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eBook formatPaperback, (torrent)En
PublisherUniversity of California Press
File size4.6 Mb
Release date 02.09.1977
Pages count304
Book rating4.07 (267 votes)
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Gadamer gets at least three stars for everything, just because he manages to be a serious student of German philosophy, but his sentences are comprehensible on first reading 80 to 90 percent of the time. That makes... one serious student of German philosophy, who is also an original thinker in his/her own right, about whom this can be said.

As to the content of this book, it's probably better for dipping into rather than reading straight through. The essays in the first half are mainly about the relation between Gadamerian hermeneutics and other disciplines. In the order of the book, they are: the hard sciences, the social sciences, biblical hermeneutics (kind of), classical metaphysics, semantics, and aesthetics. So if you're interested in any of these disciplines, you'll find the corresponding essay interesting (save for that which is ostensibly about Bultmannian biblical scholarship, but actually has nothing to say about said scholarship at all, in any way). Sadly, Gadamer's approach is the same to all of these disciplines: they are partial and not fundamental, whereas his own hermeneutical approach is universal and fundamental. I have some sympathy for the idea that human knowledge is at base interpretive, and if Gadamer just meant that, I'd be fine with it.

But he doesn't. He also means that the act of interpretation is at base passive (that is, it happens behind our backs); that this is an ontological rather than a social fact (so it is simply impossible to make our interpretations conscious or rational); and that the warrant for this is a range of outrageous assumptions about language (that it is identical with human thought and activity in general). A lot of this comes out in the second half of the book, a half dozen essays on philosophical history. They do a pretty good job of explaining how German philosophy managed to get from Kant, through Hegel and Fichte, to Husserl, Heidegger and, ultimately, Gadamer himself. They're reasonably sympathetic to all of these figures, but also reveal the obvious flaw in Gadamer's thought: he claims that, like Hegel, his theory aims to unify 'objective spirit' (basically non-private, social or structural stuff) with 'subjective spirit,' (individualist, subjective stuff). But he doesn't do this at all. Gadamer is a great corrective to the more Kantian strands of German thought, but he swings too far to the other side. Despite his claims to the contrary, he eliminates subjective spirit and leaves himself with a philosophy of objective spirit (for his, that objective spirit is language; like Heidegger he's too comfortable with the idea that 'language speaks us'). Because he sets up this all-devouring structure, he's unable to explain the possibility of rational thought. This is ironic and sad, since he also seems to be deeply committed to rationality in a way that Derrida, for instance, is not.

That aside, he's a great model for philosophers everywhere: clear (except for occasional obfuscatory Heideggerian mysticism), willing to deal with history as an important part of his thought, willing to accept criticism (witness just how far he's willing to go towards ideology critique when thinking about Habermas, for instance), willing to accept the importance of tradition. Every now and then he makes Heidegger and, even more remarkably, Husserl, comprehensible.

I especially recommend 'The Universality of the Hermeneutical Problem,' 'Aesthetics and Hermeneutics,' 'The Philosophical Foundations of the Twentieth Century,' and 'The Science of the Life-World.'

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