|Wahrheit und Methode|
"Truth and Method" is a powerful book of over 500 pages. It is a classic within philosophical hermeneutics. In addition to Gadamer, it is usually Paul Riceour which is referred to as central in this direction. The book begins gently with what is an appropriate starting point for human sciences, then Gadamer moves on through art, language and Western philosophical tradition, and concludes with a universal ontology (the study of how reality actually looks like).
What makes the book somewhat provocative is its reasoning that our human understanding can never succeed in grabbing its "object". The reason for this, and this is the book's basic thesis, is that we always come too late when we try to grasp concepts which describe our uncderstanding of reality but we still try to select methods in order to say something about what we think we actually understand. We can never fully justify our understanding, says Gadamer, because our understanding is the very ground that we stand on. Gadamer says that hermeneutics paradoxical task is "to understand what is already understood." The point is not to discover a definitive basis for our understanding as Descartes was concerned with in the development of the methodology of science. It is this craving for methodology that Gadamer is trying to warn us away from in the Goethe-inspired title of his book.
The point is rather to make us aware of that the hermeneutical experience has a nature that we will not be able to explain fully. The hermeneutical experience is not something that you can plan and control as a scientific method. Instead, this experience is often the opposite of what one expects. It brings you always a beginning, a sense of shortcoming, forcing you to constantly think over and over again. It is this hermeneutic experience which determines any attempt of understanding, whether the task is to interpret a text, or to perform a scientific or artistic task, or simply to put into words what we mean.
We are always surrounded by our history, which Gadamer says is a tradition that opens up for us perspectives and horizons of understanding and also hides others from us. The point is to make us aware of our limitations in order to arrive at a horizon and grow a little beyond the limits of our present standpoint, despite the fact that we fail to overcome our shortcomings. It may seem tragic that our understanding is so limited, but it is precisely this limitation that makes it possible for us to learn from each other and always be open to others 'experiences, in addition to being in attention to relationships and similarities in others' understandings that support our own.
Gadamer does not attack science as such, but its preoccupation with methodology. He believes that there is only a small part of our life experiences that can be controlled in a methodical manner. The whole universe of life, as Gadamer puts it, is made up of as our interaction with others, love, sympathies, antipathies, emotions, etc., are not areas that are easily subject to control. But that does not mean we can not say anything about them, identify them, learn from them, write about them. We can actually find a "truth" of our experiences, communicate and share with others. This is the hermeneutical truth "Truth and Method is concerned with.
Here lies the core of the discourse between Gadamer and Habermas. Gadamer is, according to Habermas, the involuntary a represantation for the vilification of hermeneutics when he says in the introduction of the "Truth and Method" that hermeneutical experience "exceeds the control area of scientific methodology." To objectivize our self-understanding is wrong, says Habermas, and agrees with Gadamer criticism here. But to call the a methodological approach to object in study aas alienation, is according to Habermas very wrong. He believes there is a difference between a self-reflective understanding of reality and an everyday communicative experience of reality. The confrontation between "truth" and method "should not have misled Gadamer to put the hermeneutical experience against the methodological recognition, says Habermas. The distinction between Gadamer and Habermas seems to me to lie in their different emphasis on the concept of tradition.