Hans-Georg Gadamer (1900-2002) is arguably the figure most associated with hermeneutics in our times. Gadamer completed his doctoral studies in Marburg, where his teachers included Paul Natrop and Nicolai Hartman; the principle influence on Gadamer’s philosophical development, however, was Martin Heidegger, with whom Gadamer subsequently completed his Habilitation studies in Freiburg. Among Gadamer’s faculty appointments, perhaps the most notable are the positions he has held at the University of Leipzig from 1939–1947, where he also served in 1946 as Rector, and at the University of Heidelberg from 1949 until his official retirement in the late 1960s, as well as after this his long association with Boston College. Gadamer’s project, which is typically identified as philosophical hermeneutics, may be understood to build on Heidegger’s elucidation of hermeneutics in an ontological register. Hermeneutics, as the early Heidegger develops it, concerns not foremost the art of understanding or epistemological considerations of our cognitive capacity to understand and interpret, but, more fundamentally, the ontology of human beings insofar as human beings are characterized by their disclosedness, that is, their openness to the being of whatever beings they find themselves involved with. Gadamer, from this point of departure, stresses the finitude of such openness, arguing that hermeneutic experience is epitomized by dialogic interaction, or, conversation, and that human understanding remains always conditioned by prejudices, or, pre-judgments, passed down through tradition and language. Gadamer develops his project of philosophical hermeneutics in his major work, Truth and Method, as well as in a large body of other writings, and his work makes significant contributions in the philosophy of art and aesthetics, practical philosophy, ancient Greek philosophy, and a number of other areas. Influenced not only by Heidegger, but also several figures in the history of philosophy, especially Plato, Aristotle, and Hegel, Gadamer is furthermore noted for his important philosophical engagements with leading figures of the age, especially Jürgen Habermas and Jacques Derrida.
While Gadamer’s writings are largely gathered in the eleven volumes that comprise his collected works, Gesammelte Werke (Mohr Siebeck, 1990), many of his important writings are available in English translation. His major work is Hans-Georg Gadamer, Truth and Method. Many of Gadamer’s important further contributions are represented in English translation in a number of collected volumes. Two collected volumes that address a broad range of central themes in Gadamer’s thought are Philosophical Hermeneutics and The Gadamer Reader: A Bouquet of the Later Writings. A volume that collects many of his important writings on the hermeneutical significance of beauty, as well as themes in the philosophy of art and aesthetics more broadly, is The Relevance of the Beautiful and Other Writings; a volume that collects some of Gadamer’s most important contributions to the philosophical study of literature is Literature and Philosophy in Dialogue: Essays in German Literary Theory. A further notable collected volume is Hermeneutics, Religion and Ethics. Gadamer’s hermeneutical engagements with of some of his important philosophical influences may be found in Dialogue and Dialectic: Eight Hermeneutical Studies on Plato, The Beginning of Philosophy, Hegel’s Dialectic: Five Hermeneutical Studies and Heidegger's Ways. Gadamer discusses the arc of his own philosophical life in Philosophical Apprenticeships and “Reflections on my Philosophical Journey".
Of the many good introductions to hermeneutics available in English, those highly recommended include, in alphabetical order by author:
Di Cesare, Donatella, Gadamer. A Philosophical Portrait.
Dostal, Robert, ed., The Cambridge Companion to Gadamer.
Grondin, Jean, The Philosophy of Gadamer.
Johnson, Patricia, On Gadamer.
Risser, James, Hermeneutics and the Voice of the Other.
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David Bourget (Western Ontario)
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