An Investigation of Gadamer's Views on
Method and Misunderstanding

Stefan Linquist
Department of Philosophy
Simon Fraser University

In setting the stage for Truth and Method, Gadamer expresses the view that

the human sciences are connected to modes of experience that lie outside science: with the experiences of philosophy, of art, and of history itself. These are all modes of experience in which a truth is communicated that cannot be verified by the methodological means proper to science. (Gadamer, 1960, p. xxii)

Gadamer is aware that we approach such statements with certain preconceptions. In this case we know that some of the "human sciences," philosophy for example, can be rigorously methodological; and even art critics and "serious historical research[ers]" profess to have a "methodological self consciousness" (Gadamer, 1976, p. 153). In fact, social scientists have traditionally relied upon the Scientific Method to justify their claims to truth no less than in the natural sciences. So, if, as Gadamer claims, "the human sciences are connected to modes of experience . . . in which a truth is communicated that cannot be verified by the methodological means proper to science," but the human sciences have traditionally followed the Scientific Method, then the burden of Gadamer's argument seems to be that the human sciences, as we know them, do not supply us with truths because they are overly methodological. This interpretation is supported by Rorty's comment that "it would be reasonable to call Gadamer's book a tract against method, where this is conceived of as an attempt at commensuration" (1979, p. 358). However, problems with this interpretation begin to emerge when we look further into Gadamer's book. For instance, he claims that "this [project] does not in the slightest prevent the methods of modern science from being applicable to the social world," and "I d[o] not remotely intend to deny the necessity of methodological work in the human sciences" (Gadamer, 1960, p. xxix). Such claims stand in apparent contradiction to Gadamer's previously articulated position on method in the human sciences. This leaves us wondering what Gadamer takes "method" to be, and what is the precise role which he thinks it ought to play in the human sciences?

I will attempt to shed some light on these questions by investigating Gadamer's criticism of Schleiermacher and Dilthey. Gadamer criticizes both of these thinkers for being too methodological. So, reviewing his arguments in this regard should help us grasp what he means by "method" in general. It is in this context that I shall offer the following interpretation of Gadamer's position: Gadamer's central thesis is that there is no such thing as a reliable method for the human sciences; or, put somewhat differently, Gadamer thinks that social scientists who pretend to be carrying out a reliable method are deluding themselves. What, then, are social scientists doing? According to Gadamer, I argue, knowledge of things social is acquired through an application of the "hermeneutic circle". This is a mode of reasoning where an individual's "projections" from part to whole (or, from particular to general) and from whole to part (general to particular) are essentially influenced by his or her personal biases (this I'll attempt explain later). If my interpretation of Gadamer is correct, then he thinks that the hermeneutic circle is not a method, properly speaking, and that it is the only way to obtain truth in the human sciences.

Although I would probably be better off limiting the scope of this paper to the issues just outlined, at the risk of sacrificing detailed argument for sweeping generalizations, I have included a second section criticizing what I take to be Gadamer's position. In particular, we shall consider whether Gadamer's formula for acquiring truth in the human sciences can accommodate the commonsense intuition (an intuition which I, at least, am not willing to forgo) that it is possible for a social scientist to misinterpret some phenomenon. Put differently, I shall argue that Gadamer has some difficulty in explaining how the hermeneutic circle can be misapplied.

Part 1: Gadamer's Criticism of Schleiermacher's and Dilthey's Appeals to Method

"If we consider Schleiermacher's Hermeneutics," Gadamer claims, "we find his view of this discipline peculiarly restricted by his modern view of science" (Gadamer, 1976, p. 150). Here Gadamer uses "his modern view of science" in a somewhat derogatory sense, suggesting that Schleiermacher's project is overly methodological. Thus, by investigating the "restrictive" role which Gadamer takes method to play in Schleiermacher's hermeneutics we might better understand Gadamer's position on method in general. Schleiermacher describes hermeneutics as "the art of avoiding misunderstanding" (Gadamer, 1960, p. 185). As this characterization of hermeneutics suggests, his theory is underpinned by the assumption that misunderstanding follows more naturally than accurate comprehension when we read a text. This points to one of Schleiermacher's motivations for taking a methodological approach to hermeneutics; he hoped that by being methodological an interpreter will be able to avoid misunderstanding a text. Closely tied to this expectation is Schleiermacher's theory that the meaning of a text consists in the combined conscious and unconscious intentions of its author. Hence, accurate understanding, for Schleiermacher, consists in "understand[ing] a writer better than he understood himself" (Gadamer, 1960, p. 192). This theory of meaning provides a criterion for adjudicating between competing interpretations of a text. The best interpretation being the one which most accurately represents the intentions of its author. However, this raises an important question: how are we to decide which of several competing interpretations of a text most accurately mirrors its author's intentions when the only access to those intentions that we have are the interpretations themselves? The most likely answer to this problem suggests another role which method is intended to play in Schleiermacher's theory. The interpreter who most carefully applies the "hermeneutic method" will develop the most accurate representation of the author's intentions. As in the natural sciences, adherence to a method justifies an interpreter's claim to truth. A third, and closely related aim which Schleiermacher assumed that the correct application of method could achieve is to provide a final, complete interpretation of a text. "This is shown," Gadamer notes, "by the fact that [Schleiermacher] assumes something like complete understanding when divinatory transposition takes place" (Gadamer, 1960, p. 191).

With such grand expectations in mind for the correct application of a method, we are lead to wonder to what actual process Schleiermacher is referring. Before attempting to answer this question, however, let us briefly consider a consequence of Schleiermacher's theory of meaning. The fact that Schleiermacher takes interpretation to involve understanding an author better than she understood herself (through understanding her sub-conscious intentions as well as her conscious ones) is important to Gadamer. He takes it to imply that a text does not have meaning in itself, but requires an interpreter who can bring the unconscious intentions of its author to light. Even when the author interprets his own text, "he has no automatic authority over the person who is simply receiving his work" (Gadamer, 1960, p. 193). This indicates, to Gadamer, that "the only standard of interpretation is the sense of his creation, what it means" (Gadamer, 1960, p. 193 italics added). Therefore, Gadamer concludes that, contra Schleiermacher, the meaning of a text does not lie in the intentions of its author after all. Since both parties make a contribution to the meaning of a text, this "collapses the distinction between interpreter and author" (Gadamer, 1960, p. 193.) In constructing this argument Gadamer makes a subtle appeal to a theory of meaning which he develops more thoroughly in his analysis of art. There he convincingly argues the analogous point that the meaning of a piece of art cannot be broken down into the respective contributions of an artist, the audience, a historical context, etc. Thus, he recommends that we consider an interpretation as an independent event of meaning. The details of this view will hopefully become more explicit in the next section, where we deal with the problem of how Gadamer can account for the notion of an incorrect interpretation.

In the mean time, it is safe to conclude that if Gadamer's "contributional theory" of meaning is correct, then a procedure for adjudicating between competing interpretations seems farther off than Schleiermacher might have assumed. No longer is a strict adherence to method sufficient for justifying one's truth claims, for now an interpreter is being viewed as making an essential contribution to the meaning of a text. Thus, it would appear that we require some means for determining whether an interpreter is a "good contributor" in addition to evaluating how closely she adheres to the proscribed method. But a principled technique for making such character judgments is nowhere in sight. The fact remains that Gadamer's contributional theory of meaning makes the comparison of interpretations a less principled affair, and we may want to side with Schleiermacher's intentionalist model on these grounds alone. That is, one might accept the idea that the meaning of a text is reducible to its author's intentions for the sheer practical reason that an alternative theory of meaning renders us unable to adjudicate between competing interpretations of that text. Is this a good reason for accepting Schleiermacher position? Certainly not. Not because this reason is practical in nature, but because it is thoroughly informed by what Richard Bernstein calls "Cartesian Anxiety." Bernstein interprets Descartes' meditations as:

the quest for some fixed point, some stable rock upon which we can secure our lives against the vicissitudes that constantly threaten us. The specter that hovers in the background of this journey is not just radical epistemological scepticism but the dread of madness and chaos where nothing is fixed, where we can neither touch bottom nor support ourselves on the surface. (Bernstein 1983, p.18)

Put in slightly less metaphorical terms, Bernstein takes the epistemological tradition, which has dominated philosophy since Descartes, to be founded on a false dilemma. That either we can attain absolute certainty in our knowledge claims, or else we are doomed to a state of insecurity about each and every one of our beliefs. That this dilemma is unjustified seems almost self evident. Most forms of knowledge (mathematics and formal logic possibly withstanding) are not grounded in certainty, yet this does not undermine their claims to truth. In fact, certainty seems to be an unattainable goal which serves only to distort the true nature of knowledge. However, demonstrating this point will be the therapeutic goal of this paper.

Recall that we previously discovered three objectives behind Schleiermacher's appeal to method: 1) to avoid misunderstanding, 2) to provide a basis for evaluating competing interpretations of a text and 3) to eventually provide a complete description of an author's intentions. However, little has been said about the actual process, the method itself, which Gadamer takes Schleiermacher to be endorsing. We have yet to come across an example of what Gadamer means by "method." In reading his criticism of Schleiermacher two possible candidates present themselves. The first candidate is not so much a method, Gadamer explains, "as a philologist's rule of thumb that people passed on and Schleiermacher took up" (Gadamer, 1960, p. 194). This is the rule that all texts should be viewed as a "free creation." Regarding a text as a free creation involves considering it as the genuine intentions of its author; a supposition with which we are , by now, familiar. However, this assumption becomes methodological, for Gadamer, when all texts are regarded this way, irrespective of their particular content. He explains that, "Schleiermacher's formula . . . no longer pertains to the subject matter under discussion, rather he views the statement that a text makes as a free production, and disregards its content as knowledge" (Gadamer, 1960, p. 196). Gadamer considers the placing of all texts on a level playing field to be a disregard for their particular content. He maintains that different texts must be approached in a manner which is respectful of their particular context and content. For example, an interpretation of Mein Kampf might demand a reading which focuses heavily upon the author's intentions, while an appeal to authorial intentions might seem utterly irrelevant to an interpretation of King Lear. Gadamer's point is that an author's intentions are not always relevant to an understanding of a text, and it is a judgment call on behalf of an experienced interpreter as to when intentions can appropriately be appealed to.

Even if we accept Schleiermacher's "rule of thumb" that all texts are on a level playing field, this does not provide us with a procedure for interpreting their content. We are still in the dark about Gadamer's notion of Schleiermacher's method. This brings us to a second candidate for the alleged process in question. Gadamer emphasizes the extent to which Schleiermacher invokes the hermeneutic circle; he points out that "Schleiermacher follows Friedrich Ast, and the whole hermeneutical and rhetorical tradition when he regards it as a fundamental principle of understanding that the meaning of the part can be discovered only from the context- i.e. ultimately from the whole" (Gadamer, 1960, p. 190). If this "fundamental principle of understanding" is Schleiermacher's notion of a method, then it is doubtful whether the three objectives which he outlines for method can actually be attained. The difficulty which the hermeneutical circle raises for Schleiermacher stems from the fact that employing a "circular" mode of understanding requires the interpreter to project from the meaning of a part to the meaning of the whole, and vise versa. However, different interpreters will make different sorts of projections. As Gadamer points out, in the construction of an interpretation "an individuality is always being expressed" (Gadamer, 1960, p. 192). This raises an epistemic problem for someone, like Schleiermacher, who wants to uphold an intentionalist model of meaning. If the interpreter's contribution to an interpretation is ineliminable, then each interpretation distances the interpreter from the intentions of the author (insofar as those intentions are being viewed as having a concrete existence at a certain point on a timeline). This problem is enhanced by the fact that we stand in the same relation to an interpretation as an interpreter does to the author of the "original" text. Thus, in employing the hermeneutic circle we make a contribution to the meaning of the interpretation, and find ourselves twice removed from the intentions of the original author. As Michel de Montaigne describes the situation, "so many interpretations dissipate the truth and break it... our opinions are grafted upon one another, the first serves as stock to the second, the second to the third, and so forth" (Ormiston & Schrift, 1971, p. 1). Thus, Schleiermacher's invocation of the hermeneutic circle frustrates his aims for "method" in at least two ways: not only is it impossible to arrive at a final, complete interpretation via a circular mode of understanding, but it also distances an interpreter from the intentions of the author, and hence the true meaning of a text.

Schleiermacher might attempt to compensate for the threat of "dissipation of truth" by appealing to the notion of a shared human nature. Gadamer notes that Schleiermacher appeals to the view that "everyone carries a tiny bit of everyone else within him, so that divination is stimulated by comparison with oneself" (Gadamer, 1960, p. 184). Here Schleiermacher attempts to compensate for the distancing effect by appealing to a common ground which every human being shares. He suggests that when an interpreter is accurately projecting from part to whole, this shared nature serves as the source of those projections. This seems like an appealing proposal in the sense that it provides a notion of a "good contributor" as one who uses her common ground with other humans as a source. It even seems intuitively plausible, in certain cases where the cultures being investigated share many common features between them, that those similarities might serve as a source for understanding their differences. Hence, Schleiermacher's formula may even prove useful on occasion. However, what about cases where the culture that we are trying to understand has little, if any, similarity to our own? The types of things that we share with the citizens of Ancient Egypt, for example, seem to consist of mainly non-cultural characteristics. The Egyptians, like ourselves, required food and shelter. Yet, we understand such distinct cultural details as their reasons for mummification. It is highly unlikely that these social nuances can be derived from the anatomical, and a handful of other, similarities which the Ancient Egyptians and ourselves share. An appeal to common ground is insufficient for explaining our understanding of vast cultural differences.

For an alternative attempt to resolve this epistemic problem we might turn to Dilthey, who attempted to epistemologically ground the human sciences (history in particular) with their own method. Investigating Gadamer's critique of Dilthey should also aid us in our larger task of attempting to understand what Gadamer means by "method."

Dilthey's "hermeneutical epistemology" can be interpreted as an attempt to solve the problem of how we acquire historical knowledge. He begins with the view that we understand a historical event by relating it to our own individual experience of life. Gadamer explains that, according to Dilthey, "it is life itself that unfolds and forms itself in intelligible unities, and it is in terms of the single individual that these are understood" (Gadamer, 1960, p. 223). Dilthey's position seems to contain the view that through everyday life experience we become acquainted with historical types or "categories." For example, our personal experience of the Iraq war, say, might give us a general understanding of historical type "warfare." We then might employ this universal concept in understanding some historical particular like the Battle of Hastings. Thus, in experiencing life we encounter particular "token" events which, for Dilthey, enable us to understand "historical types." Gadamer notes that the "method" being employed here is the hermeneutic circle. He claims that, in Dilthey, the "method of romantic hermeneutics is being expanded into universality. Like the coherence of a text, the structural coherence of life is defined as a relation between the whole and the parts" (Gadamer, 1960, p. 223). However, here the notions of whole and part take on slightly different meaning than they did for Schleiermacher. For Dilthey, it seems, the part which we encounter is the particular "historical token," which enables us to project our understanding onto the whole- the "historical type."

This attempt to explain the process of historical understanding runs into a similar difficulty as Schleiermacher's appeal to a common ground between the author and interpreter: how does an acquaintance with historical types account for our understanding of remotely different cultural traditions? For example, could an acquaintance with the types manifested in modern life help us understand, say, the motivation behind the Minoan practice of Bull-Leaping (a practice which apparently has no modern analogue)?*1 One might respond by arguing that all of the categories through which we need to understand the past are available in the present if we only look hard enough. However, despite the lack of evidence for such a claim, this move raises a familiar problem. Different interpreters will classify a particular historical event under different categories. For example, a Darwinian Anthropologist might compare Bull-Jumping to modern competitive sports, and view both activities as instances of the universal behavior displayed by males to increase their social status and mating opportunities. While the second interpreter, an Anthropologist of Religion, views a belief in religious idols as the main aspect which distinguishes humans from other animals, and regards Bull-Jumping as a form of religious penance. How, given these two conflicting interpretations, are we to decide which one is employing the correct universal framework of classification?

*1 : The Minoans were a civilization who lived on the island of Crete around 1500 B.C. What little we know about their culture comes through an investigation of their art. Some of which depicts young men who would literally grab a bull by its horns, only to be flung into the air and over its back.

Dilthey might approach this problem by rephrasing the question. He might ask: what could be the reason for these two conflicting interpretations to emerge in the first place? The most obvious answer to this question is that they emerged as a result of the interpreters' biases which are reflected in the types of meanings that they project when employing a circular mode of reasoning. Thus, Dilthey might attempt to overcome the epistemological problem by developing a method for canceling out the influence of these biases. In Gadamer's critique of Dilthey we find suggestions as to the method he would propose. Dilthey takes it as a methodological necessity that we "adapt the [Cartesian] standpoint of reflection and doubt, and that this is what happens in all forms of scientific reflection" (Gadamer, 1960, p. 238). In terms of the previous example, adopting this method might mean attempting to find counter examples to Darwinian and Religious Anthropology. Once counterexamples have been found we will have to reject these views. However, notice that it is almost always possible to find a counterexample to a theory (especially if we take seriously the claim that the way that we view an event cannot be separated from our biases). Therefore, an application of the sceptical method, which was meant to help narrow down the field of competing interpretations, leaves us without a single "sound" interpretation to choose from. On another level, we can consider Dilthey's adoption of the sceptical method as rendering us incapable of engaging in the hermeneutic circle; for it prohibits us from making a projection from part to whole unless we are absolutely certain of our claim, but such projections are tentative and uncertain by their very nature. As Gadamer points out, "in Dilthey's attempt to ground the human sciences he does not distinguish his methodological doubt and doubts that come on their own accord" (Gadamer, 1960, p. 239). This statement touches upon a problem which was also present in Schleiermacher's notion of hermeneutics as an attempt to overcome misunderstanding. Both theorists are mislead by their view that the threat of misunderstanding is the main objective which hermeneutics must overcome. When we inquire into the motivation behind this idea, Bernstein's comments on Cartesian anxiety come to mind. However, the reasons for abandoning this anxiety, along with the false dilemma which informs it, are beginning to take shape. For one thing, we have discovered that the Cartesian demand for certainty conflicts with the circular nature of understanding. A point which will take on new significance momentarily.

We are finally in a position to understand in what Gadamer takes method to consist. We noticed that, in his critique of Schleiermacher, Gadamer mentions three expectations behind his appeal to method: to avoid misunderstandings, to enable us to determine which interpretation of a text is the most accurate, and to eventually provide a complete interpretation of a text. The first candidate which was supposed to help satisfy these aims, the "philologist's rule of thumb" regarding the notion of a "free creation," actually distorts the content of a text more than it reveals it. The second candidate, the hermeneutic circle, runs contrary to all three of Schleiermacher's expectations. In Dilthey we find a similar situation. The circular "method" of understanding is meant to acquaint us with historical categories. However, this expectation seems unfulfilled because we are unable to explain why tokens of the same alleged type are so dissimilar over time, and unable to adjudicate between discrepancies in the classification of an historical event. Dilthey attempts to resolve such problems with another method: Cartesian scepticism. However this conflicts with the hermeneutic circle, and frustrates any attempt to obtain an understanding. Therefore, we can only conclude that Gadamer's investigation reveals that there is no such thing as "method," in the social sciences, in so far as this term is associated primarily with a collection of grand expectations which cannot be fulfilled by the application of an actual process.

It will serve as a useful transition between this section and the next to reflect upon a theme which, though pervasive throughout Gadamer's treatment of Schleiermacher and Dilthey, has until now escaped mention: Heidegger's notion of the self. We noticed that Gadamer makes a point of articulating both Schleiermacher and Dilthey's adherence to the hermeneutic circle. In both cases, this circular "method" seemed to frustrate their aims, and one wonders why they simply do not abandon this element of their theories altogether. The answer is that both Schleiermacher and Dilthey were in tune to an insight which finally receives its full expression in Heidegger. This is the insight that all understanding proceeds via the hermeneutic circle. Heidegger gives this insight special ontological significance with the view that we (in the most inclusive sense of the pronoun) are an understanding being*2. This implies that our very mode of existence is to project from part to whole, and vise versa. These projections are reflected in our tendency to approach things (objects, texts, etc.) with expectations of what they are like. When those things turn out to behave unexpectedly, we revise our assumptions about them. This is the process by which we- the understanding being- grows. Thus, it is not an option for Schleiermacher or Dilthey to attempt to abandon the hermeneutical circle for some alternative method; doing so would contradict the very nature of our existence. Gadamer adds that , "The point of Heidegger's hermeneutical reflection is not so much to prove that there is a circle as to show that this circle has ontologically positive significance" (Gadamer, 1960, p. 266). Until now the circle has been viewed as an obstacle to be overcome, and it is up to Gadamer to show us how it acquires positive significance. It is with this in mind that we turn to his treatment of prejudices and tradition.

*2 : I admit to a degree of opacity on whether Heidegger's notion of the understanding-being, that is, Dasein, can apply to individuals, or whether it is only applicable in a more inclusive sense. I use both senses in this paper.

Part 2: Traditions, Horizons, and the Fusion Thereof, Considered as an Attempt to Explain the Notion of Misunderstanding

Our Investigation of Gadamer's critique of method reveals the central role which his "contributional" theory of meaning plays in Truth and Method. Recall that this theory includes the view that a text, event, artwork, etc., acquires meaning only through interpretation, but every interpretation involves a contribution from the interpreter. This theory poses an interesting problem for Gadamer, for it seems that there is no limit to the variety of interpretations which could be provided for any particular text. For example, it seems that almost any cultural significance could be attributed to Minoan Bull Jumping. Since Gadamer deprives us of a principled method for adjudicating between these interpretations, then there is nothing stopping a text from obtaining any meaning whatsoever. However, if a text could mean anything, then it really has no meaning. A consequence which, in the case of most texts, is self evidently false. Therefore, Gadamer's theory of meaning seems to entail a reductio ad absurdum, unless he can explain how there could be a limitation to what can count as the correct interpretation of a text.

Gadamer might want to take the same approach in answering this question as we suggested for Dilthey, to reformulate it by asking how various interpretations of a text come about in the fist place? In Dilthey's case it was noted that discrepancies in interpretation arose through the interpreter's personal biases being expressed through her application of the hermeneutic circle. This formulation of the problem gives the impression that interpreters are expressing their idiosyncratic whims when reading a text. This is a position which Gadamer emphatically rejects. However, He must be careful to also avoid the other extreme, exemplified in Schleiermacher's notion of a common ground, that there is a single perspective from which all of our projections about the meaning of a text can be made. The middle ground which Gadamer will attempt to explore is the notion of prejudice and its relation to tradition. As we shall discover, he takes tradition to play an enabling role in helping us to understand the meaning of a text.

The Heideggerian account of our ontological situation maintains that we, as understanding beings, are continually projecting our prejudices onto the world and having to revise them. However, one wonders where these prejudices come from? This question can be answered on two levels. At the individual level, one acquires a set of prejudices in learning a language. These prejudices are not something independent of, or supervienient upon, a language, but they are embedded in the meanings of our concepts themselves. For example, Gadamer describes the acquisition of a concept in perceptual terms, a new concept enables one "'to recognize,' that is, to pick something out of the stream of images floating past as being identical" (Gadamer, 1976, p. 155). Thus, for Gadamer, the possession of a language is not only a necessary condition for our being able to experience the world, but the particular language that we adopt will affect the way that we experience it.

On a larger scale, the meanings of our concepts have evolved over the course history, a fact which is evidenced by the various historical states of affairs which they have been used to describe. This explains why Gadamer describes the acquisition of a language as adopting a "tradition;" with a set of concepts we inherit a way of perceiving the world which has developed over time. This brings us to one of the more Hegelian elements of Gadamer's theory. He points out that in exploring the evolution of our language we gain insight into our present way of viewing the world. For instance, we might learn that a mode of explanation (such as an appeal to divine intervention) which was once considered very persuasive is no longer "valid." Such historical investigations inform us of the contingency and limitations of our present perspective. Imparted with such insight, we become what Gadamer calls a "historically effected consciousness." Gadamer departs from Hegel with the claim that we can never attain a state of complete self knowledge. For one thing, he rejects Hegel's unpopular teleological view of history. He also emphasizes the dually significant facts that events are continually occurring which give new relevance to the past, and that new historical sources are regularly being revealed. Therefore, our self interpretation is constantly in need of revision, in Gadamer's words we are "finite beings." This fact sheds light upon a point which was raised in the previous section. One of Schleiermacher's chief expectations for method was to provide a final, complete interpretation of a text. However, given that new biographical information about an author (especially important for Schleiermacher) might appear at any time, and that the occurrence of future events will give a text new significance, a complete interpretation can never be attained"*3.

*3 : Warnke sometimes speaks as though Gadamer's view, that tradition affects our understanding of the world, serves as an adequate response to the reductio argument with which we began this section. She claims that "in so far as my understanding of a given object is rooted in a whole history of interpretations of that object, I am protected from an entirely idiosyncratic interpretation of it" (Warnke, 1987, p. 80). The sentiment seems to be that our interpretation of a text is we are restricted by the particular traditions which influence us, so not just any old interpretation of a text is possible. However, we can accommodate this point by rephrasing "any interpretation is possible" to read "any interpretation, within the scope of one's tradition, is possible," and the argument regains its force. Even Warnke seems cognizant of this issue, for she elsewhere claims that the charge of relativism can be brought against Gadamer despite his claim that we are historically effected.

At this point one might choose to raise an objection against Gadamer which we previously raised, on his behalf, against Schleiermacher. Recall that Schleiermacher attempts to standardize our projections by appealing to a "common ground" as their appropriate source. However, the little, if any, common ground which we share with certain distinct historical periods seems insufficient for explaining the fact that we understand intricate aspects of their culture. In this respect Gadamer appears even worse off. He must explain how one tradition can understand another without appealing to so mush as a thread of similarity. For example, he faces the difficulty of explaining how one language can be translated into another without having appealing to the luxury of a "universal grammar". By now we can guess that Gadamer's response will have something to do with making projections via the hermeneutic circle, and having to revise our assumptions when those projections fall short of our expectations. However, this response begs the question of the very issue at hand. How does this process of revision take place?*4

We find Gadamer tackling with this issue in his characterization of understanding as a "fusion of horizons." Gadamer uses the term "horizon" to describe the perspective of the world which one inherits with a tradition. He emphasizes the perceptual element of this metaphor in claiming that "the horizon is the range of vision that includes everything that can be seen from a particular vantage point" (Gadamer, 1960, p. 302). Elsewhere Gadamer mentions that horizons are essentially linguistic in nature, thereby emphasizing the link between language and perception. A further aspect which follows from the linguistic nature of horizons is "that there is absolutely no captivity within a language" (Gadamer, 1976. p. 155). Here Gadamer is apparently referring to the open-textured nature of language which enables us to characterize new situations. Gadamer wants to incorporate this notion of a horizon into the view that "all understanding is a fusion of horizons" (Gadamer, 1960, p. 302) This statement gives us the impression that understanding involves incorporating another person's conceptual repertoire into our own. This impression is supported by Gadamer's claim that "it seems to be a legitimate hermeneutical requirement [that] we must place ourselves in the other situation in order to understand it" (Gadamer, 1960, p. 303). But how are we to interpret such metaphorical claims? Should we envision a fusion of horizons as being akin to taking a cold bath; wherein we disrobe ourselves of our own prejudices to become temporarily immersed in a foreign tradition, only to leap back out into the tradition from which we came?

Warnke sometimes sounds as though she endorses the "cold bath" interpretation of the fusion of horizons model. She begins by pointing out that "Gadamer explicitly equates the consensus that results from hermeneutic understanding with the fusion of horizons" (Warnke, 1987, p. 82). Indeed, Gadamer repeatedly uses such terms as "consensus" and "agreement" to describe the event of understanding. For example, he claims that "to understand means to come to an understanding with each other. Understanding is primarily agreement" (Gadamer, 1960, p. 180). However, Warnke interprets "agreement" in the sense of agreeing with the truth claims of the text under interpretation. She describes this notion as "assuming that the text says something new, different, and truer or more complete than what I previously believed about both it and the subject matter that it addresses" (Warnke, 1987. p. 87). This is Warnke's description of what it is like to be immersed in the proverbial 'bath water.' However, in being so immersed, she faces the difficulty of what to do if the new perspective is not "truer" (?) or "more complete" than the perspective from which she just came. This consideration leads Warnke to jump back out of the tub. She claims that "Although we cannot break out of the tradition to which we belong, we can break with it on any given issue...Hence, the possibility of distinguishing our own position on a given subject matter from that of a text or of the tradition as a whole is not precluded" (Warnke, 1987, p. 103).

*4 : It is important to note that we are not going to investigate the closely related issue of how something could appear foreign in the first place. This is the problem of linguistic idealism. Which inquires how something could appear alien from a particular perspective if that very perspective determines the way that things appear.

It becomes particularly evident with this last claim of Warnke's that she has misinterpreted the notion of a fusion of horizons. In fact, Gadamer entertains the interpretation which she assigns to him, but with the specific intention of demonstrating that it is misguided. Gadamer asks, rhetorically, "are there really two different horizons here- the horizon in which the person seeking the understanding lives and the historical horizon within which he places himself?" (Gadamer, 1960, p. 304). The negative rhetorical force of this question is directed against the notion that we can reclaim our "original" horizon even after having fused it with another. Gadamer points out that "the horizon is, rather, something into which we move and which moves with us" (Gadamer, 1960, p. 304 italics added). In stating that our horizon moves with us Gadamer means that once we fuse our horizon with another, our original horizon changes form. Hence, it no longer exists as something which can be reclaimed, doing so would require a trip back in time.

Warnke's interpretation of Gadamer began to go astray with her mistaken account of his notion of agreement. We previously noted that Gadamer often uses the notion of agreement when speaking of understanding. On one such occasion he claims that:

The language in which something comes to speak is not a possession at the disposal of one or the other interlocutors. Every conversation presupposes a common language, or better, creates a common language. Hence, reaching an understanding . . . means that a common language must first be worked out in the conversation (1960, p. 378, emphasis added)

From this quotation we get a slightly different view of agreement than what was previously described by Warnke as assuming that the text presents something "new, different and truer." Instead, Gadamer emphasizes the sense in which a fusion of horizons is a process of creation. We can explore this creative sense of agreement, and its relation to the fusion of horizons, by considering ourselves in the position of a radical translator.

As we previously noted, horizons are linguistic in nature. Thus, by understanding how a translation between two languages can be achieved we get a model for the fusion of horizons. Consider Quine's famous example of a radical translator who is faced with the problem of how to translate "Gavagai." Should it be "rabbit", "undetatched rabbit parts", or some other concept?*5 Interestingly, this poses the question of what the term "rabbit" means in our own language. Gadamer might comment that this situation illustrates how one's own prejudices can be brought to light through the fusion with another horizon; for the translator is now forced to take a stand on one of the possible meanings in her own language. Doing so involves a judgment call which cannot be reduced to the application of a rule, she must go with the translation that she sees as being most fit. It is a similar case with the meaning of "Gavagai" in the foreign language, though the translator may have less of a sense of the appropriate translation. With the creation of a translation manual an agreement must be reached on an innumerable collection of similar cases. After the manual is completed, neither language is the same as before. For instance, prior to the construction of the manual the precise the identity conditions of "rabbithood" might not have been officially defined. Once again the case may be similar with the foreign language. Thus, through the process of a fusion of horizons each language undergoes a change, and it would be impossible to retreat back into the language as it existed prior to the fusion. Hence, a horizon "is something we move into and which moves with us."

*5 : In Quine's original example the radical translator is sitting around a camp fire with some natives when a rabbit runs by. This event elicits the cry "Gavagai!" from the natives. Which leads the radical translator to assume that the proper translation for "gavagai" is "rabbit." It is this assumption which Quine bring's into question.

We began our investigation of the notion of a fusion of horizons by asking the question of whether Gadamer can explain our ability to understand remote historical traditions. Such understanding occurs, according to the fusion of horizons model, when the historical period in question is synthesized with our own via the creation of a "translation manual." In the historical case a translation manual might take the form of a historically accurate work of fiction, or a film set in the past. Such mediation between traditions, when successfully conducted, translates certain meaningful aspects of a historical time period into terms which are familiar to ourselves. Three aspects of these mediating interpretations are of particular importance. First, the interpretations have a meaning unto themselves. A work of fiction is a prime example, for it possesses an inner unity despite its ability to communicate between two time periods. Even a translation manual can be regarded as having an independent meaning. Just as a good dictionary provides illustrations as a readily accessible reference point for its readers, we would expect a good translation manual to include anecdotes about the cultural context in which certain terms are used.

A second significant aspect of historical mediation is that both cultures change as a result of an event of interpretation. This point can be demonstrated with the exemplar of Minoan Bull Jumping. For example, interpreting this activity as a method for Minoan males to gain social status and thereby increase their reproductive fitness has an affect not only on our language, but on the event itself. In the more obvious case, this interpretation affects the meaning of the concept "reproductive fitness" which changes slightly in so far as it now applies to a broader range of activities. In addition, the activity itself changes. One might dispute this point by arguing that the Minoans jumped over bulls more than three thousand years ago, and nothing that we say about that activity changes the significance which it had for them then. However, this argument presupposes a view of events existing in the past similar to the way that they exist in the present. As if it were possible to visit the past in the same way that we visit a holiday resort, bringing home a collection of souvenirs to prove that we were there. On the contrary, this view of the past neglects to take account of our situatedness within history. The past exists only in so far as we have access to it in the present (via historical records, architecture, social customs, etc.) Furthermore, historical events like Minoan bull jumping are passed down to us along with a tradition of interpretation. This tradition is the historical event. Thus, in adding to that tradition by including yet another interpretation to the list, we have an affect upon that historical event itself*6.

A third significant aspect of the fusion of horizons model when applied to history is that we no longer take a variation in the interpretation of a text to indicate confusion about its content. Instead, variation suggests widespread understanding. If a text has been interpreted by many cultures, we would expect nothing less than various different interpretations of it to emerge. For each culture is fusing the text with its own unique conceptual repertoire. As Gadamer mentions 'we understand in a different way if we understand at all" (Gadamer, 1960, p. 237).

Let us now draw this section to a close by reconsidering the question with which it began. We sought an explanation from Gadamer as to how a text might be incorrectly interpreted. It appears now that misinterpretation might arise in at least two types of circumstances, both of which concern a break from tradition. For a model of the first type of misinterpretation consider how the radical translator might make an error in her construction of a translation manual. Suppose that she sees the natives worshipping the gavagai. In her own culture people commonly dine on rabbit, so she decides to translate "gavagai" as "food which is worshipped." However, claiming that the natives worship their food would be like accusing practitioners of Hinduism of venerating hamburgers. A blatant mistake to say the least. The interpreter has deviated too grossly from the accepted use of the term "food" in our language, and the term "gavagai" in the natives' language. However, this illustrates the practical nature of interpretation. The translator must strike a balance between various factors, and make practical decisions so as to get the best fit between two concepts. Finding the right balance is a practical skill which the translator must develop through practice, and by taking guidance from role models whom have constructed such translations in the past.

*6 : An interesting point to raise against this view is to ask why it doesn't run into the same distancing problem as Schleiermacher and Dilthey faced. That is, why doesn't Gadamer consider each new interpretation of an event to be a further distortion of its true nature? He responds to this issue by invoking An Aristotelian notion of a universal. Aristotle pioneered the notion that there exists an ontological category such that particulars can be of the same type even if they do not closely resemble each other. Gadamer develops this idea through his analogy with a festival, which is the same (identical) on each occasion of its performance even though those performances differ from one another.

Let us now consider how this first type of mistake arises in a historical context. We have come to expect some deviation between interpretations of a particular event because each instance is a fusion with a different culture. However, as we previously noted, historical events are passed down to us along with a tradition of prior interpretation. If an interpreter deviates in the "wrong way" from the tradition of interpretation that she is trying to uphold, she misinterprets the event in question.*7 It is important note that when misinterpretations arise they are extremely specific in content. What will count as a "good" or "bad reason" for accepting an interpretation differs dramatically across cases. This explains why it is impossible to provide a general method or rule for avoiding misinterpretations, as Schleiermacher had hoped. Thus highlighting a second sense in which Schleiermacher attempt to place all texts on a level playing field is a "disregard for their particular content." However, the fact that we cannot articulate a rule for recognizing misinterpretations raises a sensitive issue. How can an interpreter know whether she is interpreting correctly? One such guideline which Gadamer provides (as we noticed was helpful in the case of the radical translator) is to appeal to authority. Gadamer explains that one is recognized as an authority "because he has a wider view of things or is better informed-i.e. because he knows more." (Gadamer, 1960, p. 280). Thus, by looking to see how successful interpretations were conducted in the past an interpreter can hone her own practical abilities.*8

*7 : In saying that she is "trying" to uphold the tradition in question, I mean that she is trying to capture the event as accurately as possible. Doing so would involve researching prior interpretations. Assuming that she will find some interesting information in those interpretations, she will ipso-facto be upholding them. This creates a picture of a tradition as a long rope with many individual strands.
*8 : My initial plans for this paper included a third section, wherein this appeal to authority is taken up in greater detail. In particular, I hoped to point to Kuhn as an example of an expert interpreter. Considering also the value of the advise on interpretation that he gives in describing his attempts to interpret Aristotle's physics. This would have constituted an appeal to authority on my part. Thereby demonstrating the nature and possible value of such an appeal.
*9 : This is a similar, if not identical, point to the one Habermas raises with his concern about the possibility of a systematic distortion going undetected.

This brings us to a second sense in which misunderstanding can occur within Gadamer's theory of understanding. Once again, it involves a break with tradition. This time, however, the mistake goes unnoticed and a "deviant" tradition begins to develop. It is deviant in the sense that it ignores the interesting insights on the topic it discusses which have been accumulated in the tradition from which it broke.*9 In assessing the merit of this argument we must keep in mind the lessons we have learned about Cartesian anxiety. To suppose that we can have a situation where none of the traditions being passed down to us are deviant seems to be an unattainable goal. We must live with a degree of uncertainty, an unavoidable consequence of our finite existence. However, the notion of systematic distortion being a real possibility stresses the urgency of keeping traditions alive and "true" (as in non-deviant). With the loss of a well established tradition we lose a wealth of accumulated insight into the world. Gadamer seems to be aware of the urgency associated with this situation, and acts accordingly. His entire project can be viewed as an attempt to keep alive a tradition, that extends back at least as far as Aristotle, which he saw as being in danger of becoming distorted by an unjustified faith in the notion of method and Cartesian certainty.

3: Conclusion

Let us conclude what has been a long investigation with a concise review. We begin the first section by asking of what Gadamer takes method to consist. This leads us to his critique of Schleiermacher's intentionalist theory of meaning which, it turns out, relies upon an interpreter as well as an author. A point which Gadamer takes in his own favor. Schleiermacher's theory further undermined when his proposals for method conflict with his adoption of the hermeneutic circle. Dilthey attempts to overcome the subjectivist implications of the circle by adopting a form of Cartesian scepticism. However, this results in a case of overkill, leaving us with no interpretations whatsoever from which to choose. One might respond by attempting to abandon the hermeneutic circle altogether. But Heidegger demonstrates that by doing so would go against the nature of our being. Thus, we are led to question our motivation for adopting the goals of method in the first place. At which point Bernstein's attempts to relieve us of our Cartesian anxiety become helpful. However, no sooner do we begin to relax than we are confronted by a problem in Gadamer's theory of meaning. He must explain how misunderstanding can arise. This leads us to explore Gadamer's notion of understanding as a fusion of horizons, and Warnke's misinterpretation of this view. We corrected her view by considering Gadamer's notion of agreement as a constructive process. Coming to an understanding is analogous to the construction of a translation manual. In the case of historical understanding, three aspects of the fusion of horizons are significant; that interpretations have a meaning unto themselves, that both the interpreter's horizon and the event itself are forever changed by the event of interpretation, and that variation in interpretation between cultures is to be expected. A point which brings our Cartesian anxiety within control. We then turned to two ways in which misunderstanding can arise in Gadamer's theory. We can attempt to avoid the first type of misunderstanding by following role models in whom we rightfully vest authority. The second type of misunderstanding, which threatens to perpetuate itself, poses a moral responsibility to prevent well established traditions from fading away.


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