Hermeneutics and Human Finitude: Toward a Theory of Ethical Understanding

By P. Christopher Smith | Go to book overview
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2
Language as the Medium
of Understanding)

IN THE LAST CHAPTER we saw that MacIntyre is indebted to Wittgenstein for his ideas of what makes a language, and specifically a moral language, "in order," namely, its coherent functioning within a life-world or form of life. And we also saw how effectively MacIntyre applies this Wittgensteinian criterion in showing that contemporary moral language is not in order. To this extent, it may be said that MacIntyre proceeds from a philosophy of language, derived in large part from the later Wittgenstein, to a moral philosophy. Gadamer, to be sure, nowhere explicitly takes this particular step. In his case a philosophy of language, largely Platonic in its origins, as we will see here, provides the foundations for his theory of interpretation and understanding of texts, but not for any express ethical theory. The thesis of this book, however, is that Gadamer's philosophy of language can provide just such a basis for ethics. The transition could have been made in Gadamer, as it was in MacIntyre, from a philosophy of language to an ethics. Indeed, we saw in the last chapter that according to Gadamer all forms of understanding, be they of what is true or of what is good, are reached in language. To know either the true or the good we must follow Plato's "flight into the logoi" ( Phaedo 99E). It makes sense then, that in order to build an ethical theory on Gadamer's hermeneutics, we must first go back to the basis for

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