Truth and Method

Truth and Method

Written in the 1960s, Truth and Method is Gadamer's magnum opus. An astonishing synthesis of literary criticism, philosophy, theology, the theory of law and classical scholarship, it is undoubtedly one of the most important texts in twentieth century philosophy. Looking behind the self-consciousness of science, he discusses the tense relationship between truth and methodology. I...

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Title:Truth and Method
Author:Hans-Georg Gadamer
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Edition Language:English

Truth and Method Reviews

  • Joe

    One of the greatest philosophical writings of the twentieth century, and one of the few that actually matters. As the status of science rose in modernity Gadamer sets out to justify the relevance of the humanities and show the possibility and importance of non-scientific truth.

    A long and technical book. Not to be read without a decent background in Continental philosophy and some serious patience.

  • Steven Peterson

    Hans-Georg Gadamer's "Truth and Method" must be considered alongside the great works of Dilthey, Husserl, and Heidegger as a treatise on hermeneutics, defined by Gadamer as understanding and the correct interpretation of what has been understood. More commonly, people define hermeneutics as the study/theory of interpretation.

    Two major contentions that help frame his analysis are: (1) rejection of the view that proper understanding calls for eliminating the influence of the interpreter's context

    Hans-Georg Gadamer's "Truth and Method" must be considered alongside the great works of Dilthey, Husserl, and Heidegger as a treatise on hermeneutics, defined by Gadamer as understanding and the correct interpretation of what has been understood. More commonly, people define hermeneutics as the study/theory of interpretation.

    Two major contentions that help frame his analysis are: (1) rejection of the view that proper understanding calls for eliminating the influence of the interpreter's context; (2) rejection of the view that the author's intent in writing a text has any special weight to it.

    As to the first point, he argues that it is simply not possible for the interpreter to escape his present situation. He advances the concept of the "horizon." For Gadamer, the horizon is ". . .the range of vision that includes everything that can be seen from a particular vantage point." It is the grounding of the interpreter, including that person's language, that fixes the possibilities of what that person can see and understand. In Gadamer's words, it is

    ". . .the way in which thought is tied to its finite determination, and the nature of the law of the expansion of the range of vision. A person who has no horizon is a man who does not see far enough and hence over values what is nearest to him. Contrariwise, to have an horizon means not to be limited to what is nearest, but to be able to see beyond it. A person who has an horizon knows the relative significance of everything within this horizon, as near or far, great or small."

    To interpret the words of the past, Gadamer says that:

    "Just as in a conversation, when we have discovered the standpoint and horizon of the other person, his ideas become intelligible, without our necessarily having to agree with him, the person who thinks historically comes to understand the meaning of what has been handed down, without necessarily agreeing with it, or seeing himself in it."

    In interpreting texts, two horizons are involved--one is the horizon of the interpreter and the other the particular historical horizon into which he or she places him or herself in trying to understand the text. Thus, the two horizons interact to produce understanding.

    The historical horizon of the text is not fixed; it cannot take on a meaning that is unchanged for all times and places. Here, he gets to the heart of successful hermeneutic inquiry--the fusing of horizons. He says:

    "Hence the horizon of the present cannot be formed with the past. There is no more an isolated horizon of the present than there are historical horizons. Understanding, rather, is always the fusion of these horizons which we imagine to exist by themselves. . .Every encounter with tradition that takes place within historical consciousness involves the experience of the tension between the text and the present."

    But what of the intention of the original author of a text? That leads to another of Gadamer's major points, by now clearly implicit in his idea of fusion of horizons. In short, it is not particularly important in trying to interpret a text. Once a text is created by its author, it becomes, so to speak, freed from the creator and begins to take on its own meaning, based upon its historical horizon, continually evolving as circumstances change. It is the text's horizon that interacts with the interpreter's horizon.

    So what? To the extent that "reality" is the subject of inquiry, our understanding of "reality" will change as the historical horizon of a particular claim about reality changes. We can, then, never come to a satisfactory conclusion about a transcendental reality, about an absolute truth. Is relativism the end product of the endeavor? The hermeneutist in the Gadamerian tradition would simply note that there is no way out.

    This is one of the most historically important works available on interpretation. It is difficult and challenging as a work; however, the effort to learn from Gadamer is well worth it.

  • John Roberson

    Wow, Gadamer really knocks it out of the park. It's a long, fairly dense book -- sorry -- but he's basically undermining the modern conception of "objective truth." Now, I don't mean that he's treating truth less seriously or holding out a vacuous "anything goes" mentality; rather, he argues that we have built such an abstract conception of proof and objectivity that we've actually *lost* truth in the process. Instead he suggests we recover the fact that real human knowing and existing occurs in

    Wow, Gadamer really knocks it out of the park. It's a long, fairly dense book -- sorry -- but he's basically undermining the modern conception of "objective truth." Now, I don't mean that he's treating truth less seriously or holding out a vacuous "anything goes" mentality; rather, he argues that we have built such an abstract conception of proof and objectivity that we've actually *lost* truth in the process. Instead he suggests we recover the fact that real human knowing and existing occurs in time, in communities, in bodies. This means rejecting first a recasting of the humanities according to the controlled empirical methods of the natural sciences -- arguing instead that we recover the art of interpretation for understanding -- and then a conception of interpretation which would make the object of understanding original authorial intent -- this being an abstraction, not a lived engagement with the text.

    Powerful stuff. A huge bombshell for the 20th century.

  • Drenda

    Gadamer is in the line of thinkers devoted to hermeneutics, a field of thought that at one time desired to build a science of the interpretation of texts. Gadamer completely disputes the science, but acknowledges his part in the tradition that saught a true method in achieving communion with the text. In the modern, academic form of hermeneutics, these texts were often historical. Thus, the question of how one could open oneself to the necessarily foreign world of another historical situation be

    Gadamer is in the line of thinkers devoted to hermeneutics, a field of thought that at one time desired to build a science of the interpretation of texts. Gadamer completely disputes the science, but acknowledges his part in the tradition that saught a true method in achieving communion with the text. In the modern, academic form of hermeneutics, these texts were often historical. Thus, the question of how one could open oneself to the necessarily foreign world of another historical situation became primary. One aspect of contemporay hermeneutics, based in Gadamer and Ricoeur,is the belief that earlier thinkers were naive in their ideal of complete empathic connection with the historical past. All contact with new worlds is a shift that brings partial understanding; the investigator brings his own world view into the very questions that he brings to the text. The text inserts its own weight into this discourse because the interpretor never just steps back into his previous world having made adjustments for the historical. He/she is a slightly different person, the elements of their worldview adjusted by certain unavoidable assertions from the text. In fact, the reader of these texts is a very mobile, uncentered person, and it has been argued that in their more gentle fashion, Gadamer and Riceur dismantled the metaphysical subject almost as thoroughly as their Continental companions, say Foucault or Levi-Strauss. And like other Continental thinkers, the text flew off the printed page and became the model for dealing with all sorts of incoming, new information.

    Gadamer is a major part of an image I have of human transaction with the world and it assumes a very 'laden-upon' participant. This person carries the burden of every past influence from his national-cultural situation to church membership to his best friend in kindergarden to his proclivity for colds. Actually, Gadamer would not appreciate the over emphasis on burdens, because, indeed, these are the the same influences that provide for his possibilities. All these influences, Gadamer is willing to calling them prejudices, provide the horizon with which he meets the world. This horizon is the front line,let us say, of a mass of history that is never in total equalibrium, but rather held in tentative containment. Each encounter with a different historical situation, a new text, a discussion, disrupts that front line, sometimes minutely and sometimes with major shifts. However, the encounter can never result in complete agreement, complete empathy with the text or historical figure; there's just too much contrary weigh from the past. Equally important, why would this person moving through the world ask a question of the past, of the text, if he had achieved complete equalibrium from his previous encounter with the world? It is the lack of having all components brought together that forces the questions that initiates the next discussion, the next reading. We cannot encounter the world with anything more than this tentative adjustment of necessarily contrary impulses, and what has made Gadamer controversial is the view that all truth consists in this tentative containment. Truth is the very temporay condition that results from close attention to the matter at hand, and even more, from the self analysis that allows some degree of awareness of the prejudices which most impinge on our reflection. Thus, Gadamer's thinker is a very serious person in distinction to someone like Rorty, who at one time sounded like an academic jokester, throwing out ideas to entertain the other faculty members. However, like Rorty, Gadamer resists even the 'final historian/scientist' who has had the priviledge of weeding through the discredited theories of the past. There is always distortion, not only in the input that determines the output, but also as the force that demands the question in the first place.

  • Pavel

    Gadamer's erudition in the field of history of hermeneutics is impressive, but a less informed reader such as I am can often find himself in a difficult situation of having to interpret polemics with a thesis he doesn't know. All these obstacles are overweighted by the depth and clarity of author's insight when he starts to explore the problem itself. How can we understand historical tradition? Exposing inner contradictions of subjectivistic or relativistic historism he concludes that the hermen

    Gadamer's erudition in the field of history of hermeneutics is impressive, but a less informed reader such as I am can often find himself in a difficult situation of having to interpret polemics with a thesis he doesn't know. All these obstacles are overweighted by the depth and clarity of author's insight when he starts to explore the problem itself. How can we understand historical tradition? Exposing inner contradictions of subjectivistic or relativistic historism he concludes that the hermeneutic circle, the fact that tradition already preshapes our understanding of tradition is no hindrance to understanding, but basic principle that makes any understanding possible.

    I was overwhelmed especially by the revelatory power of the final part, which shows the universal aspect of hermeneutics. "Being that could be understood is language." Therefore all our understanding of being is actually interpretation.

  • David M

    I find the idea of rating Truth and Method on a star system kind of offensive after Gadamer did so much to overturn the ontological prejudice that being is what can be quantified.

    Reading this book was one of the joys of my life (I finished it July 4 three years ago, happy to ignore the jingoistic explosions all around me), and I honestly didn't find it all that difficult. I wouldn't lie about that: who would deny that continental philosophy is often EXTREMELY difficult? At times in my reading l

    I find the idea of rating Truth and Method on a star system kind of offensive after Gadamer did so much to overturn the ontological prejudice that being is what can be quantified.

    Reading this book was one of the joys of my life (I finished it July 4 three years ago, happy to ignore the jingoistic explosions all around me), and I honestly didn't find it all that difficult. I wouldn't lie about that: who would deny that continental philosophy is often EXTREMELY difficult? At times in my reading life I've been bludgeoned by Husserl, Heidegger, even Merleau-Ponty, but not Gadamer. Yet he's fully the peer of these other thinkers. By the end of Truth and Method I felt illuminated, not beaten-down.

    In his own words:

    "The structure of play absorbs the player into itself, and thus frees him from the burden of taking the initiative, which constitutes the actual strain of existence."

    "Each science, as science, has in advance projected a field of objects such that to know them is to govern them."

    (this is contrasted with...)

    "In understanding we are drawn into an event of truth and arrive, as it were, too late if we want to know what we are supposed to believe."

    "Being that can be understood is language."

  • Jacob Aitken

    This is one of those great moments where a great student follows his master (Heidegger) yet gives us a new product and not simply a repetition of his master. In short, for Gadamer language is the horizon of being. As Kant was wrong to seek a thing-in-itself, so we also should beware of a "meaning-in-itself."

    Gadamer begins and ends his work on a strange note: the aesthetics and interpretation of art. It’s not that art determines how we interpret text, but art allows Gadamer to illustr

    This is one of those great moments where a great student follows his master (Heidegger) yet gives us a new product and not simply a repetition of his master. In short, for Gadamer language is the horizon of being. As Kant was wrong to seek a thing-in-itself, so we also should beware of a "meaning-in-itself."

    Gadamer begins and ends his work on a strange note: the aesthetics and interpretation of art. It’s not that art determines how we interpret text, but art allows Gadamer to illustrate (no pun intended) the tension given that great works of art are considered “timeless,” yet they were produced in historical, finite circumstances. This tension points to the horizon, a key Gadamerian term.

    Every experience has implicit horizons of before and after and finally fuses with the continuum of experiences present in the before and after to form a unified flow of experience (246). Df. horizon = not a rigid boundary but something that moves with and invites one to advance further. Everything that is given as existent is given in terms of a world and hence brings the world horizon with it. As a horizon phenomenon “world” is essentially related to subjectivity, and this relation means also that it exists in transciency.”

    Hermeneutical circle: possesses an ontological positive significance. We have already fore-projected before we even approach the text. This creates an openness which situates our meaning with other meanings. Understanding is a participation in the event of tradition and not so much a subjective act (302).

    Horizons are temporally-conditioned. Time is not a gulf to be crossed by a supportive ground in which the present is rooted. We cannot stand outside of our situation. “All self-knowledge arises from what is historically pre-given, what Hegel calls “substance’” (313). Horizon: every finite present has its limitations. Every situation represents a standpoint that limits the possibility of vision. Horizons move with us. When we understand something, we fuse the horizons between text and interpreter. Fusion of horizons: We regain concepts of a historical past in such a way that it also includes our own comprehension of them (382).

    This will go down as one of those truly great books. Ground-breaking works. It’s not super-hard to read simply because it is well-written. However, he does presuppose a good bit of Hegel and Heidegger, so keep that in mind.

  • Gary  Beauregard Bottomley

    Heidegger's

    is my favorite book. Matter of fact it's my first original source philosophy book I ever read. But, as I was reading it I had no idea why he would have long quotes from Dilthy and Count Yorck in the book, and I didn't realize what Husserl's Phenomenology really was, or what Aesthetics and Judgment really meant, or what was meant by Hermeneutics. This book lays the background for those items and more, and I wish I had read this book before I read Heidegger.

    The pre-Socratic

    Heidegger's

    is my favorite book. Matter of fact it's my first original source philosophy book I ever read. But, as I was reading it I had no idea why he would have long quotes from Dilthy and Count Yorck in the book, and I didn't realize what Husserl's Phenomenology really was, or what Aesthetics and Judgment really meant, or what was meant by Hermeneutics. This book lays the background for those items and more, and I wish I had read this book before I read Heidegger.

    The pre-Socratics and the big three, Socrates, Plato and Aristotle take center stage in this story. It helped me immensely that I concurrently was listening to

    . The author pretty much just assumed the reader would know Parmenides from Heraclitus and the difference each implied. So, this book really excels at using what I've learned elsewhere and putting it into practice. He'll do the same with Hegel and Kant.

    I'd say that the author definitely didn't like the Enlightenment (for the usual reasons), he liked the Romantics, but really loved the post-Romantics (Schopenhauer, Dilthy and Count Yorck). Since I've recently read

    I could follow most of what he was talking about.

    Gadamer was a student of Heidegger and like all good students he takes some of Heidegger and tweaks it. He makes a statement in the book that the "thing-in-istelf as Husserl has shown is nothing but the continuity with which the various perceptual perspectives on objects shade into one another". This is actually the exact opposite from Heidegger. Gadamer likes Heidegger but he prefers Hegel. Matter of fact he makes the statement that the aim of philosophical hermeneutics is "to retrace the path of Hegel's phenomenology of mind until we discover in all that is subjective the substantiality that determines it".

    I haven't really mentioned what the book is about. Partly, that's because I really loved his process (Method) before he got to his event (Truth). "All understanding is interpretation. Being that can be understood is language". He'll step the reader through with real examples. According to him, "Judgement is applying the particular under a universal, recognizing something as a result of a rule. It provides the bridge between understanding and reason". To get to the meaning of these kind of statements the author steps the reader through Aesthetics, Kant, Hegel, and Husserl's take on the world. He'll use the example of hermeneutics in the law and what it means to apply the law. That's when he had a footnote that basically said, "you might not know why I'm telling you this, but I'm setting you up for understanding how text (and the spoken word) really works".

    At first I did not understand why he was talking about art, aesthetics, and playing and why playing both for children and then for actors was relevant(imitation and representation, and signs and symbols). But, it's at that point in the book I started to figure out that he had to establish the background before he could get to the 'foreground'. Foreground is a very important word for him, all language (all text, all hermeneutics including conversation) needs a context, a tradition and a culture (now you see why he doesn't like the Enlightenment).

    I like the book a lot. He's a good writer (or is it good translator?). I really would recommend it for anyone. It's not impenetrable like Hegel, Kant and Heidegger can be. Each paragraph (or sentence) makes sense. Matter of fact that's actually what he's getting at in the book: it's not the pieces of the whole (e.g. words in sentences) we understand and it's not the whole we understand but the both before we can understand each.

  • David Withun

    -

  • Nathan

    Not to be recommended to the casual reader. By any stretch. Specialists only.

    Here’s a few reasons why you’ll wanna pass ::

    You want a text address’d to you in your average everydayness sitting at the lunch counter at the local Diner.

    Do you know the names Schleiermacher or Dilthey? Those are the famous thinkers discussed.

    You believe that the Method of (emperico-naturalistico-quantito) science is the very finest and last arbiter of Truth.

    You don’t already know what the ‘h

    Not to be recommended to the casual reader. By any stretch. Specialists only.

    Here’s a few reasons why you’ll wanna pass ::

    You want a text address’d to you in your average everydayness sitting at the lunch counter at the local Diner.

    Do you know the names Schleiermacher or Dilthey? Those are the famous thinkers discussed.

    You believe that the Method of (emperico-naturalistico-quantito) science is the very finest and last arbiter of Truth.

    You don’t already know what the ‘hermeneutic circle’ is and why it’s important to get into it in the right way.

    You haven’t read

    , which is a better work anyway.

    You know enough to know that reading

    is much more enjoyable and just as enlightening.

    You’re not really interested in, to borrow that Ricoeur phrase, understanding Yourself as Another. And you don’t want your horizon to merge with the horizon of another.

    You think

    is not a word.

    You know absolutely nothing about nineteenth century German Geisteswissenschaften, nor about the various projects to legitimate them in the manner Kant did for the Naturwissenschaften.

    You don’t like to see a discussion on legal hermeneutics following a discussion of biblical hermeneutics. On equal planes.

    You laugh at people who say ‘science’ but don’t have a pocket protector ; and who say ‘science’ but don’t measure things.

    That is to say you think ‘science’ means ‘measuring’ and not ‘knowledge.’

    You don’t really understand understanding. But this is important, so you really should read

    .

    No but seriously, don’t go swinging casually at this thing. It’s important. And it would certainly clarify a lot of misuse of swinging words like ‘objective’ and ‘subjective’, but probably if you’ve not already started down that road and are a very far distance down that road, you’ll want to pick up something of a different size. Meanwhile, for the curious, I recommend looking into the article at the Stanford ::

    .

    Not recommended. But really you should know it.

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