Gadamer and the Problem of Hermeneutics

Obituary for the Great Philosopher (1900 - 2002)

The vitality of a dialogue comes from the direct (face to face) presence of the discussants. In this they can fly at one another and support their statements and opinions with gestures and bodily expressions. As is wellknown a look or a gesture of the speaker can say more than “thousend” words. The body-language is our original language, accompanied, of course, by sounds. The vivid dialogue distinguishes by the possibility of interventions before the incipient missunderstandings further develop. Starting with the “dialogical” character of the language, Gadamer designed in his “Text and Interpretation” the “Socratic dialogue as the basic form of thinking”. Farther Gadamer: “What surfaces in speech is not simply a fixation on intended meaning, but rather a repeatedly changing attempt to engage oneself in something, or better with somebody. That means, himself to expose.” The very possibility of missunderstandings makes the art of hermeneutics necessary. In his talks and and papers Gadamer shows no sign of fatigue to stress THAT HERMENEUTICS IS A UNIVERSAL PROBLEM. It is not limited to a few domains of spiritual activity, like the translation in other languages, the interpretation of holly, or juridic texts.

The language and therefore the text, too, belong to the “in between world”. It serves as interface for the transport of spiritual contents between persons, through modulation or configuration of matter. “In any case, the writer, or the discussion partner, attempts to communicate what he means.” That includes the look on the discussion partner with whom one shares basic assumptions and counts with his understanding. The other treats the spoken as it is meant. In other words, he understands by completing and expressing in concrete terms the said things, rather than taking literally the abstract content.” It goes in fact on the grasping of the sense of the said or written, rather than on death letters. “The writing kills, while the spirit makes lively”. (Master Eckhart). Or, like Plutarch defends Parmenides: “Kolotes, by taking some item out of connection and then interprerting it literally, i.e. false interpreted und refering to the letters instead of the matter, concludes that Parmenides does anything away by considering that the existent were unique. Parmenides, however, does nothing from both natures away, but conferes to each nature [of knowledge: the logically recognizable and the supposed] its share.

The fact that sensations and toughts need a matter boundinterface, in order to be communicated to others, IS THE ORIGIN OF HERMENEUTIC PROBLEMS. Animals are able to communicate only through sounds, or warning sounds, accompanied by the line of vision. Hominides have the advantage of drowing the attention, for example to a beast of prey as source of danger, by using their hands. In this way the hand-signalizing represented THE BEGINNING OF HERMENEUTICS and probably of human beeing, in the history of hominides. The intended remains the significant within the meaning of a sign also in the purely spiritual confrontation with the world. No matter whether hand signals, symbols, letters, or words, we deal always with a kind of speech. Obviously, there has to be something different, namely that ABOUT WHICH ONE SPEAKS. This indicates that, before any language, A PURELY SPIRITUAL LEVEL of significances and sense contents has to exist. In this the human spirit is at himself. These significances and sense contents, auditive or visual and therefore amenable to discussion and tests REPRESENT THE BIGGEST CHALLENGE OF HERMENEUTICS. We call it Art, Poetry, Literature, Religion, Mysticism, or Philosophy. These products are the perrenial attempt of communicating of the being-at-him-self human spirit.
*all quotations from „Gadamer Lesebuch“, UTB, Tuebingen, Mohr 1997

What is hermeneutics? The art of interpretation. But fine arts have at all times belonged to the attempts to interpret and illustrate impressions. Since impressions are something very personal, all interpretation cannot be understood without the one who is interpreting. For the humanities this means: all interpretation reflects at first the knowledge and the spiritual level, as well as the interest of the one who is interpreting and the zeitgeist. This are always different but not rescissible limits of all hermeneutics, which turns it into an everlasting assignment.

translated by Dr. Georg Galeczki (Cologne/Germany)

© HILLE 2002

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