Part IV: An Introduction to Hans-Georg Gadamer

Walter Lammi, Kathleen Wright, Brice Wachterhauser and others have highlighted Heidegger’s influence on Gadamer.  Gadamer readily acknowledges his indebtedness to Heidegger, after all he was a student of Heidegger’s for many years.  In Truth and Method, Gadamer mentions his use of Heidegger’s “hermeneutical circle” (an on-going movement between whole and part and part and whole in our interpretative endeavors) and embraces Heidegger’s understanding of truth as aletheia (a dialectic of concealment and Gadamer Painting by Dora Mittenzweiunconcealment), yet Gadamer is also critical of Heidegger.  For example, Gadamer rejects Heidegger’s Seinsvergessenheit thesis (the “forgetfulness of being”) and denies that the Western metaphysical tradition necessarily culminates in nihilism.  In fact, Gadamer detects nihilistic tendencies in Heidegger’s views in the latter’s separation of questions of Being from questions of the human good.  According to Gadamer, Heidegger’s critique of the Western metaphysical tradition fails because he employs a univocal understanding of metaphysics.   Here Gadamer’s study of Plato, particularly the later dialogues causes him to reject Heidegger’s read of Plato as a “metaphysics of presence” advocate.  Gadamer sees the later Plato as endeavoring to work out an ontological vision that overcomes a certain misread of his theory of Ideas, viz. the interpretation that the Ideas constitute a separate realm (i.e. a view of the Ideas that suggests a strong dualism in Plato).   Instead, Gadamer interprets the later Plato as sharing similarities with Aristotle (non-dualistic) and developing what subsequent thinkers have called the “transcendentals” (good, true, unity, beauty etc.).   Gadamer argues that the center of Plato’s thought is not the theory of the Forms but rather the relationship of the One and the Many.  On Gadamer’s read, there is a kind of “movement” in the Forms in that when they reveal themselves they simultaneously conceal themselves (i.e., in their relation to the whole, that is, the other Forms and of course the ever-elusive Form of the Good).  Thus, for Gadamer, Plato does not promote a “metaphysics of presence” philosophy.  Rather, he acknowledges our finitude and our incomplete (yet real) grasp of the Forms.

Reappropriation of Platonic Insights:  “Metaphysics of Light”

At the end of Truth and Method, Gadamer turns explicitly to Plato’s view of beauty and self-validating truth.  Beauty is that which draws us to itself; it shines forth and presents itself as tangible in its visibility.   Truth likewise exhibits radiance and manifests itself in the beautiful, thus functioning as a “mediator” between the ideal and the real.  Given his rejection of the modern foundationalist project and its attempt to make knowledge completely transparent along with its search for a “method” to justify its every move, Gadamer suggests that an appropriation of this ancient version of self-validating truth, in which knowledge is not identified with certainty, is a possible way beyond the impasse of skepticism and the ruins of (modern) foundationalism.

In keeping with the overall vision of his dialogical, hermeneutical project, Gadamer continues his “fusion of horizons,” interacting with both ancient and modern thinkers and philosophical traditions and suggesting a way forward through an appropriation of the past and present so that the tradition can continue to speak, flourish and “surprise” us and generations to come.