Volume 27, 1998
Philosophy of Culture
The Hermeneutic Conception of Culture
Heidegger, the founder of the hermeneutic paradigm, rejected the traditional account of cultural activity as a search for universally valid foundations for human action and knowledge. His main work, Sein und Zeit (1927), develops a holistic epistemology according to which all meaning is context-dependent and permanently anticipated from a particular horizon, perspective or background of intelligibility. The result is a powerful critique directed against the ideal of objectivity. Gadamer shares with Heidegger the hermeneutic reflections developed in Sein und Zeit and the critique of objectivity, describing the cultural activity as an endless process of "fusions of horizons." On the one hand, this is an echo of the Heideggerian holism, namely, of the thesis that all meaning depends on a particular interpretative context. On the other hand, however, this concept is an attempt to cope with the relativity of human existence and to avoid the dangers of a radical relativism. In fact, through an endless, free and unpredictable process of fusions of horizons, our personal horizon is gradually expanded and deprived of its distorting prejudices in such a way that the educative process (Bildung) consists in this multiplication of hermeneutic experiences. Gadamer succeeds therefore in presenting a non-foundationalist and non-teleological theory of culture.