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Truth and Method by Hans-Georg Gadamer, translation revised by Joel Weinsheimer and Donald G. Marshall (Bloomsbury Revelations Series: Bloomsbury Academic)

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.

Hans-Georg Gadamer (1900-2002) was the author, most notably, of Truth and Method, and, more recently, of The Beginning of Philosophy and The Beginning of Knowledge.

Truth and Method is one of the two or three most important works of this century on the philosophy of humanistic studies. Published when Gadamer was sixty, the book gathers the ripe fruit of a lifetime's reading, teaching, and thinking. Because it is immersed in German philosophy and scholarship, the book is especially challenging for American readers. An emerging body of commentary in English as well as the many shorter essays Gadamer lived to write and which are increasingly available in translation provides additional means of access to his thought. Truth and Method, however, remains his comprehensive statement of his reflections.

The first edition of 1960 was revised and the footnotes updated for the second and again for the third edition, and then for the last time for inclusion in Gadamer's ten-volume Gesammelte Werke. An English translation based on the second edition appeared in 1975. Gadamer showed readers that the idea of a perfect translation that could stand for all time is entirely illusory. Even apart from the inevitable mistakes that reflect limits of erudition or understanding, a translation must transpose a work from one time and cultural situation to another. Over the past decade, both philosophical and literary study have become increasingly interested in the thinkers and issues that figure prominently in Gadamer's work. This altered situation presents difficulties, but also opportunities for bringing Gadamer's thought more fully into the contemporary cultural dialogue. The editors have undertaken a thorough revision of the earlier translation of Truth and Method, based on the German text for the Gesammelte Werke, but using the fourth edition to correct some obvious errors.

These studies are concerned with the problem of hermeneutics. According to Gadamer in the introduction to Truth and Method, the phenomenon of understanding and of the correct interpretation of what has been understood is not a problem specific to the methodology of the human sciences alone. There has long been a theological and a legal hermeneutics, which were not so much theoretical as corollary and ancillary to the practical activity of the judge or clergyman who had completed his theoretical training. Even from its historical beginnings, the problem of hermeneutics goes beyond the limits of the concept of method as set by modern science. The understanding and the interpretation of texts is not merely a concern of science, but obviously belongs to human experience of the world in general. The hermeneutic phenomenon is basically not a problem of method at all. It is not concerned with a method of understanding by means of which texts are subjected to scientific investigation like all other objects of experience. It is not concerned primarily with amassing verified knowledge, such as would satisfy the methodological ideal of science – yet it too is concerned with knowledge and with truth. In understanding tradition not only are texts understood, but insights are acquired and truths known. But what kind of knowledge and what kind of truth?

Truth and Method starts with a critique of aesthetic consciousness in order to defend the experience of truth that comes to us through the work of art against the aesthetic theory that lets itself be restricted to a scientific conception of truth. But the book does not rest content with justifying the truth of art; instead, it tries to develop from this starting point a conception of knowledge and of truth that corresponds to the whole of our hermeneutic experience. Just as in the experience of art we are concerned with truths that go essentially beyond the range of methodical knowledge, so the same thing is true of the whole of the human sciences: in them our historical tradition in all its forms is certainly made the object of investigation, but at the same time truth comes to speech in it. Fundamentally, the experience of historical tradition reaches far beyond those aspects of it that can be objectively investigated. It is true or untrue not only in the sense concerning which historical criticism decides, but always mediates truth in which one must try to share.

These studies on hermeneutics, which start from the experience of art and of historical tradition, try to present the hermeneutic phenomenon in its full extent. It is a question of recognizing in it an experience of truth that not only needs to be justified philosophically, but which is itself a way of doing philosophy. The hermeneutics developed in Truth and Method is not, therefore, a methodology of the human sciences, but an attempt to understand what the human sciences truly are, beyond their methodological self-consciousness, and what connects them with the totality of our experience of world. If we make understanding the object of our reflection, the aim is not an art or technique of understanding, such as traditional literary and theological hermeneutics sought to be.

In this way Truth and Method reinforces an insight that is threatened with oblivion in our swiftly changing age. Things that change force themselves on our attention far more than those that remain the same.

The philosophical endeavor of Gadamer’s day differs from the classical tradition of philosophy in that it is not a direct and unbroken continuation of it. Despite its connection with its historical origin, philosophy today is well aware of the historical distance between it and its classical models. Since then, the continuity of the Western philosophical tradition has been effective only in a fragmentary way. We have lost that naive innocence with which traditional concepts were made to serve one's own thinking. Since that time, the attitude of science towards these concepts has become strangely detached, whether it takes them up in a scholarly, not to say self-consciously archaizing way, or treats them as tools. Neither of these truly satisfies the hermeneutic experience. The conceptual world in which philosophizing develops has already captivated us in the same`way that the language in which we live conditions us. If thought is to be conscientious, it must become aware of these anterior influences. A new critical consciousness must now accompany all responsible philosophizing which takes the habits of thought and language built up in the individual in his communication with his environment and places them before the forum of the historical tradition to which we all belong. Truth and Method meets this demand by linking as closely as possible an inquiry into the history of concepts with the substantive exposition of its theme.

The volume is Gadamer’s magnum opus, the comprehensive and integrated statement of his rich and penetrating reflections. The translators have rendered Truth and Method with accuracy, which helps contemporary American readers understand Gadamer more fully. The material is powerful, exciting, but undeniably difficult. The translation is readable and often powerfully eloquent as Gadamer's German, providing a bridge, not an obstacle, between Gadamer and his readers.

Truth and Method is part of the Revelations Series, a new series, bringing together books and thinkers that have opened up startling new ways of looking at the world. This is an essential library of thinkers who have fundamentally shaped the way we see the modern world. Some other books in the Revelations series include:

  • Time for Revolution by Antonio Negri
  • To Have or to Be? by Erich Fromm
  • The Politics of Aesthetics by Jacques Rancière
  • The Intelligence of Evil or the Lucidity Pact by Jean Baudrillard
  • Intensive Science and Virtual Philosophy by Manuel Delanda.


Gadamer In Conversation: Reflections and Commentary by Hans- edited, introduction and translated by Richard E. Palmer contributions by Glenn W. Most and  Drte Von Westernhagen (Yale University Press) presents six lively conversations with Hans-Georg Gadamer (born 1900), one of the twentieth century's master philosophers. Looking back over his life and thought, Gadamer takes up key issues in his philosophy, addresses points of controversy, and replies to his critics, including those who accuse him of having been in complicity with the Nazis. A genial and direct conversationalist, Gadamer is here captured at his best and most accessible. The interviews took place between 1989 and 1996, and all but one appear in English for the first time in this volume. The first three conversations, conducted by Heidelberg philosopher Carsten Dutt, deal with hermeneutics, aesthetics, and practical philosophy and the question of ethics. In a fourth conversation, with University of Heidelberg classics professor Glenn W. Most, Gadamer argues for the vital importance of the Greeks for our contemporary thinking. In the next, the philosopher reaffirms his connection with phenomenology and clarifies his relation to Husserl and Heidegger in a conversation with London philosopher Alfons Grieder. In the final interview, with German Nazi expert Drte von Westernhagen, Gadamer describes his life as a struggling young professor in Germany in the 1930s and refutes accusations of his complicity with the Nazis. These conversations are a lucid introduction for readers new to the philosopher's thought, and for experts they present an invaluable commentary on Gadamer's most important themes.

The volume should provide a useful introduction to his work and philosophical point of view for a general readership while it clarifies his historic and personal relationship to major events in the 20th century.

HERMENEUTICS AND THE VOICE OF THE OTHER: Re-reading Gadamer’s Philosophical Hermeneutics by James Risser (SUNY Series in Contemporary Continental Philosophy (SUNY) hardcover

Dealing extensively with Gadamer’s later writings, HERMENEUTICS AND THE VOICE OF THE OTHER, shows neglected and widely misunderstood dimensions of Gadamer’s hermeneutics: historicity, finitude, truth, the importance of the other, and the eminence of the poetic text. The work of Hans-Georg Gadamer, brought to prominence in 1960 with the appearance of Truth and Method and now synonymous with the name philosophical hermeneutics, by now would appear to need little introduction. In the years since the publication of his major work not only have numerous critical and expository accounts of this work appeared, but Gadamer himself has continued to give lectures and to write, providing us with an expansion and a further interpretive perspective of his work. Because of this expansion and of some of the accounts of philosophical hermeneutics that have been given, accounts that read Gadamer in terms of a narrowly defined project, there is a need for further exposition and appraisal of Gadamer’s hermeneutics. The present study proposes to take up such a task.

"In this text, Risser has heard Gadamer’s own voice. Here is a study of Gadamer that present him as neither a proto-pragmatist, nor a Heideggerian epigone, nor as a halfhearted ‘postmodern’ but as an independent thinker with a position of his own. Risser makes it admirably clear that although Gadamer has his roots in many of the same sources as those philosophers and philosophical positions with which his work is often confused, he nevertheless points to possibilities of interpretation of these sources that present challenging alternatives to the reigning orthodoxies. This is a work that anyone who wishes to avoid caricaturing Gadamer should read." —Brice Wachterhauser, St. Joseph’s University

"At last, here is a well balanced book sympathetic to Gadamer’s philosophical Hermeneutics that deals extensively with his later writings. It carefully elucidates and clarifies key concepts in Gadamer’s philosophical hermeneutics, beginning with the often neglected elements of finitude and facticity in Gadamer and their roots in Heidegger and culminating with a chapter on ‘The Voice of the Poet,’ again returning to an emphasis found in the later Heidegger. A particularly valuable dimension of the book is Risser’s effort in each chapter to specify how his reading of Gadamer differs from those offered by various critics who have reproached Hermeneutics on various grounds." —Richard E. Palmer, MacMurray College

Excerpt: Even if one wanted to disregard the importance of his other writings in determining the project of a philosophical hermeneutics and to state that project solely on the basis of a reading of Truth and Method, the complexity still remains. We now know on the basis of a comparison with the original draft of Truth and Method, a manuscript of approximately one hundred pages, that Gadamer made significant changes along the way to the publication of the text of 1960.2 Looking carefully at the development of the themes through the various sections in the text of 1960, one can detect, for example, that the section "The Rediscovery of the Fundamental Hermeneutical Problem" was added to the original text. The beginning of the section which immediately follows, "The Analysis of Effective Historical Consciousness," not only fits better thematically with the section preceding "The Rediscovery of the Fundamental Hermeneutical Problem," but actually refers back to this preceding section as if the reader had just turned from it. We also know that in its original form the first part on aesthetics was not included. Undoubtedly, the transformation of the text from the original draft to the version published in 1960 clearly reflects the long gestation period of approximately ten years that it took Gadamer to produce "Truth and Method." During this period of time in which Gadamer taught at the

University of Leipzig and began his long career at the University of Heidelberg, Gadamer was occupied mainly with teaching duties that focused to a large extent on the work of German Idealism. These duties included giving seminars on Kant’s aesthetics and may account for the fact that the first part of Truth and Method on the question of truth in art was added to the original draft and why his long preoccupation with Greek philosophy is underplayed in the final version of the text. But the addition of part one of Truth and Method is only part of the complexity. The relation of part 3 to part 2 is no less significant for the determination of the project. Clearly, in the published text of 1960 the themes in part 1 and part 2 all point to part 3, and the questions announced at the outset of the book that guide the development of the themes are answered in part 3. Nevertheless, part 3 ("The Ontological Shift of Hermeneutics Guided by Language") represents something of a break in comparison with part 2 ("The Extension of the Question of Truth to Understanding in the Human Sciences").

Amidst all this complexity, it is nonetheless possible to identify in a decisive manner precisely what Gadamer’s project is about. To state the matter simply and in the broadest terms, the concern of a philosophical hermeneutics is with the problematic of understanding. This problematic is presented in Truth and Method in terms of a shift from a methodological hermeneutics to a philosophical hermeneutics, a shift from understanding as a methodology of the human sciences to the universality of understanding and interpretation. The claim to universality speaks primarily to the scope rather than the conditions of understanding. That is to say, the claim to universality is not about an unconditional validity relative to Gadamer’s "theory" of understanding, for in fact the actual condition for understanding that Gadamer posits (viz., the historicity of understanding) runs counter to any claim to universality. In a philosophical hermeneutics the scope of understanding is broadened by virtue of its ontological determination; that is, following Heidegger’s analysis in Being and Time, understanding is a determination of human existence that is prior to a functioning in methodological research. This "hermeneutics of Existenz" is what allows Gadamer to posit a claim to universality. For philosophical hermeneutics, Understanding takes place in all aspects of experiencing: "the way we experience one another, the way we experience historical traditions, the way we experience the natural givenness of our existence and of our world, constitute a truly hermeneutic universe, in which we are not imprisoned, as if behind insurmountable barriers, but to which we are opened".

Philosophical hermeneutics is about understanding. In working through the various dimensions in which the experience of understanding is articulated and legitimated—here at the end in poetry and art, but also in historical experience and in the experience of philosophy—we are invited to see that for Gadamer philosophical hermeneutics is actually more than a theory of understanding. We have seen how philosophical hermeneutics carries with it a certain determination of philosophy itself, on its operation (as a form of praxis) and intention (the hermeneutical awakening of existence to itself). In this reading of Gadamer’s hermeneutics, of his hermeneutic philosophy, the author emphasizes and whenever appropriate to come back to the importance of the roots of Gadamer’s thinking in the developments of the 1920s where philosophy in effect returns to the experience of life as a way of underscoring this determination of philosophy. In Heidegger’s hands this return to the experience of life is presented as a hermeneutics of facticity, and Gadamer readily acknowledges the enormous shadow that Heidegger casts over his own work. But at the same time, this experience of philosophy is one that Gadamer has always found in Plato. In the search for a "last word" here, we need to be reminded once again of these roots of Gadamer’s thinking.

It is from these roots that philosophy becomes for Gadamer practical philosophy. In Gadamer’s distinctive shaping of this attribute, this means that philosophy follows the way of experience itself. But it also means that what philosophy achieves for itself is not unlike what is achieved in practical knowledge. Such knowledge is of course fundamentally interpretive, but equally important is the fact that such knowledge has to do with a certain building, formation (Bildung). What this means for Gadamer can best be seen in the interpretation of a statement that Socrates makes in the Phaedo. When called upon by Cebes to explain why, having never written verse before, he now composes verse, Socrates says that he was told in a dream to make music. In his own interpretation of this command Socrates says that "it was urging and encouraging me to do what I was doing already . . . that is to make music, because philosophy was the greatest kind of music." In his 1921/22 lecture course on Aristotle, Heidegger interprets this characterization of philosophical activity: a rhythmic ‘shaping’ [Bilden], holding itself to an inner ordering and enacting itself to it. Title for education.… Philosophy is a how of conducting oneself. On this interpretation one can say that philosophical hermeneutics thinks highly of a Socrates who practices music. Philosophical hermeneutics is accordingly an attempt to legitimate and to engage in this task of building, of music-making, for which there is no roves.

When Gadamer turns to a consideration of the nature of poetry and to an analysis of poetical texts, we must read these efforts in the spirit of this image of Socrates. Commenting on the fact that he is concerned with Philosophy and poetry, Gadamer himself says that "these reflections have Served to remind me, and might remind us all, that Plato was no Platonist and philosophy is not scholasticism" .Hopefully it is now clear what this means. To understand philosophy in this way, we should then be careful about making too much of the "metaphysics of proximity" that Gadamer seemingly presents in the experience of philosophy, in the dynamics of bringing the word to speak again. As a hermeneutics of finitude, the task of philosophy is always posed in relation to the insight that all things escape us. What is in the hold in the "hold upon nearness" always threatens to escape our grasp. For Gadamer, poetic experience as an event of language is self-bestowal and self-withdrawal. And more importantly, in the self bestowal in poetry I am exposed not to a comfort of home as such, but to that other in/of language, that other that in self-bestowal temporarily halts the fleeting escape of all things.

Philosophical hermeneutics does indeed follow the way of experience itself, but lest we forget, experience is the encounter with something that asserts its own truth. It is for this reason that I have placed philosophical hermeneutics within the horizon of what I have called the voice of the other. Understanding comes not from the subject who thinks, but from the other that addresses me. This other that is a speaking person in every dialogical encounter is also the other in the address of language, the other that speaks when "language becomes voice." It is this voice that awakens one to vigilance, to being questioned in the conversation that we are.

LITERATURE AND PHILOSOPHY IN DIALOGUE: Essays in German Literary Theory by Hans-George Gadamer, translated by Robert H. Paslick (Series in Contemporary Continental Philosophy: SUNY) Gadamer's work has been at the cutting edge of late phenomenologically informed philosophical hermeneutics for a number of years. His relevance and richly evocative writings on the philosophical interpretation of his teacher Heidegger are almost canonical. So this selection of his essays on the enterprise of Heidegger will be a welcome addition to anyone struggling with the Black Forest gnome. Gadamer tries to get at the essential feature of Heidegger's thought. As such it is a feat of hermeneutical prestidigitation which should provoke as much controversy as the master himself, or it could be seen as the normalization of the essential creativity of Heidegger's thought. The essays collected in Literature and Philosophy in dialogue are a showcase of Gadamer at his hermeneutical best. It is a vibrant volume which offers intriguing interpretations of such German authors as Goethe, Holderlin, and Rilke.

DIALOGUE & DECONSTRUCTION: The Gadamer Derrida Encounter edited by Diane P. Michelfelder, Richard E. Palmer (Series in Contemporary Continental Philosophy: SUNY) The much ballyhooed encounter between two such philosophical giants as Gadamer and Derrida promised much but delivered only ossification. Generally Derrida would not play so the German philosopher was left talking to an unresponsive voice. The controversy that ensued in the journals is well captured in this reprint and translation of the original event as well as a host of interpretations by American academic philosophers as to what it might mean about the nature of philosophical inquiry. Dialogue and deconstruction will be a popular book with philosophers for some time to come.

Gadamer on Celan: 'Who Am I and Who Are You?' and Other Essays by Hans Georg Gadamer, Richard Heinemann, Bruce Krajewski. (SUNY Series in Contemporary Continental Philosophy) Published by State University of New York Press.

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