Encountering Finitude: On the Hermeneutic Radicalization of Experience

In Antonio Cimino & Cees Leijenhorst (eds.), Phenomenology and Experience: New Perspectives. Leiden: Brill. pp. 46-62 (2018)
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The chapter approaches the hermeneutic concept of experience introduced by Hans-Georg Gadamer in Truth and Method (1960) from the perspective of the conceptual history of experience in the Western philosophical tradition. Through an overview of the concept and the epistemological function of experience (empeiria, experientia, Erfahrung) in Aristotle, Francis Bacon, and Hegel, it is shown that the tradition has considered experience first and foremost in methodological terms, that is, as a pathway towards a form of scientific knowledge that is itself increasingly immune to experience. Science strives “beyond” experience because of the limitations inherent in the fundamentally contingent, singular, and negative character of experience: experience comes to us through unpredictable chance encounters and in singular situations and negates, tests, or “imperils” previous knowledge, thereby transforming it. By contrast, philosophical hermeneutics rethinks experience precisely in terms of these limitations. In the hermeneutic approach articulated by Gadamer and Claude Romano, experience is an encounter with the irreducible finitude and historical situatedness of one’s understanding and conceptual framework, an encounter with an otherness that puts our preunderstanding to test and requires us to revise it. Hermeneutic experience is thus a singular event that irreparably transforms us.
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