Academic journal article Philosophy Today

Gadamer, Hegel, and the Middle of Language

Academic journal article Philosophy Today

Gadamer, Hegel, and the Middle of Language

Article excerpt

Hans-Georg Gadamer's reputation as a pupil of Martin Heidegger and as a philosopher following the path of the Heideggerian project (albeit in a somewhat modified form) is quite well established. Indeed, one might legitimately characterize Gadamer's own project as an attempt to rethink the later Heidegger's "ontology" of language in terms of the hermeneutic phenomenology of Being and Time. It might therefore come as something of a surprise for those who are not thoroughly acquainted with Gadamer's work that the Part III of Truth and Method devotes itself almost exclusively to an engagement with two figures from whom Heidegger constantly struggled to distance himself: namely, Plato and Hegel.

This culminating third division brings the initial discussion of aesthetic consciousness and the ontology of play into contact with the middle section which concerns the historicity of the hermeneutic experience. And from the perspective of Part III, the first two parts appear as more or less preliminary moments in an overall inquiry into the fundamental linguisticality of finite human existence. Ironically, this Heideggerian insight toward which Truth and Method orients itself unfolds in the concluding chapters in and through an engagement with Plato's so-called "flight into the logoi" and culminates in an idiosyncratic appropriation of Hegel's speculative dialectic. I would argue that both the Platonic and Hegelian aspects of Gadamer's thinking deserve a great deal more scholarly treatment than they have heretofore received, but for the moment I want to focus my attention on the penultimate subsection of Truth and Method, entitled "The Middle of Language and Its Speculative Structure," and the potential significance of this subsection for a more thorough-going understanding of the Hegelian heritage of philosophical hermeneutics.

At least two significant questions arise in the context of Gadamer's discussion here. The explicit question posed by Gadamer himself has to do with whether and how language can have a "speculative structure" given that he specifically rejects the logical proposition as the primary mode of expression for speculative thinking. From the perspective of Hegel's Logic, in fact, Gadamer's reliance on certain "fundamental" concepts experience, finitude, even history and language-could appear preeminently reflexive and perhaps even transcendental in the Kantian sense. And yet Gadamer maintains that "there is something speculative about the hermeneutic experience" and does not hesitate to resort to certain key Hegelian notions such as Aufhebung and the immanent self-movement of die Sache selbst. Very importantly, however, he specifically dissociates this self-movement from the self-development of Hegel's Concept. But if Gadamer rejects the form of the speculative sentence as well as the development of the Concept, how can such "speculative structures" as these operate? Where does Gadamer's Aufhebung take place?

Such is the question to which this short section of Truth and Method addresses itself and it is one that I think is central to any attempt to clarify Gadamer's appropriation of Hegelian dialectic. However, I would like to pose another, deceptively simple question that lies implicit in this part of the text and that, I think, offers a way of entering into the larger, more explicit one: namely, What does Gadamer mean by "die Mitte" der Sprache? But before we can occupy ourselves directly with an elaboration of "The Middle of Language and its Speculative Structure," we need to address Gadamer's most striking point of departure from Hegel's thinking of absolute spirit.

The middle third of Truth and Method painstakingly develops the idea that as humans we find ourselves within history, and that (contra Hegel) "being historical means never being entirely exhausted in self-knowing" (GW 307). For Gadamer, all human experience is at once historically conditioned and linguistically constituted, thus "experience," as he sees it, "is experience of human finitude" (GW 363). …

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