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

By Dieter Misgeld; Graeme Nicholson et al. | Go to book overview
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Chapter 15

In order to discover something about the limitations of the expert, it is necessary to draw a few conceptual distinctions. Philosophy is not, as one often hears, the professional art of splitting hairs, the search for artificially precise definitions -- one who attempts to philosophize must first of all have an attentive ear for the language in which the thinking experience of many generations has been sedimented, long before we begin to attempt our own thinking. So, in this case as well, it is not superficial when I first ask whom we call experts and why we do this. One realizes immediately that this is a relatively new word, at least as a foreign word in the German language. And one asks oneself why this is such a new word.

Now with the great stream of experiences and images that flow in upon humanity it is precisely when something begins to stand out from the stream with a particular profile that we give it a name. So it is in this case as well. Evidently there was occasion to distinguish the role of the expert by the expression expertus. This surely does not only mean someone who is experienced. That is the Latin sense of the word expertus. It is not a profession to gain experience and to have gained experience, i.e., to be experienced. However, there is now a profession of mediating between the scientific culture of modernity and its social manifestations in practical life.

Therefore, the expert has an intermediate position. He is not the embodiment of the scientist or the researcher or the teacher. The expert stands between science, in which he must be competent and social and political praxis. Thereby it is already clear that he is not the authority for final decisions. The German word that we use for experts, is generally Gutachter. Gutachten is a good old German word and has been used since the sixteenth century, if I remember correctly. One must, however, listen to the word. Gutachten means, and in Gutachten resounds, something of what we mean in achten [honor] and erachten [deem]. Meines Erachtens [in my opinion], one says and means: I do not know this so absolutely -- perhaps one should ask another about it; but if I were asked, I would give this or that answer. In addition the Gutachter or the expert is subordinate to the actual decision makers in social and political life. This has actually

Essay published in Darmstadt, 1967.


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