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Gadamer on Intersubjectivity

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Friendships... Gadamer on Intersubjectivity?

Gadamer on Intersubjectivity

In Truth and Method Gadamer writes

It is true that those who are brought up in a particular linguistic and cultural tradition see the world in a different way from those who belong to other traditions. It is true that the historical "worlds" that succeed one another in the course of history are different from one another and from the world of today; but in whatever tradition we consider it, it is always a humanâ??i.e., verbally constitutedâ??world that presents itself to us. As verbally constituted, every such world is of itself always open to every possible insight and hence every expansion of its own world picture, and is accordingly available to others. (p. 447)

...consider this quotation from his essay "Subjectivity and Intersubjectivity; Subject and Person" where he compares his approach to intersubjectivity to Heidegger's.

I was trying, in opposition to Heidegger, to show how the understanding of the Other possesses a fundamental significance. The way Heidegger had developed the preparation of the question of Being, and the way he had worked out the understanding of the most authentic existential structure of Dasein, the Other could only show itself in its own existence as a limiting factor. In the end, I thought the very strengthening of the Other against me would, for the first time, allow me to open up the real possibility of understanding. To allow the Other to be valid against oneselfâ??and all my hermeneutic works gradually develops from thereâ??is not only to recognize in principle the limitation of oneâ??s own framework, but is also to allow one to go beyond oneâ??s own possibilities, precisely in a dialogical, communicative, hermeneutic process. ("Subjectivity and Intersubjectivity; Subject and Person" Continental Philosophy Review Vol. 33, No. 3 July 2000. p. 284.)

Gadamer writes

Language is not something assigned by individual human subjects. Language is a we, in that we are assigned our place in relation to each other, and in which the individual has no fixed borders. This means, however, that we all must overstep our personal borders/limits of understanding to understand. This is what happens in the living exchange of dialogue. All living together in community is living together in language and language exists only in dialogue. (Gadamer in Conversation, p. 56)

He appeals to the ancient Greek account of friendship as providing the best model of intersubjectivity. Consider what Aristotle argues are the minimal conditions for any kind of friendship: goodwill, mutuality and recognition. All three are present in any dialogue. So if acknowledging the otherness of the other is keeping oneself open to dialogue, it means at a minimum embracing a situation of mutually recognized goodwill. But Gadamer doesn't rest with the minimal conditions of friendship; he looks at three additional conditions for full friendship. Friends live together; friendship is based on self-love; and friendship is a shared pursuit of the Good.

Gadamer writes

Friendship reaches far beyond the pleasure experienced when an individual who gives himself to the other in eros and philia rises above the narrow sphere of self-concern; it points to that ultimate dimension of things that we share, on which social life as a whole depends and without which no institutional system of communal lifeâ??whether constitution, legal system, or bureaucracyâ??is able to fulfill its function. An old maxim of the Greek ethics of friendship says it all: "among friends everything is common." Ultimately it means not only the world of goods, of possessions and enjoyments, and not just reciprocal sympathy and inclination, it includes the solidarity that exercises a dominion extending far beyond everything conscious, everything desired, into trade and business, political life, and work life, as well as into the intimacy of family and home. ("Ethics of Value and Practical Philosophy" in Hermeneutics, Ethics and Religion p.117-118 )

Gadamerâ??s friendship reveals the relation between subjects that makes conversation possible. It is the condition for dialogue, and is most realized in dialogue. Friendship embodies goodwill, a shared concern for the good of understanding, a recognition of one's own limitations, and a recognition that we share enough with others that they may have understandings that we lack, that can teach us about a subject matter, and that, in the end, are the condition for self-understanding. The conversation then is the realization of the friendship, of the unique relation that makes possible insight.

"Only in conversation � can friends find each other and develop that kind of community in which everyone remains the same for the other because both find themselves in the other and find the other in themselves" ("Unfahigkeit zum Gepräch").

Perhaps Gadamer's critics are correct that Gadamer has in his account of friendship an account of intersubjectivity based on commonality rather than difference, but the difference that remains in his account is all important and irreducible.

For all understanding, according to Gadamer is conditioned on respecting the otherness of the other, that is, on continually engaging others with the expectation that there is always something to be learned, as an expression of friendship.

David Vessey
Beloit College

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