Hermeneutics and Human Finitude: Toward a Theory of Ethical Understanding

By P. Christopher Smith | Go to book overview
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3
The Ethical Implications of Gadamer's Theory of Interpretation

All single individuals who are raising themselves from their physical nature find in the language, customs, and institutions of their people a pre-given substance, which, as in learning language, it is their task to make their own. Thus single individuals are always already under way in shaping themselves and becoming cultured, always already in the process of canceling their physical aspect insofar as the world into which they are growing is a human world shaped by language and custom [ WM 11].

IN THIS QUOTATION FROM Truth and Method we find two key words for any ethical theory we might hope to develop from Gadamer's hermeneutics: language and custom. The latter, in German, Sitten, returns us to our earlier considerations of Sittlichkeit and to the idea of an ethics grounded in Sitten or, for want of a better English word, in what is customary. Such an ethics will again be our concern in this chapter. It should be noted right at the start, however, that the German word Sitte has many implications and connotations that the English "custom" does not. Above all, its semantic field more obviously extends into the ethical realm. Gesittet, for example, means cultured, well-mannered, gracious, to be sure, but behind these aspects of the word is its fundamental sense of having Sitten (Latin: mores) or temperate, reasonable ways of behaving. Similarly, unsittlich

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