Gadamer's Hermeneutics: A Critical Appraisal

This article offers a critical assessment of Gadamer's "hermeneutics" in its function as a hermeneutics in the traditional sense of the word: a theory of interpretation, or of coming to understand texts, discourse, etc. The article argues that Gadamer's hermeneutics has certain virtues, but also serious vices. Among its virtues are keeping hermeneutics alive as a philosophical discipline in the twentieth century and upholding the important principle of the essentially linguistic nature of all understanding. Among its vices are a distorted picture of "Romantic" hermeneutics and of its relation to Gadamer's own hermeneutics; a failure to show how the emphasis in Part 1 of Truth and Method on the understanding of non-linguistic art, such as painting and instrumental music, can be consistent with the principle of the essentially linguistic nature of all understanding championed in Part 3, and more generally to clarify the relation between the understanding of such art and language; and a failure to establish Gadamer's central, but counterintuitive, thesis that the traditional conception of interpretation's goal as one of discovering the original meaning of a text or discourse is wrong, and that meaning instead only arises as a relation between a text or discourse and an indefinitely expanding series of interpretations of it (a thesis which is not only therefore probably false, but also an invitation to careless interpretive practice and hence corrupting).

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