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Western Philosophers
20th-century philosophy
[[Image:|none|200px|Hans-Georg Gadamer]]Hans-Georg Gadamer
Name: Hans-Georg Gadamer
Birth: February 11, 1900 (Marburg, Germany)
Death: March 13, 2002 (Heidelberg, Germany)
School/tradition: Continental philosophy, Hermeneutics
Main interests
Metaphysics, Epistemology, Language, Ontology, Aesthetics
Notable ideas
philosophical hermeneutics, 'practical philosophy', all products of a tradition stands within that tradition, language as unity of infinite and finite
Influences Influenced
Plato, Aristotle, Kant, Hegel, Kierkegaard, Schleiermacher, Dilthey, Husserl, Heidegger, Jaspers |
Rorty, Gianni Vattimo, Paul Ricoeur, Donald Davidson

Hans-Georg Gadamer (February 11, 1900 – March 13, 2002) was a German philosopher best known for his 1960 magnum opus, Truth and Method (Wahrheit und Methode).


Gadamer was born in Marburg, Germany, as the son of a pharmaceutical chemist who later also served as the rector of the university there. Gadamer resisted his father's urging to take up the natural sciences and grew more and more interested in the humanities. He grew up and studied in Breslau under Hönigswald, but soon moved back to Marburg to study with the Neo-Kantian philosophers Paul Natorp and Nicolai Hartmann. He defended his dissertation in 1922.

Shortly thereafter, Gadamer visited Freiburg and began studying with Martin Heidegger, who was then a promising young scholar who had not yet received a professorship. He thus became one of a group of students such as Leo Strauss, Karl Löwith, and Hannah Arendt. He and Heidegger became close, and when Heidegger received a position at Marburg, Gadamer followed him there. It was Heidegger's influence that gave Gadamer's thought its distinctive cast and led him away from the earlier neo-Kantian influences of Natorp and Hartmann.

Gadamer habilitated in 1929 and spent most of the early 1930s lecturing in Marburg. Unlike Heidegger, Gadamer was strongly anti-Nazi, although he was not politically active during the Third Reich. He did not receive a paid position during the Nazi years and never entered the Party; only towards the end of the War did he receive an appointment at Leipzig. In 1946, he was found to be untainted by Nazism by the American occupation forces and named rector of the university. Communist East Germany was no more to Gadamer's liking than the Third Reich, and he left for West Germany, accepting first a position in Frankfurt am Main and then the succession of Karl Jaspers in Heidelberg in 1949. He remained in this position, as emeritus, until his death in 2002.

It was during this time that he completed his magnum opus Truth and Method (in 1960) and engaged in his famous debate with Jürgen Habermas over the possibility of transcending history and culture in order to find a truly objective position from which to criticize society. The debate was inconclusive, but marked the beginning of warm relations between the two men. It was Gadamer who secured Habermas's first professorship in Heidelberg. Another attempt to engage Jacques Derrida proved less enlightening because the two thinkers had so little in common. After Gadamer's death, Derrida called their failure to find common ground one of the worst debacles of his life and expressed, in the main obituary for Gadamer, his great personal and philosophical respect.


Gadamer's philosophical project, as explained in Truth and Method, was to elaborate on the concept of "philosophical hermeneutics", which Heidegger initiated but never dealt with at length. Gadamer's goal was to uncover the nature of human understanding. In the book Gadamer argued that "truth" and "method" were at odds with one another. He was critical of two approaches to the human sciences (Geisteswissenschaften). On the one hand, he was critical of modern approaches to humanities that modeled themselves on the natural sciences (and thus on rigorous scientific methods). On the other hand, he took issue with the traditional German approach to the humanities, represented for instance by Friedrich Schleiermacher and Wilhelm Dilthey, which believed that correctly interpreting a text meant recovering the original intention of the author who wrote it.

In contrast to both of these positions, Gadamer argued that people have a 'historically effected consciousness' (wirkungsgeschichtliches Bewußtsein) and that they are embedded in the particular history and culture that shaped them. Thus interpreting a text involves a Fusion of horizons where the scholar finds the ways that the text's history articulates with their own background. Truth and Method is not meant to be a programmatic statement about a new 'hermeneutic' method of interpreting texts. Gadamer intended Truth and Method to be a description of what we always do when we interpret things (even if we do not know it): ‘My real concern was and is philosophic: not what we do or what we ought to do, but what happens to us over and above our wanting and doing’ (Truth and Method (2nd edn Sheed and Ward, London 1989) xxviii).

Truth and Method was published twice in English, and the revised edition is now considered authoritative. The German-language edition of Gadamer's Collected Works includes a volume in which Gadamer elaborates his argument and discusses the critical response to the book. Finally, Gadamer's essay on Celan (entitled "Who Am I and Who Are You?") is considered by many -- including Heidegger and Gadamer himself -- as a "second volume" or continuation of the argument in Truth and Method.

In addition to his work in hermeneutics, Gadamer is also well known for a long list of publications on Greek philosophy. Indeed, while Truth and Method became central to his later career, much of Gadamer's early life centered around studying the classics. His work on Plato, for instance, is considered by some to be as important as his work on hermeneutics.


  • Horizon: "The totality of all that can be realized or thought about by a person at a given time in history and in a particular culture."
  • Nothing exists except through language.
  • I basically only read books that are over 2,000 years old.
  • In fact history does not belong to us; but we belong to it. Long before we understand ourselves through the process of self-examination, we understand ourselves in a self-evident way in the family, society and state in which we live. The focus of subjectivity is a distorting mirror. The self-awareness of the individual is only a flickering in the closed circuits of historical life. That is why the prejudices [pre-judgments (Vorurteil)] of the individual, far more than his judgments, constitute the historical reality of his being. (Gadamer 1989:276-7, tr.)
  • Understanding is to be thought of less as a subjective act than as participating in an event of tradition, a process of transmission in which past and present are constantly mediated. (1989:290, tr.)
  • The more language is a living operation, the less we are aware of it. Thus it follows from the self-forgetfulness of language that its real being consists in what is said in it. What is said in it constitutes the common world in which we live and to which the whole great chain of tradition reaching us from the literature of foreign languages, living as well as dead. The real being of language is that into which we are taken up when we hear it — what is said. (Gadamer 1976:33 tr.)
  • The only thing that is universally familiar to us today is unfamiliarity itself, momentarily illuminated by an ephemeral glimmer of meaning. But how can we express that in human form? (Image and Gesture,79) from The Relevance of the Beautiful



  • Philosophical Apprenticeships. By Hans-Georg Gadamer. MIT Press. 1985 (Gadamer's memoir)Ġ
  • Truth and Method. By Hans-Georg Gadamer. 2nd rev. edition. trans. J. Weinsheimer and D.G.Marshall. New York: Crossroad, 1989.
  • The Relevance of the Beautiful and Other Essays. by Hans-Georg Gadamer. trans. N. Walker. ed. R. Bernasconi, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986.
  • Gadamer on Celan: ‘Who Am I and Who Are You?’ and Other Essays. By Hans-Georg Gadamer. trans. and ed. Richard Heinemann and Bruce Krajewski. Albany, NY: SUNY Press, 1997.
  • Praise of Theory. By Hans-Georg Gadamer. trans. Chris Dawson. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1998.
  • Heidegger's Ways. By Hans-Georg Gadamer. trans. John W. Stanley. New York, SUNY Press, 1994.
  • Literature and Philosophy in Dialogue: Essays in German Literary Theory. By Hans-Georg Gadamer. trans. Robert H. Paslick. New York, SUNY Press, 1993.


  • Dostal, Robert L. ed. The Cambridge Companion to Gadamer. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002.
  • Dunning, Stephen. Paradoxes in Interpretation in Kierkegaard in Post/Modernity. Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1995.
  • Code, Lorraine. ed. Feminist Interpretations of Hans-Georg Gadamer. University Park: Penn State Press, 2003.
  • Coltman, Robert. The Language of Hermeneutics: Gadamer and Heidegger in Dialogue. Albany: State University Press, 1998
  • Grondin, Jean. The Philosophy of Gadamer. trans. Kathryn Plant. New York: McGill-Queens University Press, 2002.
  • Grondin, Jean. Hans-Georg Gadamer: A Biography trans Joel Weinsheimer. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2004.
  • Malpas, Jeff, Ulrich Arnswald and Jens Kertscher (eds.). Gadamer's Century: Essays in Honour of Hans-Georg Gadamer. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2002.
  • Weinsheimer, Joel. Gadamer's Hermeneutics: A Reading of "Truth and Method". New Haven: Yale University Press, 1985.
  • Wright, Kathleen ed. Festivals of Interpretation: Essays on Hans-Georg Gadamer's Work. Albany, NY: SUNY Press, 1990.
Academic Genealogy
Notable teachers Notable students
Martin Heidegger Andrés Ortíz-Osés

Gianni Vattimo

See also

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