Hermeneutics and Human Finitude: Toward a Theory of Ethical Understanding

Hermeneutics and Human Finitude: Toward a Theory of Ethical Understanding

Hermeneutics and Human Finitude: Toward a Theory of Ethical Understanding

Hermeneutics and Human Finitude: Toward a Theory of Ethical Understanding


Having thought out the Enlightenment project of individualism, privacy, and autonomy to its end, Anglo-American ethical theory now finds itself unable to respond to the collapse of community in which the practices justified by this project have resulted. In the place of reasonable deliberation about the goals to be chosen and the means to them, we now, it seems, have only what MacIntyre has aptly called ¿interminable debate¿ among ¿rival¿ positions, debate in which each party merely contends with the others for its own advantage. And this circumstance MacIntyre himself seems unable to escape despite his best efforts. In further elaborating Hans-Georg Gadamer¿s hermeneutical reception of Plato, Aristotle, Aquinas, Kant, and Hegel, and in referring simultaneously to Edmund Burke¿s parallel political rhetoric, among other tradition-oriented arguments in the English language, this book seeks a recollection of shared ethical principles, a recollection which alone, it is argued, might prevent the devolution of discussion into war with words and make possible some measure of consensus, however provisional and shadowed by dissent it will be.


Lessing has said that if God held all truth in His right hand, and in His left hand the lifelong pursuit of it, he would choose the left hand.

Kierkegaard Concluding Unscientific Postscript

This book is an attempt to show how the theory of interpretation that Hans-Georg Gadamer has developed, his hermeneutics, might be extended to ethics. Gadamer concerns himself primarily with the understanding of texts and works of art. Here, using his exploration of these forms of understanding as a basis, I will be inquiring about the nature of ethical understanding.

Of course, Gadamer comes from a tradition very different from the English-speaking one that, since I am writing about him in English, establishes the framework for my discussion. Consequently my undertaking will involve a kind of translation and what he calls a Horizontverschmelzung or "merging of horizons," the horizons, namely, of the traditions of Anglo- American thought, its ethical and moral philosophy in particular, with those of an initially foreign way of thinking. To accomplish this I will begin with areas where Anglo-American thinking, with its familiar topics and approach to these, overlaps with Gadamer's. Then, having gotten a foothold on the new territory, as it were, I will move outward into Gadarner's particular ways of seeing and speaking about things. My goal, accordingly, will not be so much to incorporate Gadamer's approach within the endeavors of Anglo-American thought as the reverse: to widen the concerns of Anglo-American thought, its horizons, so that in the end, newly fructified by graftings from Gadamer's ways of seeing and putting things, it might transcend some of its previous limitations and escape some of the aporiai or dead-

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