Volume 2, 2006
Social and Political Philosophy
Tradition and Dialogue in Gadamer, Heidegger and Habermas
Three Rival Accounts of Political Existence
This paper explores the political implications of the tension between tradition and dialogue in Hans-Georg Gadamer's philosophical hermeneu tics. The premise of the paper is this: Gadamer's account of human existence challenges two very influential modes of thinking within contemporary political philosophy, which are exemplified, arguably at their best, in Martin Heidegger's early thought and Jürgen Habermas's project of communicative action. In contemporary political philosophy the Enlightenment heritage has been interpreted in such a way that tradition has come to be conceived as inevitably opposed to the ideals of Enlightenment, and that the extension of one as a major constitutive element in social and political affairs implies the retraction of the other. However, this paper attempts to conceive the problem of tradition in a more articulated context, suggesting that Gadamer's work offers a useful corrective both to Habermas's project and to the relativistic implications of Heidegger's early thought. By drawing on Gadamer's work, with particular emphasis upon his notion of the fusion of horizons, as well as on the work of thinkers such as Charles Taylor and Alasdair Maclntyre, this paper attempts to articulate a hermeneutical, dialogical interpretation of tradition, which suggests that Gadamer's thought acknowledges that living traditions are the site of ongoing debates, internal revisions, and critical turns, and that the notion of a closed horizon that is supposed to enclose a culture is an abstraction. In so doing it goes beyond the caricaturised account of tradition that is bandied about both in modernist thought and in the conservative outlook.