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Published by: Absurditas Sabda Zarathustra on Apr 15, 2012
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Richard L. W. Clarke LITS3303 Notes 11A
Gadamer, Hans-Georg. Truth and Method. Trans. Joel Weinsheimer and Donald G.Marshall. London: Sheed and Ward, 1975. Rev. Ed. London: Continuum, 1989.
Section II “Elements of a Theory of Hermeneutic Experience”Chapter 1“The Elevation of the Historicity of Understanding to the Status of a HermeneuticPrinciple”
A) The Hermeneutic Circle and the Problem of Prejudicesi) Heidegger’s Disclosure of the Fore-Structure of UnderstandingHere, Gadamer argues that his teacher Heidegger only “entered into the problems of historicalhermeneutics” (265) in Being and Time in order to “explicate the fore-structure of understanding for the purposes of ontology” (265). Gadamer is interested, by contrast, in thequestion of “how hermeneutics, once freed from the ontological obstructions of the scientificconcept of objectivity, can do justice to the historicity of understanding” (265). Hermeneuticswas conceptualised “as an art or technique” (265) by theorists like Friedrich Schleiermacher(the Protestant founder of modern hermeneutics in the early nineteenth century who soughtto find a way to ensure the correct interpretation of the Bible above all) and Wilhelm Dilthey(who sought to expand hermeneutics into an “organon of the human sciences” [265-266], thatis, a method for establishing the truth in fields like psychology or sociology). The “consequences for the hermeneutics of the human sciences of the fact that Heidegger derivesthe circular structure of understanding from the temporality of Dasein” (266) include not onlythe reform of practice by theory but also “correcting (and refining) the way in whichconstantly exercised understanding understands itself” (266).The notion of the “hermeneutical circle” (266) which Heidegger offers us in Being andTime, Gadamer contends, is not a “prescription for the practice of understanding, but adescription of the way interpretive understanding is achieved” (266). Gadamer summarisesHeidegger’s view this way:All correct interpretation must be on guard against arbitrary fancies and thelimitations imposed by imperceptible habits of thought, and it must direct itsgaze ‘on the things themselves’ (which, in the case of the literary critic, aremeaningful texts, which themselves are again guided with objects). For theinterpreter to let himself be guided by the things themselves is obviously nota matter of a single, ‘conscientious’ decision, but is ‘the first, last and constanttask.’ For it is necessary to keep one’s gaze fixed on the thing throughout allthe constant distractions that originate in the interpreter himself. (266-267)However, aperson who is trying to understand a text is always projecting. He projects ameaning for a text as a whole as soon as some initial meaning emerges in thetext. Again, the initial meaning emerges only because he is reading the textwith particular expectations in regard to a certain meaning. Working out thisfore-projection, which is constantly revised in terms of what emerges as hepenetrates into the meaning, is understanding what its there. (267)Every “revision of the fore-projection is capable of projecting before itself a new projection of meaning” (267). That is, “interpretation begins with fore-conceptions that are replaced by
Richard L. W. Clarke LITS3303 Notes 11A
more suitable ones. This constant process of new projection constitutes the movement of understanding and interpretation” (267). The interpreter is distracted by “fore-meanings thatare not borne out by the things themselves. Working out appropriate projections, anticipatoryin nature, to be confirmed ‘by the things’ themselves is the constant task of understanding” (267). The “only ‘objectivity’ here is the confirmation of a fore-meaning in its being workedout” (267). Inappropriate fore-meanings, by contrast, “come to nothing in being worked out” (267). The interpreter accordingly does not “approach the text directly” (267) but exploresthe “legitimacy – i.e. the origin and validity – of the fore-meanings dwelling within him” (267).The foregoing procedure, Gadamer argues, occurs “whenever we understand anything” (267). Every text is an opportunity to explore our own “linguistic usage” (267). We deriveour understanding of the text “from the linguistic usage of the time or of the author” (267)but this confronts us with an awareness of the “difference between our own customary usageand that of the text” (268). This occurs “in the experience of being pulled up short by thetext. Either it does not yield any meaning at all or its meaning is not compatible with whatwe had expected. This is what brings us up short and alerts us to a possible difference inusage” (268). What is true of “fore-meanings that stem from” (268) language-usage is alsotrue of those which stem from those which concern “content” (268). Here too the “spell of our own fore-meanings” (268) can be broken by the difference between a “general expectationthat what the text says will fit perfectly with my own meanings and expectations” (268) andthe fact that what someone else actually says may thwart such an expectation. Gadamer asksan important question in this regard: if the “fore-meanings that determine my ownunderstanding” (268) can “give rise to misunderstandings, how can our misunderstandingsof a text be perceived at all if there is nothing at all to contradict them?” (268). This is why,he contends, that even though we cannot forego our own fore-meanings, “we cannot stickblindly to our own fore-meaning about the thing if we want to understand the meaning of another” (268). We must remain “open to the meaning of the other person or text” (268)even though this “openness always includes our situating the other meaning in relation to thewhole of our own meanings or ourselves in relation to it” (268).Gadamer summarises the foregoing in this way:A person trying to understand something will not resign himself from the startto relying on his own accidental fore-meanings, ignoring as consistently andstubbornly as possible the actual meaning of the text until latter becomes sopersistently audible that it breaks through what the interpreter imagines it tobe. Rather, a person trying to understand a text is prepared for it to tell himsomething. That is what a hermeneutically trained consciousness must be, fromthe start, sensitive to the text’s alterity. But this kind of sensitivity involvedneither ‘neutrality’ with respect to content nor the extinction of one’s self, butthe foregounding and appropriation of one’s own fore-meanings and prejudices.The important things is to be aware of one’s own bias, so that the text canpresent itself in all its otherness and thus assert is own truth against one’s ownfore-meanings. (269)Heidegger did just this in Being and Time by playing off the “fore-structure of understanding” (269) against “merely ‘reading what is there’” (269). He sought to “explain the hermeneuticalsituation of the question of being in terms of fore-having, fore--sight, and fore-conception” (269) by focusing on “important turning points in the history of metaphysics” (269). Hemerely did “what historical-hermeneutical consciousness requires in every case” (269): “[m]ethodologically conscious understanding will be concerned not merely to form anticipatoryideas, but to make them conscious, so as to check them and thus acquire right understandingfrom the things themselves” (269). In this way, Heidegger sought to place ontology on a
Richard L. W. Clarke LITS3303 Notes 11A
sound basis “by deriving our fore-having, fore-sight and fore-conception from the thingsthemselves’” (269).Gadamer stresses that interpretation does not involve “securing ourselves against thetradition that speaks out of the text” (269) but of “excluding everything that could hinder usfrom understanding it in terms of the subject matter” (269-270). It is the “tyranny of hiddenprejudice that makes us deaf to what speaks to us in tradition” (270). “Heidegger’sdemonstration that the concept of consciousness in Descartes and of spirit in Hegel is stillinfluenced by Greek substance ontology, which sees being terms of what is present,undoubtedly surpasses the self-understanding of modern metaphysics . . . on the basis of a ‘fore-having’ that in fact makes this tradition intelligible by revealing the ontological premissesof the concept of subjectivity” (270). This leads Gadamer to conclude that “all understandinginevitably involves some prejudice” (270). For this reason, historicism “
despite its critique of rationalism of natural law philosophy, is based on the modern Enlightenment and unwittingly shares its prejudices
” (270). There is, he argues, “one prejudice of the Enlightenment thatdefines its essence: the fundamental prejudice against prejudice itself, which denies traditionits power” (270). It is only with the advent of the Enlightenment in the eighteenth centurythat the “
concept of prejudice
acquire[s] its negative connotation” (270). Defining ‘prejudice’ (
in German,
in French) as a “judgement that is rendered before all theelements that determine a situation have been finally examined” (270), Gadamer contendsthat the “negative sense is only derivative” (270) and “depends precisely on the positivevalidity” (270) of the term, that is, the “value of the provisional decision as a prejudgment” (270). Prejudice does not necessarily entail a “false judgment” (270) or an “unfounded judgment” (271). “There are such things as préjugés légitimes” (270). What “gives a judgment dignity is its having a basis, a methodological justification (and not the fact that itmay actually be correct)” (271). For Enlightenment thinkers, adhering to the “spirit of rationalism” (271), judgements are ‘unfounded’ because they have “no foundation in thethings themselves” (271). This is the “reason for discrediting prejudices and the reasonscientific knowledge claims to exclude them completely” (271). In so doing, modern scienceis “following the rule of Cartesian doubt, accepting nothing as certain that can in any way bedoubted, and adopting the idea of method that follows from this rule” (271). It is very difficultto “harmonise the historical knowledge that helps to shape our historical consciousness withthis ideal and how difficult it is . . . to comprehend its true nature on the basis of the modernconception of method” (271). Gadamer’s goal is to turn such “negative statements intopositive ones. The concept of ‘prejudice’ is where we start” (271).ii) The Discrediting of Prejudice by the EnlightenmentEnlightenment thought drew a distinction between “prejudice due to human authority and thatdue to overhastiness” (271). That is, either the “respect we have for others and theirauthority leads us into error, or else an overhastiness in ourselves” (271). Kant, for example,extolled the use of our own understanding, rather than a reliance on tradition. In this regard,this critique is “primarily directed against the religious tradition of Christianity – i.e. the Bible” (272). For this reason, the prejudice against prejudice is not limited to the interpretation of texts but its “chief application is still in the sphere of heremeneutics” (271). TheEnlightenment asserted itself “against the Bible and dogmatic interpretations of it” (272). Itis “therefore particularly concerned with the hermeneutical problem. It wants to understandtradition correctly – i.e. rationally and without prejudice. But there is a special difficulty aboutthis, since the sheer fact that something is written down gives it special authority” (272). The “written word has the tangible quality of something that can be demonstrated and is like aproof. It requires a special critical effort to free oneself from the prejudice in favour of what

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