Truth and Method (review)

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.

Gadamer notes, 3

Now we are getting into the meat of it.  Gadamer is setting the stage for what goes into “understanding a text” (which he fully develops in the next part).  He introduces several key concepts which he will later exploit with great skill: fusion, God’s-eye-view of history, etc.  The most important concept is “horizon,” and the limitations and finitude it implies.

Of great importance are his sections on Heidegger and Husserl.  And in true Heideggerian fashion, you don’t need to “analyze” them, but just approach them and let them open new horizons of being.


Historical preparation

  1. To understand means to come to an understanding with each other.  It is to come to an understanding about something.
  2. Schlieiermacher: the act of understanding is a reconstruction of the production
    1. We must also understand the psychology of the author.
  3. Dilemma of universal history: historical research can lead to a universal view of history.
    1. Power is the central category of the historical worldview (209).
    2. Power exists in expression.  It cannot be measured by its expressions but only experienced as an indwelling.
    3. The historian applies the Boethian view of time to the historical method:  all historical phenomena are equally available to him.
  4. Dilthey’s entanglement in the aporias of historicism
    1. Experience (Erfahrung) is a fusion of memory and expectation (225).
    2. The ultimate presupposition is experience–the identity between consciousness and object.
    3. Husserl: intentionality is not a psychic component but an ideal unity.
    4. Historical consciousness is a mode of self-knowledge (237).
  5. Overcoming the epistemological problem through phenomenological research
    1. Husserl: consciousness is not an object but an essential co-ordination
    2. Phenomenology: bracketing all positing of being and investigating the subjective modes of givenness.
      1. 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).
      2. Every intentional experience has a two-fold horizon.
      3. Df. horizon = not a rigid boundary but something that moves with and invites one to advance further.
      4. Everything that is given as existent is given in terms of a world and hence brings the world horizon with it.
      5. As a horizon phenomenon “world” is essentially related to subjectivity, and this relation means also that it exists in transciency.”
    3. We cannot conceive of subjectivity as the opposite of objectivity, because this concept of subjectivity would also be conceived in objective terms (250).
  6. Heidegger’s project of a hermeneutic of phenomenology
    1. The whole idea of grounding itself underwent a total reversal (257).
    2. Temporality is ontologically definitive of subjectivity.
    3. The “there” for Heidegger (Da-sein) functions as a “clearing in being, a distinction between beings and being (258).
    4. Understanding is the original form of the realization of Dasein (260). It is potentiality for being and possibility.
      1. Understanding is also self-understanding because you project yourself upon a new field of possibilities.

Notes on Gadamer, 2

Chapter 2: The Ontology of the Work of Art

Play: the mode of the being of the work of art itself (106). (Note: When a continental philosopher uses the term “play” he doesn’t mean it in the sense of the South Park does in the Jeffersons)

  1. The work of art is not an object that stands over against a subject for itself; it has true being in the fact that it becomes an experience for the knowing subject.
    1. Play reaches presentation through the players
    2. The mode of being of play is mediation.
    3. The structure of play absorbs the player into itself (similar to the liturgy).
  2. Play takes place in the Heideggerian realm of the “in-between.”
  3. “Play” is consummated in the transformation into structure.
    1. This transformation produces what is otherwise hidden.
    2. Structure: the raising up of untransformed reality.
    3. Thesis:the being of art cannot be defined as an object of aesthetic consciousness…it is part of the event of being that occurs in presentation (120).
      1. Performance brings into existence.
      2. It acquires its proper being into being mediated.
      3. Total mediation means that the medium as such is superseded (aufhebt).
  4. Repetition does not mean a literal repeating.
    1. Festivals repeat, but the point is not another copy of an original.
    2. A festival exists only in being celebrated.
  5. Tragedy: the unity of a tragic course of events that is experienced as such.
    1. Commiseration and apprehension are modes of ek-stasis.
    2. This being overcome with involves a division of oneself.
    3. The final effect of tragedy is to dissolve this disjunction and to liberate the heart (132).
  6. The Ontology of Picture
    1. How is presentation (Darstellung) related to “picture?”
    2. By being presented, it experiences an increase in being.
    3. A picture is not a copy of a copied being, but is in ontological communion with what is copied (143).  It is coming-to-presentation.

Notes on Gadamer, 1

From Truth and Method.  Notes on Section 1.

Bildung:  the properly human way of developing one’s capacities; culture. reveals a new tacit dimension of man’s existence.

Erlebnis: an experience you have; connected with a subject’s knowing

Erfahrung: experience as an ongoing investigative project.

Vermittlung: total mediation.  In re-presenting the artwork performs a total mediation


One: Transcending the Aesthetic Dimension

  1. The Significance of the human tradition for the human sciences
    1. The Problem of Method:
    2. The Guiding concepts of Humanism
      1. Bildung (Culture)
        1. Herder: rising up to humanity through culture.
        2. Kant: cultivating a capacity of natural talent.
        3. Latin equivalent: formatio
      2. Hegel and Bildung: the condition of its existence; correlation between Geist and Bildung.
        1. Taking the universal in oneself; in acting out a skill, the man “finds himself.”
        2. Recognizes oneself in other being;
        3. To recognize one’s own in the alien.  This is why Hegel was fond of classical antiquity: it was sufficiently removed so that we can more easily see ourselves in the Other (Gadamer 13).
      3. Sensus Communis: not just Reid’s “common sense,” but the sense which founds community (19ff).
        1. A sense of right and good that is acquired from living in community (Vico).
        2. The sense of community mediates its own positive knowledge (21).
      4. Judgment

Van Til and a “thrown” world

Van Tillians love to say there are no “uninterpreted facts.”  All facts are already “pre-interpreted by God.”

Now, when you get them to explain just what a “pre-interpreted fact” looks like, that ends much of the discussion.  But I think we can take it a step further.

{1}  There is no such thing as a blank world.  Van Tillians have always been good on this point.

{2} Any such world we find ourselves in already has meaning from a host of relationships.

{3} These relationships constitute a finitude of sorts. We can never rise above our tacit assumptions.

{4} This finitude is embodiment.  We are not simply isolated intellects, but situated intellects–situated and embodied.  We are always embodied individuals and we experience the world as being-in-the-world (per Heidegger).  

{5} Worldview talk usually focuses on the intellectual.  And that’s necessary.  But w-v thinkers rarely focus on institutions and cultural practices.   Social structures and our bodily being-in-the-world also function in a “pre-theoretical” (per Dooyeweerd) manner.


As Jamie Smith says, ““Affect and emotion are part of the ‘background’ I bring with me that constitutes the situation as a certain kind of situation” (35)” Antepredicative knowing–the affective register upon which narrative operates–is processed by the body below the cognitive level (Merleau-Ponty).

{6}  Pre-cognitive perception breaks down the traditional epistemology of subjects and objects.  “The world is not what I think, but what I live through” (Merleau-Ponty).  Our being-in-the-world is between instinct and intellect (43).  We aren’t just thinking-things.  “We don’t have being-in-the-world; we are being-in-the-world” (44).  

{7}  Horizon:  background presuppositions and habits.  Horizons operate without our thinking.  I do not consciously invoke my horizons in order to understand the world.  They are social and shared but not a priori or universal.

Recommended Reading.

Martin Heidegger, Being and Time.

Hans-George Gadamer, Truth and Method.

James K. A. Smith, Imagining the Kingdom.