Hans-Georg Gadamer on Education, Poetry, and History: Applied Hermeneutics

By Dieter Misgeld; Graeme Nicholson et al. | Go to book overview

EDITORS' INTRODUCTION

The essays of Hans-Georg Gadamer that are collected in this book present his thought as an applied hermeneutics. But Gadamer's is not the sort of theory that becomes constituted all by itself in the first place, then to find application in some sphere. Gadamer's hermeneutics incorporates the aspect of application right from the beginning. The essays gathered here are not an application of hermeneutics that came after he wrote the theory down in Truth and Method: they highlight the moment of application that accompanied every step of his thinking. So our title is using the word "application" in the sense which Gadamer himself sought to define in Truth and Method.

Only an age of engineering would suppose that the application of a science or a theory would take the results of a theory erected in its own domain, and then impose it somewhere, hoping to produce results useful to human life. Such an understanding also shows up in contemporary discourse about social science and practical politics, on the one hand, or psychology and practical education, on the other hand. By this account, the original science or theory is supposed to be erected without any thought for human welfare. But this is a late and derivative concept, whereas Gadamer himself always understood applicatio in an earlier sense that was first generated in antiquity, and which then produced a series of further meanings, articulated well prior to the modern experience of engineering.

In the usage of the ancients, notably in rhetoric, applicatio was the joining or attaching of oneself to a thing -- it might have been the attachment of a lesser being to a ruler, or an attachment to a city or to some principle or to a rule of life. In the rhetoricians, applicatio could then take on the movement in the opposite direction: the application of a rule or a principle to oneself and one's mode of life. In the Protestant hermeneutics of the seventeenth century, it was this movement of applicatio that was made central to the undertaking of interpreting the Scripture: the understanding or interpretation of the Word was accomplished not only by understanding (intelligentia), and not only by exegesis or exposition (explicatio), but also by applying the Word to one's own life (applicatio). Gadamer himself is the one who set this out in Part Two of Truth and Method, while showing the import of this theological idea for every experience of interpretation. 1 In the same text he showed the analogy

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