Hans-Georg Gadamer on Education, Poetry, and History: Applied Hermeneutics

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Chapter 13
THE PHILOSOPHY AND RELIGION OF JUDAISM

In our era, when the lives of human beings on earth are being forged into a unity, we are becoming particularly conscious of the narrowness of the traditions in which we Europeans live. And yet it is the tradition of Western philosophy and science which has modeled the face of this modern unification of human civilization. We are certainly aware of the noble forms of philosophical wisdom which the great Asian cultures have generated by translating their autochthonous religious creations into the medium of thought. Western philosophy and science is, however, solely of Greek origin. Just as the fate of the West was determined in the Persian Wars by the repulsion of the Orient, so too has the intellectual creation of the Greeks, philosophia, unambiguously directed the path of humanity up to our time of industry and technology. This path of science which the Greeks took, remained over many centuries very closely connected to the religious thinking of Greek culture. The intellectual clarity of the Olympic religion, which stood out radiant against the dark background of a terrible prehistory, prefigured, as it were, the clear rationality of philosophical and scientific thinking. The marvelous superficiality of the Greeks, their eye for the contours of things, for the permanent essential forms of all natural things, i.e., what preserves constancy and order throughout change, this became the precious inheritance of the young Germanic-Romanic peoples. And from this, modern science eventually grew.

But the unity of Western culture is also determined by a second factor, which, although not born from the Greek spirit, still fused with the Greek inheritance to form a unitary, effective structure. It is Christianity, the religion of the New and Old Testament, the great religion of the West, which owes its ecumenical turn to Christ's missionary commandment and its sovereign spiritual execution by the Apostle Paul. When one asks what the contribution by Judaism was to the effective unity of European culture, then the global answer concerning the Jewish origins of the Christian religion is the answer to a much too narrowly defined question. In truth, it is equally inappropriate to speak of a contribution by Judaism to European culture as, for example, of a contribution by the Greeks. These are the primordial thoughts of the West, which were

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Essay published in Stuttgart, 1961.

-155-

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