself the actuality of being, which is self-presentation, and which, in humans, is presentation-to and interpretation-by others

  15. Presentation can always also be representation, and so our presentation-to and thus being-with others always consists in interpreting the potential meanings given by such a representation

In being presented in play, what is emerges

Because reality, in its natural self-presentation, is naturally for itself, reality “always stands in a horizon of desired or feared or … still undecided possibilities”

But when a “context of meaning” closes (i.e. a possibility becomes an actuality, or potentiality is brought into self-presentation) then reality is like a play/game/drama

where reality is understood as a play, emerges the reality of play, which we call the play of art

The being of all play is always self-realization, sheer fulfilment, energeia which has its telos within itself

“Thus the concept of transformation characterizes the independent and superior mode of being of what we call structure. From this viewpoint “reality” is defined as what is untransformed, and art as the raising up (Aufhebung) of this reality into its truth. The classical theory of art too, which bases all art on the idea of mimesis, imitation, obviously starts from play in the form of dancing, which is the representation of the divine”

Gadamer moves to discuss imitation:

Imitation is a cognitive act

In imitation the thing presented is there

“When a person imitates something, he allows what he knows to exist and to exist in the way that he knows it”

A child dressing up intends for his representation to exist, to be recognized for what it “is”

On Recognition:

“what we experience in a work of art and what invites our attention is how true it is—i.e., to what extent one knows and recognizes something and oneself”

The joy of recognition is rather the joy of knowing more than is already familiar

“In recognition what we know emerged, as if illuminated, from all the contingent and variable circumstances that condition it; it is grasped in its essence. It is known as something

In Platonism, this is anamnesis (knowledge from past lives that is rediscovered from within)

“The “known” enters into its true being and manifests itself as what it is only when it is recognized”

Knowledge of the true: the being of the representation is more than the being of the thing represented

what is presented is there … but [ ] it has also come into the There more authentically

Imitation and representation are knowledge of the essence

They are “not merely a repetition” but a bringing forth

This implies a spectator: “They contain in themselves an essential relation to everyone for whom the representation exists”

Presentation of essence is necessarily revelatory

This revelatory bringing forth of essence thus also requires aphairein (taking off/away, removing) and synhoran (to see together): the representation must be seen together with its original—i.e. recognized as its likeness—but also reduced, paired down, so as to heighten the bringing forth of the original’s essence

This is the “insuperable ontological difference” between thing and likeness

Thus imitation has a special cognitive function

Imitation, mimesis, was enough for the theory of art as long as the cognitive significance of art went unquestioned [THIS IS GADAMER’S PROJECT!!]

Kant’s aesthetics led to an impoverishment of the concept of mimesis, which Gadamer showed in Chapter 1. He now seeks to reclaim and restore the concept

“Once the aporias of the subjective turn in aesthetics have become evident to us, we are forced to return to the olde tradition. If art is not the variety of changing experienced (Erlebnisse) whose object is filled subjectively with meaning like an empty mold, we must recognize that “presentation” (Darstellung) is the mode of being of the work of art

“This was prepared for by deriving the concept of presentation from the concept of play, for self-presentation is the true nature of play—and hence of the work of art also. In being played the play speaks to the spectator through its presentation; and it does so in such a way that, despite the distance between it and himself, the spectator belongs to play”

[Gadamer’s] thesis, then, is that the being of art cannot be defined as an object of an aesthetic consciousness because, on the contrary, the aesthetic attitude is more than it knows of itself. It is a part of the event of being that occurs in presentation, and belongs essentially to play as play

Thus drama, and art-as-drama (as play) is the coming-into-existence of the work itself; it is “not a mere schema of rules of prescribed approaches within which play can freely realize itself”

Play is structure

Play must be played for it to come into existence, but it still exists as a “meaningful whole which can be repeatedly presented as such and the significance of which can be understood”

Structure is also play

Structure “achieves its full being only each time it is played”

I (Eric) am going to call this “play-structure”: both energeia, the working-out or doing, and ergon, the being or form that is worked out

In drama, then, the imitation is “what is formed by the poet, represented by the actor, and recognized by the spectator”

“What the actor plays and the spectator recognizes are the forms and the actions itself, as they are formed by the poet”

This is a double mimesis: poet imitates in his writing, actor imitates in his acting

But this double mimesis is one: “it is the same thing that comes into existence in each case”

The “mimetic representation (Darstellung), the performance, brings into existence (zum Dasein) what the play itself requires”

The double distinction, or double mimesis, is a “double non-distinction as the unity of the truth which ones recognizes in the play of art”

Critiquing the performance or inquiring into the history is aesthetic differentiation, but experiencing the performance, the artwork is recognizing the truth which has been brought into existence

Thus a scene can be on a stage or in life because the scene simply requires that the spectator recognize the closedness of a meaningful representation

“What we have called a structure is one insofar as it presents itself as a meaningful whole. It does not exist in itself, nor is it encountered in a mediation (Vermittlung) accidental to it; rather, it acquires its proper being in being mediated

Structure is “not at all a question of a mere subjective variety of concepts, but of the work’s own possibilities of being that emerge as the work explicated itself, as it were, in the variety of its aspects”

Certainly there can be aesthetic reflection, Gadamer acknowledges, but in this reflection “the work itself is distinguished from its ‘presentation’”

“But one fails to appreciate the obligatoriness of the work of art if one regards the variations possible in the presentation as free and arbitrary. In fact they are all subject to the supreme criterion of “right” representation”

Traditions created by great artists become fused with the work, the play-structure, as a model for subsequent artists to interpret, along with the work itself, in their own representations

“The performing arts have this special quality: that the works they deal with are explicitly left open to such re-creation and thus visibly hold the identity and continuity of the work of art open towards its future”

But: “‘correct presentation’ (Darstellung) is a highly flexible and relative one”

But more: representation is still bound to the work though this bond has no fixed criterion. We do not approve of “ad-lib effects”

But also more: we don’t approve of canonized variations as the true version, of fixed correctness, because these do not “do justice to the true binding nature of the work, which imposes itself on every interpreter immediately, in its own way, and does not allow him to make things easy for himself by imitating a model”

So ad-lib and strict correctness both lose the truth of performance

The whole performance is both bound and free

“interpretation probably is re-creation, but this is a re-creation not of the creative act but of the created work, which has to be brought to representation in accord with the meaning the interpreter finds in it”

Here the obvious fact that the non-differentiation of the mediation (Vermittlung) from the work itself is the actual experience of the work

“This accords with the fact that aesthetic consciousness is generally able to make the aesthetic distinction between the work and its mediation only in a critical way—i.e., where the interpretation breaks down”

The mediation that communicates the work is, in principle, total

“Total mediation means that the medium as such is superseded (aufhebt)”

“the performance … does not become, as such, thematic, but the work presents itself through it and in it” [i.e. the ergon (structure) is presented through and in its energeia (play)]

“the approach as such is not thematic, but neither is it true that one would have to abstract from the work’s relations to the life world in order to grasp the work itself”

“Rather, it [the work] exists within them [the work’s relations to the life world]”

“works stretch out of a past into the present as enduring monuments” but their being is not as “an object” of a “consciousness”

Works are contemporaneous with every age

The changing aspects of a work through time all belong to it, are all contemporaneous (gleichzeitig) with it; we must interpret the work of art in terms of time (Zeit)

2.1.3 The Temporality of the Aesthetic

The “contemporaneity and presentness of aesthetic being is generally called its timelessness”

Timelessness is the quality of being both historical and suprahistorical

The suprahistorical is sacred time

But, treated in this way, the suprahistorical collapses into the historical and thus into time, because, following Heidegger, radical finitude is the mode of being of understanding itself which is here revealed as temporality

Sacred time requires theological justification, but in human terms it is simply obscuring

So a different concept of aesthetic temporality is required

The work of art is play

its actual being cannot be detached from its presentation

in this presentation the unity and identity of a structure emerge

“every repetition is as original as the work itself”

The best example of this is the festival

“The time experience of the festival is rather its celebration, a present time sui generis”—a festival is its present, its memory, and its expectation; there is no difference between these, but rather they are all together as a whole

“a festival is not an identity like a historical event, but neither is it determined by its origin so that there was once the “real” festival—as distinct from the way in which it later came to be celebrated”

the nature of a festival is to be celebrated regularly

“An entity that exists only by always being something different is temporal in a more radical sense than everything that belongs to history. It has its being only in becoming and return

Thus we can see that the nature of the celebrant is like that of the spectator: being there present (Dabeisein)

true participation [is] not something active but something passive (pathos), namely being totally involved in and carried away by what one sees

Being present has the character of being outside oneself; being outside oneself is the positive possibility of being wholly with something else

This presence is self-forgetfulness

to be a spectator consists in giving oneself in self-forgetfulness to what one is watching

Unlike with curiosity, “that which presents itself to the spectator as the play of art does not simply exhaust itself in momentary transport, but has a claim to permanence and the permanence of a claim”

“Claim” Gadamer draws from Kiekegaard and his “dialectical theology”

“A claim is something lasting. Its justification … is the primary thing”

“Because a claim lasts, it can be enforced at any time”

The claim itself is “not a fixed demand” but “is rather the ground for such”

“It belongs to the permanence of a claim that it is concretized in a demand”

So, in theology, “the word is called on to mediate between past and present”: “the claim of faith” began (in the past) with the “proclamation of the gospel” and is reinforced (in the present) through the “preaching” of the word

Contemporaneity, then, “means that in its presentation this particular thing that presents itself to us achieves full presence, however remote its origin may be”

This is a task for consciousness and an achievement that is demanded of it

Contemporaneity is when the present and the event are “so totally [] mediate[d] [] that the latter is experienced and taken seriously as present (and not something in a distant past)”

Being present is genuine participation in the event

Gadamer maintains that Kierkegaard theological concept is basically the same in art

the mediation must be thought of as total

Such an aesthetic event (the play-structure) is “lifted out of the ongoing course of the ordinary world and so much enclosed in its own autonomous circle of meaning that no one is prompted to seek some other future or reality behind it”

The spectator is set at an absolute distance, a distance that precludes practical or goal-oriented participation, but which is also the distance necessary for seeing

“The spectator’s ecstatic self-forgetfulness corresponds to his continuity with himself. Precisely that in which one loses oneself as a spectator demands that one grasp the continuity of meaning”

“Just as the ontological mode of aesthetic being is marked by parousia, absolute presence, and just as an artwork is nevertheless self-identical in every moment where it achieves such a presence, so also the absolute moment in which a spectator stands is both one of self-forgetfulness and of mediation with himself”

What rends him from himself at the same time gives him back the whole of his being

The spectator is essential to the aesthetic

2.1.4 The Example of the Tragic

“The tragic is a fundamental phenomenon, a structure of meaning that does not exist only, the tragic work of art in the narrower sense, but also in other artistic genres, especially epic”

It [the tragic] “is also found in life”

Some scholars like Richard Hamann and Max Scheler “see the tragic as something extra-aesthetic, an ethical and metaphysical phenomenon that enters into the sphere of aesthetic problems only from outside”

But Gadamer goes further, or in a different direction, and argues that the tragic is “indeed a phenomenon basic to the aesthetic in general”

If the being of the aesthetic is in play and presentation, then in the play and presentation of the tragic perhaps we can find its essence

This essence is “certainly no[t] unchanging”: from Euripides to Aeschylus to Shakespeare tragedy takes on very different forms

Regardless, “the phenomenon [of the tragic] presents itself in an outline drawn together in a historical unity”

Aristotle was decisive: “in defining tragedy he included its effect (Wirkung) on the spectator

Remember: the spectator belongs essentially to the playing of the play

The spectator’s distance is not “arbitrary”; it is “the essential relation whose ground lies in the play’s unity of meaning”

Tragedy is the unity of a tragic course of events that is experienced as such. But what is experienced as a tragic course of events—even if it is not a play that is shown on the stage but a tragedy in “life”—is a closed circle of meaning that of itself resists all penetration and interference. What is understood as tragic must simply be accepted. Hence it is, in fact, a phenomenon basic to the “aesthetic”

Aristotle: representation of tragic affects eleos (pity) and phobos (fear) in the spectator

Both are “events that overwhelm man and sweep him away”

The “commiseration” (eleos) and “apprehension” (fear) of tragedy are “modes of ekstasis,” being outside oneself

“being overcome by misery and horror involves a painful division”

“There is a disjunction from what is happening, a refusal to accept that rebels against the agonizing events. But the effect of the tragic catastrophe is precisely to dissolve this disjunction from what is. It effects the total liberation of the constrained heart. We are freed not only from the spell in which the misery and horror of the tragic fate had bound us, but at the same time we are free from everything that divides us from what is”

So, tragic pensiveness “reflects a kind of affirmation, a return to ourselves”

What is affirmed?

“the excess of tragic consequences is characteristic of the essence of the tragic”

The spectator’s tragic pensiveness affirms the “disproportionate, terrible immensity of the consequences that flow from a guilty deed that is the realm claim made on the spectator”

The spectator recognizes himself and his own finiteness in the face of the power of fate

“Tragic pensiveness does not affirm the tragic course of events as such, or the justice of the fate that overtakes the hero but rather metaphysical order of being that is true for all”

“The spectator does not hold himself aloof at the distance characteristic of an aesthetic consciousness enjoying the art with which something is represented, but rather participates in the communion of being present”

the elevation and strong emotion that seize the spectator in fact deepen his continuity with himself

The spectator encounters his own story, familiar to him from tradition, his self-continuity, which binds him to the work in its totality: thus, the spectator’s encounter with the tragic work becomes a self-encounter

So also, the “writer’s free invention is the presentation of a common truth that is binding on the writer also”

The spectator, the player, the writer: none of these are “swept away into a strange world.” Instead, “it is always [their] own world, and [they] come[] to belong to it more fully by recognizing [themselves] more profoundly in it. There remains a continuity of meaning which links the work of art with the existing world and from which even the alienated consciousness of a cultured society never quite detaches itself”

2.2 Aesthetic and Hermeneutic Consequences

2.2.1 The Ontological Valence of the Picture

The “plastic arts” (sculpture, painting, architecture, etc.) seem to contradict the previous thesis, existing more-so in-themselves and thus being experienced entirely subjectively

“We can experience every work of plastic art “immediately” as itself”

But Gadamer wants to prove aesthetic differentiation wrong again

The modern framed picture and its usage is “not tied to a particular place but offers itself entirely by itself by virtue of the frame that encloses it”

“Such pictures apparently have nothing about them of the objective dependence on mediation that we emphasized in the case of drama and music”

aesthetic differentiation … is simultaneous with the creation of museum collections

Gadamer is obviously disdainful of this perspective

This is the “classical definition[]” of the “picture” and the “beautiful”: “nothing can be taken from it and nothing added without destroying it”

Gadamer wants “rid [us] of that assumption”: his discussion “tries to find a way of understanding the mode of being of a picture that detaches it both from aesthetic consciousness and from the concept of the picture to which the modern gallery has accustomed us, and it tries to recuperate the concept of the “decorative,” discredited by the aesthetics of experience

pictures are not just images but need space

Also: “We are asking in what respect the picture (Bild: also, image) is different from a copy (Abbild)—that is, we are raising the problem of the original (Ur-bild: also, ur-picture). Further, we are asking in what way the picture’s relation to its world follows from this”

Previously, “[p]resentation … there seemed doubled”

“The world that appears in the play of presentation does not stand like a copy next to the real world, but is that world in the heightened truth of its being”

in presentation, the presence of what is presented reaches its consummation

This is the ontological interwovenness of original and reproduced being


“The essence of a copy is to have no other task but to resemble the original. The measure of its success is that one recognizes the original in the copy. This means that its nature is to lose its own independent existence and serve entirely to mediate what is copied

In a copy, the copies “being really does disappear”

But take the mirror, which at first seems a mere copy. But in the “mirror image the entity itself appears in the image so that we have the thing itself in the mirror image. But a copy must always be regarded in relation to the thing it means

A copy tries to be nothing but the reproduction of something and has its only function in identifying it

A copy effaces itself in the sense that it functions as a means and, like all means, loses its function when it achieves its end

The copy fulfills itself in its self-effacement

But with a picture, it is “the picture itself [that] is meant insofar as the important thing is how the thing represented is presented in it”

the presentation remains essentially connected with what is represented—indeed, belongs to it

“what is in the mirror is the image of what is represented and is inseparable from its presence”

“Thus the mirror confirms the basic point that, unlike a picture, the intention is the original unity and non-differentiation of presentation and what is represented. It is the image of what is represented—it is “its” image, and not that of the mirror, that is seen in the mirror”

“aesthetic differentiation … distinguishes the representation as such from what is represented”

Contrarily, the picture does not “cancel itself, so that what is depicted can exist by itself. On the contrary, it is by affirming its own being that the picture enables what is depicted to exist

Gadamer moves beyond the mirror image: it is “a mere appearance—i.e., it has no real being and is understood in its fleeting existence as something that depends on being reflected”

But the picture has its own being

This being as presentation, as precisely that in which it is not the same as what is represented, gives it the positive distinction of being a picture as opposed to a mere reflected image

presentation remains essentially tied to the original represented in it

“That the representation is a picture” isn’t negative—it means the representation has an autonomous reality

The relationship is now two-sided: “[t]hat the picture has its own reality means the reverse for what is pictured, namely that it comes to presentation in the representation. It [what is pictured] presents itself there

It does not follow that it [what is pictured] is dependent on this particular presentation in order to appear. It can also present itself as what it is in other ways. But if it presents itself in this way, this is no longer any incidental event but belongs to its own being. Every such presentation is an ontological event and occupies the same ontological level as what is represented. By being presented it experiences, as it were, an increase in being. The content of the picture itself is ontologically defined as an emanation of the original

“Essential to an emanation is that what emanates is an overflow”

What is flows from does does not thereby becomes less … For if the original One is not diminished by the outflow of the many from it, this means that being increases

“[The Greek fathers] regarded the incarnation of God as a fundamental acknowledgment of the worth of the visible appearance, and thus they legitimated works of art”


Footnote 59:

Means “to make present”

The important thing about the legal idea of representation is that the persona repraesentata is only the person represented, and yet the representative, who is exercising the former’s rights, is dependent on him

Representation is not simply “performance” but “represented presence”

Back to main text:

“the picture is an element of “representation” and thus has its own ontological valence. The picture then has an autonomy that also affects the original”

For strictly speaking, it is only through the picture (Bild) that the original (Urbild) becomes the original (Ur-bild: also, ur-picture)—e.g., it is only by being pictured that a landscape becomes picturesque

“The way the ruler, the statesman, the hero shows and presents himself—this is brought to presentation in the picture. What does this mean? Not that the person represented acquires a new, more authentic mode of appearance through the picture. Rather, it is the other way around: it is because the ruler, the statesman, or the hero must show and present himself to his followers, because he must represent, that the picture acquires its own reality”

Only because he thus has his being in showing himself is he represented in the picture. First, then, there is undoubtedly self-presentation, and secondly the representation in the picture of this self-presentation

If someone’s being necessarily and essentially includes showing himself, he no longer belongs to himself

“Paradoxical as it may sound, the original acquires an image only by being imaged, and yet the image is nothing but the appearance of the original”

the divine becomes picturable only through the word and image

a picture is not a copy of a copied being, but is in ontological communion with what is copied

“art, as a whole and in a universal sense, increases the picturability of being

Feuerbach “confuse[s] creating an “image” of the divine with inventing gods”

Gadamer calls this the “anthropological reversal” (which, citing Karl Barth, he refutes), which “arises from the same subjectivism that lies at the basis of modern aesthetic thought”


“The whole of art … is an event being”

So also, the “picture is an event of being—in it being appears, meaningfully and visibly”

“The ideality of the work of art” consists, “as with Hegel, in the “appearing” of the idea itself”

The picture contains an indissoluble connection with its world

2.2.2 The Ontological Foundation of the Occasional and the Decorative


“meaning and contents are determined by the occasion for which they are intended, so that they contain more than they would without this occasion”

“occasionality belongs to the work’s own claim and is not something forced on it by its interpreter”

Remember claim, à la Kierkegaard: Gadamer’s logic is that

  1. The event of art has a claim to permanence

  2. A claim is lasting because it can be enforced at any time; a claim is the ground for a demand

  3. A theological claim begins with a proclamation and is reinforced with preaching; an aesthetic claim similarly begins with a proclamatory event (its presentation as a work of art) and so it persists as such, demanding to be seen as a presentation of being, not just an object for the aesthetic consciousness

  4. So part of the event of art is its contemporaneity: “in its presentation this particular thing that presents itself to us achieves full presence, however remote its origin may be”

  5. The claim of the event of art demands that we recognize the outflowing of being that is presented to us, and so also our finite particularity in it

Complementary to the contemporaneity of the work of art, then, is its occasionality: the work of art is drawn into our present by its contemporaneity, and we are drawn into the work of art’s present by it occasionality

“Occasionality in the sense intended clearly lies in what the work itself claims to mean, in contradistinction from whatever is discovered in it or can be deduced from it that goes against this claim” (145)

“A portrait really is a portrait, and does not become one just through and for those who recognize the person portrayed” (146)

“there resides in the picture an undetermined but still fundamentally determinable reference to something, which constitutes its significance. This occasionality belongs essentially to the import of the “picture,” regardless of whether one knows what it refers to” (146)

Thus Gadamer argues that occasionality is not the task of the historicist seeking data and context to define the work, but is instead a part of the being of the work itself:

A work of art belongs so closely to what it is related to that it enriches the being of that as if through a new event of being (147)

Representation in art is not “incidental and remote” to the being of the thing; “they are presentations of the essence itself” (147)

These presentations (various art-works) “represent particular cases” of a “general relationship” between the “continued determination of [a work’s] meaning” and the “‘occasion’ of its coming-to-presentation” (147)

Every performance is an event (147)

On the stage especially, “the work itself is what ‘takes place’” and “comes into its own” (147)

the occasion of the performance makes it speak and brings out what is in it (147)

“specifically occasional art forms … are fundamentally forms of the universal occasionality characteristic of the work of art inasmuch as it determines itself anew from occasion to occasion” (148)

The “uniqueness” of an occasional art form “comes to participate in a universality that makes it capable of yet further fulfillment”—“the work’s unique relation to the occasion can never be finally determined”—the work is “independent of its unique relation to the original” because it is not finally determined by the relation, while it still “contained the latter [the original] even in transcending it” (148)

Every picture is an increase of being and is essentially definable as representation, as coming-to-presentation (148)

A work of art “not only recalls something whose meaning is already familiar, but it can also say something of its own, and thus it becomes independent of the prior knowledge that it conveys” (149)

an image is a manifestation of what it represents—even if it brings it to appearance through its autonomous expressive power (149)

Even an individual portrait, if it is a work of art, shares in the mysterious radiation of being that flows from the being of what is represented, what comes to presence there (149)

In Velazquez’s The Surrender of Breda, the being of the original event comes to presence in the painting, because the event has a “pictorial quality” (i.e. its mode of being, as with all nature, is self-presentation) and is “performed like a sacrament”; the ceremony “need[s] to be” and “[is] suitable for being depicted” (149)

The ceremony’s “being is … consummated in being represented in a picture” (149)

The sacred is that which is meant to be presented; thus, similarly, the profane is that which should not be presented. In art, this means that the artistic is that which is suitable for presentation, that which finds its being in presentation, and the non-artistic that which is reduced to an object of aesthetic differentiation. A work of art presented in a museum has been profaned in this very way

“Ultimately every work of art has something about it that protests against profanation” (150)

All these considerations justify characterizing the mode of being of art in general in terms of presentation (Darstellung); this includes play (Spiel) and picture (Bild), communion (Kommunion), and representation (Repräsentation). The work of art is conceived as an event of being (Seinsvorgang), and the abstraction performed by aesthetic differentiation is dissolved (151)

A picture is an event of presentation (151)

Its being related to the original is so far from lessening its ontological autonomy that, on the contrary, I had to speak, in regard to the picture, of an increase of being. Using religious concepts thus proved appropriate (151)

Gadamer moves on:

There is a difference between artistic presentation and symbolic presentation

“Not all forms of “representation” have the character of “art”” (151)

So, “we need to examine the nature of indicating” (151)

The picture is in between “two extremes”: “pure indication (Verweisung: also, reference), which is the essence of the sign, and pure substitution (Vertreten), which is the essence of the symbol” (151)

“a picture is not a sign (Zeichen). For a sign is nothing but what its function requires; and that is to point away from itself” (152)

“There is something schematic and abstract about [signs], because they point not to themselves but to what is not present” (152)

Contrariwise, “a picture points to what it represents only through its own content. By concentrating on it, we to come into contact with what is represented” (152)

Thus: the picture is not a sign because it “does not disappear in pointing to something else but, in its own being, shares in what it represents” (153)

Now, this “ontological sharing” is true of a symbol (153)

“a symbol manifests the presence of someone that really is present” (153)

“Hence what is symbolized is undoubtedly in need of representation, inasmuch as it is itself non-sensible, infinite, and unrepresentable, but also capable of it. It is only because what is symbolized is present itself that it can be parent in the symbol” (e.g. a crucifix, flag, or uniform)

“A symbol not only points to something; it represents it by taking its place” (153)

This means “to make something present that is not present” (153)

Thus a symbol “so fully take[s] the place of what is revered that the latter is present in them” (153)

So, representation is shared by pictures and symbols (154)

But: “symbols function as substitutes; but of themselves they say nothing about what they symbolize. One must be familiar with them in the same way as one must be familiar with a sign, if one is to understand what they refer to” (154)

Symbols do not mean an increase in being for what is represented (154)

“The picture also represents, but through itself, through the increment of meaning that it brings. But this means that in it what is represented—the “original”—is there more fully, more genuinely, just as it truly is” (154)

Hence a picture is situated halfway between a sign and a symbol (154)

A picture’s representing is “neither a pure pointing-to-something nor a pure taking-the-place-of-something” (154)

Signs and symbols “acquire their signifying function” from their institution, not from their content (like a picture) (154)

A picture has no institution (154)

Signs “function as signs only when they are taken as signs. But they are taken as signs only because the linkage between the sign and the signified has previously been established.” This is institution (154)

“the sign is established by convention” (154)

a work of art … does not owe its real meaning to such an act of institution … it is already a structure with a signifying function of its own (155)

Works of art “lay claim to their place, and even if they are displaced … the trace of their original purpose cannot be effaced” (155)

It [the work’s original purpose] is part of their being because their being is presentation (155)

With this in mind, Gadamer states that “certain forms of art become central … namely all those whose own content points beyond them to the whole of a context determined by them and form them” (155)

The greatest of these: architecture (155)

Architecture “extends beyond itself in two ways”: “by the aim it is to serve” and “by the place it is to take up” (155)

A successful building is that which “perfectly fulfills its purpose” and that’s “construction has added something new to the spatial dimensions of a town or landscape” (157)

Thus it is “a true increase of being: it is a work of art” (156)

“If a building is a work of art, then it is not only the artistic solution to a building problem posed by the contexts of purpose and life to which it originally belongs, but somehow preserves them” (156)

Something in it points back to the original (156)

A building is never only a piece of art (156)

“Its purpose, through which it belongs in the context of life, cannot be separated from it without its losing some of its reality” (156)

The “work of art in itself” proves to be pure abstraction (156)

“Works of architecture do not stand motionless on the shore of the stream of history, but are borne along by it” (156)

Architecture demands that we “mediate in a new and better way between the past and the present” (156)

Thus architecture highlights for us the “special importance” of the “mediation without which a work of art has no real “presence”” (156)

Architecture gives shape to space (157)

“Space is what surrounds everything that exists in space. That is why architecture embraces all the other forms of representation … By embracing all the arts, it asserts its own perspective everywhere” (157)

*That perspective is *decoration **(157)

The perspective of decoration brings to art “a question … of obeying the space-creating potentiality of the work itself, which has to adapt to what is given as well as to create its own conditions” (157)

Architecture involves “a twofold mediation”: “as the art which creates shape, it both [1] shapes it and [2] leaves it free”; architecture “not only [1] embraces all decorative shaping of space” but is “[2] itself decorative in nature” (157)

Again, this “two-sided mediation”: “to draw the viewer’s attention to itself” and “to redirect it away from itself to the greater whole of the life context which it accompanies” (157)

architecture explodes that prejudice of the aesthetic consciousness according to which the actual work of art is what is outside all space and all time, the object of an aesthetic experience (157)

The concept of decoration “needs to be grounded in the ontological structure of representation, which we have shown to be the mode of being of the work of art” (157)

Ornament or decoration is determined by its relation to what it decorates, to what carries it. It had no aesthetic import of its own that is thereafter limited by its relation to what it is decorating (159)

“Ornament is not primarily something by itself that is then applied to something else but belongs to the self-presentation of its wearer. Ornament too belongs to presentation. But presentation is an event of being: it is representation … An ornament …set up in a chosen place [is] representative” (159)

In summary:

“what we mean by “representation” is … a universal ontological structural element of the aesthetic, an event of being—not an experiential event that occurs at the moment of artistic creation and is merely repeated each time in the mind of the viewer” (159)

The specific mode of the work of art’s presence is the coming-to-presentation of being (159)

2.2.3 The Borderline Position of Literature

Does this apply to literature?

From the regular (i.e. aesthetically differentiating) consciousness, literature does not seem to have “any presentation that could an ontological valence of its own. Reading is a purely interior mental process” (159)

The “occasional” and the “contingent” that belong to the being of the work of art do not have a place in silent reading (159)

“The only condition to which literature is subject is being handed down in language and taken up in reading” (159)

Literature seems “alienated from its ontological valence” (158-159)

But Gadamer argues that this “conception … ultimately originate[s] in a back-projection performed by the alienated cultured consciousness” (160)

Reading with understanding is always a kind of reproduction, performance, and interpretation (160)

“Meaning and the understanding of it are so closely connected with the corporeality of language that understanding always involves an inner speaking as well” (160)

The reading of a book is an event in which the content comes to presentation (160)

Thus, like play and performance, “being read belong to literature by its nature. They are strages of what is generally called “reproduction” but which in fact is the original mode of being of all performing arts, and that mode of being has proved exemplary for defining the mode of being of all art” (160-161)

Literature does not exist as the dead remnant of an alienated being, left over for a later time as simultaneous with its experiential reality. Literature is a function of being intellectually preserved and handed down, and therefore brings its hidden history into every age (161)

“works that belong to world literature remain eloquent although the world to which they speak is quite different” (161)

“the historical mode of being of literature is what makes it possible for something to belong to world literature” (161)

All written texts share in the mode of being of literature (162)

“all scholarly research takes the form of literature insofar as it is essentially bound to language” (162)

Literature in the broadest sense is bounded only by what can be said, for everything that can be said can be written (162)

“literary art has in common with all other texts the fact that it speaks to us in terms of the significance of its contents” (162)

Understanding is concerned with “what it [literature] says to us” and not with “its formal achievement” (162)

“the essential difference between these various “languages” [poetry, prose, history, etc.] obviously lies elsewhere: namely in the distinction between the claims to truth that each makes” (162)

The “community” of all literary forms is language, which “makes the contents [of each] meaningful” (162)

Literature is “everything passed down in writing” (163)

“The mode of being of a text has something unique and incomparable about it. It presents a specific problem of translation to the understanding. Nothing is so strange, and at the same time so demanding, as the written word” (163)

“The written word and what partakes of it—literature—is the intelligibility of mind transferred to the most alien medium. Nothing is so purely the trace of the mind as writing, but nothing is so dependent on the understanding mind either. In deciphering and interpreting it, a miracle takes place: the transformation of something alien and dead into total contemporaneity and familiarity” (163)

a written tradition, once deciphered and read, is to such an extent pure mind that it speaks to us as if in the present (163)

“the capacity to read, to understand what is written, is like a secret art, even a magic that frees and binds us. It it time and space seem to be superseded. People who can read what has been handed down in writing produce and achieve the sheer presence of the past” (163)

the concept of literature is as broad as possible (163)

“it is universally true of texts that only in the process of understanding them is the dead trace of meaning transformed back into living meaning” (163)

The “work of art” is “actualized” in presentation; literary works are “actualized” in reading. Gadamer asks if this means that “the meaning of all texts [are] actualized only when they are understood”? (163)

does being understood belong (gehört) to the meaning of a text just as being heard (Zu-Gehör-Bringen) belongs to the meaning of music?

2.2.4 Reconstruction and Integration as Hermeneutic Tasks

The art of understanding texts is hermeneutics (164)

Hermeneutics must “be understood in so comprehensive a sense as to embrace the whole sphere of art and its complex of questions. Every work of art, not only literature, must be understood like any other text that requires understanding, and this kind of understanding has to be acquired” (164)


Understanding must be conceived as a part of the event in which meaning occurs, the event in which the meaning of all statements—those of art and all other kinds of tradition—is formed and actualized (164)

“everything that is no longer immediately situated in a world … is estranged from its original meaning and depends on the unlocking amd mediating spirit” (164)

Schleiermacher and Hegel use two methods: reconstruction and integration (165)

Schleiermacher “is wholly concerned to reconstruct the work, in the understanding, as originally constituted” (165)

His hermeneutics “endeavors to rediscover the nodal point in the artist’s mind that will render the significance of his work fully intelligible” (166)

This is futile (167)

Hegel grasps this futility: “The search for the occasional circumstances that would fill out the significance of works of art cannot succeed in reconstructing them. They remain fruit torn from the tree” (167)

For Hegel, it is the person of the picker and giver, who has taken the fruit (the art) and offers it, and not the past and the tree, that is truly significant: the “spirit” which gives us a work “is the interiorizing recollection” (Er-innerung) of the still externalized spirit manifest in them” (168)

For Hegel, “philosophy, the historical self-penetration of spirit, [] carries out the hermeneutical task” (168)

Historical consciousness must be a “thinking relation to the past” (168)

the historical spirit consists not in the restoration of the past but in thoughtful mediation with contemporary life (168)

Part Two: The Extension of the Question of Truth to Understanding in the Human Sciences

3 Historical Preparation

3.1 The Questionableness of Romantic Hermeneutics and its Application to the Study of History

3.1.1 The Change in Hermeneutics from the Enlightenment to Romanticism The Prehistory of Romantic Hermeneutics

Hermeneutics developed along two paths: theological and philological (181)

Theological: “defense of their own understanding of Scripture” (181)

Philological: “to revive classical literature” (182)

“Both involve a rediscovery” (182)

With both, “meaning had become alien and inaccessible” (182)

“through Luther and Melanchthon the humanistic tradition was united with the reform” (182). So these two paths converge

Luther: sui ipsius interpres (scripture clarifies itself) and sensus literalis (literal sense) [contra allegorical]

But sometimes the literal sense is hard to understand, i.e., it’s not “univocally intelligible” (182).

“the whole of Scripture guides the understanding of individual passages: and again this whole can be reached only through the cumulative understanding of individual passages” (182)

Luther again (Gadamer’s epigram): Qui non intelligit res, non potest ex verbis sensum elicere

This is caput and membra, head and limbs (183)

Dilthey: “Hermeneutics had to rid itself one day of all its dogmatic limitations and become free to be itself … ‘liberation of interpretation from dogma’” (183)

So: “there is no longer any difference between interpreting sacred or secular writing, and since there is therefore only one hermeneutics, this hermeneutics has ultimately not only the propaedeutic function of all historical research—as the art of the correct interpretation of literary sources—but involves the whole business of historical research itself (184)

World history is, as it were, the great dark book, the collected work of the human spirit, written in the languages of the past, whose texts it is our task to understand (184)

Historical research conceives itself on the model of philology (184)

Dilthey: “hermeneutics comes into its own only when it ceases serving a dogmatic purpose … and begins functioning as a historical organon” (184)

“now understanding as such becomes a problem. The universality of this problem shows that understanding has become a task in a new sense, and hence theoretical reflection acquires a new significance” (185)

“hermeneutics was determined by [] content” (185)

“this was the self-evident unity of classical and Christian literature” (185)

Schleiermacher: “no longer seeks the unity of hermeneutics in the unity of the content of tradition to which understanding is applied, but rather he seeks it, apart from any particular content, in the unity of a procedure that is not differentiated even by the way the ideas are transmitted” (185)

“The effort to understand is needed wherever there is no immediate understanding—i.e., whenever the possibility of misunderstanding has to be reckoned with” (186)

Schleiermacher’s “universal hermeneutics starts from this”: the experience of the alien and the possibility of misunderstanding is universal … alienation is inextricably given with the individuality of the thou (186)

Gadamer begins with a different proposition which Schleiermacher did not consider and which disappeared from the “sphere of hermeneutics”:

to understand means to come to an understanding with each other

understanding is primarily agreement

people usually understand (verstehen) each other immediately, or they make themselves understood (verständigen sich) with a view toward reaching agreement (Einverständnis). Coming to an understanding (Verständigung), then, is always coming to an understanding about something. Understanding each other (sich verstehen) is always understanding each other with respect to something. From language we learn that the subject matter (Sache [; Latin, res]) is not merely an arbitrary object of discussion, independent of the process of mutual understanding (Sichver-stehen), but rather is the path and goal of mutual understanding itself (187)

“Where misunderstandings have arisen or where an expression of opinion alienates us because it is unintelligible, there natural life in the subject matter intended is impeded in such a way that the meaning is given as the opinion of another, the opinion of the Thou or of the text, or in general as a fixed datum” (187)

“The real problem of understanding obviously arises when, in the endeavor to understand the content of what is said, the reflective question arises: how did he come to such an opinion? For this kind of question reveals an alienness that is clearly of a quite different kind and ultimately signifies a renunciation of shared meaning” (187)

Spinoza: there are meanings in the Bible “that cannot be derived from the principles known to us by natural reason” (188)

Some meanings “can be understood if only we understand the mind of the author “historically”—i.e., overcome our prejudices and think of nothing but what the author could have had in mind (188)

“the ‘naturalness’ of the understanding of Scripture depends on the fact that what makes sense can be understood at sight, and what does not can be understood ‘historically’” (188)

In this way, the “scientific method” is also based on “the model of philology” (189)

Chladenius: “point of view” “a concept of optics” “borrows from Liebniz” (189)

Chladenius: “understanding and interpretation are not the same thing”: interpretation is “pedagogical and occasional” (189)

Chladenius: interpretation seeks “perfect understanding of a passage”, while understanding as such seeks the “true understanding of a passage.” This is to say, interpretation seeks to overcome “obscurities” in Chaldenius’s view (189)

“Chladenius reaches a highly interesting conclusion. He sees that to understand an author perfectly is not the same thing as to understand speech or writing perfectly. The norm for understanding a book is not the author’s meaning. For, “since men cannot be aware of everything, their words, speech and writing can mean something that they themselves did not intend to say or write,” and consequently “when trying to understand their writings, one can rightly think of things that had not occurred to the writers”” (190)

Chladenius: “the real task of hermeneutics is not to understand this “more,” but to understand the true meaning of the books themselves (i.e., their content)” (190) Schleiermacher’s Project of a Universal Hermeneutics

Unintelligibility in Spinoza “motivates the detour via the historical”; in Chladenius “involves the art of interpretation” and is “directed entirely toward the subject matter”; but in Schleiermacher has “a completely different, universal significance”

Schleiermacher’s big difference: hermeneutics is not concerned with “a lack of understanding [but with] misunderstanding” (191)

For Schleiermacher, interpretation and understanding are closely interwoven, like the outer and the inner word, and every problem of interpretation is, in fact, a problem of understanding (191)

With Schleiermacher “we no longer consider the difficulties and failures of understanding as occasional but as integral elements that have to be prevented in advance” (191)

Thus hermeneutics is “the art of avoiding misunderstanding” (191)

This “rises above the pedagogical occasionality of interpretation and acquires the independence of a method, inasmuch as “misunderstanding follows automatically and understanding must be desired and sought at every point”” (191)

“The art of hermeneutics has never been the organon of the study of things” (192). This means it is different from Schleiermacher’s dialectics. But still, “there is reference to the truth [I suppose, a thing?] that lies hidden in the text and must be brought to light. What is to be understood is, in fact, not a thought considered as part of another’s life, but as a truth … [thus] hermeneutics … remains subordinate to the study of things” (192)

Hermeneutics is not restricted to “foreign languages, or to the written word” but is in all language, speech and conversation and listening included (192)

So in Schleiermacher, “What is to be understood is now not only the exact words and their objective meaning, but also the individuality of the speaker or author” (192)

Spinoza’s “limiting case of intelligibility” becomes a “norm” for Schleiermacher (192)

Schleiermacher: understanding requires “understanding a succession of thoughts as an emerging element of life, as an act that is connected with many others, even of another kind” (192)

Schleiermacher’s interpretation is both grammatical and psychological: it is divinatory. It requires “a re-creation of the creative act. Thus understanding is a reproduction of an original production, a knowing of what has been known” (193)

Schleiermacher hermeneutics is a divining of “artistic thoughts”, i.e. genius, à la Kant (193)

What is to be understood here is not a shared thought about some subject matter, but individual thought that by its very nature is a free construct and the free expression of an individual being (194)

Speaking is an art (rhetoric), and so also, for Schleiermacher, is understanding (194)

all speech and all texts are basically related to the art of understanding, hermeneutics, and this explains the connection between rhetoric … and hermeneutics (194)

[E]very act of understanding is for Schleiermacher the inverse of an act of speech, the reconstruction of a construction. Thus hermeneutics is a kind of inversion of rhetoric and poetics (194)

Speech is, for Schleiermacher, “an expression of a creative productivity” [again, genius] (195)

“Genius itself creates models and rules. It creates new ways of using language, new literary forms … In hermeneutics, what corresponds to the production of genius is divination, the immediate solution, which ultimately presupposes a kind of con-geniality” (195)

“individuality is always being expressed and hence an element of rule-free genius is always at work”

[T]he ultimate ground of all understanding must always be a divinatory act of congeniality, the possibility of which depends on a pre-existing bond between all individuals (195)

Schleiermacher: “all individuality is a manifestation of universal life and hence “everyone carries a tiny bit of everyone else within him, so that divination is stimulated by comparison with onself” … [thus] the individuality of the author can be grasped “by, as it were, transforming oneself into the other”” (195)

For the extremes of alienness and familiarity are both given with the relative difference of all individuality (195)

the meaning of the part can be discovered only from the context (196)

Schleiermacher “applie[s] [this] to psychological understanding, which necessarily understands every structure of thought as an element in the total context of a man’s life” (196)

“understanding is always a movement in this kind of circle [whole and part], which is why the repeated return from the whole to the parts, and vice versa, is essential” (196)

“Moreover, the circle is constantly expanding, since the concept of the whole is relative, and being integrated in ever larger contexts always affects the understanding of the individual part … understanding is provisional and unending” (196)

“the barrier to reason and understanding that remains here [alienness of the Thou] is not entirely insuperable. It is to be overcome by feeling, by an immediate, sympathetic, and con-genial understanding. Hermeneutics is an art and not a mechanical process” (197)

Schleiermacher’s problem is “the obscurity of the Thou” (197)

“meaning is revealed only in … the oscillating movement between whole and part” (197)

“The circular movement is necessary because “nothing that needs interpretation can be understood at once”” (197)

Schleiermacher’s identification [with the spirit of genius] is not “mere equation” (197)

Production [by the author] and reproduction [by the interpreter] are distinct (198)

“Thus Schleiermacher asserts that the aim is to understand a writer better than he understood himself” (198)

[T]his statement contains the whole problem of hermeneutics (198)

For Schleiermacher this is clear “understanding [is] the reconstruction of the production” (198)

“Creation by artistic genius is the model on which this theory of unconscious production and necessarily conscious reproduction is based” (198)

Better understanding is better because “thematized understanding of an opinion as opposed to actualizing its contents implies an increased knowledge” (198)

the artist who creates something is not the appointed interpreter of it … Insofar as he reflects on his own work, he is his own reader. The meaning that he, as reader, gives his own work does not set the standard … it is not the author’s reflective self-interpretation but the unconscious meaning of the author that is to be understood (199)

Schleiermacher changed the “statement that the aim is to understand an author better than he understood himself” from its origin, first found in Fichte and Kant (199)

Originally, understanding for the humanist included imitation and surpassing of the model (200)

But still, even as a rival, the interpreter was obligated to the original (200)

“not until Schleiermacher … could the interpreter claim superiority over his object” (200)

With Fichte and Kant, this hermeneutic “rule” was “a philosophical claim to move beyond the contradictions of a given theory by achieving greater conceptual clarity” (200)

Someone who is better able to think his way through what an author is talking about will be able to see what the author says in the light of a truth hidden from the author (200-201)

So originally, the sense is “completely different” from Schleiermacher’s (201)

Schleiermacher “reinterpreted this principle of philosophical critique and made it a principle of philological interpretation” (201)

NOTE 47:

Schlegel: “One must also be able to know, characterize, and construct the principles of the confusion itself” (269). Schlegel’s understanding is understanding the actual meaning of a work, and also any confusion itself

Schelling: “if a person says and maintains things, the meaning of which it was impossible for him to realize fully, either because of the age in which he lived or because of his other pronouncements …” (269). Schelling sees the limits of self-understanding and need for outside critique

Chladenius: the “distinction” between “understanding an author” and “understanding a text” (269)

“Schleiermacher’s formula, as he understands it, no longer pertains to the subject matter under discussion; rather, he views the statement a text makes as free production, and disregards its content as knowledge” (201)

“he organizes hermeneutics … according the normative example of language itself” (201)

Schleiermacher: “True historical significance rises above history. Phenomena exist, like miracles, only to direct our attention towards the Spirit that playfully generates then”

Gadamer says this a “tremendous” step that “led from Schleiermacher’s hermeneutics to a universal understanding of the historical sciences” (201)

But, it is “a universality with very perceptible limits” that only really applies to “texts whose authority was undisputed” (201)

Dogmatic interest is set aside, because the knowledge-content of the subject matter is set aside. None of it could “influence a procedure that was able to grasp every text as an expression of life and ignore the truth of what was said” (202)

For this reason [Schleiermacher’s] hermeneutical theory was still a long way from a historiology that could serve as a methodological organon for the human sciences. Its goal was the exact understanding of particular texts, which was to be aided by the universality of its historical contexts. This is Schleiermacher’s limitation, and the historical worldview had to move beyond it (202)

3.1.2 The Connection Between the Historical School and Romantic Hermeneutics The Dilemma Involved in the Ideal of Universal History

Universal history is “the history of mankind as a whole” (202)

By “investigating tradition” the historians adopted the method of hermeneutics (as outlined in the section on Schleiermacher” for the “methodology of universal history”: the schema of whole and part (202)

Dilthey took romantic hermeneutics and expanded it into historical method, “indeed into an epistemology of the human sciences” (203)

“It is not just that the sources are texts, but historical reality itself is a text that has to be understood” (203)

So the “pantheistic metaphysics of individuality” (from Kant’s genius developing into Schleiermacher’s hermeneutics) “was a decisive influence on the theory of historical research in the nineneteenth century” (203)

The historical school rejected Hegel’s (a priori concepts of) Spirit and Idea for Schleiermacher’s “concept of individuality”(“every text as an expression of life”) that inclined them “toward research” and so “drove history into the wake of philology” (203)

The historical school was wary of Hegel’s unhistorical outside, so for them history could only “be understood … from historical tradition itself” (204)

“Thus the foundation for the study of history is hermeneutics” (204)

Dilthey “built his work entirely upon the basis of romantic hermeneutics” (204)

Hence, history is a “totality of meaning” that is detached from “the person understanding it.” This is Schleiermacher’s influence. History “is always an alien individuality that must be judged according to its own concepts and criteria of value, but can nevertheless be understood because I and Thou are of the same life” (204)

The historical school is concerned with the specific, against Hegel’s absolute. “But since the whole can never be given to the empirical researcher [who is nevertheless concerned with the “whole” of universal history], how can he maintain his ground against the philosopher and his a priori arbitrariness?” (204)

Herder: the exemplary and unrepeatable of a historical period gives it “its own right to exist, its own perfection” (205). This we see is history for itself, not for an end outside itself. The historical school did everything it could to resist “a criterion that is beyond history” (205)

But Gadamer goes on to argue that this perspective still “is not as free from metaphysical assumptions as it believes itself to be” (206)


For the historical school, the idea (Hegel: “truth in itself and for itself”) “is only imperfectly represented in history” (206)

Rather than an abstract absolute, the historical school grounds itself in the “plenitude and variety of the human [which] is increasingly realized in the unending vicissitudes of human destinies: this is a reasonable formulation of the basic assumption of the historical school” (206-207)

This is a humanist ideal (207)

A “rich variety” is “distinctive of historical life” and is “what constitutes the value and meaning of history” (207)

The humanistic ideal “is based on the formal idea of the greatest variety” (207)

History has a meaning in itself. What seems to speak against it—the transience of all that is earthly—is in fact its real basis. In impermanence itself lies the mystery of an inexhaustible productivity of historical life (207)

Herder: “continuity … is the manifestation of historical reality itself” (208). History emerges “according to strict laws of succession” (208)

Ranke: history “has no fixed goal that can be discovered outside itself. To this extent there is no necessity, knowable a priori, at work in history” (208)

But the structure of historical continuity is still teleological, and its criterion is success … successive events” (208)

The ontological structure of history itself, then, is teleological, although without a telos (208) Ranke’s Historical Worldview

Ranke: “the links that create historical continuity are “scenes of freedom”” (208)

This means that “in the infinite web of events there are particularly significant incidents in which historical decisions are, as it were, concentrated” (208)

“Decisions are made wherever actions are performed in freedom” and these decisions “make[] history” when they “decide[] something,” when they have a “full and lasting significance” (209)

So Ranke still thinks like Hegel. Hegel calls these people “historic individuals” and Ranke calls them “original minds” (209)

For Ranke, history is not determined as with Hegel, yet it has an “inner coherence” (209). Gadamer interrogates what this coherence really is

Quoting Ranke: “a deepinner coherence penetrates everywhere, and no one is entirely independent of it. Beside freedom stands necessity. It consists in what has already been formed and cannot be destroyed, which is the basis of all new activity. What has already come into being coheres with what is coming into being” (209)

Significant for Gadamer is the linkage between the concept of freedom and the concept of power (209)

Power is “central” to the “historical worldview because in it interiority and exteriority are held in a peculiarly tense unity” (210)

All power exists only in its expression (210)

But power is [also] more than its expression. It possesses potentiality (210)

Power cannot just be “known or measured in terms of its expressions, but only experienced as an indwelling” (210)

Interiority is the mode of experiencing power because power, of its nature, is related to itself alone (210)

Ontologically, power is “inwardness” (210)

Ranke: ““Freedom is combined with power.” For power that is more than its expression is always freedom” (210)

This is “decisive” for the historian: “everything could have been different, and every acting individual could have acted differently” (210)

necessity … [is] the resistance that free power encounters (211)

“The resistance that free power encounters is itself freedom” (211)

This necessity, then, is “the power of what has been transmitted … Necessity itself comes from freedom and is itself qualified by the freedom that reckons with it” (211)

Necessity is historical being: “what has come into being” (211)

In that what has come into existence persists as a foundation for the new, it sets the new action within a unified context (211)

that what comes into being is free, but the freedom from which it comes is always limited by what has come into being—i.e., by the situation into which it comes (211)

For the historians, the “essence of historical being” is that “the idea never attains full representation in history”—“plans” and “views” are disregarded in favour of the “historical effects that reveal historical powers” (211)

“the category of power” renders “the coherence of history as a primary given” (211)

Power is real always only as an interplay of powers, and history is this interplay of powers that produces a continuity (212)

This production, Gadamer writes, is the “growing sum” of which Ranke and Droysen write (212)

History = “a growing sum” = “a whole—though and unfinished one” (212)

Since a whole is comprised of its parts, this “presupposes that the unity in terms of which they [the parts; the interplay of powers] are grouped is already the criterion of that grouping” because “[i]tems that are qualitatively different cannot be added up” (212)

So thinkers like Ranke and Droysen are asserting the unity of the variety of historical powers and effects that produce the continuity (the whole; the unity) of history, bringing them back to Hegel without Hegel’s Spirit

Herodotus: history not the “unity of world history” but a “moral phenomenon” (212)

Before, when history had a telos, talking about the unity of it was justified. So with the historians, Gadamer asks, “what is the common denominator that allows historical events to be grouped together if this kind of goal and plan in history is not accepted?” (212)

In the continuity of events there must be the something that emerges as a goal giving an orientation to the whole (212)

The idea of the unity of world history implies the uninterrupted continuity of the development of world history (212)

Thus Gadamer highlights Ranke’s “methodological naivete” (213)

The “historical consciousness” of the historians is conditioned by the particularity of Western culture and its “continuous development” (212). Only because the West happened to develop as it did (in its freedom) “can the question of its meaning be raised by a world-historical consciousness and the unity of its continuity be meant” (213)

Indeed, Gadamer argues, “continuity constitutes the form of cultural existence” in the West (213)

This all means that “the empirical orientation of the historical sciences is not without philosophical assumptions” (213)

“Unlike the mere repetitiveness of nature, history is characterized by this increase within itself” (after Aristotle’s epidosis eis hauto) (214)

“The amazing steadiness of historical development of which Ranke spoke is based on the consciousness of continuity, a consciousness that makes history history” (214)

the continuity of Western cultural tradition [is] the very condition of the existence of Western culture. The collapse of this tradition, the rise of a new barbarism, which [Jakob] Burckhardt prophesied, would not, for the historical worldview, be a catastrophe within history but the end of world history itself, at least insofar as it tries to understand itself as a world-historical unity (214)

World-history is entirely, decidedly Western. So if the West ends, so does world-history.

It is important to recognize this presupposition in the historical school’s inquiry into universal history precisely because its existence is fundamentally denied (214)

By this Gadamer means that, although the historical school rejected Hegel’s Beyond, situating themselves within the continual ongoingness (and so also eternality and totality) of history, they nevertheless assert the being of world-history in the continuity of the West, which, in dialectical negation to the East, necessarily has a beyond.

But as Gadamer writes, the “historical school” just “could not accept” Hegel’s spirit (214)

So the historical school ends up with a “theological understanding of itself”— “it had to relate its own finite and limited knowledge to a divine spirit, to which things are known in their perfection. It is the old ideal of infinite understanding applied to the knowledge of history” (214)

So the “old idea” of “infinite understanding” is “transformed into the original image of historical impartiality” and the historian, in his impartiality, “approximates” God’s divine knowledge in practice (215)

The re-establishment of the immediacy that existed before the fall does not take place through the church’s means of grace alone. The historian has a share in it too (215)

“in historical thinking, the universe, as the divine creation, is raised to a consciousness of itself” (215)

the ultimate result of the study of history is “sympathy, co-knowledge of the universe (215)

Ranke desired “to extinguish himself” (i.e. enter into the totality of the divine creation) because “all historical phenomena are manifestations of universal life, [and so] to share in them is to share in life” (215)

So then, to understand is to participate immediately in life (215)

The historian “is concerned with … not relating reality to ideas, but everywhere reaching the point where “life thinks and thought lives”” (215)

Here Ranke gets very close to Fichte and Hegel (215) and so Gadamer demonstrates how close “Ranke remained … to German idealism” (216)

The historian, as Ranke sees him, belongs to that form of absolute spirit Hegel called religion of art (216) The Relation Between Historical Study and Hermeneutics in J. G. Droysen

Droysen is more “acute” than Ranke (216)

Droysen “tries to free the concept of understanding from the indefiniteness of the aesthetic-pantheistic communion that it has in Ranke” (216)

The first “conceptual presupposition” of understanding is “expression.” Expression is what understanding understands. “In expression something interior is immediately present” (216)

This interior or “inner essence” is “the first and true reality” (216)

Droysen is thus a Cartesian, in the tradition of Kant and Humboldt (216)

“The individual ego” is alone in “the world of appearances,” but the ego is no longer alone in “the world of the intelligible,” “in its utterances … and in all the forms in which it expresses itself” (216)

Droysen is clarifying Ranke’s emphasis on power, over against Hegel’s “pure spirit” (217)

The “world of history … consists in the mind’s constantly renewed effort to grasp and form the “ever-changing finite systems” to which every person belongs (217)

“What he investigates is not individuals as such, but what they mean as elements in the movement of moral powers” (217)

Moral powers are the “basis of both history’s mode of being and the possibility of knowing it” (217)

Necessity = “the course of things” = the development and movement of moral powers

Necessity “is not an extrinsic barrier to freedom, for it depends not on rigid necessity but on the movement of the moral powers” (218)

Droysen: “necessity” = “unconditional moral imperative” and “freedom” = “unconditional will”

both are expressions of the moral power by which the individual belongs to the moral sphere (218)

“The moral power of the individual becomes a historical power insofar as it is at work on the great common goals” (218)

the continuity of the historical process consists in this constant overcoming of what is

freedom is the fundamental pulse of historical life

Against “historical apriorism”: “we cannot see the end but only the direction of the movement” (219)

Droysen does away with Ranke’s pantheistic co-knowledge, in favour of “the intermediaries in which understanding moves” (219)

Droysen’s formula for historical knowledge is “understanding through research” … [which] implies both an infinite mediation and an ultimate immediacy (219)

Expression leads to conscience

“The world of history depends on freedom, and this on the mystery of the person that is ultimately unfathomable by research” (220)

Droysen: “With respect to men, human utterances, and forms, we are, and feel ourselves to be, essentially similar and in a condition of mutuality” (221)

Just as understanding connects the individual ego with the moral commonalities to which it belongs, so also these moral commonalities themselves—family, people, state, and religion—can be understood as expressions (221)

Hence, through expression,in Droysen’s deliberations on method too hermeneutics becomes the master key to the study of history” (221)

“Understanding history, like understanding a text, culminates in “spiritual presence”” (221)

For Droysen too the aim of historical research is to reconstruct the great text of history from the fragments of tradition (221)

3.2 Dilthey’s Entanglement in the Aporias of Historicism

3.2.1 From the Epistemological Problem of History to the Hermeneutic Foundation of the Human Sciences

Dilthey wants to construct a “viable epistemological basis between historical experience and the idealistic heritage of the historical school” (223)

Influenced by developments after Kant with “the claim of the pure science of reason … extended to historical knowledge” (223)

So Dilthey needs to provide a “philosophical grounding” for historical knowledge as Kant did for natural knowledge (223)

Hegel was “the last and most universal representative of ancient logos philosophy” (225)

Dilthey was against this, but also the dogmatism of neo-Kantianism and of British empiricism. Dilthey instead begins with the proposition that the “external world” is a “historical world” because it is “constituted and formed by the human mind” (225)

Dilthey: “The first condition of possibility of a science of history is that I myself am a historical being, that the person studying history is the person making history” (225)

“What makes historical knowledge possible is the homogeneity of subject and object” (225)

So HOW does “individual experience and the knowledge of it come to be historical experience”? (225)

For Dilthey, knowledge of the historical world requires Erlebnis, which creates an identity between consciousness and object—an “indivisible consciousness” (226)

Thus “ideality of meaning” emerges from the “historical reality of life” (226)

“the structural coherence of life is defined as relation between the whole and the parts. Every part expresses something of the whole of life” (227)

Dilthey needs to get to historical coherence, which is the object of his inquiry, without metaphysical categories like Hegel’s Idea (227)


An individual is “a unity that is intelligible in itself, a unity of life that is expressed in every one of its manifestations and hence can be understood in each of them”—this is “structural coherence” or Husserl’s “significance” (228)

“Consciousness … is always already involved in coherence and has its own being in intending it” (229)

“Life itself, flowing temporality, is ordered toward the formation of enduring units of significance” (229)

History is the outcome of the actions and intentions of historical beings historical beings are unities of life therefore history is a unity of unities of life (see note 233)

3.2.2 The Conflict Between Science and Life-Philosophy in Dilthey’s Analysis of Historical Consciousness

To do this, Dilthey has to locate knowledge within life. Because life is ordered toward these unities, it is coherent, and thus knowable, so knowledge inheres in life. This is a romantic notion of the immanence of knowledge in life.

But then, Dilthey is also enlightenment influenced, so knowledge (reflection, thought) leads to doubt, which is incoherence. The world produces doubt because of its incoherence and unknowability.

So knowledge at once emerges from life as a manifestation of the coherence of life, and also from outside and against life and its incoherence. PARADOX (see note 239)

3.3 Overcoming the Epistemological Problem Through Phenomenological Research

3.3.1 The Concept of Life in Husserl and Count Yorck

Husserl: what is given? (244)

Not an objective I but a life-world, a unified flow of experience

Consciousness is temporal. So experiences are not important, but experience, the flow of experiences, is. This world of experience, consciousness in continuity and temporality, is given to knowledge

The flip side of this is the Ur-Ich, the primal I, the phenomenologically reduced self, that experiences the life-world, indeed constitutes it

So the life-world and Ur-Ich that inhabits it together are given to each other and to knowledge as a unity

But something threatens Husserl’s project:

"”Life” is also, and no less, the transcendentally reduced subjectivity that is the source of all objectifications” (249)

So the unity of the life-world kind of breaks down with Husserl’s privileging of the Ur-Ich in the life-world relation/experience. As Dilthey, “the concept of life” just isn’t handled all that well, or at least is not productive enough for Gadamer (251)

Count Yorck:

“Life is self-assertion”

“The structure of being-alive consists in being primordial division … in still continuing to assert itself as a unity in division and articulation”

This division is also judgment

Judgment is “the essence of self-consciousness, for even if it always distinguishes itself into what is itself and what is other, it still consists—as a living thing—in the play and interplay of the factors that constitute it”

So we see in Yorck that the life to which Dilthey and Husserl appeal is self-consciousness (judgment, division), an identity found in Hegel (who they opposed!!)

The task of philosophical reflection on the structure of being is “to understand the achievements of consciousness in terms of their origin, understanding them as results—i.e., as the projection of the original being-alive and its original division” (254)

3.3.2 Heidegger’s Project of a Hermeneutic Phenomenology

Heidegger also began with “understanding in terms of life” but, against Husserl, he critiqued the “self-givenness of experience,” arguing that “[p]henomenology should be ontologically based on the facticity of Dasein, existence, which cannot be based on or derived from anything else” (255)

What does this mean?

Basically: Husserl and Dilthey tried to “define” life in a scientific way, and they came up with all these creative but ultimately paradoxical, nonsensical, or broken ways of doing so. For instance, Husserl made life a “life-world” of subject and object, but nevertheless, the life-world preserved the privilege of the subject over the object, and thus all of the problems of objectivism remained undealt with in reality. For Heidegger, though, Dasein is a fact, but it cannot be derived (i.e. defined) from anything else

“Heidegger’s aim … was from the beginning more that of a teleology in reverse. He regarded his own work not so much as the fulfillment of a long prepared development but, rather, as a return to the beginnings of Western philosophy and a revival of the long forgotten Greek argument about “being”” (257)

Heidegger’s thesis was that being itself is time (257)

Understanding is … the *original form of the realization of Dasein, which is being-in-the-world(260)

“understanding is Dasein’s mode of being, insofar as it is potentiality-for-being and “possibility”” (260)

“Understanding is the original characteristic of the being of human life itself” (260)

“all knowing activity” is coordinated with “what is known” because “they both have the mode of being of historicity” (262)

In all of this, the “problem of hermeneutics becomes universal in scope, even attaining a new dimension, through his transcendental interpretation of understanding. The interpreter’s belonging to his object, which the historical school was unable to offer any convincing account of, now acquires a concretely demonstrable significance” (264)

“the structure of Dasein is thrown projection” (264)

in realizing its own being Dasein is understanding (264)

“Dasein that projects itself on its own potentiality-for-being has always already “been”” (264)

4 Elements of a Theory of Hermeneutic Experience

4.1 The Elevation of the Historicity of Understanding to the Status of a Hermeneutic Principle

4.1.1 The Hermeneutic Circle and the Problem of Prejudices Heidegger’s Disclosure of the Fore-structure of Understanding

Heidegger enters into the debate to “explicate the fore-structure of understanding” (278)

So Gadamer, now, “freed from the ontological obstructions of the scientific concept of objectivity” seeks to “do justice to the historicity of understanding” (278)

“Heidegger derives the circular structure of understanding [whole and part] from the temporality of Dasein” (278)

Heidegger: “In the circle is hidden a positive possibility of the most primordial kind of knowing” (279)

Heidegger: The task of interpretation is “never to allow our fore-having, fore-sight, and fore-conception to presented to us by fancies and popular concepts, but rather to make the scientific theme secure by working out these fore-structures in terms of the things themselves” (279)

A person who is trying to understand a text is always projecting (279)

“He projects a meaning for the text as a whole as soon as some initial meaning emerges in the text. Again, the initial meaning emerges only because he is reading the text with particular expectations in regard to a certain meaning. Working out this fore-projection, which is constantly revised in terms of what emerges as he penetrates into the meaning, is understanding what is there” (279)

“The process that Heidegger describes is that every revision of the fore-projection is capable of projecting before itself a new projection of meaning” (280)

This constant process of new projection constitutes the movement [the circular structure] of understanding and interpretation (280)

The interpreter must avoid “distraction from fore-meanings that are not borne out by the things themselves. Working out appropriate projections, anticipatory in nature, to be confirmed “by the things” themselves, is the constant task of understanding. The only “objectivity” here is the confirmation of a fore-meaning in its being worked out” (280)

So understanding involves discovering a difference between our “fore-meaning” and the meaning of the text (280)

This discovery takes place “in the experience of being pulled up short by the text” (280)—the text does not yield what we expect it to

This why our “meanings cannot be understood in an arbitrary way,” because understanding the “meaning of another” cannot be accomplished if we “stick blindly to our fore-meaning about the thing” (281)

To understanding we must “remain open to the meaning of the other person or text” (281)

This openness means “situating the other meaning in relation to the whole of our meanings or ourselves in relation to it” (281)

a person trying to understand a text is prepared for it to tell him something (282)

One must be sensitive to the text’s alterity

This sensitivity is “the foregrounding and appropriation of one’s own fore-meanings and prejudices … [of] one’s own bias … so that the text can present itself in all its otherness and thus assert its own truth against one’s own fore-meanings” (282)

This questioning mode of understanding allows us to make “our scientific theme “secure”” (like Heidegger) from the things themselves (282)

So we must “exclude[] everything that could hinder us from understanding [a text] in terms of the subject matter” (282)

“It is the tyranny of hidden prejudices that makes us deaf to what speaks to us in tradition” (282)

In his discussion, Heidegger encounters ideas that his challenge his own, but in situating his discussion in tradition he is able to ““secure[]” the scientific theme” by “putting it, in a sense, at risk” (283). He allows the historical (i.e. the traditional, the prejudiced, the subjective) to enter his “objective” discussion (283)

In his discussion of fore-structure Heidegger reveals “the fundamental prejudice of the Enlightenment [to be] the prejudice against prejudice itself, which denies tradition its power” (283)

So, let’s stop here and rearticulate this.

Heidegger says: all understanding is “fore-understanding”—that is, all understanding is prejudiced. We bring to all interpretive events our “fore-meanings” and “fore-sights” and “fore-havings” and “fore-conceptions.” Put simply, we are always biased.

But this is not a fatal relativism. Our meanings can never be arbitrary. One cannot hold a perfectly arbitrary meaning of an object (a thing itself) because our meanings always intersect with other meanings, even if that “other” is the “subject matter” of a text alone (which, obviously, was produced at some point by another biased subject). These intersections demand that we revise our “fore-projection” and project a “new projection of meaning”

So, if we are open to an object, even if our “fore-projection” is arbitrary or wrong, when we encounter the object in its “truth” (i.e. its self-projection, its totality), our fore-projection, as a part of the object’s whole of meaning, will either be confirmed in its unity with the object, or will be shown to be in error and required to be revised. This is circularity of understanding, the movement of whole and part. Certainly, one can resist this movement and refuse to revise one’s meaning, but then one refuses understanding.

So, we must allow prejudices into our discussion, which means we must allow tradition into our discussion. There is no “pure reason” because prejudice always intervenes into the purely rational.

Prejudice: “a judgment that is rendered before all the elements that determine a situation have been finally examined” (283)

Prejudice “certainly does not necessarily mean a false judgment” (283)

But the Enlightenment felt that such pre-judgments had “no foundation in the things themselves” (283), but such a conclusion “follows only in the spirit of rationalism” (284) and “following the rule of Cartesian doubt” The Discrediting of Prejudice by the Enlightenment

The Enlightenment saw two basic types of prejudice: “due to human authority” and “due to overhastiness” (284)

“the Enlightenment tends to accept no authority and to decide everything before the judgment seat of reason” (285)

It is not tradition but reason that constitutes the ultimate source of all authority (285)

We can know better (285): the “maxim with which the modern Enlightenment approaches tradition” (285)

Romanticism is just a counterrevolution. The Enlightenment discredits mythos and hails logos; Romanticism just reverses this. “All criticism of the Enlightenment now proceeds via this romantic mirror image of the Enlightenment: (286)

The Enlightenment and Romanticism are dogmatic halves of the same whole (287)

So Gadamer wants to remove the prejudice against prejudice, and so open “the way to an appropriate understanding of the finitude which dominates not only our humanity but also our historical consciousness” (288)

Finitude is important here because both Enlightenment logos and Romantic mythos posited an access to the total, to the infinite. But as Heidegger showed, and Gadamer shows in hermeneutics as well, we are fundamentally finite, and such “infinite” access, either through enlightened logos or primal mythos, is just, well, silly.

“Does being situated within traditions really mean being subject to prejudices and limited in one’s freedom? Is not, rather, all human existence, even the freest, limited and qualified in various ways?” (288)

Reason exists for us only in concrete, historical terms—i.e., it is not its own master but remains constantly dependent on the given circumstances in which it operates (288)

History does not belong to us; we belong to it (289)

“Long before we understand ourselves through the process of self-examination, we understand ourselves in a self-evident way in the family, society, and state in which we live” (289)

“The self-awareness of the individual is only a flickering in the closed circuit of historical life” (289)

“That is why the prejudices of the individual, far more than his judgments, constitute the historical reality of his being” (289)

4.1.2 Prejudices as Conditions of Understanding The Rehabilitation of Authority and Tradition

“What appears to be a limiting prejudice from the viewpoint of the absolute self-construction of reason in fact belongs to historical reality itself” (289)

“there are legitimate prejudices” (289)

So Gadamer asks: “what is the ground of the legitimacy of prejudices?” (289)

The Enlightenment distinguishes between “faith in authority” and “using one’s own reason” but it radicalized the distinction. This “does not preclude [authority] being a source of truth” (291)

Authority is not diametrically opposed to “reason and freedom” (291)

“the authority of persons is ultimately based not on the subjection and abdication of reason but on an act of acknowledgment and knowledge—the knowledge, namely, that the other is superior to oneself in judgment and insight and that for this reason his judgment takes precedence” (291)

Again, authority “rests on acknowledgment and hence on an act of reason itself which, aware of its own limitations, trusts to the better insight of others” (291)

“acknowledging authority is always connected with the idea that what the authority says is not irrational and arbitrary but can, in principle, be discovered to be true” (292)

The Romantics recognized that “what has been handed down to us” always has a “legitimate” influence upon our “attitudes and behaviour” (292)

But Romanticism “still viewed [tradition] as the abstract opposite of free self-determination, since its validity does not require any reasons but conditions us without our questioning it” (293)

there is no such unconditional antithesis between tradition and reason (293)

Tradition is active: it persists in being “affirmed, embraced, cultivated” (293)

we are always situated within traditions, and this is no objectifying process—i.e., we do not conceive of what tradition says as something other, something alien. It is always a part of us, a model or exemplar, a kind of cognizance that our later historical judgment would hardly regard as a kind of knowledge but as the most ingenuous affinity with tradition (294)

We must do away with the “abstract antithesis between tradition and historical research, between history and the knowledge of it” (294)

“living tradition” and “historical study … constitute a unity of effect” (294)—they always go together

The “subject matter” (i.e. the tradition in question) “appears truly significant” (i.e. historical) “only when it is properly portrayed” (i.e. studied, interpreted, presented) (296)

“historical consciousness is always filled with a variety of voices in which the echo of the past is heard. Only in the multifariousness of such voices does it exist: this constitutes the nature of the tradition in which we want to share and have a part” (296)

History “cannot be understood teleologically in terms of the object into which it is inquiring” because the object is itself, and the inquiry is the object—i.e., as above, there is a unity of effect between the tradition and its study (i.e., it re-presentation) The Example of the Classical

“The classical is something that resists historical criticism because its historical dominion, the binding power of the validity that is preserved and handed down, precedes all historical reflection and continues in it” (299)

“The classical is … a historical reality to which historical consciousness belongs and is subordinate” (299)

“The “classical” is something raised above the vicissitudes of changing times and changing tastes” (299)

Thus the “classical” has a normative sense (299)

“What gives birth to the classical norm is an awareness of decline and distance” (300)

the classical is capable of being extended to any “development” to which an immanent telos gives unity (300)

“Thus the classical epitomizes a general characteristic of historical being: preservation amid the ruins of time” (301)

“understanding [history] will always involve more than merely historically reconstructing the past “world” to which the work belongs. Our understanding will always retain the consciousness that we too belong to the world, and correlatively, that the work too belongs to our world” (301)

So Gadamer asks, does “the kind of historical mediation between the past and the present that characterizes the classical ultimately underlie all historical activity as its effective substratum?” (302)

He answers his own question:

“Understanding is to be thought of less as a subjective act than as participating in an event of tradition” (302)

Understanding is a “process of transmission in which past and present are constantly mediated” (302) The Hermeneutic Significance of Temporal Distance

Recall the “hermeneutical rule that we must understand the whole in terms of the detail and the detail in terms of the whole” (302)

“The anticipation of meaning in which the whole is envisaged becomes actual understanding when the parts that are determined by the whole themselves also determine this whole” (302)

the movement of understanding is constantly from the whole to the part and back to the whole (302)

“The harmony of all the details with the whole is the criterion of correct understanding” (302)

“Heidegger describes the circle in such a way that the understanding of the text remains permanently determined by the anticipatory movement of fore-understanding. The circle of whole and part is not dissolved [as in Schleiermacher’s divinatory act] but, on the contrary, is most fully realized” (304)

The circle “is not formal” (305)

The anticipation of meaning that governs our understanding of a text is not an act of subjectivity, but proceeds from the commonality that binds us to the tradition (305)

“Tradition is not simply a permanent precondition [i.e. a form]; rather, we produce it ourselves inasmuch as we understand, participate in the evolution of tradition, and hence further determine it ourselves. Thus the circle of understanding is not a “methodological” circle [i.e. again, a form], but describes an element of the ontological structure of understanding” (305)

So hermeneutics is circular, but it also has a fore-conception of completeness (305)

“The fore-conception of completeness that guides all our understanding is, then, always determined by the specific content” (305)

“Not only does the reader assume an immanent unity of meaning, but his understanding is likewise guided by the constant transcendent expectations of meaning that proceed from the relation to the truth of what is being said” (305)

“The prejudice of completeness, then, implies not only this formal element—that a text should completely express its meaning—but also that what it says should be the complete truth” (305-306)

Understanding “means, primarily, to understand the content of what is said, and only secondarily to isolate and understanding another’s meaning as such [as another’s]” (306)

So, belonging to a tradition “is fulfilled in the commonality of fundamental, enabling prejudices” (306)

“Hermeneutics must start from the position that a person seeking to understand something has a bond to the subject matter that comes into language through the traditionary text and has, or acquires, a connection with the tradition from which the text speaks” (306)

Hermeneutics work is based on a polarity of familiarity and strangeness (306)

“It is in the play between the traditionary text’s strangeness and familiarity to us, between a historically intended, distanced object and belonging to a tradition” (306)

“The true locus of hermeneutics is this in-between” (306)

There is “an insuperable difference between the interpreter and the author that is created by historical difference,” but the “real meaning of a text, as it speaks to the interpreter, does not depend on the contingencies of the author and his original audience. It certainly is not identical with them, for it is always co-determined also by the historical situation of the interpreter and hence by the totality of the objective course of history” (307)

Time is no longer primarily a gulf to be bridged because it separates; it is actually the supportive ground of the course of events in which the present is rooted. Hence temporal distance is not something that must be overcome (308)

Temporal distance is a “positive and productive condition enabling understanding. It is not a yawning abyss but is filled with the continuity of custom and tradition” (308)

Temporal distance “means something other than the extinction of our interest in the object. It lets the true meaning of the object emerge fully” (309)

Temporal distance “is not fixed, but it itself undergoing constant movement and extension” (309)

To understand requires one to foreground one’s prejudices. To foreground one’s prejudices, one must notice them, which means one’s prejudices must be provoked. This provocation occurs in the assertion of another understanding’s “separate validity.” Thus, condensing Gadamer’s logic, understanding “begins … when something addresses us” (310)

In this we suspend our prejudices, an act which “has the logical structure of a question” (310)

“The essence of the question is to open up possibilities and keep them open” (310)

In this openness “our own prejudice is properly brought into play by being put at risk. Only by being given full play is it able to experience the other’s claim to truth and make it possible for him to have fully play himself” (310)

Real historical thinking must take account of its own historicity … and learn to view the object as the counterpart of itself and hence understand both (310)

The true historical object is not an object at all, but the unity of the one and the other, a relationship that constitutes both the reality of history and the reality of historical understanding (310)

Gadamer notes, in note 46 here, that we must be wary of “appropriating” the “other person in one’s own understanding and thereby fail[] to recognize his or her otherness” (391)

Gadamer’s hermeneutics thus must “demonstrate the reality and efficacy of history within understanding itself”—this is “history of effect” (310)

“Understanding is, essentially, a historically effected event” (310) The Principle of History of Effect (Wirkungsgeschichte)

“If we are trying to understand a historical phenomenon from the historical distance that is characteristic of our hermeneutical situation, we are always already affected by history” (311)

“In our understanding … the other presents itself so much in terms of our own selves that there is no longer a question of self and other” (311)

in all understanding, whether we are expressly aware of it or not, the efficacy of history is at work (312)

“historically effected consciousness … is an element in the act of understanding itself and, as we shall see, is already effectual in finding the right questions to ask” (312)

HEC (historically effected consciousness) is “primarily consciousness of the hermeneutical situation” (312)

“The very idea of situation means that we are not standing outside it and hence are unable to have any objective knowledge of it. We always find ourselves within a situation” (312)

“To be historically means that knowledge of oneself can never be complete” (313)

“All self-knowledge arises from what is historically pregiven, what with Hegel we call “substance,” because it underlies all subjective intentions and actions, and hence both prescribes and limits every possibility for understanding any tradition whatsoever in its historical alterity” (313)

Every finite present has its limitations (313)

Situation: “a standpoint that limits the possibility of vision”

Thus, a situation is, in effect, a horizon (313)

The concept of horizon is used “to characterize the way in which thought is tied to its finite determinacy” (313)

When we try to think objectively we give up our own horizon and “force[]” our object to “abandon its claim to be saying something true. We think we understand when we see the past from a historical standpoint” (314)

“however, we have given up the claim to find in the past any truth that is valid and intelligible for ourselves. Acknowledging the otherness of the other in this way, making him the object of objective knowledge, involves the fundamental suspension of his claim to truth” (314)

There are no “alien horizons” or “closed horizons” of meaning (314)

Rather, just “as the individual is never simply an individual because he is always in understanding with others, so too the closed horizon that is supposed to enclose a culture is an abstraction. The historical movement of human life consists in the fact that it is never absolutely bound to any one standpoint, and hence can never have a truly closed horizon” (315)

The horizon is, rather, something into which we move and that moves with us. Horizons change for a person who is moving. Thus the horizon of the past, out of which all human life lives and which exists in the form of tradition, is always in motion. The surrounding horizon is not set in motion by historical consciousness. But in it this motion becomes aware of itself (315)

Everything contained in historical consciousness is in fact embraced by a single historical horizon (315)

We always understand from our own horizon. “If we disregard ourselves … we have no historical horizon” (316)

Thus, foregrounding is “always reciprocal … all foregrounding also makes visible that from which something is foregrounded” (316)

The “hermeneutical situation” [or situation of understanding] is “determined by the prejudices that we bring with us. [Our prejudices] constitute, then, the horizon of a particular present, for they represent that beyond which it is impossible to see” (316)

But “[i]n fact the horizon of the present is continually in the process of being formed because we are continually having to test all our prejudices” (317)

the horizon of the present cannot be formed without the past (317)

“There is no more an isolated horizon of the present in itself than there are historical horizons which have to be acquired. Rather, understanding is always the fusion of these horizons supposedly existing by themselves” (317)

“The hermeneutic task consists in not covering up this tension [between object and present] by attempting a naïve assimilation of the two but in constantly bringing it [the tension] out” (317)

Historical consciousness is aware of its own otherness and hence foregrounds the horizon of the past from its own (317)

But, “[p]rojecting a historical horizon, then, is only one phase in the process of understanding; it does not become solidified into the self-alienation of a past consciousness, but is overtaken by our own present horizon of understanding” (317)

In the process of understanding, a real fusing of horizons occurs—which means that as the historical horizon is projected, it is simultaneously superseded (317)

“To bring about this fusion [of historical and present] in a regulated way is the task of what we called historically effected consciousness” (317)

This is the “central problem of hermeneutics” and it is “the problem of application” (318)

4.2 The Recovery of the Fundamental Hermeneutic Problem

4.2.1 The Hermeneutic Problem of Application

Early hermeneutics is tripartite: 1) subtilitas intelligendi (understanding), 2) subtilitas explicandi (interpretation), and 3) subtilitas applicandi (application) (318)

“The process of understanding” consists of “these three elements” (318)

The use of subtilitas implies that these are “talents requiring particular finesse of mind” and not just methods (318)

Gadamer’s discussion follows from the Romantic recognition of the “inner unity of intelligere and explicare” but extends this unity to include application (318)

“Interpretation is not an occasional, post facto supplement to understanding; rather, understanding is always interpretation” (318)

But this unity “led to the third element in the hermeneutical problem, application, becoming wholly excluded from any connection with hermeneutics” (318), and as Gadamer showed in the immediately preceding section, “understanding always involves something like applying the text to be understood to the interpreter’s present situation” (318-319)

So Gadamer ultimately does not “return to the pietist tradition of the three separate “subtleties”” but instead “consider[s] application to be just as integral a part of the hermeneutical process as are understanding and interpretation” (319)

If a text “is to be understood properly—i.e., according to the claim [def: a proclamatory event which grounds a demand] it makes—[it] must be understood at every moment, in every concrete situation, in a new and different way” (320)

Understanding here is always application (320)

“Understanding proves to be an event” (320)

All modes of interpretation, including performative interpretation (in which the performance’s “real existence” is “in being played”), has both cognitive and normative modes of interpretation, in which, respectively, the interpretation considers 1) the “subject matter” (cognitive) and 2) its application to and through the “values of one’s own day” (normative) (321)

Indeed, the “suggested distinction between cognitive, normative, and reproductive interpretation has no fundamental validity” (321)

Cognitive, normative, and reproductive interpretation “constitute one unitary phenomenon” (321)

Thus, the application allows us to “open ourselves to the superior claim the text makes and to respond to what it has to tell us” (322)

Historical hermeneutics requires application “because it too serves applicable meaning, in that it explicitly and consciously bridges the temporal distance that separates the interpreter from the text and overcomes the alienation of meaning that the text has undergone” (322)

So if we recall that understanding always occurs across temporal distance, and that in our understanding of a given object our consciousness is always historically effected, which means that it is influenced by pre-given prejudices that have been handed down by tradition, then we can say that the hermeneutic mode of application is absolutely necessary and integral to the process of understanding (as it exists in understanding, interpretation, and application), because without application the interpreter cannot overcome the alienation of historical alterity, because the interpreter refuses the validity of the claim of the object.

4.2.2 The Hermeneutic Relevance of Aristotle

Since we are now concerned with application, we find that “the problem, logically speaking, concerns the relationship between the universal and the particular” (322)

Aristotle is concerned with the “right estimation of the role that reason has to play in moral action” (322), with “reason and with knowledge, not detached from a being that is becoming, but determined by it and determinative of it” (322)

In Plato virtue (arete) = knowledge (logos)

But in Aristotle, the basis of moral knowledge is not logos but orexis, striving, “and its development into a fixed demeanor (hexis)”

Thus Aristotle’s “moral knowledge” is “ethics” derived from “practice” and “ethos” (323)

“the person acting must view the concrete situation in light of what is asked of him in general” which means that “knowledge that cannot be applied to the concrete situation remains meaningless and even risks obscuring what the situation calls for” (323)

Thus “it is impossible for ethics to achieve the extreme exactitude of mathematics” (323)

the person acting must himself know and decide, and he cannot let anything take this responsibility from him (324)

The moral actor “must himself already have developed a demeanor that he is constantly concerned to preserve in the concrete situations of his life and prove through right behaviour” (324)

“For the hermeneutical problem too is clearly distinct from the “pure” knowledge detached from any particular kind of being” (324)

“moral knowledge, as Aristotle describes it, is clearly not objective knowledge”

The moral actor “is directly confronted with what he sees. It is something he has to do” (324)

Aristotle distinguishes between moral knowledge (phronesis) and theoretical knowledge (episteme) (324)

“The human sciences stand closer to moral knowledge than to that kind of “theoretical” knowledge” (325)

The human sciences are “moral sciences” (325)

“Their object is man and what he knows of himself. But he knows himself as an acting being, and this kind of knowledge of himself does not seek to establish what is. An active being, rather, is concerned with what is not always the same but can also be different. In it he can discover the point at which he has to act. The purpose of his knowledge is to govern his action” (325)

Techne = “action governed by knowledge in an exemplary form” (325)

Gadamer asks: is moral knowledge a techne?

If it is, the techne of moral knowledge is “knowledge of how to make oneself” (325)

Moral knowledge and the knowledge of the craftsman (“technical” knowledge) have the same purpose: “to determine and guide action” (325)

Hermeneutical consciousness is not technical or moral knowledge, but it includes “the same task of application” (326)

After Aristotle: “Techne loves tyche (luck) and tyche loves techne”

Gadamer quotes this to illustrate how situations (i.e. points of action) require techne (which is theory or knowledge in practice) (326)

“[M]oral consciousness itself calls for prior direction to guide action” as does technical consciousness in craftsmanship (326)

And yet, moral consciousness and techne in the proper sense are not the same (326)

“man is not at his own disposal in the same way that the craftsman’s material is at his disposal. Clearly he cannot make himself in the same way that he can make something else” (326)

Thus, for Aristotle there is a different knowledge from the theoretical (i.e. math) and the technical (i.e. craft): self-knowledge (326)

So: how is this self-knowledge different from a technical knowledge?

  1. “We learn a techne and can also forget it. But we do not learn moral knowledge, nor can we forget it” (327)

  2. “We do not stand over against [moral knowledge] as if it were something that we can acquire or not, as we can choose to acquire an objective skill, a techne” (327)

  3. “Rather, we are always already in the situation of having to act” (327)

  4. To act, “we must already possess and be able to apply moral knowledge” (327)

  5. But “we can only apply something that we already have” (327)

  6. But again, “we do not possess moral knowledge in such a way that we already have it and then apply it to specific situations” (327)

  7. There is no “guiding image” that can be applied uniformly every time

  8. “What is right … cannot be fully determined independently of the situation that requires a right action” (328)

  9. “every law is in a necessary tension with concrete action, in that is general and hence cannot contain practical reality in its full concreteness” (328)

  10. And so: the “law is always deficient, not because it is imperfect in itself but because human reality is necessarily imperfect in comparison to the ordered world of law, and hence allows of no simple application of the law” (328)

  11. Thus equity stands to “correct” the law when it is imposed to rigidly

The determination of the law, it’s actings or actions, is “always itself determined in each case by the use the moral consciousness makes of them” (330)

That is to say, moral consciousness is always limited by its horizon, the boundary that moves and grows with it. Whereas techne (technical knowledge) is “particular and serves particular ends,” phronesis (moral knowledge) “pertains to right living in general” (330). Phronesis simultaneously is produced by and produces its horizon.

“Moral knowledge can never be knowable in advance like knowledge that can be taught” (331)

“There can be no anterior certainty what the good life is directed toward as a whole” (331)

The “end toward which our life as whole tends and its elaboration in the moral principles of action … cannot be the object of a knowledge that can be taught” (331)

“Aristotle’s theory of virtue describes typical forms of the true mean to be observed in human life and behaviour; but the moral knowledge that is oriented by these guiding images is the same knowledge that has to respond to the demands of the situation of the moment” (331)

[S]elf-knowledge … includes perfect application and employs its knowledge in the immediacy of the given situation … For although it is necessary to see what a situation is asking of us, this seeing does not mean that we perceive in the situation what is visible as such, but that we learn to see it as the situation of action and hence in the light of what is right … [so] in moral deliberation, seeing what is immediately to be done is not a mere seeing but nous [intelligence, knowledge] … Moral knowledge is really knowledge of a special kind … it embraces both means and end, and … it is pointless to distinguish here between knowledge and experience … For moral knwoeldge contains a kind of experience in itself, and in fact we shall see that this perhaps the fundamental form of experience (Erfahrung) (331-332)

Aristotle’s varieties of moral reflection—phronesis (thoughtful reflection), synesis (sympathetic understanding), gnome (insight), and syngnome (fellow feeling)—all indicate the being-togetherness of understanding, i.e., the determined and determining presence in the situation of the interpreter who seeks to understand. This is why Gadamer says that Aristotle’s ethics provides a “model of the problem of hermeneutics” (333), because, as Hegel quoted earlier, the “empirical, comprehended in its synthesis, is the speculative concept” (327). The text in question is not a universal “per se” (in itself) (333), but is a totality of experience synthesized by and participated in by the historical consciousness. The interpreter “must relate the text to his situation [apply it] if he wants to understand at all” (333). This is what the moral actor must do, as Aristotle demonstrates, he must be understanding (of a situation) so as to make moral judgment, and so to must the interpreter in his historical judgment.

Legal hermeneutics is considered to be a “practical measure filling a kind of gap in the system of legal dogmatics” (334)

It is only in all its applications that the law becomes concrete (335)

In law,one must “mediate between the original application and the present application” (335)

“The hermeneutical situation of both the historian and the jurist seems to me to be the same in that, when faced with any text, we have an immediate expectation of meaning” (336)

“There can be no such thing as a direct access to the historical object that would objectively reveal its historical value” (336)

“Historical knowledge can be gained only by seeing the past in its continuity with the present—which is exactly what the jurist does in his practical, normative work” (336)

to understand and interpret means to discover and recognize a valid meaning (337)

“Trying to understand the law in terms of its historical origin, the historian cannot disregard its continuing effect: it presents him with the questions that he has to ask of historical tradition … [every text] must be understood in terms of what it says … [every text] always needs to be restated … [and] this restatement always takes place through its being related to the present” (337)

the tradition reaching us speaks into the present and must be understood in this mediation—indeed, as this mediation (338)

“The way the interpreter belongs to his text is like the way the point from which we view a picture belongs to its perspective” (338)

“The interpreter … finds his point of view already given, and does not choose it arbitrarily” (338)

“The need to understand and interpret arises only when something is enacted in such a way that it is, as enacted, irrevocable and binding” (338)—which is why hermeneutics is essential to history, because history, as the past, is inherently binding

“The work of interpretation is to concretize the law in each specific case—i.e., it is a work of application” (338)

Similarly, in theological hermeneutics, the “proclamation is genuinely concretized in preaching, as is the legal order in judgment” (339)

“Certainly preaching too is concerned with interpreting a valid truth, but this truth is proclamation; and whether it is successful or not is not decided by the ideas of the preacher, but by the power of the word itself … The proclamation cannot be detached from its fulfillment … Scripture is the word of God, and that means it has an absolute priority over the doctrine of those who interpret it” (339)

What is “truly common to all forms of hermeneutics” then, is that “the meaning to be understood is concretized and fully realized only in interpretation, but the interpretive activity considers itself wholly bound by the meaning of the text” (341)

“The task of concretizing something universal and applying it to oneself seems, however, to have a very different function in the historical sciences” (341)

In law and theology we see the same thing: “as in one case the judge seeks to dispense justice and in the other the preacher to proclaim salvation, and as, in both, the meaning of what is proclaimed finds its fullest realization in the proclamation of the gospel, so in the case of a philosophical text or a work of literature we can see that these texts require a special activity of the reader and interpreter, and that we do not have the freedom to adopt a historical distance toward them” (341)

It will be seen that here understanding always involves applying the meaning understood (341)

Modern scholarship requires objectivity and distance, but Gadamer shows these are impossible

all reading involves application, so that a person reading a text is himself part of the meaning he apprehends. He belongs to the text that he is reading. The line of meaning that the text manifests to him as he reads it always and necessarily breaks off in an open indeterminacy (349)

“future generations will understand differently what he has read in the text” (349)

In application, “the critic and the historian thus emerge from the self-forgetfulness to which they had been banished by a thinking for which the only criterion was the methodology of modern science. Both find their true ground in historically effected consciousness” (349)

“The old unity of the hermeneutical disciplines comes into its own again if we recognize that historically effected consciousness is at work in all hermeneutical activity, that of the philologist as well as of the historian” (350)

Application does not mean first understanding a given universal in itself and then afterward applying it to a concrete case. It is the very understanding of the universal—the text—itself. Understanding proves to be a kind of effect and knows itself as such (350)

4.3 Analysis of Historically Effected Consciousness

4.3.1 The Limitations of Reflective Philosophy

Knowledge and effect “belong together”—how? (350)

Historically effected consciousness is “a consciousness of the work itself, and hence itself has an effect” (350)

Historically effected consciousness operates through horizons (350)

HEC belongs to the effect, but it can also “rise above that of which it is conscious”—it is reflexive (350)

So: Hegel

With Hegel the “claim of hermeneutics seems capable of being met only in the infinity of knowledge, in the thoughtful fusion of the whole of tradition with the present” (350)

This is the “abolition of our finiteness in the infinity of knowledge” (351)

“being and knowledge interpenetrate each other in the absolute” (351)

Gadamer seeks to break free from this spell of Hegel’s, the spell of the infinite and absolute

we are concerned to conceive a reality that limits and exceeds the omnipotence of reflection (351)

The prototype of a critique of Hegel is that “the other must be experienced not as the other of myself grasped by pure self-consciousness, but as a Thou … does not seriously challenge him” (352)

every possible position is drawn into the reflective movement of consciousness coming to itself … The appeal to immediacy [the most convincing objection, in that the Thou is immediately present] … has always been self-refuting, in that it is not itself an immediate relation, but a reflective activity (353)

Plato refutes this position, held by the Sophists, with myth (354)

But “Plato’s mythical refutation of dialectical sophism does not satisfy the modern mind … By working through the dialectic of reflection as the total self-mediation of reason, Hegel is fundamentally beyond the argumentative formalism that we, like Plato, call “sophistical”” (354)

In Hegel we see the kernel of Gadamer’s thought, but Gadamer pushes beyond, “with an eye to Hegel, setting it [his theory] against his own approach” (354-355)

4.3.2 The Concept of Experience (Erfahrung) and the Essence of the Hermeneutic Experience

Gadamer shares with Hegel that the “historical activity of the mind” (for Gadamer, HEC), is “an experience that experiences reality and is itself real,” that “it has the structure of experience (Erfahrung)”

Scientific experience is “valid only if it is confirmed; hence its dignity depends on its being in principle repeatable” (356). This position Gadamer sees in Dilthey, and for Gadamer it must be done away with because it limits experience to the positivity of confirmation, excluding the role of negation

Husserl tries to do the same, “to overcome its [experience’s] idealization by science” but Gadamer argues that Husserl is himself trapped, because his “pure transcendental subjectivity” is “not really given as such but always given in the idealization of language” (356)

Language must be considered, which Gadamer will get to later

Continuing on, Gadamer argues that the “positive” should not have such priority in our understanding of experience (358)

Citing Aeschylus, Gadamer argues that experience is defined, more often than not, by the negative

Looking at the problem through Aristotle, Gadamer sees that “the unity” or “universality of experience” is not the same as the “universality of the concept” (359). Experience consists of both positive and negative content

Experience is not science itself, but it is a necessary condition of it (359)

Experience “is not known in a previous universality. Here lies the fundamental openness of experience to new experience, not only in the general sense that errors are corrected, but that experience is essentially dependent on constant confirmation and necessarily becomes a different kind of experience where there is no confirmation” (360). This is to say, experience is fundamentally open, as it must recognize negation as much as confirmation. It must be willing to be changed

Yet for Aristotle, the “universality of the concept is ontologically prior” to experience (361)

But this disregards “the fact that experience is a process. In fact, this process is essentially negative” (361)

In its negativity, experience “has a curiously productive meaning” (362)—it “gain[s] a better knowledge” through both confirmation and negation, and for this reason experience is “dialectical” (362)

Hegel, like Gadamer, “testifies to the dialectical element in experience” (362)

Gadamer elaborates on this dialectic:

  • When one has had an experience, one has it

  • Because of this possession, if one experiences the same thing a second time, the experience itself is not the same, because one’s horizon of understanding has come to include the first experience of the thing

  • So the experience is repeated and confirmed, but it is also different

  • “The experiencer has become aware of his experience; he is “experienced.” He has acquired a new horizon within which something can become an experience for him” (362)

For Hegel, this dialectic “must end in that overcoming of all experience which is attained in absolute knowledge—i.e., in the complete identity of consciousness and object” (364)

But this Gadamer says is an error: “Experience stands in an ineluctable opposition to knowledge … The truth of experience always implies an orientation toward new experience” (364)

the historical nature of man essentially implies a fundamental negativity that emerges in the relation between experience and insight (364)

Gadamer returns to Aeschylus: “learning through suffering” [pathei mathos] (365)

“What a man has to learn through suffering is not this or that particular thing, but insight into the limitations of humanity, into the absoluteness of the barrier that separates man from the divine” (365)

experience is experience of human finitude (365)

Experience teaches us to acknowledge the real. The genuine result of experience, then—as of all desire to know—is to know what is (365)

Real experience is that whereby man becomes aware of his finiteness. In it are discovered the limits of the power and the self-knowledge of his planning reason (365)

“all the expectation and planning of finite beings is finite and limited. Genuine experience is experience of one’s own historicity” (366)

So, what is hermeneutical experience?

“Hermeneutical experience is concerned with tradition. This is what is to be experienced. But tradition is not simply a process that experience teaches us to know and govern; it is language—i.e., it expresses itself like a Thou” (366)

“A Thou is not an object; it relates itself to us” (366)

So, Gadamer interrogates the “experience of the Thou” (366)

There are three ways of interpreting or understanding the Thou: 1) understanding “human nature”, i.e., with an eye to prediction of behaviour (366), 2) understanding the other and so mastering him, robbing him of his claim to legitimacy and keeping the other at a distance (this is the historical consciousness discussed before that seeks “objectivity” in its understanding) (368), and lastly, and here is Gadamer’s position, 3) “to experience the Thou truly as a Thou—i.e., not to overlook his claim but to let him really say something to us” (369)

This last position highlights the fact that “Belonging together always also means being able to listen to one another. When two people understand each other, this does not mean that one person “understands” the other”—it is finding understanding together in the inbetween (369)

“Openness to the other, then, involves recognizing that I myself must accept some things that are against me, even though no one else forces me to do so” (369). This is application

The hermeneutical or historically effected consciousness is characterized by a “readiness for experience” (370)

Gadamer goes on to discuss the nature of this readiness

4.3.3 The Hermeneutic Priority of the Question The Model of Platonic Dialectic

The readiness of HEC indicates the “logical structure of openness that characterizes hermeneutical consciousness” (370)

This is to say that, Gadamer’s HEC, what the hermeneutical consciousness should be, is always ready for new experience, and is, as such, fundamentally open

This openness is characterized by the “structure of the question” modeled in Plato’s dialogues, and this structure is, for Gadamer, “implicit in all experience” (370)

We cannot have experiences without asking questions (370). We must remember that these experiences (Erfahrung) are experiences in which expectation is thwarted (364)—i.e., our past experience is negated—and so we come to a more comprehensive knowledge of what is real. This sort of experience cannot occur without the openness of the question

Openness in experience is the “openness of being either this or that” (370)

the logical form of the question and the negativity that is part of it culminate in a radical negativity: the knowledge of not knowing (370)

This is the Socratic “docta ignorantia” (371)

Gadamer goes on to “consider the essence of the question” (371)

“In order to be able to ask [truly ask, not to prove oneself right], one must want to know, and that means knowing that one does not know” (371)

“there is a profound recognition of the priority of the question in all knowledge and discourse that really reveals something of an object”—i.e., knowledge that reveals something true (371)

“The openness of a question is not boundless. It is limited by the horizon of the question … Posing a question implies openness but also limitation” (372)

Medieval dialectic “depends on the inner connection between knowledge and dialectic—i.e., between answer and question” (373)

Following Aristole, Gadamer argues that “Knowledge always means, precisely, considering opposites. Its superiority over preconceived opinion consists in the fact that it is able to conceive of possibilities as possibilities” (373)

Knowledge is dialectical from the ground up (373)

Again with Socrates: “All questioning and desire to know presuppose a knowledge that one does not know; so much so, indeed, that a particular lack of knowledge leads to a particular question” (374)

the negativity of experience implies a question (375)

“dialectic proves its value because only the person who knows how to ask questions is able to persist in his questioning, which involves being able to preserve his orientation toward openness. The art of questioning is the art of questioning ever further—i.e., the art of thinking. It is called dialectic because it [the art of thinking] is the art of conducting a real dialogue” (375)

Real dialogue requires that we “ensur[e] that the other person is with us” (375)

“To conduct a conversation means to allow oneself to be conducted by the subject matter to which the partners in the dialogue are oriented”—that is, the understanding that lies between the two, the understanding which the two come to share, not one of the other (375)

Thus, the art of thinking which is the art of real dialogue is an art of testing (375)

questioning makes the object and all its possibilities fluid (376)

“Dialectic … is not the art of arguing … but the art of thinking” (376)

“The speaker … is put to the question … until the truth of what is under discussion … finally emerges” (376)

So if hermeneutic experience is characterized by openness, and openness by the structure of the question, and the structure of the question by the consideration of opposites, and the consideration of opposites is the art of dialectic, then hermeneutic experience is, indeed, dialectical

And dialectic, the art of dialogue, is characterized by language because “dialogue [is] spoken in language” (376). Therefore, language “performs the communication of meaning that, with respect to the written tradition, is the task of hermeneutics” (376)

Hermeneutics is, in fact, the “task” of “entering into dialogue with the text” (376) The Logic of Question and Answer

So, the “hermeneutic phenomenon … implies the primacy of dialogue and the structure of question and answer” (378)

interpretation always involves a relation to the question that is asked of the interpreter (378), which means that, to “understand a text” require us to obtain the “horizon of the question” (378)

Every text is an answer to a question, and so Gadamer essentially argues, following Collingwood, that because history is a sort of text, that historical events are answers to the questions of human plans—i.e., human determinations in the face of the indeterminacy and openness of experience

“The voice that speaks to us from the past—whether text, work, trace—itself poses a question and places our meaning in openness” (382)

“A reconstructed question can never stand within its original horizon: for the historical horizon that circumscribed the reconstruction is not a truly comprehensive one. It is, rather, included within the horizon that embraces us as the questioners who have been encountered by the traditionary word” (382)

So we must “go beyond mere reconstruction” (382), for “the text must be understood as an answer to a real question” (383)

The “real and fundamental nature of a question” is thus “to make things indeterminate” (383), because, to truly understand a question, and thus the text which poses it, we must be open to it, which means we must recognize its validity, and so also recognize the potential invalidity of our own meanings

Questioning is the “testing of possibilities” (383)

A person who thinks must ask himself questions (383)

To understand a question means to ask it. To understand meaning is to understand it as the answer to a question (383)

“understanding philosophical texts always requires re-cognizing what is cognized in them” (384)

“The dialectic of question and answer disclosed in the structure of hermeneutical experience now permits us to state more exactly what kind of consciousness historically effected consciousness is” (385)

Understanding is a “reciprocal relationship of the same kind as conversation” (385)

“We who are attempting to understand must ourselves make [the text] speak. But we found that this kind of understanding, “making the text speak,” is not an arbitrary procedure that we undertake on our own initiative but that, as a question, it is related to the answer that is expected in the text” (385)

“Anticipating an answer itself presupposes that the questioner is part of the tradition and regards himself as addressed by it” (385)

It is the historically effected consciousness that, by renouncing the chimera of perfect enlightenment [total unity of self and object through infinite knowledge], is open to the experience of history (385)

“We described its [HEC’s] realization as the fusion of the horizons of understanding, which is what mediates between the text and its interpreter” (385)

Gadamer advances: this fusion is in fact the “achievement of language” (386)

In the next section he will go on to “approach the mystery of language” that is “so uncannily near our thinking” through the “conversation that we ourselves are” [i.e., through our being as dialoging, questioning, understanding, interpreting beings] (386)

“understanding of the subject matter must take the form of language … the way understanding occurs … is the coming-into-language of the thing itself” (386)

Every conversation presupposes a common language, or better, creates a common language. Something is placed in the center, as the Greeks say, which the partners in dialogue both share, and concerning which they can exchange ideas with one another. Hence reaching an understanding on the subject matter of a conversation necessarily means that a common language must first be worked out in the conversation (386)

“To reach an understanding in a dialogue is not merely a matter of putting oneself forward and successfully asserting one’s own point of view, but being transformed into a communion in which we do not remain what we were” (387)

Part Three: The Ontological Shift of Hermeneutics Guided by Language

5 Language and Hermeneutics

5.1 Language as the Medium of Hermeneutic Experience

“the more genuine a conversation is, the less its conduct lies within the will of either partner … we fall into conversation … Understanding or its failure is like an event that happens to us … the language in which [conversation] is conducted bears its own truth within it—i.e., that it allows something to “emerge” which henceforth exists” (401)

To understand what a person says is, as we saw, to come to an understanding about the subject matter (401)

We cannot “get inside another person and relive his experiences (Erlebnisse)”—we can only understand what is between us, what is common, which Gadamer calls the “subject matter” of our understanding, which is experience, or a text in the case of hermeneutics (401)

Now, Gadamer reminds us that “understanding always includes application,” and extends this by noting that “this whole process is verbal” (402)

We see this in translation because “every translation is at the same time an interpretation” (402)

In this we see that “language as the medium of understanding must be consciously created by an explicit mediation” (402)

So when there is true understanding “there is not translation but speech … For you understand a language by living in it … the hermeneutical problem concerns not the correct mastery of language but coming to a proper understanding about the subject matter, which takes place in the medium of language” (403)

Conversation is a process of coming to an understanding … [in which] each person open himself to the other … [and to] what he says … so that we can be at one with each other on the subject (403)

“the common subject matter is what binds the two partners, the text and the interpreter, to each other” (406)

This understanding of the subject matter requires a “fusion of horizon” which Gadamer now says “takes place in conversation, in which something is expressed that is not only mine or my author’s, but common” (406)

Because this occurs in conversation, then, Gadamer is able to say that “language is the universal medium in which understanding occurs. Understanding occurs in interpreting” (407)

“Thus the hermeneutical phenomenon proves to be a special case of the general relationship between thinking and speaking … Like conversation, interpretation is a circle closed by the dialectic of question and answer. It is a genuine historical life comportment achieved through the medium of language, and we can call it a conversation with respect to the interpretation of texts as well” (407)

The linguisticality of understanding is the *concretion of historically effected consciousness(407)

5.1.1 Language as Determination of the Hermeneutic Object

Linguistic tradition is tradition in the proper sense of the word—i.e., something handed downWhat has come down to us by way of verbal tradition is not left over but given to us, told us (408)

“In the form of writing, all tradition is contemporaneous with each present time” (408)

“The ideality of the word is what raises everything linguistic beyond the finitude and transience that characterize other remnants of past existence” (408)

written texts present the real hermeneutical task (409)

“Writing is self-alienation. Overcoming it, reading the text, is thus the highest task of understanding” (409)

“A reading consciousness is necessarily a historical consciousness and communicates freely with historical tradition” (409)

After Hegel, Gadamer says that “history begins with the emergence of a will to hand things down, “to make memory last”” (409)

“only a written tradition can detach itself from the mere continuance of the vestiges of apst life, remants from which one human being can by inference piece out another’s existence” (409)

The “capacity” of speech/language/the verbal for “being written down is based on the fact that speech itself shares in the pure ideality of the meaning that communicates itself in it” (410)

Writing is the abstract ideality of language (410)

“The understanding of something written is not a repetition of something past but the sharing of a present meaning” (410)

“The reader experiences what is addressed to him and what he understands in all its validity. What he understands is always more than an unfamiliar opinion: it is always possible truth” (412)

Everything written is, in fact, the paradigmatic object of hermeneutics (413)

“understanding is not a psychic transposition. The horizon of understanding cannot be limited either by what the writer originally had in mind or by the horizon of the person to whom the text was originally addressed” (413)

So not Barthes, but not historicism either.

What is fixed in writing has detached itself from the contingency of its origin and its author and made itself free for new relationships (413)

5.1.2 Language as Determination of the Hermeneutic Act

“understanding itself has a fundamental connection with language” (414)

“understanding is already interpretation because it creates the hermeneutical horizon within which the meaning of a text comes into force” (414)

“we must translate [a text] into our own language … [and] this involves relating it to the whole complex of possible meanings in which we linguistically move” (414)

To think historically means, in fact, to perform the transposition that the concepts of the past undergo when we try to think them. To think historically always involves mediating between those ideas and one’s own thinking” (415)

To interpret means precisely to bring one’s own preconceptions into play so that the text’s meaning can really be made to speak for us (415)

“every interpretation includes the possibility of a relationship with others. There can be no speaking that does not bind the speaker and the person spoken to” ($16)

the interpretive process of understanding … is simply the concretion of the meaning itself(416)

“Reading fundamentally involves interpretation” because reading, like drama or music as seen in part one, “awakens a text and brings it into new immediacy” (417)

Interpreting music or a play by performing it is not basically different from understanding a text by reading it: understanding always includes interpretation (417)

The artist’s self-understanding “disappears again as an interpretation and preserves its truth in the immediacy of understanding” (418)

understanding is always a genuine event (418)

This is why understanding is immediate or has the character of immediacy, even though it is also reflective

Language is the language of reason itself (420)

This “makes language so close to reason—which means, to the things [reason] names—that one may ask why there should be different languages at all, since all seem to have the same proximity to reason and to objects” (420)

But the reality of different languages “shows the superior universality with which reason rises above the limitations of any given language” (420)

The intimate unity of language and thought is the premise from which linguistics too starts. It is this alone that has made it a science (421)

Gadamer starts from this intimate unity and heads “in the opposite direction” (421). “Despite the multiplicity of ways of speech, we are trying to keep in mind the indissoluble unity of thought and language as we encounter it in the hermeneutical phenomenon, namely as the unity of understanding and interpretation” (421)

Signs are not instruments—they are part of the process of concept formation which is a constantly “ongoing process” (421)

“we must recognize that all understanding is interwove with concepts and reject any theory that does not accept the intimate unity of word and subject matter” (421-422)

Language is not just a form (422)

It is never “simply an object but instead comprehends everything that can ever be an object … The language that lives in speech—which comprehends all understanding, including that of the interpreter of texts—is so much bound up with thinking and interpreting that we have too little left if we ignore the actual content of what languages hand down to us and try to consider language only as form” (423)

5.2 The Development of the Concept of Language in the History of Western Thought

5.2.1 Language and Logos

The Greek’s began with the “intimate unity of word and thing,” considering the “true name” of a thing to be “part of the bearer of name” (423)

The Greek onoma “means “name,” and especially “proper name”” (423)

“The word is understood primarily as a name … It belongs to its bearer” (423)

“Greek philosophy more or less began with the insight that a word is only a name—i.e., that it does not represent true being” (423)

“Thereby the word changed from presenting the thing to substituting for it” (424)

The whole debate is captured by Plato’s Cratylus

Two polar theories: conventionalist and naturalist

Conventionalist: “unambiguous linguistic usage [is] reached by agreement and practice” (424)

Naturalist: there is a “natural agreement between word and object that is described by the idea of correctness (orthotes)” (424)

“the limit of conventionalism is that we cannot arbitrarily change the meaning of words if there is to be language … Language always presupposes a common world” (424)

“The limitation of the similarity theory [naturalist] is also clear. We cannot look at the things referred to a criticize the words for not correctly representing them” (424)

Regardless, “Language is not a mere tool we use” (425)

Gadamer’s problem with both theories is that they “start from the existence and instrumentality of words … Thus they start too late” (425). He wants to know from where does the subject matter emerge?

Similarly, “Plato wants to demonstrate that no truth (aletheia ton onton) can be attained in language … being must be known purely from itself” (425)

It is Plato’s dialectic “which aims to achieve this … to make thought dependent on itself alone and to open it to its true objects, the “ideas,” so that the power of words … and their demonic technologization in sophistical argument are overcome” (425)

Plato’s knowledge is not “without words” but rather considers the “adequacy of the word” to be determined by the “knowledge of the thing it refers to” (425)

This, Gadamer says, is “Plato avoid[ing] considering the real relationship between words and things” (425)

“The pure thought of [Plato’s] ideas, dianoia, is silent, for it is a dialogue of the soul with itself (aneu phones). The logos is the stream that flows from this thought and sounds out through the mouth” (425)

“Plato undoubtedly did not consider the fact that the process of thought, if conceived as a dialogue of the soul, itself involves a connection with language” (425)

The net result, then, is that Plato’s discovery of the ideas conceals the true nature of language even more than the theories of the Sophists, who developed their own art (techne) in the use and abuse of language (426)

“The specific way of dealing with the thing that we are concerned with here is that of making the thing meant apparent. The word is correct if it brings the thing to presentation (Darstellung)—i.e., if it is a representation (mimesis)” (428)

Because our use of words “assumes that words have real meanings,” even if we use the wrong word, it is still the right word for something else. “Thus we may speak of an absolute perfection of the word, inasmuch as there is no perceptible relationship—i.e., no gap—between its appearance to the senses and its meaning” (428)

Gadamer’s use of “relationship” and “gap” here are significant. For Plato, because words are copies of the original, there is a gap between them. This gap is also a relation. But as Gadamer shows, there is no relation between a word’s “appearance to the senses” (i.e., its sound) and its meaning. And yet, word’s mean, and can mean correctly (i.e., be the “correct” word for an object, even if used incorrectly), and thus their meanings seem to perfectly occur with their appearances. There is no relation; thus, there is no gap.

There “is no reason why Cratylus should allow himself to be subjected to the yoke of the schema of original and copy” (429)

So, as Gadamer points out, when Socrates says, in the Cratylus, that “words, unlike pictures (zoa), can be not only correct but true (alethe)” it is “like the revelation of a wholly obscured truth” (429)

The “truth” of a word does not depend on its correctness, its correct adequation to the thing. It lies rather in its perfect intellectuality—i.e., the manifestness of the word’s meaning in its sound (429)

In this sense all words are “true”—i.e., their being is wholly absorbed in their meaning—whereas a copy is only more or less similar and thus, judged by reference to the appearance of the original, only more or less correctly (429)

For Plato, the Sophists do not understand the “capacity for truth” of words (429). Where we have words, we have the knowledge of the thing behind to be discovered by the dialectician; but where we knowledge, we must build up that knowledge out of words. So “all this misses the point that the truth of things resides in discourse—which means, ultimately, in intending a unitary meaning concerning things—and not in the individual words, not even in a language’s entire stock of words” (429-430)

“Thus the relational ordering that is logos is much more than the mere correspondence of words and things, as is ultimately assumed in the Eleatic doctrine of being and in the copy theory. The truth contained in the logos is not that of mere perception (of noein), not just letting being appear; rather, it always places being in a relationship, assigning something to it. For precisely this reason, it is not the word (onoma) but the logos that is the bearer of truth (and also error). From this it necessarily follows that being expressed, and thus being bound to language, is quite secondary to the system of relations within which logos articulates and interprets the thing. We see that it is not word but number that is the real paradigm of the noetic: number, whose name is obviously pure convention and whose “exactitude” consists in the fact that every number is defined by its place in the series, so that is is a pure structure of intelligibility, an ens rationis, not in the weak sense of a being-validity but in the strong sense of perfect rationality. This is the real conclusion to which the Cratylus is drawn, and it has one very important consequence, which in fact influences all further thinking about language” (430)

So what Gadamer is getting at is that Plato, in the Cratylus, puts forward two extremes: the constructivist and the naturalist theories of language. We know this from p. 425: “in showing the two extreme positions to be untenable, Plato is questioning a presupposition common to them both … Plato wants to demonstrate that no truth (aletheia ton onton) can be attained in language.” Plato works Cratylus into a corner by forcing him to pick between two “untenable” positions. And what we can see to be Plato’s actual position is that there is a truth that seems to inhere in language that emanates from the true being of the thing, its form, beyond. But the essentially false dichotomy of the Cratylus led to a softening of the extremes, and thus the conventional (constructivist) argument becomes the dominant. It is the only way to explain Plato’s dialectic within the dichotomy he established. This is the point Gadamer thinks has been missed. Plato’s ideas aren’t even operating within his dialectic. But what we have is an overcoming of the old Greek primacy of the word (onoma) by the sign (semeion).

“the word, just like the number, becomes the mere sign of a being that is well defined and hence preknown” (430)

“we are not starting from the thing and inquiring into the being of the word as a means of conveying it. Rather, beginning from the word as a means, we are asking what and how it communicates to the person who uses it” (430)

The sign “has its being only in application, and so its “self” consists only in pointing to something “other”” (430)

It must be “taken as a sign, in order for its own being as an object to be superseded and for it to dissolve (disappear) into its meaning. It is the abstraction of pointing itself” (431)

A sign, then, is not something that insists on its own content (431)

A sign “does not have its absolute significance within itself—i.e., the subject is not superseded in it … only on the basis of its own immediate being is it at the same time something referential, ideal” (431)

Then there is the copy

In the copy the “thing copied is itself represented, caught, and made present” (431)

So, as the Cratylus shows, the copy theory is impossible because words are in no way copies of things, and the pure convention of signs is, for Gadamer, not satisfying, because it does not explain the fittedness of the sign to its thing. But because readers of the Cratylus did not perceive Plato’s position, the “discussion of language ever since” has centred on the “sign (semeion or semainon)” rather than on the “image (eikon)” [which is related to the copy theory]

With this turn, “thought is so independent of the being of words—which thought takes as mere signs through which what is referred to, the idea, the thing, is brought into view—that the word is reduced to a wholly secondary relation to the thing” (432)

Gadamer has beef with symbolic logic and instrumental theories of language

For Gadamer, “language is something other than a mere sign system denoting the totality of objects” (434)

A word is not just a sign (434)

Wedged in between image and sign, the being of language could only be reduced to the level of pure sign (435)

Yet for Gadamer, there is something of the copy or image in the word, along with something of the sign

5.2.2 Language and Verbum

Incarnation is not embodiment (436)

Christ is not the appearance of man, like the Greek gods, but became man (436)

“If the Word became flesh and if it is only in the incarnation that spirit is fully realized, then the logos is freed from its spirituality, which means, at the same time, from its cosmic potentiality” (436)

in contrast to the Greek logos, the word is pure event (437)

“the mystery of this unity [of the Trinity] is reflected in the phenomenon of language” (437)

The Fathers “initially … tried to make use of the Stoic antithesis of the inner and outer logos … This distinction was originally intended to distinguish the Stoic world principle of the logos from the externality of merely repeating a word” (437)

The analogy between the inner and the outer word, speaking the word aloud in the vox, now acquires an exemplary value (437)

The “act of becoming” that is creation by the Word and the incarnation of the Word is not “something turn[ing] into something else,” nor “separating one thing from the other,” nor “lessening the inner word by its emergence into exteriority,” nor “becoming something different, so that the inner word is used up” (437)

“The greater miracle of language lies not in the fact that the Word becomes flesh and emerges in external being, but that that which emerges and externalizes itself in utterance is always already a word” (437)

The true word, the verbum cordis, the inner word (as opposed to the outer word expressed in a particular tongue), is “the mirror and the image of the divine Word” (438)

“The mystery of the Trinity is mirrored in the miracle of language insoafar as the word that is true, because it says what the thing is, is nothing by itself and does not seek to be anything … It has its being in its revealing” (438)

The inner mental word is just as consubstantial with thought as is God the Son with God the Father (438)

So Gadamer argues that the ““language of reason” [i.e., symbolic language, pure language, etc.] is not a special language” (439)

The “bond to language cannot be superseded” (439). For the scholastics, logos is translated as both ratio and verbum. The Word is not just reason.

For St. Thomas “the word still has the ontological character of an event. The inner word remains related to its possible utterance. While it is being conceived by the intellect, the subject matter is at the same time ordered toward being uttered … the inner word … is the subject matter thought through to the end” (440)

Thus, Gadamer claims, the inner word is processual

“the inner word, by expressing thought, images the finiteness of our discursive understanding. Because our understanding does not comprehend what it knows in one single inclusive glance, it must always draw it thinks out of itself, and present it to itself as if in an inner dialogue with itself. In this sense all thought is speaking to oneself” (440)

But this process is not successive in the mind, but emanative

“In the process of emanation, that from which something flows, the One, is not deprived or depleted” (441). This is true of the emanation of the Spirit, and it is “likewise true of the mental emergence that takes place in the process of thought, speaking to oneself” (441)

So this process of emanation is a “total remaining within oneself” (441)

“the process and emergence of thought is not a process of change … not a transition from potentiality into action, but an emergence” (441)

“The word is not formed only after the act of knowledge has been completed”—i.e., after ratio has been carried out to its completion—but is “the act of knowledge itself” (441)

The word and the forming of the intellect are simultaneous (441)

In the omniscience of the divine Word, this processual element is incomprehensible (441-442)

Gadamer writes, then, that “Creation is not a real process, but only interprets the structure of the universe in a temporal scheme” (442)

So in this difference from the divine, Gadamer elaborates the “processual element in the word” (442)

  1. the human word is potential before it is actualized”; it begins with “an emanation” from “memory” into mind. The work of the mind begins here, and its “real movement” is toward the “perfect expression of its thoughts.” Thus the “perfect word … is formed only in thinking.” Once so, the “thing is then present in it” (442)

  2. the human word is essentially incomplete. No human word can express our mind completely.” So because the thing is brought to presence in the word, but the “human mind” is never completely present to itself, “it follows that the human word is not one, like the divine word, but must necessarily be many words.” The human mind “needs the multiplicity of words. It does not really know what it knows” (443)

  3. every thought that we thinkis a mere accident of the mind.” This is because the “word of human thought is directed toward the thing, but it cannot contain it as a whole within itself.” Thus, thought always proceeds in its process.

All of this is for Gadamer to say that the “inner unity of thinking and speaking to oneself … is not formed by a reflective act” (443)

there is no reflection when the word is formed, for the word is not expressing the mind but the thing intended [i.e., the subject matter] (444)

“The subject matter that is thought … and the word belong as closely together as possible. Their unity is so close that the word does not occupy a second place in the mind beside the “species” (Lat.); rather, the word is that in which knowledge is consummated—i.e., that in which the species is fully thought” (444)

“unity and multiplicity are fundamentally in dialectical relationship to each other” (444)

The meaning of the word cannot be detached from the event of proclamation (444)


  1. “Plato recognized that the human word is essentially discursive—i.e., that the association of a multiplicity of words expresses one meaning” (445)

  2. “Aristotle demonstrated the logical structure of the proposition, the judgment, the syllogism, and the argument” (445)

  3. Gadamer: “The unity of the word that explicates itself in the multiplicity of words manifests something that is not covered by the structure of logic and that brings out the character of language as event: the process of concept formation” (445)

Gadamer is bad at making points. What’s the point in all of this? I think what he’s doing is to try and get at the quality of image or copy that the word possesses, as he concludes in the previous section. Yes, the word is a sign, but it does not “dissolve” into the “abstraction” of “pointing.” The word insists on its content, whereas a pure sign does not. This insistence is, in part, like the insistence of the image or the copy. It draws attention to itself.

So in discussing the verbum, Gadamer shows how this insistence is, how the meaning of the word is not just in pointing to the thing, but is brought to presence, concretized, or formed in the word itself. We cannot access the “thing” through pure ratio (reason or logic), and then just describe it imperfectly with words. Rather, our reason is entirely bound up with words. Our thinking through is ordered toward thought’s expression in the word, even if that expression is to oneself. Thus, the verbum and its relation to the Trinity is significant. In the Trinity, we see the union of Father, Son, Spirit, and with the Son, we see the union of Divine and Flesh, the incarnation. But in the incarnation, where God became Man, nothing of his being was lost. In the same way, the inner word is cosubstantial with thought, and in its expression through the word, thought is, as it were, made flesh, and so consummated, brought into presence, which is not a lessening or a separating but a culmination.

Thus Plato is significant because he shows that the human word is essentially discursive, which is why Gadamer discusses him in the previous section.

But Gadamer demonstrates why we must move beyond Plato and the dialectic of constructivist vs naturalist that he established. There is a truth in the word, and that is the presencing of the thing to mind in the word. Things are only brought to knowledge through the word.

This the character of language as event. It is the process of bringing to knowledge or bringing to mind of the thing through the word.

5.2.3 Language and Concept Formation

“natural concept formation … often takes place as a result of accidents and relations” (445)

So if language is an event, and that event is that of concept formation, then the event often happens by accident

The movement Gadamer makes here is this: “when the Greek idea of logic is penetrated by Christian theology, something new is born: the medium of language, in which the mediation of the incarnation event achieves its full truth” (445)

We see this incarnated mediation in the “person who speaks—who, that is to say, uses the general meanings of words—is so oriented toward the particularity of what he is perceiving that everything he says acquires a share in the particularity of the circumstances he is considering” (446)

But that means, on the other hand, that the general concept meant by the word is enriched by an any given perception of a thing, so that what emerges is a new, more specific word formation which does more justice to the particularity of the act of perception. However certainly speaking implies using pre-established words with general meanings, at the same time, a constant process of concept formation is going on, by means of which the life a language develops (446)

Gadamer wants to show that “verbal consciousness” is far from “logical schema.” Certainly it follows certain logical rules—specifically, similarity and difference—but these rules are more accidents of particular experience than of the subsumption of consciousness to rules

Verbal consciousness has a fundamental metaphorical nature (446)

the particularity of an experience finds expression in metaphorical transference (446)

Plato calls us to rise “above names” and find the “truth of the thing”—but this “does not mean that thinking can dispense with the use of name and logos … Plato always recognized that these intermediaries are necessary” (447)

But, just “as individual words acquire their meaning and relative unambiguity only in the unity of discourse, so the true knowledge of being can be achieved only in the whole of the relational structure of the ideas” (447)

So, then, we need to know the whole of this structure to know being

“Transference [analogy] from one sphere to another not only has a logical function; it corresponds to the fundamental metaphoricity of language” (448)

“The well-known stylistic figure of metaphor is only the rhetorical form of this universal—both linguistic and logical—generative principle” (448)

“according to Aristotle the formation of concepts by language possesses a perfectly undogmatic freedom, for experiencing similarity among the things one encounters, which then leads to a universal, is merely a preliminary achievement: it stands at the beginning of science but is not yet science” (449)

“What originally constituted the basis of the life of language and its logical productivity, the spontaneous and inventive seeking out of similarities by means of which it is possible to order things, is now marginalized and instrumentalized into a rhetorical figure called metaphor” (449)

Christian theology moves beyond this: “the word is a process in which the unity of what is meant is fully expressed” (45))

“The word is for [Cusa] no less than the mind itself, not a diminished or weakened manifestation of it” (451)

“Accordingly, the multiplicity in which the human mind unfolds itself is not a mere fall from true unity and not a loss of its home. Rather, there has to be a positive justification for the finitude of the human mind, however much this finitude remains related to the infinite unity of absolute being” (451)

“Suddenly it is of positive significance that things can be articulated in various ways (though not in any way at all) according to their similarities and their differences” (452)

“languages as they have grown up historically, with their history of meanings, their grammar and their syntax, can be seen as the varied forms of a logic of experience, of natural—i.e., historical—experience” (452)

“The articulation of words and things that each language performs in its own way always constitutes a primary natural way of forming concepts that is much different from the system of scientific concept formation. It exclusively follows the human aspect of things, the system of man’s needs and interests. What a linguistic community regards as important about a thing can be given the same name as other things that are perhaps of a quite different nature in other respects, so long as they all have the same quality that is important to the community” (452)

it is always artificial and contrary to the nature of language to measure the contingency of natural concept formation against the true order of things and to see the former as purely accidental (453)

This contingency comes about, in fact, through the human mind’s necessary and legitimate range of variation in articulating the essential order of things (453)

Cusa’s theory “starts … from the fundamental inexactness of all human knowledge” (454)

“Every expression is fitting (congruum), but not every one is exact (precisum)” (454)

Cusa’s “theory of language presupposes not that the things (formae) to which the words are attached belong to a pre-established order of original models that human knowledge is gradually approaching, but that this order is created by differentiation and combination out of the given nature of things” (454)

“This kind of essential inexactness can be overcome only if the mind rises to the infinite” [we might say here, the whole]

Okay, let’s clarify again.

In 1) Language and Logos, Gadamer details the beginnings of the science of language with the Greeks, and the fundamental flaw of the dialectic that Plato establishes, constructivist vs. naturalist. Words do not naturally mean, but neither are they pure convention. They exist somewhere in the middle, almost as images.

Then in 2) Language and Verbum, Gadamer shows how the Scholastic adoption of Greek logos philosophy, and its fusion with the Word from the Gospel of John, changed the perspective. In the incarnation, pure Spirit emerges, is concretized, in the Word made flesh. That which was “inner” (Spirit) becomes “outer” (Flesh). The Word was always the Word, but it was brought to presence in this emergence. Thus, with some loopy logic, Gadamer claims that language is the same. The word is the process of language, of knowledge formation. Knowledge is brought to presence in the word. This is the event of language. Language is not just a thing, an object, but an event and/or process that brings to mind (to knowledge) the thing that is perceived. The thing is concretized in knowledge by its speaking. This is the image quality of the word. As an image it brings to presence the thing represented.

This leads to 3) Language and Concept Formation. This concretization is concept formation. The concept is formed by the word. Gadamer goes through Plato, Aristotle, and finally Nicholas of Cusa to show this progression. Basically, language does not come from logic but logic from language. Language is contingent. The thing perceived is brought to mind by the word that seem most fitting (similar) to it. This word is already given. But in its use by the speaker in his particularity, the word forms a concept (knowledge) in the speaker’s mind, which then informs the use of that word in the future. The contingency and particularity of difference and combination, the multiplicity of it, is not a hindrance but productive. The order of things is created by this multiplicity.

5.3 Language as Horizon of a Hermeneutic Ontology

5.3.1 Language as Experience of the World

These various ways of thinking about language “are remote from the modern philosophy and science of language” (455)

Wilhelm von Humboldt: “there exists an indissoluble connection between individuality and universal nature. Together with the feeling of individuality, the sense of a totality is given as well” (456)

Humboldt: “Wherever there is language, the ordinary verbal power of the human mind is at work, and every language is capable of attaining the general goal toward which this natural power of man is directed” (456)

“his normative interest in comparing the structure of human languages does not get in the way of acknowledging the individuality—and that means the relative perfection—of each language” (456)

“he investigated the inner form in which the originary event of human language formation is, in each instance [of language], differentiated” (456)

This is thus “abstraction down to form” (457), from the ideal of inner form to the differentiation of language

“language is “really situated in relation to an infinite and truly boundless sphere, the epitome of everything that can be thought. Thus it must make an infinite use of finite means and is able to do so through the identity of the faculty that generates thoughts and language”” (457)

“The actual essence of a faculty that is aware of itself is to be able to make infinite use of finite means” (457)

“as the formalism of a faculty, it [the linguistic faculty] can always be detached from the determinate content of what is said” (457)

But for Gadamer, “[v]erbal form and traditionary content cannot be separated in the hermeneutic experience” (457)

“If every language is a view of the world, it is so not primarily because it is a particular type of language (in the way that linguists view language) but because of what is said or handed down in this language” (458)

“However thoroughly one may adopt a foreign frame of mind, one still does not forget one’s worldview and language-view. Rather, the other world we encounter is not only foregin but is also related to us. It has not only its own truth in itself but also its own truth for us” (458)

Language is never “simply an object of research and knowledge” (458)

“The hermeneutical experience … means nothing else than to be in a position to accept what is said in it as said to oneself” (459)

“understanding always means that what is said has a claim over one, and this is impossible if one’s own “worldview and language-view” is not also involved” (459)

Humboldt: “language was human from its very beginning” (459)

Language is not just one of man’s possessions in the world; rather, on it depends the fact that man has a world at all (459)

“The world as world exists for man as for no other creature that is in the world” (459)

This world is verbal in nature (459)

language has no independent life apart from the world that comes to language within it (459)

Not only is the world world only insofar as it comes into language, but language, too, has its real being only in the fact that the world is presented in it. Thus, that language is originarily human means at the same time that man’s being-in-the-world is primordially linguistic (459)

To have a world is to have an orientation to it to have an orienbtation is to keep oneself free from and present to oneself the world this is done through language

One is embedded in one’s environment; one is oriented toward one’s world

“man’s relationship to the world is characterized by freedom from environment. This freedom implies the linguistic constitution of the world” (460)

“wherever language and men exist, there is not only a freedom from the pressure of the world, but this freedom from the environment is also freedom in relation to the names that we give things” (460)

“Man’s freedom in relation to the environment is the reason for his free capacity for speech and also for the historical multiplicity of human speech in relation to the one world” (461)

“rising above the environment means rising to “world” itself, to true environment” (461)

“Animals do not have this variability when making themselves understood to one another. This means, ontologically, that they make themselves understood, but not about matters of fact, the epitome of which is the world” (461)

Whereas the call of animals induces particular behaviour in the members of the species, men’s coming to a linguistic understanding with one another through the logos reveals the existent itself (461)

“It is matters of fact … that come into language” (461)

With the Greeks, “What is conceived of as existing is not really the object of statements, but it “comes to language in statements.” It thereby acquires its truth, its being evident in human thought”


“Thus Greek ontology is based on the factualness of language, in that it conceives the essence of language in terms of statements” (462)

However, “language” also “has its true being only in dialogue, in coming to an understanding” (462)

“Coming to an understanding as such … is a life process in which a community of life is lived out” (462)

Human language is unique because in it ““world” is disclosed” (462)

“the world is the common ground [the subject matter]” which those in dialogue must come to understand (462)

the verbal world in which we live is not a barrier that prevents knowledge of being-in-itself but fundamentally embraces everything in which our insight can be enlarged and deepened (463)

“the infinite perfectibility of the human experience of the world means that, whatever language we use, we never succeed in seeing anything but an ever more extended aspect, a “view” of the world” (464)

“the fact that our experience of the world is bound to language does not imply an exclusiveness of perspectives” but rather a wealth of perspectives into which we can grow (464)

“The consciousness of being conditioned does not supersede our conditionedness” (465)

But also, “what we see with our eyes has genuine reality for us” (465)

“the truth that science states is itself relative to a particular world orientation and cannot at all claim to be the whole” (465)

“the immediacy of our worldview and view of ourselves, in which we persist, is preserved and altered within language because we finite beings always come from afar and stretch into that distance” (466)

Language “is not a creation of reflective thought, but itself helps to fashion the world orientation in which we live” (466)

in language the world itself presents itself (466)

“Verbal experience of the world is “absolute.” It transcends all the relative ways being is posited because it embraces all being-in-itself, in whatever relationships (relativities) it appears” (466)

Whereas science ignores these relationships. “Each science, as a science, has in advance projected a field of objects such that to know them is to govern them” (468)

The world that appears in language and is constituted by it does not have, in the same sense, being-in-itself, and is not relative in the same sense as the object of the natural sciences. It is not being-in-itself, insofar as it is not characterized by objectivity and can never be given in experience as the comprehensive whole that it is (468)

[E]very language has a direct relationship to the infinity of beings (469)

To have language involves a mode of being (469)

“If we keep this in mind, we will no longer confuse the factualness (Sachlichkeit) of language with the objectivity (Objektivitat) of science” (469)

The Greek’s had a “positive connection between the factualness of language and man’s capacity for science” (470)

Whereas “Modern theory is a tool of construction by means of which we gather experiences together in a unified way and make it possible to dominate them. We are said to “construct” a theory” (470)

Ancient theoria is not a means in the same sense, but the end itself, the highest manner of being human (470)

"”Theory” in the ancient sense, however, is something quite different. There it is not just that existing orders as such are contemplated, but “theory” means sharing in the total order itself” (471)

This difference between Greek theoria and modern science is based, in my opinion, on different orientations to verbal experience of the world (471)

Greek knowledge was “within language” (471) whereas modern knowledge makes language an object and is concerned with what is “present-at-hand” (471)

Our starting point is that verbally constituted experience of the world expresses not what is present-at-hand, that which is calculated or measured, but what exists, what man recognizes as existent and significant (472)

“As little as “world” is objectified in language, so little is historical effect the object of hermeneutical consciousness” (472)

5.3.2 Language as Medium and its Speculative Structure

“That human experience of the world is linguistic in nature was the thread underlying Greek metaphysics in its thinking about being since Plato’s “flight into the logoi”” (472)

For the Greeks, the “being of beings” is a “being that fulfilled itself in thought” (472)

This thought “is the thought of nous” [intellect], which is “the highest and most perfect being, gathering within itself the being of all beings” (472)

The “articulation of the logos brings the structure of being into language, and this coming into language is, for Greek thought, nothing other than the presenting of the being itself, its aletheia” (473)

Thought is fulfilled in the “infinity of this presence” (473)

Gadamer wants to move beyond this “splendid self-forgetfulness” (473)

Gadamer is guided by the “finitude of our historical experience” (473)

It is the medium of language alone that, related to the totality of beings, mediates the finite, historical nature of man to himself and to the world (473)

The “dialectical puzzle of the one and many” first in Plato and then in medieval theology now finds “its true and fundamental ground” (473)

The occasionality of “human speech is not a casual imperfection of its expressive power; it is, rather, the logical expression of the living virtuality of speech that brings a totality of meaning into play, without being able to express it totally” (474)

All human speaking is finite in such a way that there is laid up within it an infinity of meaning to be explicated and laid out (474)

Also: “the interpreter belongs to his text” (474)

Belonging (in classical metaphysics) “refers to the transcendental relationship between being and truth” (474)

knowledge [is] an element of being itself (474)

But “the critique of the verbalism of Aristotelian and Scholastic science that we touched on above dissolved the old co-ordination between man and world that lays at the basis of logos philosophy” (475)

So refutation of this position, and then the overcoming of the refutation, is the “role” of “dialectic” in Gadamer’s work here. He wants to return to the “co-ordination” of “man and world” but in a new way

This “testifies to the continuity of the problem from its Greek origin” (476)

Dialectic, this expression of the logos, was not for the Greeks a movement performed by thought; what thought experiences is the movement of the thing itself (476)

This helps Gadamer approach the question of the “interconnection of event and understanding” (477)

So: “the concept of belonging is no longer regarded as the teleological relation of the mind to the ontological structure of what exists” (477)

Instead, the key is that “something exists” (477)

So: occurrence “means that [the interpreter] is not a knower seeking an object, “discovering” by methodological means what was really meant and what the situation actually was, though slightly hindered and affected by his own prejudices” (477) … [actually] “occurrence is made possible only because the word that has come down to us as tradition and to which we are to listen really encounters us and does so as if it addressed us and is concerned with us” (477)

This is the logic of the question (477)

the hermeneutical occurrence is realized in the dialectic of the question (477)

“For on the other side [of the subject], that of the “object,” this occurrence means the coming into play, the playing out, of the content of tradition in its constantly widening possibilities of significance and resonance extended by the different people receiving it” (477-78)

So since we’re dealing with the question, “we must take account of the particular dialectic implied in hearing” (478)

he who is addressed must hear” (478)

You can look away, but “you cannot “hear away”” (478)

hearing is an avenue to the whole because it is able to listen to the logos (478)

Belonging is brought about by tradition’s addressing us (478)

“The mode of being of tradition is … language” (479)

“This linguistic communication between present and tradition is, as we have shown, the event that takes place in all understanding” (479)

“the hermeneutical event proper is not language as language, whether as grammar or as lexicon; it consists in the coming into language of what has been said in the tradition: an event that is at once appropriation of interpretation” (479)

this event is not our action upon the thing, but the act of the thing itself” (479)

For the Greeks, the “true method was an action of the thing itself” (479)

So, “thinking means unfolding what consistently follows from the subject matter itself” (480)

the thing itselfasserts its force” (480)

“That things change and become their opposite as one consistently thinks them through, that thought acquires the power of “testing what follows from contraries, without knowing the what,” is the experience of thought Hegel appeals to when he conceives of method as the self-unfolding of pure thought to become the systematic whole of truth” (480)

For Gadamer, the hermeneutical experience has “something resembling [this] dialectic … an activity of the thing itself, an action that, unlike the methodology of modern science, is a passion, an understanding, an event that happens to one” (481)

“The hermeneutical experience also has its own rigor: that of uninterrupted listening” (481)

“A thing does not present itself to the hermeneutical experience without an effort special to it, namely that of “being negative toward itself.” A person who is trying to understand a text has to keep something at a distance—namely everything that suggests itself, on the basis of his prejudices, as the meaning expected—as soon as it is rejected by the sense of the text itself” (481)

*The movement of the interpretation is dialectical not primarily because the one-sidedness of every statement can be balanced by another side … but because the word that interpretively fits the meaning of the text expresses the whole of this meaning—i.e., allows an infinity of meaning to be represented within it in a finite way(481)

This dialectic is different from Plato and Hegel

What is in common is the SPECULATIVE ELEMENT

This refers to the mirror relation (481)

“Being reflected involves a constant substitution of one thing for another”

“When something is reflected in something else … it means that the [mirror] throws back the image”

“The mirror image is essentially connected with the actual sight of the thing through the medium of the observer

“It has no being of its own; it is like an “appearance” that is not itself and yet allows the thing to appear by means of a mirror image”

“It is like a duplication that is still only the one thing” (482)

“The real mystery of a reflection is the intangibility of the image, the sheer reproduction hovering before the mind’s eye” (482)

Thus, speculative, is derived from this “notion of reflection in a mirror” (482)

“a thought is speculative if the relationship it asserts is not conceived as a quality unambiguously assigned to a subject, a property to a given thing, but must be thought of as a mirroring, in which the reflection is nothing but the pure appearance of what is reflected, just as the one is the one of the other, and other is the other of the one” (482)

With Hegel, speculation took the form of proposition (482)

But, “the form of the proposition destroys itself since the speculative proposition does not state something about something; rather, it presents the unity of the concept” (482).

“For Hegel the important thing it to represent expressly this inner block [of the subject moving into the predicate and becoming a concept] that thought undergoes” (483)

“The speculative relation, then, must pass into dialectical presentation” (483)

“The dialectical is the expression of the speculative” (484)

But all of this depends, as Plato, on “subordinating language to the “statement”” (484)

Language itself, however, has something speculative about it in a quite different sense—not only in the sense Hegel intends, as an instinctive prefiguring of logical reflection—but, rather, as the realization of meaning, as the event of speech, of mediation, of coming to an understanding* (484)

This is speculative because “the finite possibilities of the word are oriented toward the sense intended as toward the infinite” (485)

To say what one means, on the other hand—to make oneself understood—means to hold what is said together with an infinity of what is not said in one unified meaning and to ensure that it is understood in this way … Someone who speaks is behaving speculatively when his words do not reflect beings, but express a relation to the whole of being (485)

“the way tradition is understood and expressed ever anew in language is an event no less genuine than living conversation” (487)

“The hermeneutical relation is a speculative relation, but it is fundamentally different from the dialectical self-unfolding of the mind, as described by Hegel’s philosophical science” (487)

“Since hermeneutic experience implies an event of language … it too partakes of dialectic” (487)

interpretation shares in the discursiveness of the human mind, which is able to conceive the unity of the object only in successiveness (487)

“interpretation has the dialectical structure of all finite, historical being, insofar as every interpretation must begin somewhere and seeks to supersede the one-sidedness which that inevitably produces” (487)

hermeneutics has the task of revealing a totality of meaning in all its relations (487)

“the beginning of interpretation is, in fact, a response” to tradition handed down (488)

Thus the dialectic of question and answer always precedes the dialectic of interpretation. It is what determines understanding as an event” (488)

“As the realization of the act of understanding [the word] is the actuality of the historically effected consciousness, and as such it is truly speculative: having no tangible being of its own and yet reflecting the image that is presented to it” (489)

“the whole of our investigation is subsumed under this rubric”: that “understanding is inseparable from language and that language is related to reason of every kind” (490)

5.3.3 The Universal Aspect of Hermeneutics

Language is a medium where I and world meet or, rather, manifest their original belonging together* (490)

this speculative medium that language is represents a finite process in contrast to the infinite dialectical mediation of concepts (490)

the speculative structure of language emerged, not as the reflection of something given but as the coming into language of a totality of meaning (490)

this activity of the thing itself, the coming into language of meaning, points to a universal ontological structure, namely to the basic nature of everything toward which understanding can be directed (490)

Being that can be understood is language (490)

“everything that is language has a speculative unity: it contains a distinction, that between its being and its presentations of itself, but this is a distinction that is really not a distinction at all” (491)

“the word is a word only because of what comes into language in it. Its own physical being exists only in order to disappear into what is said. Likewise, that which comes into language is not something that is pregiven before language; rather, the word gives it its own determinateness” (491)

This what Part 1 and 2 (critique aesthetics and historical consciousness) were aiming at: the speculative movement (491)

man’s relation to the world is absolutely and fundamentally verbal in nature, and hence intelligible … hermeneutics is … a universal aspect of philosophy (491)

“If we start from the fact that understanding is verbal, we are emphasizing, on the contrary, the finitude of the verbal event in which understanding is always in the process of being concretized” (492)

Gadamer moves to the concept of the beautiful to conclude (493)

Beautiful things are those whose value is of itself evident (493)

“Hence the idea of the beautiful closely approximates that of the good … insofar as it is something to be chosen for its own sake, as an end that subordinates everything else to it as a means” (494)

The beautiful and the good “transcend everything that is conditional and multiform” (494)

“Thus the order of being that consists in the orientation toward the one good agrees with the order of the beautiful” (494)

In Plato: measure, appropriateness, right proportion

Aristotle: order, right proportions, definition

“Harmonious proportion, symmetry, is the decisive condition of all beauty” (495)

Beauty has a “special advantage” (496)—verses the good, the beautiful “of itself presents itself … its being is such that it makes it makes itself immediately evident” (497)

“The beautiful appears not only in what is visibly present to the senses, but it does so in such a way that it really exists only through it—i.e., emerges as one out of the whole” (497)

“The beautiful is of itself truly “most radiant”” (497)

”“Radiance,” then, is not only one of the qualities of the beautiful but constitutes its actual being” (498)

“Beauty is not simply symmetry but appearance itself. It is related to the idea of “shining” … “To shine” means to shine on something, and so to make that on which the light falls appear. Beauty has the mode of being of light” (498)

“the beauty of a beautiful thing appears in it as light, as a radiance” (498)

“by making something else visible, [light] is visible itself, and it is not visible in any other way than by making something else visible” (498)

This is the reflective nature of light (498)

“The light that causes everything to emerge in such a way that it is evident and comprehensible in itself is the light of the word” (499)

Thus the close relationship that exists between the shining forth … of the beautiful and the evidentness … of the understandable is based on the metaphysics of light (499)

“Only when light is created does God speak for the first time. Augustine interprets this speech, by means of which light is commanded and created, as the coming into being of mental light, by means of which the difference among created things is made possible. It is only through light that the formlessness of the first created mass of heaven and earth is rendered capable of being shaped into a multiplicity of forms” (499)

being is self-presentation” and “all understanding is an event” (500)

“the beautiful and the mode of being of understanding have the character of an event” (500)

“the hermeneutical experience, as the experience of traditionary meaning, has a share in the immediacy which has always distinguished the experience of the beautiful, as it has that of all evidence of truth” (500)

when something speaks to us from tradition … there is something evident about what is said, though that does not imply it is, in every detail, secured, judged, and decided. The tradition asserts its own truth in being understood (501)

The event of the beautiful and the hermeneutical process both presuppose the finiteness of human life (501)

being is language—i.e., self-presentation” (502)

“the event-character of the beautiful” || “the event-structure of all understanding”

“Just as the mode of being of the beautiful proved to be characteristic of being in general, so the same thing can be shown to be true of the concept of truth” (502)

The beautiful, the way in which goodness appears, reveals itself in its being: it presents itself. What presents itself in this way is not different from itself in presenting itself (503)

“the beautiful must always be understood ontologically as an “image”” (503)

Truth is “at play in understanding” (504)

“the words that bring something into language are themselves a speculative event. Their truth lies in what is said in them, and not in an intention locked in the impotence of subjective particularity” (504)

“In using words what is given to the senses is not put at our disposal as an individual case of a universal; it is itself made present in what is said—just as the idea of the beautiful is present in what is beautiful” (505)

What we mean by truth here can best be defined again in terms of our concept of play (505)

“The weight of the things we encounter in understanding plays itself out in a linguistic event, a play of words playing around and about what is meant. Language games exist where we as learners … rise to the understanding of the world” (505)

Remember, it is the game itself that plays, for it draws the players into itself(505)

It is “the play of language itself, which addresses us, proposes and withdraws, ask and fulfills itself in the answer” (505)

Someone who understands is always already drawn into an event through which meaning asserts itself (506)

When we understand a text, what is meaningful in it captivates us just as the beautiful captivates us. It has asserted itself and captivated us before we can come to ourselves and be in a position to test the claim to meaning that it makes. What we encounter in the experience of the beautiful and in understanding the meaning of tradition really has something of the truth of play about it. In understanding we are drawn into an event of truth and arrive, as it were, too late, if we want to know what we are supposed believe (506)

Gadamer’s philosophical hermeneutics is a “discipline of questioning and inquiring, a discipline that guarantees truth” (506)

Previous Book Next Book

Time as History »