Gadamer, McDowell, and the Phenomenology of Understanding

In Jyotsna Saha, Jhadeswar Ghosh & Purbayan Jha (eds.), Language, Reality and Culture: Philosophical Discourses on Language, Religion and Culture. Kolkata, West Bengal, India: (2020)
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My aim in this paper is to critically evaluate the debate between John McDowell and Michael Friedman on the nature of understanding and relativism. McDowell in his magnum opus Mind and World, has argued in favour of the view that the way we are open to reality is constituted by concepts. According to him, our openness to reality is placed in the space of reasons which is nothing but space of concepts. Friedman in his critical and detail review of McDowell’s book has taken McDowell’s project in his book in particular and in his philosophy in general as the project of not constructing philosophical theories but of exorcising the philosophical traditions. It is indeed so as McDowell himself has acknowledged because he closely follows Wittgensteinian quietism in his approach to various philosophical problems. While explaining how our knowledge and perception of the world among other things are placed in the space of reasons, towards the end of his book, McDowell relates space of reasons to language and tradition. Space of reasons, in his opinion, can be understood, in terms of initiating ourselves into language and inheriting the tradition. He thus says, “…the sort of language into which human beings are first initiated, serves as a repository of tradition, a store of historically accumulated wisdom about what is reason for what.” And this is Gadamer in significant sense.

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Manoj Panda
Presidency University


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