Qualifying Exams - Philosophical Ethics

From BrothersBrothers


Discuss the concerns that motivated Gadamer in Truth and Method to radically depart from the earlier traditions in the field of hermeneutics, and instead to explore the problem of understanding from the perspective of practical philosophy.


  1. In explicating the influences that guided his work in Truth and Method Gadamer claims:
    • "Insofar as they are my constant companions, I have been formed more by the Platonic dialogues than by the great thinkers of German Idealism." (76:25)
  2. There are numerous pieces of evidence that may cause this claim to ring false. For example, Gadamer has elsewhere noted a continuity between his early development and that of nineteenth-century German philosophy, with its genealogical path starting with the German Idealists with Schleiermacher, and then continuing on to Dilthey, to Husserl, and finally to Gadamer's own teacher, Heidegger.
  3. We can note also that Plato receives only rare attention in Truth and Method, while a whole chapter (over 90 pages) is dedicated to an account of German philosophical hermeneutics reaching from Schleiermacher to Heidegger.
  4. Behind these superficial pieces of evidence, and indeed despite the simple question of which figures were most important in forming Gadamer's thought, is the more complex truth that Gadamer is engaged with the questions concerns of a wide range of thinkers. His texts often move across periods and nationalities, from figure to figure, as he engages a string of related concerns.
  5. The question of which school or tradition can claim Gadamer, then, seems to provide little help in understanding Truth and Method. A much more fruitful way to place this text in context is to ask how the dialogues of Plato and the thought of the German Idealists have been "effective" in Gadamer's thought, as articulated in Truth and Method.
  6. In this lecture I will clarify how Gadamer places himself into the intellectual tradition concerned with the topic of hermeneutics by exploring how he engages with the philosophical hermeneutics of one German Idealist, Friedrich Schleiermacher. In particular, I will attend to those concerns of Schleiermacher's that Gadamer takes up polemically: historical consciousness, and the role of methods.
  7. We will find that Gadamer's focus here is highly revealing. His explicit aim in Truth and Method is to develop his own account of hermeneutics. But his account of his predecessors in the field of hermeneutics, Schleiermacher in particular, reveals that Truth and Method is no evolutionary step in the field of hermeneutics. Rather, Truth and Method is a radical departure in work centered on hermeneutics.
  8. I will show that Gadamer's constructive work in hermeneutics, which I will take up in more detail in a future lecture, emerges from the effect (wirkung) of Plato's dialogues on Gadamer's thought. In this section, I will address two related motifs that Gadamer appropriates from Platonic dialogues, Socratic ignorance and the priority of the question.
  9. My aim is to substantiate Gadamer's claim. While he does engage polemically with German Idealists and other participants in the discourse on hermeneutics, his constructive work places him within a tradition with its roots in Greek philosophy, a tradition he identifies as practical philosophy.

Part One: Schleiermacher

Historical Consciousness: Meaning vs. Truth

Part Two: Platonic Dialogues

Dialogue and Agreement
Socratic Ignorance
Priority of the Question


Discuss the influence of Aristotle and Aristotelian ethics on Gadamer’s thought. Address in particular the relationship between Aristotle’s virtue of practical rationality and Gadamer’s account of practical philosophy.

How Gadamer Draws on Aristotle

  1. Treating hermeneutics as a practice
  2. Treating early hermeneutics as a techne
  3. His own hermeneutics as a form of phronesis
  4. This is unusual - would not normally treat reading of a philosophical text as a practice, but rather as concepts, as if they are contemporaries

Why Make The Move to Hermeneutics as Practice?

  1. Interest in Human Sciences
  2. Anglo-American distinction between Humanities and Human Sciences
  3. Natural sciences as conquering nature

Practical-Moral Concerns about the Conquest of Nature by Science

Basis for concerns about cartesian Anxiety Definition of Theoria has changed since Greek times Link between Aristotle's Moral Philosophy and Gadamer's Practical Philosophy Aristotle's view of moral philosophy based on different view of theoria/concrete knowledge, which is also the basis for Gadamer's take on practical philosophy

Analyze Gadamer’s account of hermeneutic understanding. In particular, discuss why he claims that "all understanding is self-understanding."


The Object of Understanding

  1. Philosophy of the Subject
    • Underlying assumptions
    • Why Gadamer rejects Philosophy of the Subject
  2. Gegenstand

Against Philosophy of the Subject

  1. Logical Priority of the Question
  2. Remaining Open

All Understanding is Self-Understanding


Write an essay in which you critically apply Gadamer’s insights to a particular case in medical or clinical ethics.


Construct a syllabus and bibliography for a course you would be prepared to facilitate on Hermaneutics and Practical Ethics.