From Word to Concept
The Task of Hermeneutics as Philosophy
HANS-GEORG GADAMER, translated by Richard E. Palmer
I would first like briefly to justify the theme I have chosen, namely: “from word to concept. ” The subject matter is a topic belonging both to philosophy and to hermeneutics. In truth, concepts are really one of the distinguishing marks of philosophy. Indeed, philosophy first entered Western culture in this form. For this reason the concept is the first thing I would like to discuss. Of one thing I am sure: the concept, which very often presents itself as something strange and demanding, must begin to speak if it is to be really grasped. For this reason I would first like to revise my topic a little to read: “Not only from word to concept but likewise from concept to word. ”
Let's think back to the beginning for a moment. The point we must start out from is the fact that conceptual thinking is a basic characteristic of the Occident. But even the word “Occident” [Abendland, land of the evening] is no longer so current as it was in my youth, when Oswald Spengler announced its decline. 1 Today, we would prefer to speak of “Europe, ” but again nobody really knows what Europe will be; at most we know what we would like it to be one day. For this reason I believe my topic is not so very far removed from the most pressing questions of today. Nor do I think I have simply chosen to speak again about one of my favorite topics to express my thanks for this festive occasion. Rather, because these are questions I am continuously at work on, I want to confront them here once again.
How did it really come about in human history, that in the very dire historical situation in which the Greek city-state culture found itself (i.e., under pressure from the Persian, the Asiatic, and later the Punic African spirit) at exactly this time conceptual thinking, the enduring intellectual creation whose bright rays have streamed out over the globe right down to the present day, arose in Greek culture? You all know, of course, what I am referring to. I am speaking about science—obviously about that science we all learn in