Gadamer: A Philosophical Portrait

Gadamer: A Philosophical Portrait

Gadamer: A Philosophical Portrait

Gadamer: A Philosophical Portrait


Hans-Georg Gadamer (1900-2002), one of the towering figures of contemporary Continental philosophy, is best known for Truth and Method, where he elaborated the concept of "philosophical hermeneutics," a programmatic way to get to what we do when we engage in interpretation. Donatella Di Cesare highlights the central place of Greek philosophy, particularly Plato, in Gadamer's work, brings out differences between his thought and that of Heidegger, and connects him with discussions and debates in pragmatism. This is a sensitive and thoroughly readable philosophical portrait of one of the 20th century's most powerful thinkers.


The name Hans-Georg Gadamer is intimately bound up with philosophical hermeneutics. Like only a few other contemporary currents, hermeneutics has exerted a widespread influence that goes well beyond the limits of philosophy and that has a depth and range difficult to evaluate. From aesthetics to literary criticism, from theology to jurisprudence, from sociology to psychiatry, there is almost no area of the “humanities” without a hermeneutic substratum. Not even epistemology has remained neutral. Assessing the widely differentiated, international effects of hermeneutics within philosophy is still more difficult. Gadamer was not only a witness of, but also an interlocutor for, the most important philosophical trends in the last century. Beyond the consequences of the many debates, his openness promoted the spread of hermeneutics in Europe and across North America. By virtue of this success, philosophical hermeneutics has become synonymous with “continental philosophy” in general.

A great number of books, essays, dissertations, conferences, debates, and films have been dedicated to Gadamer. His principal work, Truth and Method, has been translated into thirteen languages, including English, French, Spanish, and Italian, in addition to Russian, Chinese, and Japanese. Few other philosophers have been so present on the public stage, and few have spoken so often on the most varied and topical issues. In an era that is becoming less and less philosophical, Gadamer bore witness to the necessity of philosophy as a critical vigilance and the unconditional freedom of questioning.

The difficulty of writing a monograph about Gadamer lies not only in giving an account of all this. In the course of his long life Gadamer wrote a great deal, as the ten volumes of his Collected Works indicate. Even his well-known book Truth and Method, a goal that he reached with difficulty, represents only one stage on his way from phenomenology to dialectics. The fullness of what he went on to produce, over more than forty years, should be neither neglected nor ignored, for if it is, the rich unfolding and differentiation of his philosophical perspective will be overlooked.

The importance usually attributed to Truth and Method has overshadowed not only the later writings, but also the earlier ones. Hence the decisive role that Greek philosophy plays for hermeneutics has not been sufficiently noted. There are only a few traces of Greek philosophy in Truth and Method, where the main concern is to outline a hermeneutic philosophy against the background of both classical hermeneutics and Heidegger’s hermeneutics of facticity. Nevertheless, Gadamer himself judged his work on Plato’s Dialectical Ethics, as well as his studies on Greek thought, as “the best and most original part” of his philosophical activity.1 Considering the entire history of . . .

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