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Human Development/Consciousness Evolution ,Self; Evolution
Record Type: Review   ID: 847

The Hermeneutics of Life History: Personal Achievement and History in Gadamer, Habermas, and Erikson

Wallulis, Jerald

Wallulis, who is a philosopher, is concerned in this book with demonstrating the importance of a sense of personal achievement not only in relation to one's personal life history but history in general. In my interpretation of the import of this book, one could say that Wallulis argues that what "happens" in history is as much a part of one's life history as one's intimate relationships, and should be credited as such. But that is only one half of his argument. The other half is that drawing on Erikson, he sees the role of play as developing a sense of mastery that is continually renewed throughout the life cycle and that gives the person a sense of enablement, of being able to participate in the history of one's times. In order to ground it, he bases his thinking on Gadamer, Habermas, and Erikson.

Surely, one might ask: all fine and good. But why review this book here? It is my opinion that part of the problem involved in our lack of progress in understanding exceptional human experiences is that we do not view them in a large enough context. We have rarely inquired as to their place in the life history of the individual, let alone in relation to the history of humankind or of the planet itself yet maybe we should. Reading Wallulis is a good way to begin pondering such a question. I am considering the possibility that EHEs are indications of the personal need to redefine who one is. Many of them, at least, seem to herald or actually involve an enlarged sense of self. They may also serve as a means of linking the individual with the larger context and history of his or her times. In many cases, experiencing an EHE not only leaves an indelible impression on one's consciousness, but it initiates subsequent experiences or actions that transform a person's life. This transformation seems to be in a direction that embraces more of life, including not only other humans but the environment. In this way, persons who have EHEs may be influencing history, not only by what they do, but what they are. Wallulis emphasizes the important role of play in giving the individual a sense of enablement such that as an adult he or she has the ability to direct or change his or her circumstances, an act which also impinges on the collective circumstances of one's place and time. I wonder if it is simply a coincidence that the context of play and sport often serve as triggers of EHEs as well? These are some of the questions about EHEs that this book has prompted this reader to ask. The most important one is that we might well consider the effect individual EHEs may have on history and its complement: what effect may history have on EHEs? We are living the history of our times right now, and we can choose to give EHEs a central role.

Publisher Information:Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1990. 158p. Bibl: 148-150; Chap. bibl: 136-147; 1 fig; Index: 151-158; 2 tables
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