The Hermeneutic Situation of Thought as a Hermeneutic Principle

In Cynthia Nielsen & Greg Lynch (eds.), Truth and Method: A Polyphonic Commentary. Rowman and Littlefield International. pp. 143-164 (2022)
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There are two attitudes regarding the historical situation of understanding commonly held today. On the one hand, we believe that we only achieve a real, worthwhile understanding of a topic when our thinking manages to break free from the dogmas of the past. We believe that this transcendence of the historical situation of thought is both possible and desirable. We applaud those whose thought appears to us to proceed unhinged by traditional dogmas, whether those dogmas be old habits of scientific thought or traditional ideas about social life. We celebrate as epistemic heroes those who discover their own way of thinking. On the other hand, many are quick to accept as a general rule that one’s understanding is inevitably bound to one’s particular historical and cultural situation. Nobody understands things in a historical vacuum. Accordingly, we believe that there is no transcending the historicity of the understanding and thus no epistemic heroes to applaud. This chapter examines Gadamer's argument in “The Elevation of the Historicity of Understanding" (a central section in "Truth and Method") as a critique of both of these alternatives -- alternatives that can be traced back to the historical epochs of the Enlightenment and Romanticism. I argue that, for Gadamer, both of these historical models of understanding misconstrue the way that understanding is grounded in historical consciousness.

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Carolyn Culbertson
Florida Gulf Coast University


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