Gadamer's ontology : an examination of the ontological position on which Hans-Georg Gadamer's views rely, and of its relationship to the views of Heidegger, Plato and Hegel
An examination of the ontological position on which Hans-Georg Gadamer’s views rely, and of its relationship to the views of Heidegger, Plato and Hegel. I argue that Gadamer’s notion of being appeals to a structure he uses repeatedly in other areas of his philosophy in which the communal participation of many finite individuals creates an essential entity that surpasses the sum of their input and is then regulative of their participation in it. I demonstrate first that he advocates something more than an empiricism based on our finite faculties, then that his account of textuality involves an appeal to an ideal ‘text itself’ that is beyond our reach, and finally that this structure is extended to language and this this extension is seen as the basis of all being. His idea of a reality that can guide our conversations towards truth is embodied in what he calls the ‘one word’ or ‘logos’: I argue that this takes the place of Hegel’s ‘Absolute Spirit’, but is mixed with the later Heidegger’s ideas about a clearing in being in such a way that it no longer completely transcends intersubjective dialogue. Gadamer preserves the metaphysical edifices that Plato and Hegel associated with ‘dialectic’, but denies that they require an ontological commitment to anything beyond Heidegger’s being-in-the-world. Thus being in the world itself must ultimately depend on our participating in dialogue and in society, and will alter as different numbers of people develop cultivated practical rationality. I argue that this resting of ontology on an ethical requirement demonstrates that the original extension of the structure Gadamer detects in language and textuality to being itself is highly implausible, and that this casts many doubts on his use of the same structure in other areas. I conclude by looking at the way in which this same structure he detects in language allows him conveniently to side-step criticism, but maintain that it nonetheless contains valuable insights into the workings of language that are missing from other accounts.