“Wahrheit und Methode“ by Gadamer. Critical Interaction with a Philosophical Hermeneutics

Term Paper, 2006

16 Pages, Grade: 14 von 20 Punkten



0. Introduction

1. Wahrheit und Methode: Main features of a philosophical hermeneutics
1.1. Historical classification and def. “the truth of understanding”
1.1.1. The problem of truth
1.1.2. The truth of understanding
1.2. Theoretical main features of Gadamer´s hermeneutic
1.2.1. The hermeneutical circle
1.2.2. The prestructure of understanding: the prejudices
1.2.3. The principle of the effective history
1.2.4. The meaning of the application
1.3. The practice of hermeneutics
1.3.1. The hermeneutical experience
1.3.2. Understanding as conversation in the dialectic of question and answer

2. Critical Interaction with Gadamer
2.1. Preliminary remarks
2.2. Helpful ideas in Gadamers doctrine
2.2.1. The claim for an own hermeneutical methodology for theology
2.2.2. Applications of the hermeneutical circle
2.2.3. The role of prejudices
2.2.4. Implications from the call to effective historical consciousness
2.2.5. The worth of the application
2.2.6. Implications from the hermeneutical experience
2.2.7. Hermeneutics as dialogue
2.2.8. Human rationality as participating in transcendense
2.3. Critical aspects
2.3.1. Situatedness of the text and the noetical content of sense
2.3.2. Context of words in hermeneutics?
2.3.3. Text as communication partner?
2.3.4. Going beyond the author´s understanding?
2.3.5. Between objectivism and relativism and theological hermeneutics

3. conclusion

4. Bibliography

0. Introduction

What is truth?1 This question raised by Pilatus to Jesus does not only bother theological scholars ever since, but also philosophical thinkers. This paper is to examine how one of the most important German philosophers of the 20th century, Hans Georg Gadamer, dealt with the issue of truth within his hermeneutical main work “Wahrheit und Methode.” Even one of his critics, E.G. Hirsch admits: “Hans Georg Gadamer has published the most substantial treatise on hermeneutic theory that has come from Germany this century.”2 After the presentation of his main thesis, which can only be done in a rough overview, an evangelical response will be worked out. This main task of the paper will deal with the question how Gadamer´s ideas can be adopted in an apologetics within a postmodern framework. Aiming at a balanced evalutation both helpful and difficult aspects will be highlighted. A short conclusion bundling up the most important results will round of the paper.

1. Wahrheit und Methode: Main features of a philosophical hermeneutics

1.1. Historical classification and def. “the truth of understanding”

1.1.1. The problem of truth

Starting point in “Wahrheit und Methode” is the problem of the right self-conception of the humanities compared with the sciences.3 Here Gadamer argues against the position of historism and positivism. These hold the view that humanities have to stick to the methods used in sciences. Against it he explains that humanities should have the right to develop their own methodologies in order to enjoy the state being scientific.4 Defining the method as it is valid for sciences he states: “The ideal of understanding, which is determined by the term “method”, exists in the idea to step out one way of recognition so concsciously, that it is always possible to repeat the stepping of the way.”5

The possibility of verification describes the ideal of modern sciences, which is for him only valid for mathematics. As the only methods science it is working purely and verifiable within a closed, deductive context.6

He critizes that this ideal of verification is not given in a lot of areas like religion or philosophy. In the humanities other rules are valid. In the occupation with the Festschrift of Helmholtz his criticism arises. Helmholtz tried to give justice to the specific understanding of humanities, which was strongly distorted by the scientific ideal of methods.7 Gadamer agreed with him that understanding within the humanities is based on a kind of psychological sense of tact.

“Wahrheit und Methode” is to be seen in this spirit of a general criticism of the method obsession being worried about the scientific character of the humanities.8 In detail Gadamer blames modern sciences for only accepting this as sufficient for the conditions of truth, which complies with the ideal of certitude.9 Stating this he duns that modern sciences mix up truth with certainty.10

What Gadamer himselfs wants to contribute to hermeneutics is expressed felicient by Turk: Instead of teaching the reader in the method of understanding, the book (Wahrheit und Methode) teaches him about the truth of understanding.11 Gadamer wants to limit himself to the description of the hermeneutical process.

1.1.2. The truth of understanding

Anaylizing this truth of understanding we realize relative quickly, that Gadamer´s view of truth has less to do with theological conceptions but is rather connected to Heidegger´s idea of truth as unconcealedness (Unverborgenheit).12 As we want to understand this concealedness rightly we have to see that Gadamer presupposes, that there is no statement, that is plainly (schlechthin) true.13 Every text is standing in his own situatedness.

Therefore understanding is less about the registration of a noetical content of sense. Rather we have to understand the text by the thing (Sache) that is lying behind him, which is to be done in a kind of conversation.14 This thing is determined by both the author of the text and his interpreters, who participate in it and bring it up.15 It is the duty of the intellectus, that in the language the things are expressed in the way, they are. Truth is adaequatio ad rem.16 Every statement is motivated and has conditions. Instead of a primate of a judgement he proclaims the priority of the question.17

Language is meant to be the universal medium in which recognition takes place.18 Universalism means less a claim of absoluteness but rather the universalism of language search in hermeneutics.19

1.2. Theoretical main features of Gadamer´s hermeneutic

1.2.1. The hermeneutical circle

Moreover this language search takes place in a hermeneutical circle. This means that you have to understand the entire while looking at the single, and the other way around.20

Critizing Schleiermacher´s subject side of the circle Gadamer says that it not the duty of the interpret to put hisself into the constitution of the author. Hermeneutics has less to do with the mysterious communion of the souls but is rather participation in a common sense, the afore mentioned thing. Against Schleiermacher´s objective side he objects, that hermeneutics is most of all about agreement in the thing21 instead of finding out the sense of the word while looking at it´s context.22

Instead of dividing the circle into a subjective and an objective side the circle describes the understanding as a into one another game of the motion of the tradition and the motion of the interpret.23 With this he means that the understanding of a text is determined by the commonness, which connects the hermeneutic person with the text.24 Thus understanding is meant to be an endless process in the common thing. But how does it take place?

“Who wants to understand a text performs always a drafting. He performs himself a sense of the entire, as soon as a first sense in the text becomes visible. Such a sense becomes only visible, when the text is read with certain expectations on a determinated sense. Performing such a draft, which is admittedly revised by that, what comes out while infiltrating more in the sense, is meant to be understanding of that, what is standing there.”25

Thus understanding is heavily related to the thing that is standing behind the text. Having given a genereal overview about Gadamer´s hermeneutics it is now to look at important single elements.

1.2.2. The prestructure of understanding: the prejudices

As one of the most important conditions of understanding Gadamer names the prejudices. Against the Enlightment, which sess prejudices as a hinderance in gaining knowledge which need to be overcome he highlights the importance of conditioned thinking. He turns it upside down: Prejudices are not to be overcome, not a disturbance that need to be abolished but nearly transcendently condition of understanding.26

But Gadamer divides between true prejudices under which we understand, and wrong prejudices under which we misunderstand.27 True prejudices enhance or specify our possibility of understanding in encountering the tradition.28 False prejudices avert understanding. It is thus to make those own prejudices conscious which lead the understanding, that tradition, therewith the other opinion takes off himself and comes to worth.29

The distinction is done by means of the intervall.30 By intervall Gadamer understands the time between the composition of a work and the particular hermeneutic topical situation.31 Thanks to the historical distance the judgement will be saver.32 With Grodin we annotate that this distinction appears to be questionable, as it is unusable for the dealing with contemporary poetry.33

1.2.3. The principle of the effective history

Correspoding to the issue of the prejudices is the principle of the effective history (Wirkungsgeschichte). Gadamer presupposes that history determines the background of our assessments, of our understanding, even of our critical judgements.34 Thus we cannot master history but stand in a deep depending relationship to her.

Following this line of thought he claims, that the historical consciousness should become aware of the fact, that in the pretended immediacy with whom it looks at a work or a tradition, the other question always, albeit unrecognized and congruous uncontrolled plays a role.35 This means that the effective history itself always achieves an impact on the interpret. Therefore he should be aware of the fact that he is a part of the historical truth. During all hermeneutical work he underlies the impacts of the effective history.

The claim after thinking in terms of effective-historical consciousness becomes practical while looking at Gadamer´s notion of the horizons. First we have to think of the concsciousness of the hermeneutical situation, in which a hermeneutic person is. This situation is the horizon which compromises everything, what is visible from one point.36 Moreover the horizon denotes the thinking perspective of the dependency of thinking on its unlasting determination.37

The second task is the drift (Hineinversetzung) into the historical horizon of the text, which is to be done by bringing oneself into the other situation.38 The own situatedness is a necessary condition for gaining knowledge about this historical horizon. Then in the continual hermeneutical work takes place what Gadamer called the fusion of the horizons: namely the assimilation of the hstorical to the presently horizon: In the exercise (Vollzug) of understanding a fusion of horizons takes place which with the draft simultaneously accomplishes his abolition.39

This process, which Gadamer calls the alertness of the effective-historical consciousness is never coming to an end. It takes place not only in the area of theoretical hermeneutical reflection about a text but also by means of the application.

1.2.4. The meaning of the application

Gadamer shows that it was the merit of romanticism to recognize the inner unity between intelligere and explicare. 40 But this had the consequence that the meaning of the application continouosly became dismissed in the hermeneutical context. He doesn´t want the separation of the three subtleties understanding, interpreting and applying but exposes application as an integral equal component of the hermeneutical process.41 Thus for Gadamer understanding and application belong together.

As an example of applying which is valid for humanities and especially theology Gadamer points to the area of jurisprudence. Here a law is not be understood historical but will be substantiated in law meaning by means of the application.42 Similar it is in theology: A preaching text does not want to be understood as a mere historical document but in a way that he exercise his effect of salvation.43

After presenting theoretical aspects of Gadamer we are now to look who his ideas effect the hermeneutical practice.

1.3. The practice of hermeneutics

1.3.1. The hermeneutical experience

As one of the most important practical issues Gadamer names the already aforementioned hermeneutical experience. An interpret has to understand a text as a “you”, as a communication partner, whereas it is about understanding the text as a sense content, unsoldered from all ties of the thinking people, of I and you.44

The second important aspect of the hermeneutical experience lies in the fact that the interpret is always depending on the tradition. This means that while wanting to understand a text, the reader is being influenced by this text. He should be aware that he cannot understand him without prejudices. As a third quality Gadamer points to the attitude of openness towards the text. Simplified this thought is expressed with the readiness to be taught by the text, rather then equaling the text rash to the own opinion.


1 John 18,38

2 E.D. Hirsch Jr., Validity in Interpretation, (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1967), 245.

3 For a discussion that carries on regarding this theme see M.J. Erickson, Truth or Consequences: The Promise and Perils of Postmodernism, (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2001), 89.

4 J. Grodin, Einführung in die philosophische Hermeneutik, (Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1991), 139f.

5 H.G. Gadamer, Wahrheit und Methode: Ergänzungen, Register, 2 nd ed., Gesammelte Werke, vol. 2, (Tübingen: Mohr, 1999), 48, all citation of Gadamer (and also other German authors) are translated by Daniel Schwarz.

6 Gadamer, GW II, 47.

7 Grondin, Einführung, 41.

8 Grondin, Einführung, 41.

9 Gadamer, GW II, 48.

10 M. Hennemann, Wahrheit und Methode nach Hans-Georg Gadamer: Hauptseminararbeit für Systematische Theologie, (Gießen: FTA, 2001), 6.

11 H. Turk, Wahrheit oder Methode? H.G. Gadamers „Grundzüge einer philosophischen Hermeneutik,“ ed. B. Hendrik, (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1982), 120.

12 Gadamer, GW II, 47.

13 Gadamer, GW II, 52.

14 Grondin, Einführung, 151.

15 Turk, Hermeneutische Positionen, 128.

16 Gadamer, GW II, 47.

17 Gadamer, GW II, 52.

18 H.G. Gadamer, Wahrheit und Methode: Grundzüge einer philosophischen Hermeneutik, Gesammelte Werke, vol.1, 6 ed., (Tübingen: Mohr, 1999), 392.

19 Gadamer, GW II, 57.

20 Gadamer, GW II, 57.

21 Gadamer, GW I, 297.

22 Turk, Hermeneutische Positionen, 138.

23 Gadamer, GW I, 298.

24 Gadamer, GW I, 298.

25 Gadamer, GW I, 271.

26 Grondin, Einführung, 144.

27 Gadamer, GW I, 304.

28 Turk, Grundzüge, 134.

29 Gadamer, GW I, 304.

30 Grondin, Einführung, 146.

31 Gadamer, GW I, 303.

32 Grondin, Einführung, 146.

33 Grondin, Einführung, 146.

34 Grondin, Einführung, 148.

35 Gadamer, GW I, 305.

36 Gadamer, GW I, 307.

37 Gadamer, GW 1, 307.

38 Gadamer, GW I, 310.

39 Gadamer, GW I, 312.

40 Gadamer, GW I, 312.

41 Gadamer, GW I, 313.

42 Gadamer, GW I, 314.

43 Gadamer, GW I, 314.

44 Gadamer, GW I, 364 ff. The other ideas of this paragraph are mentioned here as well.

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“Wahrheit und Methode“ by Gadamer. Critical Interaction with a Philosophical Hermeneutics
Evangelical Theological Faculty
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wahrheit, methode, gadamer, critical, interaction, philosophical, hermeneutics
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Daniel Steffen Schwarz (Author), 2006, “Wahrheit und Methode“ by Gadamer. Critical Interaction with a Philosophical Hermeneutics, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/284907


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