Truth and Method by Hans-Georg Gadamer

Truth and Method

Truth and Method (German: Wahrheit und Methode) is a 1960 book by Hans-Georg Gadamer, his major philosophical work.[1] In Truth and Method, Gadamer deploys the concept of “philosophical hermeneutics” as it is worked out in Martin Heidegger’s Being and Time (1927).

Gadamer draws heavily on the ideas of Romantic hermeneuticists such as Friedrich Schleiermacher and the work of later hermeneuticists such as Wilhelm Dilthey. He rejects as unachievable the goal of objectivity, and instead suggests that meaning is created through intersubjective communication.

Book Details

Author: Hans-Georg Gadamer
Print Length: 637
Publisher: Continuum
Original source:
Submitted by: Robert
Book format: Pdf
Language: English

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  • Translator’s Preface Introduction
  • Foreword to the second edition

PART 1. The question of truth as it emerges in the experience of art

  • Transcending the aesthetic dimension
    • The significance of the humanist tradition for the human sciences
    • The problem of method
    • The guiding concepts of humanism
    • Bildung (culture)
    • Sensus communis
    • Judgment
    • Taste
    • The subjectivization of aesthetics through the Kantian critique
    • Kant’s doctrine of taste and genius
    • The transcendental distinctness of taste
    • The doctrine of free and dependent beauty
    • The doctrine of the ideal of beauty
    • The interest aroused by natural and artistic beauty
    • The relation between taste and genius
    • The aesthetics of genius and the concept of experience (Erlebnis)
  • The dominance of the concept of genius
    • On the history of the word Erlebnis
    • The concept of Erlebnis
    • The limits of Erlebniskunst and the rehabilitation of allegory
  • Retrieving the question of artistic truth
    • The dubiousness of the concept of aesthetic cultivation (Bildung)
    • Critique of the abstraction inherent in aesthetic consciousness
    • The ontology of the work of art and its hermeneutic significance
    • Play as the clue to ontological explanation
    • The concept of play
    • Transformation into structure and total mediation
    • The temporality of the aesthetic
    • The example of the tragic
    • Aesthetic and hermeneutic consequences
    • The ontological valence of the picture
    • The ontological foundation of the occasionai and the decorative
    • The borderline position of literature
    • Reconstruction and integration as hermeneutic tasks

PART II: The extension of the question of truth to understanding in the human sciences

  • Historical preparation
  • The questionableness of romantic hermeneutics and its application to the study of history
    • The change in hermeneutics from the Enfightenment to romanticism
    • The prehistory of romantic hermeneutics
    • Schieiermacher’s project of a universaf hermeneutics
    • The connection between the historical school and romantic hermeneutics
    • The dilemma involved in the ideal of universal history
    • Ranke’s historical worldview
    • The relation between historical study and hermeneutics in J. G. Droysen
    • Dilthey’s entanglement in the aporias of historicism
    • From the epistemological problem of history to the hermeneutic foundation of the human sciences
    • The conflict between science and life- philosophy in Dilthey’s analysis of historical consciousness
    • Overcoming the epistemological problem through phenomenological research
    • The concept of life in Husserl and Count Yorck
    • Heidegger’s project of a hermeneutic phenomenology
    • Elements of a theory of hermeneutic experience
    • The elevation of the historicity of under­standing to the status of a hermeneutic principle
    • The hermeneutic circle and the problem of prejudices
    • Heidegger’s disclosure of the fore­structure of understanding
    • The discrediting of prejudice by the Enlightenment
    • Prejudices as conditions of understanding
    • The rehabilitation of authority and tradition
    • The example of the classical
    • The hermeneutic significance of temporal distance
    • The principle of history of effect (Wirkungsgeschichte)
    • The recovery of the fundamental hermeneutic problem
    • The hermeneutic problem of application
    • The hermeneutic relevance of Aristotle
    • The exemplary significance of legal hermeneutics
    • Analysis of historically effected consciousness
    • The limitations of reflective philosophy
    • The concept of experience (Erfahrung) and the essence of the hermeneutic experience
    • The hermeneutic priority of the question
  • The model of Platonic dialectic
  • The logic of question and answer

PART III: The ontological shift of hermeneutics guided by language

  • Language and Hermeneutics
    • Language as the medium of hermeneutic experience
    • Language as determination of the hermeneutic object
    • Language as determination of the hermeneutic act
    • The development of the concept of language in the history of Western thought
    • Language and logos
    • Language and verbum
    • Language and concept formation
    • Language as horizon of a hermeneutic ontology
    • Language as experience of the world
    • Language as medium and its speculative structure
    • The universal aspect of hermeneutics
  • Appendices and Supplements
  • Appendices I to VI
  • Supplements I and II Hermeneutics and historicism (1965) To what extent does language preform thought?
  • Afterword


Truth and Method

1. Transcending the Aesthetic Dimension


(a) the problem of method

The logical self-reflection that accompanied the development of the human sciences in the nineteenth century is wholly governed by the model of the natural sciences. A glance at the history of the word Geisteswissenschaft shows this, although only in its plural form does this word acquire the meaning familiar to us. The human sciences (Geisteswissenschaften) so obviously understand themselves by analogy to the natural sciences that the idealistic echo implied in the idea of Geist (“spirit”) and of a science of Geist fades into the background. The word Geisteswissenschaften was made popular chiefly by the translator of John Stuart Mill’s Logic. In the supplement to his work Mill seeks to outline the possibilities of applying inductive logic to the “moral sciences.” The translator calls these Geisteswissenschaften.1 Even in the context of Mill’s Logic it is apparent that there is no question of acknowledging that the human sciences have their own logic but, on the contrary, of showing that the inductive method, basic to all experimental science, is the only method valid in this field too. In this respect Mill stands in an English tradition of which Hume has given the most effective formulation in the introduction to his Treatise.2 Human science too is concerned with establishing similar­ities, regularities, and conformities to law which would make it possible to predict individual phenomena and processes. In the field of natural phenomena this goal cannot always be reached everywhere to the same extent, but the reason for this variation is only that sufficient data on which the similarities are to be established cannot always be obtained. Thus the method of meteorology is just the same as that of physics, but its data is incomplete and therefore its predictions are more uncertain. The same is true in the field of moral and social phenomena. The use of the inductive method is also free from all metaphysical assumptions and remains perfectly independent of how one conceives of the phenomena that one is observing. One does not ascertain causes for particular effects, but simply establishes regularities. Thus it is quite unimportant whether one believes, say, in the freedom of the will or not—one can still make predictions in the sphere of social life. To make deductions from regular­ities concerning the phenomena to be expected implies no assumption about the kind of connection whose regularity makes prediction possible. The involvement of free decisions—if they exist—does not interfere with the regular process, but itself belongs to the universality and regularity which are attained through induction. What is programmatically devel­oped here is a science of society, and research has followed this program with success in many fields. One only has to think of social psychology.

But the specific problem that the human sciences present to thought is that one has not rightly grasped their nature if one measures them by the yardstick of a progressive knowledge of regularity. The experience of the socio-historical world cannot be raised to a science by the inductive procedure of the natural sciences. Whatever “science” may mean here, and even if all historical knowledge includes the application of experiential universals to the particular object of investigation, historical research does not endeavor to grasp the concrete phenomenon as an instance of a universal rule. The individual case does not serve only to confirm a law from which practical predictions can be made. Its ideal is rather to understand the phenomenon itself in its unique and historical concrete­ness. However much experiential universals are involved, the aim is not to confirm and extend these universalized experiences in order to attain knowledge of a law—e.g., how men, peoples, and states evolve—but to understand how this man, these people, or this state is what it has become or, more generally, how it happened that it is so.

What kind of knowledge is it that understands that something is so because it understands that it has come about so? What does “science” mean here? Even if one acknowledges that the ideal of this knowledge is fundamentally different in kind and intention from the natural sciences, one will still be tempted to describe the human sciences in a merely negative way as the “inexact sciences.” Although Hermann Helmholtz’s important and just comparison in his famous speech of 1862 between the natural and the human sciences laid great emphasis on the superior and humane significance of the human sciences, he still gave them a negative logical description based on the methodological ideal of the natural sciences.3 Helmholtz distinguished between two kinds of induction: logical and artistic-instinctive induction. That means, however, that his distinc­tion was basically not logical but psychological. Both kinds of science make use of the inductive conclusion, but the human sciences arrive at their conclusions by an unconscious process. Hence the practice of induction in the human sciences is tied to particular psychological conditions. It requires a kind of tact and other intellectual capacities as well—e.g., a well-stocked memory and the acceptance of authorities—whereas the self-­conscious inferences of the natural scientist depend entirely on the use of his own reason. Even if one acknowledges that this great natural scientist has resisted the temptation of making his own scientific practice a universally binding norm, he obviously had no other logical terms in which to characterize the procedure of the human sciences than the concept of induction, familiar to him from Mill’s Logic. The fact that the new mechanics and their triumph in the astronomy of Newton were a model for the sciences of the eighteenth century was still so self-evident for Helmholtz that the question of what philosophical conditions made the birth of this new science possible in the seventeenth century was utterly remote from him. Today we know what an influence the Paris Occamist school had.4 For Helmholtz, the methodological ideal of the natural sciences needed neither to be historically derived nor epistemologically restricted, and that is why he could not understand the way the human sciences work as logically different.

About Author: Hans-Georg Gadamer

Hans-Georg Gadamer is the decisive figure in the development of twentieth century hermeneutics—almost certainly eclipsing, in terms of influence and reputation, the other leading figures, including Paul Ricoeur, and also Gianni Vattimo (Vattimo was himself one of Gadamer’s students). Trained in neo-Kantian scholarship, as well as in classical philology, and profoundly affected by the philosophy of Martin Heidegger, Gadamer developed a distinctive and thoroughly dialogical approach, grounded in Platonic-Aristotelian as well as Heideggerian thinking, that rejects subjectivism and relativism, abjures any simple notion of interpretive method, and grounds understanding in the linguistically mediated happening of tradition.

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