It’s funny. When I look at my stats for Transition Consciousness, my series of six articles on Gadamer’s Truth and Method continually seem to be the most popular articles. As always when I wrote about books, it is from my own idiosyncratic perspective. I am not an academic in a university department attempting to impress my colleagues with my intellectual superiority. I am reading these books and realising that there are deep insights to be gained. Important insights that maybe some professors of philosophy are not able to articulate to people outside of academia.
As I always say, Gadamer rocks, and so here are why I think you should at least have a stab at reading one of the twentieth centuries most important works of philosophy.
1) Gadamer is not Heidegger
If you want really hard to understand, read Heidegger’s Being and Time. Gadamer is a difficult read to be sure, but in fact he is much more accessible than Heidegger. However, Gadamer spent a huge amount of time as a friend of heidegger, so we get Gadamer also discussing Heidegger’s philosophy too.
2) There is a new translation
I have nothing but praise for the clarity of writing in the revised second edition translated by Joel Weinsheimer and Donald G. Marshall.
3) He’s talking about Aesthetic Consciousness
Aesthetic consciousness shows what a work of art is, and alls it to exist in its own right.
4) He’s talking about truth in Art
Gadamer is questioning the notion of truth in science. He is asking us to consider the manner in which understand can belong to the encounter of a work of art. For this we need a hermeneutical approach, which can complement scientific methodology.
5) He’s talking about Historical Consciousness
Gadamer is not asking us to understand a historical text as the original author intended. He’s asking us to go deeper than that
6) It’s the greatest book on Hermeneutics in the twentieth century
No one really agrees on the greatest work of philosophy in the twentieth century. Some would say Heidegger, others would say Wittgenstein. But in terms of philosophical hermeneutics, Gadamer, IMHO, is right there.
7) There isn’t a Method
Truth and Method does not contain a method as such. Gadamer is guiding us into a deeper experience of the meaning of a text or a piece of art which is dynamic. His method is in fact leading us towards the great insight which is the problem of hermeneutics.
8) He’s talking about Experience
Design thinking, customer experience design, user interface design – you name it. If at any moment in time in your work you use the word ‘experience’ you need to be reading Gadamer.
9) He brings us a deeper sensitivity to others
Historical consciousness for me is not just historical – it is cross cultural. The meanings of words and concepts not only have evolved over time, reading Gadamer takes us into the lived experience of others. That is where we find empathy and engagement with others.
10) He’s talking about unfinished meaning
Every presentation of a play is not just a copy. Every presentation of a play increases its being. Thus over time a play can be more fully what it really is. This is fluidity in thinking. This is amazing.
The hermeneutical circle says that in order to understand a text, we have to understand the author. But in order to understand the author we have to understand the text. What to do. You have to read Truth and Method once, and then read it again so the bits in the early sections which were not clear can become better illuminated by Gadamer’s later reflections.
The clearest account of what Gadamer is actually doing has been provided to us by Henri Bortoft in Taking Appearance Seriously: The Dynamic Way of Seeing in Goethe and European Thought. This book is insanely good. But it is still a work of philosophy.
Hence in our own book, Holonomics: Business Where People and Planet Matter – a book dedicated to the memory of Henri – we explain what Henri was doing, why his conception of wholeness is so important in the development of our own consciousness and awareness, and once having read Holonomics, you will then be ready for Henri who will take you in to a deep experience of Gadamer and many other of the world’s great phenomenological hermeneuticians.
And once you suddenly get that amazing sense of clarity and insight. Well I don’t quite know how to describe it. It’s like, Bazinga!