Are We a Conversation? Hermeneutics, Exteriority, and Transmittability

in Research in Phenomenology
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Hermeneutics is widely celebrated as a call for “conversation”—that is, a manner of inquiry characterized by humility and openness to the other that eschews the pretenses of calculative rationality and resists all finality of conclusions. In this, conversation takes shape in efforts to understand and interpret that always unfold in the transmission of meaning historically in language. Yet, the celebration of hermeneutics for humility and openness appears, at least, to risk embarrassment in light of claims found in Heidegger and Gadamer that conversation is always contingent on “prior accord.” Critics of hermeneutics have, for some decades, interpreted this claim of prior accord to refer to a common tradition, so that the understanding achieved in conversation is restricted to those who belong to the same heritage. In this essay, the author argues that although Heidegger and Gadamer often suggest this prior accord is a matter of common tradition, crucial threads of Gadamer’s thought, in particular, recommend a different view. Gadamer, in these threads, offers that “prior accord” concerns not a common tradition, but, on the contrary, the call to participate in hermeneutic transmission as such, even—and no doubt especially—when those in conversation are not familiar with the tradition or language of the other. With this, we are called to converse not first by what the other says, but by the fact that we do not yet understand, that we have already misunderstood, and that we perhaps cannot understand.

Are We a Conversation? Hermeneutics, Exteriority, and Transmittability

in Research in Phenomenology



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