Gadamer on Being Prejudiced

hans-georg-gadamerHere’s a great article touching on the work of 20th century German philosopher, Hans-Georg Gadamer. I’m currently finishing up my PhD on Gadamer’s philosophical hermeneutics, and it continues to be a wonderful experience. If you have any interest in the subject of hermeneutics (and even textual exegesis), you need to check out Gadamer, a premier philosopher if there ever was one. His magnum opus, Warheit und Methode, is game-changing. (You can get the English translation, Truth and Method, at our bookstore).

As the article suggests, the thrust behind Gadamer’s work was that he sought to do the unthinkable: undermine the Enlightenment’s most basic idea, namely, that a person can, by adopting a (scientific) methodological approach to knowledge, free themselves from all the restraints and chains of prejudice. (This word, prejudice, is a translation of the German Vorurteil, and it simply means to “pre-judge.” Originally, this word never connoted anything negative; today, however, the word has taken on new meaning, denoting a social vice of some sort—e.g., when a person speaks of one’s “sexist prejudices.” Originally, the word implied nothing of the sort; it simply meant to make a preliminary judgment, whether good or bad.)

All that to say, scientific methodology continues to be all the rage these days. It’s not uncommon to even hear philosophers (of all people, they should know better) talk about the benefit of becoming a critical thinker who can now “free his/herself from things like assumptions (particularly religious ones).” As a critical thinker, they say, one “doesn’t have to be held down by such things any longer.”

Like the article mentions, these sentiments come from the likes of Richard Dawkins, who isn’t a philosopher by trade, though who does remain a rather hawkish atheist who regularly speaks critically of religion but praises science and reason. Dawkins (and others) often talk about how science is the key to progress, whereas religion—being held down by prejudices and tradition—remains nothing more than a nagging vestigial organ of the bronze age.

But as Gadamer painstakingly shows in his Truth and Method, such ideas don’t hold much weight. We all have prejudices—whether religious or skeptical prejudice. And the scientist is no exception. It’s simply foolish to think otherwise.

Read more here.

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