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Gadamer, Hans-Georg (1900–2002)

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-DD021-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved June 24, 2024, from

Article Summary

Hans-Georg Gadamer is best known for his philosophical hermeneutics. Gadamer studied with Martin Heidegger during his preparation of Being and Time (1927). Like Heidegger, Gadamer rejects the idea of hermeneutics as merely a method for the human and historical sciences comparable to the method of the natural sciences. Philosophical hermeneutics is instead about a process of human understanding that is inevitably circular because we come to understand the whole through the parts and the parts through the whole. Understanding in this sense is not an ‘act’ that can be secured methodically and verified objectively. It is an ‘event’ or ‘experience’ that we undergo. It occurs paradigmatically in our experience of works of art and literature. But it also takes place in our disciplined and scholarly study of the works of other human beings in the humanities and social sciences. In each case, understanding brings self-understanding.

Philosophical hermeneutics advocates a mediated approach to self-understanding on the model of a conversation with the texts and works of others. The concept of dialogue employed here is one of question and answer and is taken from Plato. Such understanding never becomes absolute knowledge. It is finite because we remain conditioned by our historical situation, and partial because we are interested in the truth that we come to understand. By grounding understanding in language and dialogue as opposed to subjectivity, Gadamer’s philosophical hermeneutics avoids the danger of arbitrariness in interpreting the works of others.

Gadamer’s most important publication is Wahrheit und Methode (Truth and Method) (1960). He also published four volumes of short works, Kleine Schriften (1967–77), containing important hermeneutical studies of Plato, Hegel, and Paul Celan among others. His many books and essays are collected into ten volumes (Gesammelte Werke). Gadamer was widely known as a teacher who practised the dialogue which is at the core of his philosophical hermeneutics.

Citing this article:
Wright, Kathleen. Gadamer, Hans-Georg (1900–2002), 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-DD021-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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