I am beginning my study of Han-Georg Gadamer and I found this paragraph in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article (“Hermeneutics”) to be a helpful summary of Gadamer’s project:
This co-determination of text and reader is Gadamer’s version of the hermeneutic circle. As important as the interplay between the parts and the whole of a text is the way in which our reading contributes to its effective history, adding to the complexity and depth of its meaning. The meaning of the text is not something we can grasp once and for all. It is something that exists in the complex dialogical interplay between past and present. Just as we can never master the texts of the past, so do we fail—necessarily and constitutively—to obtain conclusive self-knowledge. Gaining knowledge of tradition and knowing ourselves are both interminable processes; they are tasks without determinate end-points. This is the philosophical gist of Gadamer’s humanistic ontology: that our being, historically conditioned as it is, is always more being (Sein) than conscious being (Bewusstsein).
Full entry here.
In other words there is never a final, set meaning of a given text. Why? Because meaning is the interplay between the text from the past and the reader in the present.
But is there a “set” meaning of the text at single instances and moments?
Sorry, I was just pondering the quote for a bit…..
And it seems this line is where I am having trouble… ” never a final, set meaning of a given text.”
As if “final” had value….something to which the interpretation of text can never fulfill….
But to me it’s an empty value since it has no relation to text and interpretation at all.
But (and perhaps this shows up in the rest of the entry)… my question is (and I ask without an answer)….can the text ever have a value devoid of the possibility of finality that can be worked towards?
That is a good question. I am currently working on a project comparing Gadamer to Derrida and and I know Gadamer expect the reader to trust that communication and understanding is possible. He expects the reader/hearer to understand. Unlike the hermeneutics of Schleiermacher and co. he does not think the reader can be an outside, objective observer of the meaning of a text. This would be the big difference that I am noticing: Gadamer sees interpretation as including the reader and the reader providing some meaning by default of being the reader.
As to your last question, if I am understanding it, Gadamer would say there is value. There is value in the hermeneutical “circle” of coming to a text with presuppositions and allowing those presuppositions to fuel our investigation of the text while the text corrects some of our presuppositions. We then return again and again coming to a greater understanding but since the reader and his presuppositions are involved this process never really ends.
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