Gadamer on time, tradition, and continuity

Photograph of H. G. GadamerStemming from a discussion of Martin Heidegger’s temporal explanation of Dasein, H.-G. Gadamer suggests,

Time is no longer primarily a gulf to be bridged because it separates; it is actually the supportive ground of the course of events in which the present is rooted. Hence temporal distance is not something that must be overcome. This was, rather, the naive assumption of historicism, namely that we must transpose ourselves into the spirit of the age, think with its ideas and its thoughts, and not with our own, and thus advance toward historical objectivity. In fact the important thing is to recognize temporal distance as a positive and productive condition enabling understanding. It is not a yawning abyss but is filled with the continuity of custom and tradition, in the light of which everything handed down presents itself to us. (Truth and Method, 308)

Thus, Gadamer’s suggestion seems to be that the past is, of course, not our own time, but perhaps neither is it the wholly alien thing that thoroughgoing historicism might represent it as being with respect to the present.

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