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Record Type: Review   ID: 819

Hermeneutics and Human Finitude: Toward a Theory of Ethical Understanding

Smith, P. Christopher

 The author attempts to extend Hans-Georg Gadamer's hermeneutics (theory of interpretation) to ethics. In doing so, rather than try to insert Gadamer's ideas in the framework of Anglo-American thought, Smith tries to "widen the concerns of Anglo-American thought, its horizons, so that in the end, newly fructified by graftings from Gadamer's ways of seeing and putting things, it might transcend some of its previous limitations and escape some . . . dead ends with which it is confronted" (pp. xi-xii). In Gadamer's view, "whatever human beings might do or say is sustained by something which transcends them and in which they are embedded. Speakers are subordinate, namely to the language that they speak" (p. xix). In this view, reality does not reside objectively outside us but is created by our language. Then, in order to "get clear" about reality, Smith says we must proceed by dialogue. "We enter into a discussion of what is expressed or said, of the thing to be understood, in order to come to an understanding of what it says and to recover its meanings to which we have been oblivious" (p. xix). In the same way, the reality of EHEs may exist not so much of an "objective" reality (which in any case is a will-o'-the-wisp), but may exist between self and other, whether that person be environment or another person, and dialogue may be the best way to come to grips with it. This seems to be what Blumer calls for in his insistence that the researcher dialogue with his or her subjects before any research design can be considered. Smith brings out another aspect of Gadamer's thinking, which is that "since the language we are probing will always exceed whatever we might find out about it, we never come to the end of either it or our inquiry into it" (p. xx). Inconclusiveness is intrinsic to any inquiry. This has been mentioned as a problem when investigating EHEs. Perhaps we might do better to build on it rather than give up because of it. It is not our purpose to review Smith's application of Gadamer's approach to ethics. For our purposes, we recommend reading this book to glean analogous approaches to the study of the texts provided by accounts of EHEs.
Publisher Information:New York: Fordham University Press, 1991. 291p. Bibl: 283-286; Index: 287-291
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