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Gadamer and Understanding

Posted Wednesday, September 12, 2007 by Charlie Trimm
Categories: Culture and Theology  

For our theological interpretation class we have been reading about Gadamer. I had never heard of Gadamer previous to this class, but he has some good things to say, along with many things about which I disagree. He was a German philosopher who published his most famous work, Truth and Method, in 1960. In a sense, he is halfway between modernism and postmodernism.

One of his key points, which evangelicals need to take to heart, is how situated each of us is in our historical and cultural context. It is not just that the answers we get are skewed because of our surroundings, but even the questions we ask are a product of our surroundings and culture. Deconstructionism takes this to the extreme and says that it is virtually impossible to know anything, but Gadamer attempts to rescue some kind of objective truth. His main thought is that agreement is knowledge. That is, if people agree in a Hegelian sort of way, then some kind of objective knowledge can be reached. Each person should have an interpretative humility, where they seek to learn from everyone, even if it is just to learn how to correctly reject their view. Gadamer also, somewhat inconsistently, takes a high view of tradition: since we are historically situated, then we do not know enough to be to critique, so we should simply and humbly accept it.

There are various ways to take this into a Christian context. The idea would be that we can know and believe as Christians because we are part of a believing community. We are not out to seek the truth as the Lone Ranger, but we seek it along with the community. There is much to commend this, but it also has problems. Which community do you follow, for example? What happens when communities disagree? How is someone like Luther explained who goes against his community?

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