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|Born||February 11, 1900|
Marburg, German Empire
|Died||March 13, 2002 (aged 102)|
|Born||February 11, 1900|
Marburg, German Empire
|Died||March 13, 2002 (aged 102)|
Hans-Georg Gadamer (German: [ˈɡaːdamɐ]; February 11, 1900 – March 13, 2002) was a German philosopher of the continental tradition, best known for his 1960 magnum opus Truth and Method (Wahrheit und Methode) on hermeneutics.
Gadamer was born in Marburg, Germany, the son of Johannes Gadamer (1867–1928) a pharmaceutical chemistry professor who later also served as the rector of the university there. He resisted his father's urging to take up the natural sciences and became more and more interested in the humanities. His mother, Emma Karoline Johanna Geiese (1869–1904) died of diabetes while Hans-Georg was four years old, and he later noted that this may have had an effect on his decision to not pursue scientific studies. Jean Grondin describes Gadamer as finding in his mother "a poetic and almost religious counterpart to the iron fist of his father". Gadamer did not serve during World War I for reasons of ill health and similarly was exempted from serving during World War II due to polio.
He grew up and studied philosophy in Breslau under Richard Hönigswald, but soon moved back to Marburg to study with the Neo-Kantian philosophers Paul Natorp and Nicolai Hartmann. He defended his dissertation—"The Essence of Pleasure according to Plato's Dialogues" (Das Wesen der Lust nach den Platonischen Dialogen)—in 1922.
Shortly thereafter, Gadamer moved to Freiburg University and began studying with Martin Heidegger, who was then a promising young scholar who had not yet received a professorship. He and Heidegger became close, and when Heidegger received a position at Marburg, Gadamer followed him there, where he became one of a group of students such as Leo Strauss, Karl Löwith, and Hannah Arendt. It was Heidegger's influence that gave Gadamer's thought its distinctive cast and led him away from the earlier neo-Kantian influences of Natorp and Hartmann. Gadamer studied Aristotle both under Edmund Husserl and under Heidegger.
Gadamer habilitated in 1929 and spent most of the early 1930s lecturing in Marburg. Unlike Heidegger, who joined the Nazi Party in May 1933 and continued as a member until the party was dissolved following World War II, Gadamer was silent on Nazism, and he was not politically active during the Third Reich. Gadamer did not join the Nazis, and he did not serve in the army because of the polio he had contracted in 1922. He joined the National Socialist Teachers League in August 1933. In April 1937 he became a temporary professor at Marburg, then in 1938 he received a professorship at Leipzig. From an SS-point of view Gadamer was classified as neither supportive nor disapproving in the "SD-Dossiers über Philosophie-Professoren" (i.e. SD-files concerning philosophy professors) that were set up by the SS-Security-Service (SD). In 1946, he was found by the American occupation forces to be untainted by Nazism and named rector of the university.
The level of Gadamer's involvement with the Nazis has been disputed in the works of Richard Wolin and Teresa Orzoco. Orozco alleges, with reference to Gadamer's published works, that Gadamer had supported the Nazis more than scholars had supposed. Gadamer scholars have rejected these assertions: Jean Grondin has said that Orozco is engaged in a "witch-hunt" while Donatella Di Cesare said that "the archival material on which Orozco bases her argument is actually quite negligible". Cesare and Grondin have argued that there is no trace of antisemitism in Gadamer's work, and that Gadamer maintained friendships with Jews and provided shelter for nearly two years for the philosopher Jacob Klein in 1933 and 1934. Gadamer also reduced his contact with Heidegger during the Nazi era.
Communist East Germany was no more to Gadamer's liking than the Third Reich, and he left for West Germany, accepting first a position in Frankfurt am Main and then the succession of Karl Jaspers in Heidelberg in 1949. He remained in this position, as emeritus, until his death in 2002 at the age of 102. He was also an Editorial Advisor of the journal Dionysius. It was during this time that he completed his magnum opus, Truth and Method (1960), and engaged in his famous debate with Jürgen Habermas over the possibility of transcending history and culture in order to find a truly objective position from which to critique society. The debate was inconclusive, but marked the beginning of warm relations between the two men. It was Gadamer who secured Habermas's first professorship in Heidelberg.
In 1968, Gadamer invited Tomonobu Imamichi for lectures at Heidelberg, but their relationship became very cool after Imamichi alleged that Heidegger had taken his concept of Dasein out of Okakura Kakuzo's concept of das in-der-Welt-sein (to be in the being of the world) expressed in The Book of Tea, which Imamichi's teacher had offered to Heidegger in 1919, after having followed lessons with him the year before. Imamichi and Gadamer renewed contact four years later during an international congress.
In 1981, Gadamer attempted to engage with Jacques Derrida at a conference in Paris but it proved less enlightening because the two thinkers had little in common. A last meeting between Gadamer and Derrida was held at the Stift of Heidelberg in July 2001, coordinated by Derrida's students, Joseph Cohen and Raphael Zagury-Orly. This meeting marked, in many ways, a turn in their philosophical encounter. After Gadamer's death, Derrida called their failure to find common ground one of the worst debacles of his life and expressed, in the main obituary for Gadamer, his great personal and philosophical respect. Richard J. Bernstein said that "[a] genuine dialogue between Gadamer and Derrida has never taken place. This is a shame because there are crucial and consequential issues that arise between hermeneutics and deconstruction".
Gadamer received honorary doctorates from the University of Bamberg, the University of Breslau, Boston College, Charles University in Prague, Hamilton College, the University of Leipzig, the University of Marburg (1999) the University of Ottawa, Saint Petersburg State University (2001), the University of Tübingen and University of Washington.
On February 11, 2000, the University of Heidelberg celebrated Gadamer's one hundredth birthday with a ceremony and conference. Gadamer's last academic engagement was in the summer of 2001 at an annual symposium on hermeneutics that two of Gadamer's American students had organised. On March 13, 2002, Gadamer died at Heidelberg's University Clinic. He is buried in the Köpfel cemetery in Ziegelhausen.
Gadamer's philosophical project, as explained in Truth and Method, was to elaborate on the concept of "philosophical hermeneutics", which Heidegger initiated but never dealt with at length. Gadamer's goal was to uncover the nature of human understanding. In the book Gadamer argued that "truth" and "method" were at odds with one another. He was critical of two approaches to the human sciences (Geisteswissenschaften). On the one hand, he was critical of modern approaches to humanities that modelled themselves on the natural sciences (and thus on rigorous scientific methods). On the other hand, he took issue with the traditional German approach to the humanities, represented for instance by Friedrich Schleiermacher and Wilhelm Dilthey, who believed that correctly interpreting a text meant recovering the original intention of the author who wrote it. Instead, Gadamer argued that a text's meaning is not reducible to the author's intentions, but is dependent on the context of interpretation.
In contrast to both these positions, Gadamer argued that people have a "historically-effected" consciousness (wirkungsgeschichtliches Bewußtsein) and that they are embedded in the particular history and culture that shaped them. These define an interpreters "prejudices" that affect how they will make interpretations. For Gadamer, these prejudices are not something that hinders our ability to make interpretations, but a prerequisite to interpretation. Gadamer criticised Enlightenment thinkers for harboring a "prejudice against prejudices".
For Gadamer, interpreting a text involves a fusion of horizons (Horizontverschmelzung) where the scholar finds the ways that the text's history articulates with their own background. Truth and Method is not meant to be a programmatic statement about a new 'hermeneutic' method of interpreting texts. Gadamer intended Truth and Method to be a description of what we always do when we interpret things (even if we do not know it): "My real concern was and is philosophic: not what we do or what we ought to do, but what happens to us over and above our wanting and doing".
Truth and Method was published twice in English, and the revised edition is now considered authoritative. The German-language edition of Gadamer's Collected Works includes a volume in which Gadamer elaborates his argument and discusses the critical response to the book. Finally, Gadamer's essay on Celan (entitled "Who Am I and Who Are You?") has been considered by many—including Heidegger and Gadamer himself—as a "second volume" or continuation of the argument in Truth and Method.
Gadamer also added philosophical substance to the notion of human health. In The Enigma of Health, Gadamer explored what it means to heal, as a patient and a provider. In this work the practice and art of medicine are thoroughly examined, as is the inevitability of any cure.
In addition to his work in hermeneutics, Gadamer is also well known for a long list of publications on Greek philosophy. Indeed, while Truth and Method became central to his later career, much of Gadamer's early life centered around studying Greek thinkers, Plato and Aristotle specifically. In the Italian introduction to Truth and Method, Gadamer said that his work on Greek philosophy was "the best and most original part" of his career. His book Plato's Dialectical Ethics looks at the Philebus dialogue through the lens of phenomenology and the philosophy of Martin Heidegger.
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