History Doesn’t Belong to Us, We Belong to HerJune 27, 2021
Gadamer is particularly identified with one form of philosophy: hermeneutics.
Derived from hermeneuo, meaning “interpretation” in Greek, hermeneutics works on people’s interpretation of the world. Gadamer works under the supervision of Martin Heidegger, who says that the task of philosophy is to interpret our existence. This interpretation is the process of deepening our understanding, starting with what we already know, and is just like our interpretation of a poem. First we read it carefully and in the light of our current knowledge. If we come to a line that seems odd or particularly striking, we need understanding on a slightly deeper level.
As we interpret the lines one by one, our understanding of poetry as a whole may begin to change, and therefore our understanding of individual lines may begin to change. This is known as the “hermeneutic cycle”. It is in this circular fashion that Heidegger’s approach to philosophy takes place, and it is the approach that Gadamer later examines in his book Truth and Method. Gadamer goes on to point out that our understanding is always from the point of view of a particular point in history. Our prejudices and beliefs, the kinds of questions we find worth asking, and the kinds of answers we’re satisfied with are all products of our history.
We cannot stand outside history and culture, so we can never reach an absolutely neutral perspective. However, these prejudices should not be seen as a bad thing. They are our starting points after all; our current understanding and sense of meaning underlie these biases and biases. Even if it were possible to overcome all our prejudices, then we would realize that we would not be able to see everything more clearly. Without any framework for interpretation, we wouldn’t even be able to see anything.
Gadamer likens our lives and our understanding of ourselves to “conversing with history.” As we read historical texts that have existed for centuries, their traditions and assumptions reveal our own cultural norms and prejudices, deepening and broadening our understanding of our current lives. For example, if I take a book by Plato and read it carefully, I can see that not only my understanding of Plato is deepened, but also that my own prejudices and biases are clarified and perhaps changed. Not only would I have read Plato, Plato would have read me too. Through this dialogue, or the “merging of horizons,” as Gadamer puts it, my understanding of the world reaches a deeper, richer level.
Prepared by: Sociologist Ömer YILDIRIM
Source: Omer YILDIRIM’s Personal Lecture Notes. Atatürk University Sociology Department 1st Year “Introduction to Philosophy” and 2nd, 3rd, 4th Grade “History of Philosophy” Lecture Notes (Ömer YILDIRIM); Open Education Philosophy Textbook