Critical Context

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 397

Gadamer’s Truth and Method represents a major contribution to the field of hermeneutics in the humanities, and it expands the range of discussion far beyond that established by earlier thinkers such as Schleiermacher and Dilthey. Gadamer’s treatise also presents an extended commentary on and elaboration of certain central ideas concerning the ontological nature of understanding in the thought of Martin Heidegger.

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Upon the original publication of Truth and Method in 1960, a controversy developed between Gadamer and the German social philosopher Jurgen Habermas. The debate centered on the definition of and role ascribed to language and tradition in Gadamer’s hermeneutics. Gadamer’s notion of these concepts is ontological, metaphysical, and, as some might add, quasi-mystical. Habermas, whose thinking comes from a Marxist orientation, suggested that language cannot be divorced from its social and political contexts and that Gadamer’s position of openness to tradition in the hermeneutic act does not adopt a sufficiently critical posture toward its subject. Language and tradition often serve as a means of social power and political hegemony that shapes and manipulates consciousness in at times rather subtle ways. They can function as a mode of legitimizing systems of social oppression and violence. Hermeneutics, Habermas maintained, must be transformed into an ideological criticism (Ideologiekritik) that examines the oppressive social and political implications of language and tradition.

Hermeneutics also shares with another major twentieth century philosophical movement, deconstruction, a debt to the ideas of both the phenomenologist Edmund Husserl and the ontological thinker Heidegger. Gadamer’s hermeneutics carries on the...

(The entire section contains 397 words.)

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