Hans-Georg Gadamer

Hans-Georg Gadamer (1900-2002) is among the most influential philosophers of the 20th century. In his 1960 magnum opus Truth and Method (Wahrheit und Methode), Gadamer founded philosophical hermeneutics, which opened new horizons for understanding human understanding. From then on, the arguments, concepts and metaphors of his writings—translated into more than 40 languages—have proved themselves as intellectually productive points of reference for a polyphony of voices in long-lasting philosophical and theoretical discussions, cultural debates and many fields of research: from theology and jurisprudence to history, the comparative study of religions, sociology and ethnology all the way to the study of literature, the arts and media.

»Hans-Georg Gadamer is probably the most distinguished of Heidegger’s disciples. But as a man of broad historical culture and with an innate antipathy to dogmatism he must always have felt a bit awkward in this uncouth company. One might indeed say that if you start with Heidegger’s conception of truth, but disregard his ontology and then replace both the existentialism of his earlier philosophy and the mysticism of his later writings by a profound sense for the humanist tradition, you get what Gadamer calls ›philosophical hermeneutics‹.« (Ernst Tugendhat: The Fusion of Horizons , in: Ernst Tugendhat: Philosophische Aufsätze, Frankfurt a.M. 1992, 426-432, 426.)

»Gadamer develops his hermeneutics in response to the ›problem of historicism‹ that had occupied his contemporaries since Nietzsche’s Second Untimely Meditation. Gadamer means to stand up against objectivism in the humanities, which, it seems to him, isolate the great historical traditions from their context, confine them to the museum, deprive them of their intrinsic potential for stimulation, and thus neutralize them as ›formative powers.‹ His orientation, therefore, is to the example of the hermeneutic appropriation of classical works – literary, artistic, religious, and, more generally, all works coming out of dogmatic traditions such as legal documents.« (Jürgen Habermas: Hermeneutic and Analytic Philosophy: Two Complementary Versions of the Linguistic Turn, in: Jürgen Habermas: Truth and Justification, ed. and with translations by Barbara Fultner, Cambridge 2003, 51-82, 72.)

»Gadamer is the author of two books that will be accounted among the classics of twentieth-century philosophy: Wahrheit und Methode and Die Idee des Guten zwischen Plato und Aristoteles. To accord a text the status of a classic is to say that it is a text with which it is necessary to come to terms, that failure to reckon with it will seriously harm our enquiries.« (Alasdair MacIntyre: On Not Having the Last Word: Thoughts on Our Debts to Gadamer, in: Gadamer’s Century, ed. by Jeff Malpas et al. Cambridge Mass. / London 2002, 157-172, 157).

»Gadamer in challenging the subject-object model of human science with his ›conversation‹ paradigm has shown the crucial importance of equal exchange if there is to be a real surmounting of cultural barriers.« (Charles Taylor: Fusing Horizons, in: Hubert Dreyfus / Charles Taylor: Retrieving Realism, Cambridge, Mass. / London 2015, 102-130, 126.)

»Volume after volume, the substantial publication series Poetics and Hermeneutics bears witness to the Gadamer School, although he himself would have avoided the catchy term ›School.‹ In addition to that, the development of conceptual history as an interlocutor of social history by members of Heidelberg’s history faculty would have been inconceivable without Gadamer’s more philosophically-leaning conception of Begriffsgeschichte. There is a clear through-line from his hermeneutics to the methodical investigation of language as doubly determined in its status, being both a factor and an indicator of societal change. Gadamer’s liberal colloquia, which worked toward this end, created a truly cosmopolitan atmosphere and had far-reaching ripple effects; but he never forced the contributions to these discussions into Alexandrian stiffness, nor did he even order them to be published. In this way, Gadamer remains ever-present, even when he seems invisible. He knew how to give himself away.« (Reinhart Koselleck: Gedenkrede auf Hans-Georg Gadamer, in: Reinhart Koselleck: Vom Sinn und Unsinn der Geschichte, ed. by Carsten Dutt, Berlin 2010, 349-364, 363. Trans. Charles Ducey)