Friday, November 13, 2009

Vessey, David. Review of John Arthos, THE INNER WORD IN GADAMER'S HERMENEUTICS. NDPR (November 2009).

Arthos, John. The Inner Word in Gadamer's Hermeneutics. Notre Dame: U of Notre Dame P, 2009. Gadamer refused to separate doing philosophy from doing the history of philosophy. To philosophize well, he argued, you had to become conscious of the role tradition plays in shaping your concepts and your conclusions. To do the history of philosophy well you have to philosophize well, for to understand a philosopher's views you need to discern what questions his or her views are answering, and that means understanding what questions are good philosophical questions to ask and what would count as good philosophical answers to those questions. Consequently, Gadamer's philosophizing is done in constant dialogue with philosophers of the past and often lying behind even brief references are unarticulated intellectual richness. Readers of Gadamer are just now starting to appreciate all that is in play in his readings of the history of philosophy. John Arthos' 400-page book -- essentially on nine pages of Truth and Method -- will be a model for future scholarship on Gadamer's intellectual inheritance. In the section "Language and Verbum" in the third part of Truth and Method Gadamer makes the remarkable claim that "the human relationship between thought and speech corresponds, despite its imperfections, to the divine relationship of the Trinity." He inststs that a proper understanding of how language connects to the world can only come through reflecting on Augustine's doctrine of the Verbum interius. Arthos not only presents Augustine's doctrine (in Chapter Three, "Hermeneutic Anticipations: The Circular Ontology of the Word in Augustine") he explores in great detail the historical, philosophical, and theological background to Augustine's views. His first chapter, "The Graeco-Roman and Judaeo-Christian Word" presents the origins of the Logos doctrine in Hebrew scripture; in ancient, pre-Attic, Greek; in Hellenistic Greek and Judaism (Philo); in Neo-Platonism; and, leaping ahead in time, in early Protestant theology. His second chapter, "Immanence and Transcendence in the Trinity", covers the developments of Patristic Christology and Trinitarian theology. Chapters 4-6 look more closely at the Thomistic (Chapter Four, "'The Word Is Not Reflexive': Mind and World in Aquinas and Gadamer"), Hegelian (Chapter Five, "The Pattern of Hegel's Trinity: The Legacy of Christian Immanence in German Thought") and Heideggerian (Chapter Six, "Heidegger: On the Way to the Verbum") influences on Gadamer's philosophical hermeneutics. As you can tell from his widely cast net, Arthos provides a general overview of Gadamer's thought. His presentation is distinctive not only for how it emphasizes medieval theological influences on Gadamer's philosophy of language, but also for how it highlights Gadamer's debts to humanism and to the history of rhetoric. In the second part of his book, Arthos provides a new translation of, and an extraordinarily detailed and insightful commentary on, the "Language and Verbum" section from Truth and Method. In that section Gadamer claims that
there is an idea that is not Greek that does more justice to the being of language, and so prevented the forgetfulness of language in Western thought from being complete. This is the idea of Christian incarnation.
The "forgetfulness of language" is the view that since Plato (according to Gadamer) language is understood as standing in a merely semiotic, instrumental relationship to things. Words are signs, they typically have a different kind of being than the things they signify, and we relate to them as tools of use for thought and communication. Gadamer disagrees with this view and argues over the course of the final third of Truth and Method that there is a fundamentally ontological connection between words and things and that language is not first and foremost a tool for our use, but the medium through which the world is disclosed to consciousness. Gadamer holds that we are able to escape the "forgetfulness of language" only because we've inherited the conceptual resources generated by medieval interpretations of the Trinity. He is quick to point out that he is not interested in the theological implications of Trinitarian thought; still, we owe a great debt to Arthos for working out in detail how something that is literally a theological mystery can provide substantive conceptual resources for solving a philosophical problem absolutely central to Gadamer's hermeneutics. Indeed because it sheds light on Gadamer's theory of language, and language is so fundamental to his hermeneutics, through addressing this topic Arthos provides a coherent, systematic overview of Gadamer's philosophy. Although his focus is the small section of Truth and Method, he draws widely from Gadamer's Gesammelte Werke. . . . Read the rest here:

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