Academic journal article The Review of Metaphysics

Transcending Gadamer: Towards a Participatory Hermeneutics

Academic journal article The Review of Metaphysics

Transcending Gadamer: Towards a Participatory Hermeneutics

Article excerpt

THE PHILOSOPHICAL TRADITION of Thomism is one which Hans-Georg Gadamer always decisively rejected on account of what he perceived as "the dogmatic overlay superimposed on Aristotle by ... neo-Thomism." (1) Not surprisingly, therefore, he never entered into dialogue with this tradition, although he did nevertheless discuss particular theses of Aquinas with what Alasdair MacIntyre describes as "his characteristic sympathy and accuracy." (2) On the other hand, it is only in relatively recent times that Thomists have begun to display an awareness of the historical and hermeneutical turns in philosophy and theology, and there is still much work to be done in order to show forth those elements in Aquinas's work that can meaningfully engage with these turns. (3) Certainly, one would have to agree with MacIntyre's assertion that "part of the importance of Gadamer's work lies in the help that it can afford in understanding the bearing of hermeneutics on the Aristotelian[-Thomistic] tradition," (4) but not simply, as he states, in bringing it to acknowledge the historically and culturally conditioned character of philosophical inquiry in a way that does not yield to relativism.

Modern philosophy is indeed in debt to Gadamer for having shown, amongst other things, that when we seek the meaning of a text and the meaning of life, we are not seeking two different meanings; rather, as Jay L. Garfield puts it, "in coming to understand our lives as meaningful we apply the same hermeneutical considerations to ourselves that we apply when understanding texts." (5) What this means in reality is not that the notoriously difficult problem of explaining the mystery of life is reduced into the seemingly easier problem of textual semantics, but rather that, as Jay L. Garfield puts it, "the apparently unproblematic encounter with ink on the page or sound waves in the air turns out to be fraught with all of human being." (6) While Gadamer has done contemporary philosophy a great service in calling attention to this fact, his hermeneutical theory is nevertheless lacking in the extent to which it fails to provide an account of the various aspects of human nature and of the mystery of human existence that inform interpretations both of life and of the written text. Thus, for example, while one searches Gadamer's writings in vain for any systematic account of human nature, the only aspect of man that receives discussion is his linguisticality. (7) Furthermore, Gadamer's philosophical hermeneutics shuns any theological (or ultimately grounding) foundation. (8) This lack of a theological foundation raises the question of relativism in Gadamer's hermeneutics. Jean Grondin defends the idea of human consciousness that is completely embedded in history as follows: "The accusation of relativism thus presupposes and defends an absolutist knowledge of the truth. This truth claims an absolute perspective (!) which the hermeneutics of facticity deconstructs, given that the very idea of a fundamentum inconcussum proceeds from a denial of temporality." (9) In the absence of an absolutist conception of truth the charge of relativism has no basis. On the contrary, Grondin argues, "we learn to see in the historicity of understanding the working mainspring of truth." (10)

Certainly one would have to agree that very idea of a fundamentum inconcussum as construed by Descartes and the subsequent Enlightenment rationalist tradition proceeds from a denial of temporality. This criticism cannot however be leveled against Aquinas however, as evidenced by the fact that the first of his proofs for the existence of God proceeds from the very reality of change itself. While Aquinas, of course, does not expound any philosophy of history, it is clear that in any such account time and eternity would not be construed as being incompatible with each other.

This article contends that the thought of Thomas Aquinas provides resources which not only compliment and enrich Gadamer's efforts but in some respects go beyond them. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.